Sunday, September 25, 2005

posted by Zaytuni 6:30 AM

Her smile is like her mother's: broad, dimpled, sweet, warm. J. wears a life jacket and rests an oar across her lap. When T. and I rafted the Kitugala River, we left our life jackets and helmets in the bottom of the raft. We weren't drinking. we were in Sri Lanka. T. was having an artist's feeding frenzy. She sketched and photgraphed mostly fingers and toesShe was laughing. We rafted our way towards the Bridge over the River Kwai. Not the real bridge. It had been Hollywood's bridge. The real bridge was in Burma--Myanmar, not Sri Lanka. We'd shot most of the 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. The water was swift. T. was pulled down river. 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." posted by Zaytuni 5:11 AM J. and her mother sitting close, outside, short sleeves. Warm. Hill country somewhere. J is in the 8th grade. J. points with her right hand. They're both laughing. J. looks as though she has just rephrased her question. "I know what it's called, but what does it do?" Her mother answers, " It tills. That's what tillers do." posted by Zaytuni 2:31 AM Wednesday, January 28, When J was three, she would crawl into bed and wrap herself in her mother's arms. Her mother stroked her hair and told her that every thing was going to be fine. The last time I was in Munich, I had a telephone interview with a university in the UAE. Eventually, T. and I would both work there. This time, like the last time, I arrived in Munich on a wet day. Last time it was in June. It is now late January. These puddles are made from slush. The last time I was here, I had very little money and the money I did have, I'd borrowed from T. I eat breakfast in the train station. The station is warm with hot German bread, hot coffee and diesel fumes. I order coffee, toast, jam and an apple. My waitress has a pierced tongue and a tattoo of some butterflies hovering on the small of her back. My favorite train station breakfast was in India. C. and I rode private first class from Delhi to Hardiwar. First class on a train in India can mean twin steel bunks in a gray room with bars on the window.Every whistle stop is the same: boys and girls selling popcorn or cups of tea. Two rupies for a small clay cup of hot tea with fresh cow's milk and sugar. They run up and down the length of the train shouting, "Chai. Chai Purri. Purri." My first German dialogue in Frau Shoop's German 101 class:Good morning Mr. Schmidt. Good morning Mrs. Braun. Today the weather is horrible. Yes, it's been raining now for three days. I had to wait 25 years, but I was finally able to use this today with a taxi driver here in Munich. I got to tell him, "Das wetter ist schlecht, heute." and "Es reignet shoen drei taege" posted by Zaytuni 4:43 AM Tuesday, January 27, Not too long ago, I recommended Kuwait University to a fellow who had given some thought to teaching there, suggesting that there was much free time to develop hobbies and that if he were seeking a meaningful relationship with a scandalmonger, then he just might find the love of his life. If he had a problem with this unendangered species, then he might wind-up in alcoholic seclusion. Scandalmongering and getting drunk soon and often are the easier and more common roads taken by language teachers in the Khaleej, the Arabian peninsula's eastern coast. F. Scott F. writes "and so we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past."Which past? The simple? Perfect? Ceaselessly indicates something continuous--progressive. The "current" he mentions is not the result of the will. It is beyond our will. That would require a passive voice a passive continuous: a "be" verb, a present participal, objective case "by" something. We are being borne back ceaselessly by something not of our will. This shameless resignation tense exists in Hindinglish. English English has little tolerance for a continuous "be". We don't say, I am being. "Will" is the most dishonest of modals. "Might" is the tastiest. posted by Zaytuni 5:53 AM Monday, January 26, On the ground It's going to snow in Amsterdam tomorrow Where do the junkies go when it snows? I will wash clothes tomorrow night and dry them for hours. It will give the junkies a place to stand. posted by Zaytuni 12:09 PM Sunday, January 25, When are you out again? The closer we get to The Hajj, the muezzins become hoarse I am out tonight. First to Cyprus. I'll sleep in Larnaka in the airport. Usually I have tried to vacation in areas where a low-intensity civil war irritates. US State Department Travel Advisories result in great bargains on rooms, guides, food, tours, companionship Before the Maoists blew its first cars in Kathmandu, a room at the Excelsior cost about 25 USD. The last time I was there, a fire bomb had gone off in some neighborhood A room was negotiable I had an invitation to visit Cambodia. An employee is marrying a beautiful, intelligent woman. I saw a documentary last week on the sex industry in Cambodia. H. has a story about Southeast Asian Women He is the local ballroom dance instructor One morning, before classes he blurts out "Have you ever had a song suddenly come into your head that you