Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Clear Light Or Prism


Vientiane, Laos – If you guys were a class, you can see the front-row students, raising their hands to every question, asking questions, helping shape the direction of the conversation, accelerating the learning curve, feeding the ideas.

Then there would be the ‘B’ and ‘C’ students who are on board, but perhaps a bit timid, a bit involved, a bit careless about their G.P.A., party before homework. Most of you would be doing something else, talking to you neighbor, looking out the window, looking at the clock, drawing, writing a note, working on another subject, throwing spit wads, carving in your desk, asleep.

Many would meet and exceed expectations in the grade book and afterward in life, and one, once in every three or four or ten years, who would come along, the occasional supernova, who would surpass your own work, leaving you in the dust. You could be happy of that one, and them all, for having participated in their education, to have been a part of their foundation as mentor or teacher, or student, a part of their success story, a part of their lives.

If you were a class.

Memory of Things

Vientiane, Laos - When looking back on things in your life, can you see it accurately, through the passage of time, or distorted by the prisms of emotional involvement, ego-defense, or wishful thinking. Was it as bad as you remembered? Was it as good as it got?


One of my eight favorite all-time moves, in a game against the Celtics, no, wait, it was a pickup game on a university campus, I was taking it in to the hole, having juked the guy who was guarding me at the top of the key with a crossover, went into the paint on the left, big man dropped off for help out D, went up with the left hand, big man there for the stuff, brought the shit down to my waist, switched over to the right, falling backward, layed it underhand off the glass, and in.

Saaa-weeeet. Pick-up game, four-on-four, Lincolnway Ave. court, Valparaiso, IN, 1987. Everything I threw up there that night was going in. Ask Conrick. He was there. Rex, too. Remember that, Rex?

Okay, number seven? That was the Honeywell pool, Wabash, IN, 1964. Twenty guys on the sidelines waiting for court time, winner stays, four-on-four.

Down on the baseline. Another crossover to the right, around the guy, cutting into the paint across the front of the rim, help out D there, thinking I’m going to take another step for a jump hook, instead took it right up in his face, finger roll off the front of the rim, right in his face. Saaa-weeet. AND the foul! Took the big man out of his game, playing from anger thereafter, forcing it, missing his shots, contributing to his team’s loss. “SIT DOWN! Next!”

Once in the War

David was my medic mentor in the ‘Nam, around-the-world merchant marine by seventeen, ‘Hard Core’ Ashau valley vet with the 101st Airborne (badass guys now, no foolin’), in the bush as company medic with the radioman, the interpreter, and company commander.

He said he was an angel, from Venus, and had the most unusual deep set eyes in narrow face, could mesmerize the girls, spoke fluent Vietnamese, and had mysterious contacts all over the city. Two Silver Stars.

As a greenhorn Newbie, to me, he was a near God. He calmly and efficiently slit the guy’s throat and inserted an airway on our very first training mission, me watching spellbound, mouth hanging open, the guy turning purple from going through the windshield of a jeep, a crowd of people standing around watching him suffocate when we arrived in our helicopter.

In the air, he lit a cigarette with a 101st Airborne Zippo, calmly took a drag, then leaned over and ask his patient if he wanted a smoke, holding the cigarette up to the air hole, laughing.

The patient laughed, too, sitting upright, stiff-armed in the cargo deck, blood all over his chest, happy to be alive, in psychological shock, wondering about his future, glad at the prospect of getting out of the war, air whooshing back and forth through the airway, secured in place with cloth tape in an X pattern, just like they taught us in medical training school at Ft. Sam Houston, Texas, a lifetime ago.

The, ‘I’M GOING TO LIVE!’, look of relief on the choking man’s face was unforgettable; his throat full of blood and teeth and matter, his air running out, his lungs collapsing, the lights getting dim, then suddenly, AIR!

David and I made a pact that if one of us would die, we’d somehow let the other know there was life after death. He never got to have children nor live beyond 23. For years after he died, he tinked the light bulbs when it was quiet, whether they were off or on. Just a, ‘tink’.


First Mission

Green and afraid as I was, I too, would someday become a hard core vet, starting whole blood I.V.s in the air.

On my first mission…there are others that stand out, of course, but you can easily recall the first…a nighttime mission under a red cabin light, my patient a Vietnamese guy, big for Vietnamese, but maybe because his whole body was swollen, peppered with white phosphoric acid nuggets buried into his flesh, burning on contact with the air, his uniform shredded by the blast, his 3rd degree flesh blackened and red and raw, squirming from the agony of the worst, the sucking chest wound from a nugget having penetrated his chest wall and lung.

The fearful frantic medic plastering the sucking chest wound, smothering the other wounds with canteen water and saline solution, running out of water, the steam rising from the cooking nuggets, pleading with the pilots to pour on the coals.

There was a chance to look at the puffy red charcoal face, the swollen lips, the skin burnt away, the eyes swollen shut.

After the drop off and refuel, I walked to the edge of the helipad, down to the rocks overlooking the South China Sea. There were scattered lights of Vietnamese fishing vessels out there. In the dark, trying to make the connection between head and heart, looking down at my hands.


Monday, December 29, 2008

Out Of The Thousands

New Year's Eve

note from the writer:

You know, I gotta tell you guys, a lot of the time I have nooooo idea of how this material is hitting you, like, on a scale of "Wow, man! Your stuff is fantastic!!!" being a 'ten', to, "I sure wish he'd stop sending me this shit," being a 'one', but you're too nice to actually tell me so, and after all, you're my friends.

Or maybe you're just not writers, or too busy, or whatever.

It's just like, I'm laying it out there, and really, I'd like to know how your day went, and how life is for you, or if I'm striking a chord.

Sometimes it's like the class is asleep.

But out of the thousands of you who never write, this makes my day:

Vic, I was feeling down the other day, about the consumerism around Christmas, so I went back as you suggested and re-read that part about Geppetto falling in the trapeze performance. Man, I had tears in my eyes and was rolling on the floor. I could just picture it. Compared to Geppetto, I didn't feel so bad. Thanks, man. You're the man.

your friend,

If You Go Any Further, You Start Coming Back


Vientiane, Laos – There’s an ice cream shop not too far from here, a few hours drive up in the mountains, called ‘The End of The World Café’, where you can obtain what they claim to be the best homemade ice cream in the world. You’re as far from home as you can possibly get, and from there, if you proceed any further, you begin coming back.

Like an ingrown hair, or Einstein’s view of the universe, you begin bending back until you eventually arrive where you began.

This place, Vientiane, abounds with Frenchmen. From observation and practice, I’ve learned to copy their walk, which is more accurately described as a ‘stroll’, hands clasped behind the back, chin up, presumptuous, outward manifestation of proprietary right.

Like their former glorious kingdom, their clothing appears to have seen better days. Well-worn suit jacket, dress slacks or blue jeans with a belt, white long-sleeve shirt rolled up, tucked in, and dress shoes with black socks. Thin, lanky, retired civil servants, not enough vegetables, not enough sun. Shoulder bag of important papers. Unshaven. That’s the look. And the scarf. How can you forget the scarf.

The Lao men have copied the shoes, slacks, and white shirt. It’s the Europeans, fresh from Thailand’s beaches, who’ll go to dinner in shorts, t-shirt and flip-flops. ‘Crusty’ describes those who have been here a while, differentiating themselves from the new arrivals, same same soldiers in Vietnam. We called them ‘Hard Core’ and ‘Newbies’, or FNGs, ‘Fuckin’ New Guys.’

Why does this guy always seem compelled to bring Vietnam into practically everything he writes? He’s like Walter in ‘The Big Lebowski.’ Can’t seem to bring himself back from the past.

Do titles need quote marks and italic? Could one of you journalists or grammarians tell me? Email answer.

Spent the last three days with one of the three Nigerians, working with him on his visa paperwork, a fabrication, vouching my sponsorship in the US of his person, a piece of work requiring ten minutes, that my new friend Ali-Bibbi stretched into three days, taking the letter through five internet drafts and necessitating me and one of the staff to make repeated trips up and down four floors to meet with him in the lobby, since they don’t have phones in the rooms here.

That’s why my knee is sore and swollen today, something immediately noticed by a taxi driver, three blocks down the street on my way to dinner. “You’re limping,” he said. “Taxi?”

He motioned me over. “You want marijuana?” he asked softly. “Opium? Hashish?”

“How much?” I asked.

“For the marijuana?” he asked.

“For any of it.”

“One hundred thousand kip,” he said.

“Nah,” I told him.

He immediately said, “Fifty-thousand, for you.”

I asked him, “You got anything stronger?”

Fifty thousand kip is about six bucks, just to give you an idea of the relative value of things. I proceeded on to dinner at my favorite French restaurant just a few blocks away and spent five dollars on a modest, but fine meal.

The Nigerians said they couldn’t get entry visas into Thailand, which I found astounding.
Cambodia, yes. Vietnam, China, Laos, Myanmar, yes. Thailand, no. They were familiar with all of the dozen or so African musicians I reeled off, telling me the best music came from their home. Ali-Bibbi found me this morning at the coffee café outside the mini-mart, where Paul had just purchased the second round.

A first impression of Paul is ‘Freddie’, as in, the horror picture guy, or ‘Freak Show’, in the movie, ‘Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle’. Paul, a fixture in Vientiane, an Australian citizen, stuck here illegally without a visa, rides a bike around with all his possessions in big saddle bags, and three pairs of shoes hanging off his handlebars, another bag of stuff in the basket.

You’ve seen the shopping cart homeless and long-haul, over-the-road, looks-like-he-could-use-a-shower people like that. Paul has two teeth, neither good, and his head is shaved, except for a small tuft in the back, about six inches long.

He needed a computer lesson, he said, and I said sure, remembering what dad always said about people asking your help or a favor; if it’s within your capability, do it.

“Depends on what it is,” I told him.

He was sitting bare-chested outside a guesthouse, his bike right there, propped up against a street pole, sewing on his multi-colored, multi-patched vest, his only upper-body clothing. It looked like it came from someplace like Nepal, the vest he was working on. The bike looked like it had been parked beside a train track for a long time. Had that diesel locomotive look about it.

He was mad, he said, from some people earlier who had kept staring at him. “I felt like getting up and popping them,” he said.

I sat down at his table. “Well, Paul,” I began. “Check yourself out. You’re not the average guy walking around. Of course people are going to stare at you. You know how people are. People are going to stare at you, man, wherever you go. You can’t be mad at them for being people.”

