Time for Change

32464501_2062464337303169_3388004399337963520_n

Lucy knew was about to be deported, but she didn’t know why. Try as she might, she couldn’t recall a public incident or offensive comment she might have made about the government on social media. True, she had spent a few nights in the company of some shady characters she met late one night after drinking heavily since that afternoon, but she couldn’t remember any real trouble they had gotten into.

Of course, like everyone, she had heard stories. People who criticized the Sheikh on Facebook and then were rounded up at work, taken directly the airport and forcibly deported without having a chance to go home and pack, access their bank account, or sell their vehicle. The money ex pats made was so good, as a group they turned a blind eye to such events. Summary deportations were not reported on in the news, so one only heard about these things in whispers.

Besides, this was a benevolent government, enlightened almost, at least compared to its history. African slaves had been auctioned nearby as recently as the 1960’s. These oil-rich Arabs were our allies, strong partners in an uncertain and unstable region. When they came to the United States, they rented all the rooms in a luxury hotel. They were big shots.

She, however, was not a big shot. She was a lonely woman in her forties, who had landed a teaching job at a comparatively high salary at a private school. Newly divorced and eager for a change of location, she had jumped at the chance for an overseas posting. The first few weeks were rocky, but now she felt reasonably comfortable here. And now this.

The phone call came early in the morning. The caller would not identify herself, but sounded like she knew what she was talking about when she said there was a good chance they were planning to deport Lucy, and she should take whatever precautions she could, especially visiting her bank and wiring as much money as she could overseas. She should also get whatever cash she could, and take the most precious of her mementos with her when she left for school that day. They would probably come for her over her lunch break or near the end of the school day. That was their habit.

She arrived at school in such a nervous state she was not sure she would be able to fake her way through teaching five classes. Lunchtime arrived and she sat with her usual group of teacher friends. She swallowed a valium she always kept in her purse in case of emergency. That helped a great deal, and enabled her to make it to the end of the day. Still no men had arrived to take her away. As she left the parking lot, she wondered what her next step would be.

Dare she go back to her apartment? What about Eric, the guy she had slept with a few times after late nights out with the gang. If she went to a hotel, they would ask to see her passport, so if someone was looking for her, that would make it no better than staying home. Would Eric put her up for the night? She could ask, but then she imagined telling him why she wanted to stay and she realized that she simply didn’t know him well enough to ask such a favor. She knew him well enough to exchange bodily fluids, but not well enough to ask him to shelter her.

The realization gave her pause. “What kind of life do I really have here?” she asked herself.

If the Middle East was the nice place to wind up, what were the real shit holes like? Were they next on her list? I suppose the International School phenomenon existed in all places where there were horrible public school systems and either rich locals or foreign families. Could she see herself moving down the food chain, towards African or South American posts?

With nowhere to go, she decided to drive to Eric’s building and sit in her car in the parking lot. That would give her someplace to organize her thoughts. Traffic was thick and she arrived as it was getting dark. She could see his light on in his apartment, but she still didn’t feel comfortable calling him and asking him if she could come over. She saw the light vary, which probably meant he was home and moving around.

She found a pack if cigarettes in the glove compartment she had forgotten about since she stopped smoking last month. Fortunately, there was a lighter there, as well, for cars no longer contained lighters or ashtrays. The light faded until the only illumination came from horrible sodium vapor lights that made the whole parking lot seem a crime scene.

As she smoked, she remembered times when things had seemed to be getting better. Twenty years ago, when he left graduate school, she had been strangely confident. Even though she had never been a great beauty, she always had a boyfriend if she wanted one. Now she could find men to sleep with, but it often wasn’t worth the entanglement. Even worse, sometimes it wasn’t even worth the experience. The future no longer seemed rosy.

If there had been opportunities she had passed by, she hadn’t noticed them. If she could pinpoint one moment when she took a wrong turn and then blame how things had turned out on that error in judgment, it might have been easier, but she could imagine no such moment. The divorce had been a foregone conclusion long before they took action to free themselves from their marriage. Whatever sparks had once flown had long ago cooled to ash.

