Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Six Months Neglect

Six Months Neglect

Khuk Khak, Thailand - Out in the garden that never dies, how the plants would suffer through the hard season with no caretaker providing an attention to which they had grown accustomed.

What would withstand six months of neglect?

One’s health? That trip to Dr. So-and-So. The exercise, the diet, that tooth, the nagging injury, the engine repair, the dust in the corners. Couldn’t that job wait until spring?

And what of family and friends? A silent relationship, suspended animation, Cinderella’s illusion, the frog prince’s expectation, an unspoken repression, a state of denial, an atrophied claim, a forgot to tell you, an it can wait.

The unfinished work set aside, a potted plant, a crown or filling, a manuscript, a painting, a song.

Who would wait? The soldier’s mate, the fiancĂ©, a promise, a vow, a tour of duty, off to college, a stretch in the joint, aboard the ISS, an appointment, a secret liaison, out of state relocation, no food, no water, no email.

The massage, the meditation, the walk to the Sea. The stretching, the designs, the renovation, the updates, the records, the competition, the time off, the contract renewal, the surgery, the root canal. Can it be put off for six months?

Hadn’t heard from them. Found another owner. Never watered it. People broke in. Slow leak. Needs a jumpstart. Pipes froze. Gonna need a new transmission. Better send flowers. Gonna have to replace the whole damned thing. Rust in the lines, residue in the filter. Gonna have to find her down in Texas somewhere. Gonna have to send an envoy. Gonna have to patch things up. Gonna minimally need duct tape, maybe a new identity. Gonna have to reconfigure, re-boot. Gonna have to shut the whole system down. Might mean war.

What in a life can go for six months without checking in? A definitive statement? To be continued? Pick it up where you left off? Let it go another six?

The garden that never dies will endure until the rainy season, but it may need occasional help, parched, wilting, crying for a drink.



Sunday, February 21, 2010

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Friday, February 12, 2010

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Command Performance Cancelled


KHUK KHAK, Thailand - You ever ruined brand new clothes? Brand new, just out of the sack, first time you'd worn it; then, a spilled drink, a spaghetti stain, leaned against fresh paint, a hot ash, a cat's claws, a puppy's paws, caught on a piece of something, sticking out from something, fist fight at the reception.

I have. What's the feeling? Self-disgust? Karmic fate for you and that shirt, those pants, that outfit? Toss it in the bin, give it to the Salvation Army, send it to the rez.


You Okay Today?

"What brought you here today?" she asked.

With a perfectly straight face, I replied slowly, "Pine Ridge VA shuttle.".

"No, I mean," she began, then hesitated a half second to wonder if I was serious and that far out of sync, or being a smartass. "I mean, what brought you in ... why are you here to see me?"

"Just teasing," I said, laughing. "I drove my truck."

She looked at me hard and cold, not smiling, not into playing games or teasing, repeating her last question.

The other day I asked a visiting friend if it was ethical to reveal the contents of a conversation between a psychiatrist and their client. I already had the answer, but was testing his armchair ethics. He hemmed and hawed around, being evasive and hard to pin down, resting on moral relativity.

Of course, it depends. It's relative to the variables of the nature of the information and where you're sitting. If you're the shrink, absolutely not, unless the nature of the information is homocidal or suicidal. Otherwise, it's confidential.

If you're the client or a fly on the wall, then you're free to disclose any or all parts of the session at your discretion. You can say anything. It's your file, after all.

"The nurses over in intake suggested I make an appointment," I said honestly.

"Why did they say that?" she asked.

"Could have been my answers to their questions," I said, adding, "or maybe they wanted info on you. They told me to report back."

The news that the nurses over in Building A wanted information on her, and that she must be the subject of gossip, caught her by surprise and made her wonder, trumping my answers to the intake questionaire. She went vacant for just a second, wearing the expression of someone in disbelief of the incredible filth they had just encountered upon entry into a neigbor's home, then she caught her flow and turned to her computer screen, checking my history, while I sat studying. the degrees on her wall.

