2/29/It's twenty past five a.m. Monday morning, Sunday ...It's twenty past five a.m. Monday morning, Sunday night back there, Oscar night specifically. The morning is cool, still and empty. The night passed quickly.
A few days ago, I thumbed through a journal I'd kept while travelling through India with Christina Vogt Oliver. That was the year I left her in Kathmandu because I had to return to work earlier that she did. She went back to India, met Mother Theresa and two days later, the saint on earth died.
We had been to Rishikesh, a village made famous because the Beatles went there to learn at the feet of the Maharishi and write the White Album. I think most guide books point this out more than they do the importance of the sanctity of the village.
We'd walked down a street lined with small snack shops and everybody remembered Christina from her ashram days. They'd remembered her mainly for her haggling prowess and her large blond hair.
I was grateful for those moments. We were financially well off after working four or five jobs between us throughout the year in Kuwait. We passed out a lot of money to beggars.
It was my first trip to India and I hadn't expected the beggar scene to be so irritating. Handing them money did no good. In fact, it made them more aggressive; no amount was ever enough to shoo them off. On a Saturday afternoon, on our way to the Red Fort in Delhi, we walked passed two beggars, mother and daughter huddled together, squatting Asian style on the sidewalk. As soon they saw us, the mother dispatched her young daughter to run after us. I was about to give her ten rupees, but CV intervened. She was really hacked off and she yelled at the kid. I didn't undertand at first how she could yell at a child. The child took it in stride and returned empty handed to her mother.
CV explained to me, "Didn't you see the jewelry she was wearing-the earrings, the necklace? Her dress was new. That bracelet on her wrist means she's a an upper caste. This is just a Saturday afternoon sport for them. Save your money for someone who really needs it."
I'd forgotten how annoying beggars can be until I moved to Taif and onto this compound. There are a lot of Bangla Deshi men wandering about picking up trash, weeding the garden on the round-abouts. They all want to earn extra money, and the only option they have is to get hired on by one of us as a houseboy and gardener. For less than a hundred dollars a month, I could have a well tended lawn, rose bushes, a landscaped front and backyard, my house cleaned everyday, clothes washed, ironed, bed made, hot meals waiting for me. The problem is choosing one. As soon as I come home from work, they are waiting outside my house. Three of them yesterday. Four the day before. "No suh, I am good house boy, hire me. Please suh. I not lazy boy." Yesterday a fistfight nearly broke out. "No suh, I come to you first. He lazy boy."
These are men, like me, far from home, like me, with children. I have a child. They do not sleep in a three bedroom villa. They sleep ten to twenty to a warehouse floor. We are all lonely for home. It is as heartbreaking as much as it is irritating. 2/29/The military work is not much different from worki...The military work is not much different from working in an intensive university or community college language program, that is classroom management can often have you staring into the abyss.
The real problem seems to be the officer-in-charge. You might luck out from time-to-time and during a particular cycle have a genuinely enlightened officer who conducts himself with admirable bearing and is willing to allow the teachers to do the job they were hired to do--teach. This fellow will be sure to back you up in the classroom and give some thought to any tweaks you might have for the program.
On the other hand, you could easily wind up with a socio-pathic task master who has about as much tact and humanity as an SS goon pummeling the elderly and infirmed hobbling off a cattle car at Bergen-Belsen. 2/28/When the oil is gone or there is no more need for ...When the oil is gone or there is no more need for it, this jaundiced desert will one day reclaim the land. It will not take eons to cover the concrete highways and bury the Starbucks in the shopping malls. It's a waiting game.
The desert mountains surrounding Taif have been carved by the same incessant winds that carried to Abraham a demand for sacrifice, that heard the Son's agonizing question, "Why?" and delivered the songs of Gabriel to the Prophet.
Now the desert shares nothing with us except for its loud, parched flurries and sand storms. It turns us yellow and dries us out like old newspapers.
The bedouin still sleeps in the shade of his tent, waiting for the moon to rise. I wait for its cycles, the waxing, the full, the waning moon, the illumination, the pollination, the end of the month, wait for the months to pass, wait for my next time out.
I awaken in dark solitude and listen to the voices beyond the walls and barbed wire, on the other side of the brown guards dozing behind their sand bags and guns. The muezzins cry out the greatness of God and His messenger. Each morning I stay in bed those five extra minutes listening to the voices, remembering your smile. I want to reach out for you but my hand is consumed by pitched dawn.2/28/"You don't want to hear the truth," she said, agai..."You don't want to hear the truth," she said, again.
"I didn't say I want to hear the truth," he opened the door and turned towards her. "I want us to be honest with each other."
She had pulled herself into a ball, quietly sobbing on the kitchen floor.
He believed less in the truth than he did in lies. A lie for him was closer to honesty because of its transparency.
"Please don't leave."she said.
For him, the truth is to honesty what falling is to flying.
"You have your truth; I have mine."
"I want my Mama," she sobbed.
"You only think you do, " he said. "
"Mama," she sobbed.
He closed the door with a thud. 2/27/Life in Taif is like living in a sci-fi bubble cit...Life in Taif is like living in a sci-fi bubble city on a distant planet. The compound stands alone and is about ten miles from the nearest town--which is Taif. We are much closer to Mecca than to Jeddah. The holiest city is at the foot of the mountain; Taif is near the top.
Yesterday, there was a shoot-out in Taif between the Saudi military and two members of Al Qaeda.
The security for this compound is tighter. At the first checkpoint there is not only a heavy machine gun but what looks like something heavier, sort of armor piercing gun like the kind mounted on a Bradley, probably a 22mm. The soldiers guarding us wear helmets instead of soft caps. The speak no English.
Once inside the compound there are about fifty or so houses that they call villas. They are these working-class three bedroom numbers, nicely furnish, carpeted. They would make a good starter home for a young family. Unlike my flat in Jeddah, my house came with a Mr. Coffee, a large micro-wave, TV, washing machine and dryer, dish washer, a blender and a cuisinart.
The sofa and chairs are thickly cushioned and covered with durable dark blue fabric. The living room curtains are 70s style striped beige, orange and dark brown. They match the patio curtains.
I brought the scrawny kitten "Timmy" with me. I found him scurrying around a dumpster outside the Jeddah compound. When I call him, I use the Southpark voice the kid in the wheelchair uses; the only word that kid says is his name, "Timmy."
A. sent me an Email full of lasciviousness winking and drooling emoticons; consummation of friendship is imminent. 2/26/Last night I telephoned A., the Polish nurse with ...Last night I telephoned A., the Polish nurse with the nice ankles and asked her if she'd like to have supper with me. She agreed. There was one small problem. As a single woman living in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, she couldn't tell the gate guard that it was ok to give me a pass onto the compound.
Fortunately, I know a couple who lives there. I know him from work. His wife and I do what we can to rehabilitate dumpster cats. They phoned the guard house and had my name put on the safe list.
I rendevoused with A. at the appropriate time and place, but she looked surprised to see me. "What are you do-in'k here?"
Her accent was no thicker than Meryl Streep's pitch perfect performance in Sophie's Choice.
She was wearing a white tank top with the number "88" on the front, a pair of washed out jeans and a thick white belt. She'd applied eye liner that suggested she'd been reading up on ancient Egyptian beauty secrets. Her blond hair was cut just above her shoulders, with bangs, a bit like Beatles '66.
"I'm here to have dinner with you." She looked relieved when I told her.
"I thought'chu w'are the other Dafeed."
There are five "Dafeeds" on this job project. Apparently he'd called her a few times during the week, as I did. I suppose our voices and accents are indistinguishable. But more than that, our tentative flirtations over the phone most have covered the same ground, "how was your day?" "how is your roommate?" "have they finished painting your apartment yet."
I find it amusing that the other David and I conduct ourselves similarly when initiating pre-date chitter chatter.
I wonder if he and I have read the same articles on first date dinner conversation, those which suggest to the feller to not talk himself up at all, but to ask sincere questions about her family, her life and her work. I wonder if the other David would have learned by the end of the evening that her parents divorced when she was seven, that her older sister is much older--eleven years. Would he have also found out that Saudi women are the most battered of any women in the other countries where she's worked as a nurse?
She also gave me a Polish folk remedy for my cough.
"Put one peeled onion in a glass and three soup spoons of sugar on the onion. V'ait twelve hours then drink the liquid that is sweating from the onion. "Theeze is very gut, I swear eet."
After the meal we walked back to her apartment for a cup of tea and some chocolates. We talked about this and that. I did not look through her medicine cabinet.
I had to have the truck returned to the motor pool by eleven, so I didn't have plans to make a move. Still, I wanted her to know that she excited me, so I asked for a kiss.
"Dafeed," she said, "Why you v'ant to be so quickly?"
First date for chrissakes.
The best I could come up with was, "I'm only human and you're very attractive." Oh, the games we play.
I told her there is a really nice Chinese Restaurant on the beach and that next week when I come back to Jeddah, I would like to take her there."
"Sure," she said, "Vy not?"
I gave her the European air kisses near both cheeks, walked briskly back to the truck and had the keys returned to the motor pool by 11:05.
2/26/Tomorrow afternoon, I move to Taif. I'll have a th...Tomorrow afternoon, I move to Taif. I'll have a three bedroom, three bathroom villa there. I'll also keep my one bedroom here in Jeddah. I think the place in Jeddah will be home. The place in Taif will be just a place I stay in five days a week. This isn't cast in stone.
I have a few things on my walls here. Hanging on one wall is the wooden bug-eyed spirit head from Sri Lanka. I put up the Arab cast iron skillet with the three foot handle. They use this to roast coffee beans over an open fire. T. gave me a painting of the two of us embracing. I also put up the only picture I have of my late father. In the photograph he is about seven years old. It was taken during World War Two. He must have belonged to some sort of young boys home guard as he has on an Army dress uniform, smiling proudly as if it he'd just been awarded a Medal of Honor. I also have the Home magazine cover from the 1920s which was a wedding gift from PB to CV and me second year in Kuwait.
Some men leave their walls bare. They stay with the same blinds or water-stained curtains which were there before they'd moved in. The same goes for the bed linen and blanket. They aren't interested in making an attempt to settle in. They are here to make a boatload of money then leave, carrying the same two pieces of luggage they brought with them.
