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

Down This Road Before

Down This Road Before

Bangkok, Thailand – Land of Smiles. That’s what they call it. And for a city of twelve million, give or take a few thousand souls, the people maintain an ease and childlike openness that would be hard to match in another country’s capital.

Across the street from the Royal Hotel, tens of thousands of people gather on the big parade grounds, the Sanam Luang, where workers are constructing a series of huge portable pavilions, tents, stages, and elaborately ornate…I don’t know what you’d call them…temples?...for next week’s cremation ceremony of the King’s sister, who has been lying in state for the past six months or so.

It’s a huge national event, diminished only by two weeks of recent street protests against the Prime Minister, requiring troops, tear gas, and the hospitalization of hundreds of people before order and tranquility was restored.

The workers have planted thousands of beautiful temporary flower arrangements all over the grounds, where people from around the country stand behind yellow tubular metal barricades to have their pictures taken with the Grand Palace and ceremonial preparations in the background.

It is a festive atmosphere, despite the occasion being somber, with children flying kites, families picnicking on plastic sheets, and all the old ladies dressed head-to-toe in black, as if the sister of the king were their own.

Vendors abound, selling food, chicken and squid on a stick, drinks, commemorative photo packets of the royal family, Buddha amulets, massage, fortune-telling, and t-shirts marking the event, which I didn’t want, but bought one anyway, from a man who insisted I must have one at his discounted price. “Cheap cheap. Same same Thai price,” he assured me.

Outside the hotel, I took a page from Powder’s Harvard ‘Pimpology 101’ class and showed the assembled cab drivers the pimp-walk and how to crip-step. Black folks in the States might say I was doing it all wrong, but the Thai? would they know?

After the demonstration and dinner, I sat on a sidewalk bench at nightfall and watched the fireworks over the parade grounds, and the bevies of western tourists attempting to cross sixteen lanes of traffic. A young girl, either out of her mind or high on something, walked by and pounded my arm, saying something I didn’t understand.

A few minutes later, she returned and proceeded to give me a lap dance until I remembered I was wearing my Rong Po Thuot amulet and pushed her away before she defiled him. He wouldn’t care for any of that action, and his protective powers are diminished by such activity. I assumed she was slightly mad, perhaps having been traumatized in some way, or maybe just born daft, predetermined by a previous incarnation.

Earlier in the day, down at the Buddha market, I made one last trip down the hundreds of vendors lining the packed sidewalk to see an old friend and pick up a few giveaway amulets, when a toothless old man waved me over and, drawing the attention of his friends, challenged me to a Thai kickboxing match.

‘You and me, let’s go,’ he said in sign language, laughing, while playfully striking me in the stomach a few times with exaggerated theatrical blows. I played along with the old geezer, laughing with him and his crowd until he kneed me in the nuts, causing me to momentarily lose my bearings and my breath, with dots appearing before my eyes.

At that point, I felt like laying him out cold with a left-hand uppercut, followed by a right cross, ‘the old one-two’, but that probably would have caused a sensational public stir and reinforced the image of the aggressive American, which our president-elect, whom they now know, saying ‘Bracko Ba-MAH’, is trying to reverse.

On top of it all, I lost my favorite one-of-a-kind handcrafted silver lighter case in the back of a tuk tuk taxi on my way to the Grand Palace for a pair of those temple pants for bro Tom Cook, who wanted a pair to dance in at next year’s sun dance. “Get me two pair,” he said.

Size ek el. They can’t say ‘X’. Extra large for a Thai, is medium for an American, and small for a German or Scandinavian. They can’t say ‘excuse me’, either, trying to twist it off their tongues, and in six English classes over three years, I’ve only had one student master it. A girl from Singapore, who’d learned English as part of the curriculum before moving to Thailand.

