Thursday, December 31, 2009

How Smart We Could Have Been


KHUK KHAK, Thailand - Lately, like, in the past year or two, I've experienced a number of people reminding me of how smart they are. I sat and listened to their self-stories of I.Q. testings in the third grade, what they got on their S.A.T.s, entrance exams, how they performed on a Yahoo intelligence test, a Facebook questionaire, how close to genius they must be.

I could have simply said to each of them, right then and there, 'Mine's higher', or reminded them of some stupid shit they've pulled, but who am I to burst anyone's fiction? And to the pup who was bragging about the forty women he'd slept with, I could have told him, 'I stopped counting at 250,' but I didn't want to throw a wet towel on his story.

And to the Gee-How-Smart-I-Am people, I could have added, 'Mine was off the charts. Broke the machine. Needle went wayyyy into the red. They said I was so brilliant, they had no idea of how smart I really was.'

Well, that's what I could have said, or wish I'd said, as 'come back' as they say here for 'reply', but like I probably mentioned previously, and as Manny always used to say, 'You're slow. You're wayyy too slow on your feet. You never gonna make it at this pace.'

So, in fact, I'm a lot slower than most people, the guy who doesn't get the joke, the guy who asks, 'what happened?', late on the scene, bottom third of the class, couldn't find the party, never read the instructions, almost didn't graduate, had to re-take the final...

My degree? Mechanics.

"Is that deisel or gas?" the guy asked, like he thought I'd be good on a VW bus.

"Quantified Interstellar," I could have said. Could have just said, 'Quantum,' I guess, but again, didn't think of it until many days later.

Like Manny, my high school guidance counselor, and my birth doctor all said, 'You haven't got what it takes." Except for Manny, those weren't their exact words, but to give you an idea, my counselor suggested I might have a future in Vietnam, which, at the time, was blazing.

(there he goes, taking the story off into the 'Nam. How long is THIS going to last?)

"You could go to the 'Nam?" she suggested both as a question and a career option. And my birth doctor suggested to my mother that I could be given up for adoption, "you know...if you don't want to keep it," they said he said. "And if we can find some takers."

They didn't have to tell me. I was there. I heard him say it. Verified it in a past-life regression session. I wanted to look him up between that stint with the circus, parole, and the 'Nam, but everything was coming too quick in those days, everything too quick, and my math teacher in middle school sarcastically nicknamed me,'Quickness', and like I said, I was slow, except after those first few times in front of the bench.

"You here for a case?" asked the judge between items on the docket. I had a briefcase, and had dressed like a third-year law student.

"Yes, your Honor," I replied.

"Who's?" the judge asked, flipping through a stack of files.

"Mine," I said.

Upshot of it was, her near-respect soon turned to disdain as she read my file.

"I see here you said you're a rocket scientist," she said. "You must think you're pretty smart."

"YESDRILLSERGEANT!" I almost blurted out, but repressed.

Same thing Manny used to say. God, I got tired of hearing that. "Oh, no, Your Honor," I told her. "I'm not smart. If I was, I wouldn't be here."

She said she couldn't have agreed with me more, sentenced me to fif..five years, suspended it on an option to the 'Nam, which I took, and...the rest is history.

Good news was, didn't have to pull time in the joint. Bad news was, I had to pull two tours in the Nam.

You might be probably thinking, 'going to a war during its heighth isn't very smart.'

And you'd be right. It isn't, especially if you enlist. But going as a medic was, as it turned out. Enlisting, in and of itself, was pretty idiotic, but was perfectly understandable given my dim prospects for a future in the circus and the socio-cultural programming of who's fit for duty in America.

When does a person become the programmer? Ask a VA shrink.

"Ha ha ha," said the jerk with my orders. "You thought becoming a medic was smart, huh? You thought you'd be hanging around educated people, nurses, and drugs, right?"

I thought so, but they put me in helicopters. Grunts on the ground said, "ain't no fuckin' way I'd fly," but I loved it. Good news was, I got to fly. Bad news was, we got shot down.

(end 'Nam digression, return to story)

So, just like Manny, the juvenile home people, and the Ringmaster predicted, "Instead of hearing the man say, 'Ladies and gentlemen, let me introduce to you the next gonna be somebody,' you gonna hear The Man say, 'All rise!'

