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I was awakened by the screeching doorbell. I had hoped it was Mavis bringing me café latte, donuts and some after dinner sweets. It was not. It was Joe Vu.

“Hiya Boss. You’re gonna be late. You look like hell. Nice place you got here,” he added as he walked by me into the loft.

“Did you bring the coffee and donuts? I can do without the sweets.”

“Huh”

“Never mind.”

Joe puttered around the house while I showered and dressed. We left and got into the car. It was a big black Lincoln.

“We’re downscale today,” I commented.

“Martin is using the Lexus.”

“How many cars does he have?”

“Lots, he collects them.”

“I saw the movie,” he added as we drove away from the curb.

“Movie?”

“Yeah, The Big Sleep, with Bogart and Bacall that you told me to watch. I don’t know about that Bacall, skinny bitch, no tits or ass.”

“They liked them like that then. Skinny ment rich and elegant. Today we still do skinny, but we add the tits and the butts, often fake ones, like ornaments on a Christmas tree. Zaftig is out in the modern world.”

“I couldn’t figure anything out. Who killed the chauffeur and Rogan? And why was everything so dark? I liked the car though.

” Yeah, it was a sweet Plymouth. Nobody knows who killed the chauffeur or Rogan, not the guy that wrote the story, not the director of the movie and certainly not the actors. Life is like that and so is the private investigation business. Sometimes, hell most times, you simply do not know what happened and never will. And, just like in the movie, it probably doesn’t matter.

As for the dark and the shadows, in films and books that’s called noir. It’s French for dark. Dark shadows, dark thoughts and dark deeds. It’s not like real life at all. Everyone likes light in their life. If it gets too dark they go to sleep. Even bad things are usually done in the light, behind closed doors and in secret perhaps, but the lights are usually on.”

“So, I guess it was like the last one you had me watch, there’s nothing in the movie to learn about bring a private eye?”

“No, in this one there is a lot to learn and remember. For example, you’re never hired by people who have to choose between food and you. It’s always someone who has a some spare cash around. They can spend it on you or a new piece of matched luggage. It’s all the same to them. So make sure you get paid. Up front if you can.

The movie also tells you, don’t work at night. Its dangerous. Sometimes you have to work at night. Like when you’re sitting in your car with your camera watching, hoping to catch client’s husband disappearing into the motel. Still, in the world of private detecting or in life itself, nooners are safer or right after work. Late night trysts interfere with your sleep and should be avoided. Always try to charge more for night work.

Also, if your client has a good-looking daughter, sleeping with her makes the job more interesting. And if he has two, and you have to choose, choose the skinny one.

And finally never, ever have dealings with someone named Eddie Mars.”

“You’re very sick, boss. Why the skinny one?”

“I don’t know. It is one of life’s mysteries.”

The next day Frank and I went to a place in Boca Raton called the Royal Pig (owned appropriately by the original promoters of Hooters) where we met up with a friend of his named Dorian. We ate a lot of bar foods including a tasty fried sweet potato snack. I drank a lot of different fruit juice based cocktails and got a bit drunk.

I remember we talked a fair amount to the bartenders; one a short young woman originally from Cambodia and the other a tall blond girl from Columbus Ohio. Being three Italian-American males of a certain age, we inevitable got around to discussing our ethnic cultural icons, in this case Dean Martin. The bartender from Columbus who is of Italian-German heritage and who’s father pitched for the Mets, shockingly (to us at least) acknowledged she had no idea who Dean Martin was.

Marlena, the director of a local cultural center of some sort, then arrived. She is an old friend of Dorian and Frank. Dorian mentioned that one of her current boyfriends recently had bought her an expensive house, cash. When I enquired how she had managed to accomplish that remarkable feat, she responded, “I owe it all to my golden vagina.”

I also learned that Chuck the Banker who I had met once in San Francisco on some deal or another but who disappeared after scoring some coke, was sitting in his car outside of the bar but refused to come in. We discussed his peculiar behavior patterns for a while.
18 Papa Joe 0001

Achilles

In approximately 1250 BC Achilles dies on the Plains of Troy from an arrow shot into his heel by Paris, the instigator of the Trojan War. He was 28 years old at the time of his death. Two days before his death, Achilles in turning down a request from a delegation of Greek nobles that he return to lead them in their struggle against Troy, said:

“I for my part did not come here for the sake of the Trojan spearmen to fight against them, since to me they have done nothing.”

“…For not worth the value of my life are all the possessions they fable were won for Ilion…”

“Of possessions cattle and fat sheep are things to be had for the lifting, and tripods can be won and the tawny high heads of horses, but a man’s life cannot come back again, it cannot be lifted nor captured again by force, once crossed the teeth’s barrier.”

Within 50 years of their triumph over Troy, the victorious Achaean Greek society collapsed plunging Greece into a “Dark Age” lasting almost 600 years. They even lost the ability to write.

The Blackfoot River flows a few miles east of the Bitterroot Valley in Western Montana.

