Wednesday, September 30, 2020

The Debate We Didn't Get to See

 Tuesday night's presidential debate was indeed, as many have pointed out, a shameful mess, and something that should make every American cringe. I personally would not be so quick as some have been to fault the moderator, Chris Wallace. How could he have prepared for facing an unruly, ill-mannered 5 year old on the stage of a national presidential debate? As it is, there is no one who can honestly give an opinion on who "won" this debate, for only one candidate talked, both during his own allotted time and his opponent's, making it impossible for any of us to benefit from hearing an exchange of viewpoints. It wasn't a debate at all. It was a shit show brought to us by Donald Trump in his usual one man shit show style, and to that extent perfectly useless to thinking people. We did not come to see the crass imbecility of a Trump rally. But that's what we got. It was, at the very most, simply a waste of our time, and a blatant insult to any voter's desire to compare the candidates and weigh the issues, although we do at the least come away with a clear and enduring definition of boorishness.

Tuesday, September 29, 2020


 I sure do miss being able to wake up feeling fresh and rested, which apparently is a thing of the past. Every day now, I wake up early in the morning feeling like I've been run over by a truck. I try to rest for a little longer but soon must drag myself to my feet and get the aching parts moving. The pain in general extends from my right lower back to the right side of my neck. Walking at first is a bit of a challenge, as both legs have gone stiff and unwilling to function. 

I noted the other day, from an old Facebook entry, that this is something that started more than four years ago! How time flies when you're having fun, or otherwise, right? I noted that back then, in August of 2016, the pain was restricted to my right neck and shoulder. Some time before that August, it had begun as an extremely sharp pain behind my right shoulder blade. Thankfully, it became less terribly intense over time and spread in a milder fashion downwards into my flank and back. The only thing I've found to help it in all this time is a hot shower--and even then only temporarily, of course. 

Making things worse yet this morning was an accompanying feeling of dizziness which caused in turn a mild nausea. So I continued to wobble about my usual morning activities and now I've wobbled out to Starbucks for my morning coffee. Usually, I would have preferred to wobble to the beach on a Tuesday, this being a day the maid will be at the house, but I just felt too lazy for that. 

Sunday, September 27, 2020

The Great Uphill Battle

 I was listening to a Trump rally this morning, just to remind myself, I guess, of how terribly perilous our national situation has become, but what impressed me even more than the usual flood of lies and vulgarities was Trump's increasingly confused mental wanderings. 

At one point, Trump declared, seemingly out of the blue, that Robert E. Lee was probably one of the greatest generals in history. He won many battles, Trump said, one after another, and probably would have won the Civil War had he not lost at Gettysburg. This loss, Trump went on, occurred because the general in charge had died which in turn caused Lee to fight uphill. "Never fight a battle uphill," Trump advised in a sage, curiously Scottish accent, as if quoting some great unnamed Scot of the past. 

How does one unravel this foolishness? Who was this general in charge, and why was he in charge rather than Lee? If Lee's previous victories had been dependent upon the prowess of this dead unnamed general, how is it that Lee was the best general ever? And how had the death of this mysterious general in charge come to cause Lee to 'attack uphill'? Why would he attack uphill if he was probably the greatest general ever and everyone knows that you never attack uphill? 

Well, it's certainly puzzling, but I finally decided that regarding the general in charge who had died, Trump must have been thinking of Stonewall Jackson, who, though never in charge of the Army of Northern Virginia, had died some two months before Gettysburg at the battle of Chancellorsville. 

It would have been difficult not to attack uphill at the battle of Gettysburg because the defenders were entrenched on a series of hills and ridges (something defenders tend to do as a matter of course). The uphill battle that Trump must be speaking of would be the assault on the Union center during the third day of the battle, I presume. During the second day, Lee had assaulted the hills on the north and south ends of the position. In the center was not a hill but a long, very gradual slope. The problem was not in attacking uphill, but in attacking across this wide open field in the range of frontal and flanking artillery fire. A pretty stupid move for the greatest general ever. 

So why was Trump, who clearly knows nothing about this battle or about General Lee, even mentioning the thing? Well, it's an old question. Why do the most ignorant people insist on being the most vocal people? I can only guess that Trump was trying to plug into the issue of the removal of statues that we have recently seen across the country, for this is the subject that he proceeded to, declaring that he had stopped all that with a presidential order. Strange, in that case, that just two or three days ago, a statue of Lee was removed from a Richmond, Virginia street. 

Nonetheless, his point cannot succeed in being clear when presented through a narrative that is either hopelessly confused or patently false. Unless, that is, his audience is as confused and as uninformed as he. 

Saturday, September 26, 2020

Restoration or Chaos?

To me, it feels creepy when my blog gets visits from the Russian Federation. Can't help but envision busy little hackers and trolls seeing what sorts of things they might misuse. Hopefully, they will just realize straightaway that my blog is of no importance whatsoever and move on. Or perhaps the visits are perfectly innocent. Unfair, I suppose, to view the whole world of Rusksies with suspicion. 