And then there was her drinking. It had crept up on her. What seemed like a harmless affinity for good wine had turned into a dependence on any form of alcohol. Her drinking became secretive. She hid bottles and sedatives. Most of the time she didn’t need to access her secret stash, but it was reassuring knowing it existed. Of course, she often forgot where she had hidden them, and then surprised herself by finding a half-filled bottle of wine and a small baggy containing 5 mg valium pills tucked behind her shoes in the closet.

As soon as she was through with all this intrigue and chaos, she would deal with her drinking. Maybe it would take care of itself, if only she wasn’t hounded by so many problems. She’d get another job, a better job, in a nicer place. Europe. A place where Arabs weren’t in charge.

She saw movement in Eric’s window. It was a woman. Then Eric stood next to her. Great. She was glad she hadn’t called and embarrassed herself, although embarrassment was the least of her problems at the moment. She lit another cigarette. Usually by this time she would be hungry, but the cigarettes took away her natural appetite for food. She felt dizzy and nauseous. Her phone rang. It was Eric. Had he seen her out here in the parking lot?

No, he was calling to tell her that a woman he had been seeing and sleeping with for a while had become jealous when she heard that he had slept with Lucy. This woman had just told him that she had called Lucy that morning, pretending to be from the government. Had she gotten such a call? She had. Hopefully she hadn’t believed the woman’s story. Of course not. I’m not stupid. No, of course not. You’re anything but that. Well, I just wanted to let you know, and I’m sorry for what that woman tried to put you through.

After she hung up Lucy barked out a giant laugh and then quickly followed it with tears. It became powerfully evident to her that she had never felt so alone before in her life. Yes, she would have to make some changes.

Advertisements

I REALLY, REALLY HATE TO LOSE

3IHGFLTFO4I6NFWAG5JTI6PT6U.jpg

 

I figured out why I hate gambling so much. It’s because I hate to lose. I really, really hate to lose, and whatever pleasure I gain from winning is overpowered by how much I suffer from losing.

Any activity that even remotely resembles gambling produces this reaction. What we call “investing,” in real estate, precious metals, the stock market…to me it’s all simply gambling.

All activities pose a certain amount of risk. If you believe in the magical power of certain prayers, then the time you spent praying was wasted time. Time lost. If you borrow money from banks to make real estate investments, then you’re almost certainly a loser. If you did this in 2008, as I did, then you were an idiot. If you worked for Goldman Sachs, then you were a winner.

Plunging in recklessly beyond your depth is a good way to find out how little you enjoy gambling.

Since I can’t dig myself out of a hole, the only thing I can do to remedy my situation is stop digging. Stop in this hole and in any other holes I might be inspired to create.

There’s a practical reason to narrow my focus besides avoiding the pain of loss from games of chance. I only have so much I can pay attention to. As I grow older, I find the beam of my attention grows narrower. Time grows short, and simply taking care of what’s in front of me is all I can hope for. So no more “investing” for this retiree on a fixed income.

Mandatory Retirement Would Be Good For Everybody

1950s-burlesque-dancers-20

 

Once you’ve made a certain amount of money in any field, you should be forced to retire and make room for somebody else.  If you want to keep working, you could do so, but only for free. You could mentor someone else until they’ve made enough money, and then they could retire. This would be especially welcome in show business and politics.

 

Imagine how much more interesting the world would be if the same old clowns were routinely put out to pasture?

 

 

Good Luck, Young Uns

43522954_10156232608498557_6399929681142874112_n.jpg

I found a news site I hadn’t looked at for a few years. It’s a Google site, and like most things Google, it already knew a lot about me and my preferences. These were news items they thought I might be interested in.

It contained many more listings that the sites I am used to seeing. As I scrolled through the long list, I wearied of ever reaching the end. Only one item caught my interest, about a recently-discovered grave of a child vampire who had been buried in Italy 1550 years ago. That got me imagining the movie that might directed by Roman Polanksy. All the other listings left me cold.

I don’t care about the marital activities of modern-day celebrities. I would be happy to never read about Donald Trump again, nor any member of his family. Brexit problems, the stock market, gold prices…all will do what they do without my input, nor am I likely to be directly affected.

