Tramps are cool too.
Workers of the Universe unite.
Resistance is not futile.
Foto came from Eric Bedos of Paris
TERMINATOR 5 has wrapped the filming in New Orleans. Arnold Schwartzernegger has returned to California and the director flew back to New York and Fort Greene. We planned to meet for wine next week in the neighborhood.
"I'll be unemployed like you." He had nothing on his schedule.
"It's been a long slow summer." I was glad to see the coming of September.
That month signals the start of money and I haven't worked since the end of June.
"Arnold must be unemployed too."
"He might be."
"Maybe he wants to hang out with us."
"Arnold doesn't think of himself as a bum."
"Neither would I, if I was the star of T5 or its director."
"And what about you?"
"I'm a bum."
We seemed more numerous during the dog days of August.
I hope we're one less next month.
My fingers are crossed for good luck.
Labor Day Weekend traditionally marks the end of summer in the USA. Millions of Americans flocked to the shore, lakes, mountains, parks, and backyards for a last gasp of enjoyment before going back to work. Few realize that the holiday was established by President Grover Cleveland as a peace offering after his ordering in troops and federal marshals to break up the 1894 Pullman Strike outside Chicago.
The American Railway Union had struck and boycotted the Pullman Coach Company throughout the summer. Executives had cut workers' wages, but refused to lower prices at the company stores or rents in their company towns. Nearly 200,000 railroad workers walked out across the country effectively shutting down transportation from coast to coast.
President Cleveland called in 12,000 federal troops to protect corporate property and escort scabs or strike-breakers across the picket lines. In the ensuing violence thirty strikers were killed and many others wounded. Public opinion favored the action and ARU leader Eugene Debs was imprisoned for six months. Further investigation faulted George Pullman with inciting the unrest.
Immediately after the end of the strike Cleveland designated first weekend in September as Labor Day was chosen rather than International Workers Day in May due to its association communists, anarchists, and socialists.
Yesterday I asked twenty people at the farmers' market in Fort Greene, "Why do we have Labor Day?"
Most said to celebrate the end of summer, a few replied that they didn't know, and two answered to honor the working man without any mention of the struggle to win an 8-hour day, a minimum wage, health care, social security, and many other commonly accepted entitlements for the working classes.
The Republicans with their Tea Party adherents know exactly what was won by those strikers and the GOP has refused to enact any legislation to overhaul the national infrastructure. They prefer for the country to crumple into dust rather than hired hundreds of thousands of Americans for good-paying jobs.
An annual expenditure $100 billion will transform America into a nation of workers.
Do not give them up without a fight.
The police are workers working for the bosses.
They are not our friends when in uniform, except when they remember that they are union members too.
Workers of the world unite.
Several years ago midtown traffic was snarled by the security measures protecting foreign dignitaries from any harm during the annual UN General Assembly. Crosstown streets were closed east of 5th Avenue and a beeping tentacle of the congestion packed Madison Avenue. My bus took 20 minutes to cover ten blocks. I was late for a gallery opening on 78th Street and abandoned public transportation. My walking pace was accelerated by two panicked calls from my landlord AP and Billy O.
Our dinner guest, an Irish hedge fund banker, was on a 'craic'.
"This is polite society up here." Billy O was looking for clients. He was a real estate broker in the East End. Most people living above 72nd Street had money, especially in between Park and 5th Avenues. "I'm afraid that he's going to shag an old heiress."
"Would be the worst thing to happen to her? When I was living down in Palm Beach, I dreamed about seducing a wealthy octogenarian with three weeks to live."
"You would have given her the best two weeks of her life." Billy O and I went back to the 80s.
"At least." I was never stingy with love or lust given the right circumstances, however my time on Palm Beach had been off-season. Secondly those crones with money knew the game. Men fought over them at the Leopard Lounge. I was too much of an outsider to brake inside the circle.
Except for once.
"Hurry up." Billy O sounded desperate. "He's offering the owner a line of blow."
I made it in 15.
The police had blockaded 72nd Street for the passage of POTUS. Obama was in town to speak at the UN. High-level conversations were scheduled between the Israelis, Palestinians, and our leader. Peace initiative # 257. The presidential cavalcade passed at 65 mph. A fast-moving target. I waved to what I guess was his car. My support for change remained strong.
I crossed 72nd Street and hurried the final six blocks to the gallery, which was located in a small townhouse. The crowd was gentile. The artist hailed from the Hamptons. Some of his paintings had crows in them.
Two women were complaining about the crows on their property.
"They're bad eating and worse as pets." A tall man in a Versace suit slurred from his slouch. It was Irish Johnny. His accent was pure Hollyfield drenched by the slobber of art wine.
The two middle-aged women in matching Chanel summer drag glanced over their sloped shoulders at the intruders. Their noses wrinkled with disdain. They had the expression down pat and clattered away from Irish Johnny in spiky stilettos.
Irish Johnny staggered to the bar and grabbed two glasses of Chablis. The first one lasted a second. The second balanced his careen through the gallery. His trousers were rolled to mid-calf and his sneakers were unlaced.
Thankfully he was drunk enough not to recognize me from drinking at an Eastdhampton bar a year ago. I didn't say hello, but nodded to Billy O and my landlord. They signaled to keep an eye on Irish Johnny. The banker was difficult work after closing time on the NYSE. I engaged him in a long conversation on John Kelly, Ireland's premier DJ, and drinking at the Shelbourne Hotel Bar. Irish Johnny couldn't have been happy and neither could the gallery owner.
The dead drunk was a member of the living drunk.
Billie O and AP schmoozzed the rich. They were a hard crowd to work, but the two had been laboring in the Hamptons for years.
AP spoke to a prospective new client. He owned a football team. His girlfriend was an old friend of mine. The connections were snaking together. It was time to leave. Irish Johnny was hitting on a painting.
"How much you want for one night?"
Billy O took charge. Irish Johnny was his boy. They proposed dinner at Danielle's. A posey place. I begged off that future. Billy O and AP said, "Come."
"Veni, vidi, ibam."
"I came, I saw, I went." Johnny Irish was a Latin scholar too.
I waved my goodbyes and walked to the 77th Street Subway. Lex Line to Bleecker Street. D train to Atlantic Avenue. Key in the front door at 8:23. I climbed the stairs to my apartment and wrote about Hoegaarten Beer. My wine-weakened fingers were slow on the keyboard.
A knock on my door.
He wanted to smoke some pot.
"Dinner was fantastic, but you were so right to go. He never broke open the bag of cocaine."
"Better to have a $20 bag with a friend than an 8-ball with a fiend."
AP and I smoke some weed. We drank some wine. We listened to garage rock, our favorite genre of music, although he loved the Beatles and I hated them as pop poseurs. At least we agreed that WORKING CLASS HERO by John Lennon was brilliant.
"You know I really love having you live here." AP considered me a NY legend as long as I paid my rent on time.
"Thanks." I loved living here too.
"No one in New York is like you now and no one writes like you, but I have to say one thing and that's you have been plundering old writing and putting it on your website as if it was new."
"So you noticed?"
"I'm one of your most faithful readers."
I had been adding stories to gain girth on treads of interest." It wasn't much of a defense for AP.
"You should be writing all the time."
"Agreed." I love writing on the 4th floor of his brownstone. My view of the Brooklyn skyline. The changes of the sunset. His kids sleeping on the lower floor. Their falling asleep to the MC5. "I'll try to be more original."
"No one is more original than you in these days." AP truly was a fan. "All I want to see is more new."
"Oof." More work.
A sign of the times.
"I promise to not rob the grave, unless it makes a nice flow."
We smoked more weed and drank the rest of his Hoegaartens.
They were good.
Last Labor Day weekend in Maine my brother-in-law and I had several discussions about whether it was better to BBQ with charcoal or gas. The world's leading leisurologist voted for gas and I bowed to the swami's greater savvy on this subject. Some subjects you have to leave to the experts.
When I was a kid, some men would see road crews leaning on their shovels and called them lazy bastards.
My father had worked a lumber camp in his youth and tell them, “You’ve never worked a day in your life, if you say that.”
He was an electrical engineer. His hands were soft, but his voice revealed his respect for a rest.
Farangs criticize Thais for laziness without realizing that Thai workers are pushed to the limit.
10 hours a day. 6 days a week. 200-300 baht a day.
The money goes to cigarettes and alcohol to fuel their labor, so they’ll find someplace to catch up on their sleep and no one does it better than this day-laborer lying on a steel I-beam atop a townhouse.
Click on photo to enlarge and you’ll see how comfortable a man can be when he is worked to a frazzle.
Nom dee, comrade.
The other day I was on 47th Street selling a diamond. I ran into a young friend. Shimon spotted my NY Times opened to an article about Hamas.
"Excuse me." I liked Shimon. We shared the same taste in clothing.
"Hamas are animals. They hide behind civilians and hide weapons in schools." His chest puffed with righteous indignation.
"That's what the Nazis said about the Jews." I didn't mention that the KKK and John Birch Society shared the same thought.
"What would you do if someone was firing missiles at you?"
"You mean missiles that don't hit anything?"
"People die from the missiles."
"Out of the twelve thousand missiles fired in the last ten years twenty-eight Israelis have been killed versus over 500 Palestinian children killed during the recent Gaza operations by the IDF."
"Because Hamas is hiding behind the civilians."
"No, because the IDF was angered by the number of soldiers killed during their attacks and went blood red for revenge. The blast radius of an artillery shell is 64 meters, which means if there was a missile launcher at St. Patrick's Cathedral we would get blasted to dust."
"But what would you do if they were shooting missiles at you?"
"I'd kill everyone of them."
"And push them into the sea."
