Saturday, October 31, 2020

Happy Halloween

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, October 30, 2020

Holy Fire

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

--Apeirogon, Colum McCann

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

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

Annabelle the Dog

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

Thursday, October 29, 2020

Another Screw Up

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

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Bat Bombs

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

--Apeirogon, Colum McCann

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

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Critical Syllables

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


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

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

"Did you already try it?" I asked.

"No, Om."

"Why not?" 


Scared. She was scared to use the plunger. 

"Do you want me to do it?"

"Yes, please." 

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

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



"I don't know Mayo." 

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

"Oh! MaYO!" 

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

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

Sunday, October 25, 2020

A Humorous Little Thing That Didn't Happen

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

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

Friday, October 23, 2020

Debate #2-1/2

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

Thursday, October 22, 2020

It Is What It Is

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Insensitive and Inappropriate Observations

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

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

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

Wrong! the woman replied. 

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

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

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

Sunday, October 18, 2020


 4:30 pm here and I am finally getting out of the house, not that I've been trying very hard to do so up to this point. One difficulty was that I kept falling asleep, although why I felt so profoundly tired I do not know. I mean, I feel okay otherwise. I just keep falling asleep is all. 

Perhaps it was the heavy rain that struck this morning, causing me to feel generally waterlogged, psychologically anyway. 

And then there was the hour or so that I spent trying to explain some of the basic tenets of Christianity to a curious Muslim friend. This is a surprisingly difficult thing to do. Take this question, for instance: Siapa yang disebut Tuhan dalam ajaran Kristen (who is called God in Christianity)? Try explaining the idea of the Trinity, right? I doubt whether my attempts were very successful. 

Went back to sleep for a while, then woke up and watched a news special from 1964, a 20 year anniversary piece on D-Day featuring Walter Cronkite and Dwight D. Eisenhower. It just popped up on my YouTube feed for some reason. I couldn't help but wonder whether my dad had watched the broadcast at that time. I certainly didn't--or at least had no recollection of it--and so it struck me as quite interesting, these 56 years later.

And this reminded me of something else. Like all boys in that time period, my brother and I, and our friends, enjoyed playing army and there was all kinds of neat army stuff one could still buy at the Army Surplus store down on Union Avenue--cartridge belts and canteens and helmets and so on. We all had these helmets back then, and I remember one day wondering how they could possibly stop a bullet, for they we made of plastic. Well, we eventually discovered that what we were wearing were helmet liners, and that the actual helmets were made of metal. So of course we bought the metal helmets, inserted our liners, and found the things, at 10 and 12 years of age, terrifically heavy. There's an old photograph somewhere of three of us on the trail to Gibson Lake burdened beneath these ponderous helmets. Needless to say, we soon decided that our plastic liners were sufficient for our military purposes. 

So I'll spend some time here with my coffee and then head on home, and then, heck, maybe there'll be something else from 1964 on the Tube. 

Saturday, October 17, 2020

Dueling Town Halls

 In times that are apparently now far in the past, and, I suspect, irretrievably so, I might have thought that anyone making even a cursory evaluation of the dueling Biden/Trump Town Hall broadcasts would have had, despite preexisting prejudices, to concur that Biden, though not a silver tonged orator, was at least knowledgeable and thorough in his comments, whereas Trump was vague, repetitive, and of course dishonest (though the latter is his familiar trademark). 

But things are different now, aren't they? There is no critical thinking, there is no sober judgement, no honest appraisal or even an attempt at honest appraisal. It simply does not matter what Trump says, because, I think, it is simply not important, not the point. The point is an overarching, overwhelming hatred of all that Trump seems to stand against, or what they believe he stands against, at any rate. 

Which is what? 

That is a bit of a harder nut to crack, because my mind simply does not work that way. I take it to be a feeling of being threatened by changes in our society, a shifting of power to non-white minorities, a validation of things that have traditionally been thought unacceptable, or at best unmentionable, an acceptance and inclusion of 'the other', an ongoing degradation of economic realities (along with a will to blame the diminishing returns of lifestyle standards on the poor and on minorities). 

