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A. CHRISTMAS IN MENDOCINO:

Peter and Barrie returned to the Bay Area the day after the Christmas party. I resumed spending my days sitting by the window watching the waves crest over the bluffs and a hawk hunting gophers in the backyard. When not daydreaming by the window or amusing myself on Facebook, I wander about the town Christmas shopping, searching for the appropriate and affordable gifts for those on my list.

Nights are another thing. I sleep ok but, before I fall asleep and after I wake up, I feel an existential malaise that is difficult to describe to those who have not felt the night that never ends bearing down on them like an out of control train. It isn’t fear, I think. More like the sad wonder of a sunset.

For the past few days, they have been removing some of the large trees that menace the house. Over the last year or so, two of those trees have blown down, one of which destroyed the pump house. During my walks, I sometimes stop to watch them work. I find that watching other people work relaxes me. I wonder if Gautama sitting under his bodhi tree observed some people working in the fields when he decided to live a life of contemplation was a good thing and we should all do it if we could figure out a way to get away with it.
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People have begun arriving for the Christmas Eve celebration my sister holds every year. A few years ago about twenty of us, friends and family, gathered together at a house that she rented for the holidays a few miles up the coast. Some of us slept on the floor. I slept on a sofa. We all cooked most of the day and ate and drank in the evenings. A great storm blew in Christmas Eve, throwing up giant waves that crashed on the beach, driving us all inside where we sang carols and opened presents.

That was a far cry from the Christmases of my youth when uncles, aunts, and cousins would gather with our family. The women would prepare endless amounts of food while the men napped in the living room. Dinner was a loud affair with everyone shouting and drinking wine until the arguments and tears erupted among the adults while the children hid in quiet corners and learned to hate the holiday for which they had spent weeks in eager anticipation.

Anyway, this year it was planned to be a smaller affair than usual. First to arrive late Friday evening were George and Maryann’s children Brendan and Katie with their significant others, Ashley and Quinn. The next morning we all got up, fitted a Christmas bow on Bingo the dog and watched Brendan, dressed in fuzzy brown PJs, make us all breakfast.
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Chewbacca and MaryAnn Rule the Kitchen.

That afternoon, I went to Fort Bragg and my favorite bar in the area, Milano. They were having their Christmas party and it was crowded. Most of the regulars were there. The old man who owned the place and always sat on the stool by the wall at the end of the bar, however, was missing. Perhaps he died. He was not looking well the last time I saw him well over a year.

I took an empty stool and ordered a Stella. There was food at the party, a potluck. The bartender urged me to get some food but I demurred for some reason or another. The noise in place was almost defining, There were several little groups talking loudly, others pounding their dice cups on the bar-top. A few people sat quietly staring at their drinks. I made a friend.

I Usually, I do not talk to anyone preferring to watch. But Gene, who sat down next to me, insisted that I engage him in conversation. “What’s your nationality?” he asked. “Italian,” I responded. “I’m Bohemian,” he said. I thought he was playing with me, but since I could not figure out the joke, I ignored it. I then asked him what he does for a living “I’m a stone contractor,” he said. Not knowing what a stone contractor was, I ignored this too. “I’m retired,” he went on, “but I still work 5 hours a day.” How one can work five hours a day and still consider himself retired I could not comprehend but I let that pass also. “I like my clients,” he then declared. “I did not like mine,” I responded. He stared at me a moment then said, “Attorneys are the most difficult to get to pay their bills.” “I can understand that,” I replied. “After all, they spend most of their working lives helping people to avoid paying their debts, financial or otherwise.”

I was happy when I left and drove back to my sister’s house. Shortly after I got back, two additional weekend guests, Debbie and Shelly, arrived. We had risotto for dinner.

The next morning, it was the day before Christmas. We had a long breakfast where we talked about many things that made us laugh and some that did not.

That evening, we gathered for Christmas Eve dinner. Maryjane (she who had married a clown) and her current husband Jovan, and Nancy and Duncan joined us. Before dinner, we snacked on stuffed calamari, baked eggplant, crab cakes, shrimp cocktail and a lot of other things — too many for me to remember.
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Debbie and Katie.

At dinner, we toasted to good friends and holidays and then dug into the marvelous cioppino my sister had prepared.
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Happy Holidays to All.

