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I arrived in Bangkok, the city of the “Sidewalks of Death.” Should one stroll about the town one might: find the sidewalk beneath of him suddenly open up, plunging him into the fetid miasmatic water below and carrying him off to the equally pestilential waters of some ancient canal, there to drown — trip on a crack in the pavement sending him tumbling into the street where he is maimed or killed by hoards of crazed bikers trying to beat the traffic light — be attacked by rabid soi dogs and sewer rats who gnaw off his ankles — be abducted by an evil tuk-tuk driver and disappear forever — be set upon by a group of manic ladyboys pouring out of an alley who either ravish his body or beat him senseless and steal his money. I love this city.

 

The flight from Rome to Bangkok was uneventful except during the leg from Kuwait to Bangkok where the young man sitting next to me, who appeared to be a religious of some sort, insisted that I listen to a recording of incessant chanting by some Iman or something. That was OK because there is nothing I prefer to sleep through than chanting.

 

Bangkok is hot (but not as hot as is parts of California right now). It rains every afternoon and evening— often big grumbling thunder showers. So, I go about whatever I go about these days in the mornings and lie in my bed and stare at the ceiling or tap away at my computer in the afternoon and evenings.

 

Thailand is billed by the Thai Visitors Bureau as the “Land of Smiles.” Thais have at least 15 types of smile, none of which means I’m pleased to see you — except for of shopkeepers, grifters and bar girls who unfortunately see you only as an ATM machine.

 

In the morning, as I walk from my apartment to the health club, I check to see which of the denizens of the street I have come to recognize over the years are missing since the last time I visited. The massive homeless young man often seen sprawled in a stupor on the sidewalks of Soi Nana or wandering in a daze down the street seems to be gone. The one-legged “king of the beggars” as I named him because of his handsome features, meticulous trimmed hair and beard who I now and then see entering for lunch some of the better restaurants on Soi 11, has resumed his post on the sunny corner of Sukhumvit and Soi 5.

 

My part of Bangkok continues to change and disappear. The old buildings with the cheap restaurants, go-go bars, and nightclubs get torn down, replaced with gleaming silver towers boasting that they contain the greatest award winning condominiums, or offices, or the finest of the three or four other luxury hotels with the same name in the city. The people who lived, worked or played there move out and new people move in — the ongoing migration of a vibrant urban area. The extent of pain and dislocation caused by it is usually a function of how rapidly it occurs.

 

One of Thailand’s major preoccupations is with massage. It is ingrained in the religious and cultural subconscious of the country. The Thais even developed their own brand of massage that is taught in the most prestigious temples throughout the nation. It consists of vigorous application of the hands, elbows, forearms, and feet by the masseuse to various points on the customer’s body accompanied by periodic sudden stretching or wrenching of his joints. Although a Thai massage can make you feel great after it is over, many people find the process too painful. As a result foreigners often, after a brief flirtation with “the real thing,” eventually turn to more traditional massage with its vigorous rubbing of the body with oil, with or without a happy ending. Many “legitimate” massage establishments do not provide happy endings (it is, in fact, illegal).

 

Speaking of legitimate massage in Bangkok, I would like to make a pitch to those who may visit the city to try Silk Spa on Sukhumvit Soi 13. It is rated by several travel magazines as one of the best massage parlors in Bangkok. My old friends, Gary and Pui, own the place. Gary is Canadian. He plays ice hockey in the Thai ice hockey league. The Spa is located on Soi 13 about 50 yards off Sukhumvit. Inside, it is a little gem of a place. Gary spends many days designing and building the interior. The evidence of his craftsmanship is everywhere, from the handsome gray slate floor and attractively painted walls of the massage rooms to the marvelous two person sauna with its shining blond wood. I go there three or four times a week after I finish my mornings at the health club.
Pasted Graphic

 

Although I like Bangkok a lot, there is one thing I despise. That is when I am riding the bus or the Skytrain and hanging onto the strap because it is crowded and I see someone, who I am convinced is older and more decrepit than I, get up out of his or her seat and offer it to me. I usually reject the offer somewhat coldly, unless of course, I am very tired. Then, I take the seat and sit there mortified (a word not often used anymore) on the one hand and relieved on the other. It is these internal conflicts that…Hmm, I think I’ve gone on about this long enough.