Other men make an effort. Even though the flats come furnished with a bed, sofa, chairs, a table and a desk, overall, they need something less Spartan. So they collect extra pieces of furniture. I knew someone who bought a two thousand dollar Barca Lounger with as many push buttons as a calculator. I've known men who have brought spoils of their travels and display them in cases; things like Tibetan Thangkas, Tibetan prayer bowls, hand carved Japanese begging cats, rugs from Morocco, Iran, Afghanistan.
I am somewhere in between. In Taif I plan to pick up a couple of asparagus ferns for the cats to chew on, a couple of ficus trees,mother-in-law tongues, occasionally a bunch of flowers and maybe come cacti.
When I first went to Kuwait, I'd brought along a Dream Machine alarm clock. My Martin guitar easily killed three or four hours each day. The radio was for the news. We picked up Armed Forces NPR. The only other thing I'd collected there was a three-legged cat with a rhino infection that daily built a mask of green snot so thick around his nostrils that he had to breathe through his mouth.
The two times I've been "married" over here, I lived in Better Homes and Gardens.
2/24/Listening to the rain at three in the morning is t...Listening to the rain at three in the morning is to hear the angels drumming on your window, reminding you that there is no such thing as what could've been, or what might've been or what used to be. The only thing in this world that we should concern ourselves with is what is happening now. Everything is happening now and everything is as it should be. Forgetting this is forgetting how to live.
Post Hajj Flus, Blues and Mardi Gras Krewes
Mardi Gras ended yesterday. Let the Lenting begin. If everything in the universe has its polar opposite, then Mardi Gras has Hajj. The former is for spiritual degeneration; the latter for spiritual regeneration. This year in New Orleans, a woman in a crowd of thousands trying to catch beads from passing floats was gunned down in a random, senseless shooting.
This year at Hajj, nearly 300 people in a crowd of hundreds of thousands, on their return trek from throwing stones at the devil, were trampled to death. A Muslim would not consider this to be senseless. It is Inshaillah. God's will. If you die on Hajj you enter Paradise first class with a backstage pass. Islamic Paradise surprisingly is not unlike Mardi Gras. There are rivers of wine, and platters of fruits, meats and breads in abundance--sort of like a buffet at Mr. B.'s Bistro.
The main difference is the virgins awaiting Muslim men in heaven are not only chaste, but they don't pee, poo, or have periods. I guess that means the men don't have to share their food and drink with the women. A man in Islamic heaven is issued 72 of these secretion and defecation deficient virgins. The Quran promises him that he will he spend eternity horizontally.
The Quran doesn't say what women are entitled to when they leave this world. If she inherits 72 virgin boys, does that mean she has gone to Hell?
Paradise for me would include a couple of Eastern European 30 something pros and an unlimited supply of hundred dollar bills.
This year, the avian influenza arrived in Saudi Arabia from Indonesia. This overshadowed the usual outbreaks of Hepatitis B from Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt.
I have had some sort of aggressive flu off and on for three weeks now.
I better understand why the women here in Saudi Hijab (cover) with a full face veil. In most Gulf Arab countries, the women mainly Hijab with only head scarves and Abiyyas, the thin black robes. Only a few women veil in Kuwait, Qatar, the UAE, Oman. Here it is the other way around. They veil their faces to protect their skin from the sun, to protect their modesty from leering men and to protect themselves from airborne diseases much the way Koreans wear surgical masks in large crowds of pedestrian traffic.
2/24/Tomorrow night there will be another Filipino disc...Tomorrow night there will be another Filipino disco party. It will be a poolside dinner party with the disco floor set up inside the restaurant overlooking the pool.
The buffet and the people will be a mix bag from the Philippines, Arab countries, America, the UK and South Africa. There will be mounds of pancit, sauteed noodles with fresh vegetables and shrimp; samosas and buriyani, barbequed chicken and deep fried fish.
The Filipino women will all be wearing their sex kitten uniforms; their black leather pants or LBDs; some will have on their push up bras attempting to cast a shadow of cleavage. They will be accompanied by their more mature husbands, those western men with their middle-age pot bellies who have finally found their beautiful life partners on the Internet or from mail order brochures; men trying to roll back all those years spent waiting for Fate to deliver someone special into their lives.
There will also be a lot of Arab homies--the shebab--wearing oversized ankle-length pants with cargo pockets, baseball caps pushed off-centered or reversed, their short black hair slicked down and parted down the middle, and of course running shoes as big as combat boots with laces untied.
Some of the South African nurses from the compound next to mine will tag along. I used to think that most of them are of Indian descent--they have the same skin tones, mocha bronze, but as it turns out they come from basically the same racial mix as the creoles of New Orleans--white male settlers and African women.They are called the Khoi-Khoi (pronounced key-key) people of Cape Town. The whites call them Hottentots.
I might go if A. is up to it. 2/24/Character Sketch Though he was confident that ...Character Sketch
Though he was confident that he could handle all manners of dialogues and discussions on just about any subject whether he knew a lot about the subject or nothing at all, he was beginning to question his method of defending his argument. At the first suggestion that he might not be an authority on some subject--a quote mistakenly attributed to the wrong person, the wrong year for a water shed moment in history--he had a long standing habit of falling back on one-liners that he'd been using since his days at the university or even earlier.
“Well, you can make that claim, but then there are those who claim to have been abducted by UFOs,” or “what I find troubling about your logic is that it isn’t unique,” or “you won’t have to tell me to keep your opinion secret. It isn’t worth repeating.” 2/23/LIFE IN TAIF An EFL Teacher's Attitude of Gratitu...LIFE IN TAIFAn EFL Teacher's Attitude of Gratitude and other ramblings
TAIF is not an acronym for Thanks Allah It's Friday. Taif is one hour from Mecca; Mecca is at the bottom of the mountain; Taif is on top. There are several parks around town, and it is one of the few cities in this part of the world where trees don't require their own desalinated irrigation systems. Taif is cold in the winters and cool in the summers.
Jeddah is about an hour and a half from there. I'll keep my one bedroom in Jeddah and I'll be issued a three bedroom villa in Taif. On weekends, I will come down from the mountain, giving Mecca a wide berth then head north towards Jeddah. On the road to Mecca there is a Christian by-pass. The sign reads Christians Exit Here as infidels are not allowed to enter Mecca. The sign doesn't indicate whether or not half-stepping Buddhists must also take the exit. On my visa application I checked Christian for my religion only because there wasn't a box for a half-stepping Buddhist.
When I was a child, and my friends and I would play "ring the doorbell then run", I always volunteered to be go up to the stranger's house, sneak up to the front door and ring the doorbell while my friends hid in the bushes. That part of me begs the question, what would happen if I didn't take the exit?
I thank you oh Mystery of Mysteries, the Creator of all creatures big and small, all things bright and beautiful, the Granter of two-for-ones and Lord of fat free Pringles for this opportunity to have both a pied-Ã -terre two blocks from the Red Sea and a three bedroom villa in the Saudi summer resort of Taif.
Part of this Al Anon program strongly suggests prayer. They say fake it till you make it. Brothers and sisters, I am afraid I've been faking it. Yes, I do get on my knees most evenings and most mornings and pray. I pray the Serenity Prayer.'
"Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference. Please. Amen."
I sometimes begin the prayer this way: "Whoever You are, Wherever You are, Whatever You are. . . You He? You She? You It? You They? If You are there then please "Grant me the serenity. . . .
Any sudden changes on the compound, like my transfer, creates a distraction from routine and gives the compound scandalmongers the conspiracy theories they need in order to breathe. Without rumors, they'd dry up "like a dream deferred." (Hansberry)
In all likelihood, I am going to Taif because it was my original assignment.
The new cycle of officers here in Jeddah have about half the number of students enrolled as last cycle--sixty; there are already six teachers. I am redundant here. In Taif, they are desperate for teachers.
Still, there may also be another more dubious reason.
If the pros and the cons of living and working in Saudi Arabia were thoroughbreds crossing the finish line, there would be a photo finish with the pros winning by a nose based on the sweet salary package. In a race best two out of three, the cons would take it.
Last week, the officer in charge of the operation, a Major Al Zipperhead (zip is close to the Arabic word for penis) held a brief meeting that had nothing to do with curriculum; everything to do with our responsibilities vis-à-vis late students, sleeping students, students who don't do their homework, etc.
And just how is a lowly infidel language teacher supposed to discipline a Saudi Army captain? (Do I have to refer to Joseph Heller's Yosarian here?)
Simply put, the students' non-academic shortcomings are 100% the teacher's problem. A student wanders in late--the teacher is at fault. The student nods off during class--the teacher is to blame. A student chatters inclass or whips out his cell phone and begins making calls--teachers are to blame. A student cheats on a test--the teacher is in a world of hurt.
So as our brief meeting concluded, this Saudi Major asked, "Any questions?"
I said, "Yes." This was a faculty meeting, wasn't it? I am faculty. Faculty asks questions in faculty meetings. I didn't invent this protocol.
I proceeded to ask a couple of relevant questions like, "Can we depend on classroom leaders, those higher ranking officers with the most time and grade to assist us?"
He responded with a terse, "No. You have to do it all."
I then asked (not provocatively but proactively) "Can we offer some sort of incentives to encourage student cooperation and unit cohesion? Use a carrot as well as a club?"
I imagine that during an execution, when the warden grimly gives the nod, everyone in witness room holds their breath just before the executioner throws the switch. That was the sort of tension that I felt after asking the questions. My colleagues began to scan the ceiling, drum their fingers, look at their watches, look away from me, a few cleared their throats.
"Any questions" as it turns out is an idiomatic expression that means, "Shut the eff up and get back to work you infidel scum."
He didn't have any answers. He'd just had his military leadership questioned. There is no such thing as esprit de corps or unit élan in the Saudi military.
The US should stop sending Israel so much money for so many reasons, most of them ethical and moral based on the unforgivable way the Palestinians are treated, but another reason is that the Israelis don't need the money. In a stand-up fight between Zionists and Gulf Arabs, it could end up a one-sided slaughter. Gulf Arab soldiers aren't asked for input, never ask questions and in combat, the ability to take charge during crisis from the lowest grunt on up is how battles are won.