I sat between Nancy and Shelly. Nancy told me about her father (or Duncan’s, I forget which) who led a wonderful and exciting life and at 95 years old lives by himself in a house in Oregon, still drives and cooks his own meals and refuses to go to a senior home. Shelly, a potter by trade who’s studio is at the Women’s Pottery Studios on Noe in San Francisco told us about her good friend and studio mate who died at 105. She began her ceramics career in her late 40s. When she was 80, she was “discovered” by the critics and became a bit of a celebrity. She made well over 5 million dollars from her pottery in about 5 years. Because so many of her clients and friends were in the entertainment business, she began being offered roles in the movies. She was the voice of the grandmother in “Titanic.”

Following these uplifting tales and several different desserts, I went to bed.

The next morning, Christmas, it was Panettone and presents, coffee and wrapping paper, giggles of happiness and moments of silent contemplation of fleeting pleasures that penetrated the veneer of joy like no-see-umm pricking your skin.
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Christmas Morning with Bingo and George.

I then left drove five hours back to the golden hills where I opened more presents.

A woman, Wanni, who I assisted in the sale of her business, gave me a lovely blanket, fleece on the inside and smooth and soft to the touch on the outside. Adrian also gave me a number of great gifts as did Dick and Hayden. We then had dinner and I immediately went to bed where clutching my marvelous new blanket I thankfully quickly fell into a deep almost dreamless sleep.

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An Aging Childe Harold.

 

 

B. MOLLY HAD A BABY ON CHRISTMAS DAY:

On Christmas Day, Molly had a baby. I was not there at the birth, but I had been there over 20 years ago at Molly’s birth along with her father Maurice, a dear friend and a kind gentle man. When the nurse brought tiny Molly into the nursery, Maurice. for a long, long time, stared through the glass at her with a wonder and love that stayed with him for the rest of his life. Molly soon became the child of all of us, our family and friends. She was a quiet waif of a child. Usually, she sat silently at the edge of things — an innocent in a cynical world. She wore large round glasses and had a shy smile. Often, she babysat my grandchildren, traveled with them and at lived with them in their house when Maurice worked.

When we awoke on Christmas Day, we learned she had given birth — to a boy, a Christmas baby she named Amir, Emmanuel, Duncan Trad (Trans: Prince, Messiah [God is with us], Dark Warrior [dark of visage, not of heart] Trad) a fitting name for someone born on this day. A few years ago, Molly wrote a prescient poem that she shared with me. Read it slowly.

A New Years Poem
I have a desperate attraction to new beginnings
Sometimes the numbers on the calendar look so beautiful
I think
Today’s the day I drink less and run more
No smoking, all veggies
Honesty, integrity, self-reliance, perseverance, creativity,
No fear, live large,
Dream big, be bright, believe in love and believe in yourself!
And I do
Today is an auspicious day
Today is my new beginning
Sometimes I just feel it, on a Tuesday
Today’s the day I keep doing yoga
I don’t back down when I’m right
I go to bed at a reasonable hour, pay my bills on time
Clean out the toe jam, learn all those languages
All the little steps start here and I’m climbing
I can feel it now, right now, and I won’t look back
This is it!
Today is an auspicious day
Today is my new beginning
Then I find myself making the same mistakes
Who manufactured the grooves in my record?
How would it feel if the dj scratched me across the turntable?
The dissonant rip, like a zipper coming undone
A cut away from the 4/4 time that I was trying so hard to hold
But this is why the crowd came to the club
To hear the sound of the universe tearing into a new song
The maligned has become music
We throw our hands up and we dance
I am scratched across the turntable and the crowd is screaming
We are scratched and screaming
And the dj takes it back, and the song plays
All of it is beautiful
Every moment new
Every moment auspicious
Every moment beginning
Molly Trad

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Molly and Amir Emmanuel Duncan Trad

 

 

C. SORROW.

Within minutes of finishing the above joyous account of a Christmas birth, I received the following distressing email from Naida regarding my dear friend Bill:

“I have been sitting with Bill next to his bed. His coughing woke me at 5 a.m. He asked me what my name was. I told him and, when asked what I’ve done all day, explained that I am his wife and I’ve been taking care of him. He said he’d been put away into in some attic. I told him he’s downstairs. He said he wants to see out the window. I explained that the sun wouldn’t come up for a couple of hours. He said, “OK. When it’s light I want to see out the window.” He also said, “I feel weird like I’ve been separated from all civilization” — followed by his characteristic sarcastic “huh” of a laugh. Then he asked if any of his relatives were coming to see him.”

Bill, a gentle giant of a man, has been my cherished friend for more years than I can remember — always cheerful and always seeming happy to see me when I visited he and Naida at their beloved ranch along the Cosumnes River near Sacramento.

