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This morning after breakfast as I walked through the tunnel to get to the health club, I saw a mêlée occurring at one of the small dark bars (really just a plank with stools and open to the alley) that line the passageway. At least six or seven people were milling around grabbing and shoving each other while a slightly larger number stood about watching, shouting and holding back others. This was a lot of people swarming about in a space no larger than a small hotel room. And, it was only 9AM in the morning.

Now I assume most people, especially an alter like me, would either not proceed until things quieted down or find another way to get to their destination. I instead waded right in to get a closer look at the action. I did not consider it either foolish or irresponsible.

Twenty years or so ago while visiting Lee Stocking Island in the Bahamas with Dick McCarthy and Sylvia Earle the oceanographer and one time director of NOAA, a TV camera located under a dock picked up a Barracuda feeding frenzy and displayed it on the TV where we were having dinner. Sylvia immediately stood up, and said, “I’ve never experienced a Barracuda feeding frenzy before. I have to see it up close.” She then ran from the bar and jumped into the water in the midst of the crazed fish. Now, that I think is foolish and irresponsible. Walking into bar where a bunch of drunken Thai women are swinging broken beer bottles at each other was a walk in the park by comparison.

Anyway, it seems that one woman had gotten very drunk and another woman, who may have worked in the bar, accused her of stealing some money. The drunk went after her with a broken beer bottle. In breaking the bottle a shard flew across the room striking on the forehead a farang sitting at the bar opening a large cut that bled profusely. Several other people seemed to be reluctantly trying to separate the fighters or perhaps even joining in on one side or another. Apparently the drunk girl was a Burmese migrant which added to the resentment of the Thais. Another bar girl was attempting to persuade two more not to intervene against the Burmese woman.

I pushed my way through everyone and walked on knowing that, as usual with bar fights, if it has gone on this long its dénouement would be undramatic. Fatigue would soon reduce the fury to name calling and then the regrets begin – but no tears. There are rarely tears in bar fights.
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Speaking of tears, there have been a number of studies that indicate that women cry more readily than men. I doubt that. Certainly here in Thailand women don’t cry. They pretend to at times, but that is something else.

When I was a child living on the streets, homeless or in rat infested basements, I never recall my mother crying or for that matter any of the other women we knew in similar circumstances. The men, including my father, cried in frustration, despair and in self-hate for their failures, but never the women, even those who were beaten. Only the loss of a child could bring tears to their eyes.
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Spent part of the day wandering around BKK with the Old Sailor/Deep Sea Diver. We met a friend of his, a historian from Australia named Glenn who published several books about economic history and is an acquaintance of Chris Moore, the mystery writer. We met at coffee shop in a shopping center on Asoke Road where he was buying out of date food to bring home for dinner. Writing academic books on economic history does not pay much. Later over lunch, the Old Sailor told me the history of one of the beach front bars I used to drink at in St. Thomas fifty years ago. Then it rained, so I went home and took a nap.
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Ants and Things

When the Little Masseuse cleans up my apt., she refuses to kill any insects she finds crawling around the floor because she is Buddhist. Instead she sweeps those she finds out on to the balcony. Where they go from there is anyones guess.

I have ants that parade up and down (or down and up – one never knows with ants) the walls along corners or in the grout lines. She says I should not harm them because as long as I do not leave food around or crumbs in my bed, they will not bother me.

Now and then I lie on my bed and watch them scurry along the corner of the room in their eternal rush to work. Their industry annoys me. I have made a deal with them in my mind. As long as they stay in line, I will honor LM’s ethical concerns and they will remain unharmed but should even one step out he will feel my fury. After all I am the all-powerful dictator of my room – at least sometimes.

Last night LM brought home fried grubs for me to eat as a treat. I refused. She said that at first she was hesitant to eat them but after trying then she found them so good they became habit-forming. I still refused.

Today is my 75th birthday, at least here in Bangkok where I live for part of the year now. It will not be so in New York where I was born until sometime tonight.

I spent the morning – during my walk to breakfast, at breakfast, while swimming and at lunch – running through my mind various self-justifying stories about what the day means to me. I was going to write them down here because I thought some of them were pretty good. But, I’ll save you that pleasure. What really interests me today is Samuel Beckett. You know Andre the Giant’s friend who was so obsessed with cricket, – that Sam Beckett. (Samuel Beckett used to drive André the Giant to school. All they talked about was cricket.)

Well, Sam wrote a lot of books and plays when he was not driving Andre around or watching cricket matches. One novel in particular always fascinated me. It was about someone deaf, dumb and blind, without arms and legs lying face down in a puddle of mud slowly slithering along until he bumps into something. This was all that the novel was about, all three hundred or so pages of it. I do not remember the name of the book. You can look it up.

Now, I know Beckett intended his story to explore solipsism (you can look that up too), a philosophy or view of life that fascinated him. But he was a storyteller and as I have pointed out previously one can never trust a storyteller, they always lie. The lies aside, what always interested me was that he was also wrong.