I was reading in an international forum on Facebook of the general fear among non-Americans, and especially Europeans and Australians, for America and the American people. They are shocked by all that has happened to our country over the past four years, and of course even more helpless than we as we all watch it unfold. At least we can vote. 

But voting this time around, and the results of the vote, comes with it's own horror scenarios, given that our president has said that he may not accept the result of the election. If he loses, that is. In short, it will not be valid because too many people have voted against him.

I do believe that too many people will have voted against him to make this assertion sensible in the least. In fact, I think that he will lose the election outright on election night. It is thought by many that Trump may be either been winning or very close on election night, given the assumption that more Republicans than Democrats will vote in person on election day. I could be so, but I just have the gut feeling that it won't be. 

If this is the case, however, Trump will turn the table on the predicted scenario and claim that all his votes are coming in through mail-in ballots (exactly the issue that he has been haranguing against in the run-up to the vote). As the mail-in votes are tallied and continue to show a Trump loss, he will then revert to the old scenario, insisting that millions have voted illegally. 

Here, in my mind, is the real danger facing us, because during this long delay, serious unrest may arise throughout the country, militiamen may decide that their hour has come, clashes between citizens will follow, as will lethal clashes with the police, the national guard, and the military--all this leading to a general national chaos. In short, civil war. 

And what then? Who knows? This is where chaos takes a path of its own and leads all by the nose. 

I read an analysis recently by a wargame designer (of all things) wherein four outcomes were laid out, none of which were pleasant. The most hopeful scenario was of an overwhelming Biden win. In this case, there would still be trouble in the months following the election such as we have never seen, but eventually power would be transferred and life would go on. I tend to agree that this will be the case--that as weak and frayed as our institutions have become, they will bring us through nonetheless. I do hope that America and the values of democracy are still that strong. I hope so, I say, and yet I must admit that such extreme dissolution as has happened over the past four years once seemed impossible to me. 

I hope that we can get a grip. I really do. The world depends upon it. 

Friday, September 25, 2020

Just Flip It

 Last week when I went to my favorite beach spot the surf was right in close to the wall, quite deep and swift, and I thought 'Well, I'm glad I didn't bother to wear my swimsuit.' This week I found the surf far out and good for nothing but a child's wading pool, and so I thought 'Well, I'm glad I didn't bother to wear my swimsuit.' Real life seems to be conspiring with my innate laziness to derail the idea that I ought to swim, saying 'See, you were quite right to be lazy.' So I just sipped my cappuccino instead and read my book and watched the boats bobbing at anchor and was fairly perfectly happy without going to the trouble to get wet and sandy.


I came home before the maid had left the house--she was just finishing up--and she said "Om" (uncle), "one side of your bed is higher than the other."

"Yeah, I guess that's because I sleep just on the one side. I need to find a wife, right? A fat one."

After all, in order to even the mattress out, we would need a roughly equal weight, which is something that would likely require a fat wife.

"You can just sleep on the other side," the maid observed, while at the same time laughing.

Later on that day, I told the same joke to my ex-wife.

"That's stupid," she said. "Just sleep on the other side."

"Umm, yeah, I just thought it was kind of funny."

"What's funny? A wife would be too expensive. You don't need a wife."

"I know, but--"

"Just tell the maid to flip the mattress!"


When I arrived at Starbucks this morning, a bride and groom were sitting at my usual table--he in his black tuxedo, she in a classic white wedding dress with a veil. I'm assuming that the wedding was over because her veil was pulled aside and that's not supposed to happen until the ceremony is concluded, right? I don't know. I've never married a wife in a veil, although I had three tries. I've never even married a wife in a white dress, for goodness sake.

Anyway, after they left my table, I occupied it and found that the air where she had been sitting was filled with a sweet, clean, flowery fragrance, and this persisted throughout my stay. I felt, curiously, that I had taken part in some way, or at least had been an uninvited guest.

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

The Windup Bird Chronicle

 Finally, I've finished reading Haruki Murakami's Kronik Burung Pegas (The Windup Bird Chronicle), a thousand page tome that I've been working on over the past year and more, with admittedly many breaks taken during the process. It did not strike me at any point that there was any hurry or necessity to get to the end of this long and wandering road, and certainly one does not feel pressed by the narrative itself. Rather, one does better to check in every now and then, spend some quality time with Murakami (or rather with Toru Okada, his main character in this novel), and then let it rest for a while. He'll be there when we get back, and in pretty much the same place we left him. 

This is not to say that the novel is not engaging, but only that it is not urgent. I am reminded of what an old college professor of mine once said about Henry James' The Turn of the Screw--that it is a ghost story wherein nothing happens and there is no ghost. Yet the atmosphere, the artistry, the voice, the details, the multitude of small epiphanies irresistibly attract. 