He agreed, and the talk went from anger to gems and his friend trying to sell a hotel in Warick, Queensland Australia, to the cosa nostra and the illuminati to ancestral memory to darfur to his time in prison, to Chinese healing medicine to cosmic vibratory level to REM sleep to the lymphatic system to about how his mother laid him out with a frying pan one day because he wouldn’t eat his meat, to black holes to mass consciousness to the magnetosphere, to the trouble in northern Spain and Greece and Pakistan, to the Egyptians, to vegetarianism, to chemical poisons, to dental work, to inbreeding, a subject he keeps coming back to, to cellular regeneration, to DNA, to terrorism, and a few other things, tying it alllllllllllllll together.

This is all in an Australian accent, right? Wrapped it up with a request for a computer lesson today. At one point in the conversation, he got up, and laid down on the sidewalk, no shirt, tourists and Lao nationals walking around him, checking him out, while he demonstrated two exercises; the first, on your back, hands clasped behind your head, lifting each leg, and the other, on your stomach, arch your back, and rock.

“Yeah, Paul,” I told him. “I get the idea.”

Paul has a special interest in gems, and mails them home, he said.

When we left, this morning after a three-hour computer lesson, he said he had the coffee covered, but the lady there said he only bought three cups, and we owed for five, so I paid her the dollar for the other two.

So I need to give this knee a rest. It’s because of Ali-Bibbi and the stairs, and that ten kilometer ‘Made You Laugh’ walk to Patuxay park the other day. Answer some emails, do some writing.


Saturday, December 27, 2008

Welders Weld, Singers Sing, Writers Write


Vientiane, Laos - Went out onto the street today determined to make everyone I encountered laugh.

Remember that grade school game? I can MAKE you laugh. I can make you blink first. I was walking down the street, thinking, ‘I can make you laugh.’

It happened. Everywhere I went, people were laughing. The housekeeping staff, the people at the desk, the heavy set lady watering the plants at the Lao Hotel. She turned, saw me, and busted out into a bigass smile.

Those kids on the sidewalk next. Then the guy and his sister at the buffet place on the avenue. I had to make sure I had the translation correct. “How do you say, ‘Why are you laughing?’” I asked.

I had it right. And then I began asking, “Why are you laughing?” to several people.

“I feel happy inside,” one said.

“She laugh at YOU,” said the guy of his sister. “Why?” I asked.

“She say she don’t know. Just happy.”

The police at the corner ‘police box’ for whom I demonstrated the crip-step when I saw one bobbing his head to music blaring from a electronics promotion across the avenue; the taxi drivers giving me opposite directions to immigration, then holding their sides in laughter when I responded by holding up three fingers and saying ‘three’ as I walked away, when one of them asked me if I wanted a ‘laydee’; the four schoolgirls unhesitatingly surrendering their camera for a group shot; the people inviting me to join their pig-on-a-spit dinner; the teenagers waving me over for inclusion in their photo at the fountain; the Lao couple allowing me to photograph them with their toddler daughter at Patuxay monument; the Japanese couple, the guy in the truck on the passenger's side, little kids on the backs of motorbikes, catching my eye, laughing and waving as they passed, everyone, laughing.

Something must be up. “What day is this?” I asked the lady at the coffee corner. “Saturday,” she said, laughing.

“And why are you laughing? What funny?” I asked, thinking I must have had rice or something stuck to my face, green vegetable fixed in my teeth, a ‘kick me’ sign on my back.

She just shook her head and looked away, big smile on her face.

Maybe it was just universal affirmation, I don’t know. Maybe they were already laughing, and I just got on board. Returned to my room and showered, took a dog nap, thinking to sleep through the night, reluctant to return to the street for dinner for fear the magic had ended.


Friday, December 26, 2008

Some Things Never Change


Vientiane, Laos – I’m up here sitting in my room, fourth floor, talking to this machine and wireless modem hookup to dialup connection, shouting, “Gimmie some SIGNAL STRENGTH, now!” like a guy at a crap table calling for his numbers and his luck.

Just trying to get a message out, y’know. You can achieve just about anything if you’ve got the right tools. That’s one of the real pleasures of living on the reservation. It doesn’t happen frequently, but sometimes when you’re in a dire-need situation, which is often, or maybe just into a project, and you need a certain tool, like, a jack, to change a tire, and somebody hasn’t stolen it, and there it is, right when you need it, ‘the right tool for the job’, to accomplish the mission of the moment, man, it just doesn’t get any better than that.

This isn’t about tools. It’s about the title. You may believe that change is the nature of the universe, and as Carl would say, ‘everything stays the same…until it changes,’ but some things never change. I’ve heard you say it before.

And it’s this beach volleyball, women’s beach volleyball on the tube, lemme see, broadcast from…it’s over now…Singapore or California or somewhere…who cares where it was broadcast from…one of the teams was Asian girls…women...and yes, you can imagine, or if you can’t, then use your imagination.

Yeah, I still like looking at ass. If it didn’t get ratings, it wouldn’t be on the air, so there must be a lot of guys out there who can appreciate the value in the show, not just me.

But anyway, we can write about a lot of things, anything, and looking at ass is one of the realities in life for guys like me, ass men, or ‘Ass Man’, like a guy is a ‘Beef & Potatoes’ man, the guy who’ll have the bumper-sticker, ‘If God didn’t want us to eat animals, he wouldn’t have made them out of meat.’ If they made an Ass Man t-shirt, I’d buy it.

You get the point. Sometimes you get love stories, sometimes you get war stories, sometimes I go off into some hazy philosophical shit, sometimes some funny stuff, and sometimes I’m in the locker room, talking with the guys. Like, around the fire at sweat lodge.

So it’s not meant as an offense to you women, just so you know. You could look at it like 'sneaking a peek', or listening in on what the guys are saying, and today, they’re talking about ass.

I think even Father Paul could come to terms with me on that. One time after the sun dance, we were sitting around in one of the tipis in main camp, and a pair of white legs appeared at the door, and everybody in there hushed up. You know how a tipi door is, right? You can’t see the upper body.

In walked Roy, a dancer from Alaska. “We thought you were Father Paul, with those white legs,” I said, and everybody laughed. Then right behind him came, wouldn't ya know it, Father Paul, and everybody reeeally laughed, and he wondered what was up. Somebody explained the white legs, and we all laughed together.

Roy is the only person in that whole camp who turned his nose up at the Salmon at the feast at the end of the four-day dance. I had to ask him why, but I knew it was because he was particular about his Salmon, being from Alaska.

“I only eat the white,” he said, like the Duke of Windsor would've said it. And then something else, like it had to be such and such.

Three or four hundred people in camp for the last day feast, and he’s the only one who refused the Salmon.

Damn. Here I was talking about ass, and ended up talking about Roy and Father Paul, tipi doors and Pink Salmon.

Had to back up there, partner. Gotta scroll through every once in a while and check out your theme, your thread, your connection to the overall…you know what I’m saying. That’s what they say you should do, anyway.

But if you don’t, then that’s okay, too. Pink Salmon has absolutely nothing to do with looking at ass, wouldn’t you agree, Jack?

I think Jack was an ass man. He’s the same Jack who jacked himself up in the high wire story, one which I probably will keep referring to from time to time because I want you to read Geppetto’s fall again. Right smack on his chest. From sixty feet.

I mean, after doing a few butterfly strokes in the air, what the fuck else could he do?

You couldn’t really even describe it as ‘a fall’, though in the technical sense, it was. It was more like a…like a…like…art form.

Really. No shit. Tito, too. If you’ve ever see that footage of Wallenda in Puerto Rico, sad that it is, for art, it was pretty pathetic. The old man shouldn’t have been on the wire at his age. He was trying to prove something, that a 73-year old man has still got what it takes, but God and a 25 mph crosswind had different ideas.

That’s the nice thing about looking at ass. You don’t have to prove a damn thing to anyone, and as far as I can see, you can look at ass well into your sixties, seventies, who knows?

Geeez, Bev, I sure hope that made you crack a smile. I know it made Laura laugh.

They say people don’t make you do anything. You’re in control of your own thoughts and feelings, not other people. Psych 101. Last blog, I started to say you made me lose my train of thought, blaming you. Well, sometimes people do make you cry. Sometimes they do make you laugh.

Anyway, I came up here to Vientiane to write, and to do some research, and to…you know…sort of kick back and get away from it all…not just to look at ass, but I have to say, if you’re an ass man, Laos probably has more nice-ass-per-capita than anywhere in the world, hands down.

Europe, the States, ha, can’t hold a candle to Thai, Myanmar, or Lao women’s asses. If you’ve been here, you’re saying, “He’s telling the truth, dude.” If you’ve never been here to see for yourself, like, daily, all over the place, then your next best bet is Thai or Chinese tv programming, which isn’t for shit, compared to ours, but the ass is nice.

Sitting just today at the sidewalk coffee café, Frenchman on my left, a Canadian at the table to my right. Five Lao chickadees walk by, on their way into the mini-mart, and the Frenchman looks up at them, then at me and says, “Don’t you just love this place? You’re sitting here, minding your own business, having a cup of coffee, and…” he just laughs.

They’ve installed a couple more traffic lights in the city. Four now, I think. One of the major arteries, Samsenthai Rd., has a couple now, allowing for cross traffic. 600,000 people, one tenth that of the entire country. Up till now, the world has pretty much left them, the Lao, alone.

Well, the French came in here and fucked with them, then the Americans, and the Russians and the Chinese, too, but for the most part, they have little to offer the world in terms of export, other than precious hardwoods.

What they have to offer, you have to come here to see. There's a lot more than just the ass.

I like to go into remote areas where they don’t see foreigners, and the children look at you in stunned disbelief.


Make Them Sit Up


Vientiane, Laos - “Look Honey,” I told her. “You can do it. Just go in there and throw ‘em the sales pitch. I’ll split the revenue with you, sixty-forty.”

It was a real money-making opportunity, and a chance to put into action what Manny had once said…"Bic, you get the right promotions, the right marketing, and the right kind of people behind you, you can make it almost all the way to de top. Then, who knows? Contracts, endorsements, maybe even a major motion picture could be in da cards.”

All we needed to shape it into a reality was thirty or forty thousand more readers.

“Tell ‘em we’ve got it all lined up,” I told her. “Thirty five and growing. That’ll make ‘em sit up.”

“But, Dad,” she said, “How can I sell advertising on your blog if nobody is reading it?”

