“Dum Spiro, Spero”
as long as you’re breathing, there’s hope.
TODAY FROM THAILAND:
POOKIE’S ADVENTURES IN THAILAND:
The rainy season has brought overcast skies but little rain to BKK. The clouds seem to trap the pollution close to the ground. It feels like someone pressing piece of dirty wet gauze over my eyes and nose. Some days I find it hard to breathe. I cough more than usual and at times feel overwhelmed with exhaustion. Later this week I plan to go to Jomtien Beach (Paradise by the Sea), the next town down coast from Pattaya, (The Outskirts of Hell). I expect cleaner air there.
The monsoon rain clouds funnel up the Bay of Thailand where they then scurry along the Chao Phraya River running through BKK on their way up into the mountains near Chiang Mai to drop most of their moisture. They generally leave the beach areas around The Outskirts of Hell and Paradise by the Sea somewhat overcast free. Sea breezes push the air at the beaches inland leaving them relatively absent of air pollution.
After giving it some thought I decided I need to get a job (suggestions invited), not so much for the money, but because one ought not spend so much time alone with himself in a darkened room.
Not a very pretty picture.
Hayden asked her to make a scarf he could give to his mom as a present, even though he knew SWAC would throw it out anyway. Once she started making them, LM refused to stop. My apartment now looks like something out of the Sorcerer’s Apprentice with wool scarves multiplying uncontrollably. I expect that one day I will come home and find that I am unable to get into my apartment because it’s filled floor to ceiling with knitted wool scarves. (“The Scarf that Swallowed Bangkok,” soon to become a major motion picture starring Johnny Depp.)
I only eat sweet and sour chicken with steamed rice or pork fried rice. Not so much because I particularly like those dishes, but because whenever I look at the menu for something else I find it printed in Thai with slightly out of focus photos of the dishes, making them all look the same.
Early on a dark and rainy Wednesday morning I left for Jomtien Beach. I went by van. Vans take about the same time to get there as do taxis but are significantly less expensive. The van driver was interesting. Although it is common for most Thai drivers to insist on using the shoulder for passing, he treated it as the high-speed lane. As a result, we got to our destination quicker than usual, especially when for unknown reasons he skipped the usual pee-pee break at the rest-stop where the vans generally gas up.
The sun was out when we arrived and thankfully the air felt much cleaner than in BKK.
This trip I did not stay at the guest house of the sad-faced lady with the child with the tragic birth defects but at a place with slightly larger rooms for about the same price near by. The street, Soi 2, is quite narrow with 4 to 6 story balconied shop houses lining each side. One can watch the life of the neighborhood going on in the streets below and on the balconies. It reminded me a bit like living in the Bronx.
In the early morning I watched and listened to the Soi awaken. It is no Catfish Row, but I imagine someone could put it to music: The snap of the cloth as the woman in the apartment across from me hangs out her washing; The high-pitched murmurings of the yings (Thai for young woman) speaking into their mobile phones as they walk to or from work; The scrape and bang of the merchants raising the security barriers as they open their shops; The throaty rumble of the motorbikes; the chopping sound made by the woman with the sidewalk food stand as she prepares the day’s Papaya Pak Pak ( better known as Som Tam). All we now need is a happy-go-lucky beggar cheerfully greeting everyone as he passes by.
Last night, for some reason unknown to me, someone in the Soi below my room set up some amplifying equipment into which two drunken yings screamed off-key songs to no one in particular until two in the morning. Now and then a western tourist would wander by and snap a photograph of the clearly deranged young women.
During the day I walked along the beach about two miles early in the morning, and again at mid-day and once more in the evening. For most of the rest of the day I sat on a rental canvas beach chair under a large blue beach umbrella, watched the vendors pass by, stared at the surf and dozed.
Some tipsy young men with their Thai women friends sat on the chairs on each side of me. Two Swedes to my left and a Brit to my right. There was a lot of laughing and loud talking. The vendors seemed to congregate around them smiling and joking. I was a bit jealous. “Why” I thought, “couldn’t I be as jovial and sociable?” Eventually the Swede sitting closest to me turned to me and asked “How come these vendors always stop and gather around me yet they pass you right by?
I responded, “Because as soon as they get close enough, I close my eyes and pretend I’m asleep.” The Swede stared at me for a while in silence then exclaimed, “Wow!” A few moments later, thoroughly embarrassed, I got up and left.
Sometimes I forget why people flock to Thailand in such great numbers. After all, its beaches are ok, but there are many other places with better. It’s cities are so polluted they rival Mexico City. Its historical buildings are interesting, but far less grand than those in a lot of countries. Most of the country sits in a sweltering swamp. Their people smile a lot but they are not smiles of kindness or concern. The traffic is as awful as anywhere in the world and corruption and cheating the tourist are endemic. It’s food is good but quality examples of it at a reasonable price can rarely be found anywhere a casual tourist could locate. So what is it that recently reminded me why I and many others come here?