just couldn't get off your mind?"I asked him which song. He said, "The Laotian National Anthem." Can't say that I know it. He told a story about the time he was in Laos. He had lived very near the Laotian army barracks. Every night as the flag came down, the national anthem played, mortar rounds exploding just a few neighborhoods away. Recalling the song, he began to think aboutrall of those Laotian ladies trying to get the hell out of Laos by any means possible. I asked him if he'd considered taking any of them up on their offer. He shook his head firmly and said, "No I asked, "Why not?" He said he wasn't interested in marrying at the time. I asked him why he hadn't considered holding auditions. Again, he shook his head, "No." I told him, "You have ethics!" All T. and I had really acquired was shared bragging rights about where we'd been and what we did when we were there. Our brief lives combined included many roads stretching away into the distances far from her home. We started out tracing Van Gogh’s path from the lifeless skies of Amsterdam to the south of France that had been the painter's inspiration for his nervous, short strokes of sensibly balanced colors. Along the way, she'd composed her first anecdote in a train station in Brussels when she’d been yelled at by a restroom attendant for not having a few coins to exchange for three sheets of toilet paper. We'd wildly sexed on trains, in one train station toilet, in three-star hotels and in dusty, dank guest houses. We'd had our first fight over something that would eventually become the unchanging same old shit that would lead to our apocalyptic ending. On a brilliant Sunday afternoon in Paris, Bastille Day in fact, when I'd gone to buy our return train tickets to Holland, she'd left the hotel and was missing for hours. I insisted that she should have left a note. She'd gotten lost in Paris once already. She never felt obliged to tell anyone where she was going or why. She'd gone to drink wine alone and watch the jets fly-over streaming long trails of blue, white and red. I'd forgotten that this was what drew me to her early on. Nobody was ever truer to self. And this keeps linking me back to her like a whistler in the night, a door blown open by wind gusts, the sudden popping of a balloon. Like thunder in the distance, seeing her at that cafe in Paris, sketching with a waiter's borrowed pen on a napkin; sketching what? a lone feather on a sidewalk; an old woman's hands, the hungry eyes of a three-legged cat--remembering her in Paris always startles me from consciousness and brings her right back to me. We'd married, sort of, on a summer day when Louisiana rain fell non-stop for hours and Baton Rouge roads were treacherous with flood potential. My divorce to C. hadn't been made legal. C and I had a brief sort-of marriage. Our brief lives combined included many roads stretching away into the distances far from her home. And married housing. T. and I thought this might make an emergency exit. We weren't as keen on being married as we were on obtaining a marriage license in order to work as man and wife. By the first of September, the year the United States was Saudimized, we were no longer living by the clock. We were living in the Arabian Gulf. The clock doesn’t count time in the Arabian Gulf. The day begins with the rising of the moon and setting of the sun. We had gotten fulltime jobs working part-time hours teaching English. I taught on the men's campus. She taught on the women's campus. We had a lot of free time in that country, a lot of ways to spend money and immerse ourselves in luxury. Each afternoon began with a few glasses of white wine and most evenings ended buying some small decorative object for our rent-free, multi-chandeliered villa. On the weekends, we started drinking early, marking time by cups of coffee. Early meant after our second cup. There was a young family who lived above us. The husband wasn't very smart, he was overweight and he loved his wife's soft face. Below them lived a couple who spent their weekends either fucking or fighting with equal severity. On a daily basis, I explored new ways to provoke in her some cheer. I characterized my efforts not as labors of love but as the things I had to do for marriage, the rudimentary things I'd always overlooked in relationships with women beginning with an impassioned elimination of me. Some women simply leave the men they no longer love. In my case, they contact sisterhood underground, gain new identities and go into something akin to a former lover's witness protection program. Those first few days, sunning by a five-star pool with a bottle of chardonnay, her pleasant face, had begun to show symptoms of my patchy success. Her skin was no longer flushed with apprehension. Her big round eyes no longer appeared off balance, always puffy from crying. I had never been able to promise anyone anything close to devotion, but for her I'd pledged to myself to always try to keep her spirits from lapsing. Those first few days were all we had to go on later, when we used to call a truce, not much later, when things got out of hand.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Hometown bluesiest

