Monday, January 30, 2023

The Monster

 "Even if there are a lot of fools in the world, we can't see any reason why you should ruin yourself opposing them. You can't teach them anything, you know."

--Stephen Crane, The Monster

Here is but one of a wealth of quotes that may be lifted from Stephen Crane's short story masterpiece, The Monster. It is not the best known among Crane's short stories, taking a back seat to comparable gems such as The Open Boat and The Blue Hotel, but in my own mind it the very best of his work, his most accomplished piece of craftsmanship. 

The Monster has always fallen behind the more well-known stories for three simple reasons: 1) Readers don't understand it; 2) Readers don't want to understand it; and 3) It deals at its heart with the enduring guilt of our society, the poison written into our founding document, the shame sewn into the fabric of who we are as a nation and as human beings. In short, it is about racism, ignorance, intolerance, denial, cowardice, hypocrisy. It gives us a good look at what we don't want to see. One character alone in the story sees, and for seeing, and responding, he is ostracized, banished, ruined. He has taken up our inherited cross, and that road leads inexorably to crucifixion. 

The Monster is a thorough, richly layered, deceptively complex, very long short story (though still firmly in the short story form). I find myself astounded on each reading at how good the thing is, and at how much more depth I find on each reading. 

Ah, and lest I forget--A fourth factor that keeps The Monster from its literary due, especially in our time, is the tender ears of the politically correct crowd, who would gasp and cover their eyes at the sight of plain depictions of life as it is, and completely miss the meaning of why any writer would want to educate them about such things. Yes, Crane uses prohibited words in this story--words such as nigger and coon--such that we might be acquainted with the blatant carelessness of his time, or any time. He uses these words fully aware of their power to offend, and that's the point. As with Twain, Faulkner, Harper Lee and others, he is not using the words for fun or because he likes them. Quite the reverse. He is painting a picture of human disregard and ignorance, so common that it seems mundane, normal. Sadly, The Monster is not likely to be found on your school reading list or library recommendation--which is probably a good thing, as Twain once said, as people will be more interested than ever in reading the work. 

Sunday, January 29, 2023


I stopped in this morning at one of my favorite cafes for my usual morning coffee and whatever tasty 'etcetera' I might find in the display case. 

"I'll have the banana bread," I decided. "Dipanaskan" --heated.  

"Sorry, Pak. No electricity right now."

"Oh, no problem," I replied senselessly, "I'll be eating outside." 🤔  

"Ok. One slice banana bread."

"Heated, okay?"

"Umm ... There's no electricity, Pak."

"Oh! Sorry, sorry," I say sheepishly and shoot myself in the head with my index finger.

"Sorry for the inconvenience," she answers. "Maybe you want water? Or orange juice with that?"

"No, no. I'll have my usual cappuccino."

"Uh, Pak," she says, with a tone of pity, disbelief, and a 'God, this bule is dumb as a board' look in her eye, "Cannot. No electricity."

🤣🤣Good Lord, what's wrong with me? I should be asking for a brain replacement rather than a slice of banana bread.

Thursday, January 26, 2023

No Charge for Nothing

 For the past week or so, I've been hearing an odd noise coming from my motorbike. A sort of growling noise when decelerating. Being a lazy sort of person, I thought at first that I'd just ignore this until the next time the bike was due for servicing, which will be in March, but then I thought better of this. Perhaps, thought I, I should do the responsible thing and get this checked out. I mean, what if this is something serious? What if I'm ruining the bike by continuing to drive it? The prudent thing would be to get it checked out, right? 

Therefore, yesterday I stopped by at my usual Honda Service location in Renon. However, they were already overwhelmed with bikes needing service. So, this morning, I went down to a smaller service outlet, quite near my house in Sanur. They too were busy but said that could take me in an hour. Or so. 

It turned out to be 'or so'. When finally my turn came up, the repairman put the bike up on its back legs, raised the engine a number of times, turned the wheels, and announced that he heard nothing out of order. 

"Well," I said, "the thing is, I only hear the noise when I'm driving. I don't hear it when it is standing still. Can you drive it around a bit?"

It had begun to rain. The man looked at the rain. He said, "It is raining." 

I concluded that repairmen, or this repairman anyway, do not leave the dry interior of the shop in the presence of rain.

What to do? 

The answer was to raise the engine again. turn the wheels, incline the ear closely, cast suspicious glances my way, and declare that no unusual sound could be heard. 

