Monday, February 09, 2009

Deep In The Jungle

Deep In The Jungle

Luang Prabang, Laos, - You could say, ‘deep in the jungle,’ but that’s a relative term, because around here, and by ‘here,’ I mean everything within a thousand miles, everything is deep in the jungle. Actually, I’m across the river from the city, not at ‘the village’, but downstream about five kilometers where I had the boatman drop me off after haggling over two dollars for too long.

And besides, I always wanted to use that phrase, and in this case, in a title. Cool, huh? ‘Deeeep in the jungle.’

“This is as good a place as any,” I thought, settling in with the laptop on a good sitting spot in the shade. You might be wondering, ‘Howzat nigga gettin’ a wifi signal from deep in the jungle?’ and I use the term, ‘nigga,’ generically, because like our new president, everybody knows his momma was white…been all through that, but look at things…everybody is calling him a ni…naa…an outright nation’s very first ‘African-American President.’

Then when a full-blood comes along, they’ll say, ‘The Very First REAL African-American President,’ and thereafter call all the white guys the 44th, 45th, whatever number, ‘Real White Presidents.’

Haven’t said too much about…up to now…about race and politics in general since back during Bush’s first-term, post-911 fear frenzy and I pissed off Doc House and maybe some other people with a cartoonish sketch of Cheney and Bush in the oval office, with Cheney sending Bush out for coffee and doughnuts…but the imagined dialogue surfaced later as reality, and my sentiments on the war got vented. A Saturday Night Live kind of a thing. A joke. Doc took it personally, back when a person was either for us or against us, a patriot or not.

Except for, back when everybody thought Hillary was a shoe-in, and I wrote that ‘nigga UP in the White House’…now, ‘The CEC’, The Chief Executive Crib…essay, picking on the rednecks in S. Carolina and the senate. Everybody else, Kenya, France, Germany, all over the world…jubilant. Turned out to be. And what can be more exciting than hope?

In any case, I haven’t heard from Doc, since. And so, for the most part, I’ve just been trying to make you laugh, sticking with the social observation and wannabe humorist, which, after a career of serious formulaic journalistic and academic writing, is the most liberating and fun and challenging writing there is, to have you have a belly laugh when you're all alone, or have you say to whoever is in your house, “HA. Listen to this…”

Who cares about incomplete or run-on sentences? Isn’t that the way thoughts work?
Run-on? Incomplete? Where was I?

I mean, I can't tell you how long it's been since I had a complete thought. It's more like, one. One continuous, long-ass thought.

except when it's turned off.


What do they call it?...permutations?...generations?...if you send my stuff to six people, asking them to send it on to six, and so on…I think I can have everyone in the world on my bloglist after six permutations. You’ve seen that Microsoft pay-out (‘my friend is a lawyer, and she says it’s for real……got a check for $2,430…’) float through several generations that everybody in the world has seen at least three or four times, so let’s give it a try. Why the fuck not?


I’ll keep track. Have them contact me by email for ‘add to send list.’ Thanks.


Where’s all this dirt coming from? Everything up here…the jungle, the houses, the streets, the people, their clothes…everything looks like it could use a good wash off. A wash down. A downpour. Even the air is dry and dirty, with fine, grainy particulate matter settling in on the computer screen, my skin, everything.


Shrink asked me a few years back, when I told him I had returned to SE Asia several times, “You ever go back to Vietnam?” He looked at me funny, a sort of sideways glance, blink, glance at the floor, look back up with direct gaze, when I told him no.


Yeah, black people claim him, all of Africa claims him, the whole, whole world except for the congressional republicans, y’know, claim him as their own. Mix-blood (we don’t say ‘mixed’) people historically bring people together, ‘sitting on the fence’ my sister Wasonna used to say, and not being claimed wholly by ANY race,* on a basketball court, pow-wow circuit, or fraternity, until you’ve done something special that can make them all proud. What race? The human race.

Yes! He’s one of us.

And for the bros trying to shuck and jive, dribble, carry the ball into the end zone, or educate and legislate ourselves into social respectability in the dominant society, we are driven by an ultra…‘fit in’ drive…to always be successful by pursuing a middle path, often playing a roll in bringing others together. It’s in they blood.