In India, people twist their bodies into unnatural shapes and sit for years on dung heaps until they can ignore their discomfort, call it enlightenment and convince themselves that now they are truly happy. In China and Japan some go up mountains to where the air is thin and the ground is cold and where they sit until they can think of nothing at all and assume they have found contentment. Then they believe they are happy. In the US and many countries of the West as well as other “advanced” countries, people, day and night, engage in the single-minded pursuit of stealing wealth from others so that their stoned children can ride around a lake in a yacht and they can imagine they have accomplished something and then they can declare themselves really happy.
But here in Thailand there is a temple called Wat Po on the grounds of the royal palace where there, and in similar temples throughout the country, Thais from all over the nation gather to learn the traditional Thai art of rubbing another persons body until that person experiences a sense of something approaching bliss.
Imagine, if you will, in Saint Peter’s Basilica somewhere huddled among Bernini’s’ columns there is a similar school where cowled nuns and tonsured monks upon completing their course of study then go out into the world to, at an affordable price, apply their hands to the bodies of others, both men and women, so that they can know the experience of true orgasms and be happy.
That is why, over the years, people came to Thailand and why even now in some of the country’s most expensive accommodations on some of the most exclusive beaches many people can still find happiness.
JOEY’S NEW MYSTERY NOVEL:
ENTER THE DRAGON
Sam Spade: “You gotta convince me that you know what this is all about, that you aren’t just fiddling around hoping it’ll all… come out right in the end!”
Joe arrived to drive us to the wake. He still wore the same black windbreaker but had changed his white T-shirt for the black Iron Maiden one that I had seen him wearing when we first met. He had also changed his black jeans for creased pants of the same color.
Joe and Mavis got into the front and I sat alone in the back. They immediately started talking in that black, stoner, California patois, adding a few mexican words to spice it up and mixing in a liberal use of the universal modifier “Fuck” in all its varieties. It annoyed me greatly because I could not understand anything they were talking about, although, at the time, I convinced myself my annoyance was based instead upon my objection to their juvenile misuse of the english language.
I decided to sit there and pout and fume. Finding that unsatisfying and unable to hold my attention for more than a few minutes, I turned to trying to understand what I intended to accomplish at the wake and more importantly why I was even bothering to try to do anything at all. Failure certainly remained a viable option. What if I don’t find out what happened to Holland or the shipment or even how Reilly was killed? I mean, really, were either the Tons of Fun or Martin Vihn going to do something to me if in the end I tell them I don’t know what happened? At worst they would just beat the shit out of me for spite. Even that was unlikely. So, what was I doing here? Looking good for the clients? I’ve got their money. I don’t need their respect, not that I expect to ever get it.
Why was what happened to two containers of furniture so important to Martin Vihn? They certainly could not be worth much. Why was finding Holland so important to Mavis and the Fabulous Fat Boys and not Martin? Who hired the Corpulent Cronies? Do I care? My professional ethics requires me to go through the steps, not necessarily come up with anything. Do I care about professional ethics? I don’t think so.
By this time we had passed through the City and approached the Golden Gate Bridge and, as is often the case when one does and the sun is shinning, all thoughts slide from ones consciousness replaced by infatuation with the panorama of the red-orange bridge, the water below, the boats on the bay, the cliffs and the mountains. To my right the City, its towers gleaming in the sun, always made me think of it as a mystical mythical place. Few cities rise up directly from the water so they can be seen whole from a distance. Hong Kong, but it is just an endless wall of towers, gaudy but not mystical. Lower Manhattan always appears too determined to be mythical. San Francisco is not a real City, it is too happy. It’s citizens care little about what goes on beyond its borders. Perhaps the smoke from the billion or so joints smoked here since the sixties has by now bonded with the ever-present fog leaving the place forever enshrouded in cannabis enhanced bliss.
By the time I had mused through my meditations about the City we were approaching the Rainbow tunnel which always signaled to me we were leaving one reality for another. I read somewhere that Marin County had more psychiatrists per capita than anyplace else in the whole world. I had always assumed that was because its residents believed that how they felt about themselves meant something to someone other than themselves.
As we passed through the tunnel I dutifully held my breath and placed my finger against the roof of the car as I had been taught and as I taught my children. Why we did it or where it began, who knows. It’s one of those things like certain rhymes one picks up in childhood that seems to come along with the dirt and air of the place where you grew up and eventually seeps into your genes.
Mavis and Joe Vu had stopped talking, put in their ear plugs connected to their respective smart phones and stared out at the road in front of them listening to their generation’s music. Again I felt excluded. I did not understand the music either.
Once we got to the other side, I picked back up on my meditation of the disappearing furniture mystery and my role in it to no greater effect on my understanding than before. Finally we turned off the freeway and drove into a wooded neighborhood nestled in one of the nooks and crannies of the Marin County hills somewhere on the outskirts of Mill Valley.
It was one of the older neighborhoods, originally redwood shacks used as vacation cottages by San Franciscans before the bridge was built when it was still a serious trip to get here. Over the years, others of the upwardly mobile class who now lived in them and commuted over the bridge to work in the City took them over. These new residents expanded the shacks to house their hopefully perfect nuclear families, sparing no expense to maintain the ambience of the neighborhood so that now instead of appearing like a normal subdivision it resembles nothing so much as abandoned piles of redwood blow downs among the trees still standing after the storm.