"Exactly, but I'm not a Nazi or a Zionist or a member of Hamas. I'm Irish and I know that at one time you have to sit down with the other side and talk about peace or else you'll lose the war and Israel, because people will not back murder or talk about people being animals. Neve again a Shoah. Not for anyone, unless you believe that the Holocaust was a good thing, because it create Israel."
I walked away without hearing his answer.
Shimon texted me later that I was an asshole.
I replied, "לעולם לא עוד."
Like I said I'm Irish and my people lived through the Famine.
"Go deo arís."
It is the way to live.
Anything else is strictly about death and death is not an option for those who have lived through Shoah, the Famine, or the Nakba.
I texted back to Shimon, if he had a two-carat diamond for a certain price.
After all the first law on 47th Street was 'nimmt geld' or take money.
And with my many mouths to feed I am a true believer in taking money.
As well as peace.
Free the world
We are not animals.
Early in the summer of 1965 I was coming home from buying the newest Rolling Stones LP in Mattapan Square. A green paperback lay atop a trash can at the Lower Mills trolley station. THE ITCH by Steven Hammer on Olympia Press was not on the summer reading list for thirteen year-old boys. I opened the pages to the center of the book and my eyes scanned the text. They found the word ‘fuck’ twice on the same page. The author had meshed them with an assortment of sexual terms.
My face went red.
THE ITCH was pornography.
I looked over my shoulder.
No one was watching me.
I stuck the paperback into the bag with OUT OF OUR HEADS and walked two miles through the deep woods surrounding my suburban neighborhood south of Boston. I stopped twice to read pages 121-126. The men preformed acts of perversion with each other and women. THE ITCH was a primer for sin and upon our split-level ranch house I hid in the attic and devoured the book three times within two hours.
Between 1965 and 1968 I must have read THE ITCH more than 3000 times. The author’s blue tales of trisexual liasions between aristocrats warped my tender libido and I succumbed to the rages of onanism without any hope of stopping my hands from touching myself over and over and over.
My girlfriend never knew about my betrayal and my parents were ignorant of my sin.
Even my older brother with whom I shared a bedroom was a deep sleeper.
I became an expert at silent abuse.
Every morning I hid THE ITCH in the attic.
It was THE ITCH and me.
By the end of 1969 the pages were tattered rags, but I had memorized the words and mouthed the text as I read from THE ITCH.
It was great literature.
Here's a passage from THE ITCH.
She doesn't know what she says, her warm fingers along my thigh.
“We could escape,” he said. “There's still a lot of that fifty grand.”
“Where would we go?” she whispered. “The Magnums have armies.
“Besides,” she went on, “you know how you are. You'd tire of me after another week of this connubial bliss. We both have this drive.”
“Itch,” he corrected. “The retarded child's itch for self-destruction.”
“A lovely way to die,” she said, turning to kiss him closely.
When they broke apart, his head seemed to have cleared.
“All right,” he said. “We'll go through with it. But we'll have to live together, always. The rest will be sorties. We'll be gods who land occasionally to copulate with the mortals. After all,” he said, “we're strong and beautiful.”
She laughed. “Yes,” she said, and recited it after him like a spell, “we're strong and beautiful. It should be a full year."
These books were supposedly written by famous authors down on their luck.
They were very good and as Gore vidal said, "The reading of pornography only leads to the reading of more pornography.
The old queer certainly had it right at least in my case.
One night in August the monsoon was having its way with the Eastern Seaboard. Sleets of rain slashed through the few remaining palms on the back street between Soi Bukhao and 3rd Road. The Happy Lodge inn served as a refuge from the crowds of Walking Street. The pool tables were level, the beer was 5 baht less than my regular haunt, the Buffalo Bar, and no one came down the deadened alley, unless it was to avoid an old girlfriend or boyfriend.
The monsoon rains were pounding the corrugated roof with increasing intensity. The girls were shivering from the cold, but the rising water level threatened to flood the Happy Lodge Inn and they fought the overflow by clearing the cluttered gutters. I was the only farang in the bar.
A motorsai taxi pulled underneath the awning and Natalie jumped off the bike.
Every year thousands of Thai women flock to Pattaya, seeking the gold in the pockets of farangs. Some are old, some are young. Few were as sexy as Natalie.
The fake orgasm was part of the bargain.
Nathalie liked her customers happy. They came back for more with a smile. The sexy vixen was the heart and soul of Pattaya.
The twenty-five year old was sexy even without her piercings or tattoos. Her second skin of libertinism was a prime asset for a Pattaya bargirl and her unleashed libido telegraphed the message of desire to every male within eyesight. One look and they understood the cost of a single night on both financial and physical terms, because riding Natalie was like driving a Ferrari on ice.
And if her customer's performance dropped below Formula One standards, Natalie didn't complain as long as her customer had paid 2000 baht at the end of her hour-long lap of lust.
Natalie was soaked to the skin. She wasn't the type of girl to wearing lingerie other than a g-string. Natalie's eyes turned to me and she sat on the stool next to me, dripping water from her long hair. The monsoon rains wounded the corrugated roof with increasing intensity. The girls shivered from the cold. Nathalie came over to me and asked, "Can I wear your jacket?"
"Why not? It probably looks better on you than me." My long-sleeved shirt was keeping me warm.
"Everything look good on me, but look better if I wear nothing." Putting on my blue-tinted glasses transformed her to a Hollywood starlet.
"I have no argument with that."
"Tequila." Nathalie wai-ed like a schoolgirl. The older farangs loved that act. She killed the tequila in one go and I signaled the bartender for another. I was good with my San Miguel beer.
"You want to go short-time. Have room next door." She snuggled into me like a boa after a rabbit.
"No, I have a girlfriend." Mam and I were a thing. We were having a kid. I had eyes only for her.
"Your girlfriend lucky. You good man." Nathalie downed the next tequila and sat up straight.
We had several drinks. The rain intensified and the water rose an inch across the bar's floor. It came from the Indian Ocean. I tasted a drop.
"Not same you." Her index finger smoothed over my skin and her tongue licked at the tip. "You think clean?"
"Come from the sky is clean."
"Not sure." Natalie lifted her feet. Her high heels were brand-new.
"I know you story."
"Yes, your wife she leave you for Thai friend. You have broke heart."
"Many farang have same story." Nu and I had a daughter. She said Angie wasn't mine. I knew better.
"Many Thai too. Many lady say you good man."
"It's easy being a good man in Pattaya." It was the last Babylon on Earth, so a little good went a long way in this town.
“Once I good girl. I not like this,” she said tossing back a tequila.
“I know. Everyone was a young once.” I ordered another round of tequila. The rain had drummed on the bar's tin roof like gorillas dancing the polka. None of their feet were in synch. The water climbed an inch higher.
“I come here I maybe 15. My mother work bar.” She downed the second shot and signaled for a beer chaser. Her pouting belly is showing the early signs of this repeated investment in beer.
“You don’t need to tell me this.” I had heard the story before. It didn't have a happy ending.
“Tell you. Not tell you. Same.” Her hand caressed my thigh. She was never not on the game.
“Same. Girl come to Pattaya. Have boyfriend. Boyfriend leave her. She work bar. Then she con't love anyone, but me.” Angie's mom had followed the script without diversion.
“Not same story me. 15 not have boyfriend. No man leave me. Not me. I too sexy. My mother have friend want virgin.”
I figured Natalie for 25.
“And you were a virgin?” Ten years ago I was living with Vee. My one-eyed mistress. She was no virgin.
“Never kiss a boy.” Her hand moved higher on my thigh. “Borisut.”
“So why you want to have sex?”
“Not me. Maih want big money.” Natalie swung between pidgin and perfect English. She had lived in the UK twice and Sweden once. “Maih needed money.”
“For what?” I wondered how many times she had told this story to a Kak or customer.
Young girl gone bad for her mother the aging whore.
“Krai lu?” she answered with resignation. 'Who knew'.
A Thai daughter has to obey her mother.
No matter what.
No explanation was necessary.
“Man give 4000 baht."
"4000 baht?" It was little over $100.
"Small money for farang. Big money for Thai."
"Big money for everyone."
"It not hurt. Man know make love virgin. I not like first time. Second time too. After that. Love it all time. You want me show you?” Her hand rested on my crotch. His fingers tickled my balls.
"Trick my mother."
I knew her mother back in the early 90s. I couldn't tell Nathalie that. They looked too much alike for my good.
I go with many men. Sometime three in day. Never not two. Sometime more. I too sexy."
The math worked out to six hundred a year times ten years equaled six thousand men.
"You still are sexy." She would have stopped traffic on any street in America.
“Now I go with man old. Easy money. Only worry that they die on me.”
“Anyone come close?” Viagra, 60 year-old, and a young was a common fatal combination in Pattaya.
“No, but sometime think man die.” She puffed out her cheeks. “Luat-keung-nah.”
“Blood makes their face go red.” I waved for my check-bin.
Rain or no rain.
I was leaving before I got into trouble.
“Like red light.” Natalie didn't want me to leave.
Not without her.
There are no other men with obey in sight.
"You go with me?"
“Wish I could.” My mistress was waiting for me in Jomtien. She was six months pregnant and I loved her in my own way.
"You think wife come back."
Anything was possible in Thailand, but the impossible.
I gave Natalie 200 baht. “For kin khao.”
She wai-ed gracefully as a 12 year-old virgin and said, “You can run, but you not hide. One day show my pierced clit.”
“I’m sure you will.” I escaped before the a new downpour drenched the streets and came home to my mia-noi and my son Fenway. They were both asleep. Mam sniffed at me.
"You speak with lady."
"Yes." There was no use lying.
"Go with her."
"Good." She kissed my cheek and returned to sleep.
One day we would have to live together. She will never know how hard I try to be good.
It was never easy in Pattaya.