Failure isn’t acceptable or expected. Rejection can be devastating. ‘Oh, don’t take it personally, but could you just, uh…leave?’ Well, nobody likes rejection; on the playground, on a date, sales rep, job app, promotion, jump shot, fellowship, grad school, bank loan, parole board, Nobel Prize, Person of the year.

‘You should have won Oscar.’

*'You see what I'm tryin' to say, my bruthas and sistas? You need to keep with your own kiiiind.' - the last line in my, 'The Honorable Rev. Lewis Farrakhan' comedy sketch.**

**What the hell. You'll probably never see me do this on stage, or the HBO special, so:

Farrakhan is delivering his message to his followers, with the sing-song way he does, rising up on his toes and flapping his arms like a chicken.

"Brother and Sisters, you need to take a drive in the COUNTRY! You need to take a look AROOOUUUUNNNND.

"You don't see the...horses...messin' around with the COWWWZ.

"You don't see the...chickens...layin' up with the DUCKS.

"You don't see the billy goat...tryin' to mount a...a...a HOGGG..."

Big black brother standing behind with sunglasses and a hat from Morocco, with his arms folded across his chest, interrupts and says in a deep baritone voice, "Oh yes you do!"

Farrakhan is surprised, stopped in his delivery, turns and says, "Whuzzat?"

Man repeats, "Oh yes you do."

Farrakhan turns back to the congregation and says, "Never mind what I said about the billy goat. You see what I'm trying to say, my bruthas and sistas? You need to keep with your own kiiind."


Wham Bam From Monk, Man

One of the old monks was walking by, smoking a cigarette. I’d seen that guy before, and jumped up, fell in behind him, caught up, walked alongside, and slipped him a pack of smokes. A hand slid out from under the robe and took the cigs, then he motioned for me to follow him back to his digs at Wat Hosien, just across the street.

Once there, he ‘tied me up’ with a prayer and a couple of those cloth bracelets that say, ‘I’ve been to the temple’, or ‘I’ve been to some kinda ceremony’, and then he jumped up and gave me an amulet.

And then he asked for 190,000 kip, writing the figure out on a notepad. For paint, he said, pointing to the bucket.

Well…the whole deal was kind of overwhelming, because for one, I was really uncomfortable on that mat, like, my knees were killing me, and two, I forget what two was, but I didn’t ask for a mantra or blessing or anything…and then he hit me with the kip request. It’s like, wham, bam. From the monk bro, bro.

“I…I…can give you half?” I told him, then about five steps away from his quarters after saying goodbye, I thought, ‘What the fuck. It’s for the temple,’ and returned and gave his aide or whatever, another 50,000. The guys goes, like, ‘For me?’ standing in the doorway, motioning to his chest, the old man standing in the background.

I threw up my hands and shook them, saying, “Up to you.”

Sounds like a lot, but it’s twenty-five bucks. Land of a million elephants. Land of 20 million millionaires. Everyone is a millionaire.


Keeping It Simple

In a walk through the video store, all of human activity, discounting children’s cartoons, is reduced to four arenas; comedy, suspense-filled action, drama, and horror.

Is that all there is? Laughs, suspense, drama, and horror?


It Must Be Me

“Weren’t you in the movies?” asked the Thai man at the airport, a stranger I’d never seen before in my life.

“Yeah,” I replied, whipping out a pen like I was accustomed to signing a million autographs. As he quickly produced a scrap of paper, I asked, “Who do you want this made out to?”

"Make to Ba Tinh," he blurted.

"How do you spell that?"

The scrawling was illegible, and I wondered what he would tell people whose autograph he got as he thanked me effusively, walking away, looking at the signature, beaming.


After consideration, I think I could pull off this ruse with three or four friends, all rushing up for an autograh in an excited huddle. Why? For all the 'Hoozat?' expressions on everybody walking by, is why. An airport is the perfect place.

I know a lot of you would be up for it as long as you got your turn in the spotlight.
Well, let me tell you, being a celebrity isn't what it's cracked up to be.* You wouldn't like it, day in, day out.