I do not believe that it is a dislike of Biden himself, or of anything in particular that he says. I don't really think that they have listened to anything he has said. Again, that is not the point. These are people with a special affection for an image of a past that has actually never existed. The American dream. A picture that has only taken and held its shape where fantasy was robust and suppression vigorous. They are angry because, frankly, their lives are falling apart, all of our lives are falling apart, the nation is falling apart, and dammit this must be someone's fault! It is a new world, and they liked the old one. The one that never existed. 

Friday, October 16, 2020

A Dream Response

 Just before going to sleep last night, I was kind of fixating on how difficult it is to die, in the sense that for most of us this will entail a gradual struggle, a losing battle, wherein we must suffer and simply wait for the Herculean struggle of the body to be overcome. It is not difficult to see the sense in the idea of planning one's own demise via some self-administered euthanasia. Then again, we may not necessarily know that the time has actually come--that is, one may unexpectedly revive and even return to good health. 

Having dispensed with these thoughts, I then turned my mind to what would follow when death finally came. It seems quite likely that I will die alone, so I began to wonder how long it would be before someone found my corpse. And then what might be done? It seems like an awful bother to the living to have to deal with arranging things and disposing of the corpse. The well planned death again comes to mind. You will find me at such and such a day and hour, lying atop a plastic sheet on the kitchen floor. Don't be alarmed. 

Bedtime stories. 

Well, when I went to sleep, I had a long dream (or what seemed long). I was moving into my old childhood house, a place that has always been very dear to me--but it was more than the house I remember, really. It was much larger, palatial. In any case, I was coming home. Everyone was there, sort of observing the move--my brother, my parents, the children, my loved ones--and arrangements were being made for me to continue some sort of familiar work, but I would be utilizing an advanced new connectivity. 'Everyone is connected again and forever,' someone in the dream told me. 'You will be connected to everyone.' I worried a bit about handling all these matters, about accomplishing the move smoothly, but was consistently reassured that everything was in place and taken care of. I was excited about settling in, about exploring the old/new house, about beginning in this new place with all these new tools. 'And there's more,' someone else, who was standing with two other men, said. 'There's much, much more, which we will bring to you in about a week.' 

There was more, which, as happens with dreams, has swiftly drifted away, but I awoke feeling peaceful and encouraged, looking forward to both the end and the beginning. 

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

The Perfect Wife

 I finished reading The Perfect Wife. It's a very quick read, as are all of JP Delaney's 'thrillers'. This is an intriguing novel, a meld of science fiction, psychological thriller, and classic horror--a Frankenstein for the 21st century--and Delaney seems at first on a clear road to pulling it off; however, for me anyway, although some may disagree, he falls short in the end. He had a tiger by the tail, I reckon, and just couldn't hold on. The basic premise--wildly successful tech start-up founder loses his beloved wife and devotes himself to making a cutting-edge cyber version of her, complete with  empathic programming, and of course fully downloaded with all of the late human being's digital memory input. In short, the perfect wife. To say more would quickly require a spoiler alert, so I'll just leave it there. It's not that Delaney had too many themes going, it's just that he fell short of finally harmonizing them, making that perfect consummation that only the most perfect of writers can manage. This is not to say by any means that The Perfect Wife is not an engaging book. It is. If it weren't, I wouldn't have raced through it in just a few days. Delaney has made quite a name for himself over the last few years in the mystery/psychological thriller category with excellent novels such as The Girl Before and Believe Me. Moreover, there were some very compelling and thoughtful observations herein on raising an autistic child, which I can certainly identify with. It is my understanding that Delaney himself has an autistic son. Curiously, however--and this is one thing that left the narrative wanting--there seemed almost nothing of a moral/spiritual dimension, of any depth anyway, in the novel, such as we see in Shelley's Frankenstein, RL Stevenson's Jekyll and Hyde, etc. Whether Delaney figures these things are no longer pertinent, or are passe, or indeed intended to leave them out as part of the tech-mind focus of the characters, I do not know. I will only say that the novel suffered for the neglect. Having said all of this, you may as well know that I have continued on to Delaney's most recent novel, Playing Nice, so obviously I'm far from giving up on him!

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Expelled for the Moment

 Well, here I am for my second coffee at my second coffee spot this morning. Usually I don't drink this much coffee anymore, but the trouble is that there is a tukang (a handyman) at the house trying to patch two of the walls, and the maid is there as well, and I just feel distinctly in the way. A couple of nights ago, we had our first big rain and I noted the next day that two of the walls were wet on the inside. I am told that this is not unusual for a new house in the first rain. But anyway, the walls need to be patched and repainted. 