My head settled onto the pillow.
My dreams of Nathalie unfolded in slow-mo.
14 rpm and then rewind back to her at fifteen.
Back before the six thousand men she was as pure as the monsoon rain.
A good girl waiting to go bad.
Same as me at 15.
A good boy waiting for the bad.
There was no going back.
Not for me.
Not for Natalie.
Not for anyone. I drove my bike to Soi Bongkot. My house was empty. Mam was over in Jomtien.
A man only needs to be
1. a friend
2. a companion
3. a lover
4. a brother
5. a father
6. a master
7. a chef
8. an electrician
9. a carpenter
10. a plumber
11. a mechanic
12. a decorator
13. a stylist
14. a sexologist
15. a gynaecologist
16. a psychologist
17. a pest exterminator
18. a psychiatrist
19. a healer
20. a good listener
21. an organizer
22. a good father
23. very clean
WITHOUT FORGETTING TO:
45. give her compliments regularly
46. love shopping
47. be honest
48. be very rich
49. not stress her out
50. not look at other girls
AND AT THE SAME TIME, YOU MUST ALSO:
51. give her lots of attention, but expect little yourself
52. give her lots of time, especially time for herself
53. give her lots of space, never worrying about where she goes
IT IS VERY IMPORTANT:
54. Never to forget:
* arrangements she makes
HOW TO MAKE A MAN HAPPY
1. Show up naked
2. Bring alcohol
Does that tell you something?
Five year ago my sister and I were sitting at her kitchen table. She handed me a newspaper clipping and pointed out an requesting volunteers for a medical survey on sleeplessness.
"Beth Israel is paying $1500 to those candidates completing the 10-day experiment."
"$1500. That's a good wage for two weeks."
I was broke and called the clinic. The receptionist scheduled an interview at noon. My sister taught at a college down the street from Beth Israel and drove me into the Fenway. I walked over to the hospital. I had been born in its Richardson House. This was my first visit since that day.
On the fifth floor I was met by the doctor directing the test.
"Basically you have to stay up 60 hours straight. Someone will be with you. This experiment is to see how far a human can go without sleep."
I agreed to the test, however I failed the physical. My liver readings were redlining from a session of drinking vodka with my brother-in-law. We had been celebrating a Celtics victory.
My younger sister later informed me that 60-hours sleep deprivation could cause lasting mental problems.
"And possibly death."
"I could have used the $1500."
"Enforced sleep keep deprivation can lead to Diabetes, Stroke, high blood pressure, amnesia, skin damage, and number of cardiac problems."
"Okay, so I didn't need the $1500 that bad."
My younger sister gave me a c-note.
Two days later I bussed back to New York with $80 in my pocket.
I read the newspaper on the Fung Wah bus.
The CIA was under investigation for 'enhanced techniques' used by the CIA on the thousands of suspects passing through the off-shore torture camps.
One of them was sleep deprivation.
Vice President Cheney had always insisted that losing a little sleep didn't hurt anyone and neither did standing on their feet for eight hours at a time.
I beg to differ, because later that month I traveled to Russia.
JFK-Moscow-Kiev-Moscow-St. Petersburg-Moscow-JFK in eight days.
Too many flights in to few days.
Normally I crashed for a good 8-10 hours a night.
I barely caught three in Rodina.
My vim was shot, but this was nothing.
The CIA had kept detainees up for weeks on end.
Without any cocaine either.
Give me a little blow and I'll stay up for a week, but my nerves would be very frayed, despite previous Vice President Cheney's protestation that a little torture was a good thing.
I love my sleep.
Plus I'm old-fashioned about my dreams.
Cue up Cindy Crawford, please.
I am Old School.
The IRS decides to audit Grandpa, and summons him to the IRS office. The auditor was not surprised when Grandpa showed up with his attorney. The auditor said, "Well, sir, you have an extravagant lifestyle and no full-time employment, which you explain by saying that you win money gambling. I'm not sure the IRS finds that believable."
"I'm a great gambler, and I can prove it," says Grandpa. 'How about a demonstration?'
The auditor thinks for a moment and said, "Okay. Go ahead."
Grandpa says , "I'll bet you a thousand dollars that I can bite my own eye."
The auditor thinks a moment and says, "It's a bet."
Grandpa removes his glass eye and bites it.
The auditor's jaw drops.
Grandpa says, "Now, I'll bet you two thousand dollars that I can bite my other eye."
Now the auditor can tell Grandpa isn't blind, so he takes the bet.
Grandpa removes his dentures and bites his good eye.
The stunned auditor now realizes he has wagered and lost three grand with Grandpa's attorney as a witness. He starts to get nervous.
"Want to go double or nothing?"Grandpa asks "I'll bet you six thousand dollars that I can stand on one side of your desk, and pee into that wastebasket on the other side, and never get a drop anywhere in between."
The auditor, twice burned, is cautious now, but he looks carefully and decides there's no way this old guy could possibly manage that stunt, so he agrees again.
Grandpa stands beside the desk and unzips his pants, but although he strains mightily, he can't make the stream reach the wastebasket on the other side, so he pretty much urinates all over the auditor's desk.
The auditor leaps with joy, realizing that he has just turned a major loss into a huge win.
But Grandpa's attorney moans and puts his head in his hands.
"Are you okay?" the auditor asks.
"Not really," says the attorney. "This morning, when Grandpa told me he'd been summoned for an audit, he bet me twenty-five thousand dollars that he could come in here and pee all over your desk and that you'd be happy about it."
OLD SCHOOL HUMOR
"El imperio en el que nunca se pone el sol." or 'the sun never set on your empire' was a remark attributed to a loyal courtier of the Holy Roman Empire Charles V. His possessions spanned the globe. Philip II gambled its power on the Spanish Armada. Filthy weather in the Channel thwarted his desire to conquer Britain and by the18th Century the English crowed the same sentiment as the hildagos.
"On her dominions the sun never sets; before his evening rays leave the spires of Quebec, his morning beams have shone three hours on Port Jackson, and while sinking from the waters of Lake Superior, his eye opens upon the Mouth of the Ganges."
Throughout the 19th Century one point the tiffs and teabags dominated a quarter of the world's population. Maintenance of this empire sapped the Home Countries of capital and manpower. Sea to Sea to sea drained the vitality of the nation. Victorianism led to the noble massacres of Flanders and the Somme. WWII wiped out another generation and the Empire collapsed with the surrender of its Crown Jewels to the niggers, wogs, micks, and chinks.
Winston Churchill was furious. He was English 100%. His mother was an American. Her beauty was international. As an historian Churchill understood the weight of time on power.
"The empires of the future are the empires of the mind." 1943.
Britain's remaining oversea possessions consists of Gibralter, the Falklands, Bermuda, St. Helena, Ascension, British Antarctica, the South Georgia Islands, Tristan de Cunha, the South Sandwich Islands, Akrotiri and Dhekelia, the Pitcairn Islands, British Indian Ocean Territory, The British Virgin Islands, The Turks and Caicos Islands, Anguilla, Montserrat, and The Cayman Islands. Margaret Thatcher fought a long distance war against Argentina to reconquer the South Atlantic islands. The last ten years the UK has waged a war in the Middle East against Islamist extremists. The cost of that campaign became clear this last week.
Last week after the beheading of an American journalist by ISIS militants, a British friend was calling for the re-invasion of Iraq to wipe the Muslims off the map.
I reminded him that the British Empire was forged by Celts of Ireland and Scotland.
These people were its foot soldiers.
They are no more.
The days of empire are over for England.
If only America could see that truth.
ps Free Northern Ireland.
1. The later you are, the more excited your dogs are to see you.
2. Dogs don't notice if you call them by another dog's name.
3. Dogs like it if you leave a lot of things on the floor.
4. A dog's parents never visit.
5. Dogs agree that you have to raise your voice to get your point across.
6. You never have to wait for a dog; they're ready to go 24 hours a day.
7. Dogs find you amusing when you're drunk.
8. Dogs like to go hunting and fishing.
9. A dog will not wake you up at night to ask, "If I died, would you get another dog?"
10. If a dog has babies, you can put an ad in the paper and give them away.
11. A dog will let you put a studded collar on it without calling you a pervert.
12. If a dog smells another dog on you, they don't get mad. They just think it's interesting.
13. Dogs like to ride in the back of a pickup truck.
14. If a dog leaves, it won't take half of your stuff.
And finally lock your wife and your dog in the trunk of your car for an hour. Then open the trunk and see who's happy to see you!!
Isaac Asimov wrote the three laws of robotics in I ROBOT.
1.) A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm. 2.) A robot must obey the orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law. 3.) A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.
The producers of THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL ignored these edicts by granting the robot Gort the ability to destroy humanity for its sins against universal peace.
This week the powers of peace have been overwhelmed by the forces of war in the Middle East.
My friend Jorge wrote on facebook; Just to be clear, I think Israel has as much right to exist as the state of Palestine. I decry their bombing of Gaza, just as I do Palestinian attacks on Israel. I am not looking to ascribe blame in this convoluted scenario; I simply wish for innocent people and children to be spared. Naive as it may sound, I think all violent aggressors that cost innocent lives should be policed and boycotted by the UN and world-at-large over and above any political affiliations. If world-government accord enforced such stipulations, aggressors would have to cease or face sanctions and embargo. Of course that would leave much of the world, including the US, penalized. Enter Gort!
Klaatu barada nikto.