“Don’t say that!” I shot back. “Think positive. People ARE reading it…when they have the time, y’know. Don’t tell them how many hits I’m getting. Just the projected figures, the estimates, the desired outcomes.”

“Why sixty-forty?” she asked. “Why not fifty-fifty?”

So she went out there and made appointments with the people whose products were first and foremost, sustainable, and those we could ethically endorse, those we could believe in, like, cigarettes, beer, and Jimmy Dean pork sausage.

When she told the advertising execs “a daily average of three-point five, closing in on four,” they assumed she was talking millions, millions of readers, something along the lines of a prime-time television audience. “There is no market-share,” she said. “You’ve got the whole pie.”

Of course, they were interested, glossing over the ‘actuals’ by virtue of her distractingly stunning beauty. She had them smiling and nodding their heads all the way through her presentation, she said, asking very few questions.

“Work entirely within the psychology of presumption,” I told her. “As if. Everything is as if. Don’t let them pin you down. Refer them to the agency. Tell ‘em to check out the site, the archives, the description of Geppetto’s fall from the high wire.”

We thought we’d need readership research, you know, like demographics, target audience, stuff I’d need you to submit, what your interests are, what you eat, where you shop, what kind of footwear and casual apparel you prefer, how many people in your household, any pets, all that statistical stuff, but the guy told her, “With these kind of numbers, Dear, it doesn’t matter.”

So there’s a possibility…it’s not beyond the realm of reason or wishful thinking…that we can get this thing turned around, y’know, not like the housing market or Vietnam, but to the point where the ‘inflow’ can generate and sustain a lavish and extravagant lifestyle, far above and beyond this to which I’ve grown accustomed, something just short of a corrupt corporate CEO, living off your retirement investments and life savings.


ps. Send this message to FOUR friends, and in ten minutes, your life will be improved immeasurably.

Send this message to TEN friends, and in a short time, you will receive an unexpected windfall, beyond your wildest dreams.

Send this message to THIRTY THOUSAND friends, and my life will be greatly changed.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Come Here For

Christmas Eve, 2008

Vientiane, Laos – I love writing to you. I love writing. I love you. Writing love. How many ways can you say it? Even though sometimes…well…a lot of the time, actually, many, many, many of you never write back. Like sometimes it is with me and God. Sometimes I'm too buy. Channel’s open, message sent, God just can’t get a ‘come back’.

Nevva Miiiind. UP2U.*

You can’t hear what the other end is saying if your mike is open all the time. Same same combat. You remember me asking Father Paul about that. If you’re manufacturing prayer all the time, how can you hear…got the time and space inside your head to catch the drift. And what would that be, once you caught it?

I can tease about it, tease Jesus, poke Buddha in the ribs, because Lord knows I’m just his simple-minded servant, and I believe doesn’t hold it against me. I learned that a long time ago, without a traditional vision quest. Now, Allah, I leave alone. Allah, the Aliens, and The Honorable Lewis Farrakhan.

And why do we have to keep bugging Creator with our pitiful prayers when what they said wuz…Man already knows what you’re gonna say before you say it. Already knows already what you’re lining up to ask for, juuuuust like Santa. Everything going on in the world, he’s got time for you and your pitiful request?**

Well, if there’s a sender, then who’s the listener? They also say it works, and they also say you’ve got to watch what you pray for.

So then, what’s the point of it? Can you just carry on with what you were doing…isn’t everybody doing the lord’s work, anyway? Makes you wonder sometime, doesn’t it? Not just the Mormons, who’ll tell you they are. Like the dancers in the arbor, you’ve seen those schools of minnows, all moving together in sync.

Down on the street, four stories, two people load their wheelchair-bound elder into the back of a truck. Three blocks down, the workers on a new building sleep under a mosquito net on a 4x8 sheet of plywood, laundry on a line, the building skeleton their home.

Hospitals, alleyways, nursing homes, refugee camps are all full of the sick and infirm, the homeless, the displaced, the unfortunate sufferers. Can you say ignorance is its cause? All those souls, moving through time, in their place, in their skin.

Just a note here: yes, it says ‘former writing professor’, and that’s true. And you might wonder why my work is so full of technical errors, like I know they’re there, some of it, but you don’t have to be so technical. This is like a conversation, ok?

You made me loo…I lost my whole train of thought. Father Paul…Allah…just like Santa, just like Santa. Dance to the tree. Go back to the title. What did you come here for?


*copyright 2006.

**use of ‘man’ and ‘he’ in the generic sense.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Everything You Need


Vientiane, Laos – Before departing the States, I stopped over at Tom and Loretta’s to tie up a few loose ends. Tom was in his basement dungeon office, Loretta upstairs in the kitchen, in her perpetual on-the-fly mode, getting ready to head out the door.

“You want anything from China?” I asked.

Just as she opened her mouth to speak, I stopped her by saying, “Just go over there to Wal-Mart. They’ve got it all.”

I hope I can get into heaven with greater clearance and wider margin than the ‘just under the wire’ exit from the reservation this past fall, just ahead of a major winter snow storm and deep freeze, then a warm up tease, followed by another storm, making it difficult to dig the graves.

Well, the almanac and everybody, the trees and wind said it was going to be a hard winter. Follow the geese. It’s time to fly. But there is hope, na? Winter doesn’t last forever, and the world may look different when it ends.

Those hard winters in life build resiliency, but they can also make you snap, take you to your breaking point, exhaust you, demonstrate your fragility, debunking the myth of that which doesn't kill you will make you stronger. Nature’s pruning, branches snapping, ice falling from tree limbs, frost inside your walls, your meager fire trying to keep death at bay, its fingers creeping across your floor.

Was there something distressing on your plate? “A Front-Burner, On-A-Boil Issue,” as Mr. Ferguson used to say. Drama and trauma issues. Could you walk through it, participating joyfully in the sorrows of the world?

Could you dance? Did you feel like it, and what was the nature of your songs?

The flock was returning from the south in the spring, on a north by northwest heading above the reservation, up to Canada, several thousand feet up, up in the stratosphere it seemed like. Even at that altitude, their faint, distant honking drew my attention in that reservation quiet. Big flock, fifty, maybe sixty geese, in a huge ‘V’, the seven in the vanguard exchanging roles to share the lead.

Before they were out of sight, the very last bird at the end of the line broke formation, stumbled, struggled, regained for a few seconds, then, no, lost it, exhausted, fluttered, sank, caught itself, then went sailing toward the ground in a steep controlled dive.

The flock continued on, but the last three birds of the formation immediately peeled off and went into a dive after that one member of their family.

The flock maintained its northward course, but seven birds in the wing rolled over and went after the other three. The formation shuddered, the other wing suddenly disrupted, a dozen or so diving after the seven, then the entire flock, with the exception of the vanguard, stopped in flight, took a look, then without circling or further hesitation, dived after the other members.

The vanguard pressed on for just a few seconds, the two or three flying within the front ‘V’ turning, like, hey, where did everybody...then the entire body of leaders turned and began their descent to the ground.


Monday, December 22, 2008

Wrestling With Their Angels

Wrestling With Their Angels

Vientiane, Laos – Sat in the slipstream of a Lao spicy papaya salad ignition and liftoff, watching the sun slide down over Nong Khai, Thailand, and the Mekong River, distant black shapes of silhouetted fishermen in flat bottom boats hauling in their nets for the day, water rising off my scalp and dripping down my back, off my forehead, into the bowl.

“You want spicy?” she had asked.

“Yeah, sure. Tammai m’dai? Why not?” I said, fully knowing the consequences.

She just smiled and walked away.

The impact of western ideas and commercial enterprise is evident in the city, formerly paranoid and restrictive before Lao communism eventually awoke and unfolded to the world in this landlocked country.

It is here that you can still discover the timid innocence of the Lao, what they say Thailand was three decades ago, before being polluted and corrupted by a Western onslaught and overkill. Some say the tsunami was karmic revulsion to rape of her beaches and islands.

It is already happening. Tourism is driving the country under. Like a scientist skewing the results by his/her mere observation, I too am part of both the affliction and the cure, a driving force in the economy, allowing for economic development and boom boxes thundering down the street in shiny new low-riders, just like your town.

Somebody’s making money.

So you’ve got this back-in-time thing clashing with the New World Order. It’s interesting. They see the value in customer service. It’s more than just making the money.

He can’t parallel park his brand new Mercedes. Got out, still three feet from the curb.

What happened to all the old cars? They aren’t present. Everything is new but for the tuk tuk taxis and big thundering trucks. Everybody is driving brand new shit, Audis and Mercedes and big Toyota trucks. Yesterday, two Ferraris racing down the avenue. Like the guy down on the street who couldn’t park. Looked to be in his late twenties, him and his old lady. Brand new Benz.


They All Seemed Hungry

‘Tis the season, as they say. And yes, Santa Craws come to Lao.

I saw him at a restaurant reception desk last night. He’d lost several kilos. He said he hadn’t been eating, demonstrating the slack in his belt and his ill-fitting Santa suit.

The dog approached my table with that same look in his eye as the husband-less beggar mothers carrying infants on their hips, approaching the breakfasting foreigners, the mostly French captive audience at the sidewalk café tables outside the Joma coffee house.

The street beggars know how to work the crowds. It is the giving of others that sustains their existence. Just another form of welfare, social security, whatever you want to call it. Those who have, give to those who haven’t. I once told the kids down on the Pearl Street mall in Boulder, CO, “What if that guy was Jesus in disguise, just testing me?”

It must have worn off, or sunk in, as I witnessed Digger giving spare baht to the street beggars in Bangkok. "It all comes back," he said.

People might say, You can’t give to them all.” Sez who? If a lot of people give a little, then what?

The guy who rides the tricycle, propelling it with a upright hand-drive lever, the guy crippled from the waist down, his legs atrophied, dragging himself around by his hands, his dirty pant legs dragging on the sidewalk behind him, saw me sitting at breakfast. He’d hit me up before, and crawled up to my table, looking for spare kip, maybe a dollar.

I immediately motioned for him to join me, and he hauled himself up onto the chair with practiced efficiency. He ordered a coffee and a cinnamon roll, telling me he was waiting for a shop to open so he could fix his handlebars. They were loose. He didn’t speak English, and we communicated over our breakfast in sign language. When we left, we thanked each other with a glance and a nod.