I finally did it. I became an intolerant geezer who feels like the rest of the human race left him behind years ago. Good luck, young ‘uns, looks like you’ll need it.

I’m not suggesting that the celebrities of my day were any more deserving of acclaim that today’s, nor that the world’s problems are any less dire. I just don’t see my place in any of it. It feels like a party I haven’t been invited to. I’m the pauper standing out in the snow, his nose pressed against the window of a restaurant, watching the rich people eat and laugh inside. Except I’m not hungry, I have plenty of food back home, and I wouldn’t want to come inside your restaurant and make conversation. I want to go about my business in my own time, and that’s a luxury that seems dearer with each passing news cycle.

When I was twelve years old, the most important goal I could imagine attaining was to be popular. When I was fifteen, it was that girls would find me attractive. When I was twenty, it was be recognized for being clever. When I was twenty-five, I had already turned inward and didn’t care too much about what other people thought.

Now I’m sixty-eight, and having a hearty bowel movement seems paramount.

Keep Your Head Down

42788059_2223498097974528_8049928916514635776_n

 

What will the future hold for most of us? Decline, usually slow but sometimes rapid. Anger, blame, disillusionment. At least that’s the way it feels for most Americans and Brits. But does everybody feel this way? Do people in the third world feel as gloomy about their prospects as do we Facebook-addicted first-worlders?

If you don’t have much to begin with, you don’t have much to lose. If you’ve never enjoyed even the semblance of benign governance, then anything that doesn’t involve outright extortion and oppression feels like business as usual.

Banana republics and tinpot dictatorships keep most of their citizens dirt poor and allow a very few to get away with fiscal murder. Since there was never any semblance of a level playing field, the poor and uneducated don’t assume there’s a chance they can improve their lot. Hard work will simply exhaust you. If you do manage to accumulate wealth, your neighbors will envy you and someone, maybe someone in uniform, will take it away from you. So don’t make waves. Keep your head down, and your eyes to the ground.

Most of us have every reason to be grateful for the level of comfort we already enjoy. Life is not a shit sandwich for most of the people I come into contact with. Here in Thailand, which is in many ways like America was sixty years ago, they have a show on TV that is very much like Queen for a Day. Poor people with insurmountable problems come on and tell their sad story. The twist here is that the show requires them to sing in a talent contest and then guess a lucky number. If the judges are lenient and they guess correctly, they win a few hundred dollars. If not, they go away with a box of laundry soap.

This is a Buddhist country, and there is a strong belief in karma underlying the societal ranking. If you are poor, maybe you deserve your status based on your actions in your previous life, so you might as well practice humility and acceptance. The peasant class doesn’t seem to be chronically outraged by their lot. The men who stoop to plant rice, the women who sit patiently for hours a day at a market stall, tend to smile easily. Maybe the men get drunk and beat their wives when they get home, but since I don’t live in a poor village, I don’t see it.

It’s just assumed that the rich will act like the world owes them a living. Nobody is scandalized when the son of a rich man doesn’t have to pay for his crimes. His father pays a large amount to the victim’s family. The son may go into the monastery for a few months and have his head shaved for a photo op. If his family is really, really rich, like the heir to the Red Bull fortune who drove his Lamborghini over a policeman who was attempting to get him to stop, then dragged the body under the car all the way home, he won’t even have to appear in court.

This is the way it is in much of the world. Africa, South America, Southeast Asia, the Middle East. They don’t pretend it’s otherwise. They have no tradition of a free press or democratic governance, for that would allow dissent and discourse, so those are quickly quashed. There’s too much at stake to risk it. Take the lid off that kettle and who knows what might leap out.

Everybody Lies

35922369_1817152001695249_649177263044034560_n

First of all, I’m not guilty. Totally innocent. I wasn’t even in the same city when she died. From what I hear, she had lots of enemies. So why pick on me?

I barely knew her. Sure we had sex a few times, but that sort of thing means nothing nowadays. I’m not sure she even knew my name. She kept calling me “big guy,” but I think that was just to cover the fact that she couldn’t remember by name.

She was a troubled person. I never saw her when she wasn’t high on something. Those times we had sex I met her at a bar. I got the impression she was a regular customer. She seemed to have a thing for the bartender. Have you talked to him?