The man walked away, and at this point I was willing to let the thing go and slink away myself, but then he returned, pulling a helmet over his head, decidedly displeased, by appearances. 

And off he went. 

Upon his return perhaps ten minutes later, he still had not heard an unusual sound. 

"Hmm, that's odd. But does it seem to be running well?"

"Yes, good."

"Well okay, that's good then. All is well. Where do I pay?" 

"No pay," he said. 

The rain had stopped. 

I thanked the man, thanked the other employees whose curiosity had been piqued, thanked the audience of curious people waiting for their own turns, and likely wondering what was wrong with this crazy bule. 

The funny thing is that as I drove to Sanur, I could no longer hear the odd sound either!

I don't think I will go back to this particular service center again. They might remember me. 

Wednesday, January 25, 2023


 All day long, I've suffered something akin to depression. But it's not depression. It is a nagging, unshakeable feeling that something is wrong. Something has happened. I have no idea what it is, it's just there, stewing within me, vaguely aching in my chest, causing me to feel short of breath. I've had this before, a number of times. Would that it could come with a knowledge of what the thing is, what's wrong, what happened, but it doesn't. As useless a sort of clairvoyance as ever there was. 

Tuesday, January 24, 2023


A part of me is missing. It's a large part. It's somewhere. I know what it is but not where it has gone. Sometimes I look for it, rummage through dusty spaces, open and close drawers, rifle through cabinets. This is my own self, my own flesh and blood. I miss it. It was, it used to be, me. It was my soul, gone silent now, screaming for help, echoing from every corner, everywhere and nowhere. What I am without you? How can I possibly explain myself if no one tells me what to say? You are the heat of the day, the exact heat of the day, just so. You are that street nearby where the smells of the spice islands brew in the evening and overcome everything that made the day. I see your eyes behind the curtain, I see you move between the trees. I remember that touching you was like touching my fingers to a mirror. There was never more than just that much between us, a paper-thin partition of glass. And when I moved my fingers, you moved yours. We thought about things exactly the same way.

Monday, January 23, 2023

Sixty-Nine Bottles of Beer on the Wall

 I'm 69 today. Outrageous. An insult. Some sort of cosmic joke. And what's next? Well, 70, I suppose. Maybe. (My family is not long-lived). 

I'm keenly aware of the absurdity of new beginnings at this point. The absurdity of nearly everything. Except absurdity. Maybe. I'm aware that this is no time to be starting new relationships. There's no future in it, honey. Lol. 

And yet here I am in a relationship with a woman 20 years younger than I. Goodness, I remember well when that would have meant she would be in her 20s. She's not. But she looks like she is. It is somehow fortuitous, I think, that her own situation is so odd--living on another island, unable to leave there for more than a week or two at a time every three or four months. How very quickly the years must pass in this scenario, it seems. Surely, I must age and rot in the intervals like the Picture of Dorian Gray. Ah well, it should serve as an effective test of love. And that's not the only silver lining, for I think we shall find it difficult to tire of one another, given that we will rarely see one another. 

As it is, we talk/chat/text numerous times every day and we get to know one another very well. It reminds me of one of those old 18th century novels where people in far flung parts of England (or wherever) carry on long distance courtships through letters which become ever more maudlin. (Although we are not maudlin. She is not that type of girl. She's a strange girl, an odd girl, actually, and I love it).

In fact, she is the great, miraculous gift in these poor old years of mine. I told her from the beginning that I have nothing to offer, not even a future, and somehow she seems fine with that. See, I told you she's odd. What can she be thinking? Is there something, after all, worthy about me that I myself cannot see? 

What's that old saying again? Never look a gift horse in the mouth? 

Could it possibly be that fate, or providence, knows something more than I.  

Saturday, January 21, 2023


She was not willing to leave this place. Old people are like that. They do not want to move anymore. 

The above is from Yu Hua's excellent novel, To Live. It reminds me of something I wrote not long ago, or perhaps some time ago (old people are like that too, unclear about the passage of time). I wrote (I think) about an offer to leave the little house I am in for a better, bigger house, which seemed fine in a way except for one critical drawback: I would have to leave the little house I am already in. Sound ridiculous? Well maybe. Nonetheless, there it is. I cannot tolerate moving. Never have liked it. Always have preferred to put down roots and sense their growth beneath my feet. (Curious therefore that I somehow ended up on the other side of the world, but that's another story for another time; or more likely a story I've already told). 

