Wednesday, June 30, 2010

135 in the Shade


My South African friend Richard spends most of the year in Jeddah along the Red Sea. $40K for eight months teaching English to young Saudi boys. No taxes. A comfortable condo. The pluses are matched by one minus. The import, manufacture, possession, and consumption of alcohol or illegal drugs is illegal in Saudi Arabia. Penalties range from jail sentences, fines, public flogging to deportation. Richard likes drinking, but has no interest in violating Sharia law in the strict kingdom and he suffers his exile from booze in silence, although this last month Richard emailed these words of advice to his friends.

"We've reached 51 C now, and it's still rising! Those of you planning on visiting Saudi, if the would let you in, don't!"

Warning taken for 51 Centigrade translates to 123 Fahrenheit.

Hot, but I've experienced hotter.

August 1975. Andy K and I are hitchhiking east from LA. We were stranded in Barstow with 50 other longhairs. Not a speck of shade in sight. One car every ten minutes. A couple from the Haight said that they had been on the ramp for 20 hours. We were six people behind them. They were New Orleans-bound. Our destination was Boston.

"You two should split up. No one picks up two guys." The strung-out hippie had hair to his ass. His skinny girlfriend could have passed for his twin. They made a cute lesbian couple for anyone not looking too closely.

"Except for perverts." His girlfriend was fuming mad, hungry for a fix. They were 23rd in line. She wanted off this onramp limbo.

"Yeah, I've had a couple of offers from some sick fucks."

"Wanted me to watch." Her face screwed up with disgust. Sex was as distasteful to junkies as it was to nuns. "Nothing wrong with being queers." I danced with gays at the 1270 Club in Boston. They pawned me off to fag hags. A god deal for me. "Especially if it gets us out of here."

I tried to look bisexual. Andy didn't play that game and the cowboys weren't buying my solo act. The day was fast approaching mid-morning. The temperature was in the high 80s. By noon the sun would melt the on-ramp's asphalt. It was time to move. Andy and I dashed to the station. A bus station was in sight. A Greyhound was billowing diesel fumes. Its driver was exiting from the station's diner. $8.50 bought our escape.

The bus interior was AC Alaska. No one had dared get off the bus in Barstow. There were two seats in the back. The bus left on time. Next stop - Needles, California.

170 miles.

Two hours later the bus pulled into the desert town. I had a map. Needles was on the west bank of the Colorado River. Andy mentioned that the Joad family's first stop in THE GRAPES OF WRATH was Needles.

The portal to the Okies' paradise of California.

We exited from the bus into the desert heat. I stopped in my tracks, thinking I had walked into the exhaust of a thousand buses. Our Greyhound was the only one in the sweltering parking lot. The other passengers hurried into the station. The sun beat down as if its rays were ironing our flesh.My backpack had gained two tons. My sandals had sunk into the molten asphalt.

This was worse than Barstow.

Across the street a large thermometer displayed the temperature.

135F.

"That can't be right." Andy was gasping for breath. We were from the East Coast. New Englanders wilted when the mercury lifted north of 85.

"No one else is outside."

The highway was in the distance. Cars and trucks sped through a shimmering mirage. It was less than a mile away. In this heat that walk was a test of survival.

"There's a Dairy Queen." Andy headed toward the promise of cold. Ice cream and AC. I followed my friend without question. The heat was so dry that the sweat was sucked off our skin. We ran across the parched grass verge. The time was 2pm. High noon lasted long in Needles.

Our entrance into the ice cream parlor was loud. Doors opened and shut, as if the outside air was poisoned by the leaching sun. The other customers appreciated the gesture. They were farmers, teenage boys and girls. Hippies were a common sight. Their spoons fed their mouths with cold. The AC was 68. Everyone looked comfortable.

"Two vanilla ice cream sodas." My mother had given the sweet slurry of cold comfort to me when I had strep throat.

"I want chocolate." Andy stepped up to the counter. "Two too."

After the 3rd ice cream soda our core temperature had returned to 98.6.

"Is that thermometer right?" I asked an Okie rancher.

"Sun got to it. Ain't right by 15 degrees. Makes it 120. Hot but ain't half as hot as July 2, 1967. That was 122." He said the temperature with pride. Not many humans can handle that heat. "Felt like the Devil was burning my bones. You boys, headed east?"

He offered a ride to Topock. Some 20 miles from here. The other side of the Colorado. Okie was driving a Ford pick-up. His dog was in the front seat.

"He don't mind the heat. Don't like strangers though. You gotta sit in the back."

3:22. Temperature about 110.

"We're ready when you're ready." Needles was the type of town to suck a day from your travels. I had $33 in my pocket. I gave the driver two of them. Gas was 40 cents a gallon. He was grateful for the donation. Twenty minutes later he pulled off the highway. The town was two miles away. We were on the wrong side of the Colorado. The sun was fours hours from setting. The only shade was a bullet-holed billboard. Some 300 feet off the highway.

I stuck out my thumbs. Cars were coming our way. Trucks too. I pretended to be Jack Kerouac's illegitimate son. He had to have one somewhere.

"Look like you're harmless."

Andy was studying piano at Berkeley. He was good at looking harmless. So good the second car stopped for us. A retired couple heading for Kingman. A Delta 88. Gray. V-8. Leather seats. Power windows. AC. Escape.

The retirees had left Chicago for a ranchhouse on Lake Havesu. The view from their terrace was the London Bridge. The developer thought that he was buying the Tower Bridge.

"It's cooler up in the high country. Sometimes down here my head feels hot enough to fry an egg on." The driver had said the line maybe 100 times. It was funny to us. Mostly because we knew it was true.

"We're happy with the one we got." The desert sun had leathered his wife's skin. Her blonde hair was a homage to Dinah Shore. She had grandchildren. "That's why we picked you up."

"They're hippies too." The old man smiled in the rearview mirror. The man and woman complimented each other. "There's lemonade in the cooler. Drink as much as you want."

There were four glass screw-top bottles.

"Don't be shy." The driver was floored at 110. The Olds was torching the miles. We were on the only car on the road. The rest were trucks. Fruit and vegetables on their way east. "Drink as much as you want."

Andy and I drained one each in thirty seconds.

We were safe.

At Kingman they pulled into a motor lodge. The price of a room was $20.

$10 dollars each. We begged off poverty.

The old man offered to pay for our room. We thanked them and stood on the highway. Old Route 66. The air at 3000 feet was cool relief. We had dinner at an Italian restaurant. We ate spaghetti and meat balls. Good as the North End of Boston. The town was mentioned in Chuck Berry's ROUTE 66. I stuck out my thumb. The sun was setting in the pines. A semi was throttling its diesel.

135 in the shade.

That is hot.

Especially when the thermometer is broken.

There’ll Always be an England


England’s loss to Germany in the World Cup devastated by Brit friends. They knew their team was going nowhere, but the referee’s blown call on Lampard’s goal was an insult to the national identity. After this was the country that invented football and a foreigner has to ask, “Will there always be an England.”

This rephrasing of RULE BRITANNIA’s “Britons never, never, never shall be slaves” come from the popular 1940 song by Vera Lynn and even with the collapse of the British Empire, England seemed eternal, although my drinking friends in Pattaya are constantly bemoaning the present state of the island nation.

“England ain’t what is was.” Richard claims, ignoring that he’s half-Polish.

My introduction to England was in 1978. London. I was cohabitating with a blonde fashion model next to the Chelsea football pitch on Fulham Road. Quiet except for football days. Everyone was English then. Proud of the puttering cars, Stalinist wages, polluted skies, and double-decker buses. I felt like it had always been 1984 in the UK and nothing was ever going to change that Sphinctered Isle.

“And England’s dreaming.”

However the construction worker from Luton has a point.

England ain’t what it used to be.

The mad London bombers came from his hometown. Chicken curry has outpaced fish and chips as the #1 English meal and even more pointedly by year’s end Mohammad will be the most popular name for newborns in the UK.

Mohammad beating out Jack?

Whatever happened to Percy?

Maybe it all went to shit when Tiny Tim sang THERE’LL ALWAYS BE AN ENGLAND at the Isles of Wight in 1970, then again integration is the ultimate price of imperialism. You go, conquer, leave, and bring a little bit back with you.

Not just the curries.

Of course there’ll always be one place that’s always England and that’s the Falklands.

THERE’LL ALWAYS BE AN ENGLAND

I give you a toast, ladies and gentlemen.
I give you a toast, ladies and gentlemen.
May this fair dear land we love so well
In dignity and freedom dwell.
Though worlds may change and go awry
While there is still one voice to cry – - –

There’ll always be an England
While there’s a country lane,
Wherever there’s a cottage small
Beside a field of grain.
There’ll always be an England
While there’s a busy street,
Wherever there’s a turning wheel,
A million marching feet.

Red, white and blue; what does it mean to you?
Surely you’re proud, shout it aloud,
“Britons, awake!”
The Empire too, we can depend on you.
Freedom remains. These are the chains
Nothing can break.

There’ll always be an England,
And England shall be free
If England means as much to you
As England means to me.

And to me.

Half my blood is English. The other half Irish. We are in civil war.

Free Northern Ireland.