Few people know that Bill was quietly responsible for the passage of the California Coastal Conservancy legislation, a key element of California’s Coastal protection program over 40 years ago. We were on the floor of the Senate. We clearly did not have the votes. Bill privately spoke to Senator Denny Carpenter a vocal opponent of California’s Coastal Protection legislation. He asked Carpenter to speak in favor of the legislation when it came before the Senate for its final vote. Carpenter agreed and did so, turning enough votes to pass the bill. So, whenever you visit a beautiful section of the California coast or San Francisco Bay that the Conservancy has had a hand in preserving, please remember Bill, Geyer.

I will miss him greatly.

And, the Great Wheel grinds inexorably on.

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I am at that point in my life where, I suppose like many people, I begin to contemplate that ineffable question, “Who am I?” — Or perhaps “Why?”— then again maybe not. Who cares?

Lets cut to the chase. I have always thought of myself as… Well, in a quantum world “always” does not exist or matter. So let me instead begin with — As I write this, I think of myself as an ascetic hedonist. That makes no sense you may say. How can one be both ascetic and a hedonist at the same time? (I guess, a person who gets pleasure out of self-flagellation can be described that way. But, that is beyond what I can handle right now.)

Anyway, let me explain the image I have about myself by using an analogy. I picture myself as a hermit living in a remote cave in the middle of a great desert somewhere. Every morning I get up just before sunrise, go out to some miserable rocky place, contort myself into an unpleasant and uncomfortable pose and contemplate or hum or something else all day.

I would contemplate life’s meaning, real meaning like, “Why was I doing this in the first place?” “Am I just a sick human being?” “What happens after this, whatever this is ?”

If I may digress from my digression, let me discuss my problem with what some large groups of people say comes after this, whatever this is?

There are, for example, a large group of people who believe that if you are male and an efficient killer after you die you get to be locked up forever with a bunch of young virgin women who probably will not remain virgins for long. Everyone else, other than other killers locked up like you, gets to sit on the outside doing nothing apparently except wondering what you guys are doing inside. I think I would prefer to be with the outsiders, at least we probably get to shrug our shoulders and roll our eyes now and then.

Another large group seems to believe that if in your life you get to avoid people who disagree with you, or force them to agree with you, or kill them if they don’t or they get too close to you, you then get to spend all eternity staring at some self-important serial killer surrounded by armed hermaphrodite thugs and listening to Gregorian Chant. Those not so lucky get to spend their time boiled in flaming vats of sulfur and oil. Now I have nothing against Gregorian Chant, but I think I prefer being boiled in sulfur and oil if I could not hear something else now and then — even country and western. Well, maybe not that.

Then, there are those that believe if you do nothing but not hard enough or if you do something during life, after you die you return as a maggot. If you’re lucky, you get eaten by a crow before you do anything and if you come back again, say a thousand times, doing nothing you may get to be good enough at doing nothing other than thinking about yourself so that after you die you then get to come back as… well, nothing, forever. What’s the point?

There are also those who believe that, if you spend your life running around killing people and you get to be so good at it that other people make up songs about how efficient you were at mayhem, or they erect statues to you, you then get to spend all eternity with homicidal maniacs like yourself in a sunny place with a lot of grass playing something like football and drinking warm beer. Everyone else gets to live in a cold dreary place weeping and crying forever, except for one or two who get to push rocks up hills or have their liver torn out every day by hawks. Given the choice of eternal football and warm beer or weeping and crying in a cold dreary place, I’ll take the latter. It seems more like life, doesn’t it?

Well, enough of that. Let’s get back on topic, “Who am I?”

On the Hedonist side, I would want my cave to have a nice bed, internet connection, food delivery, maid service, a sauna and of course hot water. Even at a minimum, I could tolerate a well-padded sleeping bag as long as all the other things were included especially hot water preferably in a tub or a pool and in my espresso.

Once a week, I would travel to nearby podunk town, go to a loud crowded bar (if loud and crowded were unavailable any bar would do) order a beer, take it to a table in a far corner or the far edge of the bar and sit quietly nursing my beer and watching everything or if there is no one but an old drunk sitting at the other end of the bar then staring at my beer wishing I were back in my cave tucked warmly in my bed. Later, I would return to my cave and, after a warm bath and a joint, crawl into bed, spend a few moments of what is euphemistically called self-love and then drift off to sleep contemplating the pleasures of crouching on the stony ground pondering “what’s it all about?”

