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During my weekly massage, my masseuse likes to watch the Thai soap operas on television while she administers the various pains and pleasures of her therapy.

Now, as I am sure we all know, soaps are a window into the dark, twisted soul of a society, so it is with Thai soap operas.

To me, they all appear to tell the same stories and contain the same characters. There is the beautiful innocent heroine and the equally beautiful though not so innocent young woman. You can usually tell them apart by their eyebrows. The innocent heroine’s eyebrows are somewhat rounded, while her evil counterpart’a are straighter. They are accompanied by two equally attractive young men, one good and the other not so good. These four then are supported by a cast of actors and actresses of varying ages often playing family members of the protagonists. There are also one or two comic characters, usually played by ladyboys.

Although the stories are, generally, all the same, their location varies. I have seen Thai soaps set in the homes of the rich, and others in the homes of the poor living beside a klong somewhere. I have also seen them set in grocery stores, health clubs, and farms. Some occur in modern times others in old Siam and still others are set in times of magic or in some guerilla campaign somewhere.

Anyway, this particular day the masseuse was watching a soap in which the straight-browed beauty dressed all in black, carried a sword and had just done unspeakable things to a group of poor people locked in cages.

Viewing this through my western acclimated eyes that see everything as a conflict between good and evil, no matter the atrocities performed by either side, I commented, “She must be the bad girl.”

To which my masseuse responded, “Good or bad, it makes no difference. She is beautiful and everyone cares about her and what she does. If she were not so beautiful no one would give a damn at all about her or anything she does.”

I just finished a John Gresham short story about a lawyer who gets fed up practicing law, rips off a few clients and runs off to a tropical paradise and lives happily ever after. While I like Gresham, he is no Sheldon Siegel. Once a week I trundle the two miles to the outskirts of hell, where the English language bookstore is located, to check for Sheldon’s latest publication. While his mystery and courtroom scenes are great, it is the latest doings of his main characters Mike and Rosie that I look forward to. They are more real to me than my life here.

Two of my favorite authors are Sheldon Siegel and William Kotzwinkle. At least Sheldon Siegel sounds like and author. Kotzwinkle sounds like a character in Pee Wee’s Playhouse.

Speaking of Pee Wee, I am waiting for a revival of Pee Wee Herman and Soupy Sales’ great performances. In case you do not recall (or are not old enough to recall) one of Soupy’s more memorable bits was to tell his juvenile audience to go into mommy and daddy’s room while they were asleep and go into daddy’s pants, take out his wallet, extract a dollar and mail it to Soupy. While most 5 to 10-year-olds got the joke, their parents had Soupy thrown off television.

Pee Wee, on the other hand, is the metaphor for our generation, a happy life in a children’s playhouse exposed in the dark theater of history. Pee Wee’s comeback was in one of my all time favorite movies “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” (the original) where he plays a vampire’s assistant. You should see it. There are memorable performances in it by Rutger Hauer as the chief Vampire and Donald Sutherland as Buffy’s instructor in vampire slaying.

One of my ex-clients, Danny Elfman, the oscar winning musician, got his start in movies by writing the theme songs for the Pee Wee playhouse movies. Danny told me once that he was an “Artist,” not a doped up guitar player. I wonder if Willie Nelson considers himself and artist.

Danny’s brother Rick was also a client. Rick is the director of some of the worst movies ever made. Movies so bad that they appear in the cult movie section of video stores. Movies so bad they use a pseudonym for the director’s name. He directed such classics as “Forbidden Zone,” “Shrunken Heads,” “Streets of Rage” (Wherein he uses the pseudonym of “Aristide Pierre Laffite Sumatra of the Ton Ton Macoute”) and “Modern Vampires.”

The last of which, I made my film acting debut in a walk-on role and crossed off item one of my bucket list. The movie was about a war in Los Angeles between the Vampires and the Mafia, one of the last movies in which Rod Steiger appeared (and justly so). I of course played a Mafia Don who, in my one scene, holds open the trunk of a black limousine into which my two mafia henchman, dump the “Queen of the Vampires”(played by Kim Cattrell in one of her earliest and most regretted roles) tightly wrapped in strings of garlic to keep her comatose (I kid you not). Sic Transit Gloria.