Nong Noi, the pretty little ladyboy, works the shaded tree-lined avenue running a full block around the walled temple, That Ong Teu. There’s three of them that collect there after dark, helping one another with their make up and looks. It’s odd, to me, that they should be right outside the temple, the monk training school. A sort of psychic refuge, perhaps, working the single males coming or going in the direction of the fountain restaurants or the beer garden.

I have to say, Noi is very exceptional, but like they say, ‘Man, if you ain’t sure, it’s a dude.’

Plus, they are more aggressive than the girls. Noi stepped from the shadows when she saw me returning from dinner. “Can I walk with you tonight?” she asked. “I can massage.”

“I don’t think so, Noi,” I told her. “I go kon diao, only one. Did you eat yet?”

She said she hadn’t. I gave her enough for dinner, and she asked for taxi money, but I knew it was a lie, continuing on my way. I don’t know what they do, take it up the ass, smoke the carrot, do you some kinda way, I don’t know, but I’m pretty certain it’s more than a massage.

Seems easier just to give them the money straight out, expecting nothing in return. It keeps it simple, and uninvolved. Like Johnny Carson once said, "Next time, instead of getting married, I'm going to find a woman I don't like, and give her a house."

Talking to Noi can feel extremely self-conscious, like the taxi drivers already clued me, right? And all the shopkeepers and restaurateurs know what's up on the street. But she’s just another human being, no? There seemed to be a lot of pain and desperation in those eyes.

Hey, I went swimming today, too, trying to work off three meals a day, the only person in the six-lane Vientiane pool. I’m not pimping around at night, lurking around the side streets, just so you know. I usually get back at a decent time, avoiding the midnight trolls, just so you know. I deal with merchants, immigration officials, the staff at the desk, English lessons everywhere...not just the outcasts. I did, however, attempt some strong drugs, and became so paranoid, I flushed the remainder down the toilet. Won’t say what kind, but that it was stronger than aspirin.

And by a whole 'nuther strange set of coincidental circumstances, I met the guide who took another author down the Ho Chi Minh Trail, the first westerners to traverse the old, non-commercialized trail, the ‘Western Trong Son’, officially, 'The Freedom Trail.' *

Now I’ve got maps of the old trails, the old bases, and a good indication of how to do it, requiring multiple-entry visas into Vietnam and Cambodia. So, I’m not just sitting around eating and swimming and feeding the dogs. I’m ON that story, Ed. I’m ON IT, Boss. It's only been ten years. Gimmie a break. It's not like they gave me an advance.


*Yes, there is an Eastern Trong Son, running east of the Annamite range, within Vietnam. The Western Trong Son is in Laos and Cambodia, saturated with UXO, and very much still a part of the people' lives who live there.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Shut Down, Re-Boot, Re-Start


Vientiane, Laos - Over here, that's what they say we do when we die.


Angels In Their Path II

Vientiane, Laos – It didn’t exactly fall on the unsuspecting, this age, this high-tech, unwired world of the marvelously fantastic, pushing the boundaries, redefining limitations, challenging credulity, changing the meaning of things. Didn’t we know it was coming?

And what does that afford the expression of your grandmother’s dreams? Have you surprised yourself in any way? If we are the sum of what, all our parts, then just what is that? Surfing on the edge of only what we know, we think we are products of the directives of our dna, interacting with and creating our environment.

How fortunate in the role of beneficiaries of all that has propelled us toward this state of being. What tears have paid for your sun-drenched beaches? What blood for your joy? Just to think one, two generations back, of what you might become. And then, seven generations, for the fruition of a dream, a seedling of possibilities that would weave and track its way in the world for the span of a lifetime, spawning another generation to inherit our directives.

And what of the Great Mystery? What of what we don’t know, beyond apprehension, but only suspect? What unseen forces and entities have helped you get this far? Who is looking out for you? Who cares?

God? Spiritual protectors? Lesser beings? Your Ancestors? Your guardians on the other side? Your lucky stars? Who, or what, really?


Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Angels In Their Path

Give Them Air

Vientiane, Laos – How can we be two days ahead of ourselves? Your today is our yesterday. Our today is your tomorrow. Tomorrow, here, is two days away, for you. You may think it’s all jibberish and mind-game, until you do the math, figure out the time zones. Then it makes sense. Sure. We're spinning in space, right?

Or until you make the call, the text message, digital photo, the email. Even though it’s instantaneous in the Real 3D World, you’ll note two different dates. Yeah, Santa comes here early. Heading home, you can experience two sunrises on the same day.

For those who’ve experienced it often, like orbiting astronauts, it becomes blasé, but for the first time, even thereafter, it’s remarkable, moving quickly through time zones. If we were to travel back in time, just a little, even, a generation or two, and tell our grandfathers of the days we’d see, they would surely pronounce us mad.

Plants can’t do it. They are pretty much where they’re going to be their entire lives, unless you’ve got them in buckets. That’s why transplanting requires such care. It’s such a shock. You’ve seen the tomato or pepper plant that just sits there for weeks before deciding to go ahead and mature, a commonality, among other traits we share with the plant world.

Animals animate. We take for granted being able to eat breakfast on the east coast , and lunch in San Francisco, a distance requiring months in a Conestoga wagon traveling the Oregon Trail. We think nothing of it at all. We're pissed off if we're delayed on the tarmack.

So? So what? It’s just a time thing. There’s something to be said of roots. Do you remember when you had them? Living for three, maybe seven hundred years?


The Tops of Their Heads

From up here, that’s what I see, the tops of their heads, each, a thread, connected to their unseen gods, interweaving, interacting in the world, affecting everything we touch and breathe. What difference between the beggar, the vendor, the monk, the philosopher?

How can we bubbles in this infinite sea of foam affect any significant change? And what would become of our lives, the double helix strand, the gene pool, for any Mozart or sublime verse you’d heard, the book you’d read, or discussion, or impression upon others? What difference? You tell me.


Saturday, December 13, 2008

Too Much Abundance


Khuk Khak, Thailand - Ever get to the point where you’re sitting, looking at all the stuff you’ve accumulated and thought, “I don’t think I’d miss any of this shit were it to all go away.”?

I have. A couple of times, at least. A couple of times, both under emotional duress, I really didn’t care anymore about any of the physical possessions I had gathered over a lifetime. The magnitude of the issues going on at the time made the house and its contents insignificant by comparison. Maybe you’ve experienced something similar.

Well, stuff comes and goes. The Barbie dolls and Lionel trains of kids go in garage sales and charity, making way for bigger, more expensive toys, ending in any variety of appetites from gems and stocks to yachts, private jets, and castles in the woods.

Most of us would settle for less, like a nice stainless steel propane backyard barbeque pit, although poverty isn’t attractive either. Somewhere in between the castle in the woods and a cardboard box over a heat vent is where we could settle into a comfort zone. A nice wedding, nothing big and fancy, well, maybe big and fancy, ok, a nice rock to flash around, nice car, a nice house, nice stuff inside, no velvet Elvis’s, but nice stuff, y’know. Everything nice. Nice yard.

Nice furniture, nice carpets, nice bedroom set, nice dining table, nice sofa, nice kids…don’t throw those bean bags away. And teenagers’ll want those milk crates. All nice stuff, y’know. Dishwasher. Hell, yes. Two-car garage and one in the driveway. Riding mower. Nice vacation to somewhere nice.

And before you know it, you’ve justified your salary and filled up all your space. Artwork, sound system, refrigerator magnets.

And you’re sitting there in front of the tv. It’s on, but you’re not really watching, just passively…breathing…and the phone isn’t ringing, and you’re looking around, wondering where the hell all this shit came from, but you already know the answer to that, and you think maybe you ought to have a yard sale and take a trip to the dump, seized by the sudden horrifying notion of what you would do if you’d suddenly have to move.

Well, you need all that stuff. Kids gotta have their stuff, too, and families aren’t real unless they’ve got a lot of stuff lying around. What’s Christmas all about, anyway, if it isn’t the acquisition of more stuff?

Yeah, sure, Christmas is about giving, I know, but what do you give? More stuff. You give ‘em more stuff.


I lived across the road from an ironworker once. He worked in the steel mills. The shelves in his house were made of iron, bolted to the walls. Welded, filed down, hit with a grinder, a polisher. Tables, made of iron. Chairs made of iron. All his shit was iron.


*published out of chronological sequence, thus the Thai dateline. I'm not at all this whimsical right now.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Walk With You


Vientiane, Laos – A five kilometer walk was necessary to justify not the dinner, but the dessert afterward. One must stay focused upon one’s walk, primarily because of the conditions of the darkened avenues, uneven cobblestones and broken concrete, sometimes gaping holes.

A person could twist an ankle, wrench a knee, go off the deep end, or lose themselves in a black bottomless pit.

Three-meter stride in vertical alignment, concentrating on no more than the next step, forgotten memories and obscured future, dungeons and temples, but of here and now, connecting with children, the vendor, the beggar, the forlorn dog. To walk in confident peace, grace and humility, a heart of gratitude, to wonder at each of these, god’s amazing creatures.

Would it be heaven to sustain such a blissful state, but for the complexities of the walk, intertwining circumstance and probability, reason and emotion, fear and love. And how would you define it?

Withdrawn in the monk's contemplation, walking steadfastly toward an assured destination, but how could we know where. In and out of orbits, transiting in synchronicity for a lifetime, a few years, sometimes just a meal, a conversation, a laugh.

What was it we shared? What was its significance? What was it we wanted? What were we willing to give? What were we willing to accept? An energy exchange at one level or another, we experience the other, a reflection of self, in relationship, seeing who we are.

And what were the connections, our intersection in time and space? What commonality, what desire, what drive, what fate occurrence? And then departure, a comet, a passing asteroid, a supernova, a black hole. Jupiter retreats and Neptune advances. Driven by the past and drawn to the future, one must be careful of the unlit avenues, the uneven cobblestones, the broken concrete, taking care to focus upon each step.

I imagined you, my friend, sitting across from me at dinner, working on a poem, this story, and then afterward, having this conversation, taking this walk, your shadow beside me, missing your presence.


Tuesday, December 09, 2008

From The Balcony

From The Balcony

Vientiane, Laos - My back is still killing me three days after that Thai massage in Khao Lak. Sometimes those girls can put a hurt on you, leaving you worse than when you came in, going everywhere but the one damn spot you asked them to give special attention.

In this case, an upper under-the-shoulderblade diagonal striatic muscle* two layers deep, requiring the girl to position herself on her knees to my right, and like a pianist, reach with both hands along that muscle under the shoulder blade, then with her finger tips, wiggle and dig past the muscle to the layer I’m talking about, then from the spinal side of the muscle, where you could get underneath it, pull back.