What's different now is that I imagine those roots reaching not to ever richer, more stable earth but ending dry and thirsty in the grave. I think of this bare little one room house as the final house. Why move again, for I am bound for another place already (rumored to be a better place).  

We don't like to move, because we have the biggest move of all coming. 


I don't say that I necessarily long for that final displacement. It seems a terrible bother, after all. Why not just stay put? I'm happy enough, aren't I? Am I really up to moving yet again? Are any of us? Especially given the rather extreme nature of the proposal.  

But enough of that, for there is also this:


I have never again met a man so impossible to forget as Fugui. I have never met a man so clear about his life experiences and so able to tell his story, to view his past intact, to describe his journey through youth as well as the process that brought him to old age. Finding a man like that is exceedingly rare. Maybe too much suffering in life destroys memory. The past is viewed without emotion. Not knowing what else can be done, one merely smiles awkwardly, disinterested, and lets it go. What is remembered is no more than rumor, scattered shards and fragments which often are not even related to the person remembering. One or two sentences are sufficient to explain everything. I will often hear little children mocking old people. When they become old, they all begin to live like dogs.


Fugui was altogether different than that. He liked to remember the past, to tell the story of his life, for in that way he could repeat his life journey again and again. Like the claws of a bird gripping tightly to the branch of a tree, his stories gripped tightly to me.

--To Live, Yu Hua (my translation from the Indonesian which itself is a translation from the Chinese)

Again, some time ago (2 years? 3? 5?) my mind was suddenly flooded with very distinct, detailed, living memories of the past. Suddenly, I recalled things I had not thought of in years, things that I had altogether forgotten (or seemed to have forgotten). I began to write these memories down in one mode or another--short stories, Facebook entries, blog entries. One after another, I wrote them down, and they seemed to come to me on a daily basis, easy, intact, already articulated in my mind. I merely transcribed, so to speak. I told my story, bit by bit, magically cogent, cohesive. I was like Fugui. I had a life story and could tell it too.

And then I wasn't. It was as if recording these things expunged them as well, erased them in the process--like one of those old tape recorders, where whatever you record on the tape erases whatever had been there beforehand. As you play the tape through, you might hear little squawks and chirps of the old recording at the end of one or the beginning of another, but they make no sense now, they are shards and fragments. What can we do? We let it go.

And we live like dogs. We sleep, we eat, we aimlessly roam or lie in the sun. We like to have our bellies scratched. We do not know what we did yesterday, let alone weeks and years and decades ago. And it doesn't matter, for history has suddenly become irretrievable, superfluous. We breathe therefore we are.

One or two sentences are sufficient to explain everything.

Monday, January 16, 2023

Another Comedy of Errors at Kasih Ibu Hospital

 Once again, I have run head-on into confusion and incompetence at Kasih Ibu Hospital. Why am I surprised? I don't know. 

I was nearly out of my usual med at the beginning of this week and I had already contacted my neurologist, Dr. Yoanes, as well as the ER staff, as per the usual procedure wherein (supposedly) the ER will contact Dr. Yoanes with my request for a new prescription, Dr. Yoanes will write the prescription, send it to the ER, and I will pick up the precscription at the ER then take it to a pharmacy of my choice (given that the hospital pharmacy charges about twice the price than that at a private pharmacy). Sound simple so far? Well of course it doesn't. It's ridiculous. Ah, but it gets even more so from here. 

I had sent several messages over the past two weeks or so both to the doctor and to the ER and had received no reply. This in itself is not so very unusual, but it is very annoying. Clearly, it would be necessary once again to personally appear at the hospital in order to get things done. I had decided that this could wait till my girlfriend returned to Java at the end of the week, but then it so happened that she had to go out to the same area to arrange something with Lion Airline, and so we took that opportunity to pop by the hospital. 

I presented to the ER, asked for my usual medication, and told them that Dr. Yoanes had not acknowledged, or even read, my request for the past two weeks. The ER nurse went to his office and returned by and by with the news that Dr. Yoanes told her he could not give me the prescription until I make an appointent with him for he had not seen my or examined me in two years. 