Ciao…

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Mock Duck

1900. Mock Duck leader of the Four Brothers and Hip Sing Tongs begins a gang war with Tom Lee’s much larger On Leong Tong over Mock Duck’s demand for 30% of Tom Lee’s gambling revenue in New York’s Chinatown.

1904 November 4 – Hip Sing Tong leader Mock Duck is wounded in a gunfight by three On Leong hatchet men near his Pell Street home.

(Apparently Mock Duck, when in a gunfight would squat down, close his eyes and fire off his two guns until he ran out of ammunition.)

1908 August 15 – The Tong war becomes even more violent after Low Hee Tong, a member of the Four Brothers Tong, purchases a rival Tong slave girl Bow Kum who is later murdered.

(You may want to click on Bow Kum above and read about her tragic story).

December 30 – Ah Hoon, a comedian (apparently to his regret, the Chinese version of Don Rickles) and a member of the On Leong Tong is killed in his home by rival Hip Song members.

1912. Mock Duck is convicted of running a policy game and sentenced to imprisonment at Sing Sing Prison.

1913. A peace agreement is signed, with the exception of the Four Brothers, ending the gang war between the On Leongs, Hip Sings, and the Kim Lan Wui Saw Tongs.

1918. Tong leader Mock Duck, upon his release from Sing Sing Prison, retires from crime.

1924. The gang war between the On Leong and Hip Sing Tongs begins again after several members of the On Leongs defect to the Hip Sings with a large amount of money.

1941. Mock Duck dies in bed of natural causes.

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Among my Cracked Histories, Tomyris and the Massegetae is one of my favorites. A version appears in the book listed below at the end of the piece. It can also be found in my blog Trenz Pruca’s Journal (https://trenzpruca.wordpress.com/2012/06/11/every-now-and-then-we-should-stop-what-we-are-doing-and-consider-tomyris-and-the-massengetae/)

I believe, it is worthwhile to occasionally contemplate Tomyris and the Massegetae, if not for its impact on history than for its elucidation of the ability of a determined woman to lead her country in a time of crisis.

Tomyris Queen of the Massegetae reigned over a semi-nomadic nation in South-central Asia at the time Cyrus the Great Emperor of Persia and ruler of just about every other place anyone had heard of, ravaged that part of the world. (This was about four or five hundred years before Jesus walked the earth preaching peace and unleashing, often in his name, 2000 years of bloodshed far beyond that which the world had experienced for the previous 4000 years.)

“One day, Cyrus marched his armies into the land of the Massegetae, an area he noticed he had forgotten to conquer. He exclaimed to his comrades in arms, “Hey here’s a place where I haven’t killed many people yet. Let’s have some fun.”

Tomyris’ son and about a third of the Massegetae troops rode out to meet Cyrus and his marauders. They were quickly defeated and Tomyris’ son (clearly not a chip off his mom’s block) taken prisoner. This was familiar stuff to Cyrus who whenever he wanted to kill some people usually was confronted by their young sons who shouted at him that they would fight back if he tries to kill them. He would kill them anyway and make the rest slaves. It was good being Cyrus.

So Cyrus walked or rode or however conquerers traveled back then, up to what passed for a wall surrounding what passed for a city to the nomadic Massegetae. With Tomyris son in tow, he strutted back and forth in front of those walls and shouted to Tomyris that she should surrender her town and country, such that it was.

Tomyris that tough old bird, climbed to the top of those walls, hiked up her skirt, stared down at the strutting Cyrus, and shouted back:
“Now listen to me and I will advise you for your good: give me back my son and get out of my country with your forces intact, and be content with your triumph over one-third of the Massegetae. If you refuse, I swear by the sun our master to give you more blood than you can drink, for all your gluttony.”

Thus, Tomyris Warrior Queen of the Massegetae responded to Cyrus the Great, Emperor of Persia, conqueror of the greatest empire of the ancient world and leader of the largest and most technologically advanced army of the time.