There is something about reading Murakami, for me anyway, that is like an easygoing, genial friendship. It's great just to sit back and listen, enjoy the unusual deck of characters he deals from, observe the interactions and study the meaning of the results. I often found myself drawn back to an extended period of reading by one particular character, Mei Kasahara, a bright, quirky, decidedly troubled, wholly delightful teen girl who strikes up a friendship with Okada, taking a keen interest in his history and in the mission he has set for himself. It is these everyday connections, and their own stories, that both move the novel along and expand its focus ever more widely--which may, often enough, leave the reader with a 'Wait, where were we?' feeling. But that's okay, because, after all, we are just living alongside Okada. That's where we are. There is a goal, yes. At first it is just to find a pet cat that has disappeared. Over time, things become much more complex indeed, much more confusing. The irony is that the more obscure the picture becomes, the more tangled the events, the more clearly focused and purposeful Okada's goal becomes within his own mind and soul. 

Sunday, September 20, 2020

Go Cowboys!

 I've been a Dallas Cowboys fan since somewhere in my mid-teens. I don't even know why, really. I just remember watching a game between the Cowboys and the Detroit Lions and deciding that the Cowboys were my team. The final score in that ultimate defensive contest, if I recall rightly, was 3-2, with the Cowboys coming out on top. In those days, Craig Morton was quarterbacking the Cowboys, and then a little later on Coach Landry began to shuttle Morton and Roger Staubach on alternating plays, each quarterback bringing the call to the field. Ultimately, Staubach took the starting position permanently until his retirement. 

I still follow the Cowboys here in Indonesia, even though I am unable to watch their games. I guess I could if I were willing to pay for some expensive online service, but of course I'm not. I follow the scores, watch them in post-game clips, and follow their Facebook page.  

It is in following them on Facebook that I have become aware of the absurd intrusion of politics into football fandom, as there are those who have a major problem not with the team's performance or coaching but with the decision of some players to kneel during the national anthem. 

Say what? 

Yes, that's right. One will regularly see comments expressing anger at this unforgivable act of kneeling, oaths from this or that dumbbell that he will never watch the team again. I mean, in the first place who even watches the national anthem portion of a game? And what can possibly be so offensive to a viewer about seeing a player kneel? 

I do have to say though that so far such objections as I have seen have been roundly rejected by the majority of the team's followers, who tend to be either whole-heartedly supportive of the players or just sick and tired of hearing about politics and culture wars wherever they go. It's football, man! Can we just enjoy life for a couple hours on Sunday? 

Go Cowboys!

Saturday, September 19, 2020


 Having a lot of trouble over the past few days with sudden shooting pains in my limbs, fingers, toes, and even in my head. These were accompanied last night by a return of some serious RLS. The pains are lightning bolt sensations, as if one had just been stung by a bee or stepped on a nail, occurring in the toes, fingers, wrists, elbows, calves. My legs feel hot and irresistibly compelled to jump about in the bed. Instead of sleeping, I spend my night seeking an elusive position of comfort, some position which will allow my body to rest. And then sometime in the wee small hours, still dark outside, I began to experience knife-like pains in one side of my face, from the top of my head to just behind my eye. This morning, the flash pains in my limbs persist and my neck is stiff and aching, finding no position of relief and no comfort with massage. Oh, and then there are the muscle twitches. Forgot to mention those. Isolated muscles, especially in my right arm, twitch and flutter with a mind of their own. All of this I suppose, or most of it anyway, can be ascribed to acute on chronic neuropathic pain and dysesthesias associated with MS, and it has all steadily progressed over the last four years ago. It is the same with the intense heat sensation that I suffer in my upper torso, from the shoulders and neck to the top of my head. The pregabalin I take is supposed to address all of this, and does to at least to some extent. Come to think of it, I did not take any pregabalin at all yesterday--the stuff is damnably expensive--so maybe that was part of the problem. Who knows? In any case, I had hoped to go to the beach this morning, maybe even swim, but after a night typified more by wakefulness and torment than by rest, I feel exhausted and listless. Once I finish my coffee, I'll probably just go back home and lie down.

Friday, September 18, 2020


There is a dog that can regularly be found on a certain corner of Jalan Tamblingan in Sanur. He is a ragged though seemingly healthy, well fed dog, off-white in color, gray jowled, and he sits on the sidewalk just at the edge of the road, front paws drooped over the curbing for hours on end. Here he watches the traffic pass by with well practiced patience, uninterrupted interest, Sphinx-like for the most part, although he can be observed to shout every once in a while at one motorbike or another, whether in particular or at random one cannot say. Every once in a while the dog will rise and step off the curb. He stands in the street for short time, thinking, perhaps, 'Today is the day I will die', and bye-and-bye, having failed to do so, returns to the sidewalk, lies down at the edge of the road, drapes his front paws over the curb and watches again with great patience and calm, a certain sort of mastery. Maybe this dog had a life once. Maybe he ran the neighborhood and foraged for food and battled enemies and mated with females and had hard times and had good times and knew both abundance and want, and now he is only old and has only his memories. Maybe he's just waiting, and remembering while he waits. 

