Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Cheesy Metaphor Moment #273

Yesterday I had day care, outpatient eye lid goober-ectomies. Both eyelids had sprouted a wart-like thing built from sand and other desert grit. The debris was swept up by my eyelashes. Twenty months of Sundays ago, I used to bat them to initiate a chat up. Now they are working against me, conspiring with many other body parts to put a name tag on my toe more sooner than later . Et tu eye lashes?

I had a choice. Two visits, one for each eyelid, and a local anesthesia or both eyelids on the same day with a general. This wasn't a difficult decision to make. 

I heard the anesthesiologist tell her assistant to give me 20-mL of Propofol which made me think of Michael Jackson. At the same time, I'm listening to what sounds very much like a church bell death knelling. I ask the assistant, "What is that noise?" 
"It's the heart monitor, he said." I asked myself, shouldn't that thing be beep beep, beeping not Bong! Bong! Bonging!?

The anesthesiologist placed over my nose and mouth the hissing fighter-pilot mask, telling me to take deep breaths and start counting backwards from one hundred. I glanced to my left and read on a piece of operating theater machinery the word "Infiniti". 

One hundred. "Infiniti". Bong! Ninety nine. "Infinity". Bong!  Ninety-eight. "Propoful" Bong! Ninety-seven. "Michael Jackson"  Bong!  Ninety. . . bong!

If my Big Black comes on like a Propofol shot, well, I've no problem with that. ". . .peacefully in his sleep last night at the age of. . ." obit.

But if my Big Black comes as an Airbus taking its sweet time to come unglued as it slowly nose dives towards the ocean or if it's to be one of those lingering types, a "I'm gonna fight this thing" type, well, shee-it. 

If a doctor were ever to say to me that I've got somethin' bad, mad dog mean bad and that I've got a 50/50 chance to beat this "thing", (after I move beyond breaking down and bawling, screaming and slobbering like a 2 year old 'why me? why me?', I ain't goin' gently into that good night, no sirree. 

I'm gonna check into the John Entwistle suite, room 658 at the Las Vegas Hard Rock Hotel and Casino with a mountain of blow, a fifth of 12-year old single malt, a half dozen grape flavored gel packs of Viagra and a couple, two, three high class pro's who accept Visa or MasterCard. 

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Naming Names

The shortest line isn’t always the straightest distance between two points. I scheme my way through each obstacle between me, a duty-free book store carrying the latest Esquire and the bar nearest departure gate. For example, as I zigzag my way through the terminal, stopping at the first x-ray and metal detector, onto the counter where I check-in luggage and pick-up boarding pass, then on through passport control and another security screening, I avoid lines that may appear to the untrained eye to be the shortest.

Since summer is time for annual reprieve from desert heat for khawajahs and locals alike, there may be what appears to be a short line but if I see the eldest son of a large, extended, multi-generational Arab family standing there, a dozen passports in hand; I'll move on; in fact, I try to avoid any line with Arabs in it because when they greet one another--let’s say it’s passenger stepping up to the immigration official--both of them hold up the flow as they seem to be chit chatting like long lost cousins. It is not, however, just chit chat, but in fact an obligatory exchange of salutations and farewells each referencing God’s greatness, God’s will, God’s mercy, God this, God that, so forth and so on.

And odds are they just might be cousins. If they notice that they share some of the same names in their catalog of names which include not only a given name but their father’s name, and two or more "who is the son of, who is the son ofs" in addition to the family and the tribal name, they could start questioning one another seeking common ground counting degrees of separation. When Arab meets Arab, odds are high that a queue jamming conversation may erupt . Ask them to hurry it up, and they will answer "Enshallah"; "Sorry, but this conversation is now in God's hands."
I look for the lines with the most khawajahs who may or may not even trouble themselves with a "How are you?," and a "Have a nice day".  

Monday, September 27, 2010


My taxi reached the airport as sunset call to prayer began to sound, and I gave the driver his fare plus ten and I would have given him another ten if he hadn’t hovered over me offering to help me with my luggage, polluting my comfort zone with the smell of tobacco and cardamom tea each time he said, “Blease,” but I was in a rush, he’d double parked and a black beret was blowing his whistle and pointing at me.