We turned from the main road on to the typically narrow unmaintained washboard roads of the subdivision. The cars of the mourners were parked all along the road and beyond leaving little space for another car to pass. We threaded our way so far into the bowels of the subdivision to find a place to park that I thought we would never find our way out again. We got out of the car. The area around us looked like an abandoned lumber yard. We wound our way along the rutted road back towards Reilly’s house. Joe, a founding member of the Junior Viet Cong of America led the way with the same aplomb as his ancestors creeping through the jungles of South East Asia. As we came around the last turn, along a pile of well weathered sticks that was the fence that hid Reilly’s property from view, we saw a large black classic Lincoln parked along the side of the lane directly in front of the gate to Reilly’s domain. Leaning against the automobile and staring off into the trees like a committed birdwatcher was our old friend Fat Franny II, the one named Bart.
Jo-Jo’s book report:
Finished reading Nesbro’s “The Leopard.” It takes place sometime after the events in “The Snowman,” (soon to be a major motion picture guaranteed to be nothing like the book and starring someone who won’t look at all like detective Hole; probably a cute bankable male movie-star about a foot shorter than the book’s main character and 100 times better looking).
As I guessed from the hints in the previous novels and from what I know of Nesbro’s frequent trips to BKK, the story begins in the Far-East with Harry Hole holed up in Hong Kong’s Chungking Mansions on Nathan Road. The place is the successor to the walled City of Kowloon’s function as the center of the city’s petite underworld. I know about it because I recall one of my Hong Kong clients, as we passed it on the street one day, pointing up to it with pride as one of his family’s premier development projects and source of much of the family’s wealth.
My emotional connection with Hole increased with Nesbro’s description of him living alone in exile in a small dingy room drunk, stoned and broke. I of course, don’t drink much nor do drugs anymore, primarily because I cannot afford it but also because of my addiction fears. So, I exercise my obsessions by reading six hours or so a day lying on the bed in my darkened room – It is pretty much the same thing as being stoned but not nearly as pleasant.
Anyway, Harry returns to Norway in order to solve a series murders, which he does six or eight times. Each time he is ultimately proven to be wrong causing unbelievable pain and suffering to all around him. Finally, by foolishly stumbling into killing a few innocent people to save the woman he is sleeping with but who is not the woman he really loves, the whole thing ends with a bang so to speak.
One thing I do not like about the books is that in the few occasions when Harry does have sex (He, however, seems to have more as the series of novels progress. I expect the final novel will be indistinguishable from ordinary porn), it is always perfect with both parties deliriously in sync and cumming at the same time. Now, I don’t know what universe Nesbro lives in, but sex can be spectacular or it can be unsatisfying, but it is never perfect; one party always has to wait for the other or ends up lying in the wet spot.
2013: The United States has less than 5% of the world’s population but 23% of the world’s prison population. Of the 15 States with the largest percentage of their citizens incarcerated 13 of them are from the old South. Louisiana imprisons its citizens at over twice the rate of any other state in the union. The United States imprisons a larger percentage of its black population than South Africa did at the hight of apartheid.
What this means is that for the last 250 years the American South has been, for millions of people, one of the most oppressive places on earth. We should not forget that if you were a white German Protestant, Germany was a pretty cool place for you to live in the 1930s. You would have thought that you enjoyed all the fruits of liberty, freedom and economic health and that those imprisoned were criminals, foreigners or threats to your security.
It also should be noted that the Civil War was about the politics of power as well as slavery. Under the Constitution at that time it was permissible to count slaves as citizens for purposes of determining the number of members to the House of Representatives allocated primarily to the South while at the same time not allowing those same “pseudo-citizens” the right to vote on who those Representatives would be.
The various political controversies over who can vote at the polls that we are experiencing today carries on this dispute. Republicans, especially in the South want the ability to restrict which citizens can vote, but continue to insist the allocation of the number of their Representatives in Congress be based on including those whom they do not allow to vote.
To be fair and balanced, I should mention that, on the other hand, Democrats would like to enable everyone to vote and be counted, even foreign international travelers as they change planes in an American airport on their way to their destination in another country.
“I have problems with a religion that says faith in itself is enough for a ticket to heaven. In other words, that the ideal is your ability to manipulate your own common sense to accept something your intellect rejects. It’s the same model of intellectual submission that dictatorships have used throughout time, the concept of a higher reasoning without any obligation to discharge the burden of proof.”
Nesbo, Jo. The Redeemer.
“There was only one thing emptier than having lived without love, and that was having lived without pain.”
Nesbo, Jo. The Redeemer.
Each separate color shows an area with approximately the same population as California. The smallest of which elects about 6 US Senators and the largest almost 30. California is allowed only 2. The top ten states have over 50% of the nation’s population, but only 20% of the votes in the Senate. California with over 10% of the population has 2% of the votes. The 10 States with the smallest populations have less than 2% of the nations people but controls 20% of the Senate.