Death Song Thailand


Norman Mailer wrote his 1979 Pulitzer-winning EXECUTIONER’S SONG about Gary Gilmore’s execution by the State of Utah. His crime. Murder. Method of death. Shooting Squad. Gilmore refused any reprieve to be death penalty #1 with the rebirth of capital punishment in the USA.

Gary Gilmore remarked that he was different from most people, because he knew the exact moment of his death. Norman Mailer considered this insight extraordinary, yet didn’t extrapolate further to the fact that everyone was privy to the hour of Gary Gilmore’s date with destiny.

Especially the shooting squad.

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Same as Chavoret Jaruboon, who had been one of Thailand’s executioners.

Thailand’s method of capital punishment combined a ritual crucifixion with a single man shooting the victim in the back. Chavoret Jaruboon’s total is 55. Target. The heart. Only the shooter is aiming at a target behind a screen. 15 bullets are allotted for each occasion. Even the best get sloppy with a blind shot.

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55 victims are less than the 150 Texans killed by GW Bush’s stroke of a pen.

Americans rationalize that death by injection is a merciful method. Personally I’d choose a hot shot of heroin over a chemical concoction of dubious origins.

The majority of US Citizens consider the death penalty as an effective weapon against murder. The FBI reports that each execution deters at least 3-17 extra victims. Guess they aren’t taking into account Columbine or Virginia Tech, where the killers don’t make it to court.

China kills thousands of criminals each year. No appeal. A bullet to the head and the family has to pay for the bullet. I witnessed a parade of trucks in Chengdu transporting about 30 victims to the sports stadium. The resignation on their faces betrayed none expected a last minute reprieve.

Neither did any of GW Bush’s 150.

China even has a mobile execution van. Death is by injection. Comfortable sitting for six witnesses. No body damage for better organ harvesting. Due to the upcoming Beijing Olympics the Chinese have cut their executions from 12,000 a year to about 7500 per annum. Still more than all the other countries in the world combined.

Thailand tries to do its part to reduce the criminal population.

A bullet is better than previous methods.

Until 1934 Thailand decapitated criminals. A swordsman would leap from behind the victim and lop off their head. This ambush was to designed to prevent the dead man’s ghost from haunting the killer. The head was then stuck on a pole and the bodies fed to birds of prey ie vultures. This was an improvement on earlier techniques such as inserting a red-hot iron in the brain or immolating a bound and impaled prisoner.

Unlike Gary Gilmore, none of the prisoners on Thailand’s Death Row are told the time of their death. Guards show up one morning and select a victim. Surprise. No last meal. No phone calls. Just, “Mung, bpai.”

Most are dragged kicking and screaming according to Mr. Chavoret, who was promoted to Warden of the Foreign Prisoners’ Section at Bangkok’s Bang Kwang Central Prison. He still deems that capital punishment acts as a deterrent to crime, despite its prohibition by Buddhist teachings.

“An eye for an eye.” He quoted the old Hebrew standard of retribution.

Of course no one speaks about the 3000-plus killings during Thaksin’s War of Drugs.

Not if they know what’s good for them.

Dengue Fever Pattaya

Penang was a different city in the early 90s. Seedy bars stayed open late and delightfully wicked brothels served the shifting population of sailors seeking companionship for a few minutes. Hotels on Chulia Street were cheap. A good thing in 1994, since I was stranded without of a homeward bound ticket.

Wiring money took time. My camera and a large aquamarine gem ended up at the pawn shop. 300 rupiahs had to last two weeks. I read books at the British Council and walked about the city for amusement. A Dutch girl joined my sojourn and we ended up in the cemetery.

The gravestones were covered with moss and green mold, yet the carved inscriptions told of countless deaths from tropical diseases. Mostly the very young. Westerners can survive the hot climates much better than in the prior centuries, however even Pattaya is home to very serious afflictions.

Say Dengue Fever.

Sam Royalle called yesterday, “My sister is in the hospital with dengue fever.”

“Dengue fever?” I thought the fever only hit upcountry.

“She had a fever and itching.” Sam was concerned since his sister’s health is fragile.

Fever is the first sign of Dengue. A severe headache, muscle and joint pains. The red rash splotches the legs and chest. Sometimes it can spread to the entire body. Nausea and stomach aches can accompany these other symptoms. Without proper diagnosis victims will think the fever is something minor and carry the disease throughout its febrile state, which lasts from 5-7 days.

“The hospital wanted her to stay for a couple of days, but she went home to take care of herself.” Sam was glad his sister wasn’t ailing serious enough to need a recuperative stay, for Bangkok-Pattaya Hospital is notorious for gouging farangs fearful of exotic diseases.

Someone has to pay for the new wing.

Treatment generally calls for an increased level of liquid intake.

More beer?

I think maybe.

IV intake might be required if the patient is too nauseous.

Beer Drip?

Sure, why not?

Aspirin and steroid drugs used to combat pain or fever should be avoided as they might exascebate blood strength. A dangerous sign is blood in your ca-ca indicating internal hemorrhaging and that the disease should be treated in a hospital not at home.

While not always fatal, Thailand has 58 reported death of 31,000 cases, however medical authorities are hushing up any mention of Dengue Fever to protect the country’s tourist trade.

The Swahili called the disease “Ka-dinga pepo” and thought the illness came from evil spirits thus causing the victims to walk carefully or ‘dinga’. More realistically Dengue is carried by mosquitoes. Evil creatures outnumbering Man by the trillions. All that DDT and Raid has done nothing against the virus-carriers. My wife loves to spray the hosue, but I have never seen a dead mosquito on the floor.

Hearing this news about Sam’s Sister, I taped over any holes or gaps in my screens. I burn citronella candles at night and spray my feet Citronella oil extract. Mosquitoes don’t bite me, because my blood isn’t sweet anymore, but better to play safe and sorry.

I want to drink beer into my 90s.

And heroin into my 100s with a little white wine.

The Guilt of Innocence


Every weekend the police set up a roadblock to catch motorcycle thieves and incarcerate drug suspects. The cops stop car drivers too, although the round-up is aimed at young people out for fun.

Anyone whose piss turns ‘purple’ gets a trip down to Soi 9 for processing.

And this is not Paris Hilton jail.

Soi 9 has no chairs, fans, or hot meals.

My friend Fabo came home the other night to discover his wife missing.

Not really worried, since she had a tendency to go out on a bender. He went to sleep. The next morning still no sign and her phone was shut off.

Concerned she might have had an accident, he checked the hospitals. No wife. Someone suggested a call to the police. The officer answering the call informed Fabo that his teelat had tested positive for ja bah or the speedy mad medicine and was residing at Chonburi Central Prison.

Prison in Thailand is notoriously medieval, since penal authorities deem criminals, innocent or guilty, in need of punishment. Everyone has done something wrong or else they wouldn’t be there.

Chonburi Central Prison thankfully has witnessed some improvements with the arrival of a new prison warden, however conditions within the walls are scary to say the least and Fabo was frightened for his wife’s welfare.

Being the weekend her release could not be arranged until Monday.

20000 baht was the bail.

Fabo gave the money to the family.

He later explained the circumstances of his wife’s arrest.

The police had come to their house to search for a family relative. The person was from Lao. No papers. Fabo’s wife told them to leave the house. They responded by forcing her to take a drug test which she failed. The story has holes in it, but Fabo was more interested in getting his wife out of prison than the truth.

Was Fabo’s wife not guilty?

No.

Does she deserve a week in prison and a year’s probation?

It’s what is proscribed by the law of the land.

Fabo said, “Maybe now she will be a good girl.”

The betting pool is running against this logic.

3-1.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

FIFA Blind Justice


The course of the 1982 World Cup detoured off the tracks for Team England when Diego Maradona scored Argentina's first goal thanks to a blatant hand ball. The referee 'missed' the play and thereafter the score has been called 'the Hand of God'. A winning player said, "In 1986, winning that game against England was enough. Winning the World Cup was secondary for us. Beating England was our real aim."

FIFA refrained from commenting on that illegal goal and the global football organization has done little to address the problem in the following years. Ireland was eliminated from the present World Cup after France's Patrick Henry handballed a ball to his feet. The referee only blew his whistle to signal a goal. Everyone else on the field and the viewing public saw the handball, but not the ref.

FIFA refused to review the play and the number of umpire miscues rose during the 2010 World Cup. Blown off-sides, missed penalties, and aberrant yellow cards were pandemic. My Uncle Carmine said that the only way for bookies to fix modern games is through the officials and it certainly looked like the referees were betting heavily on Germany, when they ignored a dog's balls obvious goal by England's Steve Lampard. The UK would have pulled even with the Deustchbags, yet FIFA announced that the error in judgment didn't effect the 4-1 outcome.

Playing 1-1 is completely different from 1-0,

FIFA said the shot was too close to call.

The ball dropped a half-yard inside the net.

Blind as bats.

The on-field calls got worse,as Argentina's Tevez scored against Mexico on an offside completely changing the tempo of that game.

FIFA's response.

A ban against instant replay on the stadium screens.

See no evil. Hear no evil. We are not evil.

Bet Germany and Argentina.

The fix is in.

