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Posts Tagged ‘Parable’

I was 79 years old on October 15, 2018. Thanks to the internet, that was not even a glimmer in anyone’s eye or imagination when I was born, an old man my age on the day I was born would have been born on the day 11-year-old Grace Bedell writes to Abraham Lincoln telling him to grow a beard.

Other notable events that happened on October 15 over the past 2000 years are:

  1. Byzantine general Belisarius makes his formal entry into Carthage, having conquered it from the Vandals.
  2. King Henry VIII of England orders bowling lanes at Whitehall
  3. Asser Levy granted butcher’s license (kosher meat) in New Amsterdam
  4. 1st American fishing magazine, American Angler published
  5. “Charlotte’s Web” by E. B. White and illustrated by Garth Williams is published by Harper & Brothers
  6. Shelley Taylor of Australia makes fastest swim ever around Manhattan Island, doing it in 6 hours 12 minutes 29 seconds

So, if you want to celebrate my birthday, grow a beard, conquer some Vandals, go bowling, eat some kosher sausage, go fishing, have a swim or write a book or at least read one and above all VOTE.

On my birthday this year, my estranged son, among other more sordid invectives, called me a “political hack.” While some of his more scurrilous accusations may be true that certainly is not. I “was” a political hack, now I am just an old hack with regrets.

Some additional notable events that occurred on my birthday, October 15, during the 16th and 17th Centuries:

1552 Khanate of Kazan is conquered by troops of Ivan Grozny.
1581 Commissioned by Catherine De Medici, the 1st ballet “Ballet Comique de la Reine” is staged in Paris
1582 Many Catholic countries switch to the Gregorian calendar, skip 10 days
1598 Spanish general strategist Bernardino de Mendoza occupies fort Rhine
1641 Paul de Chomedy de Maisonneuve claims Montreal
1654 Prince Willem III appointed viceroy of Overijssel
1655 Jews of Lublin are massacred
1674 Torsåker witch trials begin, largest witch trials in Sweden, 71 beheaded and burned

All and all, not very good or notable days.

Note also, on the day I was born in 1939:

1939 LaGuardia Airport opened in NYC
1939 Yeshiva of Mir closed after 124 years

So on my next birthday raise a glass to LaGuardia (The mayor and the airport) and shed a tear for the Yeshiva of Mir.

For those of you over 70 and well into the great decline, you probably already experience this. Even as my body weakens, the voice in my head that talks to me all the time always seems to be as young as it was when I was a teenager. Oh, a bit more cynical perhaps, but every bit as vigorous as ever in letting me know how foolish I really am whenever I feel I have done something that rises to the level of the barely adequate. One would think that at this age that voice would give up and feebly warble, “I no longer give a damn. Do what you want. Who cares?”





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As readers of T&T know, I have a weak spot for Swords and Sorcery and Fantasy genre in fiction. I also acknowledge that on any ranking of literary genres it falls somewhere near the bottom. Be that as it may, I still while away many pleasant hours with Mages and Druids, Knights and Damsels and all the other creatures that usually inhabit these novels. Recently I completed reading the four books in the Trysmoon series by Brian K. Fuller. Unlike most series of this type, the four books really make up a single long novel — no single book stands alone. Like most of these novels, the transcendental hero or heroine saves the world/king /nation, etc., by magic, sword or pluck. What makes this work different, at least to me, is that the three main characters seem more interesting than most.

The hero, a man without soul created out of mud by the evil one in order to destroy the world, saves it instead, with the help of many others including two women, a mother and daughter, who are the most beautiful and powerful women in the land. He sleeps with both of them and marries each in turn, saves the world, destroys the evil one and thereafter settles down with the mother in a tiny cottage in a god-forsaken village where they make a nuisance of themselves by, among other things, attending house parties that they were not invited to and copulating with each other wherever and whenever they had a mind to do so, which was often.