 

I spent a couple of delightful hours with my friend the Old Sailor. He is a kind man who has lived a fascinating life as a sailor, commercial deep sea diver, treasure hunter, and the like. He lived most of his life on or by the sea in South Florida (Key West), the Virgin Islands, Easter Island and French Polynesia (Bora Bora). He now resides in a second rate hotel in Bangkok. The walls of his room are covered with photographs organized by year. When I asked him about that, he said that he was beginning to have trouble remembering things. He had, he went on, an interesting life and he did not want to forget any of it before the inevitable dimming of the light.

 

One day, at a nearby Italian restaurant, in the course of our rambling conversation, he began a sentence with the words, “I sailed the Windward Passage three times.” It seemed to be an interesting story was in the offing and I was right.

 

One time, he either worked for or partnered with the Captain of a boat docked somewhere in South Florida. The Captain was having a dispute with someone over money or ownership or something like that. So, in the middle of the night, he and the Captain took the boat, leaving with no money between them and almost no gas to power the engines. So, they broke into a nearby refueling dock during the dark of night, refueled, and set off for wherever. Needing money, they stopped in the Virgin Islands and found a gig towing a large sailboat through the Windward Passage south of Cuba to Jamaica.

 

Somewhere near Cuba, a storm came upon them. At that most inopportune moment, their engine decided to quit and the boat slowed down. Unfortunately, the large sailboat did not and it smashed into their stern grabbing onto it like a shark grabbing onto a seal. Even more, unfortunately, the bowsprit of sailboat broke off and began thrashing back and forth across the deck making it impossible for the two adventures to get to it and untangle the lines and separate the boats. So, they spent the night hoping they would live to see the sunrise. The tale stopped there. Obviously, at least the Old Sailor survived. I do not know what became of the boats or the Captain or whether whatever he was fleeing from eventually caught up to him. I see in this a potential Hemingwayesque novella, “Captains Not So Very Courageous.”

 

A few years ago, some travel magazine commissioned a poll in which people from many countries of the world were asked if they thought it was ok to cheat foreigners out of their money. The citizens of no country responded with acceptance of such callous amoral behavior anywhere near 50% except for the Thais, over 80% of whom could see no problem in that conduct.

 

On Wednesday, I had lunch with the Gemologist. He is also a well-known ethnologist (The Vanishing Tribes of Burma), artist (sculpture and painting), adventurer, writer, businessman, raconteur, and man about town. I have written about him before. He has recently returned from several trips into the hill country of Burma where he photographed one of the hill tribes in their traditional dress and re-established his trading connections with the Gurkha miners and gem merchants working there. He has resumed trading high-value rubies and sapphires and showed me photographs of several beautiful examples (in the one million dollars and up each range).
IMG_1181
A Million Dollar Flawless Sapphire Recently Sold

 

It is always a pleasure spending an afternoon with him. We spoke of many things, mostly our disappointment with the political situation in America and the rigors of getting old.
IMG_2952

 

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I arrived in Bangkok, the city of the “Sidewalks of Death.” Should one stroll about the town one might: find the sidewalk beneath of him suddenly open up, plunging him into the fetid miasmatic water below and carrying him off to the equally pestilential waters of some ancient canal, there to drown — trip on a crack in the pavement sending him tumbling into the street where he is maimed or killed by hoards of crazed bikers trying to beat the traffic light — be attacked by rabid soi dogs and sewer rats who gnaw off his ankles — be abducted by an evil tuk-tuk driver and disappear forever — be set upon by a group of manic ladyboys pouring out of an alley who either ravish his body or beat him senseless and steal his money. I love this city.

 

The flight from Rome to Bangkok was uneventful except during the leg from Kuwait to Bangkok where the young man sitting next to me, who appeared to be a religious of some sort, insisted that I listen to a recording of incessant chanting by some Iman or something. That was OK because there is nothing I prefer to sleep through than chanting.