Wednesday, September 16, 2020


David Sedaris has always reminded me of a latter day Mark Twain, a century on and wholly unrestrained but with the same talent for comedic rhythm and turn of phrase that ranges between consistently tongue-in-cheek witty to laugh-out-loud hilarious, and yet reserving a dark cloud in one fist which might be sprung on the reader at any moment. 

I've just finished his 2018 book of essays, Calypso. These are largely about Sedaris' oddball family members (from the point of view of the chief oddball, Sedaris, of course) and very often about aging as the author finds himself reaching 60. I can identify.

As with Twain, Sedaris is brutally honest, especially about himself, and plays at being completely oblivious to socially acceptable norms. Of course, he is not really oblivious. He is merely cantankerous. 

In the title essay, Calypso, Sedaris writes of going to a doctor's office after discovering a lipoma beneath his skin. 

 He (the doctor) took an ultrasound of my fatty tumor and said that he could remove it the following week.

“Terrific,” I said, “because I want to feed it to a snapping turtle.”
“Excuse me?”
“Not just any snapping turtle,” I continued, as if that was what had given him pause. “There’s one very specific turtle I’m planning to feed it to. He has a big growth on his head.”
“It’s against federal law for me to give you anything I’ve removed from your body,” the surgeon said.
“But it’s my tumor,” I reminded him. “I made it.”
“It’s against federal law for me to give you anything I’ve removed from your body.”
“Well, could I maybe have half to feed to this turtle?”
“It’s against federal law for me to give you anything I’ve removed from your body.”
I left with my tumor intact, thinking, Honestly. What has this country come to?

Resisting social correctness at every turn, or embracing it only where it suits him, Sedaris reminds us of our own recurrent hypocrisies, our inherent human weaknesses, and he succeeds at this by sparing himself not in the least. Even where his own homosexuality is concerned, Sedaris stubbornly resists the acceptable modern narrative--the way we are "supposed to think." It's a box in which to be contained--a different box than the box that used to be the norm, but still a box, and neither he nor we like being in a box.

In short, we are allowed, and encouraged, to laugh; and laughter, especially in these dark times, is a welcome treat, as is Calypso, which I recommend with all my heart.

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

A Sweeping Acquisition

 Occasionally, I find it needful to use a broom. If a man employs a maid every day of the week, or perhaps just a wife, sweeping might be avoided altogether, but if he is like me and has no wife and has a maid only two days a week, he may well find that sweeping becomes an urgent matter, especially if he lives, as I do, in an area where ongoing construction is continually ushering clouds of invisible black dust through the doorways and windows--invisible, that is, until it silently settles on the floor tiles, which are white, of course.

I was going to say that I am allergic to brooms, but the truth is that I merely resist them. It's not just that I'm lazy, although there is that, but brooms in Indonesia are consistently fashioned, machine engineered one might say, in such a way as to be useful only to unusually short Indonesian women--just like the kitchen counter, the bathroom sink, the hallway mirror, and so on. These miniature brooms are maneuvered with a competent grace that is actually lovely to behold--you know the pose, one arm held loosely behind the back, hand fluttering above the buttocks like the wing of a butterfly, the other guiding the broom itself with dance-like precision, and indeed the whole process seems more like a waltz than work. 

But with me, bending hunch-backed over this sawed off barrel of a broom, the result is no waltz. It is a back-breaking torment that hobbles for hours afterward, and which ends, surprisingly, in the removal of very little dust. And I'm not trying to be inventive in the use of the term 'sawed off'. No, my maid has in fact sawn the broom handle to a shorter length than the already abbreviated length at which it began. I guess one might say that she has customized it.

Imagine, then, my pleasure this morning when salesman came puttering past my door on a scooter loaded stem to stern with every sort of housecleaning tool--mops, buckets, feather dusters, wastebaskets ... brooms! 

I dashed out to the curb, explained my situation, and he produced a dustpan. 

"No, no, Pak. I need a broom. A broom with a long handle." 

He produced two brooms, much like my own sawed off model, one red and one blue. My initial enthusiasm was swiftly waning. And then I spied the thing myself. A beautiful, solid plastic handled broom standing as high as my own shoulder. 

"That's it! Yes!" I snatched the tool from its nook, looked it up and down, took a few practice swings. "Perfect! How much?" 

He thought it over.

"Tujuh puluh." 



"Seventy thousand? For a broom?"

He pointed at the handle admiringly.

"Long handle," he said. 

"Yeah, that's what I want. But I don't want to pay seventy thousand." 

"No? Hmm. How much?"

I looked into my wallet.


Clear disappointment furrows on his brow. 


This doesn't help. This is, after all, a long-handled broom. It is, as he has realized, a treasure.

"Sixty," he says. 

"Well, shoot," (or something like that), "I don't have any other small money." 

"It's okay," he says, rushing to the rescue, "I can make change." 

"Okay ... So, I give you a hundred, and you give me what?"

The man holds out a twenty and a five." 

"Dude, that's more expensive than you began with!" 

"Oh. Ya." 