It is difficult to describe what the Blackfoot is like, because many of its natural qualities seem to have theological overtones. Maybe that’s why the Indians considered it a holy place. After the spring runoff, the water is blue-green and swift and cold and running in long riffles through boulders that stay half-submerged year round. The canyons are steep-sided and topped with fir and ponderosa and larch trees that turn gold in the fall. If you listen carefully, you notice the rocks under the stream knocking against one another and making a murmuring sound, as though talking to themselves or us. The boulders along the banks are huge and often baked white and sometimes printed with the scales of hellgrammites. Many of the boulders are flat-topped and are wonderful to walk out on so you can fly-cast and create a wide-looping figure eight over your head and not hang your fly in the trees. Wild roses grow along the banks, as well as bushes and leafy vines that turn orange and scarlet and apricot and plum in the autumn. When the wind comes up the canyon, leaves and pine needles balloon into the air, as though the entirety of the environment is in reality a single organism that creates its own rebirth and obeys its own rules and takes no heed of man’s presence. The greatest oddity on the river is the quality of light. It doesn’t come from above. There is a mossy green-gold glow that seems to emanate from the table rocks that plate the river bottom, and the trout drifting back and forth in the riffle are backlit by it.”
Burke, James Lee. Light of the World: A Dave Robicheaux Novel (p. 326). Simon & Schuster.

“Like many fly fishermen in western Montana where the summer days are almost Arctic in length, I often do not start fishing until the cool of the evening. Then in the Arctic half-light of the canyon, all existence fades to a being with my soul and memories and the sounds of the Big Blackfoot River and a four-count rhythm and the hope that a fish will rise. Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world’s great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of those rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs. I am haunted by waters.”
Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It (1976).

Classical, baroque or romantic, spare or lush style is a preference or a fashion but good writing is good writing.

Fly fishing is a wonderful thing. A friend of mine, Dennis Machida, a determined fisherman, took me fly fishing a few times. He tried to teach me how to do it. I liked it a lot, although I was not a very good student.

There was a comedian I saw once who described a women’s mind as always full and buzzing with thoughts and ideas but a man’s as packed with boxes each containing only a single thought. At the center of all those boxes is one box that for a majority of men was the most important. That box is empty. Many men spend much of their time there.

I always thought fly fishing was something that a lot of men put into that particular box. Imagine standing for eight or so hours in freezing cold water whipping a piece of string back and forth above your head making lazy S’s in the sky.

I think it is interesting that neither of the authors quoted above actually mentions catching fish. It is not the purpose of fly fishing to catch fish. Oh, maybe one or two just to show people you actually went fishing. The purpose of fly fishing is to empty your mind of thought. It is a type or meditation for those who like to be uncomfortable while doing it and are infatuated with gear.

 

More reflections on fly fishing:

I had written the above in a post I send now and then to several of my friends and re-posted at This and that…. It is always flattering when someone responds positively to something I write. The following is from Naida West one of my favorite authors. I consider Naida’s historical trilogy, The California Gold Trilogy, to contain three of the finest historical novels written about America. Unlike others who merely place their story in another era, Naida’s involves mostly actual people taken from diaries and other sources to which she adds missing thoughts, motivations and dialogue and a character or two. Her characters are not kings and queens and the like, but ordinary (and some not so ordinary) people who populated the banks of the Cosumnes River in California more than 100 years ago.

I loved your reflections of fly fishing, such as this: “(Fly fishing) is a type of meditation for those who like to be uncomfortable while doing it and are infatuated with gear.”

Here’s a reflection of my own:

My lawyer father, a delightful actor on life’s stage if one winked at his pursuit of women and booze, grew younger before my eyes as he neared his favorite trout streams. By the time we left the road and bumped violently over bushes and rocky outcroppings seeking a place to stop, he was a wide-eyed child at Barnum and Bailey’s tent door. He bounced out to retrieve his gear while I steeled myself for a day of boredom with the windows up, my only excitement murdering mosquitoes that had snuck in while the door had been open. As the sun edged across the sky I poached in my sweat, recalling the day I explored a riverbank in shorts while he fished. The angry welts all over me, overlapping even under my shirt, just about killed me or so I thought. My dad had scoffed and said I should control the effects with my mind like he did. Umm, no. He admired swamis who barefooted across glowing coals.

Yet for an hour or two, coming and going, I had my dad to myself. At the wheel he recited story-length poems by Longfellow, Gray, Coleridge, and Poe, using theatrical emphasis to convey the meaning of outdated idioms. Between poems he answered questions about the words and phrases, always in an interesting way, repeating the stanzas where they were used. I memorized some of those poems before my mother & grandmother hauled us to CA, and in the 8th grade my teacher had me go from room to room in Carmel High School reciting them to classrooms of older kids. I saw my dad only a handful of times after we left Idaho, though he lived until 1989.”
Naida

 

Hiawatha:

It is great to be reminded that there was a time when people quoted Longfellow, Poe and others instead of relying on street corner argot and advertising slogans to prove their intellectual integration with the greater American culture. For example, I often sprinkle my speech with the word “fuck” in an effort to signify my affinity for the common idiomatic mode of discourse we Americans use to express ourselves.

