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Outside Dick’s Home across the driveway from the front door there is a tall hedge growing. I assume it was planted to shield the occasional pedestrians on the street from a view of our garbage cans. On one side of the hedge, barely visible from either the front door or the street is a large dark gap or hole in the foliage. From this gap, for as long as I have lived here, there issue several rivulets of water that tumble down the slope for about 30 feet or so before disappearing into a drain at the side of the garage. During the rainy season, these rivulets grow quite large and at times flood the driveway.
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Not too long ago, while leaving the house, I noticed some kid standing by the garbage cans behind the hedge peeking out at the street. Curious, I shouted, “ Hey, what the fuck are you doing here?”

At the sound of my voice, he spun around and stared at me, a surprised look on his face. That’s when I realized he was not some kid, but a very short old man with a scraggly gray beard. Old, about my age with wrinkles on his face that stood out like scars. He was short, well under five feet I guessed and dressed oddly too. On his head, he had on what looked like a black or dark blue felt fedora with its brim cut off. His coat, dark brown in color, had shiny buttons, yellow piping, and hung almost to his knees. Below the coat were wrinkled tan pants tucked into dirty white socks. On his feet, he had what looked like old hiking boots.

He hesitated a moment then turned, ran through the mud, up the slope and dove head first into the gap in the hedge. I noted that he was far spryer than I.

“Hey!” I shouted and ran across the driveway after him. Well, I actually didn’t run, that’s beyond me at this age — shuffled more likely. Also, I was wearing my imitation Crocs that I bought in Thailand for two dollars. There’s no running in them — waddling perhaps.

I crossed the driveway, then slipped and slid through the silt and the mud and turned toward the dark gap. “I’ve got you now you rat bastard,” I thought.

As I approached the hole and tried to reach in to grab the little jerk, I slipped and slid feet first into the gap. I fell thinking I was going to land hard on my ass. Instead, I kept falling down and down and down. As I slid down, one of my faux Crocs slipped off my foot. For some reason, I believed it essential I save the thing and so I did by grabbing it and clutching it to my breast. It felt like I was dropping down the chute at a water park. I tried to turn my body so I could apply some friction to slow or stop my fall. I got part way around when I popped out of the tube, flew about five feet through the air and with a loud “oomf,” landed face down onto what felt like soft moss. I was sopping wet and in pain all over. I was still grasping the phony Croc like it had saved my life. Eventually, I moved my head a bit and glimpsed a small pond a few feet away from where I lay. I could hear the plopping sound of water dribbling into the pond. I appeared to be lying in a small clearing a forest. I spied the little guy standing at the edge of the clearing. When he saw me looking at him, he ran off into the woods and disappeared. “You rat bastard,” I croaked after him.

Slowly and agonizingly, I worked my way onto my back, looked up into the clear blue sky, and shouted “I am not Alice.”

Four days later, I returned home. Neither Hayden nor Dick seemed aware that I had been gone. What was even more strange was that they also seemed not to notice my appearance. I was almost naked wearing only a few rags and of course the phony Crocs. My beard was long and braided. On my chest I sported a tattoo of a naked mole rat standing fully erect and above it in large red bank gothic the words “Fuck Trump.” A stud, shaped like a human thigh bone, pierced my left earlobe.

Disappointed at their lack of reaction, I stomped off the bathroom, showered, shaved, removed the thigh bone stud and put myself to bed. The next morning Dick woke me up to drive Hayden to school.

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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.

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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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“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeing new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”
Marcel Proust, À la recherche du temps perdu

 

 
While conversing with my friend Peter in front of Bernie’s coffee shop in Noe Valley San Francisco, for some reason we got into a discussion about India where Peter and his wife Barrie spent many years and where I have, for a long time, longed to go. I mentioned a book about India I read several years ago of which I was quite fond. I could not remember its name but promised Peter I would search for it and let him know. After three days of searching on my computer, I located the book and sent the information to him. I also decided to buy the book on Amazon and reread it on my Kindle to see if it was as enjoyable as I remembered.

After reading a few pages, I recalled that the book was also one of the reasons I had put off traveling to India. You see, when I travel, I prefer traveling alone and although I enjoy the “Great Sights” like anyone, I especially like searching for the odd and a little dangerous — like the night I found myself in a knife fight in a rural town in Turkey that eventually prompted the leader of the Turkish mafia to demand I persuade him why he should not have me killed. I knew India for me would never be merely a visit to the Taj Mahal or the Red Fort and the like, but a lifetime commitment.

“A journey, I reflected, is of no merit unless it has tested you. You can stay at home and read of others’ experiences, but it’s not the same as getting out of trouble yourself.”
Shah, Tahir. The Complete Collection of Travel Literature: In Search of King Solomon’s Mines, Beyond the Devil’s Teeth, House of the Tiger King, Sorcerer’s Apprentice, Travels With Myself, Trail of Feathers. Secretum Mundi.