So he adds a ten, I give him the hundred, and hallelujah, I have a broom! A long-handled broom. A normal broom. A man's broom!

I return to the house, hoping I don't have to use the thing very often. And wondering whether the maid will even know what it is. 

Monday, September 14, 2020


 Because of the forest fires crowding in toward Portland, I was thinking of Billy Lesher last night. Not that Billy has anything to do with the fires. I was thinking of him because my ex-wife told me that she had to evacuate from her house, which is on Mt. Scott, and Billy Lesher used to live on Mt. Scott. 

When we were young, my parents used to take us to visit the Leshers, for Billy's father, 'Big Bill', had been a long time friend of my father's, and sometimes they would leave us there for an overnight stay if we liked. 

Billy's house was within walking distance of the enormous cemetery and mausoleum complex on the top of the mountain, and what better place for children to play, right--what with all those dead people lying around beneath our feet, and even a section called 'Baby Land' reserved for those who had died in infancy or at birth, having the added attraction of being particularly dreadful to the youthful imagination. 

Someone, at some point, had actually dug up bodies, no doubt in the dead of night, and lain them on the grass to be discovered in the daylight. We knew about that because we had seen it on the news. Perhaps a teen prank, some said. Perhaps something satanic. Perhaps a grave robbing. Who knows? Perhaps, indeed, those grave robbers or night stalkers were still lurking about. We sort of liked to think so, in the lurid way common to boys. 

In a wooded area beyond the cemetery there was a small lake, a green, motionless pond, and Billy told us that a boy had drowned here. 

"They found him floating face up," Billy said, "and his face was blue." 

"Were you there?" my brother asked. 

"No, but I know his face was blue." 

Later on Billy showed us a ruined remainder of a mossy little house tucked into the trees. There had been a house fire and the house was painted inside and out black by the smoke and flames and was now as cold and scarred as driftwood. We climbed a set of crunchy stairs to the second floor and there found (or were shown by Billy, our tour guide, a bedroom containing a single rusty bedframe and bits of a yellowed old mattress. 

"They burned to death in their sleep," Billy said. 

"The fire didn't wake them up?" my brother asked. 

"Nope. They burned to death in their sleep." 

Later in life, Billy's mother, Betty, was at my house visiting with my mother. Billy had met a Japanese girl and had threatened to actually marry this girl--a Japanese!, Betty said, as if the very word was something that could only be whispered lest it offend. 

"Well ... " my mom said. 

"A Japanese," Betty said, shedding a tear at the sound. "Richy," she said" (she had called me Richy ever since I was 3 years old or so)--"Richy, You wouldn't marry a Japanese, would you?"

I gave it a brief thought, rubbed my chin. 

"Umm ... Do you know one who is available?"

Later on, Billy did marry the Japanese woman, and broke his mother's heart, and had a child, and then everything was fine. 

There are two things in the world that can defeat bigotry. One of them is travel. The other is babies.

Hello Penis

 I am continually astounded to find people commonly using Hello Talk, the language sharing app I use, as a dating/hook up site. I don't get it. Aren't there countless dating apps out there that exist for this very purpose? Of course there are. So why do people imagine that an app tailored to sharing one's native language and learning another is an invitation to seek 'significant others', or worse yet as an amateur pornography platform? 

My friend Dhi from Jakarta can tell you all about that. She will meet a man on the app, exchange a brief chat or two, and then the first thing she knows she is receiving a photo of his penis on her screen. Not a flaccid one, of course. Who wants to see a flaccid penis? But for that matter, who wants to see any sort of penis on a language sharing app? And why in the world would anyone send his penis here and there online anyway, unless perhaps if the site were called Hello Penis? 

"Why," Dhi will occasionally ask, "have you sent a picture of a penis?"

"It's not just any penis," the man may object. 

Who knew, right? 

"Yes, but why would you suddenly send your penis? This is an app for those interested in learning a language."

"Because you're so sexy." 


And it gets worse. I don't necessarily have to go into further detail. Perhaps you can imagine what might penetrate cyberspace next. 

What is the thought process here? I keep trying to figure it out. 

"Hi, I want to learn Indonesian." 

"Good! I can help you. And maybe you can help me with English." 

"Okay. By the way, here is a picture of my penis." 

I met a woman about a week ago. She is from Riau. We had a pleasant conversation and then the next day she contacted me again and we had another pleasant conversation. I guess I was a bit suspicious that she was using no English at all, but maybe she was just shy or afraid of making mistakes, I thought. 

So the next time I talked to her she wrote, in Indonesian, "Hey, let's exchange our pictures and our stories and see if we are compatible."

Compatible? Compatible for what? I thought we were here to learn a foreign language. 

"Uh yeah ... cool," I said, then mentioned that I needed to log off and meet my girlfriend for dinner. I didn't, because I don't actually have a girlfriend, but the point is that I never heard from that woman again.  Too bad, really. The app seemed actually to be functioning as intended for a short time. 