Pookie says check it out…

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To celebrate my free day, observe the ending of the world and visit Bill’s new venture the “Winchester Gun Club,” a “gentleman’s” club in Jomtien Beach, I decided to travel to Paradise by the Sea and spend a few days there. After a not too unpleasant two-hour bus ride, we arrived and tried to find a room at the little guest house that we usually stay in.

Alas, it was the time of the year for the mass migration of Russians from the frozen Steppes south on to the ragged edges of the Indian Ocean. The only similar migration of which I am familiar was the sweeping of the “alters” from the frigid streets of New York and the depositing of them like dice rolled in a street corner craps game upon the burning sands surrounding Biscayne Bay, there to remain until their internment in some recently reclaimed bit of the Everglades.

Even though the area in which the little guest house was located was downscale even by Russian standards (but not so for American expats on Social Security) there were no accommodations available in any of the 50 or so small hotels in the two block area. All that was left were a few tiny windowless rooms usually reserved for short time rentals. (For those of you unfamiliar with the term “short time,” try to think of what activity requires the rental of a hotel room for three hours or less.)

The streets, hotels restaurants, bars and massage parlors in this little neighborhood teemed with Russians; Slavs with their inverted banana ski-jump noses and the denizens of the Caucuses and the Steppes with their grand potato schnozzes.

Now some of you have commented on my obsession with probosci of all sort. That infatuation, however, is not engendered by a fondness for my Mediterranean ancestors spread along all sides of that remarkable inland sea who sport some of the most gargantuan and bizarre examples. You probably do not know this, but one of the first physical changes that separated us from our cousins the chimpanzees and bonobos was the movement of our nostrils from within the plane of our facial plate outward, to dangle in space at the end of a slightly flexible hunk of cartilage. So when you hear the phrase, “follow your nose,” it does not mean to follow the smell since that sense had diminished greatly from the capabilities exhibited by our simian relatives when we obtained our proboscis, but to follow the ascent of the various permutations of civilization these inquisitive appendages, for better of worse, have gotten us into.

We chose a room in the place I usually stay at. The street level floor is an open shop front with a counter. The proprietor sits behind the counter. She is almost always accompanied by her child who appears stricken with severe birth defects, rendering her immobile and deformed. When not dealing with customers, the woman spends her time rubbing down the child’s limbs, feeding her or speaking or humming something softly into her ear. The woman has a look of intensely deep sorrow. It is beyond anything I have ever seen in Thailand. Everyone else in the country seems to hide their feelings behind either the ever-present smile or a blank emotionless face that leaves one often wondering if anyone is at home. I do not know why I always chose to stay at this particular guest house, but I do.

As I said our room is windowless that means if there is a fire we die. Since the world was going to end in two days anyway, I was willing to take the risk.

The next morning we got up early and went out for our walk along the beach. When we got onto the sand we were greeted by the sight of hundreds’ of exposed boobs, both male and female glistening brightly like bleached bones in the morning sun, destined to glow a bright cherry red when the sun reached its zenith and turn a dark mottled brown like burnt toast when the sun sets that evening over the gulf of Thailand. On a pure tonnage basis, including my own, not insubstantial, addition, I reckon that the males have the females on that beach beaten by the proverbial country mile.

As long as I am discussing humanities difference from other simians, I should point out that at about the same time the protuberance made its appearance in the middle of our ancestors faces, perky little sprouts bloomed upon the chests of their pubescent females that contrasted greatly with the determinedly consistent flat chested aspect of our ape cousins. Another advance in the humanity’s march to dominate its environment. Another time, if asked, I will explain the role in the development of civilization of the disappearance of hair from most of our ancestor’s bodies and Sophie’s Choice that it presented to the human body louse. (Speaking of Lice, did you know that Napoleon’s army was not destroyed by the Russians but by typhoid bearing lice. It was a lousy way to go)

I took a long walk along the water’s edge. The water was as warm as freshly spilled blood. Now and then I would leave the sand and run across the road to look at the condo sale and rental ads in the windows of several of the real-estate agent’s shops that lined Beach Road. I still hoped to return to live there some day.