 

Bangkok is hot (but not as hot as is parts of California right now). It rains every afternoon and evening— often big grumbling thunder showers. So, I go about whatever I go about these days in the mornings and lie in my bed and stare at the ceiling or tap away at my computer in the afternoon and evenings.

 

Thailand is billed by the Thai Visitors Bureau as the “Land of Smiles.” Thais have at least 15 types of smile, none of which means I’m pleased to see you — except for of shopkeepers, grifters and bar girls who unfortunately see you only as an ATM machine.

 

In the morning, as I walk from my apartment to the health club, I check to see which of the denizens of the street I have come to recognize over the years are missing since the last time I visited. The massive homeless young man often seen sprawled in a stupor on the sidewalks of Soi Nana or wandering in a daze down the street seems to be gone. The one-legged “king of the beggars” as I named him because of his handsome features, meticulous trimmed hair and beard who I now and then see entering for lunch some of the better restaurants on Soi 11, has resumed his post on the sunny corner of Sukhumvit and Soi 5.

 

My part of Bangkok continues to change and disappear. The old buildings with the cheap restaurants, go-go bars, and nightclubs get torn down, replaced with gleaming silver towers boasting that they contain the greatest award winning condominiums, or offices, or the finest of the three or four other luxury hotels with the same name in the city. The people who lived, worked, or played there move out and new people move in — the ongoing migration of a vibrant urban area. The extent of pain and dislocation caused by it is usually a function of how rapidly it occurs.

 

One of Thailand’s major preoccupations is with massage. It is ingrained in the religious and cultural subconscious of the country. The Thais even developed their own brand of massage that is taught in the most prestigious temples throughout the nation. It consists of vigorous application of the hands, elbows, forearms, and feet by the masseuse to various points on the customer’s body accompanied by periodic sudden stretching or wrenching of his joints. Although a Thai massage can make you feel great after it is over, many people find the process too painful. As a result foreigners often, after a brief flirtation with “the real thing,” eventually turn to more traditional massage with its vigorous rubbing of the body with oil, with or without a happy ending. Many “legitimate” massage establishments do not provide happy endings (it is, in fact, illegal).

 

Speaking of legitimate massage in Bangkok, I would like to make a pitch to those who may visit the city to try Silk Spa on Sukhumvit Soi 13. It is rated by several travel magazines as one of the best massage parlors in Bangkok. My old friends, Gary and Pui, own the place. Gary is Canadian. He plays ice hockey in the Thai ice hockey league. The Spa is located on Soi 13 about 50 yards off Sukhumvit. Inside, it is a little gem of a place. Gary spends many days designing and building the interior. The evidence of his craftsmanship is everywhere, from the handsome gray slate floor and attractively painted walls of the massage rooms to the marvelous two person sauna with its shining blond wood. I go there three or four times a week after I finish my mornings at the health club.
Pasted Graphic

 

Although I like Bangkok a lot, there is one thing I despise. That is when I am riding the bus or the Skytrain and hanging onto the strap because it is crowded and I see someone, who I am convinced is older and more decrepit than I, get up out of his or her seat and offer it to me. I usually reject the offer somewhat coldly, unless of course, I am very tired. Then, I take the seat and sit there mortified (a word not often used anymore) on the one hand and relieved on the other. It is these internal conflicts that…Hmm, I think I’ve gone on about this long enough.

 

I spent a couple of delightful hours with my friend the Old Sailor. He is a kind man who has lived a fascinating life as a sailor, commercial deep sea diver, treasure hunter, and the like. He lived most of his life on or by the sea in South Florida (Key West), the Virgin Islands, Easter Island and French Polynesia (Bora Bora). He now resides in a second rate hotel in Bangkok. The walls of his room are covered with photographs organized by year. When I asked him about that, he said that he was beginning to have trouble remembering things. He had, he went on, an interesting life and he did not want to forget any of it before the inevitable dimming of the light.

 

One day, at a nearby Italian restaurant, in the course of our rambling conversation, he began a sentence with the words, “I sailed the Windward Passage three times.” It seemed to be an interesting story was in the offing and I was right.