Sure enough, their prophesies fulfilled, their prescription's definition's boundaries I couldn't escape. Nobody in those days was thinking outside the box. Thinking outside the box is something that wouldn't occur until decades later.

Same way here. People ask, 'You work?'

I, uh, stammer and glance away if I'm having a slow day, which is usually every day, but if I'm quicker on my feet and have done some preliminary rehearsal, I tell them, "Yes. EVERY day!"

'What you do?'

"I'm a doc..a, I'malmostretired."


What? You wanted a story about elephants and coconut palms from Thailand? You can write this shit from ANYwhere, man. Don't matter where you are, Manny would say. You're going to be doing whatever you're doing.

Ok. So why not the tropics? Tom said Pine Ridge had two feet of snow.

Or maybe you wanted a story about Li An Song Nu Kyi, a fascinating figure, and boss of the plane production company after the shower caddy venture tanked, not because of market or sales, but because it wasn't fun anymore. It became quite tedious long before the 493rd caddy, the production cut-off.

People still ask, "You still have caddies?"

The plane production is in it's fourth year now, going on five, if I can get the crew back together. It's worse than a band. In a band, you've got egos and attitudes and people trippin' on themselves, and with a crew of Myanmar, you've got all of that, on top of the language problem and illegal immigration status. It's one exasperating episode after another.

The squadron's doing ok, though. We've got some really capable people on board in command positions, a little reckless at times, but they can think for themselves and get the job done.



Go on.

"Go on," she said, showing interest, but caught glancing up at the clock.

"I guess I'm eating into your lunch hour," I said, looking over my shoulder at the clock and letting her know I was paying attention to her eyes, the new VA shrink, undergraduate work at Purdue, six years med school at Indiana University, psychiatric internship at...I forget, Chicago or somewhere, doesn't matter, what mattered is that I know those schools, taught at one of 'em, played her hometown, Elkhart, in basketball, which she found remarkably interesting and strangely coincidental, there in her office, where she asked what I taught and was wondering about why I hadn't had an appointment in five years, and my comment, 'the intake nurses wanted me to report back on the new shrink.'*

"Oh,no," she said, dismissing my concern for her time. "We started late."

She'd been on the job for three weeks, the degrees conspicuously large on the wall. I told her they had a high rate of turnover in her position.

She didn't say anything, but let the air fall silent, a cue that I was the one to be doing the talking in that setting. She had already revealed too much, but could rationalize it as establishing a friendly but professional doctor/client rapport. I explained, "South Dakota winters are tough."

When our time was up, leaving her only 35 minutes for lunch, I told her I'd see her in six months. She seemed surprised. "You don't want another appointment for six months?" she asked.

"I'm going away," I replied. "Someplace warm...for my mental health. South Dakota winters are tough."


"That was a long time ago, man," my friend said in my kitchen, implying that it was time to let it go. Well, you could say that about Wounded Knee, the Holocaust, the Wells Fargo guy riding shotgun who got shot with an arrow in the teeth, the treaty, birth on Earth, or any other traumatic event.

Good news is, there's treatment, except for the Wells Fargo guy. Recent research says you tell your story, find new activities to plunge into, and surround yourself with friends and a network of support. Exercise and eat right. Go shopping.

Bad news is, when you're in that space, you don't feel like doing any of that shit.

Good news was, there was cardiac recovery. Bad news was, the study control group was already all hospitalized.


Am I doing any writing? Like, a book? Yes and no. A manuscript in the works? Well, there's the screenplay, 'Stinky Boy', and the talking medicinal plant story that has the potential of becoming a major motion picture and viral box office hit, and the Ho Chi Minh Trail series that I uh..uh

am working on, and of course, there's that Big One out there, you know, like a trophy fish, just waiting to be caught, or in my case, to be written, since you said 'writing', but, ah, everything in it's own due time, right?

No, it's not...none of this is actually ON PAPER...HA..but they're ideas, and ideas are good, right? ideas while walking down the beach.

- end

*"How is he?" the nurses asked excitedly in the lower hallway of Building A, their eyes alive with the prospect of new gossip, "the new shrink."

"He isn't a he," I told them. "She's a she. And she's young. Just finished up her internship."