Cyrus refused Tomyris’ advice. So, she personally led the charge of her forces and destroyed his army. After her victory, she searched the battlefield herself until she found Cyrus’ body, then she cut off his head and thrust it into a wineskin full of blood and declared, “See now, I fulfil my threat. You have your fill of blood.”  Later was reputed to have made his skull into her favorite goblet.

This leads me to conclude that one should never mess with a woman named Tomyris, or for that matter a Massegetae who some ancient historians believe became the Huns. (I heard that there is a biker gang in South Dakota named the Massegetae whose leader is a six-foot-six-inch transsexual named Tomyris.)

For those interested in learning more about the Massegetae, this is what the ancient Greek historian Herodotus had to say about them:

“In their dress and mode of living, the Massegetae resemble the Scythians. They fight both on horseback and on foot, neither method is strange to them: they use bows and lances, but their favorite weapon is the battle-axe. Their arms are all either of gold or brass. For their spear-points, and arrow-heads, and for their battle-axes, they make use of brass; for headgear, belts, and girdles, of gold. So too with the caparison of their horses, they give them breastplates of brass, but employ gold about the reins, the bit, and the cheek-plates. They use neither iron nor silver, having none in their country; but they have brass and gold in abundance.”

“The following are some of their customs; – Each man has but one wife[…]“yet all the wives are held in common; for this is a custom of the Massegetae and not of the Scythians, as the Greeks wrongly say. Human life does not come to its natural close with this people; but when a man grows very old, all his kinsfolk collect together and offer him up in sacrifice; offering at the same time some cattle also. After the sacrifice they boil the flesh and feast on it; and those who thus end their days are reckoned the happiest. If a man dies of disease they do not eat him, but bury him in the ground, bewailing his ill-fortune that he did not come to be sacrificed. They sow no grain but live on their herds, and on fish, of which there is great plenty in the Jaxartes. Milk is what they chiefly drink. The only god they worship is the sun, and to him they offer the horse in sacrifice; under the notion of giving to the swiftest of the gods the swiftest of all mortal creatures.”

I have a few concerns and questions about the Massegetae life-style: 
 1. How does one have one wife held in common? 
 2. How old do you have to be before they come for you and boil you up with a cow or two? 
 3. How pissed off with your lot in life would you be if you were forced to live on beef, fish, sour milk and a grandfather or grandmother now and then? Enough to want to go and beat the shit out of someone, I would imagine.”

Excerpt From: J. E, Petrillo. “Trenz Pruca’s Musings.” iBooks. ”

Selkie

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One day while at my sister’s house in Mendocino recovering from an illness, I decided I felt well enough to spend the afternoon out on the deck overlooking the Pacific Ocean. As I sat bundled up on a bright red Adirondack Chair, my mind wandered into contemplating stories that I might write someday or not.

Feeling a little better the next day, I drove to Ft. Bragg, a somewhat larger town than Mendocino up the coast a few miles. I parked the car and went for a walk along Ten Mile Dunes, a California State Park containing huge sand dunes and a long broad beach. I liked walking there along the beach because I rarely ran into other hikers and enjoyed the solitude. Becoming tired, I sat on a flattened grass tussock with my walking stick propped on my knees and stared at the ocean. The fog had moved in shrouding the place in pearlescent mist, the ocean placid and dark. I noticed a seal or sea lion playing in the waves not far off shore. It seemed almost like it was performing a dance of some sort. I smiled, delighted by its exuberance. It stopped its play for a moment and stared at me with a liquid dark eye. I waved and it plunged back into the surf.

Then, I saw a shadow and a fin of what I thought was a shark rippling through the waters heading toward the seal. I jumped up, ran across the sand and shouted, “Look out! Get away!” I even threw my beloved walking stick at the shadow in the hope it would drive it away. The exertion of getting so quickly to my feet brought back the fainting spells I had been suffering recently. The world started to go black. I began to spasm as I fought the sudden loss of muscle control. I felt terrible, not because of the panic of losing control of my body but because I knew I could not help to save the seal. I settled back on my haunches onto the wet sand and passed out.