What’s it all about? Well, it’s not existentialism. After all, I think I have meaning even if you don’t. It’s not about, oh,… say solipsism. When you think about it, when you’re deaf dumb and blind crawling face down through a sea of mud and you strike something else, it is not just you alone, is it? There are other isms too, a lot of them, but I think they all end up in more or less the same place— usually not someplace I want to end up. As for a Supreme Being who actually cares for you, I think we’ve disposed of that above.

So what is there? There’s you and there’s me. We may never meet or be the same, but I think that’s the way it should be, don’t you?

And that is who I think I am —then again, maybe not.

 

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Please note on your calendars that July 15 is NATIONAL BE A DORK DAY.

TODAY FROM THAILAND:

A. POOKIE’S ADVENTURES IN BANGKOK:

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.
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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 in places 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).
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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.
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B. NEWS STRAIGHT OR SLIGHTLY BENT:

In California.

. Naida’s heart surgery has been successful and she is back home recovering. Unfortunately, Bill continues to suffer increasingly debilitating effects from his diabetes.

. Peter’s hip replacement surgery has been put off for a month. Although he continues to experience ever increasing pain, he still performs several times a week with other geriatric musicians at his various euphonic gigs.

In Spain.

The intrepid pilgrims, Vittorio and Teacher Brian have reached Burgos the historic capital of the Kingdom of Castile on their 30-day trek to Santiago de Compostela.

In Bangkok

. In Bangkok this week, five people died after falling into a sewer pipe.

. The Thai Prime Minister recently banned the police from continuing the practice of parading suspects before the press and re-enacting their crimes for the benefit of the cameras.

. The Thai Prime Minister, previously a general who headed the nation’s military, denied that the main purpose of the upcoming meeting in Washington with Donald Trump was to negotiate the sale of military hardware for the Thai armed forces. He seemed to indicate that since they are already getting military hardware from China and other countries, procurement of armaments from the US is not even on the agenda.

The day after the above statement was issued the Thai English language newspapers reported that the US has agreed to sell five Blackhawk helicopter gunships to the Thai military.

. TheThai Labour Ministry plans to improve the professional standards of massage therapists and promises those interested in becoming certified therapists a guaranteed standard wage ranging from 440 baht (about $14) to 815 ($27) baht per day.
“It’s important to standardize the practice of Thai massage, which is not only good for relieving muscle pain but also promotes good health,” said Labour Minister Gen Sirichai Distakul who described it as the art of health care and healing with a simple touch of the hands.(The Bangkok Post)
I assume, “Happy endings” remain negotiable.

. Also from the Bangkok Post:

PATTAYA: A 33-year-old man (A western tourist most likely) has learned a painful and embarrassing lesson after an experiment with penis rings went terribly wrong.
Identified only as Moss, the man had to seek help after the two rings he had attached caused the organ to swell painfully and he was unable to remove them himself.
He went to Pattaya City Hospital to see if the staff there could handle the consequences of his bold decision. Doctors tried in vain to remove the rings and finally had to call rescue workers from the Sawang Boriboon Foundation to handle the delicate procedure.
The rescue experts used a small metal sheet to shield the organ and very carefully applied a cutting tool to break the rings open.
The relieved patient thanked his rescuers for their help and went away in considerably less pain than when he arrived. He did not tell them why he had put the rings on.
So goes a day in Bangkok, “The Place of Olive Plums.

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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.”

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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. ”

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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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in 2012 Time Magazine reported that the US is the world’s largest exporter of sperm. Hooray for us!

The article goes on to mention that sperm of a growth sector in the American economy, “From just a handful of vials 10 years ago, American sperm exports have grown into a multimillion-dollar business.”

Time also reported that in the last decade Virginia’s Ben Seisler’s frozen sperm has impregnated at least 21 women producing oner 70 offspring. Atta boy Ben! Ben when asked why he did it, admitted he needed the money for college and added, “I guess I was just dumb.”

Incidentally, Ben is Jewish. Apparently there is a high international demand for Jewish sperm. I do not know why that is or what it means in the greater scheme of things. i wonder if male children of Ben’s sperm should be circumcised? It is times like this when I miss my old friend Irwin Shatzman most. He was my expert in Jewish theology.

Ben’s sperm’s conquests, however, pale in comparison to a donor in Britain who over 30 years has sired more than 1000 children. I do not know if the unnamed Brit is Jewish.

I see a PhD thesis in the making.

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