 
Anyway, I guess the book can be considered a travelogue. There are many great travel books, like “A Short Walk Through the Hindu Kush,” and several by Krakauer that read like great novels. Tahir Shah’s book is one also — where the travel leaves off and the novel begins, however, is difficult to discern.

The book begins with Tahir Shah as a young boy in England visited by Hafiz Jan, the hereditary Afghan guard of the tomb of his ancestor the great Muslim general Jan Fishan Kahn (a nom de Guerre that translates to, “He that Scatters Souls.”) He traveled to England because he had a vision of young Tahir, the last of his line, falling into a culvert and dying. He believed it was his duty to prevent it. Hafiz Jan is welcomed by Tahir’s father and takes up residence in Tahir’s home where he sleeps on the floor in front of his bedroom door. The Afghan guard had also spent some time as an apprentice to a great magician in India before assuming his hereditary duties guarding the tomb. The magic we are talking about here is not magic but illusion — the illusions of magicians like Houdini and the Indian god-men and sadhus for thousands of years. Hafiz Jan began teaching the eager young Tahir some of the secrets of illusion he had learned as the magician’s apprentice. The training went well until one day, during an exhibition of Tahir’s magic educational accomplishments, a mishap occurred that almost set his parents on fire. Soon after, Hafiz Jan was sent back to India to resume his hereditary duties.

Years later, Tahir, as a young man, traveled to India found the guard, apprenticed himself to the guard’s teacher, a rather overbearing sort and after a mostly unpleasant education sets off at the request of his teacher to travel throughout India searching for “insider information.” What one learns along with Tahir are the tricks of the trade of the god-men, sadhus and the like that have enthralled millions of poor and gullible Indians and attracted hundreds of westerners to journey there to sit at the feet of holy mystics absorbing their wisdom — for a price.

“Because,” he called out, “we were on a quest . . .” “A quest for what?” “For a third eye. You see, in the seventies, India was Disneyland … it was the Disneyland of the soul.”… “[W]e had all been to India in search of the third eye, but had left with nothing but diarrhea.”
Shah, Tahir. Sorcerer’s Apprentice: An Incredible Journey into the World of India’s Godmen. SArcade Publishing.

While searching for these Godmen, Tahir and his sidekick, a 13-year-old thief and con-artist named Balu, spent some time at a luxurious mostly pink ashram of a well known Guru and in addition to describing at length the oddness of the entire set up,  Tahir recounts some of the Godman’s more private weirdness:

“When it came to divine eccentricity, Sri Gobind was no exception. His followers took great pride in the tales of their teacher’s irregularities. Every so often, gripped by an insatiable desire, the guru would jump naked from his bed. Running into the heart-shaped gardens, he would relieve himself in the bushes. Or, in the middle of an address, he had been known to rip off all his clothes and anoint his flabby belly with buffalo milk butter. Each morning, his fans averred, the holy man would douse himself in a bath of potassium permanganate. The immersion gave his skin its exotic purply-brown tinge. He would dress his hair with a pomade of seasoned egg whites,-dab his earlobes with witch hazel; and spray his nether regions with his own blend of catnip cologne.”
Shah, Tahir. Sorcerer’s Apprentice: An Incredible Journey into the World of India’s Godmen. Arcade Publishing.

During his travels, Tahir explores and writes about the economic and social life of India through stories about the people he meets. People such as the cadaver collectors and their business providing the bones for the skeletons in most medical school classrooms of the world, and the women who rent cows after the owners milk them in the morning then stand on the street corners during the day selling the pleasure of feeding the cow to passers-by and in the evenings selling the cow patties to brick makers before returning the cows to their owner. The reason why India with its incredibly concentrated population is not sitting on a pile of garbage and human refuse is that that very garbage and refuse is the resource that supports much of the population.

“Real travel is not about the highlights with which you dazzle your friends once you’re home. It’s about the loneliness, the solitude, the evenings spent by yourself, pining to be somewhere else. Those are the moments of true value. You feel half proud of them and half ashamed and you hold them to your heart”
Tahir Shah

Pookie says, “Check it out.”

PS: Amazon had a special on where one could buy all of Tahir Shah’s travel books for the price of one, so I bought them all. I am now enjoying his story about finding a fake map of the mythical King Solomon’s mines in a curio shop in Jerusalem and setting off to Ethiopia where he believes the mines described in the fake map might have been located — if they were real. There he hires a taxi driver as an interpreter, travels by some of the most uncomfortable and dangerous modes of transportation imaginable, explores an illegal gold mine where children are sent into the narrow tunnels and many of them die, spends several nights in an Ethiopian jail, just misses a dinner with Idi Amin, is befriended by the manager of a government gold mine who wants to emigrate to America, travels to a land where the men, instead of head hunting for a hobby, cut off the testicles of their enemies and carry them in sacks around their necks and so on and on. Alas, despite the danger and discomfort he finds nothing but adventure.

“Most journeys have a clear beginning, but on some, the ending is less well-defined. The question is, at what point do you bite your lip and head for home?”
Tahir Shah

(It sounds a lot like life, doesn’t it?)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ciao…

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