"Why haven't you made an appointment in five years?" she asked, turning to me.

"I've been feeling better," I told her. "And you're the fourth person in this position I've talked to over here. There's a lot of turnover in your job."

Rather than pursue an inquiry into the high rate of turnover in her position, the conversation turned to why she was there and where she had come from and the schools she'd attended and where she did her internship, and where she sat during the football. games between IU. and Purdue, the schools she'd attended, and when it flowed back to me, I told her I couldn't get out of my head those angry words those people were shouting at me.

"What people?" she asked.

"The audience," I said.

"What were they yelling?" she asked.

"GET OFF THE STAGE!" I yelled.

I declined her offer of a non-SSRI* pharmaceutical intervention, saying that by the time they kicked in,** I would probably be feeling better, and that I was feeling poorly last week; I was ok right then because I was boarding a flight in two days.

"Can I see your notes?"


Captive of Thung Maphrao

The Thai are big on songbirds. You see them everywhere, caged in custom wooden cages. I know the guy who makes them. Lives right across the street.

On Saturdays and sometimes other days, they have songbird calling contests, with the cars and motorcycles pulled alongside the road, like for a funeral or an auction or yard sale in the US.

You can often see a guy going down the road on a motorbike, cage in hand, covered with a cloth. Sometimes there will be a guy riding on the back, holding a cage in either hand. They say some of those birds are worth ten thousand baht, about three hundred bucks.

They whistle and call to the birds, and blow a metal whistle, or shoot a gun, getting all sorts of smart song responses from the birds, all fluttering around in their cages in rows on aluminum racks, the owners and observers sitting around on the ground. The winners of the competitions are considered quite valuable, they say.

At some of the larger temples, bird vendors sit outside and sell you a small bird in a small cage. You purchase the bird and release it for good merit. Everybody gains; you, the bird, the vendor.


They called him 'Lucky', but he wasn't lucky at all, being chained to a wooden post in a shed; a short chain at that, allowing him just enough tether to dig a cool hole at the base of the post, penalty for his penchant of killing the chickens.


In the vilage of Thung Maphrao, there was a man held captive and under the spell of a powerful shaman's family, allowing just enough tether to dig a hole, and he did. He was free to go, but he kept returning, making everybody wonder and attempt conclusions.


"... and a dream consultant, but not for fees."

"You mean, you interpret people's dreams?"

"No. There's a difference. Dream interpretation involves interpreting highly personalized meaning and symbolism going on inside someone else's head, a charlatan's act, and dream consultation involves only listening, listening to people describe their dreams."


Three dogs ran alongside the road under the lamplight as I sat in Khoh Kloi awaiting a bus to Malaysia on a visa run, a dreaded trip snatching me from my imprisoning in-country comfort zone. The last dog limped along on three legs, stopping to smell something as his friends trotted on, then sprinted to catch up with them, sprinting with a limp.

'That dog on three legs is faster than a man on two,' I thought.

Dogs can run faster, no question. They can smell better than man. They don't have to worry about the rent or a counseling load. It seems that their primary task in life is to find a good place to stay, maybe pull a little guard duty.

Their disadvantages? They don't have hands, thus, they aren't inventive. They can't have mood rings or chia pets, or listen to Def Leppard. They have to listen to us.


* Psycho/pharmo lingo/babble for 'Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor'.

** Two to three weeks.


Monday, February 08, 2010

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Bat Out Of Hell


Bat Out Of Hell

KHUK KHAK, Thailand - That thing about the cat and the scalding water, ‘What does a cat hate worse than being sprayed with cold water?’ It wasn’t intentional at all; it’s just that the hose had been lying out in the sun all afternoon, and what can I say? It’s the tropics.


Everybody knows what going 'like a bat out of hell’ means. ‘Went by me like a bat out of hell.’ ‘Came out of there like a bat out of hell.’ When going like a bat out of hell, especially on a motorbike, you should never go full bat. Everybody knows you never go full bat.