I do not know how long I sat there hunched over, but the next thing I became aware of was a hand on my arm pulling me up and someone saying, “Are you OK mister.” The darkness receded. I looked for the seal in the water or for blood but saw neither. I then noticed the person holding my arm, she was a slight young woman, short not slender having that soft layer of fatty tissue that can round off the hard edges of a woman’s body. I guess she was beautiful in her own way. She looked slightly Asian or Amerindian, perhaps Intuit. She seemed to be about 30 years old and wore what appeared to be leather clothing, a light fawn color. Her hair was thick dark brown that hung down in wet strings below her shoulders.

As she took my hand, a sudden warmth flowed through me. I felt much better. Better than I had felt for quite some time now. She said, “Thank you for what you tried to do,” and handed me back my walking stick .

She accompanied me back to my car. Holding my arm to help my balance should I become dizzy again.

I drove her to her house and spent several hours there talking, having a simple dinner of cheese fruit and wine.

We saw each other every day thereafter. One evening about a week after we first met I learned she was a Selkie. Although I was not surprised that there was something strange about her, I was incredulous that she believed she was one of these legendary creatures.

She explained that many years ago the Selkies, recognizing the threat from the far more populous and aggressive Humans, like many of the spirit creatures, decided to hide among us rather than fleeing deeper into nature. Although Selkies were extremely long-lived, they still could be killed. So, they tried to live wherever they could avoid becoming the objects of violence. She, for example, lived in the isolated house on the banks of the Navarro River in which we now sat as the darkness gathered. She chose it because she could secretly slip into the water whenever she wanted and change into her Selkie self.

The Selkie elders, worried about the long-term welfare of their tribe at the very beginning, presciently established an investment program that over the past 400 years made the few remaining Selkies quite wealthy, despite their usually modest living arrangements.

There are many things I could tell about those first few days after we met and thereafter, but that is for another time. I should mention, however, that one day I asked her why she, a young woman, was so interested in a friendship with me, an old man. After mentioning her gratitude for my actions on the beach when we first met, she added that she also saw I was one of the spirit ones.

It seems, many years ago, in the Apennines of Italy and especially near Mt Vergine there lived a group of mountain and forest spirits. When not in their human shape, they cavorted among the peaks as large black bears. With the movement into the mountains by men, they knew their times were ending. So they bred with humans when they could and their sons and daughters lived among them eventually forgetting what they were.

After a lengthy process, she enabled me to reassume my identity. Unfortunately, in my human form, I would always be an old man. Nonetheless, I began traveling to the tundra of Alaska where I built a tiny remote cabin. There I would change into my bear form. I loved standing up on my hind legs, feet planted in the muck, front paws flapping at my sides, and roaring my head off at the other bears in the area. I had to be careful, though. I could mix it up all right, but one of the massive paws of those big boys and girls could tear your head off. I also liked getting drunk on the spring berries and rolling around in the mud. Sometimes, I would spend most of the day standing ankle deep in a crashing stream batting salmon onto the banks. That was fun.

I hated hunters, though. Not all hunters. I ignored the other hermits living in the wilderness hunting for food. Trophy hunters, however, would enrage me. Sometimes I would bring a rifle with me. If I discover hunters lurking about, I would resume my human shape, hunt them in turn, and kill them. Now and then, in my human shape I would join up with the hunters and just when they would get ready to shoot a bear or an elk, I would turn back into a bear grab them and throw them off a cliff or something like that. I liked to see the fear in their eyes. Once, I came upon hunters who had just killed a magnificent elk. I grabbed them, one in each arm. I called a herd of elk over and allowed some of the bigger and stronger bucks to drive their antlers into them and carry them off screaming and bloody into the woods.

I also hated that in my bear shape I was addicted to honey. I despised sitting there with a silly grin on my mouth stoned on honey, all sticky with honey covering my paws, snout, and fur while angry bees crawled all over me. I’d then fall asleep and wake up all groggy and promise myself I would never do it again.

I felt my sister shake my arm. “Hey,” she said. “It is getting late. You have been sitting here dozing all afternoon. It’s time you come inside.”