WHY TEACHERS DRINK






Monday, June 28, 2010

Sex Space No-No


Newton's 3rd Law of motion is succinctly described as every motion creates an opposite motion and scientist have cited the absolutism of this law as proof that man can not have sex in Space. The more you try to enter the farther you go from your destination in the state of weightlessness.

Foreplay should to attainable, however actual intercourse might prove impossible. The late Arthur C Clarke theorized that humans were destined to reach an 'happy ending' and in RENDEZVOUS WITH RAMA wrote the following: “Some women, Commander Norton had decided long ago, should not be allowed aboard ship; weightlessness did things to their breasts that were too damn distracting. It was bad enough when they were motionless; but when they started to move, and sympathetic vibrations set in, it was more than any warm-blooded male should be asked to take. He was quite sure that at least one serious space accident had been caused by acute crew distraction, after the transit of an unholstered lady officer through the control cabin."

High orbit presents a myriad of challenges to space missions. Physical and Mental. The present NASA pilot for the International Space Station has ruled that sex is an activity better left for earth. The career navy man fends off any queries about intercourse among his crew with the easy answer.

"We don't have it and we won't."

Four women. Two men.

Menage a trois times two.

I've only had sex once in orbit. A trans-Pacific flight. LA-Bangkok. I hadn't had sex in six months. Mam was waiting at the airport. I thought about her nakedness once high over the Pacific. I stayed in the bathroom five minutes.

"Are you all right," asked the 60 year-old United stewardess.

"Better."

And I bet the astronauts are just as human.

Only better than better.

The best.

Young Charlotte


Charlotte Rampling

Forever a goddess.

GOING SOUTH - movie


Several years ago I was watching the BBC and Charlotte Rampling on the screen. She had been a fantasy of mine after seeing THE NIGHT PORTER. The 60-year-old actress was promoting her new film by Laurent Cantent's GOING SOUTH.

This movie features a rare examination of sex, lust, and lust set in Haiti of the 1970s and Charlotte Rampling plays a well-educated tourist frequenting a Caribbean resort for liaisons with young Haitian men.

Living in Pattaya I have grown accustomed to the sight of older men with younger women, but older western women have also taken up the trend. While December-May might not the fountain of youth, as long as you don’t look too closely at the reflection in the mirror, then you can get away with believing your lies.

While the West might frown on this difference of age between the sexes.

My sister-in-law called it obscene. My brother said it was a sin. their daughter said neither of them turn their heads for someone their own age. They tried to fix me up with their friend. she was 40. I was 50. She was a great woman without the usual hang-ups. We had laughs but it never went anywhere. later she met a man in her 60s and she said, “But he’s so old.”

Youth so wasted on the young, which is why someone older can offer a helping hand to a younger protege so both parties are get what they want and sometimes more, however the subject has seldom been explored from the viewpoint of a female other than a brief glimpse of tropical parity in NIGHT OF THE IGUANA when Ava Gardner vamps with her Mexican pendejos. John Huston the director depicted hr character as an ageing nympho. I had thought of her as an early Mrs. Robinson and went to Puerto Vallarta to see that beach. It was missing her, but the actual beach boys were bragging about their exploits. Ava had done her research.

Sex for women over 40 in America is mostly a memory.

Ms. Rambling’s character, Ellen states, “If you’re over 40 and not as dumb as a fashion model, the only guys who are interested are natural born losers or husbands whose wives are cheating on them.’’

This movie sells them a glimpse of paradise.

Which supposedly long longer exists in Haiti due to the country’s complete collapse. Wrong. I’ve heard of older women going there, Mozambique, Brazil, Angola, and Cuba. I have also seen these women in Bali and Lombok.

Slender men with large women.

Both happy in the trade off without asking too many question since languages get in the way of true understanding. During a long session of raki drinking I asked the Lombok boys how they could satisfy women twice or three times their size. To a man the beach boys raised their fists and pummeled the air like a jack hammer. They obviously had learned the technique from the same master.

Puritan people in the west will find GOING SOUTH an anathema to Christian life and call the women with the Balinese beach boys names under their breath, however I think they have found the courage to achieve equality with men their own age who refuse to accept a life of utter loneliness in which no one ever touches anyone.

It’s an illusion, but better than the reality. And the motto is like Vegas 'Whatever happens here, stays here'. Older women aren’t going to get pregnant. They don’t have to fall in love. Except like the men coming to Pattaya, these women in GOING SOUTH confuse lust for love.

It’s an easy thing to do in an age of no-love.

Martha Stewart to the Rescue


Uncle Carmine was born on the Lower East Side. His wife Jane hailed from Maine. She called Cumberland Falls the last place God created. It's a good 10 hours drive from East 11th Street. Carmine's death wish was to be buried overlooking Schoonic Bay on Columbus Day. Jane's old man gave up the ghost in the summer of 2002. I was in Thailand. Friends and family traveled north for his eternal internment in the stony soil of Maine. I shared driving Jane's Cherokee Jeep with her nephew Rick. We didn't let Steve, her cousin from Montana, touch the wheel. His glasses were thick as the bottom of a wine bottle.

The October weather went Indian Summer for the long weekend. The cemetery was surrounded by blueberry fields. A flag pole was twenty feet from his grave. His ashes were accompanied by those of his dogs. Their eternal companionship was the result of Jane's mixing up the urns. No was quite sure who was who. We tossed dirt on the coffin. No one mentioned 'god'. Carmine would have wanted it that way.

After the service we drove over to Acadia National Park. I was the guide. First stop was Sand Beach. One other car was in the parking lot. We walked down the to beach. The sand is really the fragments of broken shells dropped by seagulls onto the rocky shore. They date back to the end of the Ice Age. A lone couple approached our group. Older. Well-off. Familiar.

Martha Stewart.

American icon. Success. Money. TV power house. Cooking. Decor. Good taste.

All threatened by a SCC investigation for insider trading.

Martha was on the run and we recognized her as a woman on the run. She pulled up her coat collar. The gesture proved her guilt and several months later she served a five-month bolt. As a new fish she held her mud and came out of prison a new woman. the media has yet to re-embrace their star, however this week the Tourism Authority of Thailand shelled out hard cash to the ex-con for the promotion of the troubled country's good points; food, flowers, and decor.

Thailand wants women.

Old foreign women seeking rebirth to counter the nation's image as a sex destination.

My Thai men friends are constantly asking to meet a 'farang puying'.

Sex.

Not culture is on their agenda.

And maybe Martha Stewart has the same thing in mind.

"Older woman seeks Thai male for companionship'.

10,000 strong. Week by week.

500,000 per annum.

Everyone will be happy.

Especially Martha Stewart.

Believe me, I won't throw any stones.

BIG FOOT by Peter Nolan Smith


28 years of my life were spent living in New York's East Village. My apartment was at 256 East 10th Street. I worked nightclubs. CBGBs, Hurrah, Studio 54, and The Milk Bar. I had two motorcycles; a 1964 Triumph and 1970 Yamaha. Dmitri from the East 6th Street Bike Shop introduced Rick, the owner of Madame Rosa’s. The Californian had a Ducati and Norton. Neither of us had girlfriends and switched nights cooking dinner after which we would play gin rummy. Rick was a better cook and Dmitri joked that we were man and wife. It was only funny the first time.

When Rick mentioned to a neighbor that I was brought up in outside of Portland, the middle-aged woman extended an invitation to Thanksgiving dinner at their tenement building.

Jane hailed from Columbia Falls, Maine, which she considered was the last place God created before finishing with Aroonstock County.

Jane was a graduate of University of Maine. She had moved to New York to become a beatnik and ended up marrying a East Village plumber. She still loved Maine and we became friends. although she got a kick out of riding me about my hometown outside Portland.

“Falmouth Foresides is almost like coming from Massachusetts.”

“Nothing like being a Masshole.” Carmine, her husband, had a good word to say about everyone. My nickname was ‘Scumbag’. I called him ‘Uncle Carmine’.

The Lower East Side native had learned pipe-fitting in the Merchant Marines. Plumbers from the 5 boroughs asked for his advice. Carmine had pull with City Hall. The connections were a gift from his father. The old man had been a bookie. Jane collected strays. Rick, Steve the Montana ironworker, David the biologist from the natural History Museum, and countless others. Every big holiday she set a big table for her orphans. People without family in the city. We drank wine and ate turkey until we were semi-comatose, after which Carmine would mumble stories about the East Village from the 50s interspersed with racial epitaphs, although he was always helping people from every race. We all called him Uncle Carmine and thought of him as a permanent New York fixture, except he had one weakness.

Cigars and he started complaining about a stomach ache. We told him to see a doctor. He refused every entreaty. I got him medicine with fake scripts. It helped a little bit, but not much. Carmine had more than a stomach ache and passed away suddenly while I was in Thailand. Jane called room 302 at the Malaysia Hotel to convey his last advice, “Don’t go crazy, scumbag.”

Jane said the burial wasn’t taking place until October 12. Carmine was Italian. He never believed Columbus was anything but. “We’re burying him on Columbus Day up in Schoonic Bay. He liked the view from the hill.”

“I’ll be there.” I scheduled my return for late-Sept. The flight stopped in LA. I continued on to New York. My subleasee, a Swedish male nurse, had cleaned the place before leaving. Everything seemed to be in order. I dropped my bags on the floor and walked two blocks over to Jane’s compound. Carmine had bought two buildings and a vacant lot back in the early 70s. $15,000. The property was now worth millions.