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Now it has been twelve years since I've been on the move through the wilderness of desert winters, taking extended breaks to fly over sunshiny, summery oceans, coming to rest now and then in the odd duck kingdom by the sea.

Until very recently, I used to mope for the fecundity of my hometown (recently awashed in toxic, brackish flood waters). I'd pine for those green days awashed in gold dappled sunlight which painted all things, even the very smallest blades of grass.

Along the boulevards where the shadowy green shades of half drunk, duskish afternoons, where once there was fragile light and tender greenness as far as the pot holes and roads stretched away from your naked eye, where once the beauty of subtle greens from the branches of the oak trees and the young leaves of the poplars shined in the sun like "Stella" systems upon the crepe myrtle and all the green above your haid, the green under your toes, the green between your fingers, where it was always good to be alive, always good to be nowhere else but there..

Monday, September 05, 2005

Touched by an Email

Oh, David, the city we knew is gone forever. The trees, the homes, the neighborhoods... and there's talk that whole neighborhoods will have to be razed because of haz mat situations. And the people, my God! No one who made it through the hell of the Dome, the Convention Center, the I10 and Causeway, or the rooftops for days waiting for help that did not come will ever be the same again. So many of the children I've taught were trapped in that hell, I'm sure. They won't be children anymore.
Dave, I've got to end this. Wallowing won't help a thing. Take care and keep in touch.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Most Definitely Can't Go Home Again

Paul Bowles (Sheltering Sky) says the difference between a tourist and a traveler is that a tourist thinks about going home the moment he or she arrives somewhere. A traveler, on the other hand, might not ever go home again.

Before going home a couple of years ago with tales to tell and a head full of delusions which, at the time, I mistook for hopes and dreams, I was a fence sitter on this question of tourist or traveler.

Now, home for me is in Kuwait and soon I will travel to Saudi Arabia which will be my away from home. What used to be home for me ain't there no mo'. The levees broke and brackish lake water in cahoots with the Mississippi drowned the place I called home.

Will I be happy in Saudi? Can't say. I can't define the word. I can try to illustrate it.

If the afterlife is anything life the movie, "Afterlife" where the dead arrive in heaven and after a few days of adjusting to not being alive, they're asked to identify their most cherished memory, then I might be able to tell you what happiness is or has been for me.

First off--at one time, I would have had a quick answer. Happiness is getting some. But due to the nature of this so-called disease I have--this obsession of the mind combined with an allergy of the body, especially to a substance known as ethyl alcohol, an allergy of craving more, more more, more. . . well, that's what's sort of ruined getting some for me. I've gotten a lot. Too much. So I can't say that fucking is synonymous with happiness. It's still fun. But so is ice cream. So are fish sticks.

I digress.

Heaven, in this movie Afterlife, the first stage in the process of death is to arrive in an independent movie studio set up in a decaying, abandoned high school where production staff of angels try their best to recreate a cheesy reproduction of the most cherished memory for the newly arrived dead. Once the dead experience the reproduction of this moment of bliss, they can move on to Nirvana or some such after-after life.

A cherished moment is a happy moment--I'll go with that.

It's 1979. I'm in North Miami. My girlfriend's parents live there. Her parents have taken us to Tony Roma's. We order pork baby-back ribs (the Rand's weren't kosher), an onion mum, and we drink a couple of rounds of happy hour glasses of white wine.

The bill arrives. The second round of wine costs regular price. The bill is four or five dollars more than my girlfriend's father, Jerry Rand, had expected to pay.

We'd ordered the wine a minute or two before the cut-off time, before the end of happy hour. The waiter had turned in the order late. Not our fault. The bartender rang up full price. So a small tiff erupts between Jerry--my girlfriend's father and our waiter. The waiter--most likely a Jew himself--glared while Jerry made his POINT! and was probably thinking, "What a Jew!"

Jews can call other Jews "Jews" much the same as only a black can call another black a nigger.

Jerry was a man I really admired. He was an old school New York Jew, Catskill vacations, Ishkabibel and all that Yiddish jazz. He'd seen Billie Holiday perform in a kosher deli in Brooklyn. The deli closed up on Fridays for the Sabbath and let some less devout members of the tribe rent out the place, set up a small stage area around the tables and sell set-ups.

Jerry had been a gunner on a Super Fortress, and I knew he'd been through the shit because he never wanted to talk about the meat of his experience, battles, death, fear, bliss--he only remembered that the flights took off too early in the morning, the distance to the target areas were too far, the flights were uncomfortable and boring--most of the time--and he mostly remembered being cold and sleepy. I had to infer that he'd experienced brief moments of sheer terror, the kind that only guys who hadn't been through it are more than happy to claim as their war stories.

So--the waiter got the manager and the manager apologized and said he'd e right back with a new bill and a discount.

Lori glared at her father. He was going to make us late for a movie or something. He was causing a scene. He was stereo-typing the tribe. He caught her glare and said this, "Hey, five dollars looks a hell of a lot better in my pocket than theirs!"

Yup. That's my cherished memory, the one I'd want to relive. I was running with the tribe and watching 1,000 years of diasporic suffering unfold in a chain restaurant in North Miami in a single, unforgettable, inimitable moment.

However, on the other hand, I hope that I am never confronted with having to choose a most cherished moment. I mean, there are others. Smoking pot and watching Mystery Science Theater with Char in the early nineties. Getting as JPEG of my daughter in an Email--she was seventeen and I'd never set eyes on her. Jumping 75 feet from a footbridge over a river in a Sri Lankan jungle, landing in a bed of leeches and knowing that this was what made me a traveler, not a tourist.

Coming home from the British Council last month after teaching 10 contact hours three days back-to-back and finding a that the Rose of Tehran had made me bowl of ice cream with cookies and whipped cream.

Shit! I can't choose. What should I say? "This is the moment. Right now. Here in the fleeting, temporal present. This is my most cherished moment.

It could turn on a dime. Tomorrow I could find myself in some place where putting a bullet in a white boy is better than happy hour wine and baby back ribs.

I need to work a better program.