Well, I was stunned. Because I saw him and was examined by him in the month of September, and the reason I had done that is because he had said at that time that he could not give me a prescription until he saw me.  Good grief. I hardly knew what to say, except for a number of inappropriate things, but happily, my girlfriend was with me and she handled the communication with the nurse in Indonesian.

The nurse dispatched once again and then returned with a prescription, and also with basically the same response. The doctor had not seen me in some years, nor had he gotten blood tests for me. Now that was a choice bit to add, because he had sent me in September as well for a full blood panel, costing me 1.5 million rupiah. 

By this time, I'm starting to wonder whether I am on Candid Camera. Is this is joke? 

So, upon filling the prescription and driving back home, I wrote a number of angry messages to the doctor. These he has not read either at this point, five days after I wrote them, although the ER did just yesterday answer the message I sent some three weeks ago!

At this point, I am trying to figure out just how I want to respond to this incompetence. On the one hand, I like Dr. Yoanes and feel that he is knowledgeable concerning MS, but at patient communication he is totally worthless. Moreover, I remain completely mystified by what thinking can possibly be behind his refusal to answer, acknowledge, or even read my online requests and questions. Having myself worked in a hospital for 25 years, this is simply unacceptable. I mean, it's more than that. It's just downright weird! 

So, do I see him again and try to hash these problems out? Or do I go to another hospital in hopes of finding a better situation? Or do I just quit my med altogether and stoically bear the pain? 

I really don't know. I've got to think the damn thing through. 

Thursday, January 5, 2023

The Wind

 The wind continues in south Bali. Four days now, howling up and down streets, overturning garbage cans (for which the neighborhood dogs are thankful), scattering the contents like tumbling tufts of sagebrush, plucking flowers from the bushes and limbs from the trees, chasing the neighborhood dogs who are more accustomed to giving chase. They all show up at my door. For God's sake, let us in!

First it's sunny, then rainy, then sunny again. I rush out to get a coffee during one of these intervals of sun and meet the rain halfway to my destination. I slog in, dripping, but people understand. It happens, dude. 

In the early evening, the sky clears, an azureous blue, with clouds standing afar off like exhausted foes, and I rush down to the beach for an evening coffee and a stroll, buffeted all the way by the fists of the driving wind. Arriving there, I find the place unusually crowded. Perhaps it's accidental. These people may have come not so much by intention but as victims of the southerly wind. In any case, they seem happy--breezy, one might say--walking in pairs and trios and quadruplets, or riding those popular little electric bikes, against which a pedestrian must always be on guard. 

At my table, I begin to read, but put my book down, light a cigarette and watch the passing crowd instead. It is composed of every person of every type in every color speaking every language--a regular Babel, but laid flat to the sandy ground like a tattoo. Two elderly women are sitting at a table just one from mine, smoking as well, and when a young woman in a two-piece, backless, bare ass bathing suit strolls by with her boyfriend, I see the two women fix their gaze on the female member of the couple. She passes through their line of vision, and the old women do not deviate their gaze nor adjust their line of sight with a turn of the head. Their gray faces are as plain and unopinionated as stone, their facial features perfectly inscrutable. They take in the young woman as she passes through their field of vision like some kind of electric scanning device. The woman nearest me, once a blond I think, takes a long drag on her cigarette and blows out a long stream of blue smoke, which comes back in her face and swirls around her head at the whim of the wind. 

And then it started to rain. 

Hot Chocolate Tea

 I'm losing my mind. 

Rising this morning, I proceeded on automatic pilot to do the usual thing, that being to shuffle from the bed to the kitchen, take my usual cup from the rack, pour a little water into it and then swallow my usual dose of omeprazole. I then decided, unusually, to have a hot chocolate rather than the usual tea. 

I went to the refrigerator to get the powdered hot chocolate, scooped three spoons of it into my cup, filled the cup with hot water, then added a teabag. This did not strike me as unusual until I had done the other usual first-thing-in-the-morning things such as opening the drapes, patting whichever neighborhood dog who had already come in on the head, turning on the TV, and locating my smokes. 

Returning to my hot drink, still happily steeping on the counter, I could not help but notice that something had gone wrong. Why is the water so brown, I asked myself? Well, because you decided to have hot chocolate, dummy. But then why is there a teabag in the chocolate? Because you're a dummy, Dummy. 

Ah, yes. The voice of inner reason, sparking to life like a delayed fuse, had finally spoken. I had done the usual thing and the unusual thing at the same time, and this had rendered the final product unusual. 