After the walk, we returned to the room to rest and escape the midday heat. While dozing I dreamily watched a television news program showing a security camera tape of a child, about two years old, playing near the rear wheel of an automobile. Suddenly the car backed up running over the child. It then moved forward running her over again. Shocked, I screamed, ran into the bathroom and started retching. I could hear the television reporters describing the scene as they played the tape over and over again. When I finished retching, I returned to the room and quickly shut off the TV, threw on some clothes, left the room and ran down the steps to get some air. LM ran after me, “Wait,” she said, “Good Luck. Baby lived.” I ignored her. Outside, I walked rapidly back and forth in front of the hotel wondering what kind of culture would show such a thing on television. At least there were no hoards of reporters seeking out the child’s pre-school classmates in order to get exclusive interviews on what they thought about the situation.

I no longer felt like visiting Bill’s new place and after a brief evening walk along the beach, I went to bed and slept badly. Thankfully, my dreams were not about run over little children or even those shot with assault rifles. Instead, the blackness of my dreams were filled with giant translucent jellyfish-like those that wash up on the beach here in great numbers. They resembled giant oozing glowing boobs that loomed up out of the darkness. They chased me along the beach. I tried to scream when they caught up to me but I couldn’t because they began to smother me, and then, of course, I woke up. Interestingly, I did not dream about noses. I probably do not fear them as much.

In the morning, another walk on the beach followed by a van ride back to Bangkok. For the first time in over a decade, I did not feel sad at leaving Paradise by the Beach. I guess that will pass, eventually.

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I think here I should interrupt my usual narrative and share with you (well to be honest, impose upon you) my recent musings about traveling.

My approach to traveling is somewhat like my approach to life; it is not arriving at your destination that is important but what happened along the way. I call it Pookieism.

For example, assume that I depart from San Francisco intending to travel to, say Rome to visit the Vatican and see the Sistine Chapel. If that is what I efficiently did and returned home equally efficiently, I for one would be unsatisfied indeed.

If on the other hand I were to depart on that same voyage and along the way be diverted by circumstances outside of my control or through my stupidity and thereby facing perhaps danger, or passion, beauty or tedium and return home without ever getting to see Michelangelo’s frescos (the chapel would probably be closed anyway, for repairs or for some obscure holiday), I would consider my trip a success.

I guess, one could consider Pookieism something like Buddhism, but from somewhat the opposite viewpoint. Where Buddhism urges one to withdraw from the unreality of perception, Pookieism suggests you revel in it.

When I look back into my life, anytime I single-mindedly pursued a goal and overcame many obstacles to achieve it, I almost always came away dissatisfied, became depressed and soon decided to spend my time doing something else. On the other hand, whenever I was diverted from my path or failed in achieving my goal or found myself hopelessly lost, I often was overjoyed. Why, because there was so much experience, so much pathos, and so much joy. And, oh the stories…

Yes, of course, there were things that to this day I wish never happened and if I could I would want not to have occurred, but they did and the exquisite if odious memories of the experience accompany’s me like tattoos on the skins of generation Xers.

For those males of a certain age, some of you may recall that time when you were a kid and in your imagination played the announcer of your life. “The great slugger stands at the plate. Here comes the pitch. He swings. He misses….” Or, “Here is the world-famous runner running through the woods. Will he break the record? Oh no! He trips. He falls. Will he be able to get up, finish the race and break the record? Stay tuned.”

Well, I still do that.

“Here is the aging hero walking along the side of the road recalling past loves, triumphs, and failures. Out of the corner of his eye, he spies a small yellow flower, stops and contemplates its beauty for a moment and then walks on, crosses the street, the freshly painted striping glowing so whitely in the sun it hurts his eyes. Suddenly he remembers he forgot to buy that bottle of milk. Should he return to the store or proceed on toward home? He stands there at the edge of the road, like the brave Ulysses on the beach contemplating whether to return home to the aging but loyal Penelope or spend another night in the arms of the beautiful Calypso?”