So, I was pissed at myself for having lost my lighter case, which can be obtained in only one place in the whole of Asia, necessitating a trip to Laos, and aching from the knee in the nuts from that old man, and still slightly annoyed by the loud yackety-yacking American woman, clearly from New York, like Brooklyn, sitting behind me at dinner telling ALL her business and where she’d been and where she was going, and the waitress who brought me tonic water instead of the ginger ale I ordered, when I thought maybe I needed to just chill, just chill, and go have an after-dinner smoke on the bench I was telling you about.

Realizing I had forgotten to find gifts from Bangkok for two small children, I returned to the parade grounds, crossing the canal, which reeked strongly of urine, overpowering everything else in the air for twenty or thirty yards.

People piss in public here, right out in the open. Women, too. You’re not supposed to look. And while shopping on the street, vendors encourage you to go ahead and try it on, right here, ‘Nevva miiiind’, so you’ll see people strip down in public, like that guy buying the temple pants across from the Grand Palace, and that European chick squeezing into a bikini today on Khaosan Road, showing her buttocks and baby blue thong to Buddha, God, and me. Never mind. Itdontmattertojesut.

Unnn-bereave-aber. And they say the Thai are shy.

How do you know a Thai girl with a foreigner is a wife and not a professional prostitute? They aren’t holding hands.

And they don’t look like they’ve been shop-PING. And they can talk to one another in a common language. Typically, the man with his rent-a-wife don’t have much to say at dinner. “Do you talk while make lub?” she replied, when asked by her friends, “How you communicate? He no sa-peak Thai, and you no sa-peak Englit.”

How do you know that’s a for-sure girl and not a ladyboy? She doesn’t have an Adam’s apple. If you’re not sure, it’s a dude, man. Sometimes you can’t tell by the shoulders and hips, and the Thai surgeons can do all their magical anatomical transformational work to dismay even the most suspecting.

In one particular case, an extremely convincing and attractive ladyboy had made arrangements to get married and travel to England with her young boyfriend, who had no idea of who his fiancĂ© was before he was she, and she told my friend, who knew her, ‘Shhhhhhhhhh. Don’t say a word,’ pantomiming a zipper across the lips.

However, the Thai government will not permit an official name change, so the name he was born with is the same name that would appear on a visa application, passport, or marriage license. It seems that somewhere along the line, the young Englishman might wonder why the nicknamed Lu or Lin appeared officially on the visa as Wan or Somdet.

This is another city that never sleeps. At 2 and 3 a.m. the streets are still active, and at 5 a.m., at my wake-up call, the world has already begun anew, already hot hot, breaking me out into a drenching sweat after two minutes on the street, like I had just emerged from a sweat lodge.

The big-bellied, turbaned man from India stopped me on Khaosan Rd. at midday, introducing himself as a holy man. “How coincidental,” I replied. “Me, too. Where’s your badge?” I asked.

He ignored my remark and began his automatic spiel, telling me he could see things unseen, and tell me things I didn’t know, if I’d just follow him down that side street, that alleyway. I asked him if he could tell me if I was born last night. He said, “No. You were not born last night.”

“You are correct,” I said, walking away.


You The ‘Go To’ Guy

Old man still likes to look at ass. I noticed that about myself at the airport, especially on the staircase leading to the aircraft, with that chick’s ass at eye-level. I still enjoy looking at ass. If not, there’s something wrong. Or maybe, same same Buddhist monk. Monk cannot have election. Monk cannot look at ass. Monk cannot glance at titties.

Aboard the plane while people were strapping themselves in and the last passengers were cramming their carry-on into the overhead compartments, the semi-lovely flight attendant gave me the briefing for my role as hero, should the plane go down.

I was to be THE MAN, there on the extended leg-room exit aisle, with everybody’s life depending on how well I should execute my duties in popping open the 40 lb. emergency exit door.

I informed her I was familiar with the procedure, and if she could tell the captain that if anything…if he encountered any problems…to come back and get me. I think I could safely land the Boeing 777-110 aircraft ‘by the seat of my pants.’

She wasn’t sure if I was serious. Also, could she remind the pilot to be sure to fully extend the wing flaps on takeoff.