My friend Ira, in Borneo, has received everything from sexual propositions to marriage proposals. She has been harangued for being kind and then unspeakably cruel for rejecting uninvited advances. She too, you see, had been under the impression that we are here to share languages. It seems that there is very little a woman can say that will not be taken as an invitation for sexual involvement. 

"All I did was chat with him!" 

"Ah, that was your mistake."

"But I thought that was what the app is for. Why else would it be called Hello Talk?"

Why indeed? 

Sunday, September 13, 2020

Jet Black Hair

 It was not my fault that I was blond. I never wanted to be blond. I was born blond. My brother felt the same way about his red hair. What we wanted was to have black hair. Jet black hair. Like our friend Steve. Like Napoleon Solo in The Man from U.N.C.L.E. Like James Bond. And so on. How could one possibly look cool with blond or red hair? It was a bane, a curse, only partially hidden by a cap or an army helmet, but there seemed nothing really that one could do about it. 

Until, that is, my brother, hanging out one day with my mother at the Safeway store, noticed a miracle on one of the shelves. 

Black hair spray! 

You just spray it on, like the paint one would use on a model airplane, and presto, you had black hair. 

So at the next opportunity, having combined our allowances, we walked up to Safeway and purchased two cans of black hair coloring spray. We did not realize at the time that this was meant for older people who merely wanted to hide isolated gray streaks. As it was, we purchased our spray, conveyed the magic potion back home, and straightaway shut ourselves and our cannisters in the second story bathroom where my brother, the more talented artistically, emptied both cannisters on our heads. It did not take long to notice that the spray colored not only the hair, but anything else it touched, such as our foreheads, the mirror, the soap dish, the toilet bowl. The overlaps to the skin were carefully addressed with multiple squares of toilet paper. Those on the mirror merely smudged, further reducing the reflection, and so these, we decided, could wait till later. We were eager to rush outside and test out our brave new appearance on the world. The spray had made our hair stiff as taffy, and the taffy came out like motor grease in the teeth of our combs, requiring some reapplication, but at last we were ready to emerge. 

It turned out unfortunate for us that our mother was in the kitchen, which we needed to traverse on the way to the back door. Nonetheless, we paraded through, smiling proudly, feeling taller than usual, quick, suave, cat-like. 

I had never seen my mother, otherwise a sweet, nearly angelic woman, so angry as on that day. She was stunned at first, struck speechless by the sight of us, as if two large crows had just flown straight into her forehead. It began to become apparent to us that she was not pleased. 

To be brief, this marked the end of our career with black hair, and instituted a series of scrubbings that seemed to leave open the question of whether there would be any hair left after the scrubbings had ended. Goodbye Napoleon Solo, goodbye James Bond. Hello again to wimpy, unmanly blond and red.

Why was my mother so angry? Why was she behaving as if we had committed some unspeakable transgression? I certainly did not know at the time. I think now that we had simply compromised something very special to her. She loved our blond and red hair. We were her children, and this was the way she and our father had made us. We were beautiful, and now we had disfigured ourselves. That's all that I can figure. 

To be clear, I still don't like my hair. What's left of it, anyway. I'd still rather have black hair. But even to this day, I'm not about to try to color it again, because poor Mom would turn in her grave to see it, and she deserves, if anyone in the world does, to rest in peace. 

Saturday, September 12, 2020

The User and the Used

 I happened to read part of a story last night about the lamentable situation of folks on some isolated island who had no access to the cellphone/social media culture. There was a photo of brown people sitting listlessly among the huts of some little village, apparently not knowing what to do with themselves, or perhaps pining away over the lack of something they had never had to opportunity to experience, having been denied the exhilarating heroin of Facebook, Twitter, Google, Snapchat, and so on. Boo hoo, right? 

I can't help but suspect that they are better off. 

Later, I watched part of a Netflix documentary about these very platforms, narrated by employees or former employees of those same platforms, addressing what they had eventually seen as the unexpected results of where all this has ended up, which is essentially in commercial manipulation and mass mind control. Every time we use the platform, we are being closely examined, analyzed, cataloged, and then nudged this way or that in a manner that ultimately benefits the platform itself, for we the users, not the platforms, are the product.

And we are addicted. Life without this can barely be imagined--and if you are younger than I, it really cannot be imagined at all. We are born now with a cellphone in the hand. I have seen 3 year old children as fixated on the phone screen as any adult. Every morning when I awake, I reach for the cell phone, switch the world back on. Is it still there? Ah, thank God. Bells and chimes and ding-dongs sing out from the re-awakened cell, messages pop up, and I am captured once again. 

Do you know that if you are idle for very long, the platform will poke you? That's right, they know when you are sleeping, they know when you're awake, they know if you've been using or not, so use for goodness' sake. A message shows up, a story, a prompt, beckoning you to click. You must! The platform wants to use its product. 

It's all pretty creepy, really. 

And I will probably end up dutifully posting this on Facebook, just as they had predicted. 