Every summer for many years I depart Dubai and arrive somewhere else, preferably a place with wide loopholes in its culture of vices and virtues; in the morning I would arrive in Bangkok where I planned to exchange a hundred U.S. dollars for thousands in Thai Baht to pay taxi fare and to buy ten codeine tablets to help me revel in my morning nap in my boutique hotel room, curtains drawn. The day after tomorrow, I would purchase at Morchit terminal a one-way bus ticket for the Thai-Cambodian border.

Since marrying someone with a lower tolerance for my bullshit than an American woman might endure, I could get away from Dubai, get very lost in Southeast Asia and always count on a terse reminder after a several weeks, be it text message or Email saying it’s “Time to return to Dubai.”

Dubai is an exotic archipelago of high finance and high buildings. The surface of its crust is covered by a thin veneer of marble and concrete, glass and steel. It is surrounded by an ocean of sand. It floats on a sea of petrol dollars. It's an “only one of its kind” city which points out the flexibility of its rulers whenever they green light blue prints. Although this outer core gives the appearance of a fluid acceptance of many architectural styles and life styles, its inner core is composed of granite traditions that have been inculcated into a hundred generations and will not wear out their welcome anytime soon. Dubai has an incredible amount of limitless perspectives and prospective opportunities.

Dubai is a society whose moral compass is a whirling dervish. This is a society straining with one leather sandal planted firmly in the austerity of its fiercely protected antiquity and the other sandal placed in the sumptuousness of ravenous appetites and creature comforts. 

Me? I like creature comforts. Life here can be a dream for those of us who dream of a home with a garden that constantly needs grooming. For others it's a place that with each exhalation of breath, they pray that it's all a bad dream and that soon they'll awake with a start to find themselves surrounded by family and earning a decent wage for an honest day's work. 

Sumptuous living and creature comforts not withstanding, I need to get out and travel far away whenever the opportunity presents itself. I need a break from me and others like me, a mob with master's degrees, people with pallid complexions. Over pints of Guinness we swing our jeering hammers and crack the thin veneer of modern living, comforted knowing that those who employ us will never completely leave their venerable wilderness as long as they can outsource the grunt work of building them a glitzy new world. We khawajas make it possible for them to come down off their camels and climb onto the the cushy seats of the latest Hummer. 

Sometimes, it works my last nerve when we point out things like Googling Boticelli's "Birth of Venus", pulling up a warning which reads, "This site has been blocked because it contains content of a pornographic nature" while there are legions prostitutes from as far north as the northern suburbs of St. Petersburg, as far south as Zimbabwean savannas, as far east and as far west as the slums of Manila and Brazil, trafficked in each night, crowding the disco dance floors in seven star hotels.

Come on. So what?

The black beret blowing his whistle turns around as I set my guitar on the luggage trolley first; its neck jutting out like the ramming beak of a Roman warship. The heavy backpack rests on top of the guitar case and secures it, a two step process easier to do myself than to try to explain to my taxi driver. "I have it," I said to him, "Thank you. Shukrun, ma'salama."

I am well rehearsed in the sequence of steps which take me from taxi, through the hubbub of the airport, to the bar next to my departure gate. I entered the airport through doors nearest the Thai Airways ticket counter and as the doors closed behind me, they silenced the call to prayer.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

They Have Names, Y'Know

I first heard the term when older brothers of my friends returned from 13 months in Vietnam. This would have been my early teens to mid-teens. Mostly, the older brothers weren't much interested in talking about the war. They were mostly interested in getting on with their youths. They would rather not talk about it unless they wanted to shock us with stories about the sex and the drugs, you know, remembering the best of times.

They returned with stories exotica, stories of government issue vials of amyl nitrate and the ease of buying China white heroin, or what a hoot it was to zone out on Thai stick while under attack at night, mesmerized by the tracer rounds zapping back and forth which lit up the night sky like a shower of shooting stars. They told us about furloughs in Bangkok where these good  American boys paid for sex tricks like "the swinging chandelier" which required at least three prostitutes to make it happen. These prostitutes were referred to with a military-like acronym--L.B.F.M.s.(Be careful how you use it and who you use it around; it is the South East Asian "N" word". A very, very bad word).

We. the younger brothers thought that if the war ended before we turned 18, we'd be lucky--we were not impatiently waiting our turn to join the fight--this was 1968, 1969, 1970, not 1917 or 1941. But. If still being drafted in 1973, '74, '75 and the U.S. was still calling on us to stop the Southeast Asian red dominoes from tumbling, the odds, we thought, were on our side for coming home in one piece and there was a place called Bangkok and there were these L.B.F.M.s we'd heard so much about waiting for us. 