Jane gave me a big hug and said, “Carmine wanted you to have some books.” Carmine’s interests tended towards military history and I picked ten books. The best was one about Stalingrad. THE ENEMY AT THE GATE.

“You’re going to help drive up to Maine?” Jane sat down heavily. She was not in the best of health.

“Wouldn’t miss it.” I had been driving her to dog shows for years. She was good company. This trip would be a home-coming for both of us. Lobsters and a funeral. She opened the closet in Carmine’s office and held out a ceramic urn.

“The old man.” Two identical urns were in the closet.

“Are those extra?”

“Those are the dogs. Carmine wanted to be buried with them.”

No markings were written on the urns to distinguish them from each other. Jane saw my eyes and said, “No know which ones are which.”

“Never said you didn’t.” Jane was almost as near-sighted as me.

We went to dinner at the local Italian restaurant and she outlined the funeral arrangements. Burial atop a blueberry hill. Friends and family consisted of Jane, her son and daughter. The latter two were not on speaking terms. Friends were a few. Rick, Steve the iron worker, Carmine’s workmates and Lenny the anti-Zionist. A strange gathering for Schoonic Point any time of the year, but Jane said, “We’ll be welcome. It’s off-season.”

Columbus Day was overcast without the threat of rain. Cumberland County takes up the farthest corner of NE America. Weather stations in New England cite the northern reach of their maritime forecasts. “Eastport to Block Island.”

We stopped in Brunswick for lobster rolls at the Chamberlain Inn. Rick and Steve were enthralled with the Maine delicacy. It meant more to Jane and me. My grandfather and father had attended Bowdoin and Jane had gone to U Maine. We were familiar with the town. This was home and every mile more like heaven. Pine trees bordered long coves offering glimpses of the sea. The foliage was a little past prime. The air was champagne from Canada.

Jane had picked Ellsworth as our destination for the night. The hotel was on the strip. It had seen a hundred thousand customers this summer. The rooms had not stopped vibrating from their comings and goings. “Nothing is open in Schoonic Point this time of year.”

She distributed room keys. This trip was on Carmine. We had a great lobster at the bridge leading to Bar Harbor. They were closing after this weekend. The Lobsters were soft-shelled and delectable. We agreed that Carmine had made the right choice about being buried in Maine. Upon re-entering Ellsworth, Jane said, “I know Rick is a good boy and wants to get to sleep, but I checked out the bars for you and Steve. There’s one that’s a fern bar and the other that is always in the police reports. I’m not letting you drive, but here’s a twenty for the taxi.”

Rick was married with a kid. Steve was divorced and I was perennially single. We said our good-nights and headed first to the fern bar. We lasted a single drink. The same taxi took us to the bad boy bar. The driver told us to watch out for the girls. “They like strangers.”

Steve and I stood before the bar. Loud rock music and neon lights. We drunk beers on more than one occasion. and he knew my tastes and said, “You can have all the skinny ugly ones and I’ll have all the fat cute ones.”

“It’s a deal.”

He opened the door and then shut it. “What about Big Foot?”

A she-man grabbed him before he could explain. I followed and was immediately set upon by two women twice the man I was. Steve was dancing to Deep Purple to a 200 plus human version of a moose in heat. She wore size 14 boots. The men at the bar appeared relieved to be allowed to drink without any female interference.

Steve shouted one word. I couldn’t hear him, but I knew the word was ‘help’. We stayed three beers too many and were driven back to the hotel by four seriously masculine women in checkered shirts. Steve was groping one of them and whispered, “I’m checking to make sure they don’t have any dildos.”<

“Dildos?”

Back in 1974 I had been picked up by two lesbians in Big Sur. They had had their way with me for two days without stop. I had to escape into the redwoods. If they had possessed dildos they would have used them. So would these girls. The Big Foot women were talking dirty. Sex as a Sumo wrestling event. I told them we couldn’t do anything and they said, “Date rape.”

Their station wagon braked before our rooms. Hands unbuttoned my shirt. Steve was dragged out of the car. We were doomed, until Jane appeared in a celestial nightgown. “Leave those two men alone. They’re with me.”

“Gigolos.” They muttered, reluctantly before letting go of us. Jane stood her ground until they left the room and then asked with a smile, “You boys have fun.”

“Yeah.” We were glad to have escaped Big Foot’s grasp.

“I’m sure Carmine would appreciate it, now go to bed. We have a busy day tomorrow.” She was right. We buried Carmine without a priest. On a blueberry hill overlooking Schoonic Bay. The sun came out as we lowered the urns into the earth. Jane cried and her children hugged her. They almost seemed like a family.

I proposed a drive around Bar Harbor before the memorial dinner in Hull’s Cove. Rick and Steve loved the rocky coastline and also that we saw Martha Stewart who was in hiding from the New York press. She had been a bad girl. Steve said she looked like a Big Foot woman.

I didn’t laughed.

Dinner was in a small restaurant and two of the waitresses were from the Big Foot tribe. A dress tamed them and they made sign of recognizing us. Jane couldn’t help but tell Rick about last night’s scene and he was happy to tell everyone in the East Village that Steve and I had mated with moose. Jane knew the truth, but said, “It’s funnier the way he tells it and Carmine would like that ending too.”

He had a better sense of humor than most. Even in the grave.

Especially at someone else’s expense.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Assicons


We all know those cute little computer symbols called “emoticons,”

:) means a smile

:( is a frown.

Well, how about some “ASSICONS?”

(_!_) a regular ass

(__!__) a fat ass

(!) a tight ass

(_*_) a sore ass

{_!_} a swishy ass

(_o_) an ass that’s been around

(_x_) kiss my ass

(_X_) leave my ass alone

(_zzz_) a tired ass

(_E=mc2_) a smart ass

(_$_) Money coming out of his ass

(_?_) Dumb Ass

SKATING ON THIN ICE by peter nolan smith


The monsoons coincide with low season in Pattaya. Hotels offer special rates and the bargirls call everyone ‘sexy’. This season was shaping to be lower than a snake's belly. The government's repression of the 'red-shirts' and the global economic downswing had rewritten the Thai Tourist Board's projection.

"Thailand not have farang." Mam was happy. I was here with her. Fenway was happy too. My son had his father to carry him around the soi. He was a busy boy.

The guesthouses in Jomtien were in a dire predicament. Bar girls were fleeing Pattaya for the Issan Plateau. Better to work in the family rice paddy, then settle down with an 80 year-old retiree on a limited pension. At least until high season comes back in November. I'd be back in New York within a week. I had a family to feed and so did everyone else.

The desperation on the go-go girls’ faces was a cruel mirror of hard times. I stayed close to home, for any venture farther afield was like running a gauntlet of lust. Every girl sang the same chorus “Take me home.”

My good friend Sam Royalle was recovering from a long ailment. I couldn't follow the treatment. It seemed like one step forward and another two back. Anytime I mentioned diet, the English art director protested, "What you expect me to eat? Thai food?"

It was good enough for 60 million Thais. Few of them were overweight. Mam was only 49 kilos. When we first met, she had been 41. Her family thought she looked healthy. To me she was more than cute.

"Let's go out on Saturday. “Sam Royalle liked go-gos. We drank shots of tequila. He conversed with people despite 110 dB levels. The naked girls were listless on the poles. It was an ordeal, but he needed the company. We had been friends almost 20 years and a long-standing friend is expected to accompany his mate to go-go bars.

Mam gave her blessing.

"Sam take care you. You take care Sam." Her spies covered Walking Street. Their network had agents on every soi. I was a good boy. I met Sam at What's Up a Go Go. Several girls knew my name. We drank beer. Two bottles. The owner of Heaven bought us tequila. He had run a pimp bar in East St. Louis. He was most men's hero.

65 and running a go-go bar.

"Any girl you want. No bar fine." He offered as my birthday present. I had turned 58 the previous week. I thanked Paddy for his generosity, but refused about twenty nubile dancers before midnight. I told them the same story.

“Mai mii keng leng.”

“I can give you power.”

They promised a trip to heaven or hell. I wasn’t interested in either destination after ten beers and deserted my bar stool at Heaven Above a Go Go, telling Sam Royalle that i was going to the bathroom. Three naked girls were on his lap. He wouldn't notice my absence.

The air on Soi Diamond was strangely cool. The wind carried the threat of rain and I walked to 2nd Road rather than be tempted by another drink on Walking Street.

Two transvestites grabbed my arms at the top of the alley. They towered over me in their heels. One hand dipped into my back pocket. I could feel her fingernails grasping my wallet. It only had 500 baht, but all my ATM and credit cards. My struggle to break free was futile, until the pickpocket yelped with pain.

“Pai loi.” The voice belonged to Jamie Parker. We were friends from New York. He could never go back. Crimes against the state have a long statute of limitation. Two years older he carried the menace of the killer. Eleven years hard time. It was no act. "Get fucking lost."

“We go. Come back too.” The taller TV sneered with a helium alto.

“Good luck then.” Jamie stood his ground and the girls strode off to find easier prey. Handing back my wallet, he coughed with a hack. This didn’t come from smoking cigarettes. “Thought you could use a little help.”