A few days later, feeling better, I decided to visit 10 Mile Dunes the site of the Selkie story I dreamed about. The parking lot was a bit of a hike from the dunes and the beach, but I managed to shamble along the path and across the dunes to the kelp littered beach. I walked along the beach searching for a tussock on which to sit. I did not find one. But I did find some suitable rocks beside a spooky sculpture someone made out of a kelp stalk.

The mist was not quite so pearlescent as in my story, the ocean not so placid and dark. Nevertheless, I sat there on the rock stared out at the waves and waited. I wanted to see if a seal would appear dancing in the waves. I know, silly — but being silly is a prerogative of the very old and the very young.

After about a half an hour, I got bored. As I slowly rose from my rock, I noticed something light brown twisting among the waves. “Oh my God,” I thought. “I don’t believe this sort of shit.” I tottered toward the water. My heart beating so hard it was almost painful. Alas, when I looked again, it was gone — probably just a piece of kelp torn from its mooring and tossed about by the waves. As I slowly walked back along the beach, I stopped for a moment, looked out at the ocean, and shouted, “Selkie” — not too loud because I would be too embarrassed if anyone heard me — Also, I felt stupid. But after, I shouted I felt a lot better. I don’t know why.

Back in the car, I thought, “Wouldn’t it be great if people who lived adventuresome lives could live one last adventure when they get old — this time with the supernatural.” They could, of course, always make it up. That would be almost as good, I think.

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I returned home to the Golden Hills  following some embarrassing (for me, not for you) medical procedures where I spent my days in bed bemoaning my inability to think of any other appropriate and less mortifying way of accomplishing my swimming exercise regime then trailing my recently installed catheter and urine bag behind me. This was even more of a quandary given the recent blistering heat wave. The temperature reached 104 to 106 degrees ( 40-41 degrees Celsius for those that figure these things that way) or more here in the Golden Hills beside the Great Valley. So, having no other options I spent my time in my air-condition room lying on my bed and thinking great thoughts, like why 0 degrees on the Fahrenheit scale is where it is, sort of hanging out there on nothing except that you are pretty damn cold, unlike the Celsius or Kelvin scale where 0 is set at the freezing point of water and you are pretty cold or absolute zero and you are dead. Well, for your information, 0 degrees on the temperature scale was based upon Mr. Fahrenheit’s (for whom the scale was named) measurement of when a solution of one-half water and one-half salt freezes. I have no idea why he thought that was so important.

So, now you know why and I’ll bet a thimble full of my bellybutton lint you’ve pondered that way more often than you’ve pondered why do fools fall in love. The reason one would not think about Why Do Fools Fall In Love is that it was a song sung by that great 13-year-old rock sensation Frankie Lymon in 1956 and is probably remembered only by people my age.

Anyway, I remember attending a concert at the Apollo Theater in Brooklyn headlined by Frankie and his group The Teenagers. After the show, while Frankie was leaving the theater, he was met by a group of toughs who asked him the age old question, “ You think you’re so great, don’t you?” To which Frankie unwisely responded, ‘Yes I do,” and for which he was soundly trashed while his home boys the Teenagers ran away. Frankie’s career never fully recovered and eventually he died of a heroin overdose.

If you have never heard the tune, I recommend you do so. I promise it will never again leave your mind. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2sAHiR0rkJg) Here are the lyrics;

Ooooo wah, oooooo wah, ooooo wah, oooooo wah,
ooooo wah, oooooo wah, Why do fools fall in love

Why do birds sing so gay
And lovers await the break of day?
Why do they fall in love?
Why does the rain fall from up above?
Why do fools fall in love?
Why do they fall in love?

Love is a losing game,
Love can be a shame I
know of a fool, you see,
For that fool is me!
Tell me why, tell me why?

Why do birds sing so gay
And lovers await the break of day?
Why do they fall in love?
Why does the rain fall from up above?
Why do fools fall in love?
Why do they fall in love?

Why does my heart skip a crazy beat?
For I know it will reach defeat!
Tell me why, tell me why?
Why do fools fall in love?