In the pre-flight briefing many of you may know by heart, they’ve got this lady calmly placing the life vest on her child and securing the proper straps, as shown. Your life vest is under your seat. You are told life vests are available for children, but they don’t say where.

So, we’ll be flying at 500 miles per hour, and in the ‘unlikely event’ the plane should go down over water, you’re going to be impacting the sea at an even greater rate of acceleration, and then, the plane is supposed to float, right?

In the demonstration, everything is calm and orderly, devoid of hysteria. And of course, the plane is level, and right-side-up. No nose-diving, cork-screwing, or coming apart at the seams. The flight attendants perform their demonstration with the utmost serenity. Inflate the vest by either pulling on the tabs, like this, or, by blowing into the red tubes, like this.

Or, you can lean way forward in your seat, pray intensely, in preparation to kiss your ass goodbye.

The wannabe cowboy, looking like Hopalong Cassidy, was wearing seven or eight Buddha amulets. He must REALLY be superstitious, I thought, doing the overkill with protection. The lady who sold me mine the previous day made sure I understood. “If you hab car crash, you no die,” she said. “You hab accident, you no die.”

If your pilot flies airplane into building, you no die. So, sure, I keep one close, not just on the rear-view mirror of a rez truck, but especially on aircraft. Takeoffs and landings, checking to make sure Rong Po Thuot is still there with me, around my neck, chillin.


Wai The Sea

In this culture, a person offers the hands-clasped wai to monks, elders, and in common greeting. As the protocol determines, the younger person offers the wai first, to which the elder responds. To the king or a monk, the tips of the fingers touch the forehead. To an elder, you touch your nose, and to anybody else, the chin.

Down at the edge of the sea, in remembrance of Michael, who lost his life while with me in the South China Sea forty years ago in Vietnam, and with respect to the immense power of the sea, I offered a wai before entering the water, as I always do.

One of the kids in my swimming class laughed and told her brother, "Look, P' Yai (my Thai name) wai the sea."

To the sometimes wonder of the Thai, I also wai my food. My father taught me that. Not the wai, but to give thanks for my food, for as he said, ‘something had to die for you to live.’

As a professional photographer, I learned the magic of capturing a moment in time, as we often do, suspending reality, touching a fragment, freezing a life at 1/125th of a second, and commonly, only in moments of gaiety, full of joy and love. What comes before or after is unknown.

Sometimes we’ll tear pages from the scrapbook and toss them to the fireplace, ripping up the photos in anger, fear, or pain, representative of a torn heart.

Sometimes this place is lonlier than the reservation, where the truly desperate live. At least there, one had the support group of the bros and spiritual family circle. I looked out across the Andaman Sea and fleetingly wondered how far I could make it. The Similan Islands were 60 miles out. India, just a bit further, a thousand or so nautical miles. One could go until exhaustion, then down, down, down, becoming food for mussels, mollusks, sea urchins and snakes.

- end

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Back Burner War

Troops Sidelined For Election / War Back Burner Now

Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, SD - A caller to a radio show said his father had ‘won’ the purple heart in Vietnam. Let me tell you something, folks. You don’t ‘win’ any fucking medals.

To win something implies pursuit or achievement, or something to be desired. Although a chest full of medals may be something somebody like a career officer may desire, most ordinary soldiers aren’t after medals. They are usually obtained in circumstances most people would prefer to avoid, and then, most accidentally.

Medals are ‘earned’, ‘awarded’, and ‘received’. They are not ‘won’.

Least of all medals to be desired is the purple heart, because as everybody knows, to receive the award, you’ve first got to be fucked up. It could be safe to say most people serving in a war zone would like to return to their families as an intact, fully-functioning human being. ‘Winning’ a purple heart is not something you wish for.

Although it read on paper
as heroic
That night as everything
became chaotic
they merely acted
as they were trained
and there was nothing heroic
in their foolish actions
or their hearts
full of fear.

- end