 

One time, he either worked for or partnered with the Captain of a boat docked somewhere in South Florida. The Captain was having a dispute with someone over money or ownership or something like that. So, in the middle of the night, he and the Captain took the boat, leaving with no money between them and almost no gas to power the engines. So, they broke into a nearby refueling dock during the dark of night, refueled, and set off for wherever. Needing money, they stopped in the Virgin Islands and found a gig towing a large sailboat through the Windward Passage south of Cuba to Jamaica.

 

Somewhere near Cuba, a storm came upon them. At that most inopportune moment, their engine decided to quit and the boat slowed down. Unfortunately, the large sailboat did not and it smashed into their stern grabbing onto it like a shark grabbing onto a seal. Even more unfortunately, the bowsprit of sailboat broke off and began thrashing back and forth across the deck making it impossible for the two adventures to get to it and untangle the lines and separate the boats. So, they spent the night hoping they would live to see the sunrise. The tale stopped there. Obviously, at least the Old Sailor survived. I do not know what became of the boats or the Captain or whether whatever he was fleeing from eventually caught up to him. I see in this a potential Hemingwayesque novella, “Captains Not So Very Courageous.”

 

A few years ago, some travel magazine commissioned a poll in which people from many countries of the world were asked if they thought it was ok to cheat foreigners out of their money. The citizens of no country responded with acceptance of such callous amoral behavior anywhere near 50% except for the Thais, over 80% of whom could see no problem in that conduct.

 

On Wednesday, I had lunch with the Gemologist. He is also a well-known ethnologist (The Vanishing Tribes of Burma), artist (sculpture and painting), adventurer, writer, businessman, raconteur, and man about town. I have written about him before. He has recently returned from several trips into the hill country of Burma where he photographed one of the hill tribes in their traditional dress and re-established his trading connections with the Gurkha miners and gem merchants working there. He has resumed trading high-value rubies and sapphires and showed me photographs of several beautiful examples (in the one million dollar and up each range).
IMG_1181.jpg
A Million Dollar Flawless Sapphire Recently Sold

 

It is always a pleasure spending an afternoon with him. We spoke of many things, mostly our disappointment with the political situation in America and the rigors of getting old.
IMG_2952

 

Read Full Post »

 

Weird-Face-Funny-Santa-Image

 

Christmas came and went, obviously it is not my favorite time of the year. I think of it as the Donald Trump of holidays — all bluster and fraud. Here is a Christmas story for you:

Twas the night before Christmas. I had spent much of the day searching through Amazon for a book I could read that did not make me unhappy. You know, slightly better than trash but not enough content to engage my emotions. You would think Amazon would be full of such things. But, I have already read most of those remotely tolerable and the blurbs describing the content of the books I had not read pained my recently damaged gag reflex. So, I took a swig of Magic Mouthwash, forced myself out of bed and went searching the house for entertainment. Perhaps, I would surprise Santa Claus stealing Christmas presents.

When I was just a young nubbin at Christmas time, I would pray that the gathering of my family for that joyous holiday would not end in a drunken brawl. That prayer was never answered. I also prayed I would get a long list of presents that greed and an inflated sense of self-worth convinced me I was entitled. Alas, usually on Christmas morning, if even one item on my list appeared under the tree, I would be surprised indeed.

I believed that the only person roaming around the house from the time we all went to bed until I woke up in the morning and rushed to the tree to gather my loot was that fat, phony Santa Claus. The god’s of gift giving, I was positive, had heard my pleas but that corpulent poser had lifted the presents from my house, thrown them into his sleigh and along with his eight flying antlered rats whisked them off to the North Pole where he could spend the year playing with them.

I swore that when I became old enough I would buy a gun, secrete myself somewhere near the tree and when that red-suited miscreant exited from the fireplace shoot him right between his beady thieving eyes.

Alas, long before I was old enough to get a gun, I stopped believing in that villainous mercenary elf or that Christmas was all about me.