Speaking of Longfellow, I always felt he got a raw deal from the critics. He was part of a movement that began with Washington Irving and continued until Whitman gave up the ghost in an orgy of pantheistic individualism. They tried to create a new song unique to America out of the diverse traditions of those living or migrating to the continent at the time. True it was mostly wrapped in Yankee sensibilities. Nevertheless, they tried to bundle into a single melody the  of the stories Native American, Knickerbocker, Frontiersman, Acadian, Settler at the edge of the primeval wilderness and even the sad songs of slavery.  One can recognize those songs and stories even where altered to fit nativist sensibilities. I guess they were trying to write a “New World Symphony” decades too early. A violin differs from and oboe in its history, shape and sound, but, in a symphony by Brahms, together they create a song far different from what either could accomplish separately. No one criticizes old Johannes for failing to allow each instrument its own solo. Even Jazz requires the solos to doodle around with the underlying theme. (Come to think of it, Jazz was another attempt to meld the diverse music of several cultures, relying in part on the fundamentals of European folk music, African syncopation and rhythm, and Klezmer instrumentalization.)

Romantic and fuzzy headed, this movement died at mid-century when the two true songs of America emerged, one indescribably evil and malicious. The other almost as bad, lacking a unifying theme other than simple revulsion.

Longfellow’s Song of Hiawatha, an attempt to use new interest at the time in Native American culture and legends to create a syncretic myth for the new country, has been soundly criticized. At first the criticism appeared to emanate from the trolls of that era who focused, in part, upon the poems idealization of a people whom they believed deserved their extinction. Later, because the poem relied on the study of Native American culture by a man who was one of the first to take an interest in their way of life, it was ridiculed because significant portions of that research was in error and more recent studies decades after the poem’s publication came to different conclusions. This is like criticizing the ancient Egyptians for not using reenforced concrete to construct their pyramids.

Did you know that reciting the Song of Hiawatha provides greater psychological and physical benefits than meditation? It’s true, try it. Find a quiet room, darkened but not devoid of light. Make yourself comfortable and slowly, in a hushed voice as deep you can manage, recite the poem making sure you accent it properly.

Longfellow used the trochaic meter instead of the iambic that is more comfortable for Indo-European speakers. It is a more common rhythm in Ural-Altaic languages (in this case Finnish) that Longfellow believed, rightly or wrongly, reflected the natural rhythms of the language of the First Peoples. In any event, for some English speakers it seems to produce a chthonic throbbing that reverberates in the marrow of their bones like the moan of a cello.

Try it, you’ll like it. Do not begin with that portion of the poem that we learned in grade school but at the beginning with the Introduction. To get you started I include it here:

“Should you ask me, whence these stories?
Whence these legends and traditions,
With the odors of the forest
With the dew and damp of meadows,
With the curling smoke of wigwams,
With the rushing of great rivers,
With their frequent repetitions,
And their wild reverberations
As of thunder in the mountains?
I should answer, I should tell you,
From the forests and the prairies,
From the great lakes of the Northland,
From the land of the Ojibways,
From the land of the Dacotahs,
From the mountains, moors, and fen-lands
Where the heron, the Shuh-shuh-gah,
Feeds among the reeds and rushes.
I repeat them as I heard them
From the lips of Nawadaha,
The musician, the sweet singer.”

Note: Do not try this with Evangeline or any of the Acadian poems. Those rhythms can cause mild stomach upset to the inexperienced.

 

I am what is referred to by some as a vivid dreamer. That is, my dreams are in color, I know that I am dreaming and I can alter them as they go along. I also can wake myself up if things get too stressful. Moreover, I generally remember a lot of them in their entirety. Sometimes, those dreams become as real in my memory as any other experience. Periodically I used to analyze which of my memories were real and which were dreams in order to purge those not real. I no longer do that. I now believe, if it is there it is as real as any memory.

I prefer sleep to being awake because on the whole my dreams are far more interesting and exciting than my waking life is. I guess that goes for most of us.

Perhaps a little over a score of years ago I dreamt I was flying in a plane. We passed from the ocean over the land somewhere in Africa where we landed. I then took a small jitney bus that drove directly from the airport into the desert. The desert was not the sandy dune desert of Lawrence of Arabia, but barren, dusty and rocky like parts of West Texas. After a day or two we arrived at a small city of mud-walled buildings. In the center of the city was a large dirt plaza filled with men with guns, shooting them into the air and shouting at people in cars or busses and stopping them as they tried to make their way through the plaza. The men seemed to be grouped into gangs with no one group in charge. They appeared mediterranean in complexion with large bushy mustaches. They wore dark pants and vests over their shirts. I assumed they were Muslims since most of them wore ragged turbans on their heads.

They would not allow our bus to continue, so I disembarked and walked into the city to search for some distant relatives whom I knew lived in the town. The relatives strangely were Armenian shopkeepers. I found their shop. I never learned what they sold there. The relatives lived above the shop. After I explained who I was, they welcomed me in. The father, a man of about 60, was relatively short statured, clean-shaven with a round face topped by a mostly bald head with a few long black hairs combed over. He had two grown sons, they were much taller than he, broad-shouldered and moustached. Strapped to their backs were guns of some sort. Their sister was a slender dark girl of about 14, I guess. She wore a light-colored dress imprinted with small pink flowers. The mother was thin like the daughter with more grey hair than the father. I told them I had been stopped by the gunmen in the plaza and I wanted to continue on to the jungle beyond the desert. He said that it would be difficult under the current chaotic circumstances to secure permission to travel beyond the City. He said he would have to think about it and promised to do his best. In the meantime, they prepared a dinner in my honor attended by the father’s brother and his family. After the dinner the brothers spoke with each other in a corner of the room out of my hearing. Eventually the father came over to me and told me that the leader of one of the strongest militia was a friend of his and he thought he could arrange passage for me.