When battling with Gulf Arabs, to avoid slaughter, simple take out the leader and the fight is over. No soldier of lower rank is permitted to make his own decisions nor question arbitrary leadership. With the leader out of the way, everyone else will throw down their rifles, hitch a ride home to have tea and surf for porn.
Point of anecdote: One never questions a Saudi officer, nor suggests a tweak to an established method of instruction.
Sub-point of the anecdote: the Saudi royals no more wish for things to improve for the Palestinians than the 51% of Israelis zealots who feel the same way. If the 49% of the Israelis who are human enough to recognize the injustices their country inflicts upon the six million dispossessed Palestinians (an ironic number, no?) could have their way and do the right thing to bring an end to the suffering, the thousands upon thousands of members of Saudi royal family who live in obscene opulence wouldn't be able to use the smoke and mirrors of Jew baiting demagoguery to plunder the oil wealth while most Saudis earn less than a US high school kid working thirty hours a week at Burger King. Those kids flipping burgers in the US are saving for cars, guitars and prom night. Most Saudis have families to support.
Sub-sub point:Why is it that Hollywood loves to make films which champion the rights of all the world's underdogs? The blacks of South Africa. The Tibetans in exile. The gentle but brutalized people of Myanmar and Cambodia. The plight of Mexican migrant workers. The Bosnians. The Kosovars. Rocky Balboa. All of the world's underdogs have had Hollywood going to bat for them, that is all of the world's underdogs except one. Six million people whose families have called that strip of land that looks like a dagger their home for as many thousands of years as their oppressors. Six million people who are also Semites and who in all probability have Hebrew ancestors. 1,500 years ago they converted to Islam in order to keep their heads. Then for 700 hundred years the Turks slapped them around just for the sport of it. 60 years ago they were sent packing because the UN told them they had to. Now there's a story about underdogs. The movie could begin with a bang by re-enacting the massacres at Sabra and Shatilla, massacres every bit as gruesome as the Washitaw River, Wounded Knee or Baba Yar. Why won't Hollywood tell their story? I'd really would like to know.2/22/Driftage (initial rough draft) (The idea for th...Driftage (initial rough draft)
(The idea for this story is based on a relationship I had with CV in Kuwait a few years back. At the time, I kept handwritten journals. These notebooks covered about 15 years of my life--the good, the bad, the butt ugly. I'd kept them in a closet, unsecured. I had asked her not to read them alone. I told her that it might be fun to go over them together. I would gladly read them with her. But I didn't want her to take anything out of context. I don't know what CV got out of my journals other than a lot of resentments. Our marriage never recovered from her snooping. If there's a theme here that I wish to work with it is our inescapable subjective pasts and how others seek to be empowered in a relationship knowing more about us than we know of them)
Her face was flushed with anticipation as she took her deliberate time to look through a journal he'd kept before he met her. She turned each page slowly and carefully so as not to disturb his sleep. Each page had in its upper left hand corner the date written American style month/date/year. Under that, he'd noted morning, afternoon or night. On the back of the previous page of writing were illustrations with scribbled after thoughts. The drawings were hers, his previous companion. Under the sketches were cryptic love notes--she'd written a line, passed it to him and he'd answered; most of it seemed to center around their secret language for sex. He'd also jotted down ideas for stories based on their experiences. There were no blank pages.
The pages also recalled conversations which had taken place mostly in cafes, in restaurants, airport waiting areas, hotel rooms and on forms of public transport like buses and trains. Scattered throughout poems, nothing longer than four or five lines. There were also matter-of-fact accounts of where they'd been, what they'd eaten, how much they were spending and descriptions of the people which sounded like police bulletins--young male, brown skin, 5'5, approx. 15, polished dress shoes with no socks, selling bottled water. Of the people he'd met on planes and in the hotels, he seemed intolerant . Of the local people in towns, and villages, his words were always soft and sympathetic.
Of his previous partner he'd written, We are sitting in a sunlit Japanese restaurant. She has ordered no food, but only green tea. The lunchtime place is empty. Our waiter's eyes are very dark and they match his hair."
"she never answers questions about her past; won't make a commitment beyond the end of the summer. She shrugs her shoulders whenever I ask for some input or give her an opportunity to do something besides those things I suggest. She never expresses emotions which are insincere or manufactured for effect. It is the wine that makes her tears seem spurious, as it does for us all. In fact, sober she is rarely herself at all. Sobriety has the effect of clouding her senses, obscuring the happy-go-lucky girl, the girl so full of life. It isn't until she has her first glass of wine in the evenings that she is able to break her silence and waver between the unhappy introvert, lacking in energy and enthusiasm and the romantic, exotic lover full of ambitions, unaware of limitations. Both her sadnesses and joys seem to eclipse all of the worlds revolving around her life--her teenaged children, the single mothers who see in her the answer to their prayers for the one person whom they just knew could turn their troubled sons and daughter around.
She could turn her back on everything but the most basic elements, concentrating all of her psychic energy on the simplest elements like earth, water and fire. Most women I've known slowly assemble a home and life by an amassment of furniture, framed prints of Renoir and Matisse, collections of herbs and spices , recipes and always boxes and boxes of photographs.
Her best friend has eight rooms in her a house and a television in each room; she has only a radio in her studio which is tuned to classical and mellow jazz stations. She is an oddity in the town because she didn't live for the cycle of insult and retaliation plus she lacks gossiping skills. She knows she has failed as a soccer mom, but this never causes her to lose sleep at night.
Stapled oppposite this page was a napkin in which she'd sketched the waiter's eyes.
2/21/"Weekend nights are a rare excuse for one to look..."Weekend nights are a rare excuse for one to look both shaggable and amazonian here...in public." Elizabeth Briel
(This is part of the story Currents and continues with the theme of letting go)
Sometime after she finished her first glass of wine, before she got too deeply involved with her second, she could become this lighter than air creature, always in control of the men around her. By the end of glass three, she had this dark side to her, and this slightly jealous side; a side that she herself wasn't aware of.
He was no picnic at the beach. In the beginning, generally lasting up to a year, being with him could be bliss. One year and twenty-four hours later , if things didn't go his way, he could be hell on earth. He was aggressive and being in love with him meant putting up with his relentless name-calling and threats to leave--he always threatened to leave her.
If they were both sober, life was safe, but they could be bored stiff with each other. But the periods of sobriety were short lived. First she would cave; days later, resentments got the best of him, and he would ask her to pour one for him.
Before he left the country again, it was just after Thanksgiving when he once again made an appeal, the same one he'd made weeks earlier, and weeks before that, going back to the time they'd just gotten back from France, the summer the pattern became apparent to him. late November. She was on holiday from school. He was waiting for his visa Saudi Arabia.
He suggested a four day period with no work, no stress, a week that would include modest but invigorating walks, a diet of lemon water and fresh fruit. A few days that first would exclude alcohol and most certainly drugs. They could read twelve step literature or the Kabbalah, the Koran, maybe some Sutras, Baghavagita, even the Alchemist if necessary.
"What can I say?" she answered.
He said, "I don't know."
She paused at length then said, "What i want to say is yes. It sounds great. I could use a holiday from my life. However, it is not fair to you."
"Why?" he asked.
"Because, " she said, " I am not in the place you want me to be in and all your hard work in sobriety would be lost. I am being so honest. I hold you deeply in my heart but it would be selfish of me to take you back to the way things were.Your suggestion is a good one,but I couldn't handle my own failure right now. I can't handle any more disappointment. And if I fail, if we fail, I will not be able to ever move forward from this thing."2/20/BS called yesterday afternoon and invited me to di...BS called yesterday afternoon and invited me to dinner. His wife, C. is from Mexico. I wouldn't complain if I had to eat her black bean soup every day of the week for the rest of my life.
My companion was A. a nurse who has been in country just a few months. She works at the military hospital next to the Air Defense Base where I teach. She is from Poland and her accent is thick but charming; it is not any heavier than, say, Greta Garbo.
A. is tall and slender, not busty; she has attractive ankles. We talked for hours about everything and nothing, our family trees, politics Polish cinema.
This morning I called to be sure that she got home OK, and, worked in an "Oh, by the way, how about dinner Monday?"
Time elapsed between my asking and her answering .025 seconds.
Tone of voice: an enthused, "Sure, why not."
DK came by at ten to rehearse some St. Patrick's Day songs. We played for about three hours.
I met the Filippino dance band for our first rehearsal around 2 and we practiced until ten tonight. They do a version of the Cranberries "Zombie" which really gave me a buzz. It was a blast playing melodic solos outside of the pentatonic blues box.
I still miss T., but it's time to move on.
I really thought I had a shot at a life long monogamous relationship with her. Yes, I miss her, but I don't miss the drinking and the brawls; my life has gone completely back to normal without her.2/19/Currents (short story synopsis) (The theme I w...Currents (short story synopsis)
(The theme I wish to approach here is knowing when to let go)
We rafted our way towards the Bridge over the River Kwai--not the one in Myanmar, but the one in Sri Lanka. Years ago, William Holden and Alec Guinness had come to the Kitugala River to film a movie.
We'd shot most of the grade four and five rapids before 8 AM. Between 8 and 8:30, we'd come to bend in the river where the current wasn't too strong. T. and I jumped in without our life jackets. I find the life jackets restrict movements and the helmets make it difficult to hear the guide calling out the strokes. The water was swift. T. was immediately pulled down river. I swam after her, reached her and held onto her. I tried to swim us both towards the bank kicking hard and pulling us along with my one free hand. Soon it became apparent that I had only enough physical strength to get myself to the river bank. I gave her a strong push towards the bank before I released her and swam on my own, not knowing if she could. For a brief moment, I had to imagine that I had to save myself or we'd both drown. The shove helped her reach the river bank. After that she wore her life vest. Later, when we came to the footbridge strung 70 feet over Hollywood's River Kwai, Sri Lanka's Kitugala River, when we jumped off the bridge, her life vest rose to smack T. in the face, nearly breaking her nose. Up river, someone hunted river foul. I could hear the rifle reports in the distant. As we pulled the leeches off our legs it sounded like, looked like, felt like "Vietnam: the Movie."
2/17/"Nothing is ever the way it's supposed to be." Lar..."Nothing is ever the way it's supposed to be." Larry McMurtry, The Last Picture Show
Baton Rouge has never been a quaint and rustic deep south jewel. It has its Oak trees. There are one or two relics of an ante-bellum life style--pablum like a third-rate plantation home and an old state capital building that even Mark Twain once panned for its ridiculousness.