I also note that when it rains heavily, it is quite impossible to go out either the front or the back door (to smoke, for instance) without getting drenched. There's just no cover. Ostensibly, this nuisance will be dealt with when Louis erects a 'canopy' in the front (like a parking bay cover), but I don't know when that will actually happen. 

We'll be in this 'rainy season' situation for about the next six months--not that it rains all the time, or even often, but when it does rain, it comes down (and sideways and slant-ways) in proverbial dogs and cats. It will be interesting as well to see how this land on which all these new houses have been built will react to flood rains. There are those who are worried, as this used to be a rice field. I think that my house is on a little bit higher, rockier ground than that at the head of the street, but we shall see. 

Apparently, houses on the other side of my street are disallowed because of the proximity to the nearby Pertamina gas station. So I guess our view of the beautiful gas station will never be blocked. There was some talk of making a park there and putting in some trees, but that would be something that would happen down the road from now, if ever. 

Sunday, October 11, 2020

The Abduction

 Danny wasn't the same person anymore. The Danny you knew and loved, your little boy, was gone. Autism had stolen him. 

--JP Delaney, The Perfect Wife

This strikes a chord with me. A sad note of enduring torment. I have not spoken of this previously in any detail because it has always been too painful, and because my son, who always read this journal, would have felt angry and betrayed. My precious son, you see, my beloved little boy was taken from me by autism around about the time he entered puberty. 

Before that time, when he was just a little child, we were as close as could possibly be. We were father and son, but we were also best friends. Maybe you remember the old song from the TV show, The Courtship of Eddie's Father. "People let me tell you 'bout my best friend, he's a warm hearted person who'll love me 'til the end." We did everything together. We went everywhere together. And then suddenly he was gone, just as if he'd been abducted. I often thought of it that way. Some evil had abducted him and was holding him prisoner. And I so very, very badly wanted him back. 

My son, according to the doctors, suffered from high functioning autism, Asperger's syndrome. He withdrew into himself, became artificial, socially crippled, fixated on matters beyond the ken of normal thought patterns. Speaking became an effort, full of grunts and throat clearings. He washed his hands endlessly until they bled. In public, he walked next to walls with his arms tucked in, his head down. He would not meet my eyes. He possessed an intelligence much higher than that of his age group, and yet he could not (or would not) tie his own shoes. When he spoke, it was no longer the give and take of a normal conversation. It was a monolog, a speech. The boy who had camped with me, fished with me, wrestled with me and laughed with me was gone. 

I thought at first that maybe I could bring him back (what other option was there than to hope so?). Maybe through patience. Maybe through counseling. Maybe through a psychiatrist. Maybe through a medicine. And, at last, maybe through prayer. But his abductor had taken him far away and hidden him well. In fact, for the next 30 years, and until he died, I did not see him again. I saw where he was supposed to have been--in his body--and yet he was not there. This was someone else, whose mission in life seemed to be centered on discomfort, difficulty, and alienation--suspicious of people, mired in various paranoias, inclined toward magical thinking, the world shaking importance of the position of a plate on a table or a book on a shelf, the time on a clock--and, always, the imaginary filth that threatened him from all sides; not literal filth, he once explained, but spiritual filth. 

Of course I fashioned a relationship with the person who was present, in as far as he would allow a relationship, and yet I longed still for my son, the person he was supposed to have been, the person he had once promised to be. Was it some sort of sin to feel disappointed like this? To hold him to something that had not happened and to consider reality a cruel mistake? I don't know. Like the woman in the novel, I just knew that he was gone. And I missed him forever desperately. 

Does it sound shallow, hard-hearted, inflexible, selfish, unrealistic? I don't know. I only know how I felt, how I feel. I only know the sense of loss, of panic, of anguish, of lost hope. Of personal failure. 

"I'd say she was traumatized by what happened to him," Delaney writes. "The outside world saw the beautiful, positive woman who just got on with it. The amazing mother who took everything in her stride. In this room, I saw a woman struggling to come to terms with heartbreak."

Those words ring, they hurt--for it happens to men, to fathers, too. 