One friend posted; Its all so fucking stupid...after all this time what is the fucking point? And I entered the fray by writing; The point is that these two sides have grievances. Palestinian land was stolen by the Israelis to make up from their treatment at the hands of the Nazis. Peace cannot exist without truth." Jorge argued not without a passion for peace, "The new point is to cease returning to historical causes and justifications and to start unanimously denouncing all violent acts. Otherwise, we are caught in an endless cycle." I countered, "The historical causes must be addressed to sate the need for both justice and equality. The truth will out." Our mutual friend Merrill enjoined the discussion with the following entry. "Somebody in a forum I was arguing with about this said the reason Palestine was chosen to repatriate Jews was because they were part of the Ottoman Empire and sided with the Germans during the war. I don't see why that would not warrant the Jews to be settled in Germany though, but I always wondered why Palestine was chosen...why did they draw the short straw? This seems to be all about real estate, plain and simple. I have the impression that the Palestinians are like the American Indians, handshake deals, not keen on "owning" the land, so not able to negotiate rights later on when Israel wants to paper their way over ownership. In that way it is also a culture clash, a difference of relating to owning things. Very sad. Israel seems greedy." I agreed with Merrill by writing, "Someone cited that the Ottoman Empire sided with the Germans. That was in WWI, but the Arabs revolted against the Turks only to be screwed by the Filthy Brits and Frogs. Of course history is written by the victors and revised periodically to suit the purposes of repression. There were no palestinians at Dachau." And as Patricia Neal said in THE DAY EARTH STOOD STILL, "Gort, Klaatu barada nikto." There is no translation to this phrase, but Gort stopped his destruction of the planet. If only it were so easy for us, we could clap our hands like when we watched PETER PAN and say, "Klaatu barada nikto." It has to meant something
Sadly Lauren Bacall passed away last week
She was a siren of serene beauty and a true New Yorker.
The actress hit stride in the movie TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT with the famous line to Humphrey Bogart.
Any man in his right mind would have obey her command.
To view that scene, please go to the following URL
Love is Never Having to Say You're Sorry is a famous line from the 1970 film LOVE STORY. Farangs are amazed by the infrequency of times that Thais saying they're sorry. The word does exist as Khor-Todt, whose etymology stems from two Thai words; Khor or throat and Todt or fart.
Sorry, but maybe that's why Thais don't apologize.
Saying sorry sometimes smells.
A black Suburban headed west on Route 2 at the top of Lake Michigan. The late afternoon traffic was light and no state troopers cruised the two-laner traversing the Upper Peninsula. The driver was cruising at 85, then stamped on his brakes upon spotting a white van parked in the Wonderland Diner parking lot. The SUV lumbered to the side of the road and the tall man behind the wheel reached over for his binoculars. He focused on the back of the van.
The plates matched those of the fugitive.
“Now I have you, you bastard.”
Only this morning the Assistant Field Director in Petrowsky called off the hunt for their quarry.
“The fat man has slipped through our net, but someone that size will surface sooner or later.”
The driver of the black car hadn’t imagined ‘later’ would arrive so soon and he punched a number on his cell phone. The direct line to the agency was busy. He tried the State Police without success and then 911 with the same result. Someone jamming the transmissions.
SOP recommended back-up and the agent waited for the phone service to come back on line.
The diner’s sign blinked HOME COOKING every 15 seconds. The neon enticement played to an empty house. Thirty minutes went by without a single car or truck passing the Wonderland Diner.
The sun dropped beneath the pines. The thickening darkness was all the cover that the fat man needed to escape into the Upper Peninsula’s trackless woods. The agent pressed the number for the FBI.
He pulled out his 9mm. It was loaded with 15 rounds.
“Fuck SOP.” The agent shifted the SUV out of park and drove right behind the van. He flicked off the safety of his automatic and exited from the Suburban. Blessing himself with the left hand he walked to the entrance.
The door opened with a creak.
Neither the cook nor the young man at the counter broke from their fixation on the food fest at table #5, where a fat man in overalls shoveled down the remains of grits and eggs.
“Where them pasties?”
The fat man pushed his stubby fingers through lank hair.
Michigan had no law against eating yourself to death and the cook flipped the half-dozen meat-stuffed pasties onto a plate, then turned to the tall man at the door.
His suit was rumpled and his right hand was behind his back. His build was a little too athletic for a man in his forties, but the cook had seen all types during his ten years running the Wonderland.
“You comin’ or goin’? Cuz either way you gotta shut that door.”
“Business so good you can insult customers."
The newcomer shut the door.
“Sorry, mister, I don’t heat the great outdoors. Not this time of year.”
The tall man sat at the counter.
The fat man wiped his mouth with the back on his hand.
“Chicken pot pie was damn good. Pork Chops too. Ya should try that.”
“I’m not that hungry.”
The tall man eyed the young man at the counter. The dirt on his hands had not come from any honest labor and the leaves in his long hair indicated a night under a bridge. He was no one and the tall man whipped out his 9mm.
“Don’t shoot me.” The cook dropped the plate of pasties.
“No one’s shooting anyone.” The fat man poked a fork into the flapjacks.
“Not if I don’t have to.” The tall man produced a badge with his left hand. “I’m a duly authorized federal agent and that man is a fugitive from justice. You two stay out of the way and nobody will be hurt. Big man, keep your hands in front of you and stand away from the table very slowly.”
“I….” the hippie stammered and the agent snapped,” This doesn’t concern you.”
“Stay out of it,” the fat man mumbled through his pancakes.
“Drop that fork.”
The agent approached the booth.
“Ya goin’ to shoot me for eatin’?”
“I’m not kidding.” The agent wasn’t in a laughing mood.
“Damn, who ya’ll? The fat people police?” The big man rose with extraordinary grace for a man his size. His hands were in the air. “Yer wanna arrest me, Ah ain’t gonna fight.”
The fat man was wanted Dead or Alive and his lack of resistance surprised the agent.
“You’ve been through the drill; turn around, face the wall, and spread them wide.”
“Tell me, if Ah’m gonna be safe with ya’ll.”
The fat man stretched his elephantine arms and legs against the Formica wall.
“Ah mean, the only reason Ah ain’t surrendered before was that Ah weren’t sure that yer cud keep me someplace safe.”
“Oh, we have safe places for you.” The agent dangled handcuffs to the cook. “Slap these on the man. If he moves, I’ll shoot him.”
“Shootin' a man that big like trying' to hit a bear in a vital spot.” The cook took the cuff. “No offense, big man.”
“None taken.” The fat man’s head swiveled to show a toothy smile. “Yer a good cook and Ah gots to dig yer fer that.”
“Keep your eyes straight ahead.”
“Ain’t that a laugh? Here ya are trying’ to earn a decent livin' and this bloodhound starts mess in’ with yer customers and orderin’ ya around.”
The fat man pressed his face to the wall.
“Bet that makes ya feel real safe.”
“You wanna know why they after me? Cus Ah’m privy to the truth about lies. Cookie, why don’t ya ask Bossman why he’s arresting’ me? I bet $100 he doesn’t have a clue.”
“They’re too small.” The cook fumbled with the cuffs.
“You have to open them up.” The tall man glanced at the silent longhair. His hands were over his head. The agent snatched the handcuffs from the cook and stepped closer to the fat man. “Get real tight with that wall and put your hands behind you.”
“Yeah, yer just doin’ your job, only Ah ain’t done no wrong to no one in a long time. That didn’t keep ‘em from comin’ after me.”
“I’m gonna obey your every command, bossman.”
“Cook, you have tape?” The cuffs were too small.
“Ain’t ya supposed to use government-issue tape?”
“I told you to shut your hole and I meant it. Where’s that tape?”
“Right here.” The cook offered masking tape.
“Wrap his wrists tight.”
“Hey, ya don’t wanna be cuttin’ off the blood. Ah mean Ah gotta eat with these hands.”
“Don’t worry, you’ll be stuffing your yap soon enough.”
The agent waved the cook out of his line of fire.
“I hate GI Joe grub.” The fat man spun on his heels and pushed the cook.
The agent had been expecting this move and pulled the trigger, only the shot went wide and three hundred plus pounds of sweat, fat, and bones squashed the agent into the wall like a Samoan lineman sacking a quarterback. When the fat man stepped away, the unconscious agent fell to the floor.
“You killed him,” the cook declared with horror.
“Ain’t dead, only knocked out and people will come in droves, cus ya had somethin’ happen here. And they'll all wanna to hear about what happened and not much happens this time of year or any other, right? If fact ya should be thanking’ me for savin’ yer winter.”
The fat man de-ammoed the 9mm.
“Cookie, give the man his piece after I’m gone.”
“What you gonna do?” The cook looked at the payphone.
“Ah’m gonna go down the highway and yer can tell the fellas that come for this one that too.”
The fat man picked up the pasties from the floor.
“Sure, take what you want.”
“This ain’t no stick-up.” The fat man handed him several twenties and told the long hair, “You can drop yer hands.”
“I’m no trouble.” The long hair stared at the man on the floor.
“And ya ain’t gonna have none neither. I wanya ta drive fer me.”
“Drive for you?” The hippie lowered his arms.
“They have an all-points on my van, so Ah’m takin’ the bossman’s car.”
The longhair retreated toward the bathroom.
“Maybe ya didn’t hear me right. You’re drivin’. Ah can’t fit behind the wheel and ya’ll can. Afterwards ya can say that Ah forced ya’ll, which is exactly what Ah’m doin’, ifn’t I hear the word ‘no’ agin.”
“You’re not leaving me any choices,” the longhair protested to the fat man.
“Yer exactly right.” The fat man searched the fallen agent’s pockets, finding the car keys, and then jerked the pay phone from the wall. “Sorry, Ah can’t take chances. Thanks for the lunch. It was delicious. Let’s go.”
The hippie exited first from the diner.
The fat man pointed to the SUV.
“I like big cars. They make me look thin.”
“There’s not many places to run on the Upper Peninsula.”
“That’s okay, cuz where Ah’m goin’ ain’t no one can follow me.”