During the Civil War, the city was hammered into rubble and burned to cinders by the fellas from the north. Most the books I've read about this war don't even include this event as an asterisk. Maybe Something greater than ourselves, a Higher Transcending Authority willed this to happen; perhaps He wished to put in its place a botanical paradise. Maybe rebuilding the town was an act of defiance and to this day, this is why nothing fresh or original has ever borne fruits of success there.
As long as I've lived there or have had family there, its pathetic heart has been overgrown with weeds. Everyone in this city knows everyone else's business because everyone's business is virtually the same, day in, day out, year after year. In Baton Rouge, more so than any city, state, country, there is almost nothing to do that doesn't involve boozing, getting treatment for boozing, refilling pills, receiving treatment for pills, thinking about football, watching television, eating Chinese food or taking your kids to a multi-plex cinema or a water slide park. There is however this one peak experience which I'm afraid to say is as good as life gets for most people there. It is even better than knowing for fact that there is life after death. It is getting away with fucking someone other than your husband or wife. That's it.
I learned this when I taught my first year at a university there. Nailing students was like shooting fish in a barrel. When I'd decided to pick up a degree in literature when I was 18, I'd considered this to be the most supreme perk, but after a few years of habitual dippings into that barrel,my wormed turned, my yin yanged and I entered my parallel universe where this perk went from godsend to perdition. I fell into into a deep, dark spiritual chasm. And as I looked ahead to the next twenty or thirty years of passing out course requirements while eyeballing the gullible, I said to myself, no more. I took Claudette to a dense jungle for Christmas where we rafted like Huck Finn down the Rio CoCo on a balsa wood raft until we reached a village tucked away in a safe, triple canopy rain forest. For Christmas dinner we drank a local moonshine called Chi Cha and dined on roasted rain forest rat. When I came out of the jungle, I planned my liberation.
I quit teaching freshman composition and introduction to literaure, took a few courses in how to teach English as a second language and moved to Pusan, Korea. I got out.
Eventually, so did T. But she went back after one year. Then I I followed her months later with this thought that in my absence, maybe the Baton Rouge I'd remembered did have some problems, but then, maybe the problems began with me and who I was before I ran off.
When T. returned from her year in my life, my world of arrivals and departures, taxis to trains to hotels, North Face, hiking boots, tea in the morning instead of coffee, to announce her return as local artist turned adventurer, she made arrangements with her best friend to have a show at the local arts council. Having a best friend at the Baton Rouge Arts Council who is responsible for scheduling shows is like knowing a doctor who will give you free B complex injections on demand. You could piss on the gallery floor, give it a name like "House Cat Crossing the Red Sea" and the local art critic will obligingly bang out one of her generic five-star reviews.
The show was called "Moments of Grace" and its hook was that she and I were sponsoring a village school in Nepal. This wasn't true of course. I mean, we had run a day school one morning on the rooftop of a medieval Nepali village called Bhaktaphur, and I did have a vision (which later I questioned as my own delusion) that one day we would return to Nepal and open that school, but at the time, there was none. It was a crock, but its how things are done there.
When I asked her if she could get away with this, inventing whole cloth a shadowy act of charity, she told me, "People want to believe that what they're seeing in a gallery is more than art; they want to believe that there is a story behind it. The story increases its value." Besides, this is Baton Rouge. Nobody is going to ask questions.
I now take pity on the town; I see it as sort of an overlooked, not-to-bright middle child. Its older brother is to the east--New Orleans. New Orleans is Louisiana's hot blooded son who has succeeded beyond all expectations at everything he has set out to accomplish. New Orleans has countless loyal friends throughout the world.
To the west is Lafayette, the cherished baby of the family that can do no wrong.
Between these two cities is a feckless sibling, Baton Rouge.
2/17/This and That "Fool! -- you fell victim to one ...This and That
"Fool! -- you fell victim to one of the classic blunders -- the most famous is 'never get involved in a land war in Asia.' " (William Goldman, The Princess Bride)
The capture of Saddam is what all of humanity has been striving for since humankind first became bi-pedal and capable of improving on last year's garden implements. Finally, we will now have an end to disease, crime, poverty, famine, war and God willing, Justin Timberlake.
I wonder if my being here now will qualify me for the VFQ--Veterans of Foreign Quagmires.
I've narrowed down my alternative job choices in the event I have to leave Saudi Arabia soon: teaching 5 year olds at a Hagwan in Korea at same place called The Happy Top Language School or I can go to Amsterdam and get a job mopping up stalls at an adult video store.
Who wants to do the math? At the current rate of US KIAs, and if the increased percentage continues to climb exponentially, when will we hit 58,000 (give or take), the magic number for calling it quits during our last no win war?
Is it just me or has Ramadan has really gotten to be too commerical? For example, remember when Ramadan lights didn't go up until mid-month of Sha'aban? Now we see them around town as early as the month of Rajab! And the lights should come down the first week of the month of Shawwal, but I've seen them still up and blazing away as late as Dhul Qa'da.
Rushdie's premise in THAT book was that the Prophet was motivated by profit. If you skip past the Bollywood actor parts and other framing devices, THAT book actually is not a bad piece of historical fiction. (I'm bucking for a fatwah)
True! Sign at a Yemeni mental health clinic : PsychotheRapist
“Here lies a Saudi EFLer Who finally tired Of Al Jazeera A good linguist is ne'er forgot Whether he saves a fortune Or goes home with squat"
"When I was here I wanted to be there. When I was there, all I could think of was getting back. . .Every man has got a breaking point" (J. Milius, Apocalypse Now!)
You say hooker like it's a bad thing.
"San Francisco is a gay mecca" "South Beach is a mecca for sun worshippers" "Paris is a mecca for gourmands." So what do they call a popular gathering place in Mecca?
I can understand why the Saudis want Americans to have an extensive physical before entering the kingdom, but Canadians? Everybody loves Canadians. They are all just so darn cuddly.
If Paul McCartney reverts to Islam, then Makkah would be a mecca for Macka.
Do they have hamburger joints in the holiest of cities called Mecca Donald's?
There are many flautists in Saudi. You will also find mouth organists, bag pipers, piccolo players, tube steak trumpeters and joystick whistlers. Unfortunately, it's mostly an all male orchestra.
"Deferred gratification" or BSB syndrome (Bachelor Status Back-up) does not cause permanent brain damage.
Being straight and unmarried doesn't necessarily mean one will have a sexless life in KSA, unless your definition of sex includes being with another person.
I heard "Baker Street" on the radio today driving home from work today. I'm retitling it Shurra Al Bakr
""This desert city makes you feel so cold It’s got so many people but it’s got no soul And it’s taken you so long to find out you were wrong When you thought it held everything. . ." (G. Rafferty)
Intellectual stimulation or even job satisfaction might be too much to ask. I'm more interested in a job well done, not just endured.
One major difference between the "threat" of Judeo/Christian fundamentalism vs. Wahhabism, is that back in the US we can loudly question it, criticize it, lampoon it, satirize it, ridicule it, vote against it.
Obviously, the neo-cons haven't thought this thing through.
I think an introvert has an easier time playing the extrovert on an as-needed basis more easily than an extrovert can behave as an introvert if called upon to do so.
As with any Arab langauge program, caveat grammatista .
In the first book of the Bible, Adam and Eve entered into the first monotonous marriage, did they not?
2/16/The last time I was in Saudi Arabia was four years...The last time I was in Saudi Arabia was four years ago and at the time, the words "What in the hell am I doing here?" spun on a loop, round and round, throughout the day and into my long unsettled night. Only on the weekends did the loop mercifully pause.
I was on the east coast, living in a 10 by 15 monk's cell on a compound called Euro Village. The clapboard row of single room flats resembled a chicken coop. There were no walls topped with barbed wire. No machine gun bunkers guarding the gates. In those days, we fought tedium not terrorists.
On Wednesday afternoon, the beginning of the weekend, I would drive from Al Khobar across the causeway to downtown Bahrain where I checked into one of the dozens of two-star hotels.
Polina, Rozalina, Lolita, Alina, Klementina, Natalya, Liliya, Natasha, Alexandra, Anna, Raisa, Veronika, Sophia, Irina, Lidiya, Marina, Nika, Svetlana. . .
Sisters, wives, daughters, mothers would begin tapping on my hotel room door five minutes after I'd entered my room. They were in their early twenties, but in many ways so much older and aging faster than necessary. Their contracts kept them in Bahrain for sixty days. They were strictly confined to the hotels the entire time. The only sunshine they experienced came through windows. They weren't even allowed to go up on the roof. They were detained but not against their will. They could go home at anytime, but they would go home broke and go home to more of the same life that led to their decision to pick up the phone and call an agency.
These must be some of the most disquieting memories for those who decide to accept money to open their legs for many hundreds, maybe thousands of strangers over the course of a few years. It must be one of life's most inextricable regrets. I can imagine that they must either end up born again Christians or middle aged junkies to forget this part of their youth.
As I man, I can think of no counterpart decision that we have to make regarding our bodies and our dignity.
From Wednesday afternoon through Friday afternoon, these Slavic angels of mercy came and went from my hotel room, each time offering themselves for less than the cost of a dinner date at a TGIF back home. I often haggled for the best price, and sometimes I was able to negotiate a bargain, a happy hour arrangement, buy one, get the second for half the price. Nearly every weekend, April through August, I made that drive from my chicken coop in Al Khobar to a two-star hotel in Manama, Bahrain.
I put a stop to it in August. In August, off the coast of Murmansk, on the bottom of the Barents Sea, deep inside the belly of an iron whale, the tapping had stopped.
Anstice, Egor, Fjodor, Boris, Ilya, Konstantin, Demyan, Kostya, Vladmir.
The men of the Russian submarine Kursk had joined the ages and would stay forever young.
And as for those words, "What in the hell am I doing here?" they unmuted that weekend and the loop went round and round every day of the week.
That weekend was my last visit to a two-star hotel in Bahrain.