I don’t particularly like driving at night, especially on a motorbike. Went up to Takuapa, some thirty kilometers north of here, a half hour ride, after sunset, fully knowing the drive home would be in the dark.

You never know when the Good Lord is going to take you, right? So if you’re expecting it, then it should come as no surprise. It could be a big hole in the road that could easily send a bike cart wheeling and the rider spinning through the air, KIA on impact with the asphalt, or that elephant appearing out of nowhere, heading home also.

I had to take a second look, since these days ever since the 90s I don’t like driving at night because of failing eyesight, a kind of blur. Especially on the streets of Takuapa, where the lighting is poor, there is constant construction throughout the city, the pavement is uneven, and you just might run into an elephant headed home.

“I’m sure glad I wasn’t coming the other way,” I thought, noticing him just at the last minute. “I would have hit him.”

That’s what had me thinking about the high possibility of an accident, and going like a bat out of hell, assurance of death. It’s just all so tenuous, existence, life, when you think about it, a mere 93 million miles from our nearest star.

So tenuous and fragile. Out there floating in the Sea, something could come along and gobble you up. Chance you gotta take, like crossing the street. Should’ve zigged instead of zagged. Should’ve caught the next flight.

Although at night like a bat out of hell, I should have been paying strict attention to the highway, the train of thought led to how I wouldn’t want to die. Wouldn’t want to die in the sky, or falling from the sky, hang gliding, parachute failure, Hindenburg sequel, or blasted out of my seat from an aircraft. Wouldn’t want to drown or have anything to do with not getting air, like, mine shaft suffocation, spelunking, or scuba diving. Wouldn’t want to get eaten by a shark, or any other big Jonah-sized fish.

Don’t want to hit an elephant, nor get hit blindside by fist, pool cue, wrecking ball or subway train. No RPG, IED, or UXO. Wouldn’t want people saying, “Never saw it coming…never knew what hit him.” Screw that.

Don’t want to die in a NASCAR crash or any other sort of public event or arena. No Daniel in the lion's den, Christian martyr, gladiator combat, crucifiction or Little Black Sambo. No sirens sweetly singing. Don’t want to die in a car or any other form of transport. No hangman’s noose, lethal injection, hospital, nursing home, or life support hoses, undignified or embarrassed.

Don’t want to die at someone else’s hand or someone else’s hand on the wheel, no death wish or suicide attack. No imprisonment of any sort, body or mind. No Alzheimer’s. No drug-induced coma.

Don’t want to die from carelessness or inattention, like stepping off a curb, looking the other way and getting whacked. Don’t want to go from ineptitude, or any other kind of stupidass negligence or lack of awareness. Please, for me, no mindlessness accident or bizarre twist of fate.

I’m trying to narrow it down, here.

Along with his autograph during an author-signing session in Rochester NY for his book, “The Wheel of Death,” The Zen Buddhist Roshi Philip Kapleau wrote, ‘May you live long and die well.’

I sure liked that. Hope it happens. For you, too.

A good way to go, for me I think, is of old age, out working in my garden. I’ve been working on that visualization for a number of years, for the distance future, of course. Old, old age, experiencing a convergence of garden and self, cultivating compassion with no anticipation of harvest. Along the way, try to contribute to the happiness and well-being of plants and other animals.

Dad went well. I liked his style. Worked hard, lived long, had a loving family, ate a good dinner prepared by a loving woman, and went in and watched about six innings of the Cubs in a Lazy Boy recliner and drifted off, catching my mom by surprise, washing the dinner dishes, when he failed to answer.

Well, you could go on and let your mind meander about all the ways you wouldn’t want to die. Like Elvis, Michael, high and low profile deaths, forgotten and tortured prisoner with no name. But we all come and go, our time here measured in what, years? Breaths? and against what scale? Life of the earth, the gods, a tomato plant, that of a butterfly?