“You expecting an alien abduction?”
“They already land on Earth. Sum of ‘em tubes. Funny, maybe that’s why people in the fashion businesses are so skinny and Ah’m so fat. They don’t abduct no fat men, cuz they can’t achieve orbit. Now git in the car, we have to go.” The fat man shoved the long hair behind the wheel and then sat in the rear with the SUV teetering to the right.
The hippie studied the rear-view mirror with a little too much interest.
“Who’s been chasing you?” The hippie backed out of the parking lot.
“The FBI, the CIA, the NSA and even NASA had a shot.”
“Was that guy one of them?”
“He mighta been after the million-dollar bounty on my head.”
“Why you worth a million?” The hippie glanced in the rearview mirror.
“Yer seen me enough at the diner.”
“I ain’t seen anyone human eat that much.”
“Yer can’t get a better disguise than a fat person.”
“So you didn’t tell me why they hunting you.”
“Ah didn’t, otherwise they’d hunt yer to the ground.”
“Heck, I’m already wanted for credit card theft, so I’m off to Canada, then I’ll head to the Eskimo nation to hunt seals or whales or carve tusks. I’m good with my hands and there’s not much call for that in the old USA, right?”
“Yer wanna hear why they’re after me?” The fat man leaned forward to whisper in the driver’s ear.
“Hell, I’d tell you I’d keep it a secret, but after two beers or a joint I’d surrender the family secrets to entertain the crowd, so if you don’t want it spread around the Eskimo nation, keep it to yourself.”
The driver’s gray eyes gleamed with a hustler’s sincerity.
“I guess I can trust you.” The fat man settled into the seat. “Ah was once young and full of life. One day Ah heard a story, which altered my life. A secret Ah wuzn’t supposed to hear and didn’t believe. Anyway this man told me the truth of this world. Oh, Ah heard why we were in Vietnam to stop communism. More like to control the heroin trade. Why we gave China to the Reds? To control one billion people under one leader. The government waved the flag and blacklisted commies in America, which was smoke fer the real drama. None of those truths got me in trouble. No, the one that endangered me is the greatest mystery in the American Century. Yer have any idea which one that might be?”
“Is Elvis alive?”
“Elvis is dead. Ah saw the body.”
“You saw the body?” the longhair demanded in disbelief.
“Ah saw plenty in my old job and heard more. Elvis’s death ain’t the greatest secret in America, unless yer an Elvis impersonator. C’mon, try a little harder.”
He squinted, as the setting sun’s golden glow filled the long corridor of pines bordering the highway.
“Biggest secret. Oh, I have it. Who killed Kennedy? You’re talking about that, right?”
The driver stepped on the gas.
“Ah’ll tell yer and it’ll take about seven minutes after which Ah’m gonna step out of the car and you drive away. Yer got that?”
“Ah was alive, when Kennedy was killed. Hell, Ah can tell you what Ah was wearin’, cuz Ah went to a Catholic school. White shirt, blue tie, black pants, black shoes. Anyway Ah believed that Oswald was the killer.”
“Same as the rest of the America.”
“Ah believed that, until Ah met the assassin and he wuzn’t no CIA agent either.”
“Who was he?”
“His identity is unimportant, cuz he wuz part of the machine that killed the president.”
“Cause of the Bay of Pigs?”
“Not even warm. This story doesn’t begin with the Kennedys. Yer heard of Marilyn Monroe?”
“Yeah, the movie actress JFK was banging.”
“That proves yer an ignorant fuck buyin’ what the TV sells you.”
“Okay, okay, tell me your story then.”
The driver flicked on the headlights.
“What yer do that fer?”
“Cause it’ll be dark soon, that’s why.”
“Yeah, right, so as Ah said, the story starts with Marilyn Monroe. Not many people were aware of that she was the illegitimate daughter of a Mafia gangster. Anyway Marilyn becomes a movie star and every citizens in America believes she’s havin’ an affair with JFK, only JFK is usin’ her as a ‘beard’ to hide his womanizin’.”
“With Judith Exner Campbell.”
“Glad you watch The Learning Channel.”
The fat man dropped the southern accent.
The story went faster without the drawl. “Anyway Marilyn becomes a real pain in the ass and JFK tells his brother, Bobby, to tell her it’s over. Bobby goes to Marilyn after the birthday bash in Madison Square Garden. Normally the sight of a crying woman had no effect on the hard-hearted bastard. Only he’s a man and she’s a beautiful woman and he comforts her broken heart.”
“So JFK never…..”
“Never is a long time, anyway Bobby falls in love with Marilyn and starts telling her his business and JFK’s too. Starts talkin’ about leavin’ his wife and the Kennedys had a hard enough time electin’ Catholic in 1960 without having a divorce in the family for the re-election in 1964. JFK orders his brother to dump Marilyn. Bobby says he’s marrying Marilyn. JFK vows to stop this union. He can’t turn to the Mafia, since he’s stiffed them on Cuba. Instead he goes to that old drag queen, Hoover, who’s pleased as punch to get more dirt on the President. The little fruitcake tells him not to worry and flies out to Los Angeles with his boyfriend and they kill Marilyn. Bobby walks in on them and beats the shit out of them. J. Edgar confesses that his brother ordered her murder.”
“Shit. A car’s following us. In fact they’re catching up.”
“Could be anyone.”
The fat man glimpsed over his shoulder.
“No, not just ‘anyone’ has flashing lights. So keep the story coming.”
“Thanks, kid, it’s comforting to have a friend in your corner. Now where was I? Oh, yeah, Bobby wants revenge. Nothing comes to him, until the brightest and the best of the White House are discussing the drop in JFK’s polls. The president asked, if anyone has an idea to boost his popularity. Bobby suggested that they stage a fake assassination attempt. The rest of the brain trust calls him crazy, except Old Man Kennedy understood street politics and mumbles nothin’ boosts a president’s re-election more than a failed assassination. JFK accepted his father’s edict and gave the CIA the go-ahead. Those university minds plotted the fake assassination in Dallas. A CIA team on the grassy knoll shoots blanks. JFK becomes a hero, the election a landslide, and a mandate assures a new era of prosperity. None of them suspected Bobby was setting up his brother for the old Mafia boss.”
“Who was Marilyn’s real father?”
“Ten points. Bobby tells the old man how JFK had killed his daughter and they planned to place another shooter on the scene.”
“The Texas Book Depository,” the driver spat like he was rushing an answer to a game show.
“No, Oswald was a fall guy. The Mafia chief put his shooter in the building across the street. November 22, 1963. Everyone’s in place. The CIA team shootin’ blanks on the grassy knoll. The fall guy's in the Depository. The Mafia hit man waiting for his shot. Anyway the limo makes the turn and the Mafia hit man bangs away, hitting the president. The CIA team is confused by the change in the plans and pulls off a round. The hit man delivers the coup de grace and Bobby has his revenge. Fratricide.”
“It fits,” the driver murmured with the car gliding to a halt.
“I figured you for a cop.”
The fat man dipped his hand into the bag of pasties.
“Sorry, big man,” the driver apologized, adding, “I’m only doing my job.”
“No problem, I understand and thanks for not shooting me.
He bit into the pastie.
"They want you alive."
Blinking lights filled the interior of the car.
“Yeah, for now. You think about what they’ll do to you, once they’re rid of me?”
“What are you talking about?”
“Officer Tippitt, Lee Harvey Oswald, Dorothy Killgallen, Jack Ruby to name a few, but we don’t have time to tally the body count. I step out of this car and I’m a dead man. You’re dead too, because I told you too much.”
“That was some crazy bullshit.”
“Okay, you talk to your boys. If they ask, if I told you anything, you say no and come back to the car and drive faster than hell. A plane is waiting at a deserted airfield five miles from here and the pilot will wait another ten minutes. Tell them I have a gun and will only surrender to you.”
“You don’t have a gun.”
“Yes, I do.” The fat man withdrew a .22 Beretta from under a fold of fat. “Now if I’m wrong, step away, because I’m not goin’ to jail and I don’t wanna kill you.”
“Why not?” The driver rested his hand on the door handle.
“Because you’re my only out.” The fat man flicked off the Beretta’s safety.
"I'll be right back."
The longhair walked to the men behind the cars. They spoke for a few seconds and the hippie returned to sit behind the wheel. The fat man tapped him on the shoulder.
“You were right.”
“I wish I wasn’t.” The fat man had to trust the longhair. They were both dead men if he didn’t. “You ready?”
“Ready?” The driver stamped on the accelerator. The black car burned rubber to the crack of shots. Several shattered the rear window, missing the passenger and the driver. Sirens filled their ears and the cold air rushed inside the car. “That’s one way to quit your job.”
“No one in my job has ever retired, so it’s welcome to run for your life.”
“Yeah, head out of the highway, looking for adventure and whatever comes your way,” the fat man sang, imitating Steppenwolf.
“Fire your guns into space.” The driver showed they were on the same team and the fat man shifted to a chorus from Judas Priest, “Head out of the highway.” because the open road was the only world left for people like him, until the ranks of the resistance outnumbered the liars in power and that could take an eternity.
And eternity was closer than anyone knew.
Marilyn Monroe was a goddess.
I loved her in SOME LIKE IT HOT and worshipped her in THE RIVER OF NO RETURN.
Zaftig beauties across the USA have pointed to Marilyn Monroe as the ideal female form rather than the bone thin models gracing the covers of fashion magazines. Her size has been debated by weight pundits with some claiming the blonde movie star was a size 16, however Marilyn started as a size 8 and sometimes was a size 12.
Speed helped her slim down for films.
She was not an anorexic, but a normal woman in normal times.