Everybody knew she had lots of guys coming around all the time. I bet she knew some of their names. Surely you can find somebody who knows somebody who knows somebody else and get some real leads on this case. So why pick on me?

You’ve got video? Me leaving her house and throwing the murder weapon into a garbage can? You retrieved the weapon. My prints are on it. Hmm. OK, well that’s different. That’s a whole lot different. Can I talk to a lawyer?

I know what my lawyer will advise. Don’t say anything. So I’m not going to say any more, OK? No, nothing. Not a word. You’re not my friend. We’re not all friends here. You want to pin this crime on me, and nothing you can say or do will make me forget that’s your intention.

It’s hard not to say anything while we’re waiting for a lawyer. I’ll tell you about my life. If you don’t want to listen you can go do something else. You’re free to come and go. Me, I’m stuck here, right?

OK, my problems really began when my father died and Mom starting hooking. She brought different men home every night. They were all my “uncles.” One night, one of my uncles woke up out of a blackout and found me asleep on the couch. He picked me up and threw me out the window. Fortunately, it was summer and the window was open. We didn’t have much in the way of screens. I woke up on the lawn.

Then I tried working for a living, but even I could see there wasn’t going to be much of a future in that. So when I met a kid who showed me how easy it was to buy and sell pot, I followed in his footsteps. Pretty soon, I had enough money to move out and find my own place. Then I got a motorcycle. Then a car. Then a girlfriend who got pregnant right away. By the time I was nineteen, I was a father.

Then we started having money problems, and I discovered you could buy a few days of illusory affluence by writing bad checks. Sure, the piper would demand to be paid in a few days, but that was an eternity for someone who had as little emotional maturity and ability to think long-term as I. The first couple of times I bounced checks I got off by paying fines, but the third time I got to spend a week in jail. You would have thought that would have taught me a lesson, but it just got me to discover credit cards.

I escaped jail this time by claiming that medical bills for the baby caused me to take those cash advances. Another friend of mine ran a chop shop where stolen cars and motorcycles were turned into parts and then sold to repair shops at a sharp discount. Those shops often billed their customers for new parts. So everybody was in on it, to some degree. At least that’s what I told myself in order to not feel like a crumb.

The problem with a life of petty crime is that it’s addictive. I remember talking to a lady who had a job running a halfway house for women who had just been released from prison. She was supposed to get them entry-level jobs in fast food restaurants. They were mostly hookers who had also been drug addicts. They’d get a job at a fast food restaurant and their pimp would drive by and say “what are you doing wearing that funny hat. Get down from there and let’s go make some real money.” So that’s what they’d do. Nobody lasted at their fast food job longer than a few days.

Once you get used to easy money, it’s hard to want to turn around and play the man’s game. And that’s why…oh, what? You say somebody confessed? I’m free to go? See, I told you I wasn’t guilty. What was that videotape story all about? You say that to all the suspects. I see. Hard to tell the cops from the criminals. Everybody lies. I guess I already knew that.

Actions You Must Perform to Leave This Group

42788059_2223498097974528_8049928916514635776_n

You must obtain written permission to do so from a group administrator. If you don’t know one, you must ask around.

If you can’t contact a group administrator, you must petition the National Security Agency for a Ad Hoc Release From Page Membership (form 1099A-EX) or hire counsel to do the same in your stead.

If you are under the age of sixteen, or over the age of sixty-five, you must also ask that prayers be said for you at the Vatican, preferably on Holy Tuesday, a slow day during Holy Week, which as everyone knows, culminates with Easter Sunday.

If you are Vitamin B deficient, or suffer from restless leg syndrome or a transient certainty that nothing matters anymore, then there is no point in trying to leave this group, for we shall never let you go!

If your name is, or used to be, “Barnabas” then you have already automatically been kicked out of this group.

If you have ever attended a Bing Crosby Road Movie Film Festival and found Dorothy Lamour to be more interesting than either Bing or Bob, then write that in block lettering on a four by six inch card and mail it first class to PO Box 35446, Radio City Music Hall, New York, New York 10045. Allow six to eight weeks for processing, and your name will be expunged from this group.