“Those girls were tough.” Bruises would color my arms tomorrow. The indentation from their nails would fade faster. “What happened to you?”

Jamie’s body was perennially thin. Drugs and diet, but his face was gaunt and Panda black circles masked his eyes.

“I look that bad?” He stared at his reflection in the 7/11 window.

“You look that bad.” Ja-bah bad. The cheap speed was addictive and I went to the ATM. “You need some money?”

“A thousand wouldn’t hurt, but it isn’t for what you think.”

“Jamie, you can do what you want with it.” After dark any money you give a friend you have to consider as a gift. I pulled out a purple note. Richie Boy, my boss at the diamond exchange, had Western Unioned $300 this morning. It was going fast. “You’re an adult.”

“I don’t feel like it.” He stuck the bill in his jeans pocket. “Mind if I walk with you a bit?”

“I’m just going to get my bike.” The eyes of a passing policeman convicted Jamie of several crimes. “Let me give you a ride somewhere.”

“Yeah, there’s too much light here.” He lowered his head like someone might be following him. I fought the temptation to look over my shoulder. We drove to 3rd Road. His body wavered like a wraith on back. I checked the rear mirrors every ten seconds. No one was there. At the Buffalo Bar I ordered him a beer and waved for the girls to leave us alone.

“Man, it’s been a hard month.” He sat on the stool as if he had been on his feet for days. “But you don’t want to hear about it.”

My mother had prayed for God to send her second son an avocation to join the cloth. I refused the priesthood after hearing Led Zeppelin’s first LP in 1969, but she had been right. I would have made a good priest or at least a confessor. Everyone liked to tell me their secrets. Even more so after two beers.

Jamie drank both in less than a minute.

“I’m all ears.”

“You ever hear of Ice?” He whispered the word with worship.

“Crystal Meth.” The drug had hit the fly-over of America hard. The cops had cracked down on traditional drugs and the dealers synthesize a smokeable speed from ephedrine, the basic ingredient for over-the-counter cough medicines. The substance was equally available in Thailand.

“That’s the one. The Nazis used to give chocolate bars laced with the stuff to Luftwaffe pilots.” Jamie was a vast abyss of useless knowledge. “Kept them flying for days.”

“And you started smoking it here?” Drugs are readily available in Thailand, although opium, heroin, grass have been supplanted by ja bah and ice thanks to the repressive interdiction of the Thai Police and DEA.

“With Ort.” He shrugged to indicate his complete surrender.

“Ort?” I knew Ort from Soi 6. I hadn’t seen her since her boyfriend left her for a transvestite. The little vixen wanted to be my geek. I had refused with deep regret. Ort was very sexy. ”How you run into Ort?”

“She was dancing at Paris A Go-Go. Told me to meet her after work. We went back to her place. A little furnished studio. Bed, TV, AC. She asked if I minded if she smoked some ice. You know me. Anyone can do what they want as long as it doesn’t hurt someone else.” Jamie’s heroin addiction had stolen his youth. Cocaine took away his edge as a comedian. His taking up with speed in his 50s could be a show-stopper. “Don’t look at me like you were a Parole Officer who discovered a bad blood test. You’re no angel.”

“You’re right.” I had disappointed Nancy Reagan too many times by saying ‘yes’, instead of no’ to throw any rocks without hearing the sound of breaking windows in my own house of glass, but I tried my best to avoid drugs in Thailand.

“And you’re right too.” Prison here was worse than any of Jamie’s stateside time. “I knew it was dangerous, but did it anyway.”

“And how was it?” Jamie didn’t need a lecture and I was curious. About ice and Ort.

“Ice is nothing. No rush. Shooting speedballs is a thousand times better for a high.”

“So what the attraction?”

“Sex.” Jamie spoke low, which was a little strange in a bar where every girl was looking for a date. “I thought she wanted me only to buy some ice. 1000 baht. But once we had a few pipes, she said she was hot and asked if I minded if she took off her clothes. Another bowl and mine was off. A day later and we were still at it.”

A binge. “How many days?”

“3-4. I took Cialis to keep up my strength.” Speed and Cialis were tough on the heart, however Jamie was tough enough to survive hardcore XXX games. “And then another 4 days and we had sex the entire time. I had to stop because my skin wore off. Ort wasn’t happy and started screaming for it. It was like being with a nymphomaniac. A tyranny of sex. I told her I was going to the ATM. I didn’t go back.”

“How much money you spend?”

“About 15000 baht and lost about 5 kilos.”

“Cheaper than Jenny Craig’s or Weight-Watchers.”

“I don’t have the weight to lose like you.”

A loss of five kilos would put me close to the fighting weight of my early 40s. “And you didn’t go back?”

“Don’t trust myself. It’s not the Ice. it’s the sex, the ice, the lying in bed with nowhere to go but here.” He drank his beer with a thirst to quench another demon. “Sawan.”

“Heaven.” I was impressed Jamie knew the Thai word for paradise.

“A little hell too, which we both like.”

“Without sin, there is no pleasure.” I loosely quoted Luis Bunuel, the Spanish surrealistic film director. “So now what?”

“I changed my SIM card # and started clean again.” He ordered another beer. They were going down smooth. “Not 100%, but close enough. Another few days and I’ll be back on top of the world.”

“More like top of the heap in this town.”

“As long as it’s a foot higher than anyone else, you see the stars.” Jamie had a way with words, which slurred after our tenth beer.

He stayed at my house for several days before changing apartments. I got a call from him the other day. He’s running promo events for bars and restaurants during the low season. The next is an erotic hot dog eating contest at TiggleBitties Tavern.

Ort had called several times asking where is Jamie. I told her out-of-town. She invited me over her place. I said I was busy. She said she was thinking about me and thanks to Jamie I knew why. I don’t answer her calls anymore. Like Jamie I’m too weak to skate on thin ice.

That's why I stay home most night. I want to live forever. At least until I’m in my 80s.

At that age everything is fair game.

Deluded Grandeur


Three weeks ago Fabo and I were sitting at the garden bar of the Welkom Inn on Soi 3. I hadn't seen the Belgian oil explorer in a year. Both of us had suffered exile from Pattaya. His place of banishment was the North Sea. I was stuck in New York. We were equally glad to be away from either. He greeted me with a kiss on the lips. The girls on the patio regarded the gesture with disgust. They only liked straight men. Preferably newcomers to Thailand. They spent money like bankers on a cocaine binge.

"Papa." Fabo thought that we resembled each other.

"My son." I didn't see the likeness, but I drink San Miquel. It's made in the Philippines. Heineken is my pseudo-fils' beverage of preference. He was 31. I had been in Brussels at the age of 36 in 1988. A Walloon girl had taken me home to her parents. They had made breakfast for us in the morning. Her mother was glad that I was white.

"Welcome back home." His skin was tanned from the sun's reflection off the sea. Fabo looked healthy. He had been a month without a drink. We ordered beers. The time was noon. Loso was playing on the radio. He told me about his months of the oil rig in three seconds, "No fun. No beer. No girls."

"New York. Cold beer. No girls." Six syllables to his seven. The economy of age.

"One plus. Two negatives." Fabo had once shown a photo of his mother. The skinny punk girl with wide eyes looked familiar.

"Now we're here." His nose had been mashed by too many accidents, but his eyes were arctic blue. Mine were high Nordic steel.

"Paradise." Saying that I felt like Adam waking on the day after his maker created 'woman', except the almighty hadn't the heart to destroy his previous failures. The line-up at the Welkom Inn's entrance had a woman for every man's desire.

"You can say that again." I was blind to their allure. Mam dominated my libido. She was too cute for words. Fenway's mother knew that I was here. Trust. I had no choice, but to he true. I ordered another beer. The first bottle died after 47 seconds. The heat of May gave any human a thirst."

"Paradise, and I blame it on our position." He didn't speak about his wife or the German. It was better to not say SS Tommy's name.

"The equator?" I had heard his hypothesis on more than one occasion. My one attempt to explain it to Mam had met with her contempt. She had little patience for 'tawh-lay' or bullshit. All women say the same about men.

"Only 1200 miles south of here."

"I know." I had crossed the equator in the jungles of Sumatra. The relative speed of the earth's rotation is meant to send more blood to your head. "Speed."

"Not speed. The reformulazation of the theory of gravity." These words were spoken in French. Fabo loved the idea, but recognized his conjecture was full-on mad or 'bah mak' as say the Thais.

We argued about acceleration measured in m/s2, air resistance, and the downward weight force. The 3rd beer cured the affliction of banality. We were happy to sit at a bar. Happy the phone wasn't ringing. Happy heading toward drunk. The afternoon stretched east. We watched the men run the gauntlet before the entrance of the Welkom Inn's bar. The interior was night. The mama-san played any song from any year. The male clientele liked 1977. No matter what the nationality everyone knew the words.

We had been surprised by the arrival of four Mideastern men. Jeans. White shirts. No robes. They normally frequented the smoking bars at the end of Walking Street.

"Egyptian." Fabo sniffed the air. Strong tobacco.

"Turkish." They weren't speaking Arabic. Neither did I, but I had heard enough Arabic in Paris to know the difference. I bet Fabo 500 baht on their country. They sounded too Roman.