You see, even someone deaf, dumb and blind, without arms and legs lying face down in a puddle of mud slowly slithering along when he bumps into something is still a blood sack with a bunch of electrons floating around between neurons that have gathered from the environment various electrical and other forces, formed them into an image and then tells the blood sack what it is he is experiencing. Now, the deaf, dumb and blind someone without arms and legs lying face down in a puddle of mud slowly slithering along has no idea whether what he is being told is the truth or not. He may, actually, be floating through the air above a beautiful verdant landscape for all he knows. Something may be amiss among the neurons or they may just be playing with him. In fact, if he believes he is deaf, dumb and blind, without arms and legs lying face down in a puddle of mud slowly slithering along when he bumps into something, something is probably very wrong with his neurological machinery. Even if, in fact, he is deaf dumb and blind and slithering face down through a puddle of mud he may either panic and despair or laugh at the absurdity of it all. And, if the latter, he could then utter Reilly’s famous observation, “what a revolting development this is.”

Which brings me back to my 75th birthday. If you know who Reilly is, than you are probably at least as old as I am, and you know, as I do, that our “Use by” date is rapidly approaching.

In 1974, Robert F. Jones an editor for the magazine Field and Stream, wrote a critically acclaimed but relatively unknown satiric novel on acid (it was 1974 after all) about a manly man obsessed with hunting and fishing who takes his almost pubescent son on a camping trip in order to toughen him up. The trip takes them up the mythical but mighty Hassayampa River to its headwaters and back. The Hassayampa winds its way from eastern China through upper Wisconsin until it flows into Croton Lake near the sleepy town of Valhalla in Westchester County NY. During their trip they manage to slaughter and eat a goodly number of representatives of most species that now live on earth, some that do not and never did and a few such as aurochs and mastodons that no longer exist anywhere other than along the river. They also dispatch a few Communist Chinese troopers and various criminals until they run into the famous, feared and immortal bandit, “Ratanous.” Ratanous persuades the son to abandon his father and join his band of brigands. In order to save his son’s soul, the man tracks down the bandits and challenges Ratanous to a deadly duel to the death by fly rods with poison hooks.

This is not a novel for the esthetically, intellectually and morally squeamish. Its violence would make William Burroughs proud and its gonzo style cause Hunter Thompson to blush. There is a certain amount of cannibalism complete with recipes. Also there is a morbid fascination with vaginas and their infinite variety. After all, to manly men women are merely a vagina with tits, everything else is superfluous. It is a man’s book even as it satirizes them. There is no sentimentality about killing and little risk avoidance — and almost no women (other than participants in orgies) except for an absent wife and daughter, a lusty Ukrainian laundress and a young bandit named Twigan.

Pookie says, “Check it out.”

 
“My madness was total: sublime, ecstatic, unmarred by any doubts or sulks. At no point during the months I roamed that mean, lean country, killing for food and pleasure, do I recall one moment of reason, one instant of unhappiness. It was as if a caldron of liquid laughter had come to a slow, steady boil behind my eyes, perking joyfully there, sending shots of giggly steam down my nostrils and up my throat, exploding from time to time in scalding, superheated guffaws that left my vocal cords raw and aching with delight. I felt no fear, no hunger, no worry— only the immense, ridiculous power of my freedom.”
Jones, Robert F. Blood Sport: A Journey Up the Hassayampa. Skyhorse Publishing.

One day, I took a long uncomfortable plane ride to Bangkok. As I was getting in my seat and checking things one last time, I realized that I had either lost or left at home the small bag holding my tooth-brush, shaving equipment and all my medicines. While trying to convince myself that I was not senile, terminally stupid or going to die a horrible death during on the flight, I spent the next twenty-seven hours, worrying, sleeping fitfully, eating far too much airplane food to be healthy and watching movies,

One of the movies was John Turturro’s wonderfully touching and comic Fading Gigolo starring Woody Allen as Murray an aging owner of a failed bookshop turned part-time pimp who is living with a black woman with four children one of whom has head lice. Murray persuades Fioravante (Turturro), a flower store employee, to service his beautiful, wealthy and married dermatologist and other lonely middle-aged women. The movie’s central story is a a semi-sweet but ill-fated and unconsummated love affair between the gigolo and the widow of the Rabbi of a highly orthodox community in Brooklyn beloved by a shomrin (look it up) named Devi.

I liked the movie since it reminded me of my singularly unsuccessful attempt, in Rome many years ago, to experience life as a gigolo. My only so-called success in that doomed effort was due to the sympathy of an exceptionally kind woman named Mona. I think I may write a short story or a novella based on the escapade.

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MONA

Having lost my bag containing my medicines as I mentioned, the next day during one of my brief periods of fretful wakefulness, I realized that it would be several days before I could reach my Doctor, get the names of my medicines, and buy them at a local pharmacy. This fact confirmed my belief that my imminent death was highly likely. So, in my quasi-somnolent state, I contemplated what a good death in Bangkok would be for me. In no particular order:

Lying on a massage table, my face in the hole drool dripping from the corner of my mouth. The masseuse has just finished massaging my feet and lower legs and is spreading oil on the inside of my thighs.