Wouldn’t that feel great?

It would have for me, had she done it, but she was all over the place with her forearm and elbow and all that special Thai technique, totally out of touch with the client. Even when I said, “Yeaaaaaah, right there,” she missed the boat, rolling over it a couple of times, but not getting it. You know what I mean? She just wasn’t getting it.

Instead, she messed up my lower back, flipping me over too fast halfway through the session. I didn’t want a head and scalp massage, dammit.


The plane flight wasn’t too uncomfortable, having been given three empty seats in an aisle row. Up out of Phuket, level off at 25,000 ft. for ten minutes, eat the boxed snack, spicy Thai salad, which wasn’t bad for airplane food, then land after a flight time of 1:10 at Suvanabhumi in Bangkok, where you couldn’t tell chaos had reined for weeks, bringing down the government and the Prime Minister, and just ended 12 hours ago.

Travel light. No baggage claim. Two-hour layover, switchover to here. Another good seat, another up, level off, descent, land. One hour. Twelve hours by train. Sixteen by bus. Digger has made the exhausting bus trip. When you’re my age, I told him, ‘roughing it’ isn’t appealing. Take a look around. You usually don’t see elderly couples out hitchhiking or packpacking.

A few, you do, but most prefer to travel in comfort. Or just sit in Arizona.

So, How are your knees, hips, joints and back?

In good shape, I hope. I can bear witness to what 50 yrs. of basketball can do to a skeleton. At one point, perhaps during a reunion, I bragged that I’d be hoopin’ thirty years after my classmates had hung up their jocks. Yeah, you know what they say about braggarts eating their words.

There was a recent study saying you women are more realistic about feeling your age, whereas we guys will say we feel ten, twelve years younger, a self-perception thing. They didn’t say anything about acting.


Down on the streets, four stories and fifty-seven steps below, a ten-year old boy is having a conversation with an adult man and woman, squatting on the curb at the end of the day. She’s counting her money, laughing.

The kid has been out there all day with his two-wheeled cart and scales, selling miniature oranges. From here, I can’t tell if they are his parents.

Not far away, five men drinking at a table briefly but loudly join in singing a song blaring on a Lao restaurant radio.

The city looks like it hasn’t changed much, since the last decade or the beginning of time, dusty, in continual rubble and reconstruction, and thrown backward, like all the Lao cities positioned along the Mekong, the only communication and commerce artery to millions of landlocked inhabitants in Luang Prabang to the north, here in Vientiane, downriver in Savannakhet, Pakxe and Champassak.

Unlike Khao Lak, targeted by Germans and Swedes as the primo tropical holiday destination, Vientiane is swarming with French, as it has been since the land became ‘French Indochina’ in 1850. It’s a nice change of atmosphere, in many ways. It’s quieter. There are croissants and good bread, cheese, and wine. For two years, now, the city has caught up with the demands of a crush of tourism, with ATMs and internet shops easily available.

Everything is easily available. Ten minutes out of the airport, I was booked in and out on the streets. Five minutes on the street, Mr. Gooney Bird just off the flight, I was offered ganja, the good stuff, he said, opium, heroin, the strongest in the world, and sex massage by a remarkably convincing and beautiful ladyboy, intercepting me on the sidewalk.

You’re supposed to say to all of them, “No, thank you,” unless you’re interested, of course, and I knew better than to engage in conversation. I didn’t need no kind of ride.

“Look, I told her, “I just got here, ok? I’d like to get something to eat and kind of walk around.” Then I thought to ask, “How much you need?”

“One thousand baht,” she said.

“No way.”

“Five hundred.”

“Still no way.”

So, if you’re a tall, single balding adult male, you’re an obvious standout target to the taxi drivers, the girl escorts for however long you pay, and the ladyboys. You might as well be wearing a big red X on your back.

They figure the reason you’re here is you’re a junkie, a pervert, or a sex-starved loser in his own country, maybe all three. Not a sightseer. At mid-afternoon, a driver right outside the hotel offered me a fifteen-year old. “I have very nice girls,” he said, picking his teeth.

Now, you might be thinking, a lot of that might be appealing to a lonely old man, and you’re right, but there are still a lot of first-time-in-my-life experiences I prefer to avoid by choice, knowing by now what roads will take you where.

So you see guys all over the place, balding, gut hanging out, walking around with these young, beautiful Lao girls in high heels. Same same Thailand. Five years ago, you didn’t see it here, much, the Lao being more reserved than the Thai, but hey, it’s just business.

The asking price for the ganja was a thousand baht, thirty-four bucks; three thousand for the heroin, just over a hundred US dollars, and what did she say for the sex massage? You heard it. Everything is negotiable. Unless they're working solo, the taxi driver, everybody takes a cut, whatever is being sold. The end-user consumer pays for it all.

This is all in the midst of vast temple complexes encompassing entire city blocks, the young novice monks out on the street late, escapees from the wat, checking out videos, stocking up at the mini-mart.

Most of this activity is near the riverfront. Deeper into the city the scene is different, but this is where the businesses catering to the tourists are concentrated. There’s the morning market, a city block of three floors of shopping under one roof, a maze of stalls of traditional woven cloth, silver, gold traders, cell phones, you name it, DVDs, cameras, clothing, everything, silver dragon lighter cases…that which I actually came for, and a ‘Sabaidee’ T-shirt for Digger.

Yeah, I came here for the silver lighter case, lost in the back of a Bangkok tuk tuk. All the rest is just extra.


This morning, down at the desk, I asked the pleasant lady which government ministry I needed to see for permission to access restricted areas, and she asked, “Where do you want to go?”

“The Ho Chi Minh Trail,” I said, and she replied, “My brother was a guide for a woman who wrote a book on it.”

It’s here in the room on loan, the book. You could call it coincidence, but maybe we’re doing what we should be doing. Sure, a lot of people have traveled the trail and written about it, but my particular interest is in UXO, which you may know already.

After being conceived in 1998, the plan was initiated four years ago, no, ten, but then the tsunami and some other stuff happened, and, damn, here it is 2008 going on nine that I’m just, y’know, getting back on track.

“What about that Ho Chi Minh Trail UXO story, Blovic?”

“I’m gettin’ right on dat, boss.”

I’ve already done the research. I just need to go there. Maybe you’ll buy the story. I need an editor to motivate my ass. I also need an editor to go over this stuff before I let it fly, right? I’ll try to make it up to you.


Trying to walk off a backache and two, maybe three kilos, eating light. Sitting there along the River, eating light when approached by Olaf from Sweden and Kristiana from Denmark. Sure, you can join me, I told them, and Olaf IMMEDIATELY began into a political discussion, and insisted it was my job to inform the American people of…the truth.

Wouldn’t you know it? I gotta be the guy?

He kept hitting my shoulder about every few minutes, making a point, or chumming it up, but after the third time I found it irritating. They were okay light dinner company, I don’t want to be too judgemental, that’s just the way it was. I was glad for the company, actually. It always makes the food better.

Our conversation covered George Bush, American agression in the world, and our general ignorance of things beyond our borders, Barack Obama, Swedish politicians, Oil, Extremism, Thailand, the Lao, who liked what better, the marsala, alcoholism in Sweden, the Muslims in Singapore and Indonesia; Indonesia, where he lived for nine years and couldn’t stand it anymore, and just about anything else that could come to the mind of a man working on his second bottle of Beer Lao.

I didn’t offer much, except to say where I was from and that I was a writer, and Kristiana didn’t offer much, either, except an opinion on extremism, open prostitution in the city, and that she and her two brothers, Leonardo and Raphaelo, were named after Italian painters. I’m not sure what she wanted me to do with that information, but to put it here, pass it along to you.

She was dying to tell me that, with certain elaboration, it occurred to me later, the same as how I love for people to ask me what I do or have I been here before, so I can spill out some shit that’s intended to impress them.

“What do you do?”

“I do a lot of things.”

“Like what?”

“I’d rather not talk about it.”

No. We’re dying to talk about it, like Ken and his three buddies from Toronto, on the balcony, giving me a full itinerary, from Austrailia to the drunken beach parties on the islands of south Thailand, to Cambodia to Vietnam to here. He related two separate odd coincidences during his travels, accidentally running into people from his school. Just a coincidence, both times.

Sure, we like to talk about it.

Just a picture of the street, y’know, what it’s like for a guy like me, trying to pay attention. Just trying to walk fully erect, a straight line, unbroken, trying to avoid being yanked too far left or right from alignment, harmonic balance, full stride, full extension of the comfort zone to the moons of Jupiter, just shy of critical mass.

Trying not to be judgemental of the impatient waiter, the indifferent vendor, the pimp/hustler/dealer/taxi driver, the beggar with her infant, the prostitute, the radiant young French couple, the two tall Taiwanese on the temple tour, allowing the world to arrive uncensored, unsullied by my fuzzy, skewed evaluation. Is it possible to accept it as it is, accept people as they are?

Just a picture of the street, looking down from the 4th floor balcony on Hangboun Road, a couple blocks from the Mekong.

New cars, old trucks, lots of motorbikes, three-wheeled motorbike taxis with slipping clutches and squeaky brakes, noodle shops, a big vegetable stand, a Lao restaurant, a new mini-mart on the corner, guesthouses, taileurs, Lao silver and handicrafts, laundry, money exchanges, and night markets along the river, people everywhere. People, everywhere in the world. Bustling. Who here would care about a refugee in Darfur? They’ve never heard of the Sioux.

The shops are shuttering closed now, the proprietors retreating to the rear or living quarters on the second or third floors. Large piles of bagged trash are at the curb, people milling around the portable noodle vendors. They don’t see me. As a rule, people don’t look up.


The dictionary says this word doesn’t exist, but I think you can picture it, right?

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

I'm Gonna Let That Shit Slide, Just This One Time


Khuk Khak, Thailand - And I'll tell you why. Later.

Stay Tuned - Don't Touch That Dial

'Taking For Granted'

Family members, friends, life, health, mobility, stability, heat, water, electricity, computer communication, earth, the sun, like they'll always be there.

coming soon:

'Finding That Spot on Your Back'

'Angels in Their Path'

Monday, December 01, 2008

On The High Wire

On The High Wire

Khuk Khak, Thailand

Maybe you’ve heard of The Flying Palaminos?


I was with them back in the late sixties. When I was drifting between high school, college, and a war I didn’t want to go to, I spent one summer with the circus, with the high wire act, part of the trapeze show performed by the Palamino family.