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Introduction

I met Trenz Pruca about ten years ago in Daly City California. In order to escape the fog and mist, I had ducked into a coffee house in a strip mall. As I ordered, I looked around the shop and noticed a large dark presence in a booth at the back of the cafe. Since all the other booths were occupied, I with my cafe latte in hand walked to the back of the shop and asked the presence sitting there if I could join him. He nodded and I took the seat opposite. Now close enough for my eyes to penetrate the gloom and study my table mate, I received a shock. Sitting across from me in the darkness appeared to be a six-foot-three-inch white rat with dark glasses wearing a black fedora and a red and white striped scarf. Before him, a Mac-book was propped open. Next to it, a half finished cup of espresso settled wearily.

We had a brief mostly one-sided conversation as I tried to slake my curiosity. He responded to my attempts to engage him in a dialogue with a series of grunts.

Thereafter, I would run into him by chance now and then. He could usually be found sitting in the dark corners of lightly patronized coffee houses in semi-forgotten towns that rim San Francisco Bay or during the winter months, Marrakesh, typing away on his Mac-book and obsessively downing endless cups of strong doppio espressos. Although he never spoke much and he certainly never indicated he enjoyed my presence, we became what seemed to pass for friends.

A few years after that first meeting he surprised me by showing up at my door on my Name Day bearing a bottle of Charbono. Thereafter, once a year on my name day, March 15, he stops by my house to celebrate with a glass of the Charbono wine that he likes so much. Every day, he sends me reams of emails, most of which are gibberish. Now and then, however, I find he has written a clever bon mot or an interesting sentence or two from which I have culled the contents of this book.

A few months after I first met Trenz, I ran into him in a coffee house in Emeryville. It was here I received another shock. Until then, I had thought he was a six-foot-three-inch white rat. I was wrong. I had assumed he was a white rat from the few times we met because of his rodent-like denature and my youthful conjecture that, unlike me and my swarthy Mediterranean neighbors, individuals with slightly pink skin were considered white. Nevertheless, I noticed a rather un-rat-like short stubby tail jutting from his long almost floor length dark coat and the strange bluntness of his snout. After some prodding, I learned he was, in fact, a Naked Mole Rat, one of those hardy, courageous and gentle creatures so beloved of scientists and odd individuals everywhere. He finally admitted to it when I pressed him during that visit. The long dark coat and cap he explained, protected his sensitive skin from the sun and hid his nakedness as modesty demanded. He required the thick dark glasses held together by adhesive tape because his vision was poor and the light disturbed his eyes.

“Why,” I asked, “do you live here and not with your own kind?” He stared at me silently for a while, as he often did — a long while. Then finally, when I thought he would not respond he said in a soft voice, “I assume you noticed I am quite large.” “Yes,” I acknowledged. “But why with humans?” Again a very long silence. Then, “True, you humans are rather untrustworthy, barbaric and not very bright, and you spend all too much time foolishly talking about yourselves.” More silence, finally: “But I decided sitting in a dark coffee house with you humans was slightly preferable to living in a cave somewhere with a bear or similar creature, eating raw meat and grunting and growling and scratching myself — only slightly better, you understand.”

That, I was to find out much later, was not exactly the truth. He grew up in East Africa near the Horn of Africa. His family was reasonably well-off for Mole-Rats. As the photograph, he gave me that graces the top of this Introduction shows, he cut a dashing figure as a young Mole-Rat rat. Alas, war and political turmoil ended his idyllic life and he was forced to flee the land of his birth. After bouncing  about the world. he landed here in the Bay Area penniless and if truth be know slightly deranged.

I obtained more recent photograph of him taken during his travels. It appears as thought the photograph was taken of him as he passed through Japan. As the photograph shows, it must have been a difficult time for Trenz.

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As far as the items contained in this book are concerned, I have attempted to cull the more interesting from the mass of emails and provide some rudimentary editing. Some of the longer pieces included here he never finished and I have no hope he ever will. Others, seem to defy comprehension. Nevertheless, I hope you enjoy at least some of them.

One note, although, for the sake of organization, I attempted to gather similar subjects into chapters, there is no magic to the order in which the chapters appear, One can start one place as well as another. There is no reason why readers cannot begin anywhere. I suspect it will be just as enjoyable, or not, no matter how they go about it.

J.E. Petrillo, Editor.

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