Saturday, October 10, 2020

Tots and Pears

 I received the following reply on Facebook this morning to a comment regarding the pre-election seating of a supreme court justice:

"There will be no will of the people in this election. Just a bunch of mail-in ballots for corpses sent in to get the almost-a-corpse in office, just so he can resign for Hitlery 2.0."
The scary thing is that this is rather typical of comments I've seen. Where in the world are these people getting their "news" if not from the lips of the president himself? Certainly not from the representatives of both parties in congress. Certainly not from the FBI or from election committees. It is sheer fantasy, flatly contradicted by every knowledgeable party. And yet the idea pops up again and again, repeated with the utter conviction of unassailable ignorance.
Ah, my poor country. Thoughts and prayers.

Friday, October 9, 2020


 I learned a new word yesterday. Monachopsis. The word was in a novel I'm reading--The Perfect Wife, by JP Delaney, a rather inventive mix of mystery, psychological thriller and horror genres. But I'll say more about that later. 

Monachopsis is the subtle but persistent feeling of being out of place, as maladapted to your surrounding as a seal on a beach--lumbering, clumsy, easily distracted, huddled in the company of other misfits, unable to recognize the ambient roar of your intended habitat, in which you'd be fluidly, brilliantly, effortlessly at home. 

That is exactly the way I so often feel! Except that I don't even have the company of misfits to console me.

Of what use it is to me to be defined, I'm not sure. But at least I know the proper word now!  

The Sea

 When I arrived at the beach today and settled into my usual spot for coffee, I noted an unusual smell in the air--unusual for Bali, but not at all unusual in my memory of the Oregon coast. There was a certain hard-to-describe saltiness in the air, a scent of sand and fish and shellfish, a coolness, the spray from breakers, seaweed, shell encrusted rocks, a vibrant liveliness. This all faded quite quickly, and yet the sensory experience was compelling and sent a sigh of remembrances through me. The ocean in Bali is much different from the ocean in Oregon, especially in the area of Sanur, where it is really just an enormous bay extending from Ketewel to Serangan, a placid pool rimmed by ankle deep white water. On the Oregon coast the ocean is immense, awesome, endless, a constant roar which breathes a constantly rushing tide, whether it is rushing in or rushing out, and which itself carries a clattering of small stones and shells on its tongue. One feels very small on the Oregon coast with the sand stretching before him and behind him and with the heavy breakers pounding, and when the water rushes in and bubbles up around your feet, it is stinging cold and possesses even in the shallow a brute strength. It is a living thing, immeasurably bigger than we. It is vast and boundlessly foreign. It is stunning. I do miss Oregon, especially when it suddenly visits me like this here on the tame and far side of the world.

Thursday, October 8, 2020

VP Debate

 Well it was a good debate--the vice presidential debate, I mean--and an actual debate for a change, overall orderly, civil, and honorable, with the exception of a couple of Trump-style rude interruptions from Pence. I don't know how other people reacted to these. I just kind of chuckled and tuned them out. But for the most part, this was a refreshing return to a traditional forum in which the candidates were able to express their viewpoints by turn. Having said that much, however, I reckon the most lasting impression will have been made by the presence of the large black bug in Vice President Pence's hair. 

Wednesday, October 7, 2020


 As I entered Starbucks this morning, the employees rushed to "my" table ahead of me to clear it off, clean the surface, and then to switch out the chair that was there for the chair that I prefer. Now that's what I call VIP service! 

It would be nice if I could actually do something to kind of honor their efforts, such as write something worthwhile here, but my head is quite empty, and has been for some time now. A sort of oppressive apathy lies upon me, mostly having to do with the morning news I habitually watch, which has become more blatantly absurd than alarming these days. I have decided, really, that it is better replaced either by old episodes of The Big Bang Theory or by classical music through earphones. This morning's selection was Also Sprach Zarathustra, by Richard Strauss--a piece that starts out with a heart-filled bang and then settles into gentle reverie.

So that's my plan, I think--to simply turn my back on the bullshit, on the American carnage embodied in our super spreader president, to return to the fine and precious things and thus revisit the universe of who we are at our best rather than simmer in the disease process of who we are at present. 