FAMOUS FOR NEVER is a semi-fictional recounting of a ne'er-do-well living in the East Village during the 1970s, Paris through the 1980s, and Asia into the 1990s. Peter Nolan Smith's pingponging around the world has ricochetted him through the ranks of the famous and near-famous such as Jean Michel-Basquiat and Klaus Nomi without success ever threatening his firm grasp on failure, because there is no failure greater than premature success.
Quitting was not an option for the writer.
To read FAMOUS FOR NEVER for free on Kindle please go to the following URL
That 1960s Hollies hit gets plenty of play in Pattaya, only bargirls have changed to words to suit their need for subterfuge.
"He not boyfriend. He my brother."
The tenacles of an extended Thai family are more tangled than a cluster of fornicating rattlesnakes. The second cousin of a third aunt from your sister's second marriage is family as is almost anyone from your village. Farangs have a hard time getting their head around this galaxy of uncles, aunts, sisters, and cousins, even when the 'cousin' or brother' seems awfully tight with their wife.
"He not boyfriend. He my brother."
And not wanting to call your wife a liar cause many farangs to turn a blind eye to the obvious.
"He ain't her brother, he's her boyfriend."
The words fit the tune this way too.
In 1983 I was living with Brigitte Yorke in Paris. She had a husband in the South of France. Her explanation of our living situation was that I was gay. Guy accepted my pederastism, because I would show up with a gay friend whenever he came to town plus Brigittie was using me as a beard for her many affairs.
I'm not gay.
Really, so when my mia noi explain that her 'cousin' was gay, I rewrote the words to the Hollies' hit.
"He ain't gay, he's your boyfriend."
Did I end it with her?
Her cousin was good fun.
After all we are both gay.
To hear the Hollies hit, please go to this URL
To see a video reading of THE BIGGEST BEAR, please go to the following URL
Hunting season along the Hudson River opened in mid-October.
Bow and arrows only.
Guns weren't allowed until November, so I felt relatively safe walking in the woods wearing a neon-orange hooded sweatshirt. No animal in that color existed north or south of Troy, New York and during the shooting season non-hunters drape their bodies in brilliant orange to prevent any hunter from mistaking them for a deer.d
“No one has ever been refused a hunting license because they’re color blind,” Floyd told me at the Green Acres Tavern. The drinking establishment on Rte. 29 was brightly lit at all hours of the day, since the owner thought people looked more honest under 100-watt light.
“So someone might shoot me even if I’m wearing this.” The orange was hurtful to the eye.
“If drink was involved, everyone is fair game.” Belvin shrugged his shoulders.
The fifty-six year-old farmer was a crack marksman. The previous weekend he had scored 99 out of 100 with a bolt-action .308 Winchester. “People shoot at whatever they see come hunting season. One time I’m sitting here and this down-stater enters the tavern, telling everyone about the spike-horn deer he killed. None of us had ever heard about this species of deer and asked to see his kill. It was a billy goat.”
“That’s nothing. Them folks will shoot anything that moves.” A scrawny UPS driver diverted his attention from the NFL replays. People up here like talking about hunting season. “My uncle’s game warden down in Duchess County. One time he stops a truck on Route 44 and asks the driver what he has on the roof. The driver tells him a spotted deer. It was a St. Bernhard.”
“I lost a cow to a hunter three years ago.” A lady mournfully remembered with a Bud in her hand. “She was a good milker.”
“I’ve never hunted in my life.” My father was vehemently anti-gun, so the majority of my experience with weapons came from shooting with my Dutch uncle Howie Hermann at the 20th Street Shooting Range in Manhattan. Every Monday night we would meet at the 2nd Avenue Deli and then drive over to shoot pistols; Lugers, Colts, S&W ad infinitum. Howie was real gun-nut.
Sweet as pie, but he liked his guns.
“Nothing wrong with not hunting," another drinker commented from the end of the bar. His voice betrayed his real feeling on the subject. Guns were sacred this far north of New York City.
“I know that.” My youth had been spent in Maine. Deer and bear had been strapped to cars during hunting season. Their blood dripping over the windows was a badge of manhood in the North. “I never really wanted to kill anything, but I’m not saying it’s not a good thing as long as it’s for eating.”
“Deer meat’s good.” Belvin had a side of deer in his freezer. “Bear not so good.”
“If you get them in the fall, you can grill them up as steaks.” A bearded beer-drinker added from his stool. Everyone here knew everyone. “But they cook up dry real quick.”
“But if you undercook it, you get trichinellosis.” I was the outsider, but was familiar with this problem thanks to reading about the disastrous Franklin polar expedition. The crew ate bear and died of trichinellosis.
“That’s deadly, ain’t it?” The beer-drinker was scratching his head, as if his fingers might jog lose the brain cells holding that information.
“Same as if you ate uncooked pig.” Belvin was a subsistence farmer. He could eat everything on his land, excepting the tree bark and his wife knew how to make teas from them. “You get nausea, heartburn, dyspepsia, and diarrhea. That’s why the Jews and Muslims don’t eat pork.”
“I’m not so sure that’s the reason. I have a lot of Jewish friends who are bacon Jews. They love pork. I think the real reason that their religions prohibit pork is that it tastes so good.” At least to my palate. “I was in Sumatra once. A big island in Indonesia. Full of Muslims. Anyway I go up to the highlands and the people are Christians. Everyone of them. They even sing Christian prayer songs like BY THE RIVERS OF BABYLON. We were out in the forests and I asked them as we were cooking wild pig, why they didn’t become Muslims like everyone else. The elder explained that they loved the taste of pork too much to give it up for any god.”
“Not much tastes better than bacon.” The UPS driver smacked his lips.
“What about apple pie?” The woman eyed the dessert tray by the kitchen window. The food at the tavern was home-made.
“Apple pie is pretty damn good, but it ain’t meat.” The bearded farmer’s statement granted him a bar of nodding heads.
“The pig that night on Sumatra was good. The hill people ate everything, but the oink. Afterwards the headman asked, “You know why we like pig so much?” I shook my head and he answered by saying, “Because it tastes like man.”
“Cannibals.” Belvin’s hand reached for a gun at his waist. The .357 was in the truck.
“Supposedly not anymore, but I didn’t like the way they were looking at me. Sort of like a fat person after eating a salad.”
“What you do?” The UPS driver was on the edge of his seat.
“I thanked them for the dinner and headed home. I thought they were going to bushwhack me on the trail. I locked the door of the hotel and left the next day. Believe I was happy to be back with the Muslims, although they were a little grim about my beer-drinking, but I’ve never heard of any Muslim cannibals.”
“Me neither.” The bartender put a shot of whiskey in front of me.
“What’s that for?”
“You won the biggest bullshit story of the night award.” Belvin scanned the rest of the clientele. They were locals. “No one here can come up with better.”
“But it wasn’t bullshit.” My bone marrow trembled with the remembrance of the ex-cannibals’ faces.
“You should make it a double.” The UPS driver had returned his gaze to the Jets’ highlights. “He even believes his own bullshit.”
“Here’s to bullshit.” I drained the shot and ordered a round for the bar. It wasn’t painful. Buds in the Green Acres are only $2.50 and that’s everyone’s favorite beer. Mine was Labatt’s Blue. It cost $3. Belvin drove me home before midnight. We had long tomorrows ahead of us. He left me off at the end of my friend’s drive.
“That was sure some good story.” Belvin was smiling with the belief that I was the best bullshitter he had heard in some time.
“Thanks.” Sometimes it’s best not to disappoint the masses. I waved goodnight and Belvin disappeared over the crest of the hill. In the light of the moon my sweatshirt glowed orange. I made it home without a single shot coming in my direction.
Next month would be another story.
My second youngest sister has frequently called me a liar.
In some ways Pam hasn't been not wrong, for my remembrance of the past differs from the collective memories of family and friends.
Several years ago I headed up to Maine for my younger sister’s birthday. Watchic Pond was a short distance outside of Portland. Not much had changed along Route 25 and even less at the lake, except the pine trees were taller and we were a little older.
After a long day lazing around the camp on Watchic Pond we sat outside on a long wooden table for a lobster dinner. One-and-quarters were cheap that season and my brother-in-law boiled a two dozen in a huge pot. My father, aunt and uncle, brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews consumed big bottles of white wine, as the sky darkened to a cobalt blue and lake lapped at the shore speaking a wind-driven language.
In the evening we ate lobster at the family camp at Watchic Pond. The night sky darkened to a cobalt blue and the lake lapped at the shore speaking a wind-driven language. All my family was in attendance and we broke the shells to get at the succulent white meat. The empty claws, tails, and legs, and knuckles grew into a substantial pile.
"That's going to make some bears happy."
"What do you mean?" my uncle asked from the other end of the table.
"Don't you remember the bears eating garbage at the Standish dump?"
“I never saw that.” My 85 year-old father drew a blank.
“I remember seeing them sitting on their haunches, eating food from people’s trash.”
There had been no plastic bags in the 50s.
“Are you making this up?” my aunt and uncle asked in unison.
“It wasn’t a dream. I was standing on the bluff looking at the bears. They ate with good manners too."
My older sister and brothers rolled their eyes and Pam demanded, “Were you on LSD?”
My younger sister was a trial lawyer and I was thrust onto the stand for interrogation.
“No, I was only five.” I was almost sure of my answer, then again no one had proven that the CIA hadn’t experimented on children in the 1950s.
“Maybe it was a flashback.” My brother-in-law laughed at his joke.
Everyone from our generation joined him.
I was the family's one hippie.
"What's so funny," my father grumbled from his seat.
"The bears at the dump."
"Never happened." My father returned to his post-dinner stupor.
“No, I swear I saw them.”
“Well, there are bears in these woods." My uncle Russ looked over his shoulder. He was also partial to a good story.