After Tito fell during an attempt of the triple-chair stunt in Newark and was paralyzed from the waist down, I ended up filling in for him, ‘walking the wire’ for only about five minutes of the act, easy stuff, a walk-out, a couple of 180s, squat on the wire, stand on one foot.

Tito could do flips, the bicycle, juggling, and a repertoire of all sorts of other astonishing stunts on the wire and trapeze, but I wasn’t that good, nor nearly as confident. He was a gazelle in the air, and what they called 'a natural aerial artist’.

Like a lot of things in life, it’s all about balance. But really, anybody could do it. You don’t start out at fifty feet in the air without a net, with a huge crowd under the Big Top hoping to see you fall. You start in your backyard on a rope between your mom’s clothesline poles.

Really, I didn’t even start there. When I was small, I was all over the sidewalk, clumsy and club-footed as a duck. My mom told me to go down and ‘walk the rails’ down on the railroad track, and that’s where I began to get myself straightened out, as my dad would occasionally suggest I begin to do.

The old ‘Wabash Cannonball’ tracks. Yep. We lived right beside them. People would ask, 'Do those trains bother you at night?' and I would say, 'What trains?'

You get pretty good at something if you practice every day, and us boys in the neighborhood, instead of taking the alleys down to Gackenheimer’s drugstore for chips and Double Colas, would walk the rails to town.

Before long, us kids, daring and trying to outdo one another the way young boys do, were ‘running the rails.’

We were running the rails. Running the rails in Redball Jets. A lot of us could. Not just the switch track, which was rusty and easy to gain a purchase, a foothold, but also the mainline track, too, slick and shiny as a Japanese samurai blade.

Before long, we were running the rails with our eyes closed, visualizing the rail running straight as an arrow in our minds. From there, we went to the clothesline poles. A lot of us got pretty good.

Jack could almost do a flip, but after he racked himself up pretty good one afternoon, unable to walk fully erect for several days, none of us other guys wanted to try that. We wanted to enter manhood with an intact set.

Anyway, I was the only one to go on with it as an actual performer, to the big time, so to speak, if only for one...did I say summer? I meant month; six shows from Detroit to St. Louis, then they got a cousin of Miranda’s for a full time replacement for Tito, who the doctors said would never walk again, much less climb back up on the wire.

We say ‘wire’, but it’s actually a rope. Jean-Phillipe Petit used cable to cross between the world trade center towers in 1974, and Karl Wallenda...maybe you've heard of 'The Flying Wallendas'?...used cable for the San Juan, Puerto Rico Hotel tower crossing, when he fell to his death at age 73 in a 25 mph crosswind, caught on grainy super 8 film.

Wallenda's fall was more dignified than Phillipo's, but not nearly as artistic as Geppetto's. Both Petit and Wallenda used crossbars, long balancing poles. Under the tent, we used hemp rope. No crossbars. ‘Crossbars are for sissies’, they used to say. Nets, too, in the business.

The Palaminos got their start after the old man, Lorenzo Palamioni (Pah-lam-ee-oh-nee), a legend in the business, left ‘The Old Country,’ Sicily, for New York, and at Ellis Island upon his entry into the U.S., shorted his name to Palamino, then eventually imported the entire act, which was also saying, the entire family.

The act had been fully operational across Europe, with big name high-wire and trapeze acts running for decades in families in places like Prague, Budapest, Leipzig, and Belgrade. The Tapezios, the Wallendas, the Kryzinskis. Circus is big in Europe, whereas in the States, ‘Carny people’, are the gypsy, trailer-trash people that everyday folks look down upon as greasy, trailer-trash gypsies.

This is not to say that Sophia did not wear a clean outfit.

She did the ‘Cloud Swing’ and the rope, easy shit. Sophia, smiling broadly, in the spotlight, under the big top.

Lorenzo had three sons, Tito, Marco and Alonzo, the husband of Miranda, who was on top in the pyramid; and four daughters, Sophia, Maria, Rosalia, and Caterina, all of whom were married and brought their husbands into the act on the trapeze, trampoline, and double pyramid on the wire.

I had a diagram of the family tree and who was married to who, and who did what in the act, but it was lost in the fire. Main thing was getting the elephants and all those animals out. There were horseback-riding monkeys and lions and all kinds of other exotic and trained animals, but of course, they weren’t part of our act.

I mean, a monkey is ‘a natural’ on the wire, like Tito was, but say, an elephant or a giraffe, couldn’t even get up the ladder, no matter how long they trained. They simply 'didn't have what it takes.'

Anyway, old man Lorenzo was the only person on earth, living, who could perform the triple chair stunt. They say some of the old-timers, two, three generations back, did amazing credibility defying, if-I-didn't-see-it-with-my-own-two-damn-eyes stuff like that all the time. Like, "Heya boys, whatcha this."

That’s a chair balanced on two legs on the wire, with another chair on top of that, with the back legs on top of the...you can picture it...and a third chair on top of that, atop which the old man would perform a one-armed handstand and the splits while spinning hoops on a pencil in his mouth. A real crowd-pleaser, and he had it down to a ‘T’. Nobody else could even do the chairs.

A lot of people died trying. Phillipo fell to his death in Kansas City attempting it, partially because of a rigging failure on the net, but he fell and died, nonetheless. Hit the net and the ground, full force. And Carlo died in San Francisco attempting two chairs. And Maria’s husband Geppetto fell to his death, on trapeze, not the wire.

His catcher, Vinnie’s timing was just a bit off, and in this business, a little bit off is the same as a country mile, like a shuttle launch being ‘a little bit off’ in a rendezvous with the space station. The usual slap of palms against taped wrists, followed by a puff of talcum powder just didn’t happen that night. A total miss.

After a double forward spin, Geppetto opened up for the catch and went sailing by, too early, and flailed at the air like a butterfly swimmer, bringing the crowd instantly to their feet in astonished fascination, then landed straight smack on his chest, a spectacular fall of about sixty feet.

This was long before cell phone cameras and video cameras, so there weren’t any replays. You had to be there. It was absolutely spellbinding. It took the whole family to persuade Vinnie to continue on the trapeze, since everyone knew it was his fault, coming off the platform juuuust a little bit late.

They brought in a stretcher, then the pony-riding Tinkerbell poodles with the silly party hats, and the clowns, with the Ringmaster attempting to restore a sense of showmanship in the midst of that terrible tragedy, but the crowd, the family, and especially Maria, was still in shock. But the show must go on, as they say in the business.

“These athings happen from time a to time,” said the old man, slowly. “He wasa almosta like a son to a me.”

So when Geppetto fell, coming right after Tito, that put another damper on the family, and a person can’t just go in there and replace a guy like that. It’s not like coming in, in relief in the top of the ninth, looking for three outs.

So I had people against me from the start. Some of the members were resentful, like toward a step-dad or something, like Tito and Geppetto’s falls were somehow my fault, and others said I didn’t have what it takes, that I was too chickenshit. Others suggested it was me behind the fire. I could never be a true aerial artist, they said.

But Tito was with me, and a big help from his wheelchair, offering tips and whatnot, despite his persistent depression, so we were cool, and the old man, we were okay, too. I was okay with mama and Marco and the sisters, too, but their husbands, with the exception of Vinnie, always made me feel like I was an impostor, a fraud, a charlatan, which I was.

I mean, I never was cut out for that kind of work. Deep deep down I was chickenshit up in the air, and you can’t ‘fake it’ up on the wire. You gotta have it in your blood. Aerial artistry runs in bloodlines through the generations, like singers in Senegal, or NASCAR drivers. In some ways, the circus is sort of like Churchill Downs. Your momma’s a gypsy, your daddy’s a gypsy – what are you going to be?

Like I said, I was only with the Palaminos for a month, July, so that brief chance didn’t offer the time to really develop my craft into an art the way Tito did, but then the war and the draft was going on strong, and then there was that little run-in with the law, the choice between a prison stretch and the ‘Nam, and before you knew it, I was eating rice over here, just a couple blocks away. The Palaminos went on to Texas without me.

I went to basic training. The rest is history.

They asked me what my last job was.

“You like being in the air, huh, liar?” they asked. “Ok then. We’re going to put you in helicopters.”


Sunday, November 30, 2008

Just Took My Breath Away

Just Took My Breath Away

Khuk Khak, Thailand – The sky is different here than there.

Sometimes it’s difficult to walk with a light heart (my dictum, from God) after the human suffering you’ve witnessed, some of which is your own. Your friend/counselor/shrink may say with sympathetic resignation, “It just takes time.”

We all know that. But how much time? A day or two? A decade or so? A lifetime? You tell me. Thank the monkey tree for the DNA. Light years measures distance, you know, not time.

Time to sink in. Time to get it together. Time to process, like the coalescing of the heavens. Time to sort it out, wade through it, re-combobulate, re-assimilate, re-capitulate. A road trip might be a good idea. I’d need a bigger bike, something like a 450cc.

Rather than create karma, is it possible to just walk straight, allowing the stars to fall where they may? Could there possibly be no such thing as coincidence, but for a glaze preventing apprehension of obscure conditions or remote associations in a celestial arc of apparent exponential acceleration and instant retribution? Theoretically, we’re still expanding.

Or not. Just a theory, right? Ain’t no law. So we could also be sucked into a black hole, any day now, where gravity is so strong, having sucked up the mass of everything in the neighborhood, like, galaxies, that even your prayer can’t escape. Just found out about them the other day, relatively speaking. Black holes, not your prayers.

I think most of the guys, and most of them are, are backing the idea of saying we’re still expanding, and you or your grandchildren needn’t worry about the black hole right out there. They worked out the odds with a whole shitload of math and everybody cheerfully gave the earth a thumbs up.

The guy who stayed up all night working out the equations, Heddinstin or whatever, gleefully and with great relief told his colleagues upon their arrival in the lab the next morning, “It’s too fucking far out there, you guys! It’s too fucking far!”

Won himself a Nobel Prize. Everyone breathed easier.

In scientific history, it’s frequently been the egghead, ass-of-the-class who in the face of unanimous community opposition, was right all along. Same same smart bomb hitting the Chinese embassy.

“Well, EVerybody knows......the earth is the center of the universe.”

Sometimes when the heat is insufferable, making sleep impossible, tossing and turning, kicking at the sheet, wide awake, a midnight trip aboard a Honda Wave could be a sedative, heading north on the Isthmus of Kra under the stars of the southern hemisphere.