2/15/Maid Day. I love coming home on Maid Day with the ...Maid Day. I love coming home on Maid Day with the purifying smell of lemon furniture polish wafting through the apartment on the cool air of a window unit. The kitchen sink has been emptied and scoured. The bowls, dishes and silverware are where they should be; the bed is made, clothes have been washed, dried, ironed, folded and put away in drawers or hung up in the closet. The books and magazines scattered around the bed have been put back on their shelves. There are no more gritty beard nubbles in the bathroom sink. Sara, my new maid from Indonesia, even cleaned out the litter box, moved the couch and vacuumed. My Eritrean maid didn't even like my cats.Imagine that--someone who doesn't like cats.
All this tidiness helps to take away the restlessness of another day in the magic kingdom. We drive to work, drive home from work, try to limit our movements beyond the walls. I try not to think about the walls, thick with layers of concertina wire or the heavy machine gun bunkers dispersed at the front, side and back gates. These aren't the ivy covered walls I had aimed for when I declared myself an English major back in the day.
Last year, back home, living with T. I tried to tidy up before she came home. I worked out of an office I'd set up in her dining room. I'd spent many hours throughout the day, from January through May, marketing Artarama, tweaking the web site, promoting the web site, scheduling newspaper, magazine and radio ads, answering dozens of calls and hundreds of questions on the phone. I also tried hard to make a home come together for the two of us.
On the weekends when her daughter came from her father’s house to visit, we even had a family. I’d stock the refrigerator with frozen pizzas. I picked up large bags of gummy bears. I rented videos and set up a karaoke machine for her and her friends when they slept over. I trusted I'd found home.
Without a doubt, I felt at home for the first time in my life. T. and I even had plans to take the marriage of convenience, arranged only to acquire a license in order to live in an Arab country, from its gray marital area and on the far side of summer, we had plans to make it official now that my marriage to C. had been dissolved by the state of California.
Only my sisters and her best friend knew that my marriage to C. hadn’t officially been dissolved and that T. and I had a quick out if things between us soured.
Last spring, T. would come home every week day shortly after five, fatigued, bewildered and fed up. She spent her days with emotionally debilitated teens who were attending a last resort high school. T. had been out of the local school system for a year. When she’d returned to the states, there were no other positions available. Like many of the other teachers there , she was desperate for work. Unlike many of the other teachers, she hadn’t been fired from every teaching job she ever had.
She was always short on art supplies; her boss was this raging crackpot from New York who could whip up an accent and attitude that suggested New Jersey mob ties if he aimed to intimidate. He frequently claimed that he had come to the south on a personal mission to save it from itself.
Every weekday, T. came home stripped of faith, bled empty of hope and incapable of giving or receiving love. Moreover she still grieved for her mother. On top of that she was heartbroken and baffled by the way her brothers behaved during her mother's final days. They both had an appetite for aggression and were silly with greed over whatever impending money and trinkets would come from her mother’s meager estate. On the day their mother died, one of her brothers had threatened to beat her senseless for looking through a box of photos on her own.
T. was also beginning the process of grieving for her children who were no longer children but teens and on the brink of wandering off on their own.
Artarama was going to fix all of this.
Often she came home to find candles burning in the living room and bedroom, a tub full of hot water and bubbles and a large bottle or two of her favorite wine. And there would be flowers. I bought a lot of flowers last year.
Sometimes this helped. Sometimes we would eat our broiled chicken breast and reminisce about our time in Thailand, France, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Ireland, all the striking beauty we’d seen and all those beautiful people we had met.
Other times I ended up making her queasy with my excitement over our future, the promise of a light at the end of her long, dark tunnel of grief, the end of my many years of wandering off on my own.
We were going to travel back to Nepal for our honeymoon. There was this village we'd stayed in and there were people to whom we’d made promises. I even hoped we could take a few of those emotionally debilitated teens with us and teach them how to teach, to pass on their secret gifts.
The sad city of Baton Rouge, a desperate city built on so many uninspired and failed dreams. This is where I'd grown up. T. had once thought of it as a place to be passed through. Then she met and married a local boy who had deadweight dreams about leaving town. Then she was stuck.
I had no clue that as I was spending my retirement savings, money from a sale of land in New Mexico, I was also risking being stuck in this place, this place to be gotten away from. I had no inkling that by July, I could very well be sleeping in roadside parks and scrounging for hand-outs.
Sometimes T. didn’t have the energy for our dreams--which turned out to be just my dream alone. Sometimes she and I wouldn’t have anything to say to each other and instead of reminiscing about beautiful places and people, we’d have glass three, four, glass five trying to light a flame.
Most of time, when we’d emptied all the wine bottles in the house, she would let me know, sometimes with just a look, other times with the cruelty of a truck stop waitress, "You ain't doing it for me, honey."
When we’d emptied all the wine bottles in the house and she turned into that waitress, most of the time I would fly into a panicky rage, shout, yelp, shriek, slam doors, bounce of the walls like a rubber ball then race out of the drive at top speeds with no place to go other than away.
Most of the time, the result of these instances was I would stop drinking for several days or even weeks and beg her to join me. This was never an option for her. She had to spend ten hours a day in ramshackle building that had once been a bank and work alongside teachers--most of whom were also alcoholics and at least one of whom was a crack addict. Sobriety was a luxury she couldn't endure.
There were also times, before or after I tore out of the house when she would lay into me, ripping my shirts. Sometimes she would strike me with her fists and once she drew blood.
Then there were times when she would collapse on the floor and sob heart broken tears and cry over and over, "I want my Mama." When she did this, I would have pulled the moon out of the sky for her if doing so would have allowed her to curl up next to her Mama, to close her eyes, and feel the delicate touch of weightless fingers stroking her forehead, for just a little while longer.
In the mornings, we'd make up, make love, press on with the dream. We made plans to make good on our promises in Nepal, promises to each other to not look back, to keep our eyes on the horizon.
One of the things I remember from Algebra is that a single point is dimensionless, and only one line can pass through two of these dimensionless points. A difficult one for me is the concept of parallel lines. Parallel lines don't run into infinity without connecting. They seem to intersect on the horizon.
We could've lived our lives like parallel lines, where nothing gets criss-crossed, life isn't complicated, everything is always wonderful. It could have been an allusory life. We were two different people whose problem may have been that we didn't have that many differences. We had a lot of shared knowledge of the past. We both grew in large, loud familes. It was easy for us to see ourselves headed into the same uncertain future like parallel lines seeming to intersect one day on the horizon.
Sometimes I think that life is unnecessarily long and too complex. Our cravings for distractions don’t allow us to travel safely from point A to point B. There are too many choices. Our diversions keep us from carrying ourselves swiftly from one logical step to the next and all too often they keep us from reaching our goals, which for most of us is answering the call to return home.
Why can't we complete our travels as children, as teens or even as blossoming adults? Have them dealt with earlier on, learn from them, be redeemed by them, so that if one day we realize what it is we are supposed to be doing, we can bolt upright and sprint like a two-legged cheetah the rest of the way through life without limitations and hazards, and in the end, find our way home.
Why can't we have the wisdom that is so much a part of our final years awarded us much, much earlier and why is it we can finally outlive our deepest regrets when death becomes our silent partner, still carrying those regrets to our dying beds? Why do we allow ourselves so many choices when we have the capacity to understand that free will and choice are overrated? Why can't we choose to not ever have to choose, live a life of subtle rewards, humble ourselves in safe routine. What is it that allows us to go with our gut feelings and the consequences that follow?
There had been someone else after the divorce, before me. She loved him the most because he seemed to express joy in everything he did. She found certain sensuality in his self-indulgence. They quickly became the best of friends. They’d held hands when they slept and often made love in the early morning. When she'd had too much to drink, he would carry her to bed, put socks on her feet and crawl into bed beside her, hold her and keep her safe. They often talked about the day when they could abandon the sad city and live off the land his family owned.
Her ex-husband retaliated by entering into an emergency face-saving second marriage. Their children were programmed like heat seeking missiles to bring an end to her happiness.
Her companion abandoned the situation for a woman who had no talent and less local prestige, and far less beauty, but no children, no ex-husband. All T. had then was a painful silent bed, and the cold discomfort of fear. At one point, she'd taken lots of pills, but they only made her late for work the next day.
Travel became a matter of choosing life or death; travel was escape. It didn't matter how she got out of town or who got her out of town. Step one was getting away. Step two was as unimportant as how she got out and who it was that would take her away. She had to do more with her life than endure. She had to breathe, to prevail.
Through a friend of a friend, we found each other. She found someone who would take her away. It was like finding a rare shell on the beach. She carried me in her hand for a while, and then threw me back into the sea when it was time for her to go home.
I chose to love a woman who has a heart as mysterious as the face of God and a sorrow as secret as the human soul.
2/13/First day back on the job after my break which too...First day back on the job after my break which took me from Jeddah to Cyprus, Cyprus to Amsterdam, Amsterdam to Munich, on to Prague, then back again, repeating the itinerary only in reverse.
This morning entered my room with cats gnawing on my fingers and toes an hour before dawn as the morning calls to prayer, echoed voices slurring half and three-quarter tones, roused the faithful from their slumber. Yusef, a Kuwaiti wheeler dealer who bought and sold copper salvaged from wire and cables told me once that he liked best the first call to prayer because it woke him up in time to experience the "baby of the day," adding "and everybody likes the baby."
I fed cats and micro waved water for my instant coffee, drank my coffee while checking my Email, then showered, dressed and waited for my ride.
We have no students this week--the next cycle of officers begins Saturday, but we have to be there, put in the time--7 until 2:30. Everybody in the office brought books, newspapers or their lap tops. We spent a good part of the morning making small talk over subjects like "Where were you when you first heard the news about . . (Kennedy? John Lennon? space shuttle Challenger? 9/11?).
Exhausting that topic we got onto junk food (Chicago for pizza, New York for hot dogs, Cincinnati for pretzels and chili, Memphis for BBQ).
When the topic was spent, we went back to killing time; some of the fellas went back to their lap tops and games of free cell, other talked up baseball stats; BG and I discussed the South African nurses, who may or may not have their dance cards (so to speak) filled on the weekends. It surprised him to hear that most of the nurses who'd come to the Valentine's Day shindig with me are mothers, many without husbands.