Speaking of Ulysses, Homer’s account is not quite how it happened.

One night the short, bandy-legged, scraggly bearded young man named Ulysses, who lived in a subdivision on a small island in the Adriatic, left the home on a cul-de-sac he shared with his wife, young son, various hangers-on, and a pack of dogs, telling everyone he was going to the store to buy a carton of milk, or an amphora of wine or new sandals or whatever. Now twenty years later he stood on the corner of the block down from his old home, broke, hungry and older. He contemplated the excuses he would tell his wife for his long absence. He concocted stories about ships and strange wars, jealous gods, wooden horses, one-eyed monsters and to cover up the long periods of time he spent living with a succession of comely young women, he fell back on the tried and true excuse of philandering husbands of the time, bewitchment.

On the other hand, the also aging but still zaftig and supposedly loyal Penelope wanted no part of the smelly midget bastard’s return. She had happily spent the past 20 years screwing the Theban pool boy and every young stud in town. The assholes return would only mean she would have to give up the good life and return to working on that goddamn loom. Besides, she needed an excuse of her own to explain why for the last 20 years the same old piece of cloth hung on that machine with no further work done on it since he left. She told all her boyfriends that she would choose one of them to settle down with when she finished weaving the cloth. They were so stupefied with the thought of getting into her toga whenever she lifted its hem for them they forgot all about the status of that rotting rag.

She believed however that she would need something better to convince the crafty asshole of her unbelievable 20 years of fidelity. She decided to elaborate on the story and planned to tell her returning husband if unfortunately, he should ever return, that she weaved at the loom all day and every night she tore out what she had done during the day. If the simple and unbelievable story had worked on her lovers why wouldn’t this expanded version work on that scheming lying bastard Ulysses?

Nevertheless, she still was surprised when the testosterone-poisoned dwarf suddenly and unexpectedly showed up at her door and started killing all of her boyfriends and the Theban pool boy as well.

Sadly, Penelope was forced back to working all day at the goddamn loom and at night diddling herself while the drunken scumbag lay snoring among his dogs after buggering some prepubescent boy-chick.

As Holden Caulfield would say, “Crummy.”

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“Ha,” squealed the Isabella character. “Hitting on the dyke. You must really be hard up.”

“Bisexual,” responded the Vince character softly while staring into the make-up mirror.

“Huh!”

“Bisexual, she is bisexual,” he repeated.

“Whatever,” she laughed.

“Tonight,” he said with a smile looking at her through the mirror.

“What’s tonight?”

“Our date is tonight. I am sure we get it on.”

“You wish,” she responded. “I’m your bodyguard, remember.”

“I see he killed off David. Good thing, I never liked the guy,”she continued. “When do you think he will get around to offing us?”

“We do not know if he is dead. We only know he did not cross the street. He could have been picked up by someone or have changed his mind about his dinner appointment or lying wounded in the gutter. He could show up again, like Charlie Bowman.”

“That seems stupid,” she opined and pouted.

 

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Grant's Gazelles (Nanger granti), Serengeti Na...

Grant’s Gazelles (Nanger granti), Serengeti National Park, Tanzania (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What! Another Parable?

Well, perhaps not really a parable. It seems that recently I have come across, in various guises the concept that the essential driving force of humanity or at least individual humans following their descent from the safety of the trees to lift their heads above the savannah was; Is it good to eat? Can I have sex with it? And, will it kill me? From these three elemental interests, it has in various ways been argued that our psychology and social arrangements can be deduced.

Now we all may agree that this is a bit simplistic. On the other hand, if we assume that these or some similar urges prompted our remote ancestors to take up life on the dangerous grassy world of the savannah, then I maintain there are at least two other impulses that at this important moment marked man from the other fauna around him (more if we were to discuss women the more subtle gender. But I will leave that for another day.)