Throttle wide open, overrunning the headlight, faster than the speed of light. What if something big and black should appear on the road before you? Who knows what could come out of the jungle. Jupiter a sentinel above Venus in the heavens. What could that mean?

Although it looks close from here and on your planetary chart, Jupiter is waaaaaaay out there, man, far beyond Venus, right? Like, how far? It’s gotta be more than one hand, from here. Is there an effect, way way down here on earth? Ever check your horoscope? Do the Grecian gods bother themselves with the daily affairs of Earthlings? Does your god? Does the Guardian Angel only work the day shift?


“You don’t need a new bike,” said Manat, my friend at the Honda shop. “Just take your time. There’s a lot to see,” he said, encouraging the road trip.

Suvarnabhumi International airport is shut down with protestors trying to oust the government. Manat, who went to Bangkok to marry off his daughter to her Japanese husband, said that many of the Japanese guests were stranded, requiring diverted traffic re-routes through Singapore and Kuala Lumpur to get home.

Things are a mess up north, and getting in, out, or through Bangkok these days is madness squared. That’s why he suggested taking the bike instead of flying out of Phuket. “A road tour,” he called it. “Why not?” he asked.

Jesus ain’t working the streets over here. It’s all Buddha’s turf. The monks keep it straight, themselves all in a line, a procession up the street every morning after daybreak. I thought to put down the watering hose, hop on my bike, race to the corner for rice, and ‘feed the monks’ this morning, just for the bennies. Couldn’t hurt, y’know, but thought, ‘Naw, I’ll just go ahead and take my chances on a shitty day. Let the stars fall where they may.’


Saturday, November 29, 2008

Lost Or Stolen


Khuk Khak, Thailand - I lost a new baseball glove when I was a kid in Little League. And I lost a brand new birthday bat, a Ted Williams Louisville Slugger, at the game that same night. The glove was taken while we were batting. The bat was taken while we were in the field, by a guy who later became a good friend, and one night twenty years later in a drunk, told me so.

That’s just for starters. My freshman year in college, I lost a game early in the second inning, giving up seventeen runs before we could produce the third out, the visitors laughing and ‘high-fiving’ as they batted three times through the lineup. I lost several tennis matches at the high school and collegiate level, playing number five on a six-man team.

In high school, I lost a home basketball game in the final three seconds, missed the shot, my parents in the stands. Walked home, the coach’s locker room rage ringing in my ears.

I lost a couple good friends in the ‘Nam. I lost my virginity in Nuevo Laredo. I lost a wife, some girlfriends, money, several bets, many arguments. I’ve lost my folks and a sister. I lost a brother when I was one-year old, and by two, I’d lost two mothers. My 'real' mom, the one who raised me, was the third, but I can remember the other two who didn't. I’ve kept most of my friends, but a couple are questionable, maybe in the lost column.

I lost a lot of possessions in three robberies. In a war I lost, I lost that slug the doctor cut out of me and kept for himself, removing it from the tray and placing it into his pocket, and lying about its whereabouts later. I lost some weight back in the 90s.

How can a new graph begin without this repetitiveness, or an essay filled up with ‘I’s?

Among other things lost were my hair, for sure, ain’t coming back, a tooth, for sure, unless you do the bridge or implant, he said, the VA dentist. They can do the bridge, but not the implant. I’d have to go ‘outside’ for the implant. And that can be expensive. He said.

Back to shaping up to be ‘a loser’ story. Lost some kites. Several, in fact. Almost always to high-power lines. That’s why it says, usually, on the packaging, not to fly around electrical lines. They’re like a magnet to kites. These were homemade, so there wasn’t any packaging. The power lines I had to learn the hard way.

I lost my pride after being busted for two joints. Lost my job on that one, too, the people being real chickenshit about it. Lost some acquaintances that I thought were friends. Lost my footing, lost my bearings, the drift of the conversation, the keys, the dog, my train of thought, my way to the outhouse, lost touch, flexibility, my grip on the surfboard, the stretcher handles, the ladle to the soup pot, the split decision.

I lost my dignity in the South China Sea, feeling really small, helpless, and insignificant in the water as a friend drowned a few meters away. I lost my shit one time after a nighttime mission. I’ve lost my temper, my composure, my patience, my sense of equilibrium, and my understanding of reality on a blotter acid trip.

In a peyote meeting, I lost the sense of being clothed, and once while weeding carrots in the twentieth century, I lost the sense of not being able to talk to them.

There are a great many memories that others can easily recover that I have lost. I lost some hearing from a helicopter’s turbine and another ten percent later at a Johnny Winter concert, for sure.

I lost my fear of picking up anybody on the road. I lost a fear of success or failure. I lost a fear of not being there on time, of losing a job, of many lesser fears and anxieties, but I’m still paranoid about the men in black.

And the aliens. Nearest possible life-supporting planet is how many billion trillion light years away? So, to get here, their shit has to be pretty much advanced, wouldn’t you say? And if so, then, this is all they’ve got to do? Come across from the other end of vast emptiness to come here and fuck with us?

So I haven’t lost my fear of them yet.

This went from the serious gut-wrenching stuff to the flippant, didn’t it? I’ve lost a lot of water in sweat lodges. I’ve lost some valuable artwork, and lost in court. I’ve lost my balance on a tightrope, a bull’s back,* a trampoline. I’ve lost face and perspective, desires and appetite, some hopes and dreams, and reasonable doubts.

You know, just to think of some of the stuff you’ve lost, if you’ve ever thought about it. You could probably make a list, too. Just a story idea and where it can go. Just an exercise. But after looking at it, it looks like this guy is a real loser, doesn’t it?


A person could also write about what they’ve found, gained, or held onto. You could write positively about growth and abundance, focusing on all that feel-good happy shit that comes around in parties and forwarded email attachments during Thanksgiving and the holidays. Like faith, for instance. Found faith. Held onto a sense of fairness and decency. Held onto hope, the end of the rope. Write about things like faith, justice, and trust.

Faith in what? Surely not people. People will continually disappoint you. Justice. Where? The heroes have all been martyred, the kings slain. Trust. The word even looks strange when deceit and betrayal rule. Trust who, what? Naivety was lost, innocence, stolen.


*some of you may be saying, 'You never rode no fucking bull,' and you'd be right if you're thinking rodeo. She was a Taurus.

Not The Frog

Not The Frog

Khuk Khak, Thailand – If you’ve heard this already, stop me. It’s not the point here to bore you with war stories, but for two reasons; some I’d like to work up as a creative writing exercise, trying to pare it down, use just the right words for the visual imagery, leaving just enough out for the reader to create it themselves, just for the fun of it; and some I’d like to tell, just as an interesting tale; and some I’d like to just get out, y’know; and some should just be put into writing for my kids and grandkids.

Dictionary says, ‘Long-ass sentence. Consider revising.’ Is that lead too wordy? Are you captivated yet?

One day while sitting with a group of friends, I unfolded a short but captivating war story, condensed, considering what I presumed to be the attention spans of the audience and my capability to hold them spellbound, and my son Digger was sitting there looking astonished, saying afterward, something to the effect of, “I never heard you tell that before,” or, “you never talked about it much.” Something like that.

Dictionary says, same same, consider revising..

And it occurred to me that, yeah, I didn’t talk about it much to the kids. If people asked, I’d talk about it, and sometimes, out of the blue, when someone else is relating a personal story or circumstance, I might ask, “What the fuck’s that got to do with the ‘Nam?”

You know, just for laughs.

So lately, the writing has served as an unbeknownst element of therapy for the DSMIII’s (APA Diagnostic and Statistical Manual. Whatever you’ve got, they’ve got a name for it) Delayed Grief Syndrome and Survivor’s Guilt and who knows what else a person might deny for decades is going on.

Delayed grief is just what it says, delayed grief. A person can’t cry, right there, right then, so they put it off for later, sometimes a long time. Survivor’s guilt is wondering the rest of your life why you got to live when the person you were with didn’t.

Now, we can seat back in our comfortable chairs and hear the story, detached, empathetic, tuned in, or thinking about lunch, but as many of you may know, just by life’s circumstances, when that stuff is going down, at a personal level, it’s some deep doo doo.

And, as a nation, we’re in for more and deeper doo doo as our young people return home from their war, their homicidal suicidal stats already bewildering. Like, worse than us.

Johnny Reb’s ‘Soldier’s Blues.’ John Wayne’s ‘Battle Fatigue’, ‘Shell-Shocked’ on the Korean penninsula, and ‘PTSD’ in the ‘Nam. Let’s give it another new and improved name, appropriate to our age.

I can’t think of any, right now. You got one?

Something Something Something Terror.

Anyway, that stuff up there, that psychiatric shit, that’s just a thumbnail of the passive, innocent headtrips! You don’t have to be a killer. Think of the major monstrous Gibraltar-load of torment of the individuals who actively manufactured the horror. Tip of the iceberg, my bruthas. You can see the front edge of the pipeline at any VA hospital in the country.

You don’t have to be a soldier to suffer post-traumatic stress. Anything can happen to anybody. How about your IRA, your stock value, or that of your home? Shell-shocked yet? Lose your job? A house? A loved one? Was it traumatic? What have you lost?

Blessed is he who can say, ‘Just a set of keys.’

So, periodically, a poem or war tale can appear here, talk of Jesus, talk of love, Buddha’s footprints, Sun Dance buds.


Saturday, November 22, 2008

Wear Your Wings

Wear Your Wings

Khuk Khak, Thailand - I was a relative greenhorn, only in-country for a few weeks when I asked my mentor, David, “How do I get a set of those wings?” that I had seen some of the older medics wearing.

He said with half-laugh, “You gotta fly 600 hours, six months, or get shot down twice, whichever comes first.”

Up at Duc Pho and Hill 411, I earned my wings in four months.

“Wake up,” the First Sergeant said, rousting me out of the rack. I’d been flying the night before, up past 2. a.m., and was allowed to skip morning formation. “You’re getting some awards,” he added.

The Pilots were down on the right, receiving Silver Stars and DFC’s and Air Medals, with the commander coming down the line, pinning that stuff on while the first sergeant read the citations. A lot of guys know what I’m talking about here. Some of you women, too.

I can’t remember what else I got that day, but when he handed me my wings, I was swooning, like, I don’t know how to put it into words…on a joy meter with ‘childbirth’ and ‘grandkids’ being at the top, it could run a close second to getting married.

Anyway, I was proud. Not for fighting communism or being an American citizen, just then, but because I EARNED them.