Early the next morning after saying good-bye and thanking everyone I, accompanied the older son, returned to the plaza and after enduring several threats and insults from the militia leader, was put into an old Range Rover and allowed to continue on my way.

We drove on across that stoney dusty desert well into the early afternoon when the landscape began to change, first into scrub lands and then into a grassy savannah. Small copse of trees dotted the terrain here and there. Near to sunset we topped a small ridge and saw a little valley beyond. The savannah continued across the valley along with the dirt track we had been following until along the smaller ridge on the opposite side the green expanse of the forest began abruptly. Where the road disappeared into the trees, I could see a small village of conical mud-walled houses nestled in the shade of the trees stretched out along the road.

At sundown we arrived at the village. I got out of the vehicle at the edge of the village. About 10 or so adults and innumerable children assembled around the vehicle as I disembarked. One man approached. He seemed to be in his late twenties or early thirties. I guess he was Somali or other Cushite speaker, thin, light brown complexion and a straight narrow nose. He greeted me and asked what had brought me to the village. I answered that I had heard about what they had accomplished in creating their vast environmental and ethnological preserve and I wanted to see it for myself. This was the first time in the dream that I had become aware of what I was doing here.

He contemplated me for a moment then said, “Mama discourages casual visitors to the reserve.” At first I thought MAMA was an acronym for the NGO operating the place. I was soon disabused of that assumption when he glanced to a large woman standing off to the side surrounded by passel of young children.

She was a large woman, large indeed, about an inch or two taller than me and at least 50 pounds heavier. Her skin was a deep chocolate color and a thick dark tangled ring of hair floated around her head like Medusa’s snakes. She wore a deep blue tent like dress that fell from her shoulders almost all the way to the ground. Thick red stripes containing faint yellow pinstripes broke up the wall of blue.

“Perhaps I can persuade her to let me stay,” I said. “I don’t think so,” he responded quickly. “But it is too late in the day to send you back, so you can stay the night as our guest and if she is not too busy perhaps you can try to persuade her tomorrow.”

With that he led me into the town past several of the huts to one a little back from the road. “This is my house,” he said. “You can stay here for the evening. There is a cot in the back. You can leave your backpack there. I will show you where to wash up and you can join my family and others for dinner.”

The hut was nicely sized containing a single room. It seemed to be used only for sleeping. I found a small cot at the back and with both relief and trepidation dropped my backpack on it and rejoined my host.

He showed me to a surprisingly comfortable bathhouse with both hot and cold tubs and showers. It seemed available to both sexes.

After my bath he led me to a clearing a little way from the village. Here there were benches and a few sturdy wooden tables. Several modern grill type cookers and other tables containing copious amounts of food surrounded a large campfire around which on a variety of strange tripod like contraptions other pots and viands hung over the flames.

I met my host’s wife and their two small children. She was young and quite attractive. I am sorry to say, I no longer remember their names even though they became some of the closest friends I had even known. That’s the way it is with dreams.

The clearing filled up with what appeared to be at least a hundred adults and even more children running about. The others seemed to be a mixture of ethnicities and races, predominately African but I could see some Europeans and Asians also among the crowd.

Although I remember the food was delicious and the feeling that I enjoyed myself immensely I recall little more about the evening other than that whenever I glanced across the campfire through the flames I saw Mama on the other side staring at me with what looked like hard cold angry eyes.

After the dinner I returned to the hut, laid down on the cot and fell immediately asleep.

The next morning I awoke just as the light of predawn had made its way into the hut. My hosts and their children had already left. I dressed quickly, used the bathhouse facilities, grabbed some rolls from the breakfast tent set up near where I had dinner last night and strolled toward a large fenced in compound in a clearing in the woods about a quarter-mile or so from the village. I figured it would be a good idea for me to make myself useful around there before any meeting with the formidable Mama.

The compound contained a number of trucks and several buildings. A lot of people industriously worked or walked about. There seemed to be more people milling around here than lived in the village. I asked the first person I came upon where I could best be of help. He brought me over to one of the trucks being loaded with medical supplies and equipment. I worked throughout the day at various things not stopping at all except for a brief lunch break. At about dinnertime, I washed up and joined my host and his family at the campfire. They mentioned nothing about me leaving and seemed to expect me to spend the night again in their hut.

During dinner I asked my host a question that had been on my mind most of the day (from here on I will call him Tre because those letters are next to each other on the keyboard. His wife I will call Yu for the same reason). “Why was the work area fully equipped with modern facilities including electricity and modern plumbing while the village living area, as comfortable as it is, contained virtually none at all? Tre responded, “Because Mama believes where work is performed it should be as efficient as possible for the benefit of the work to be done and the laborers who do it. On the other hand, she believes where one lives, after accounting for health and adequate comfort, should be a frugal as possible because we owe it to the earth, it makes us more sensitive to the lives of the indigenous people in the preserve and it encourages us to share in our community.”

So, the next few days at the village continued like that, working in the compound and eating dinner by the campfire with everyone. I was even given a small hut of my own.

One day after lunch I looked out across the village into the valley. About two or three hundred yards away there stood a large outcropping of rocks. They broke into the slope of the valley and on average towered about 50 feet or so high. The outcropping extended in a curve of about seventy-five yards or so. It looked like a rough amphitheater facing down the valley. The various boulders that made up the outcropping were stepped and flat-topped further accentuating the theatre effect.