Sunday, December 20, 2009

Not of This World / Only A Matter of Time


KHUK KHAK, Thailand - Stay gone from a place for six months, and you can expect just about anything to happen in your absence, the least of which is lizards and mice. Look what happened at Angkor Wat. The jungle prevailed for six centuries.

Same same here, land of a billion buddhas, south on the Isthmus of Kra, Tsunami-land, land of smiles.

They held the 5th year memorial ceremonies yesterday, the 26th, for all the lives lost here, Sri Lanka, and Indonesia. Prayers, candles, lanterns, sent to the sky, along with police whistles and a major traffic jam at the site of 'The Police Boat', a national monument now, swept in a full kilometer from the beach, just across from the Bang Niang Saturday fresh market, where thousands of memorial attendees, some bused in, joined the usual throng, and at least one motorcycle accident, from what I could see when I went through the funnel earlier with thirty other honda riders. It was madhouse enough that I stayed home and revisited the grief through photos on the net.

No visit from royalty, no helicopters, no big deal for many people, five years on, now. The Real 3-D World, war, no job, and the renewed holiday prospect of missing an airport ETA has overshadowed any remote concern for anyone not directly affected, such as, me, or the governor of the province.

Being directly affected, that's what got me here in the first place, and here I am, still here now. And when here it's 97 sizzling degrees at midday, and Copenhagen, Frankfurt, and Rapid City are in the deep freeze, that's what got a lot of those foreigners killed who came here for Christmas.

The Governor of the province? How would you like to preside over a disaster of unparalleled proportions? Whatshisname, Blanco, down in Katrina-land, the governor here in Tsunami-land, Bush in his two administrations, al-Bashir over in Darfur. No easy task.

Just saying it's a tough job. What are you going to do with all the bodies? It's already a crowded planet. If you're the guy, then you're the guy.


If you were wondering about 'The List' and why your name wasn't on it, or why it was so short, well, there's a longer list, much longer. How do you get on it? Easy, sort of. All you have to do is, visit me, pretty much, here or Slim Buttes, or pay the 499.99 for your aircraft.

That automatically puts you on The List, and you also, by virtue of being on The List, automatically become a member, a standing member of the Slim Buttes 335th Aviation Squadron.

In addition to the said aircraft and rank designation, 'Rookie/Cadet', you will also automatically receive the squadron bulletin, briefings, updates, and SITREPS (situaion reports) from the field, delivered live stream, text, cell, facebook, U Tube, blog, iphone, blackberry, and all other forms of automatic instant communication of insignificant minutiae to keep you and other third parties informed of detailed information you'd normally not be concerned with whatsoever.


Is It Just Me

Are my eyes just seeing things, or is it you, too?

The other night, Christmas Eve, I was riding my bike, a Honda 125, home from Carl's dinner party on the other side of the lake, down a rather spooky narrow lane, when in the headlight I caught a glimpse of something quite large, a big black...shape...darting back into the jungle.

Something like a big black square. A square with legs. I didn't get a real good look at it, because it was pitch black already, and I just caught it there in the light for a fraction of a second.

I kept going. I went right on by, but with a little bit of a shiver up my spine, if you know what I, I was thinking as I went by, 'what if whatever it was I saw would suddenly rush out of the jungle and...and...I don't know, knock me off the bike, or rip me to shreds or consume me in one bite or something.

Anyway, it could have been my imagination, but the shiver was real.

Well, ok, I could have dismissed all that, but today, just today, Claudia said to me and Damon, 'Did you see that?'

'Yeah,' said Damon.

"What?" I asked.

"Something up there in the trees. It's behind the leaves," she said, nodding across the road into the jungle at some higher branches, straining with concern to see it again. "A monkey or something," she said. "It was big."

I looked and didn't see anything. If it was big, then why couldn't you see it?

Damon said he saw it, too, out of the corner of his eye.

So it's not just me. Just like last summer, sitting there at my table with Bo and Misty and Tom and somebody else, I forget who, listening to Misty finishing up a ghost story when Bo described the same thing I had seen.

When he said that, it sent a shiver up my spine the same way that shape did the other night. Bo was talking about a...creature...he saw in the headlights on the side of the road, the same thing I had seen a month earlier and wasn't going to tell anyone about.