An hour later they exited from the bar to the warm wishes of several girls. They had barfined eight of the hostesses. One produced a bottle of Sky Whiskey. Half-done. Another flourished a handful of banknotes. The colors were strange.

Not dollar green or the green, blue, red, and purple of Thai currency.

One girl looked over her shoulder. Prueng. A shortcake angel with soft hair and small breast. The tomboy was almost 24. 6 years older than the first day she worked the Welkom. Her girlfriend worked at a big hotel. Preung saved money to pay for her girlfriend's penis operation. 200,000 baht. She lifted a thick fist of money in the air. Her co-workers cheered her order for more whiskey.

Five minutes later she brought two glasses of whiskey-coke to the bar. We were too polite to say no. Preung slapped the foreign money on the bar. It was a big pile. Many zeros. Zaire Francs. Value almost zero. Fabo was frozen on his seat. Someone had to pop her balloon. A bottle of Spy Whiskey was close to 500 baht at the Welkom. I was down to 300. Preung reached for the free drink bell. There were about 33 people with the range of its peal.

Drinks for everyone.

"Don't."

She didn't ask why. I read the finance section of the Herald Tribune, studied currencies, and scanned Karl Marx. An exchange rate came to my head.

“62 baht per million.”

Preung was holding ten million.

The buffalo herd for her father was kidnapped by disappointment. Her daughter was banished in the hicks or ban-nok. Her girlfriend stayed a woman. 600 baht for a short-time trip to heaven was the asking price at the Welkom. Her math was good.

"I not win. I not lose." Preung dropped her hand from the rope hanging off the bell. "It was nice rich one minute. You want go short-time?"

Preung was asking me, but Fabo seized the gauntlet. He had been at sea three months. No fun, no beer, no women. I was one hour late for Mam.

"Another step closer to a million." His arm encircled Preung's waist. She was no longer an heiress. A common girl. One with a good heart and smooth skin. Fabo paid the bill. 300 baht was tomorrow's breakfast or five beers tonight.

Paradise.

I was heading home. Fabo and Preung strolled to room 101. It was the closest. He did look like me only me from six years ago. I had been only 51.

Not young, but younger and therefore rich, because youth was always worth billions in both dollars and baht.

But never Zaire Francs.

Tiger Woods' Hole in One


Tiger Woods took the cure for his sexual addiction, but people have not forgiven his trespasses on morality. Women haven't stopped wanting him either. $300,000 for a non-win at Pebble Beach is good money and nothing makes a man more attractive to a woman than money.

"Money is so powerful that a woman can believe that a bald man is not bald." Frederick Engels

Child Lottery Ghosts


The Somali government is hard-pressed by warlords. Troops chew qat. Their afternoons are spent in a euphoric stupor. Few want to man roadblocks, so children have been drafted into the army. AK-47s replacing their battered toys. A few dollars a week for food. Lucky in a country where there is no work.

Everyone loves the lucky. The lottery players on our soi in Jomtien have my son Fenway pick their tickets. They've won three times. Not big money. Not little each. Fenway is considered lucky and lucky in Thailand is good. Good other countries too.

“Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” - Seneca.

I feel lucky for my life. I have a good family, a beautiful wife, Mam, a job (and that's not a small thing these days) and my health, but some people want more and hard work is not the answer for their desire. They know hard work. They need a break and Thai police recently arrested a former nurse selling post-abortion foetuses as "child ghosts" or 'luk krok'. The officers found 14 pickled foetuses in her inventory. She told investigators that the 'child ghosts' were good at picking lotteries.

Most Thais would prefer to have a luk krok amulet than the real thing.

Of course the power of the luk krok stronger in Ban-nok.

Most farangs don't buy into these beliefs. They are too smart to believe. But not all farangs are so smart as to be that stupid.

“I can believe anything provided it is incredible.” - Oscar Wilde.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

American Quagmire


America sought revenge for 9/11. Al-Quada was the main target. October 7,2001 the US opened its invasion of Afghanistan. The Northern Alliance backed by US strategic bombing swiftly routed the enemy. The media were astounded by the swift collapse of the Islamic republic without taking into consideration that the mountainous country was on the verge of mass starvation with the approach of winter. The Taliban faded into the people and Al-Quada retreated into the tribal areas along the Pakistan border. Victory slipped out of the grasp of the US military with the escape of Osama Bin Laden during the undermanned assault of the Tora Bora stronghold.

Since then our troop presence has steadily increased to 94,000 thereby surpassing the effort in Iraq. There is no front line. Suicide bombers target the populace. IEDs blast IASF convoys. Corruption is rampant. The opium trade flourishes and warlords rule small fiefdoms financed by Pentagon.

Afghanistan is a country that eats armies. Strategies fail and soldiers die.

This week the war claimed the commander of the occupation forces, where comments by General Stanley McChrystal made to Rolling Stone created a firestorm in Washington. The general obviously was obeying President Obama's edict of the revocation of 'don't ask, don't tell. Honesty was in the air, as he said on his way to a Paris dinner at the Ecole Militaire,"I'd rather have my ass kicked by a roomful of people than go out to this dinner, unfortunately no one in this room could do it."

His rejection of VP Joe Biden's advice was another nail in the coffin, calling the second-in-command by the nickname 'Bit-me'. The general's take on Obama was even worst. The two remained at loggerheads and the emergence of these statements led to his dismissal. The first time A president has relieved a general in combat since Douglas MacArthur was summoned to the White House by Harry Truman.

The new top dog is David Petraus who is credited with saving Iraq.

Bombings and corruption.

The new state of democracy.

Messy like Dick Cheney said it would be, but the truth is that no one knows how to put this country back together and that's the truth no one is able to say.

Not even in a free society.

"In Afghanistan, this is the problem, because everybody holds a piece of that mirror, and they all look at it and claim that they hold the entire truth." - Mohsen Makhmalbaf

Over US 1000 dead and counting.

No one counts the Afghan dead.

They are strictly collateral damage.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Happy Sabaii Sabaii Happy



In 1972 Bhutan’s King Jigme Singye Wangchuck attempted to reform his country’s feudal economy on a Buddhist spiritual level rather than a capitalistic model. To best judge his efforts the king created a Gross Domestic Happiness Index based on life satisfaction, life expectancy at birth, and ecological footprint per capita. The Wall Street Journal ignores the Happy Planet Index, which placed the Pacific nation of Vanuata at the top of the list. Zimbabwe understandably was dead last in 178th place.

Thailand ranked 38 in the 2006 Happiness Survey before coups, yellow shirts, red shirts, shooting in the streets of Bangkok, and burning luxury mall. 4 years later the ranking is not lower, but higher.

# 32.

Maybe Thailand mai mi sanuk or not have fun, but they have about 43 smiles for every expression much like the Eskimos have 23 words for snow. The present smile is known as sao sokh yim or unhappy smile. This mask of chagrin hides the basic dissatisfaction of the nation’s present state.

7/11s do not answer all our needs.

Although a little beer drinking never hurts.

Several years ago I stopped into the Janet Bar on Soi Excite. It was past midnight. 12 ladies sat on the stool. Two westerners were at the bar. Natalee joined me for a drinking. She was typically looking very sexy, but complained, “Mai mi kak.”

“It’s low season. There aren’t customers anywhere.” Rainy season is lean for the bargirls.

“No good.” Her eyes begged me to bar-fine her.

“Mai mi taeng.” I lied about my finances. Natalee requires training and my long-term devotion to sloth has relegated my sexual prowess to an amateur level, plus I was faithful to Mam, the thinnest woman on Soi 6. She wasn't faithful to me, but one day she would be to our mutual happiness.

“Wah.” She faked crying and went to eat Chinese chicken feet at a table with the other girls.

The nearest westerner smiled sadly and said, “You speak Thai good. How long have you been here?”

“Four years straight.” My first arrival in Thailand dated back to 1991. I was only 39. A mere youth. So innocent. I never thought I would live here, but neither did I think GW Bush would win a second term.

“I’ve been here two years.” His accent was London. East End. He was about 30 and dressed better than most of the beer slobs of Pattaya. “Married a girl and lived up-country the last year.”

“How that working out?” I immediately regretted the question.

“Left her a week ago.” Alan introduced himself and signaled the bartender for two beers. “She is as good as gold, but her family was stitching me up for money. Her step-father is an ex-cop and drinks whiskey all day. And her mother took all the gold I brought my wife for her wedding. The old man wanted 50,000 baht and I told him no.”

“Good idea.” I had heard this story a thousand times. 90% of fathers of the bargirls are a good old rice farmer. Happiness is a bag of tobacco and a bottle of lao khao every day. Easy happy.

“That started the end. He called me a cheap farang in my own house. I bought a house up there. Okay, not much. 5000 pounds and spent 300,000 baht on a wedding.” Alan sounded more disappointed than mad.

“That doesn’t sound gra-dook kat man to me.” Up-country Thais consider farangs money cows.

“No, but the worst was that my wife didn’t back me up.”

"Supporting you would go against the grain. Thai women place their mother first, father second, then the rest of the family, the village, every other Thai before you.” I had experienced this first-hand with all my girlfriends here. The Thais are natural zenotropes. They hate everyone else.