On the rocks about two-thirds of the way up sat Mama on a large flat area facing toward the sun. Around her throughout the outcropping were many children playing and jumping from rock to rock and splashing in the small rock basins filled with water from various springs that leaked through the outcropping from the valley slope that backed up against it. There were also a number of other women tending the children or sitting down talking in small groups. There were a few men about too.

I thought this would be a good chance to speak with Mama about my status, so I walked over to the outcropping. As I climbed up the rocks to where Mama sat, I saw her looking at me not unkindly. As I got near to where she was sitting I heard a rumble not too loud at first but quickly gaining in volume. Then whole valley began to shake. I turned and looked down the valley. What I saw terrified me.

I heard Mama say behind me, “Do not be afraid.”

A great brown and grey cloud billowed at the far end of the valley through which plunged a stampede of animals. Not like the great Serengeti migration where large herbivores run the gauntlet of predators but a stampede of all sorts of animals, herbivore and predator alike. Elephants, lions, leopards, giraffes, wild pigs and warthogs, even monkeys and chimpanzees plunged down the valley toward us. It looked a lot like the start of the SF Bay to Breakers race. I was so frightened I considered waking myself up. But recalling Mama’s calming words, I plopped down on the nearest rock, my heart pounding almost as loud as the sounds of the hooves and paws plunging toward us.

The herd split into two, each half passing the rock outcropping on opposite sides. The others on the rocks with me clapped and laughed. Suddenly a large male lion all ruff and fangs detached itself from the herd and sprang up the rocks right toward me. It swerved just before it reached me, brushed by and bounded over the top or the outcropping to rejoin the stampede leaving me little worse for wear other than a slightly strained sphincter.

A rhinoceros bumped out of the pack stumbled up the rocks a few feet, fell down and struggled to get up again. A child sitting nearby leaned over and patted it on its horn. The beast chuffed, backed itself down and ran off.

After the animals passed leaving only the rumble of their passage further down the valley and swirling clouds of dust, everyone on the rocks clapped and cheered like the Forth of July crowds after the fireworks.

We then all walked off into the woods until we came to a stream. Everyone dove in to clean off the dust and dirt. Some removed their clothing and others jumped in clothes and all. I decided to explore the stream a bit and walked away until I could no longer hear their cries and laughter. I soon came to a place where the stream widened out into a small pool. Across the way the stream entered the pool in a small two-step waterfall. The upper stories of the forest were pulled back around the pool allowing the sunlight to flood down glittering the spray of the waterfalls and turning the bottom of the pool iridescent.

The trees surrounding the pool although open to the sun at their tops crowded the pool in a seemingly impenetrable wall. Sitting or hopping about on the branches of the trees were hundreds of birds of every color and shape of feather. Where they did not hide the trees behind from view, thousands of butterflies fluttered about filling up the spaces. Strangely there was no sound of birds calling to one another, only the thrumming of their wings and the shushing of the waterfall. After a while I began to think the whole thing was spooky and so I returned to the village.

A few days later I was invited to ride along on a truck going deeper into the preserve. I jumped at the chance. We started well before sunrise and drove through forest and savannah for several hours until the solid green wall of the jungle rose up before us. Nestled at the edge of that seemingly impenetrable mass of vegetation was a small village.

The people of the village did not appear to me to be African at all. Traditional Peoples south of the Sahara tended to be pastoralists and farmers, not hunter gatherers. Nor did they look a lot like natives of the Sahel and further south. They looked in fact more like the indigenous people in the South American rain forest or Borneo pictured in National Geographic which is where my dream probably got them from. They were mostly bronze skinned and festooned with bones and beads piercing their septum or ear lobes or hung in their hair or on strings around their necks, arms or ankles. Their hair ranged from tightly curled to early Beetles bangs. They wore various colored dyes on their faces and bodies. I did not notice any scarifications or tattoos.

They were, of course in keeping with their National Geographic genesis, mostly naked. The children, starkers, running every which way, screaming and laughing. The men, the older the more pot-bellied, bare but for a ragged cloth over their privates or nothing at all. One or two sporting a penis sheath. The women, naked breasts becoming more slab like and drooping towards their waste as they aged, here and there sported a grass kirtle or a piece of cloth or leather like the men. The younger women, their brown nubbins with puffy dark nipples protruded proudly from their chests.

For males of my age, I suspect many of us recall that time before Playboy began publication when most of us got our pre-adolescent titillation from surreptitiously staring at the brown nubbins with puffy dark nipples in the photographs of the ubiquitous National Geographic magazines of which it seemed every home had at least a modest supply. I wondered at the time, being too young and inexperienced to understand the subtleties and complexities of racial prejudice, why brown nubbins with puffy dark nipples were freely exposed while white breasts with pink nipples were covered with cloth. I concluded that to most adults white breasts with pink nipples must have appeared too horribly ugly and therefore needed to be hidden from view.

I met the representatives of the preserve, a middle-aged man and a youngish woman. They were both dressed like the other residents of the village. The man sporting a grey beard and thick white hair might have been European or Middle Eastern, but his skin was burned so dark and leathery it was difficult to tell. The woman seemed clearly of African descent. They shared the duties of providing medical services to the people of the village as well as those deeper in the jungle and conducting anthropological and sociological studies. They also accompanied and assisted scientists and others allowed into the preserve.