Friday, September 11, 2020

Shorting Out

 It suddenly occurred to me yesterday afternoon that Hey, I'd better make that call I've been meaning to make to the bank so that I can update my address. This is important because my card will expire in October and the bank will be sending a new one. Sending mail to an address in Indonesia is a difficult enough proposition on its own. Sending it to an old address would be fatal. 

So, late in the evening, about 10 o'clock, I suppose, I called the toll free number for Chase and, amazingly got connected straightaway. I stated my business and proceeded to read out my current address, spelling each word. At the conclusion of this process, the Chase rep said, "This is the address we have, sir." 

"Huh? Really? How can it be?" 

What sort of magic is this, I wondered. 

"Well ... according to our records, you called two months ago and made this change."

Hmm. How interesting. That was me? 

Oh well, I guess it's a new variation on the old saying: If you succeed the first time, try, try again anyway. 

I'm either way ahead of myself or way behind myself. Not sure which. 

Wednesday, September 9, 2020


 I've sort of rediscovered a nice coffee place down on the beach. It's called Oomba and is actually owned by an acquaintance of mine. I've long known of it, but just recently began visiting again. I suppose that one pleasant thing about any place on the beach these days is that they are all pretty much deserted, thanks to COVID, which means I can choose wherever I want to sit and read in peace and quiet while I enjoy my coffee. Something good about COVID after all? 

Last time I went there it occurred to me as well that I could easily take a swim in the ocean if I wanted. The only trouble would be getting down the rather steep (but brief) stone stairway to the beach. In 'the olden days' I enjoyed swimming nearly every day and I guess I kinda miss it. But it had become so difficult to find a quiet place on the beach and kinda too much trouble. But I might actually try it out again here at Oomba. 

Monday, September 7, 2020

Long Time No Talk

Insanity: Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

 I had not heard from Ira in quite some time. Exactly how long it had been, I cannot say. My appreciation of the passage of time is getting increasingly shaky. But I will guess anyway that it has been at least two months since I heard from this young friend of mine. I use the term young as a comparative to my own age, while understanding, of course, that she would not think herself young as accounted by those who are actually young. In any case, she is some 25 years younger than I, and therefore young.  The passage of time is a comparative matter as well, and so I should note that in the past, for more than a year's time, Ira had contacted me nearly every day, sometimes more than once a day, so that two months seemed indeed a long period of silence. 

And then today I received a message, sent from an older platform, under, however, a new profile (for she had at some time quit and then had rejoined the old avenue of communication). 

"Dadddyyyy", she wrote. 

Yep. Different platform, different profile, same old (young) Ira. She has called me Daddy nearly as long as I have known her. 

Well, it turns out that she had deleted me from her contacts, along with every other male friend, at the request, or rather the demand, of a certain man with whom she had had a long running long distance relationship, most of which seemed to involve an endless cycle of fighting and breaking up. Now they are breaking up again. Forever this time. As always. 

I well remember having long talks with her previously about this guy, who for all appearances, or according to her testimony anyway, is an intensely jealous, insecure fellow, whose answer to his own insecurities seems to be to control, restrict, and monitor her every movement and social interaction. Ira has actually spent time with him in person, but for the most part they have conducted their relationship online, as he lives on the other side of the world and cannot often get to Indonesia. A rather silly idea to begin with, I reckon--these online 'relationships', I mean--and certainly not a situation suited to one weak in trust. As it is, he has attempted to surveil her by a combination of bits and pieces of news from her friends (or enemies) along with bits and pieces of his own worst imaginings. 

Moreover, though generally tormented by the very idea that she has had relationships prior to her relationship with him, he will often insist on interrogating her about the details of those relationships, which seems to me a decidedly masochistic pursuit on his part.

When Ira and I began talking, more than a year ago as I've said, we enjoyed the most entertaining conversations, full of laughter and silliness, but as time passed our conversations became more and more centered on this guy, and more and more troubling. I made a considerable effort to counsel her, to encourage her to get out from under a toxic situation. And yet the more I talked to her, the more I realized that I was not telling her anything that she did not already know. In short, she chose to remain involved and she chose ultimately to accede to his demand that she delete her community of friends and submit to surveillance such as he could manage. 

Perhaps there is some sort of attraction in this for some women, the idea of being 'possessed' by a man. Or perhaps there are some women who grant an authority to certain men over their freedom because they have been taught that men have a right to that authority. Or perhaps they tolerate such monitoring in the hope that it will prove their own loyalty in the relationship. I don't know. 

Have you ever known one of these people who come to you for advice in an unequal or abusive or untrusting relationship, and who seem to understand every bit of your best council and admonition, and agree that to continue under the existing circumstances would be futile at the least and quite possibly dangerous at the worst, and yet proceed on the exact same course as soon as the conversation is concluded? 

I have. 

And so by and by you take them less seriously. It's a broken record. You have wasted your breath.  There is a great difference between needing help and receiving help. It's sad, but there it is. You're a wonderful young woman, Ira, and I love you, but I've got to change the subject. 