We got onto to the subject of being involved with a single woman who has children. My advice to him: "Don’t do it unless the Dad is either a dead beat or dead, because if he isn't, if he's on the scene and a hands-on parent then the divorce is a divorce on paper only. Whatever the relationship became once the judge's gavel officially split the sheets for them, the fact remains that there is still a relationship and a most important one at that."
This wouldn't be a problem if the ex happened to be a good man, but as Eudora Welty insists, finding one ain't easy.
A few years ago, in a Korean conversation class, I brought up the subject of divorce Korean style. I'd been told that in Korea, as in most Asian countries, when a couple split up, custody of the children is customarily given to the father. My question to the class was, "Since Korean men are opposed to domestic duties like child care, who tends to the kids?" My class answered in near unison, "Why the new wife of course." "Then what happens to the ex-wife?" "She goes back to her family", a student said. "Doesn't she ever remarry?" "Not usually. Korean men don't like to marry women who have had another man's children." At the time, I thought this Asian attitude a barbaric one.
Years later, when I made a choice to become involved with a divorced mother of two, I found out that in the US, the attitude is not the same, not even similar, yet from a certain angle, you could say there isn't much difference either.
US Dads (and somehow the kids seem to go along with this), are expected to remarry. Dad can't be without a woman, now can he? Moms, on the other hand, are not allowed to feel incomplete or lonely. They must be earth-mothers, rugged individualists, angels, dedicated completely to their children despite the cost to themselves.
If Dad wasn't porking someone, he wouldn't be much of a Dad.
Here's an interesting statistic. The number of men who stalk their ex-wives is ten times greater than ex-wives who obsess on their ex-husbands. (Divorce Magazine)
I think this is an abomination and borders on savagery. What is especially detestable is how Dads fire off their salvos using the kids as grape shot. I suppose I understand why. Like God and the Devil or Hank Williams and Garth Brooks, Love and Hate are two opposing sides of the same coin, good and evil vying for the same ends. I can see that as far as the children are concerned, a contentious, spiteful, tit-for-tat relationship between Mom and Dad is better than no relationship. ____________________________________________________________
It was important that she travel; travel meant escape. It didn't matter how she got out of town or who got her out of town. Step one was getting away. Step two was as trivial as how she got out and who it was that would take her away. She had to do more with her life than endure. She had to breathe, to prevail.
There had been someone else after the divorce. She thought he was special because he seemed to express joy in everything he did. She found a certain sensuality in his self-indulgence. They quickly became the best of friends. They held hands when they slept and often made love in the early morning. When she'd had too much to drink, he would carry her to bed, put socks on her feet and crawl into bed beside her. They often talked about the day when they could abandon the city and live off the land his family owned. Her ex-husband retaliated by entering into an emergency face-saving second marriage.
When her companion abandoned her for a childless woman with less talent, local prestige, and far less beauty, all she had left was painful silence, and the cold discomfort of fear. At one point, she'd taken too many pills, but they only made her late for work the next day.
Through a friend of a friend, she found someone who would take her away. It was like finding a rare shell on the beach. She carried him in her hand for a while, then threw him back into the sea when it was time to go home.
The person who gets my sympathy is the emergency back-up second wife. Although she is not a sympathetic character at all, she is a bit like Milton's Satan, that is her mind is her own place and can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven depending on whether or not she's taking her lithium or has replaced it with more oxy-contin. It would be a sin not to wish her peace of mind.2/12/"Time is now fleeting, the moments are passing P..."Time is now fleeting, the moments are passing Passing from you and from me Shadows are gathering, deathbeds are coming Coming for you and for me. Come home, come home Ye who are weary come home" Will Thompson
Sometimes I think that life is unnecessarily long and too complex. Our cravings for distractions don’t allow us to travel safely from point A to point B. There are too many choices. Our diversions keep us from carrying ourselves swiftly from one logical step to the next and all too often they keep us from reaching our goals, which for most of us is answering the call to return home.
Why can't we complete our travels as children, as teens or even as blossoming adults? have them dealt with earlier on, learn from them, be redeemed by them, so that if one day we realize what it is we are supposed to be doing, we can bolt upright and sprint like a two-legged cheetah the rest of the way through life without limitations and hazards, and in the end, find our way home.
Why can't we have the integrity that is so much a part of our final years awarded us much, much earlier and why can't we outlive our deepest regrets, still carrying them to our dying beds? Instead, we are given these things called choices. We can either choose behavior with its subtle rewards and live out our lives in safe routine, or we can go with our guts and the consequences that follow.
2/11/When I first stepped into a classroom at the Air D...When I first stepped into a classroom at the Air Defense College, I introduced myself by telling the students my name, where I'm from and some of the other places in the Khaleej where I've taught. When I told these officers-to-be that I'd taught in Kuwait, every student to a man responded the same way."Teacher. . .really. . .w'allah. . . boys. . .girls. . . same classroom?"
I told them yes, but the reality is that the classroom usually divides with all the girls on one side, some empty rows of desks down the middle and the boys seated on the other side. Still, my students are awed. Imagine, sitting in a room with women who are not your sisters or cousins and the only thing between you and them is an infidel English teacher and a couple of empty rows of desks.
My students, the future officer corps, as with the future Aramco managers, future bank managers, tomorrow's airline pilots and doctors are all probably just as anxious as the rest of the free world to find out which way the winds of progress will blow once King Fahd is called home to paradise. When that happens, there is no telling whether this country will continue to embrace social progress or remain where they are, behind even their closest neighbors along the east coast in Kuwait, Bahrain, the UAE and Oman.
Radical change regarding women's rights to drive in Saudi began when the press floated the rumor. These days, on any given day, the English daily, the Arab News, runs a number of articles about women's rights in the workplace, in education, behind the wheel of a car and how none of this is forbidden in Islam. orials are generally pro-limited women's rights (wouldn't you rather have your wife drive herself to the market than to have her ride with some stranger from the Filippines?) Saudis write to the editor and insist that Saudi women should be tending to Saudi women in hospitals and that Saudi women should be teaching Saudi children--like that.
It appears that limited driving rights are close at hand--daylight hours only, probably during school hours--drop off the kids, go to the market, pick up the kids, go home.
These poor fellows are in a quandary. Their grandfathers in all likelihood had to wait until their wedding day before all of the pieces of the puzzle came together, as did all of the fathers before them. My students' fathers had a lot of questions answered before their wedding days because 20, 30, 40 years ago foreigners from the west came by the tens of thousands and so did furtively smuggled magazines with pictures and books with stories--not that much different from how I went about solving the great riddles of sex. The difference between us of course is that I walked the same school halls and breathed the same air as the objects of my ardor. By the time I was fifteen, I'd solved most of the mystery. My Saudi equals could only catch a glimpse of their cousins coming and going from behind closed doors when families came together for the holidays.
But these fellas today have the Internet. The government's firewall is something to be ridiculed--just check the history bar at the Internet cafes. For them it must be like having the bitch next door go into heat and you're on a very short and sturdy chain.
I tell fellas who are considering taking a position here to bring a complete set of Jack London to read in order to commiserate with others who have gone it alone, surviving against all odds in the wilderness. 2/10/Baton Rouge, Louisiana. John Kennedy Toole referre...Baton Rouge, Louisiana. John Kennedy Toole referred to it as "the vortex of despair" long before multi-plex cinemas came into being. As trailer parks are magnets for tornados, so Baton Rouge solicits despair. Baton Rouge puts the prosac in prosaic.
There is basically one road and one street in BR. There is Perkins Road and there is Government Street. The two are connected by Park Boulevard. Park doesn't belong in Baton Rouge. It is peculiarly out of place with its university sensibilities.
I know a woman who has a heart as mysterious as the face of God and a sorrow as secret as the human soul.She went to Baton Rouge to indulge in those university sensibilities not planning to stay too long. She met and married a townie who had deadweight dreams. Ever since, she has been waiting around to die. Her method of self injury: death by mediocrity and chardonnay
2/10/Bronchial Pneumonia is no fun despite the extra ti...Bronchial Pneumonia is no fun despite the extra time off from work. So much for rainy, wind swept sea coasts.
I'd heard that the compound doctor, Abdullah, had recently become a grandfather and I congratulated him. I asked him how one says "Grandfather" in Arabic. He told me it is "Jedd". Like Jeddah? I asked. Yes. The city Jeddah, means grandmother. Eve is supposed to be buried around here. The doctor must be a true believer because he said the government won't spend the money to find and mark her grave.
I had to sign some papers with the nurse, and we chatted a bit. Turns out she and her husband have a band--Filipino of course. I told her about my one-off gig with the Elvis impersonator in the UAE to a throng of Filipinos who'd come en masse one fall evening to a golf course at the Al Ain Hilton Hotel. Some Filipino actors had come to town to tell jokes and sign autographs. They were three hours late. The band and I played a decent raunchy blues jam session after we played the ten songs we'd rehearsed. My slide made the show of course.
I'm going to a Filipino St. Valentine Days party Thursday night. The band needs a lead guitar player.
Off to the hospital tomorrow for chest X-rays. 2/9/The compound is quiet this morning. It's Monday, h...The compound is quiet this morning. It's Monday, hump day here. Two more days to go until the weekend.
The cats are outside chasing crows. If they were to catch one, they would kill it just to have something to do. Despite their yen for intense meditation, cats are not Buddhists.
Last night, coming out of the baggage claim area, a Saudi asked if I needed a taxi. I told him where I lived and asked him how much? He said, "100 riyals."I told him "50". He said "60". I said no problem.He shoved in my direction a twenty-something mutawa telling him in Arabic the price and destination.
A mutawa is a sort of community volunteer. They have a notorious reputation which as far as I know may be more urban legend than reality. I don't doubt that they roam the streets of Saudi Arabia reminding people of what they should or shouldn't be doing--mostly shouldn't be. But I have never actually seen one live up to the horror stories which sometimes include people being lashed with a camel whip for having their sleeves rolled up. They look like they'd make great villians though.
I have found them, the bearded ones, to be the most genteel of the Gulf Arabs. They don't whoop and yelp in class, mostly they do their homework and try to learn. Not all of them are clergy--I suspect few are. They mostly have regular jobs, engineers, soldiers, lawyers, taxi drivers, bankers. Maybe some are freedom fighters or terrorists or whatever, but that takes a lot of time and time being away from home and time being away from their families.