Swimming in the health club’s outdoor pool, I have just taken a breath, and glimpse, floating on the water, the multi-colored fabrics of the indian woman who had entered the pool, as they do, fully clothed. As I dip my head under the water and exhale, silver bubbles flow behind me. Through the crystalline turquoise water I make out the sun dappled bottom of the pool.

Walking near my apartment, the sun shining, I fall through the sidewalk into the foetid canal and sewer that runs beneath BKK’s streets and as the slimy grey green ooze reaches my neck, I happily expire.

At the supermarket in the basement of Robinson’s I lean over a display of freshly opened Durian. The King of Fruit’s aroma reminds me of unwashed 1000 year old feet. I take a deep breath.

In Terminal 21 on the fifth floor, I sit at a booth at Baskin and Robins’. What passes for a root beer float in the area now that A&W can no longer be found, stands on the table in front of me. I press the vanilla ice cream deep into the soda and watch the foam fill the glass almost to overflowing. I suck deeply on the straw to see if I can forestall the foam from sliding down the glass and on to the table. Then I topple over on to the floor and die..

I am sitting in my room watching a Thai soap opera on the television. the Little Masseuse sits on the floor eating fish heads and munching on some foul-smelling Thai vegetable. The beautiful but dense ingénue in love with the handsome, quite stupid but rich leading man had just come from being physically and verbally abused by her rival for affection of said stupid, handsome but rich young man, now confronts a production value deficient ghost and stands mostly mute and unmoving through two sets of commercials. I expire, probably more from terminal boredom than the lack of medicines. My head leans gently against the wall where I remain until a little after midnight when the late night slapstick comedy shows end and LM shuts off the TV and realizes I had not collapsed on to my rock-hard bed and covered my head with a pillow as I usually do.

At a sidewalk restaurant I sit and observe the hazy street life in front of me while I chew on the first bite of my lunch. Two ladies of the evening on their way for an early start pass by, one dressed in a tight tan mini-dress that barely reaches the tops of her thighs and the other in a similar red dress. I topple forward and my face plunges into my one dollar plate of pork fried rice.

Standing on the Sukhumvit Road overpass, by Soi Nana observing the stopped traffic below I glance to my right and spy the King of Beggars sitting at his usual post on the sidewalk his leg, amputated above the knee, extended before him. I call him the King of Beggars because he always sits at the prime street corner in the area, is well dressed with a north African style skull-cap on his head and, unlike the other beggars, he always eats his lunch at one of the regular restaurants near by. His face is dark tan, his hair white. Above his well-trimmed white mustache his eyes grey as storm clouds meet mine. I topple over the railing  and fall into the rush-hour traffic on Sukhumvit Road.

Of course, I could always be run over by a speeding motorbike taxi, but that is just as likely if I am fully medicated as not, perhaps even more so.

Note: for those who have read this far and found the above entertaining the rest of this note is not for you. For those concerned about the state of my health (mental or physical) please know most of the missing medicines are various prescribed vitamins. Pretty much the only concern was with the loss of my doctor prescribed happy pills. True, sudden termination of the pills can produce withdrawal symptoms that are pretty awful. Also, should I decide to replace the drug with something like opium, LSD or Oxycontin it could be more than simply life threatening. Nevertheless, the withdrawal, jet-lag and exhaustion did make me feel as though death would be a welcome improvement.

I eventually manage to score the appropriate drugs from the pharmacy in Foodland. Everything else is the lies I tell myself. Lying to oneself is necessary for survival. If not, how would anyone make it through puberty? The ability to lie to oneself is natures compensation to those she has cursed with consciousness.

Samuel Beckett’s writings explored the depths of solipsism. That is, talking to yourself to know you’re alive. So what is it all about? Well Alfie, it is not about the Grey Gay Dane’s quandary. It’s about Stayin’ Alive. Even if you can no longer dance, as long as you keep hearing the music you are still living.
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I talk to myself in my mind all the time. I guess we all do. I suspect some people have debates with themselves. I never debate. I only make speeches. I picture myself speaking to a small grey homunculus with large glistening eyes sitting silently in a huge chair in front of me as I go on and on. Me talking and it listening. It frightens me. I believe one day it will jump out of that chair, kick me in the balls and tell me to shut up.

“ANVIKSHAKI, the triple Védas (Trayi), Várta (agriculture, cattle-breeding and trade), and Danda-Niti (science of government) are what are called the four sciences.

Anvikshaki comprises the Philosophy of Sankhya (Metaphysics), Yoga (Concentration), and Lokayata (Logic and debate).

Righteous and unrighteous acts (Dharmadharmau) are learnt from the triple Vedas; wealth and non-wealth from Varta; the expedient and the inexpedient (Nayanayau), as well as potency and impotency (Balabale) from the science of government.”
Kautilya, Arthashastra

In the West, Pythagorus and Plato developed a somewhat comparable system of education, Trivium (Grammar, Logic and Rhetoric) and Quadrivium (Arithmetic, Geometry, Music and Astronomy) that was generally adopted during Medieval period. Kautilya’s system appears more practical, as it includes applied economics and politics. (Applied economics – get rich. Applied politics – kill your enemy.)

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