I was driving back to the rez from Colorado and had left so late it would have my arrival just at pre-dawn. In the hills just south of Chadron, NE when it was still black outside, I passed a dog standing on the side of the road that looked grey and mangy with a sort of humped back and long tail and sick eyes and long pointy ears, too long for a dog, and, hey, that's not a dog...that's a...a...must be a be a...

What the hell WAS that thing? why didn't it move when I went by? didn't flinch. just stood there.

At first, I thought to turn around and return to check, drive by real slow, and then I got that shiver, gripped the wheel and stepped on the gas, thinking to put as much space as possible between me and whatever it was back there. "HELL, NO!" I thought, as a follow-up thought to going back there and checking.

It was identical to the animal Bo described. When I said he didn't move when I went by, Bo looked up slowly and said, "Yeahhh. Didn't move. Just stood there and looked at us when we went by. It was like something not of this world."


Only A Matter of Time

I knew it was only a matter of time. A person doesn't really own an idea. The ideas are out there. Floating around. Chances are, in fact, a high probability, if you 'came up with' an idea, somebody else somewhere has already thought of it, or is thinking of it at the same time as you, snatching it out of the atmosphere. Lookit the light bulb, aerial flight, the internal combustion engine, heliocentric theory, paranoid end-of-the-world delusion.

So, I had this idea, this idea that I was the only one in the world running a vintage bi-plane squadron, and cranking out planes at the rate of about twenty-five a year.

I know, that's slow, in production terms, far slower than Boeing, and that's what I told the Myanmar crew, that they were working too long on one plane, but over here, to save face, you can't just bitch people out the way we do in the States, like, 'in your face' is something that any American would know the meaning of.

So, the production story is something that will require some finessing, in addition to finding a new crew since most of them got deported, and trying to find the temperamental crew boss, Li An Song Nyu Ki, was like trying to hunt down a...a...Myanmar illegal immigrant in Thailand. People said they had 'seen her around some', but 'not lately'.

So, I've got to start over from scratch if I want to resume the production line, staying one step ahead of Wal-Mart by discontinuing the bi-plane Sopwiths and going exclusively with the tri-wing Fokker dual-plane mobiles.

And it appears I need to get going on it since I saw the cardboard cutout on the street in Bangkok while walking outside the Grand Palace with Rex, seeking out temple pants and buddha amulets.

"Hey. There's your plane," said Rex, pointing down at cut-out items at a street vendor. There it was, the bi-plane cut-out, along with a race car, a battle ship and an aircraft carrier. Yeah, they took the idea and saw how far they could run with it. Can you imagine an aircraft carrier cardboard cutout? How's it gonna float?

Sure enough, somebody had copied my idea, and I instantly thought of Li An's comment.
'Maybe I sell to Chinese', she had said in an eerily threatening email last summer. Looks like she carried through with it, and I wonder how much she got, although the model I saw was NO WHERE NEAR the quality of the 335th. You know how boxy and crude communist products are...except for that new sleek superfast train the Chinese just made.

'Thailand can copeee any thiiiing,' they will say. Rolex, Nike, DVDs, Adidas, your idea. The weird thing is, they will put up the same product right next door. So there it was, right on the street in Bangkok, my idea. Except for the price differential (they're selling theirs for 100 Thai Baht, about three bucks), they have no advantage over my one-of-a-kind, made in the USA (except for those produced here), and two other reasons I can't think of right now that makes the $499.99 asking price worth it.

"See?" I said to Rex, while flipping through the cripple's inventory. "They're all the same."

"You hab blue?" I asked the vendor.

"No," he replied. "All same same. Only hab Led."

I could see the flash, the light bulb go on in his eyes. Blue. 'Now, there's an idea.'


Mr., who got beat up at his grand opening 'Dead Man's Party' on Christmas Eve, was earlier running around saying he was two days behind schedule.

"I've got a million things to do," he said. "Got to go get supplies for everybody's nostrils and everybody's lungs," he had said.

Turned out that things became heated and out of control during the early hours of Christmas morning, and whaddaya know, Mr. became my first patient this year.

My second patient could have been the large German lady, when she and her husband pulled up on two bikes in front of the Honda shop. After stopping, she failed to remove her feet from the pegs and put them down, thus, as gravity would have it, fell over with the bike, and appeared to be fantastically stupid. I thought I was the only one to do that, but again, it isn't just me.

- end