I was told that the residents of the village were quite antagonistic to strangers. I learned this first hand as I toured the settlement. The residents seemed happy and often laughing except when I came close. Then they became silent, sullen and almost threatening. As my guides explained, they see themselves as protectors of the preserve and everyone else as a threat. It all appeared to me to resemble the theory behind the establishment of those seed banks deep in the arctic so that in case of a disaster we would have stock to begin again. Admirable but naïve I thought .

I was taken briefly into the jungle to observe hunting by the villagers. After a lot of walking about, missed shots and mutterings they managed to bring down a small monkey with a blow gun.

All in all I was happy to leave and return to the village where I was staying.

After a few more days, I left the village to return home. I did not go back through the armed town containing my Armenian relatives, but drove on a very curvy road through some mountains. Now and then subdivision development appeared along the side of the road that seemed suspiciously like those in the foothills where I now reside. Eventually we topped a ridge where I could see the coastal plain before me and the airport. Beyond the airport was the ocean. At that point I woke up.

Over about the next year and a half, I returned to the village six or eight times. Sometimes I would fly into the airport near the ocean, at others I would find myself in the armed town and now and then I would just appear in the village itself.

The first time I returned, Mama and I became lovers.

There’s not much to tell about how our affair began. It was night and I was walking by her hut. She stood in the doorway leaning against the frame, gazing at the sky. I walked toward her and directly on into the hut. She followed and we laid down together on the bed.

Most of the beds in the village consisted of a straw mat like they have in Japan at the bottom. On top of that were layered one or two soft blankets or rugs or something like that. Then a cool fitted sheet was placed over it all. In this case the sheet was white. The bed was comfortable if a bit hard, but certainly nowhere near as hard as some of the beds I slept on in Thailand.

After that first evening, when I was in the village, I spent almost every night in her hut. Generally we would sit on the bed our backs pressed against the cool mud wall staring at the night sky through the window on the opposite wall of the dark hut. That window provided a view of the night sky framed by a few black branches of trees. A wide streak of light bisected the night sky. It was as if a huge ribbon hung down from somewhere above the roof of the hut. On that ribbon there seemed festooned what looked like an infinite number of blinking Christmas lights, white, yellow, red and blue. So many that it seemed like a single pulsating band of light. Now and then a meteor would flash by. I never saw a moon.

The light from outside that window provided the only illumination in the room. I could just make out the outline of her face and the arc of her jaw line as it curved to meet her earlobe.

I could smell the harsh fragrance of the basic soap we all used in the village and the acrid smell of sweat mixed with the sandalwood aroma of the dust that was always with us. Floating through this melange of aromas was the hint of perfume from the shampoo she used. One of the few indulgences she allowed herself.

Eventually we would shimmy down on to the bed.

In the morning, before dawn, I would leave her hut and return to my own to prepare for the day.

We rarely spent time together during the day, even at meals. I would however occasionally see her walking through the village almost always surrounded by children. Now and then I would notice her meeting with people or escorting them around the village. Some of the visitors had suits, others were dressed in various forms of military uniform. There were also some in more casual dress that I assumed were academics of some sort or engineers.They often seemed to be vigorously arguing with her about something or other.

I began to sense tension and stress in the village and especially in Mama. When I asked her about it one night, she dismissed it as a minor irritant.

At first I thought it was merely the ongoing pressure of budget, funding, personnel and administrative matters that are ever-present in any organization and exacerbated by the lack of staff to handle the endless paperwork that is a way of life for most eleëmosynary organizations.

I had some experience about these things and I could sympathize with what she and the other members of the village were going through. Then, one night I found the young son of Tre and Yu unconscious by the side of the road. He had been severely beaten.

I called someone over to run and find one of the paramedics that worked in the village. We bundled the injured child into an old Land Rover and drove him to the hospital.

The hospital located about 10 miles away on the other side of the valley was quite new and surrounded by a small town. I assumed the town was peopled by medical personnel who worked at the hospital and those who worked in the preserve but were unwilling to live the spartan lifestyle enforced by Mama in the village.

Tre, Yu and I sat outside the emergency room waiting. Mama arrived a few minutes later and waited silently with us.

The child, all bandaged up and still unconscious was placed in a hospital room after emerging from the emergency ward. There we spent the night. Tre, Yu and I alternately napping and talking quietly among ourselves. Mama sat in a chair rigid and silent, never moving her eyes from the child as though she was willing him to recover. Recover he did and we all returned to our various duties.

Following this I learned that the preserve had been under political, economic and physical assault for many months. Terrorists, resource extraction organizations and the like all hungered for access to the reserve and its resources.

It was as though having fouled every place else (their own nests so to speak) they now ravenously looked at this unspoiled place like the rapist observing his next victim.

Many preserve workers had been injured and some killed. On one of my visits another child had been attacked and Mama and I spent another sleepless night at the hospital.

I noticed on each of my visits the stress on her exacted a greater and greater physical toll. Then on day when I returned to the village I learned that she had been taken to the hospital. I rushed there and into her room. She was lying in bed. He body was horribly shriveled. Her skin had lost its luster and appeared dry and brittle like a piece of cardboard.