Saturday, September 5, 2020

One Way In And No Way Out

 Ever notice how logic is of no use in a dream? Only later when one awakes and begins to turn the thing over in his mind does he notice the various impossibilities within the dream story, and yet these impossibilities were of no matter while dreaming.

I dreamed last night of travelling to an abandoned house somewhere in a hilly country. The weather was like that of Oregon, wet, gray, perhaps sprinkling rain some of the time. I don't remember why I had gone to the house, although I know there was a reason. I may have been looking at a house for sale or for rent, but when I entered the house, I found it still furnished. The rooms I walked through were dark and gloomy and there was something that just felt wrong about the place. I saw nothing and heard nothing, and yet there was a feeling of uneasiness, unpleasantness within the place. 

When I tried to leave, I found that there was no road that would lead me away. Every route I tried ended in a dead end, conveying me back to the house. I felt both frustrated and fearful and wondered how I had gotten here in the first place, for if there was no road leading out, there cannot have been a road leading in. 

The next thing I knew, I was describing the situation to my first wife and her husband, a miraculous circumstance given that it had already been determined that I could find no way to escape the house. In any case, I described the situation to them, stressing that I really needed to go back and get my car and find a way out of there. Apparently, they took me back, I returned to my car for another try, and happened eventually to notice a very small road which I had not noticed before, no wider than a sidewalk, and this turned out to be the avenue so impossible to find beforehand. 

The next problem was that I needed to get back to my car--never mind that just a minute ago I had been in my car--which, at this point anyway, had been parked further down the hill in the city. As we reached the city however, by foot now, I realized that I had no idea whatsoever of where I had parked the car. It could be anywhere! Nor could I fathom, as I woke bit by bit, how the car could have been in the city when the earlier problem involved being trapped, with the car, at the abandoned house.  

It was a troubling dream during the dreaming, and then again troubling later to the waking mind for its inconsistencies. But of course the two troubles are totally different, aren't they, the one being a trouble to the soul and the other a trouble to the mind. 

What could this have meant? I don't know. At this time, I truly have no idea. Displacement would seem to be a theme. Desperation? Entrapment? Futility? Stagnation? 

I don't know. You tell me. 

Thursday, September 3, 2020

Go Team Go

 Yesterday, I was unfriended by two people on Facebook and unfollowed by two blog readers. Welcome to the election high season! 

You know, I have unfriended only one person in my long Facebook career. I don't even know when I started using the app actually--maybe 2009? Anyway, after the election of 2016, there was one friend of mine, a close personal friend in the past, who became so extremely aggressive and insulting that, yeah, I went ahead and deleted him. I don't really mind when people disagree with me, but it's the transition to personal attacks that cross the line between reasonable debate and simple rudeness that I find intolerable. Other than that however, I have no problem at all with examining viewpoints that differ from my own and certainly don't hold them against those who hold them. How else would I learn what other people believe and why they believe it?  

But as with the period leading up to the 2016 election, one finds once again a fondness for slogans, repetitive falsehoods, and fashionable taunts ('snowflake') to be in vogue rather than any attempt at measured or intelligent debate. This makes interaction on the political level pretty much senseless. I for one am really not interested in blurting out familiar chants and platitudes, which seem all merely tools to be used in restricting one's own fuller appreciation of any issue or conflict. 

Wednesday, September 2, 2020


 A couple of days ago, a 17 year old boy, having decided for some reason that he knew, despite his tender age, what is best for people and for society in general, having concluded for some reason that he possessed full comprehension of the complex issues of law enforcement, social protest, racial tensions and a host of other adult world considerations, forthwith deputized himself and, with the encouragement and assistance of his own mother, carried an AR-15 assault rifle into the hot zone of Kenosha, Wisconsin where a combination of demonstrations and riots were occurring in response to the police shooting of a black man. The result was that instead of protecting anyone or anyone's property, the young man ended up murdering two people and essentially ending his own life. How it happens that plain citizens in Wisconsin are allowed to carry assault rifles, I do not know. At the same time, I doubt whether a black citizen could have carried an assault rifle into a public area and lasted five minutes without being shot. In the back. Seven times. And yet this boy was allowed to freely walk about, in full view of the police, lugging his fully loaded rifle. In any case, Wisconsin laws being whatever they are, the boy will now likely spend many years in jail. The boy has, with the approval of his mother, ended his own childhood and removed himself from the life of his family. He will not graduate from high school, he will not go to college, he will not work an honorable job or contribute to society or marry a woman or raise a family. Nor was he part of any 'well organized militia', as his lawyers intend to argue. He was a boy who wanted to play the part of the heroic sheriff in the wild west town, ill-equipped, and naturally so at 17, to comprehend the deadly finality of real life, to understand that real guns shoot real bullets and kill real people and that the transgressions of real laws bring about real and inescapable consequences. 'He is a good kid', some have said, and he probably is a good kid--a good kid who should have stayed home, grown up, learned about life, expanded his horizons, widened his world of social contacts, matured beyond the simple world of action movies and video games. The last thing our troubled world needed, after all, was a 17 year old self-appointed militiaman.