“The old man came to house later with a gun. He wanted money. I told him I was leaving. Asked my wife to come along. She said no, so now I’m here.” He was looking for advice. Advice he wouldn’t follow, because he’s still in love. “My girl ain’t so pretty, she’s 31, but we have sex twice a day.”

“Sex has nothing to do with love.” Although spending a night with Natalee might come close. “Best to cut your losses. You’re from the East End. You’re not a square. Don’t let a rice farmer sucker you.”

“I don’t know.” Weakness of the heart is blood in the water to a Isaan grifter.

“What’s your old man say?” Alan’s father was a dry cleaner in the City.

“He said there ain’t no kids and you’re still young. I’ve been married before.” These failures rankled him. “I wanted this to work out.”

“Sorry.” I ordered another round.

Natalee came over to massage my neck.

“You still not want to go home with me.”

“I want, but have no money.” I was saving my money for Mam.

She frowned and joined the other menless women.

Alan’s happiness index had dropped below the UK average. Mine was someplace near Peru, which is #3.

Beer makes me happy as does hearing someone having it worse than me. We changed the subject and drank two more beers. It was 2am when I left for home. I wished him luck. Natalee blew a kiss. Alan stopped to speak with her. She smiled with enthusiasm. There wasn’t another man in sight.

I arrived back to an almost empty house. My wife has been up-country a long time. She wasn't coming back. Not tomorrow. Not ever. Thankfully my little dog was happy to see me, but then dogs are the only animal who loves you more than themselves.

Happy?

You should see Champoo's tail wag.

Now that’s happy.

Ecological Stomping Grounds


British Petroleum's latest attempt to seal the DeepWater oil spill ended with the underwater robots knocking off the capture siphon. Even more oil spews from the damaged oil head than before. The Pentagon is offering another plan to fuse the leak with a heat bomb. One mile down. No one else has offered up with a more viable option and the Supreme Court has revoked the presidential moratorium on drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. America needs its oil, even if answering that need kills off an ocean.

Our ecological footprint grows larger every day, yet America could take lessons from one of the Axis of Evil to improve its impact on the Earth. North Korea has been considered a threat to world peace since George W Bush partnered the Hermit Nation with Iran and Iraq back in 2002. Their danger is graphically revealed by a satellite photo of the hermit nation.

South Korea had bright cities.

North Korea?

My Christmas tree has more lights.

So basically the most dangerous Axis of Evil is ecologically sound.

What about my ecological footprint?

I live in Brooklyn, recycle, eat fresh food, exercise, pick up plastic, bike, and drink beer. I don't use air-condition. I sleep with a fan.

Still there are questions and I went to the Happy Planet Index to discover my compatibility of your environment through a series of questions about life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Multiple choice.

Completely anonymous.

First question is about your place of residence.

#150 USA wasn't a good place to start with 3% of the world population consuming 25% of the energy.

Yesterday I scored 82 which is close to the ideal HPI. Today’s 64 is on par with #2 Columbia. Cocaine makes happy faces. Civil War who cares?

My life expectancy is 80.

My ecological footprint is level with #162 Botswana

Guess I’m a tree hugger or consumer deprived.

Everything else was above average.

So I guess life isn’t so bad for the moment. Let’s hope I keep it that way.

HAPPY PLANET INDEX Test

http://www.happyplanetindex.org/survey.htm

One more thing North Korea isn’t listed in the Happy Planet Index.

Evil has no place with happy.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Edith Shain 1919-2010


Her kiss represented the mirage of 'welcome home' to the troops returning from WW2.

The promise of lust.

The reality of a family.

The union of man and woman.

Edith Shain has joined the mortal coil.

Her kiss is immortal.

Monday, June 21, 2010

HATE 'HEY JUDE' HATE By Peter Nolan Smith


The Beatles and the ensuing British invasion vanquished American music from the Top 40. April 1964 the Fab Four's dominated the US charts with 5 hits led by I WANNA HOLD YOUR HAND. One # 1 after the other and the Liverpool band had long legs. A HARD'S DAY NIGHT gained a stranglehold on 1965. RUBBER SOUL was released in December 1965. Another year lost for the garage bands of the suburbs. Their potential hits blips on the radar of pop music. Only the Rolling Stones confronted the Beatles on equal ground, but the adoration of teenage girls had transformed the English group in gods.

Even the drummer Ringo.

When John Lennon claimed that they were more popular than Christ, priests and preachers sought to burn their LPs in Nazi fashion, however the bonfires of the Bible Belt were shunned by virtuous teenage girls with dreams of sacrificing their maidenhood to the Beatlemania.

This defloration fantasy was shared by the majority of New England girls. My next-door neighbor favored John Lennon. He was the Smart One. Addy Manzi had seen the group at Carneige Hall in December 2, 1964. Her father had played with big bands in the 40s. His old music contacts had scored the tickets. She Addy was the envy of every girl in my hometown, yet even her beauty had not been enough to pierce the siege lines at the Plaza Hotel. She had attended the Boston Garden show a week later. Her luck was better for that concert.

"John played every song for me."

Most girls pined for Paul McCartney. The Cute One. My younger sister wrote him a dozen letters. She was not alone. Kyla Rolla was the cutest girl in my 7th Grade class at Our Lady of the Foothills. I knew her since we were 8. Our first puppy love died with her parents divorce.

Kyla wore her blonde hair long like Paul's grilfriend, the British actress Jane Asher. She had cried for days after seeing the Beatles at Shea Stadium. Her older sisters had driven to the concert. They stood high in the standings of girls in my hometown. It didn't take much, but going to that show was more than enough.

My band was the Rolling Stones. They were outlaws. I couldn't tell Kyla that SATISFACTION was the greatest rock song of all time. I love the B-side of the 45. UNDER-ASSISTANT WEST COAST PROMO MAN. In order to gain her heart I had to commit treason to the best rock and roll band in the world.

I stopped going to the barbershop in Mattapan Square. My hair grew over my ears. Loafers were abandoned in favor of Beatles boots. I wore a Beatles jacket. No collar like Chairman Mao. It cost $15. Matching pants were another $10. I wore the suit to school. The nuns sent me home with a note for my parents. My streak of perfect attendance was shot, but Kyla noticed me for the first time in years.

"Who's your favorite Beatle?" she asked on the way home from school. I sat in last sedat of the yellow bus. Her uniform skirt was four inches over her knees. The nuns sent home any girl with a higher hemline. The seat next to me was empty. There was only one answer.

"Paul."

"Me too." Kyla sat down close. Her skin smelled of Ivory soap and her hair emanated the scent of Johnson's baby shampoo. Her green eyes were emeralds stolen by Murph the Surf from the Museum of Natural History in New York. Green as cut grass. I prayed that she didn't noticed my stealing her fragrance with near-silent inhales, as our conservations revolved around Paul McCartney trivia.

Paul was a Gemini like me. He was 22. I was 12. His favorite color was blue. Mine too. I told Kyla that she looked like Jane Asher. She let me hold her hands. I sang her songs off BEATLES 65. 'YOU'VE GOT TO HIDE YOUR LOVE AWAY. Kyla closed her doe eyes dreaming that I was her Paul.

"Kiss me, Jane."

"Oh, Paul."

Our lips met at the red light before the local church. Paul's soul invaded my body and my hand touched Kyla's sweater. It was cashmere. Her ribs felt like thick guitar strings. My fingertips inched higher. They grazed the bottom of her breast.

"Oh, Paul."

My hand glided over her nipple. I had practiced the movement on my own thousands of times. I had expected a moan, instead Kyla gasped with outrage. A slap to my cheek devastated my imitation of Paul.

"But I thought that____"

"You thought wrong. You're no Paul." Kyla pulled down her shirt and stormed down the aisle to the girls her age. My older brother had seen the entire episode. His eyes warned the other boys to not make fun of me. It didn't stop their snickers.

Every day I begged Kyla for forgiveness. I had never imagined that her fantasies were rated PG. She ignored my every entreaty. I was no longer her Paul. She went steady with Jimmie Lally. His hair color was closer to Paul's than mine. I didn't hate him or her, because they were caricatures of the greater world beyond the confines of Boston's South Shore. Rock and roll, fame, and fortune.

My parents bought SGT. PEPPER for my birthday. I listened to it once. Kyla had ruined the Beatles for me. The Rolling Stones regained my devotion. I played HIS SATANICAL MAJESTY'S REQUEST twice a day as if the Devil could restored Kyla to me. His power failed day after day. The Beatles seemed more powerful than Satan, then we came back together. I didn't know why and didn't ask why either. We were childhood sweethearts touched by the Devil.

Kisses were not kisses.

A caress was soul-deep.

Her family was living on the other side of town. Her older sisters had moved out of the house. Two of them were stewardesses. The other dated a biker from Wollaston Beach. His name was Chico.

Kyla and I were a thing. We were saving it for our wedding night. Herr mother was going a man from Chile. They spent nights out in Boston. We had the run of the house until midnight. I was almost a man.

Kyla introduced me to WBCN on her FM radio. "Mississippi Harold Wilson" was the first DJ to play Cream's I FEEL FREE. She loved the Velvet Underground. I was a big fan of the Jefferson Airplane. We lay on the couch of her dark living room. Our nights were everything except have sex. My parents understood that we were in love. My mother was okay with our dating as long as I got home before midnight. I felt a little like Cinderella.