Should I drink this stuff? No, I thought not. 

Well then, after breakfast (the usual oatmeal), I headed down to Sanur, as usual, for my usual coffee (no tea, thank you). On the way, I stopped at the gas station, for there was only one bar showing on my gas gauge. Reaching the front of the line, I pulled my bike forward, opened the gas cap, and told the man I wanted 30.000 rupiah worth. He inserted the nozzle of the pump, I retrieved my wallet from my pocket. And then somehow in this space of time, time elongated itself, for it seemed to me that the gas station attendant had withdrawn the nozzle by the time I had withdrawn my wallet from my pocket. 

"No," I said, "I want 30.000." 

"I know," he said. 

I looked at the pump, which appeared to say 3000. 

I pointed to the gauge. "That says 3000. I want 30.000. Tiga puluh ribu, bukan tiga ribu."

"I know," he said, and also pointed to the pump to show me that an extra digit had been added in the form of a zero pasted on a little square of white paper.

Hmm. Surely this was some kind of a trick, adding a number like that on a little square of paper. He could not have put 30.000 worth of gas into the tank in such a short time. Impossible! I peered into the tank.

"If 30.000, it should be almost full," I said. 

The man pointed again to the pump.

"That says 3.000." 

He pointed again to the added zero. 

I peered again into the tank, arguing again that it should be full. And so on. 

"30.000," the man said. 

I gave him the 30.000, figuring I had been cheated and would just have to stop at the next station.

"I don't believe that was 30.000," I grumbled as I closed the gas cap.

"Believe it or not. It's up to you," he said as I walked away. 

People are always taking advantage of foreigners, I complained in my thoughts. They think we're stupid. They think we're made of money.

Mounting the bike then, starting the engine, I immediately noted that my gas gauge read nearly full now. 

Shit! I had stood there and made a fool of myself. Why did I think he had not put the gas in my tank, a man who has been standing there all morning putting gas in everyone's tank? Why did it seem to take such a short time--merely the time it took to reach for my wallet? What, in fact, was I doing during that time? What was my brain doing? Maybe something like making hot chocolate tea, right? 

Well, I felt stupid for the rest of the day, embarrassed. And the attendant's last words kept playing through my head. Believe it or not. It's up to you.

Crazy old man can't think straight. That's what must have been in the poor guy's mind. 

And as with the 30.000, in this too he would be right. 

Sunday, January 1, 2023

New Year's Day

 It occurred to me this evening while washing dishes that the thing that bothers me most about death is that I don't like to move. I don't like change. I don't like to change my residence. I'm the sort of person who puts down roots and I don't like to be, well, uprooted, ya know? Now, if you put me into a deep sleep or something and get the whole move done for me and then wake me up when it's over, I guess I'd be okay with that. As long as one can put down roots in heaven, and then not have to be shuffled around to different neighborhoods there. 

This morning I had the idea to drive out to Bali Mal Galeria. I don't go there often, but that's where the Gramedia bookstore is and I had found myself once again out of paperback books to read. The trip out there was amazing--almost like the old COVID days--as there was only very light traffic on the road. Probably people were sleeping in after having too much fun on New Year's Eve. 

I ended up buying Yu Hua's novel, To Live, which I had read before, given to a friend, and then decided I wanted to read again. Also, I bought a novel called All She Was Worth by a writer named Miyuki Miyabe. I know nothing about this writer or this book, but I thought the title was interesting. We'll see. 

By the time I had a coffee and headed back to the road, the New Year's revelers had awakened and managed to cause an epic traffic jam. I had gotten to the mall in record short time, and now it was taking me a record long time to travel just a quarter mile. It was also already 32 degrees centigrade. My helmet kept slipping over my eyes because of the sweat on my forehead. 

I've said before that I never liked New Year's Eve. I will add that I never liked New Year's Day either. I don't know about now, but in the 'old days' back in America, nearly everything was closed on New Year's Day, which made it just about the most boring day of the year. Moreover, the only football games on TV were college games, which are of no interest to me. I watch professional football, not kids practicing to maybe be professionals someday. The good thing about Bali is that nearly everything is open on New Year's Day. In fact, nearly everything is open nearly every day of the year except Nyepi Day, when nothing whatsoever is open, not even the door to one's own house. So yeah, we have our one extra boring day to make up for all the others.