Acronym speak is military speak. For example, a sergeant barks, "Before you climb into your A.P.C. remember to collect your TA-50, a three day issue of C-Rats, and you F.N.G.s don't forget to keep your M-16s on safe. We will be encountering V.C. and N.V.A. and I do not want one swinging dick coming back K.I.A. or even W.I.A. so for tonight and the next four weeks, Jody, not you, will be hugging and kissing your L.B.F.M."

L.B.F.M.--Little Brown Fucking Machines. On the one hand, yes, of course, a truly offensive term, no argument there. As I've said,  a Southeast Asian "N" word. On the other hand, in many villages throughout North Eastern Thailand, Isaan in particular, many, if not all families have at least one daughter who is destined to become one day an L.B.F.M. The family depends on it. They should expect to work as prostitutes the way other family members are expected to grow and harvest the rice or the better yet, work even more thoughtlessly, on auto-pilot, more mechanically, like a machine, like a tractor or a rice thrasher, a not-quite-human mechanical object that works for the family in an occupation that did not, as I was taught in college, come about as a result of the days when L.B.J. sent in the U.S.M.C to fight the N.V.A. 

Thailand is a country never colonized by white guys. It is one area where white guys were not expected to carry a burden.

Thailand is a country with a history of concubinage, not so unique in Asia. And places like Isaan, not too far from Chiang Mai, are areas in Northeast Thailand where those who had it all used to shop around for their concubines because Isaan produces not only a lot of rice and some finger licking good rat meat, but Isaan has always yielded a bumper crop of extra daughters whose destiny was (and still is) upon reaching puberty to leave the family and go hang out somewhere, day-after-day, night-after-night, waiting to be fucked in order to support her family. It was and still is the duty of at least one daughter. And it is not anything new.

Families whose daughters left home were and still are thought of by kinfolk as not much more than farm machinery and like all farm machines, they help to ease the workload of toil, sweat and the real possibility of famine. The day these chosen daughters leave home is a day that gives their families a promising future of the La Dolce Vita.

Today, concubinage is officially prohibited but there's a work-around. Prostitution is unofficially a socially accepted (or socially resigned to) occupation. It is seen by these farming families as not so different than helping out, milking cows, gathering eggs, swinging a scythe in the rice paddies. They send their earnings home to the family who these days are not just content with golden rings and an iron rice bowl; the brothers need electric guitars and motorcycles, the sisters need an education and Hello Kitty sneakers, the parents need satellite dishes and H.D. TVs.  The liquor cabinet must have a well-stocked supply of Johnny Walker Red. 

I think more accurately they might be referred to as L.B.F.C.s--the "C" standing for cog, because in a society that has functioned for a thousand years like the same machine it is today, where Maslow's hierarchy of needs peak at "saving face" (gaining the admiration of respect of your neighbors). The household needs stuff, and the family must be the talk of the town, renowned for being a family who can afford to do a lot of hanging out, sleep late, wake up late, gamble often and one capable of throwing parties legendary in the retelling.

Self actualization (a western conceit) is realized by having more neat stuff than the folks next door; I see much of Thailand thinking of itself as a society which runs like a well maintained, highly profitable farm, and a well maintained, highly profitable farm is one which usually profits best buy skillfully implementing the use of all family members in its well-oiled machinery, including in some rural areas at least one daughter whose chores do not include getting up before dawn, but getting home just before sunrise.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Polar Exploration

I was in the spare bedroom timing myself on how quickly I could re-pack. A cab was going to take me to the airport within the next hour. I was killing time. 

I still use the same packing process that was drilled into me during basic training. They would often test us on how quickly we could get our T.A.-50 packed. T.A. stands for "table of allowances"; beats me what the "50" means. 

I begin packing by putting the paperbacks I hope to get around to reading on the bottom. That helps to build a foundation so the pack can stand on its own, plus the books help to shape a sturdier frame.

I rolled all clothes tightly and separated them by items into different plastic bags, so that I could find what I needed when I would need it in an "expeditious" manner. Those army guys say, "expedite",  "expeditious" and "expeditiously" a lot. They could say "fast!" if they were so concerned with saving time, frantic even over a lost second or two, but polysyllables, you must admit, do command respect, especially when you're being bawled out and a stop watch is ticking.