I stayed there with her day and night. She still ran the preserve from her bed. She continued to decline. Finally I told her that I had some experience it managing organizations like the Preserve and I would be happy to do so until she got better. She said, “No, this is my life, my world. Your life is somewhere else.” I woke up back in my bed. I knew she had died.

I returned to the village two more times after that to visit with my friends. But, the colors of the place seemed washed out and I had trouble holding on to the dream for more than a few moments. Eventually I stopped going there.

Since then every once in a while in that period between sleep and wakefulness the image of us in the hut, or on the rock outcropping or even in the hospital hovers for a while before disappearing. It comforts me knowing that this is not a dream but a memory. END.

 

 

We arrived at IHOP about 10 minutes late. Martin Vihn had not yet arrived. I took a seat at a booth against the back wall and sat down facing the entrance. Joe slipped into the seat opposite me. A window was on my left through which I watched a man assemble a sidewalk stand. The waitress brought the menus. Joe got right down to studying it. I watched the man struggle with some pipes that held up an awning over his stand while I thought about my upcoming meeting with Vihn. My usual bouts with fear and uncertainty slithered through my mind like minks in heat. The worst part was wondering about what people, like Mavis or Fat Al would say if I was wrong and died. I imagined something like, “What on earth possessed him to take such a risk.” Last night I thought I had good and compelling reasons, but now I realized they were mere rationalizations for whatever was so deeply imbedded in my psyche that impelled me to act as I did.

Nothing new in that, I have become convinced most of the reasons we tell ourselves that we need to do something have little to do with why we do whatever it is we end up doing. They are merely a handy thing, whenever we are successful, to tell ourselves and others. You know, “I knew what I was doing all along.”

Joe brought me out of my musings. “I’m having the Belgian waffles. What about you?”

“I’ll probably have the blueberry short stack and fried eggs. For some reason I always get the same thing when I come here.”

Martin Vihn entered the restaurant followed by two of the young men I had seen before. One was dressed like Joe in tee-shirt and windbreaker. The other had on a dark hoodie. Martin had on a dark blue jacket over a white button down shirt and jeans. He came over to our table.

“Sorry I’m late. Traffic and parking”

Joe slid out from his seat. Said, “I’ll sit with Vinnie and Chang.” He walked over to the table where the other two young men who accompanied Vihn sat. Vu’s arrival prompted a lot of laughing and fist bumping. Martin nodded to him and sat in the seat Joe vacated. The waitress arrived and we ordered. She then went over to the table where Joe and the others sat.

“Any word from the police on the cause of Clarence’s death?”, he asked.

“The autopsy scheduled for later this morning. The cops are being close-mouthed.”

“How do you think he died?”

“I’m not paid to guess.”

Martin rarely raises his voice but his anger blazed out of his eyes like campfire embers poked with a stick. “I’m paying you and if it is your opinion I want than then it is your opinion I’ll get.”

“He could have been walking along the shore reciting poetry tripped and fallen into the bay and drowned. I doubt whether it makes much or a difference to anyone how he died, even to the murderer, if he was murdered.”

“Why do you say that?”

“I can’t see you shipping drugs or anything else illegal this way. By reputation, you’ve been able to bring thing like that into the States with no problems in the past. There’s too many better ways. Dropping packages into the water offshore at night, trans-shipping through Alaska. Even if you were to do something like this, certainly not through the Port of Oakland. There are other less watched small ports like Eureka and Redwood City. So, I can’t figure you for something like a dope deal in this case. So, I ask myself, although he is such a prick I am sure a lot of people would like him dead, why would anyone involved in this case kill Clarence? Then there is the hiring of me. It can’t be all that important to hire a second-rate shamus like me.” I stopped there and stared at him.

Martin’s silence lasted a long time as he stared at me. Our orders arrived before he answered and we began eating. After swallowing his first bite, Martin sat back and said:

“Look, whatever you think I may also be mixed up in, I am also a legitimate business man. I invested in a business to import into America furniture made in South-east Asia. Now the man who talked me into the investment and was supposed to manage the business is gone along with he merchandise.”

“But even so, two containers of furniture could not have been valuable enough for all your interest, not to mention knocking off Reilly if in fact he was killed.”

“You figured it out already. You’re cheap. I only spent $1000 dollars so far.”

“What about Joe?”

Vihn looked down at the table for a while. “He’s my brother’s son. I care about him. He refuses to go to college and is too interested in the wrong part of the family business. I thought following you around a while would help to get him interested in something else. That was a spur of the moment thing, I’m afraid.

“So you hired me as a babysitter?”

“A thousand dollars a month is pretty cheap for baby sitting these days,” he said with a smile.

We ate our breakfasts in silence. Over coffee I assured him, I will try to find out how Reilly died and what happened to the furniture.

I then asked, “What’s Lilly’s role in this?”

“She’s my lawyer.”

“Nothing else.”

“It’s none of your business.”

I smiled, got up, collected Joe and left Vihn to pay the check.

On the way back to the car, I called Mavis. Told her that I would come by that afternoon and that we were going to attend Reilly’s wake.

For some reason the thought of Mavis, death and my current role got me ruminating about God and humor, God’s humor to be precise.