Sunday, October 4, 2020

Testing, Testing, One, Two, Three

 I happened some time back to meet a woman named Eva, from Jogyakarta, who has of late, after chatting on several occasions, taken an interest in my MS, thereby dragging me back toward somewhat of an interest myself, which is not a bad thing, really. I mean, I probably should stay somewhat up-to-date on things and maintain a knowledgeable bearing toward my own disease, not only for my own sake, but for the benefit of others who may be curious. As it happens, this woman manages a medical clinic and so is understandably interested in all kinds of health problems. Moreover, MS may seem especially intriguing, as it is pretty much unknown in Indonesia. 

Such conversations are also a good lesson on how difficult it is to convey specialized or technical information through a second language, for of course one is suddenly confronted with categories that fall far outside the normal repertoire of everyday language. How to speak of T-cells trespassing the blood-brain barrier and attacking myelin coating in the central nervous system? Right? 

But there are things we can talk about that are more readily expressed and comprehended. I was telling her, for example, about the trouble I have with memory and with facial recognition. In this case, what is conveyed may be readily comprehended but not so readily believed. 

So it happened that some time after we had been chatting on the Hello Talk app this morning, I received a message through Whatsapp.

Hi. Recognize me? OMG ... don't say that you forgot me ...

There is a profile picture on the account but no name. I look at the picture, enlarge it. No bells ring. 

I type a question mark in reply.

Another message appears on the screen. 

Gosh ... it really happened! 

I type an apology, explaining that my memory is not good. 

Okay. I'll give you a clue. Hello Talk.

Hmm, I replied. Well, I've spoken to hundreds of people on Hello Talk. 

Okay, here's another. We were talking just a few minutes ago.

Oh! Oh dear. Hi, Eva.

So you see several chunks of critical information had already fallen into the black hole where my memory used to be. It's not very surprising that I failed to recognize Eva from her photo, as often enough I will fail to recognize even people who are standing right beside me. What is more jarring is the fact that I had forgotten that I had just minutes previously given her my Whatsapp number so that we could have a voice chat later on. The message from an unnamed contact should have told me instantly that this was the person with whom I had just shared my contact information. And yet I was clueless. I had no guess who this person could be until she mentioned that we had just got done talking to each other. 

Amazing! Eva exclaims. I didn't know whether to believe you or not.

Well, it is amazing, isn't it? Even to me. And it is somewhat useful to examine these failures in comprehension--not because one might teach himself to think more clearly--it's not that simple--but just that he may be more acutely aware of the reality of such malfunctions. You cannot will these bits of comprehension from falling out of place, but you can be aware that they may at any moment have done so. Eva was very apologetic about her little test, but she needn't have been, for the test is helpful for me as well. 

Saturday, October 3, 2020

The Boy Who Didn't Cry Wolf

 The sad truth is that for the past four years President Trump has operated within such a cloud of lies that the response of many yesterday, myself included, when the news was announced that the president had tested positive for COVID-19 was one of instant doubt. Immediately, we began looking for a motive, a ruse. Was this to avoid another disastrous debate? Did it have something to do with trying to delay the election? Was the plan to pop back on the scene in a short period of time, therefore demonstrating that the virus is not really very dangerous? Or could this be simply a sympathy play in order to avoid negative press or to influence the feelings of voters? 

How sad it is that he, and his enablers, have brought us all to this point of suspicion and uncertainty. We may as well call this particular affliction 'the Trump virus'. 

I am reminded of the story of the boy who cried wolf, rewritten for our times. The Boy Who Didn't Cry Wolf. So many times, in fact, did he fail to cry wolf--so many times, that is, did he deny the threat of the virus, declare it to be a hoax, object to reasonable measures and precautions--that at last when the wolf came for him, people didn't believe him. Or rather, they believed, as he had always said before, that there really was no wolf. 

Of course, other theories, from other quarters, have begun to appear as well. It was suggested, for instance, that Trump had somehow been secretly infected by some unknown means by far left extremists. And as the days pass, many more of these fictions will arise. 

Nonetheless, reality, for many of us, remains a compelling witness. As it becomes clear that the president's illness could not possibly be a 'hoax', given the army of non-partisan healthcare professionals that will be interacting with him, as one after another of the people he has been in close contact with also test positive and contact tracing focuses on this or that super spreader event, we will see that there is nothing of mystery whatsoever in what has happened, that it was in fact fairly perfectly predictable. 

Aside from fairytales, it is biblical too, isn't it? You reap what you sow. 

Here in Hindu Bali, they call it karma. 

In more modern terminology, we might simply say 'It is what it is.'