"Not these woods." Pam had heard too many lies from her clients. None of them ever told the truth and nothing but the truth.
"Maybe not this time of year, but I had a cousin up in Naples.” My uncle was a Maine native. “This bear kept on eating his garbage. My uncle locked the lids and build a shed. The bear found a way in. He finally stored the trash in his house,"
"Did that solve the problem?" My brother-in-law was good around the house.
"No, the bear crashed through a kitchen wall.”
“What your cousin do then?” my older sister was scared of any animal bigger than a cat, although her twenty-pound Shadow was no kitty.
“He shot the bear in the ass with buckshot and the bear ran away. Never to be seen again."
"Like the bears at the dump." Pam wasn't letting it go.
“I saw what I saw."
My older brother had been there then and I looked to him.
He shrugged to indicate I was on my own.
"I believe you, but everyone else thinks you're lying,” my sister joked to the laughter of our gathered family.
"Here's to your 38th Birthday." I raised my glass.
"You never mention a woman's age," my aunt admonished me.
"I can live with 38." Pam was on the other side of 40.
"So some lies are good."
"36 would have been better and bears at best left in the woods."
After dessert I helped bring in the plates.
"What about the lobster shells?"
"Leave them outside. We don't want them to stink up the house." My brother-in-law loved his camp.
We washed the dishes, while my family disappeared into the bedrooms. My brother-in-law and I had a vodka for a nightcap and he said,"I love that story about the bears at the dump."
"It really did happen."
"All stories are true, if interesting."
It was an old family adage.
I bid him good night and went to my room.
Lying on the bed I thought about bears.
We had a long history and I went to bed remembering my teddy bear. His name was Billy. I have no idea where he went astray. Maybe it was during our move from Maine to Boston in 1960, but I wished he came out of the trees tonight and rolled over to shut my eyes.
My next connection to bears came from the book GOLDILOCKS. My dearly departed mother read it to my older brother and me before switching to Lynd Ward's THE BIGGEST BEAR as a bedtime tale. The plot followed a nicer version of THE YEARLING, in which a boy adopted a bear cub in a Maine farming community until the bear grew too big to be with humans. The happy ending was the capture of the bear by hunters from a city zoo, although the bears at Franklin Zoo in Boston did not seem to happy with their lot in life.
Once we moved from Maine to the South shore, bears figured less and less in our lives, but they popped up as Yogi and Boo-boo on TV and I read THE BIGGEST BEAR at least three times a year. I begged my father to take us to Franklin Zoo in Boston and he relented one week. The lions and tigers slept on dusty soil and I said in front of the bear den, "These bears don't look very happy."
"Bears are bears. They're only happy when they're eating," explained my father, but I never asked to visit the zoo again.
THE BIGGEST BEAR was retired to my top bookshelf in my teenage years to be replaced by my adoration of the Boston Bruins. They won a Stanley Cups in 1972 and I drank beer toasting THE BIGGEST BEAR and the Big Bad Bruins.
That summer I hiked into the White Mountains and camped without a permit. I trekked from the Swift River to Sawyer Pond. I carried no tent, only a drop cloth and a sleeping bag. A little before sunset I set up camp in the shelter of a glacier rock.I ate cold beans for dinner rather than risk the rangers spotting a fire. The Red Sox game on radio guided me to sleep under a starry sky.
A snort disturbed my sleep. Something big was lumbering through the underbrush. My hand grabbed a flashlight, but hesitated turning it on in case the prowler was a ranger. The noise went away and I spend the rest of the night watching the darkness for the fangs of a black bear.
In the morning I found bear tracks twenty feet from my shelter and hurried back to the road.
Bears were best left in the wilderness or hockey rink.
The folk singer Dave Van Ronk performed frequently in Harvard Square and sang a wicked version of THE TEDDY BEARS’ PICNIC with his coarse voice lending the children’s song an unintended menace. One time I brought him THE BIGGEST BEAR to autographed and the bearded singer laughed, saying, "I've been asked to sign a lot of things, but never a kid's book."
"Glad to have given you a first time."
I loved Dave Van Ronk, the Pope of Greenwich Village.
In 1974 I worked at a restaurant on Cape Ann. The entire staff was gay. We smoked pot after work at a friend’s house on Bear’s Neck in Rockport. Gay men mauled me worse than any bear, but I escaped with my masculinity intact as my universe of bears jumbled with images of them eating garbage at dumps, cartoons, movies, and story books along with hairy gay men.
When I moved to New York to be a famous writer, I visited the Central Park Zoo.
The elephant was chained in a smelly barn and the gorilla dodged trash thrown by school children, but the polar bears seemed content as the bears at the dump with a swimming pool, free food, and a mate. I imagined THE BIGGEST BEAR to have shared their fate.
In 1982 I left New York for Paris, where a German friend had decorated his 16th arrondisement house with bear furniture. Jurgen thought I was the next Henry Miller. I wanted to be John Steinbeck. My spelling was atrocious enough to be Hemingway.
Jurgen hired me to work at a nightclub in Hamburg. The mysterious German’s Reeperbahn apartment was packed with bear figurines of all sizes. One night we were drinking there.
When I asked about his collection, Jurgen said, “This? This is not a collection. These are my friends. I am a bastard. My father never came back from Russia. As a child I had no one to protect me. Believe me Hamburg is tough. I created an imaginary bear and he was inside me to get me out of any trouble. After I started making money, I bought these. They protect me now. You want another beer?”
Beers tasted better than bear or so I have heard.
Jurgen died in 1985 under mysterious circumstances in Paris.
I wasn’t even sure that he was dead, until seeing him in the morgue. I wanted to make sure that his death was natural and broke into his apartment on Montmartre. There was no blood on the floor, but I wiped the surfaces for my fingerprints and stole a small bear as a keepsake. His step-brother put the rest up for auction. I still have mine somewhere, although I misplaced my edition of THE LITTLEST BEAR in New York and the Bruins avoided the Stanley Cup with frustrating regularity.
Despite their lack of success I continued to wear their shirt with the old logo.
In the 80s bears became beasts from Wall Street. Brokers hung in the East Village. They spoke about ‘bulls’ as their friend. Bears were their enemy.
During my journeys throughout Asia in the 90s, I ran into trained bears in India. These creatures were gaunt shadows of the grizzly bear of legend, a golden beast towering over man.
I was seeing Mrs. Carolina at this time. The married blonde waited for me and I came back from my trips to her.
My father asked about our relationship.
Since she was married, I answered, “We are traveling companions.”
“So that’s what they call it now.”
Ms. Carolina originally hailed from the Adirondacks and on a trip to the Blue Ridge Mountains I told her the story about the bears eating garbage at the dump.
"We had bears too." The police decided the proximity of bears to humans was a danger better not tested and used firecrackers to scare them away."
"And did they?"
"I guess so."
“You know how to escape a bear?” asked Ms. Carolina.
“Run faster than the people with you.”
“No." She considered that ungallant. "If you’re being chased by a bear, throw your jacket at them.”
“You mean like giving a mugger your wallet.”
“No, a bear can run 30 mph. The jacket will make him curious. At that point you’re supposed to get a tree between the bear and you. Maybe you’ll be lucky.”
I was a big believer in luck.
On a trip to Montana and Wyoming May 1994 we stayed at the Chico Springs Hotel. I hiked into the mountains. After an hour I reached a sign stated, “Anyone proceeding after this point without a guide will be prosecuted if not eaten.”
It didn’t make any sense.
I gazed around the slopes.
The bears in the Rockies didn't eat garbage.
They ate everything.
Across the river the wind swayed over a pasture. Bears could be in the high grasses waiting for me to get closer. I picked up a rock and threw it hard. The invisible bears didn’t break from cover and I hiked back to the lodge very fast.
I found Mrs. Carolina soaking in the springs and joined her.
“How was your walk?”
“Fine.” She didn’t need to know that I had been scared.
The next day we stopped in Yellowstone National Park. A huge fire in 1988 had devastated its forests and huge swathes of the volcanic plateau were charred from horizon to horizon. Ashes clogged the streams and burnt bones laid as humps along the river banks. The fire had been a disaster, but the torched trees allowed motorists unrestricted vistas. Bison cruised the road and elk grazed the meadows, plus some sections of the park were untouched by flames and hiked along a river.
Bear tracks led away from the stream and Mrs. Carolina asked, “What are you doing?”
“Following these tracks.”
“And why do you want to meet a bear? Maybe a grizzly bear?"
“It’s spring. Bears are hungry. How fast can you run?”
“A little fast.” My best time at the 440 had been 55 seconds. A little better than 15 MPH. “Maybe we should go back to the car.”
"It's probably a good idea." Ms. Carolina didn’t fool with big animals, only me.
Later that week nearing Glacier Park we spotted a grizzly loping across the road at a good clip.
"He must be in a hurry." Ms. Carolina was driving and sped up the car. She didn't believe in rubber-necking with her life on the line.
"He's probably going to the town dump."
"I don't think so." Ms. Carolina stepped on the gas. She had a heavy foot at the best of times.
At the park entrance I told the young ranger about the grizzly.
“It looked like a big dog.”
“Just be glad you didn’t pet it. They can be mean this time of year." A young ranger told us, as he made change. "They like to stay away from people, but the brown bears are very friendly, unless you get between them and they're cubs or food." His associate was a man of regulations. "We don't condone feeding them. Only make them dangerous. We had two fatal attacks in the last ten years."
The young ranger handed Ms. Carolina the ticket.
"You be safe."
As we drove away, Ms. Carolina asked, "Why didn't you tell them about your dump story?"
"Because those bears aren't these bears." Mine wore a smile and had good manners.
For the rest of the trip we didn't get out of the car, except at the scenic stops on the pass.