Humans are a fascinating species. I am convinced God created us because he or she (I refuse to take sides on the issue of God’s gender — although the Good Humor Man of my youth was always male) found presiding over the rest of the universe dreadfully dull and craved some amusement. While growing up I always thought that God was the Good Humor man. Every afternoon the Good Humor man rang his bells in front of my house. The sound of those bells filled me with hope. Would your God do as much for you?

I was pulled from my reveries by Joe shouting “Boss, boss!’

I stared at him as the world around me came into focus.

“Is there something wrong? You were talking on the phone and then you just stopped staring off at nothing. Are you OK? You thinking about the case? “

“Yeah. I’m OK. Rule whatever number… in private investigations there are no cases only assignments. And your current assignment is to find us some ice cream and drive me to Crissy Field.”

 

NANA – An American family of visiting tourists has been safely brought back to Thai soil after being lost for four hours in the lower Sukhumvit area, police reported yesterday.

Looking towards Nana Neua from Sukhumvit Soi 3...

Looking towards Nana Neua from Sukhumvit Soi 3/1 in the Arab District of Bangkok. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Waldens, comprising James, 43, his wife Meredith, 41, and their children Didi, 13, and Zachary, 9, were reported in healthy condition at Bumrungrad Hospital after an examination following their escape from the international territory known colloquially as “soi Arab.”

“It was the most frightening experience of our lives,” said a visibly shaken James. “One minute we’re in Thailand, enjoying our vacation, and then suddenly we’re in some other country full of Middle Eastern people, West Africans, and Indians. It was like something out of a bad science fiction movie.”

According to police, the Waldens accidental departure from Thailand began when they left their hotel, the Landmark, at 8pm to look for what they had been told was a good place for wood-fired pizza. Mistaking Soi Loet Sin 2 for what they thought was Soi 11, the family walked deep into a dark neighborhood of construction sites.

“Jim insisted we were on the right street but I knew something was wrong right away when we turned the corner and saw all those Indian restaurants,” said Meredith. “It just felt wrong.”

The family then wandered down soi 5 and attempted to enter Gulliver’s Pub, only to be pushed out by a brawl that was erupting between a drunken pack of British football fans and a hostile group of Israeli backpackers.

“I didn’t see any Thai people, anywhere,” noted Didi.

The Waldens then fled into the Nailert Foodland Plaza, where they became disoriented trying to find their way out again. Exiting a fire escape on to an alleyway, they then worked their way deeper into the warren of sub-sois that led to soi 3/1.

“Everyone around us was African,” said James. “We might as well have been in Africa. And I’ve never seen so many sandal shops in my life.”

After attempting in vain to find anyone who spoke either English or Thai, the Waldens spent 20 minutes working their way through a maze of leather stores, travel agencies, and sheesha pipe exporters, only to emerge on soi 3/1, where they were confronted by a bazaar of Middle Eastern and South Asian restaurants, women in burkhas, and men in robes and turbans.

“Poor Zach was so shocked that he just started shouting out ‘Terrorists! Terrorists!’” said Meredith. “We had to cover his mouth. It was embarrassing. Actually it was scary. People were staring at us, so I just grabbed the kids and went down the nearest alleyway.”

Emerging on to Soi 3, the Waldens encountered “about 300” prostitutes of Middle Eastern and Russian origin, whose “huge asses” made it impossible to walk on the pavement towards Sukhumvit. Forced to go the other way, the family tried to ask for directions from one of the Thai vendors selling sex toys on the streetside.

“There were, like, a million vibrators and dildos,” recalled Didi. “That was like all they sold. It was gross.”

Unfortunately, every Thai vendor they encountered turned out to be deaf, and only gestured at the family using hand signs and large Casio calculators. Now completely terrified, the Waldens cut through an Ethiopian restaurant and fled into what appeared to be a large international hotel, the Grace.

“That was the worst place in the world,” said Meredith. “Like a nightmare, like a Twilight Zone episode. Every time we asked for directions it felt like we were interrupting an arms deal.”

The Waldens spent the next 90 minutes lost in the various areas within the Grace, including the bowling alley (“The balls weren’t even round”), the basement coffee shop (“The pit of hell”), and the mirrored casbah disco (“Men dancing with other men, but they were too ugly to be gay.”)

Around midnight the Waldens were finally rescued by a sympathetic transvestite named Pinki, who took them to the street, hailed a taxi, and instructed the driver how to get back to their hotel in Thailand. Once there, the hotel concierge noted their agitated state and called the hospital and the police.

The Waldens are expected to be released today, and have expressed optimism that they can complete their Thai holiday without incident. However, they have been warned to avoid the Nana area, as well as instructed not to enter the Thonglor area without first learning some basic Japanese.

(Thanks to Gary [Pattaya Gary, not Canadian Gary] for this bit of humor.)

Alas, this is the pretty much the neighborhood in which I choose live while here in Thailand. Every morning I wander through it on my way to the health club on Soi 11. I eat breakfast at Foodland, check out the newest vibrator models in the sidewalk stands nearby, window shop for the latest designs in rhinestone encrusted sandals and get my haircut at the barbershop in the Grace Hotel. Although it has been years since I have observed the running of the bulls at Gulliver’s, I still find myself at times forced off the sidewalk by the generously hipped ladies of the night making one last morning troll before retiring. And, I’m sure Pinki is the name of that pretty ladyboy who always invites me to enjoy the best massage in Bangkok whenever I walk by.

 

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