Can't eat in public without being hassled by some jerk wanting an autograph; can't go to the beach without assholes and their cameras; can't do jack shit without everbody and their cell phones in your face for their U Tube publication. It's like living in a fucking cage.

*'Don't you know who I USED to be?'


Deep In The Jungle

Back away from the river, deeper into the bush, where the dwellings were few and far between, and not a tourist in sight, I found an abandoned temple, overgrown with vines and jungle, quiet as a thought or an ant walking down a banana tree leaf.

Somebody, like the monks who stayed there a hundred years ago in tiny quarters, had been buried there, it looked like, with stacked brick and stone markers indicating where their bones, or ashes rested.

Inside a small open-air communal building, four of six square interior columns bore carved reliefs in stone, looking not anything like Khmer or Thai, but like Burmese influence. One of them looked like a man with long arms, thick lips, big belly and big ears, with his hair tied up in a knot atop his head. Over him was an eye.

On the column across from him was another figure, a skeleton with a concave abdominal cavity, scooped out like a bowl. He too, had that all-seeing eye over him, same same dollar bill.

On an adjacent column was a Buddha-like figure in a meditative pose with the hands folded in his lap. It had a serene expression and had a symbol over its head, like an idea, a sort of duplicate question mark without the dot.

Across from it was another figure, this one looking like a merchant with beads and belongings in a sack slung over his shoulder. He had a long neck, was dressed like a Turk or Myanmar, and had the same symbol over his head as the meditating figure, except backwards, like a mirror image of the other one.

I stood looking at the four figures, trying to comprehend their meaning. ‘This must be a hermitage or burial place,’ I thought, not sure, and put out a tobacco offering beneath the Buddha figure. ‘I think I like this one,’ I said to myself, out of the four representations; you had the skeleton, the meditating figure, the Turkish merchant, or maybe wandering monk…I’ve seen that guy around before…and I didn’t quite know what to make of the big lip African-looking guy.

As perplexing as the four figures were, someone had drawn two other figures on two of the columns with black paint that had been partially erased by time and weather. One appeared to be a British officer smoking a pipe with an idea or something over his head. That same symbol. The other drawing was very disturbing, startling, a picture of me, and seemed beyond coincidence, just for me to see.

Just then, I heard a rustling in the underbrush and turned to see a wild water buffalo leap across a drainage ditch. He looked up at me in surprise, stared a few seconds, then lumbered off further into the jungle.

He was followed by a cow. She stopped short of the ditch, freezing in her tracks and staring at me in amazement, like, ‘who the…what the…what are YOU doing here?’ look on her face. After staring at me in fixed, stupid, wide-eyed wonder for a good thirty seconds, she bolted across the drainage ditch and hurried into the jungle after her mate.

After taking my medicine, times three, I was suddenly overcome by an extreme drowsiness, unable to write or think, hardly. The tile floor of the place was filthy, but I needed to lay down, right away, and just take a breather, y’know, so I stretched out on the floor, thinking about those four figures.

‘This could be a good place to die,’ I thought, thinking about how I would eventually be discovered by someone, because the road wasn’t too far away, and it looked as if people occasionally came there on a worn footpath to drink in the solitude of that quiet place. I could feel my heart and respiration slowing down, and my head swooning, swimming, drifting into a warm, dark, and dreamy place.

How appropriate that place, how uncannily drawn to that spot. Was that the purpose of my travel, to arrive there?

‘Found in a remote jungle in northern Laos.’ If I failed to awaken, everybody would understand. I had out-lived all my genetic uncles. The kids were getting on with their lives. There were no outstanding debts, and I owned little. Everything was tidy and swept and uncomplicated. The last few essays would eventually be lifted from the computer. For the kids, there could be a book in the works, maybe a major motion picture. The packages were in the mail. My passport and identification were right there in the shoulder bag. I was alone, except for the pleasantly chirping birds. Nobody knew me here.


Well, obviously that didn’t happen. I awoke and walked upriver to the dock, and got passage back to Luang Prabang. Maybe next time. Maybe next time, take a friend.