The first is the remarkable facility of humans to confuse images with reality and find some utility in it that we call thought or ratiocination. This I also will not discuss here.

The second unique ability of humans is that when they raised their heads above the swaying frond of grass they also thought, Now who can I get to bring me my food, procure my sex for me and die instead of me if need be.

What, you say it is not separate from the first three but simply a mechanism to deal with them prompted by their confusion of metaphors that we later called thinking. I disagree.

It is distinctly rare in the animal kingdom for any species to behave in that way. Few if any species, for example, sit around and choose one or more members to die for them. Even the noble Naked Mole Rat, when faced with a predator that is too strong for the group to deal with would not send one of their number out to die. Instead one of these heroic if decidedly ugly creatures nobly offers himself or herself for the intruders’ dinner.

Humans do not behave that way. Generally, with humans, only someone conditioned by others who prefer not to die, will offer himself instead for their benefit and make the ultimate sacrifice.

Take the examples of the lions and gazelles sharing the same grassy world as the early humans. The lions are hungry. They stalk the gazelles through the grass. The gazelles see them and run away leaving to the lions the slow of foot, the sick and the lame.

Now suppose for some reason the same sickness as humans strike the gazelles and a group of them stop and say to each other. “This is stupid all this running around so that the slowest get eaten by the lions. It is exhausting, it interferes with our grazing and wasteful. Let’s choose someone we do not like very much or is not you know, really one of us, hamstring him and leave him for the lions.” And so they do just that.

Lo and behold the lions fall upon the surrogate and the gazelles go back to eating the grass.

Now assume this goes on for generations, the Lions lose their hunting skills and become fat and lazy. The clever gazelles realize this and begin leaving a little less each feeding time. After a suitable number of generations the lions beacon little more than the gazelles’ pets useless for nothing much more than scaring other predators off; after all, they have little enough of their own food. The gazelles, recognizing a good thing realize that they do not even have to sacrifice one of their own; they could hamstring a Gnu or a Zebra just as well.

Eventually, the lions are controlled and the gazelles increase and eat the Savannah grass until almost none is left but a few clumps here and there as the land begins to turn into a desert. The gazelle leaders meet to try to figure out what to do. They decide, reasonably, that the remaining grass should be reserved for only the leaders and the less successful will have to shift for themselves.

“But,” cries one of the soon to be starving gazelles, “it is us the gazelles who turned this paradise into a desert by over eating an overpopulating it and unless we all, gazelles, lions, gnus, and zebras get together all the grass will be gone.”

“Ha,” laughed the gazelle leaders, “do not be ridiculous, gazelles could not be the cause. Why a thousand years ago this land was a desert, then the rains came and the grass grew and the gazelles and the lions came and made the savannah a paradise through the efforts of the leaders who naturally and rightfully should enjoy the remaining grasslands until the rains come again.”

This infuriated the other gazelles and the lions who were listening so much that they attacked the leaders to take the remaining stands of grass away from them, but in so doing the battle destroyed those remaining few tufts grass anyway and the gazelles died and so did the lions.

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Last night I was awakened by the sound of loud music, laughter, and singing. I left my apartment and went into the hall to see what was going on. I realized it was coming from a unit a few doors down from me. It appeared that some of the Russian women on vacation here were having a party and singing along to a stringed instrument of some kind. I stood there listening to their singing and laughter for a while. A man, a little younger than I, joined me at the balcony. He had an accent I could not place. He said to me, “They should not be making all that noise this late at night and keeping the rest of us up.”

“Oh, I don’t know,” I responded, “They’re here on vacation let them have some fun, I don’t expect that their lives back home in Russia are all that good.”

“Yeah,” he said annoyed at my response, “what if everyone who came here on vacation did that, what then?”

“Well,” I said moving off back to my apartment door, “I guess the world would be a little better place then.” I stopped and turned back to him and added, “I would, however, have to move out.”

He laughed.

“Life is funny that way,” I thought. “Sometimes we just have to accept some inconvenience to make things better.”

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