As for bin Laden--I've heard from different reports of how he was a terror on the disco dance floor before he went to fight Russians in Afghanistan. He's one of like 40 children, maybe more. I wonder what his birth order is? He seems to have middle child attention issues.
As we walked to his Chevy Caprice, the sedan of choice for many Saudis, we passed by the proper cab stand. A Pakistani saw us and was so moved by the sight of this American and Mutawa walking side-by-side that he started waving his arms and shouting, "No suh. He not real taxi. He has private car. This real taxi suh. Come suh."
I thought this through. If I were a member of Al Qaeda, and if I wanted an infidel for target practice or to hold for ransom, I think I would go to the airport to find one. Easy pickings. Jet lagged infidels, just happy to have cleared customs, don't ask a lot of questions when somebody offers them a ride home.Adrenaline kicked in. There was only one of him. I wanted to see where this might go.
He took me home, not straight home. I had to use my limited taxi Arabic to give him lefts, rights, straight aheads, and turn-around. We listened to Quranic recitation on cassette tape the entire drive. I tipped him with my remaining Cyprus pounds. Almost nothing to write about except for this:As we were leaving the airport, we entered the line at the exit toll booth. A hub cap suddenly rolled past the front of the Caprice. I saw it had come from the weather beaten Toyota in front of us, and that the driver of the Toyota was unaware a hub cap was trying to escape. I got out of the car, trotted off to get the hub cab, trotted back and handed it back to the driver.When I returned to the taxi, my driver said to me, "Allah Kareem." (God is generous). Maybe that's why he decided not to take me out to the desert.
My weekends have become routine. Wednesday nights I go the dance class (and flirt with the clatter of South African nurses from the compound next to ours). Thursday morning I have my diving lessons. Thursday night I go on a hash, that is a walk-about the desert with the other skeletal remains of the western ex-pats who have stayed on. Friday D.K. comes around with his Ovation and we sit in the dining area. I've converted it to a music studio.
We haven't started working up a set yet, but we have done one of his songs twice, a Texas swing tune called "If You Wanna be a Cowgirl". I know some rock-a-billy licks and as Brian Setzer has shown us, rock-a-billy and swing are first cousins. As Jerry Lee Lewis has demonstrated, first cousins can be much more than first cousins.
I showed DK my approximation of the "Jump, Jive, Wail" solo, which has nice slurs, ballsy couplets and sounds best with a whammy bar. If we had a horn section, we could be Lyle Lovett.
Being a musician in Saudi Arabia isn't as superfluous as it may seem. In the "day", before the bombings, post first Gulf War especially, there were lots of parties on the weekends with live music.
"Home is where the heart is, ain't that what they say/my heart lies in broken pieces, scattered along the way."(S.Earle)
Emmy, the abandoned adult cat I took in was luke warm on my coming home. She hadn't been outside since I left. Emmy has been fixed. A lot of the strays on the compound have been fixed. Many have been housecats most of their lives, but after the Riyadh bombings, a lot of families left, not bothering to take their cats. The kittens, Jimmy and Mimi were full of joy--not "they were doing back flaps" dog-slobber joy, but they expressed their delight cat style. I got a few head butts. They've been shadowing me.
My cats are Mimi, Jimmy and Emmy. They can each pronounce their names. Sort of. February 07, "One man looks at a dying bird and thinks there's nothing but unanswered pain. That death's got the final word, it's laughing at him. Another man sees that same bird, feels the glory, feels something smiling through it." TMalick
Saturday night in Larnacas. Tomorrow night I'll be in Jeddah.
I like my job. My new cats--Jimmy, Emmy and Mimi. I named them so that calling one would be calling them all.
The housing is fine.
I was looking for a tree house to rent in Baton Rouge.
A mile stone tonight: I started my fourth step
As Dwight Yoakum says, "I may be slow but I aint blind," it just occured to me why Artarama might've failed. Scandalmongers. and the Strawberries. The strawberries.
posted by Zaytuni 10:19 AM
I skipped the breakfast buffet this morning and went for a walk, first up and down the length of the beach front then back to the hotel area and into this Internet cafe. I did chat with a Scottish school marm, a soft spoken older bird in her late 60s who teaches in Riyadh and uses the word "considerably" a lot. Her sentences ended with the tag questions: "isn't it?" or "don't they?" She had gaps in her big British teeth. She said she had to send an Email reply to a job offer in Khartoum where she wanted to teach the "wee ones" which she pronounced "w'ayns."
I saw a movie last night, "Lean on Me", about a principal who accepts a job at an innercity high school made up of mostly poor students who had been expelled from other schools. How different things might have been between T. and me, if she'd been allowed to bring a baseball bat to school where she taught, also a teenage wasteland.
posted by Zaytuni 2:26 AM
Friday, February 06, If it hadn’t been for the breakfast buffet, I'd still be in bed.
It took me a few hours to fall asleep last night. About 3:30 AM, I caved in, turned on the TV, paid for a movie. Twelve minutes later, I was finished with the movie and before 4, I fell asleep with this thought: don't ever love unconditionally. Love should be like a kissExpect to get back all that you give out. This is not Christmas. This is love, not an exercise in manners. Giving it without receiving is something else, something far less, a bottom feeding emotion like fear--that stomach cramping, neck tightening fear of being alone, that 4 in the morning and can't get back to sleep fear, the product of some disquieting memories of years behind and the misgiven guesswork of the years ahead. Truth is, we live lives of lubberly exasperation and most of it is not lived in the simple present tense.
The most irritating modals: could, would, should
In the late afternoon, the shadows of the palm trees lengthen then disappear in the dark. In the morning the sun returns from the dark side of the world and the shadows reappear softening the new day. Six thousand years ago, along this ocean front in Larnaca, wedding and funeral precisions went by and people by the sea witnessed the sun and moon dodging one another. The eyes of the ancient world were calmer. They accepted what they saw then and accept it today.
Morning is an artist looking for patterns. I know where the day is going. Today, I am hardwired to make sense out of everything. Symbiosis makes sense. Love should. Human behavior isn't so complex as an object of scientific study. We respond to environment according to what others seek from us, what we in turn hope to get back from them. The complex part is learning how to make the good choices and respond to the environment in a manner reflecting the progress of civilizations.
Sometimes we live through unbelievable, sobering difficulties. We are overrun by constant, invasive imbroglios and all the while try to maintain a level head while trying to do what is just. Our days are beleaguered by setbacks. These setbacks must be overcome. Still, no matter how hard we struggle; the evil eye won’t look the other way. Memory wounds fester. We are besieged by things which obscure our purpose.
Belligerence follows. The physical environment becomes the incarnation of our psychic meltdown. Aggression and often destruction soon follow and if it's caught on camera, on CNN, we can watch over and over the fiery blossoms and clouds of glass, concrete, paper and human remains filling the air.
There is no bad or good thing we can do that would keep us from Perfection. Compassion. Tranquility. Detach from expectations, embrace 4 Am whether you are alone or wrapped around a lover.
"How'd it steal into the world? What seed, what root did it grow from? Who's doing this? Who's killing us, robbing us of life and light, mocking us with the sight of what we might have known?" TMalick
posted by Zaytuni 2:40 AM
Thursday, February 05, Homecoming is not always redemption.Departure is not always running off.
I went back to the US for a visit a few years ago, late 90's between Gulf postings and the changes I noticed then were these cigar emporiums (now turned back into sports bars) on every block. Digital cable was replacing regular cable, 300 channels instead of 60. Restaurants now had ATM machines inside. ATM machines were everywhere. The local Sunday paper went from a dollar to a dollar and a half. The hallowed KB drugstores in New Orleans were gone.
People had not changed. At the time, I took comfort in this. Family and friends were pretty much doing what they'd always been doing. It was nice to know that although my environment and country of choice changed every year or two, that somewhere in this world, lives and routines had been chiseled in stone. I couldn't wait any longer to go back, watch the nieces and nephews grow, have J. visit in the summers, take T. on import buys twice a year. Came pretty damn close to achieving all of the above.
The same week my mother was mauled by her pack of stray dogs, my dream turned to shit. If I could, I'd blame it on the dogs, on T., on family, even the Bossa Nova. But I can't. I can't blame myself either. All I can do is examine my part in it--granted, not a small part, but certainly mine was not the only instrument of destruction. There were a lot of collaborators.
Last year I went back and stayed for a year. I now can't ever imagine going back to be among those people without significant changes taking place, if not in them, then in me.
Does all of America wear a gang face now? I doubt it.
The masks worn during my brief sentimental journeys home were warm, hospitable, caring. Children did homework on their own and families had sit down dinners. Family dysfunction seemed to have gone out of style. Everyone lived for Christmas and the Fourth of July and other holidays to intermingle with family. Turns out, the holidays are less about families and more about getting drunk and remembering why you didn't get along with your in-laws in the first place.
My poor sisters. Two out of three are married to old school southern alcoholics. One of them is a cross between a character in a John Grisham novel and a rabid badger. The other one has even less on the ball. The former I feel would evolve into a decent fellow if he went to a couple of hundred AA meetings. The latter has turned into about 230 pounds of whiskey sopped stars and bars meanness. When I first met him, he had it together, was in AA , spoke in hushed tones and seemed like a nice fellow.
The third sister didn't marry a bad guy, not really, as a matter of fact, he doesn't mind cats--he gets a thumbs up from me just for that--despite his solution to all of America's foreign policy problems, Nuke 'em til they glow; let God sort them out. I would like to believe that it is all tongue in cheek.
I add to my list of changes the way I react to old school alcoholic rednecks--indifference. That's easy enough to do with 8,000 miles between me and the source. If I can adapt to these interpersonal changes, one day at a time, I may be able to narrow it to 800 miles.
Maybe the President has set this mood. He can't open his mouth without sounding bitter. Even his gait is embittered. They say he's in recovery for alcohol and cocaine. But on TV he plays a man living a life of "self will run riot". Bush the second doesn't seem like the "Easy does it" type to me.
When those fellows, most of them Saudis, took out the World Trade Center, it was, according to them and their ilk, pay back for the rape of Palestine. Rape is always some sort of pay back for the rapist--all of it delusional.