I earned them, and I was alive to receive them, thankful to have lived through all the shit between, my fright and horror to humans I’d seen, compressed, recessed, and suppressed to ghastly cob-webbed crypts in the mind mausoleum.

But just then, the wings were real. Real metal in my palm. I was real. The commander’s eyes were real. His handshake, real.

So, today, I don’t wear any of that other stuff. I received a purple heart in the hospital, from a General, pinned on my pillow, just like in the movies. The star, the cross, the DFC, the CMB I never wear. Never have. Maybe someday I’ll put ‘em on for a pow-wow grand entry, or in a parade, just for show, y’know. But the wings, I’m proud of ‘em. I wear ‘em every day.

- end

Not To Write A Book

Not To Write A Book

Khuk Khak, Thailand - Someday these entries will end, I know. Either I’m going to die, computers will fail, our star system will collapse from something into nothing, or I’ll just get tired of cranking out this stuff, which already occurs from time to time. Like, not write. And sometimes I haven’t anything to say, or I get to thinking, ‘who cares about what I’ve got to say?’ You know what I’m saying?


Like that one-way conversation you’re having with someone you’ve been around for far too long, at least, that day, and you’re talking, and they’re not listening. They ain’t heard a word you said.


And you might go away thinking later, ‘I’m not appreciated,’ and then something happens, like maybe a near-death experience or something less emotionally intense, and then that person, usually a friend or family member, or maybe an enemy, never a stranger, but always in relationship, however remote or intimate, might say something nice to your ears to hear.

But writing is part of what I do, and by extension, part of who I am. Not necessarily a compulsion, but rather, a desire sporn from isolation to communicate with the outside world, connecting with friends, as it were. We’re all writers.

You caught it, too? My computer did. ‘Sporn’ is not a word. But on this computer, you can ‘Add to dictionary’, so I did. It’s like, ‘spawned’…or ‘born’…together. Kao jai mai?

“Yes, I undersa-tand. You’re sa-toned.”

Is there someone else in the room, or is this guy talking to himself? Aren’t we always?

Does the stuff we forward to people say something about who we are? What we think is funny? What we think is important? What we think is inspirational or touching?

Just wanted to tell you this blog ain’t no book, but it could be, like a frog could be a prince. And if it…the blog, not the frog…does, you’ll have to read it from the earliest entries to the latest, unless you’ve been reading along, all along.

Then it makes sense. Because some of the later material relates back to the previous entry, or maybe even earlier, which could cause the casual pop-in reader to ask, ‘What the hell…is he talking about?’

Like Thunderclap, the tightrope walker, Lupe’, the sun dance bros, Jesse Jackson in Sherwood Forest, the Bob Hope Memorial Comedy Tour, and Manny. If you weren’t already familiar with these people, you wouldn’t know.

Besides, some of them haven’t been written yet.

So, it’s not a book. ‘Keeping Heart on Pine Ridge’ wasn’t intended to be a book, either.
It just happened. It began like these, a series or short essays, to you, and out of about eighty stories submitted, excluding Thunderclap and the Clone and all that anti-war stuff produced from the rez, forty-four were selected and compiled. I thought they (the publisher) could have included many more, you know, to give it some heft, but we kept it short and sweet and fun.

You sure can’t call it a ‘laborious’ read. I was thinking, like, ‘War and Peace’, and they were thinking along the lines of a comic book.

Well, a comic would produce a comic book, right? Jerry Lewis’ day job was a nuclear physicist. Comedy was just a sideline thing. You knew John Travolta was a pilot, right? Licensed to fly a jumbo-jet. Who really gives a shit? I mean, in your meaningful day-to- day world, do you really give a shit about what John Travolta is licensed to fly? C’mon.

Did you know I was almost a doctor? Had to drop out of med school…too tall. Point is, you could produce a comic book, and over here…over here you’ve got this whole ‘nuther collosal, big-ass THING going on, BIG TIME in the real 3-D world that’s your main thing that people don’t even know about. Yeah. Like, Jesus was a pretty damn good carpenter.

Do you know I love you, and I’ve had only one beer?

- end

We Should Have Just Let Go

We Should Have Just Let Go*

Khuk Khak, Thailand - We should have just let go, but instead we held on. The guys on the other end let go. They should have held on.

They had the other end of the stretcher we were trying to load, me and my crew chief, Augie. We were pulling, and they were pushing, with the stretcher high above their heads, since it was on the side of a hill, so steep we couldn’t land, the helicopter’s blades less than a foot from biting into the hillside. The skids were still a good six feet off the ground.

As Augie and I tugged on our end, we began taking fire. The pilot said, “We’re taking fire,” and peeled away from the hill. The guys on the ground let go and ran for cover in a crouch.

We zig-zagged out and down the valley, and at about 300 feet, maybe five hundred, I don’t know, with Augie and I struggling with the stretcher, our patient, a Vietnamese guy with only a gunshot wound to the leg, had flipped over onto his stomach and went sliding down the stretcher on his chest, and held onto the handles, his eyes wide with fear.

We pulled and pulled, trying to haul him in, and then he slipped away, the recognition of the moment-of-death registering with incredible turn-your-hair-white haunting fright in his eyes as he lost his grasp.

He sailed back behind the helicopter, down and away, expressing a most beautiful ballet, at first, clawing at the air, and then just sailing, sailing end over end, until he disappeared into the green of the jungle.

- end

*This was not a recent event, except in my dreams. The story has been written and re-written several times since its occurrence in 1969. I share it with you now in its condensed, abbreviated form.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Yoyo Effect


Khuk Khak, Thailand - It was sweltering out, just after midday on the Andaman Sea, and everybody whose brain wasn’t already fried was seeking shade. We wondered what the commotion was, that monkey up in the coconut tree, screeching and raising hell about something.

His owner, on the ground at the smart, evolved end of the fifty-foot tether tied to the monkey’s neck, was angry, too, barking out commands as the monkey twisted off coconuts and dropped them to the jungle floor with a distinctive thud.

Their heated exchange drew everyone’s attention, because the Thai are normally quiet and do not shout or argue in public. To raise your voice or lose your cool is a loss of face, and to lose face in Asia is a disgraceful and serious breach of the cultural norm, but today wasn’t at all cool.

Sitting in the outdoor restaurant of a private resort, sipping a homemade brew of lime juice and Thai whiskey, we were trying to manage the oppressive heat, me and the two Europeans, served by an illegal immigrant Myanmar staff.

“Monkey say it’s too HOT to work,” offered the Thai wife of the resort owner, looking up from a lunch of fish and rice, showing concern as she glanced up into the trees. “Man say back to monkey, ‘No work, no eat.’ ”

The team can be seen driving around throughout the province, the man’s truck piled high with fresh coconuts, with tall metal railings and the monkey sitting atop the load, looking dispassionate.

The resort owner arose from our table and left, returning with a can of tobacco, asking if I cared for a smoke. I nodded, and he said, “This kind,” opening the can and showing me the largest ball of black African hashish I’d ever seen, bigger than a golf ball, smaller than your fist.

Usually I don’t enjoy hashish or opium, especially when on vacation or operating heavy equipment. It just makes me sleepy. But I had nothing better to do than take a swim in the sea, and I didn’t wish to offend his hospitality, so I made an exception just this time and accepted his offer.

“This one, I’ve had for three years,” he said, removing the ball and pinching off a few chips with his fingernail, sprinkling it along a line of tobacco that he twisted up into a long European-style cone spliff. “African. Very hard to get here,” he said. “Not so hard in Germany.”

We sat there for longer than we had planned, talking and frittering away the afternoon, when suddenly, we all jumped up, remembering we had things to do to call the day productive. When I left, the monkey was still working up in the trees.

He had a deep frown on his face, and was not dropping the coconuts, but rather, throwing them angrily to the ground. The man looked over at me and blandly smiled.


Yoyo Effect

How’d y’all do during the last phase of the moon? Any irregularities? Anything out of the norm?

Just smile. Smile like you’re having dinner tonight with good friends. Smile at strangers like you shared last night’s meal with them. Smile like you just made wonderful love, and haven’t showered yet, the love lingering on your skin and swelling your heart. Smile like you know something nobody else does, a secret, an inside joke, a math equation finally making sense. Just smile. Go ahead and smile.

They call this the land of smiles. You can go around grinning at everyone, and they smile back. They don’t think you’re up to something, gay, stoned, a born lunatic, or simply stark raving mad.
Make those old folks ask, “Do I know you?”

Smile like you’re with the most wonderful wife, husband, mate/partner/companion in the world, like you won the lottery, like a great burden has been lifted off your shoulders, like your book just got published, like your dividends exceeded your wildest dreams, you’re up for an Oscar, the Pulitzer committee called, the tests came back negative, you got the job, the snake wasn’t poisonous.

The plan is working out. Everything is going to be okay. Charges will not be filed. The plane landed safely. The kids are in bed. You’re enrolled, a genius, a magician, inducted in the Hall of Fame. She’s not pregnant. Your computer's back up. You found those keys. The meds are working. You won the election. You won the race, you won at cards, the track, the casino, the Nobel Prize, the bet, the argument.

(There’s a big fucking dog fight going on outside right now)

The dog wasn’t rabid. The orchard’s yielding tons, the hay harvest incredible, you can easily make the payment. You just got your dream home, dream vacation.

Smile that you have been graced with another day of life. Despite it all, just smile.


Out in Thung Maphrao, approaching Tambon # 6, you pass through rubber orchards and enter a fairy tale kingdom that sweeps you from reality and into a distant dream, a faraway deja-vu recollection. Ask Tom or Bryan, or Bill, or Digger. They’ve seen it, too.

You leave behind the suffocating blacktop heat and approach a cool shaded tunnelled canopy of trees, a fragrant breeze, zipping by row upon row of rubber trees with coconut collection cups. Back deep in the plantation sits a small wood and corrugated hut on stilts, the well-worn laundry outside on a line, a hand-operated latex pressing machine under a tin roof, a tiny unassuming spirit house with incense burning.

Your worries and pressing concerns evaporate. Your spirit feels soothed and comfortable, reminiscent of a time long ago, a mother’s soft familiar pat on your infant back. If only you could linger there, absorbing the quiet, peaceful charm of such a place, it’s bliss washing over you, enveloping you, sliding into a restful peace.

I’ve never taken a photo there, but let it remain an unvarnished memory, fleeting, elusive, unspoiled by an attempt of capture or permanence.

- end