Now that I am older, I have a better understanding of what Christmas means — nothing in heaven or hell can stop members of a family from despising one another if they choose to and, you should consider yourself lucky if, in life, you get anything you wish for.

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On May 8, 2017, at about 4 PM my mom passed away peacefully in her sleep. She led a life of great adversity from the moment she was born until the last few years or her life. She met every challenge with implacable determination and good humor never giving an inch to despair and defeat. Even the Grim Reaper eventually gave up and had to sneak up on her while she slept.

IMG_2793

At 84 she took up painting and became quite accomplished at it.

Ruth Galanter wrote the following poem to mark her passing:

Teresa Petrillo departed this earth
Leaving grief and relief among those she gave birth.

To watch someone aging is hard while you do it;
In some ways as hard as yourself going through it.

So much as you’ll miss her, remember she’s free
And keep all her stories in your memory.

Teresa was tough, as her tough life required
To raise her three children. She should be admired!

And so as she passes from this life to next
Let’s think of her life in its broader context:

An immigrant child when few folks had phones,
She lived to see spying conducted by drones!

She had strong opinions, as all of you know,
And it’s likely that she chose the time she would go.

And so as she passes, remember her strength,
Tell others her story, but not at great length,

Be glad that you knew her because there’s no other
Relationship quite like a child with its mother.

Be sure as she’s watching from heaven above
That she sees you with pride and, above all, with love.

We all who knew and loved her will miss her greatly.
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Young Person asks— “Do you have any pointers you can give me?”

Experience Person responds — “Don’t let anyone take advantage of you.”

YP — “Please explain.”

EP — “You’re young you still have that sparkle in your eye that drive to go out and save the day and let the rest sort itself out. But when you think like that, people can take advantage. Employers want your services. Agents want a cut of your pay. Companies want you to sell their products. If you’re not careful, you give yourself away for less than you’re worth. You trust people who you shouldn’t. You play with fire, and you get burned.”

“That’s my advice to you, ‘Don’t get burned.’”

YP —I was more looking for things like keys to advancement.”

EP — “Oh … that. Just survive. Live through enough experiences, and you’ll advance. For an intelligent and smart person with your kind of background, that’s the easy part. But if you do that long enough, eventually you learn that your job isn’t about being self-sufficient or doing the right thing. Really, we just do what we do for money. And when that finally starts to sink in, you face the hard part of professional life: the big questions.”

YP —“The big questions?”

EP —“Yeah. Is there more to life than just advancement and looting? Are we more than just numbers in some accountants ledger, statistics written on our resume? And the big one, the one that haunts you every night on the job: Why are we doing this anyway?”

(Adapted from Orconomics: A Satire [The Dark Profit Saga Book 1] by J. Zachary Pike. Gnomish Press LLC.)

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One day my masseuse told me about the Thai woman who was a member of the Health club in the hotel where she worked. The woman always insisted that the masseuse apply intense pressure to her body during her massages.

The woman was in her 60′s and independently wealthy having built up a high-tech business of sorts.

When taking her massage, she always requests three therapists, two women. one for each side of her upper body and a man for below the waist. They would massage her vigorously for one hour. Then the male massage theripast had to mount her for the next half hour and with equal vigor satisfy another of her needs.

According to M, it was very difficult to find a male massage therapist willing to repeat his assignment since they were generally so exhausted by their first encounter that they usually declined to venture it again.

The woman gave the male massage therapist a $40 tip and about $20 to each woman.

The customer told M that until recently she had two husbands, a Thai husband and American one. A few months ago she divorced her Thai husband.

When M inquired as to what prompted the divorce the woman explained that whenever they made love he would move up and down for a few thrusts and then get tired and rest. After resting he would start up again and so on. So, she decided to divorce him.

The woman indicated that she spent a few months each year in the US with her American husband.

M asked how he was as a lover.

“Very bad,” she responded.

I then asked M what she thought about that.

She answered with a question of her own, “Is it true that American men are bad lovers?”

“I have no knowledge of how other American men have sex other than from the stories we men tell one another about our sexual affairs”, I said, “but based upon those stories and an evaluation of my own performance, I would have to guess that, alas, we probably are.”

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