At just about the two minute mark, backpack nearly packed, the wife came into the bedroom. I was finishing up, patting down a plastic grocery bag containing 10 pairs of gray tube socks, 10 pairs of underwear and a roll of toilet paper.  The things you'll need quickly and more frequently should be most accessible so they go in last, on top.

The wife had a checklist of things on her mind. Her voice soft, low, husky, jet lagged. When she asked if I'd remembered to pack this or that or something or the other, I answered in truth "yes" to each question except one. 

"Did you pack your medications?" That "yes" wasn't true.

When I'm out, that is when I'm traveling, catching trains and buses, hiking up Himalayan foothills or floating down monkey shit infested rivers, I leave behind those pills the doctor ordered.  

Be true to yourself I say, even if it is a self you wouldn't call being at its peak. I am my own guide and I like to guide myself with a different moral compass, one that doesn't consistently return safely back to the same magnetic pole, but one that has a needle that can spin rapidly for no apparent reason from one pole to the other without much forewarning. I like an inward get-away when I'm out, a get-away from self as much as a get-away from routine. I choose to travel to countries where I can prescribe my own remedies without a note from the doctor. Man. O. Man. You should see how my moral compass needle spins.

While I believe that first impressions are important and that in the end it does matter how people remember you, these things only really matter if you're ever going to see these people again.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

I Dreamed I Saw Joe Hill Last Night and He Was A'Greetin' Customers at Wal-Mart.

Had me an interesting convesation with a witty Chinese grad student a couple of nights back and I just had to ask. . .

Is the Chinese government aware of how much human trafficking is going on between China and the oil-rich Arab Gulf states? And I added to my question that if these girls had been double crossed, that is, accepted a job in Dubai believing they were going to work as a secretary in an export/import office only to have their passports pulled upon arrival and are then beaten into submitting to a life on the game, if these girls were to go to their consulate in Dubai asking for help, would they be able to get help? Refuge? Sanctuary? A ticket home?

Her answer, "Probably not. The Chinese government looks at it like this--hey, at least you have a job, so quit your bitching."

"But what about the angry young men? Culural revolutions? Why don't the grandchildren of Chairman Mao say anything?"

She answered, "Oh. We still have angry young men but instead of standing up in the clasroom and bitching about empowering the proletariate, these days they argue about whether the Yuan should be tied to the Euro or the dollar."

Hold the phone. And what about Mao's Little Red Book? I asked.

"Oh, you can still find them. . .in antique stores."

The New Snooping Through Someone's Medicine Cabinet: Go to Start>Search>Enter jpg, jpeg,mpeg and flv

So this friend of mine, a professional SE Asian semi-retiree ex-pat, went home to see his Mama. 

As he's coming through the customs clearance area, someone chalked "SB" on his luggage. "Search Bags".

His origin of departure was Bangkok.  He had a Cambodian work visa in his passport.

Come with us sir.

He's taken to a back room where he's sat at table across from a customs agent who wasn't really interested in other part of his luggage ensemble other than his laptop. 

The customs agent said, "Sorry sir, but. . ." he opened the laptop and starts to boot it up, "we get a lot of sex tourists from Southeast Asia passing through here and we just have to make sure that. . ."

But before the customs agent got to the part when he asked for a password, my friend responded, "Oh, I am a sex tourist."

The custom agent froze, a pause lasting maybe two beats followed before the agent collected himself and responded, "Excuse me?"

My friend answered, "I am a sex tourist. I'm a sex tourist but not a sexual predator. You're confusing the two. I think sexual predators should be locked up and gang raped until their eye balls start to bleed. I hope you catch them all, lock them up and throw away the key."

Another dumbstruck beat.

"OK sir," the customs agent sighed like one does after hearing a knock knock joke; he shuts down the computer and closes the laptop. "Sorry for the delay." He handed back the laptop. Welcome home, Have a nice day."

It's like marijuana and heroin, and the DEA's blindness to the various shades of gray.

Let's not lose sleep hoping that we can turn around the life of a 20-something 30 dollar a month 7-11 cashier who turns the occasional trick for a new hand bag. 

I've been a supporter of COYOTE since I was a teenager. (Well, what teenager wouldn't support COYOTE? But if COYOTE is still around, they still get my vote).

But. We should make chasing down child fuckers a 24-hour a day priority. Child fuckers never sleep. Neither should we when we're going after them.


When I get back to Dubai, I'm going to write a grant and go after some of that sweet NGO anti-childfucking money. Only I want to start my NGO in Portugal.