How does a deluded rapist behave if he is in turned raped? Has to happen everyday in some prison, somewhere. Instead of looking at his part in the way things turned out, my guess is that the deluded raped rapist will feel more sure about his need to avenge himself.Is that what American foreign policy has become--payback time for a deluded raped rapist? Who has America raped? It's a stretch to say Palestinians. We didn't rape the Afghhanis--we just didn't return their calls. The Iraqis--we slapped them around for toy country molestation, but we didn't tell them to take it all off.
A lot of Arabs and Muslims--I'm sure even some Palestinians, profit on a per-capita basis from this sad affair as much as the US arms industry does, but they're not anymore interested in examining their part in the mess than say T. is in seeing her part in our microcosm of terror.
This is not to say that the US hasn't raped before.
What to do? The answer is simple. Listen well, learn, be willing to let go of expectations and embrace compromise.
Last night walking on the boardwalk, enjoying the cool sea air, a couple approached from behind. I heard them coming. They were walking briskly and they overtook me. As they went around me, I heard this much of their conversation.He said, "The answer is no. I can't do it again."She said, "I'm glad to hear you say that."He laughed and said that he would have quit sooner if he had known how she worried.Compromise solution.
posted by Zaytuni 2:55 AM
Wednesday, February 04, "Removing blame means never assigning responsibility to anyone for what you're experiencing. Why do this: If you take responsibility for having it, then at least you have a chance to also take responsibility for removing it or learning from it." W.Dyer
For six thousand years, Larnaca has been at the crossroads of civilization. It was a hub city when Babylon traded with the Greeks. Upon hearing of the news of Alexander's death, the market crashed for twenty years. It's sort of like that around here today. The palm-lined seafront of Larnaca town isn't bustling with trade--not early February. It is drizzly, rain and wind swept. It is, however, the perfect place to brood. Running back to the hotel means running back to a blast of warm air and comfort. The cafes, tavernas, shops and bars are open but empty. I enjoyed watching the British snowbirds hovering around the breakfast buffet this morning. They have lived a long time and it seems that fat sausages, fried potatoes, fried eggs, rashers of bacon and baked beans have done them little harm. They probably take evening constitutionals. I think I'll try to get a flight to Jeddah on Monday. I need to look around this town, try to find a forty-ish Brit school marm who might be in turn looking for a wintry holiday romance. A Shirley Valentine type. We can talk about how hard it is to lose those ten pounds.
In the internet cafe across the street from the ancient Mediterranean Sea, there is no one in the place except for me and some Brit with a bored Russian hooker on his arm. I wonder if she's heard of me?
In the cafe, around the corner from the computers, the family watches "My Big Fat Greek Wedding". I wonder how many times they've watched the movie?
posted by Zaytuni 2:33 AM
There should be no shame or blame involved--just a simple look at what we do to cause harm to others.
It's a simple lifestyle. This is not a solution that demands much--except do not blame yourself (I ruined my life) blame others (they ruined my life) but see it this way:when others behave in a way that is not according to my plans, I am disappointed.when I don't live up to what others expect of me, I disappoint. Then evil gets a foot in the door. The answer is so simple--fucking simple even.
I miss T. Think about her often. Wish she were here in Cyprus with me.
Throughout my life, there have been many to whom I am indebted to for their support and companionship, whom in ways too numerous to account for, helped to shape my life. I'll only include those who endured two or more years of my chronic whining.
T. was the most misunderstood (but loveable) and a great travelling companion. There has always been a certain familiarity about her, as though we had known each other from somewhere beyond this present life. She is intelligent and immensely beautiful, wild and ungoverned. T. was a constant source of inspiration. Someone who is still most precious to me.
Favorite memories: The time I wasn't supposed to be seeing her last summer--but I accepted her invitation anyway. She met me in her hallway wearing the white lacy nightgown we'd bought in Galway. She'd brushed her hair--a rare occasion.
Her eyes were bright with life, as though she had been alive for a thousand years, was still in her youth, and would still be a gorgeous young red head in another thousand years. She was happy. She'd been painting all day. Sadly, she'd also had too much wine.
The time she, her son Josh and I tried to drive to the mountain in Al Ain, UAE, got lost and ended up in Suniyah--the industrial area where Afghani truck drivers and dirt roads control the night.
The time she cradled Blanche in her arms and held what we thought was pretty much a dying cat upon her breasts, sheltering her from eternity for a little while longer, two more years in fact.
C.V. is a reflection of many teachers and spiritual leaders, none of whom I ever met. She lived on ashrams for a few years. Although she never achieved "Devi" status, she could really carry a tune; she has a lyrical singing voice. She is someone who has added a new dimension to my travels; she is fellow traveller and a teacher who taught me many different things about getting around third world shit holes. We spent much time together, but drowned in each other's resentments. She is an intelligent, a beautiful person who worries a lot about everything. Favorite memories: One night in Seoul, with her roommate out of town, she cooked me a spaghetti dinner that tasted like home.
In 1997, trying to avoid a demostration that was about to get violent, we told the tuk-tuk driver to take a short cut, and he did. It was raining hard, night was minutes away and we were stuck in the mud in an Indian cornfield on our way to Lucknow, Kathmandu and elsewhere.
I sent her the page from my journal years ago and I wonder if she still has it. Ironically, it was her snooping through my journals that put up a wall we couldn't tear down. I haven't really kept notebook journals since.
Later that summer, she met Mother Teresa. Two days later, Mother Teresa died. I was back in Kuwait, gearing up to teach another quarter for the University of Maryland.
C.H. has been like a sister to me, still is and the closest I've ever come to having a "wife"--one day I'll have to asterisk this and add a footnote that will say something about my three marriages that weren't marriages, lawyerly speaking.
She is a warm and loving person. She introduced me to the secret world of cats. Favorite memoryIt would have to involve Ken "Buddy" Shabby, the three-legged cat from Kuwait who found his way to New Orleans via Heathrow and JFK. He rode a limo from the airport to the hotel one night in New York City. Not too shabby for a tri-pedal.
Drinking Irish coffees in San Francisco, watching the sun set beyond that bridge. And many, many others.
C.M. was a good friend who hung in there for six years. She hardly knew my family. That says something about our longevity. She has a sharp mind and is good with money, a trustworthy companion who wandered deep into the Honduran bush with me one Christrmas Eve, emerging from a seven hour ordeal, adventure, all night long, till well past midnight, we rafted down the Rio Coco in the rain, the balsa wood raft travelled like a submarine, completely submerged under our weight.. We came into Krataura, a Tawakhan Indian village about 1 AM, we drank Chi Cha, danced, ate roasted jungle rat and somebody stole my shoes.
She finally got her litter of children. Three to date, will probably have three more.Favorite memory: Our first Christmas morning together. She came from the kitchen with two cups of coffee wearing Victoria Secret's red panties, a push up bra and a Santa helper's hat. Calvin had climbed into a box that previously held the coffee maker. We took his picture. I still have it.
LN was a funny and a weird sister in her family. She managed to make me laugh despite "that time" in my life. She gave birth to J. What else?
LN hates me very much. J. on the other hand is a source of immense joy.
I'll pay for J.s college, hope to help her buy a car soon and maybe I'll look for a home one day nearer her--if that's what she wants. That's the best I can do.
Favorite memory with L.: Having a beer with her the night she told me she was not going to have an abortion.
Favorite memory with J.They're aren't many. I first met her last July. She has my eyelashes.She introduced me as her Dad to her music teacher. Perfect.
This single moment was well worth the last year, the last 48 in fact.
RQ was a diamond in the rough. She touched me in ways I had never been touched before. Favorite memory--I'll keep it a secret. She might be dead.
LR was a gentle and flamboyant soul, an exotic beauty with a dancer's build who kept me balanced with her Jewish common sense and sense of humor. Memory?Taking her cousin back to her university, upstate New York. The transmission went out, stranding us in the snow.
LB has a sharp intellect and a great pair of legs. Having sex in a study coral in the university's library.
posted by Zaytuni 2:12 AM
Tuesday, February 03, Amsterdamaged.
Now wandering between the canals, through the alleys and streets of the Red Light District, it all seems so profane. There is nothing mysterious about this place. Saw Rembrandt's house again. Visited the Botanical Gardens and walked through the Rijkmuseum.I'm off to Cyprus, the island of Aphrodite.
posted by Zaytuni 4:07 AM
Monday, February 02, Back in drab Amsterdam: the happiest place on earth for about five hours. It can get pretty dismal after being there, doing that, buying the souveneir. Walking briskly past the window girls, the human train wrecks.The maximum number of times one should walk through the Anne Frank House. One. > one should see Rembradt's "The Night Watch" Three> one should have a group sex experience. Twice> one should eat rattlesnake. One.
Changes must occur. Every now and again, we need to reshuffle the deck. Positive thinking is possible, but it's not necessarily going to result in changes. Change needs to happen, especially in a marriage, one of convenience or otherwise.
If you don't have a partner, then you only have yourself to blame. Put the blamewhere it belongs--on African rhythms and the Dark Continent as a whole.
posted by Zaytuni 2:45 AM
Sunday, February 01, "What would you do if you saw two trains heading towards each other on the same track?"I wouldn't shout, "Stop!" That would do no good. I'd watch a train wreck. I've never seen one.posted by Zaytuni 7:33 AM
Kutna Hora is a mining town about an hour out of Prague. I saw a plague column, a memorial to victims of the great plague. There is a bone church ossuary, featuring the intricately laid out remains of nearly 50,000 victims of the great plaque.
Walking in the city of Prague at night, with the mist rising from the cobble-stoned alleys, is to walk in the footsteps of Kafka. The eyes of great grim statues look down upon you accusingly throughout the colossal medieval squares of this city.
Cafes are everywhere. On the Old Town Square, people are nighttime sightseeing. In the cafes, talk is lively, in Czech, Italian, German, French, English. If you were twenty in the summer of 1997, Prague was the only place to be. The Prague evening, with air like soup, heavy with oven baked smells.
Perhaps no truth is more momentous and none more difficult to face, than the blackest, most abject one about oneself. The aloofness in T that had attracted me is understood.
Drinking numbs her too and turns her into as big a bully as me.
Our needs don't come from what somebody else has that we lack. These needs stem from what we can't give to others and ourselves. What's missing in our relationships is what we're not giving.
Terry Allen: "There's an old shoe
Out on the highwayTells us of the Wilderness of this World"