We were playing it safe, because in the wilderness we were the garbage dump for the bears.
Recently I watched a movie GRIZZLY MAN, in which this incredibly naive amateur naturalist traveled north every year to live with the bears. Without them Timothy Treadwell had no life and Werner Herzog assembled Treadwell's video recordings into a documentary.
The pay-off was a bear mauling ‘grizzly man’ and his girlfriend.
Neither survived the attack.
I felt sorry for the girl. The guy had put her in a bad spot. The bear was just being a bear and the next morning after the lobster dinner on Watchic Pond I woke early for a swim. Everyone else was asleep, except for my father, who was doing a crossword puzzle in the kitchen.
"How'd you sleep?"
"I dreamed a lot about bears."
"I haven't seen a bear in years." He still lived on the South Shore. Bears were extinct south of the Neponset River. "But they're out there."
"Not as much as mosquitoes." The Maine woods were famous for the swarming insects.
"They shouldn't be that bad this time of the morning. Enjoy your swim."
"I exited from the cabin. A thin mist hovered over the lake. Two loons cried out in the mist. I passed the long table and looked down on the ground. The lobster shells were gone. I searched the dirt for tracks. The paw prints were unmistakably those of a bear. My head snapped to the right and left. The bear was nowhere in sight, but they are very clever for such a large creature. I almost went back inside to tell my father about the bear, but if they didn't believe me about the bears in the dump, then there wasn't a chance they would believe me about the night intruder. I went to the end of the dock and jumped in the water. It was cold and upon breaking the surface for air I laughed about my discovery.
Over the years I have told the story about bears eating garbage all over the world. Some people believed me. Some thought it’s a good story. Others feel I’m lying, but those bears were there in the Standish dump. Maybe they weren’t smiling, which I will not admit to my sister.
After all we sometimes need to believe in something that isn’t the truth, especially if it's interesting.
Indonesians travel by ships, boats, and ferries between the many islands of the Far East archipelago.
In 1991 I had been diving off Bunaken Island and after two weeks of drifting along the reefs I boarded midsize Pelni liner at Manado with a second-class ticket. I was headed around the top of Sulawesi to Palu with a brief stop on Borneo.
I phoned my mother collect from the hotel. The operator connected with Boston in less than thirty minutes. My mother was happy to know where I was. I had left her a map of Indonesia with my planned itinerary. She was concerned about my safety.
"No one is giving me a hard time about being an American." The USA and its allies were fighting the mother of all tank battles with Iraq. Indonesia was 95% Muslim.It was better that I didn't tell her about a mob harassing me in Ternate. "I'm taking a boat tomorrow."
"You never wanted to leave home as a young boy. Now you travel the world. Be my eyes and ears."
I boarded the Pelni liner an hour before departure. The pier was packed with deportees. I had an air-conditioned berth to myself and listened to the BBC on my bed. The war was progressing well for the Coalition of the Willing.
The ship cleared Manado harbor and skirted the coast past coconut plantations and Bugis villages. Few of their names were marked on the Nell's maps. Palm trees were the taller than the houses. A small dirt road veered in and out of sight. The overland journey from Manado to Palu on the island's west coast was a three-day ordeal.
"Jalan tidak jelek," said every passenger with a shiver.
"Sepanjang japan di Sulawesi jelek," warned a Javanese businessman.
Bad roads were bad roads no matter where.
I had driven icy rutted roads in Maine.
Death had waited around every curve in the French film THE WAGES OF FEAR.
I wondered how dangerous the roads could be in Sulawesi and enjoyed the smooth surface of the sea.
Everyone was glad to be on the ship. Its top speed was 12 knots. Our ETA in Palu was for tomorrow morning.
Dinner was a simple nasi goreng, fried rice with chicken and an egg. I washed the food down with a cold Bintang beer and went out on deck to watch the night sky. A lightning storm throbbed in a distant thunderhead and the stars numbered in the millions.
I lay in my bunk and read Joseph Conrad's VICTORY.
His novel was set on these island back in the last century.
On shore it was still 1890.
The ship arrived in Balikpapan around midnight. Oil tanks lined the harbor. The stop lasted about two hours. I stayed on board. A large number of travelers hustled up and down the gangway. I was getting used to the chaos and had another beer.
The crew called 'Semua papan' or 'all aboard'.
Hundreds of people waved good-bye from starboard. The ship leaned several degrees off center and the captain blew the departure horn. We were once more under way.
I listened to the BBC. The War in The Gulf was going in favor of the West. Saddam's army was surrendering in droves. The sea was calm. The engines pounded out a steady beat. I fell asleep dreaming on the tropics.
The ship reached Palu a little past the dawn. It was a small port. There were no Europeans on the dock. A driver came up to me and asked, "Dari jalan?"
I explained that I was heading to Lake Poso and asked how was the road.
Bahasa Indonesian was an easy language. Good road was a good thing and I sat in the front of his Toyota Pathfinder for the hundred mile ride to Poso.
Poso lay on the Gulf of Tomini. It was a bigger town than Palu with a population around 40,000.
Most of them Muslims, but also a melange of ethnic groups; Butung, Kaili, Bugis, Tolaki, Muna, Gorontaloan, and numerous others.
No one was driving to Lake Poso until tomorrow. Poso City seemed pleasant enough and I booked a cheap hotel for $5.
Nothing about it was clean and that night I opted against dining in their dingy restaurant in favor of a Chinese karaoke restaurant. The cuisine was a nice change from cold Malay dishes and I watched several women sadly sing songs, while gazing with longing at the pictures of Singapore or Hong Kong.
I went to sleep feeling like I was on the other side of nowhere, but that destination was up in the mountains.
The next day I rode up into the highlands. The road was paved thanks to money from the Japanese. The Empire's troops had occupied all of Indonesia during the War of the Pacific.
"Nippon bagus." The driver liked Japanese tourists. They paid twice as much as other tourists.
"Nippon bags sekarang." They were good now, but now was different from 1945.
Not the jungle on either side of the road.
This was true rain forest.
Teakwood trees soared overhead.
No one lived here, but the road was paved and I enjoyed the view, as the car struggled up the steep inclines.
Coffee bushes dotted the slopes. The beans dried in the sun. The smell was tantalizing.
We stopped at a small roadside warung to let the engine cool down. The coffee was instant powder and the sweetened milk came out of can. For hundreds of years the Dutch colonists had shipped the spices and coffee to Europe. Some things never changed, but Asians liked talking about good things and I said to the driver, "Jalan bagus."
"Ya," he explained that the road on the other side of Lake Poso was the worst in Indonesia.
The rest of the passengers murmured their agreement and the driver motioned for us to get in the LandCruiser.
Lake Poso was the third largest lake in Indonesia. A covered bridge crossed the outlet river. The driver dropped me at the ferry.
I asked about the road to the other end of the lake.
The driver laughed in my face and said that the road was waist deep mud.
"Tomorrow you see."
The other passengers filed onto the ferry and laid in the shade. The boat wasn't leaving till the night, because of engine trouble.
I walked to a high hill in the hot equatorial sun.
The lake was bigger than it looked on the Nell's map.
Mountains rimmed the horizon. The people living on the slopes had been headhunters. I stayed close to the lake.
The ferry left near sunset. Another Westerner was on board. Ilke came from Germany. She was traveling alone.
"Have you heard about the road on the other side?"
"Everyone has been telling me that it's bad, but people tend to exaggerate. When I was in Ambon, the people there told me that the people living on Seram were all witches and the people on Seram said the same thing about the people on Ambon."
"So the road will be fine."
We'll see soon enough."
The light faded fast from the sky.
The sunset was spectacular.
The darkness was complete.
The winds picked up and the ferry pulled into an inlet. We drank beers around a fire, as a young boy played Michael Jackson hits. The reach of Jocko was worldwide.
We arrived at the southern end of Lake Poso at dawn. Clouds of fog lingered on the mountains. The air was cool as to be expected this high above sea level. Passengers from the ferry packed onto a waiting bus. The cost of a ride down to the Makassar was $3. A Toyota Pathfinder driver offered a seat for $10. For Indonesians as well as us. It seemed expensive.
"What do you think?" asked Ilke.
"The bus is cheap, but I'm not taking a chance." I was hoping to reach the mythical highlands of Tana Toraja by evening.
"I'm with you."
The road was paved for a good ten miles.
We stopped at a warung, where a young girl served us sweet instant coffee and cold rice with a salty egg.
"Why we stop?" I asked the driver.
"Jalan apa-apa." He pointed to a bus being dragged by a bulldozer. The high line of mud was well above the wheels. Two foreigners told us that they had been stuck in the mud for over a day.
"We tried walking, but almost drowned in it," the girl cried into the shoulder of her friend.
"Jalan sekali jerek."
I walked around the corner and saw how bad.
A mudslide had covered the road for about a hundred feet to a depth of ten feet. Workers were clearing the avalanche. I returned to the warung and said to Ilke, "We'll be here for hours."
The driver tapped his watch. "One hour."
His English was good, but I doubted he was an engineer and drank some more coffee. The cute girl's name was Indah.
The coffee was strong for instant.
Ilke joined me and we sank thigh deep into the mud.
"When I left the USA, I wanted to come someplace like this. Someplace lost from the rest of civilization."
"You have gotten there and so have I." Ilke was in a good mood.
Road crews were eating breakfast. We joined them. Our Nissan showed up thirty minutes later. We got back in the car and left behind the bad road for good.
By afternoon we reached Tana Toraja. The town had primitive feel to it, but we booked into a clean hotel for $5. Ilke got her own room.
That night I bought Ilke several beers and we had a good laugh about the mud.
"I wonder where the bus is."
"Still in the mud."
And that was the difference between $3 and $10 in 1991.