My hair got longer. Kyla and I talked about running away to San Francisco that summer. We got as far as Wollaston Beach.

At summer's end I spent a long night on the couch. Her bra was on the floor. Her panties down at her knees. My Levis were unzippered. Our hands did the rest. Time disappeared from our universe, as WBCN's night DJ played the Modern Lovers' ROADRUNNER, the Velvets' ROCK AND ROLL, and Quicksliver's MONA. We were naked, when JJ Johnson announced over the air, "I have a special song to play this evening. A masterpiece. HEY JUDE by The Beatles."

I stopped rubbing against Kyla's thigh. WBCN never played The Beatles. Paul McCartney, my old rival, opens with vocals and piano. F, C and B-flat. The second verse added a guitar and tambourine. Simple. Pure Beatles.

"I love this." Kyla pulled me closer and closed her eyes. The four minute coda of 'Hey Jude' went on forever. At the song's end I was still a virgin, but only just. Kyla opened her eyes and sighed, "That was good."

I read the love in her eyes.

Paul.

Always Paul.

I looked at the clock on the wall. It was 2:10. I kissed her lips and dressed fast,as if my speed could turn back the hands of time. Kyla waved from the door way. She was wearing a silk robe.

"Tomorrow."

"Manana." I had learned the word from her mother's boyfriend. He let me drink wine.

The streets of my hometown were suburb quiet. No cars. All the houses dark. My home was three miles away. I began to run. I was on the track team. A car appeared around a curve. A VW. My father's car. He must have been coming to get me. His mood had to be dark. He liked his sleep. The VW 180ed in the street with a screech. It had a short turning circle. The car braked to a halt and the passenger door shot open.

"Get in." It was a command. I sat down expecting the worst. My father read the riot act. "All you had to do was call. Tens seconds and say you were all right. But you were only thinking about yourself."

I never saw the punch coming. The VW never swerved. Blood dripped on my shirt. My father handed me a rag. I could tell that he was sorry for having lost his temper. I had never hit me before.

"You're grounded for a week."

"Yes, sir." A month was punishment. A week was an apology.

He turned on the radio. WBZ. The disc jockey was playing HEY JUDE. Soon The Beatles song would be the only song on the radio. It stayed #1 on the American charts nine weeks. Kyla played the song at home. Her mother did too. My mother also. My father knew the words. I couldn't get them out of my head.

Even to this day.

Always telling me, "I'm not Paul."

Then again I never said I was.

And the next night I didn't have to be anyone to Kyla, but me.

There was no manana after that.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Happy Father's Day


Father's Day has complemented Mother's Day since 1910, although the holiday was unofficial for decades and Americans treated Father's Day as a joke, until LBJ proclaimed the 3rd Sunday in June Father's Day. Richard Nixon made it permanent six years later.

I recall giving my father a tie on several Father's Day. A bottle of wine as I got older. We drank it together with my mother. Most fathers received nothing. 1 in 6 according to one survey. Of course some fathers were total bastards and none of their kids celebrated Bastard Day.

My father was a good man. He raised six kids the best he knew how. Even into his 80s he helped me with money. My father traveled around the world to see me in Thailand. He was the only member of my family to make the trip other than my late cousin David. I love him for that effort and so many other sacrifices he made to make my life better.

Sadly his mind has been ravaged by Alzheimer's, yet he still insists that I enunciate Bath, Maine as Baa-th, instead of with my more nasal Boston accent. I fondly recall the many trip we took as children and later after the passing of my mother. Road trips to France, Ireland, Quebec, Utah, the Olympic Peninsula, Montana, and Wyoming.

My father was an excellent driver. Age effected his sense of safety. His foot was heavy on the gas. We argued about this change in motoring behavior. He was never wrong and never wanted to give up the steering wheel for fear of someone taking away his license for good.

Our last trip was to Quebec City. We stayed at the Hotel Frontenac and ate crepes overlooking the Plains of Abraham. His ancestors had fought alongside the British. I order the wine in French. The waiter spoke Quebecois. An ancient Gallic dialect. I knew he could understand me. My father told him, "I want a Mer'Lot."

It was one of his favorite jokes.

The waiter laughed in anticipation of a good tip. My father didn't not disappoint him. The next day we drove north along the St. Lawrence. Fiords, falls, and whales. Traffic was non-existent. We drove 100 mph. My father enjoyed the empty road, but even at that speed we fell short of our destination, Sept Iles, where the paved road turned to dirt all the way to Newfoundland.

We stopped at a small hotel overlooking a crystal blue bay. We opened a bottle of Sancerre and sat in the glow of the near-endless light of summer. The mosquitoes were merciless at dusk. Blood trickled from our bared skin.

We retreated inside the hotel room and on the next day we agreed that the mosquitoes would drain our veins further north. The ferry across the St. Lawrence was only 30 miles south. We made the 8am crossing. I spoke with several travelers about the drive to Gaspe. They warned against speeding. My father ridiculed their advice.

"I've been driving over 60 years. Never got a speeding ticket. Not like you."

"It's a miracle." My last moving violation was on the Mass Pike. 85 in a 65 zone. 1975.

"Not a miracle. Just good driving." He exited off the ferry like he was racing against time. Towns were clustered closer together on the south bank of the St. Lawrence. My cautions were dismissed with rancor. His mood was nasty. I later learned that this was the first sign of his Alzheimer's. He swore at me after lunch.

For opening the map.

"It doesn't matter where we are. Only where we are going."

The chances of my ever coming this way were nil. I wanted to stop at the marked vistas and points of interest. My father motored past them with a vengeance. The trip was entering an unpleasant stage. He resisted my attempts to take over the wheel. He was the captain. Mutiny was my plan. He was driving 90. No one else was close to that speed. I watched the long straight-aways with binoculars and spotted a police cruiser in the distance. A mile off and coming fast.

"Slow down. There's a cop car coming."

"Slow down for what?" All he saw was open road.

"He's going to stop us."

"You don't know what the fuck you're talking about." My father had never used that type of language on me or anyone else. Something was ratting in his brain. it only took about twenty seconds for the police car to come even with us, but that short time my father recounted my many sins. Not delivering my newspaper route fast enough. Losing a scholarship to high school because I didn't believe in god. Getting arrested for a high-speed chase. Drugs, drinks, not giving him grandchildren. If that provincial trooper hadn't pulled us over, I would have revisited my every sin.

Big and small.

Worse he was right.

"So much for not getting a speeding ticket." I wanted out of that car. Whomever was driving was not my father.

"Like always you don't know shit." My father put down the window.

The St. Lawrence was to the north. The far shore was beyond our sight. The hills to the south were covered with 30 year-old pine. The air smelled of cut wood. Somewhere close men were working lumber. My grandfather had put himself through Bowdoin College chopping trees in the northern woods. No car could go as fast as my father had been driving this morning.

The officer spoke Quebecois. He asked for my father's license and registration. He said that he had radared the car at 90. The speed limit was 60.

"I will have to take your father into custody."

"Really?" Jail would teach him a lesson. I asked in French, "Cuffs and all?"

"Oui." His speech was cute. My father smiled with a practiced innocence.

"So if you arrest him, you'll take him which way?"

The officer pointed in the direction of Gaspe.

"Excellent." I figured booking and arraignment was a 2-hour ordeal. I could use the break. "what if I pick him up in 3 hours?"

"Mssr., we are not a baby-sitting service. You are lucky." He didn't want the responsibility of a man in his 80s and neither did I. Unfortunately he left me no choice, proving there is no such thing as free will. "I will give your father a warning. No ticket."

"C'est pas vrai?" My old man was getting off.

"Roulez moins vite, SVP."

The officer returned to his cruiser and wheeled away from us in the opposite direction. My father was smiling with satisfaction. He pulled off the shoulder and was soon back up to 90.

"I told you that I wouldn't get a ticket."

"You told me a lot of things back there." I slunked into the seat defeated by his words and escape from justice.

"Sorry about that. I've been losing my temper without any reason these days. Must be getting old. Whatever I said I didn't mean."

"I know." My fight with him ended decades ago.

"You've been a good son."

"I could have been better."

"Everyone could have been better. We can only do what we can do. Nothing more."

It wasn't an apology. We knew each other too long to need those. More a passing of the baton. He was old.I was old too. 51, which is closer to 80 than 20. My father could remember our watching bears eat at the town dump, a vandal throwing a rock at our station wagon at South Shore Drive-In, and my coming home late after sex with Janet Stetson. I was only 15. It was the only time he hit me.

"You should have called home."

We were too much alike to fight anymore and that evening we ate a small restaurant in Gaspe. The aroma from the kitchen was delectable. Wild salmon and fresh shrimp in a bouillabaisse. We ordered two plates and a bottle of wine. Night linger in another time zone and we walked along the cliffs of Gaspe.

"I wish your mother was with us."

"Me too."

He had loved her more than us.

With good reason.

Because she loved us all more than she loved herself.

I kissed my father's head before going to bed. He was bald. His face was part mine. We were the same blood. Tomorrow we'd drive to Maine. It was 500 miles away. I'd let my father do the majority of the driving.

he didn't get tickets.