A beautiful evening



It’s a beautiful evening. The sun set about twenty minutes ago. The sky still glows. Orange clouds. Birds are getting ready to sleep and making that sort of worried sound they do just before they nod off. It’s a holiday weekend and most people seem to have left the city. I don’t know where they’re headed. I know the highest mountain in Thailand, Doi Inthanon, witnessed a terrific traffic jam this morning, as people in cars climbed it at dawn.

This is the best time of year here in this normally hot country. The weather is spring-like. No need to use air conditioning. I can wear a jacket while riding the motorcycle and not wish I weren’t. When I swim, the water is so brisk that it makes me swim faster. I’ve broken my personal speed record every day this week. Now, in this chilly water, I swim 18 percent faster than I did a month ago, when it was still balmy.

Unfortunately, this is also the weekend when the number of traffic fatalities soar. Thailand already enjoys the dubious distinction of having one of the highest traffic fatality rates in the world, but for this week from Christmas to New Year’s that rate almost doubles.


Sad Celebrity Breakups


It’s always sad when a couple breaks it off, but even more so when they’re celebrities. Then it’s a public tragedy, for we all feel a part of their celebrity family, and thus our kinship is diminished.

It’s bad enough when celebrities die, which they do all the time, because like us, they’re only human. We miss them. We honor them with tributes, pastiches of our favorite film clips starring these newly departed. But when a celebrity couple calls it quits, we lose hope in all possibility for them and for ourselves. We are fatally flawed. If talent, money and fame can’t hold them together, what can?


I’m thinking of that glamorous couple that just threw in the towel. She was that mixed-race woman who was once very cute but then gained a lot of weight at the same time she underwent some unfortunate cosmetic surgery. She lost the weight, but there was something permanently “off” about her appearance from that point on. He was a talented musician and writer, but had a substance abuse problem that kept causing him to be arrested and sentenced to a long string of treatment facilities. Every time he graduated from one he would hold a press conference where he would promise that this time he was done with drugs and alcohol for good. Within a few weeks he would be arrested for drunk driving, in possession of a pound of cocaine or methamphetamine, and carrying an unlicensed firearm.


Indeed, they had more than the usual amount of troubles that most couples have to endure, but their love could not hold them together. Now they still have their troubles, but not each other.


I know there must be something wrong or lacking in me that makes me care so much about people I’ve never met nor am likely to meet. It’s easier for me to care about their problems than my own. This misplaced empathy is what my psychiatrist calls “insanity” and is partially the reason she prescribed such strong medication for me to take on a daily basis. If I skip even one dose I go into painful withdrawal. I can’t sleep. My limbs ache, and if I do drift off I endure nightmares.


It is then that I focus on my Brad and Angelina altar. Even though they’ve been divorced for a few years now, the memory of their happy time together gives me hope. I have little plastic statues of them mounted in a landscape of flowers. The landscape is also plastic, taken I believe from a model train set. I mounted this and the figures inside a shoe box, and made a little window at one end so I’m looking through a portal and into their happiness. When I told my psychiatrist about the altar she changed the subject, but I could tell from the face she made she disapproved.


Brad and Angelina had been given so much, but even with all that they could not stay together. Now they have everything anyone could ever hope for, but not each other. That makes me deeply sad.


I know I should keep the focus on myself. What do I want to do with this wonderful gift of life that I have been given? The fact is, I haven’t got a clue. Deep down I have no ambition. No matter how hard I try, I can’t take an interest in my own life. Who can care what happens to me if I can’t be bothered to do so?


Maybe t by focusing so keenly on the lives of celebrities, I’m practicing an empathy that I could someday focus on myself. At least that’s what I tell myself. Of course, I don’t dare imagine myself with a partner. If celebrities can’t pull that one off, what hope is there for me?


I’ve considered finding a very needy person who might allow me to take him or her into some sort of domestic partnership because they had few options. A refugee, or an invalid. Someone with a terminal disease and no insurance. But then I thought, how would that raise my self-esteem? Wouldn’t their presence be a constant reminder of my desperation? Wouldn’t holding another desperate person hostage only make me feel worse about myself?


Of course it would. So I decided to let that option slide and seek instead more universally acknowledged ways to raise my feelings of self worth. I decided to acquire a certification that would make me an expert. I enrolled in an online school to become a Life Coach. That way I would teach others how to feel better about themselves and in so doing, receive the same reward. And they’d pay me.


Life Coaches can earn big money if they sell their services to wealthy clients. One of the first lessons teaches that wealthy people often feel worthless. Their secret shame can be a goldmine to the right Life Coach.


The training only took a few weeks of reading online materials and passing simple tests. The readings were like a lot of psychology and sociology…stuff you already knew just rephrased into jargon which made common sense seem scientific and profound. I didn’t mind because I could make that stuff up, too. The real skill came in presentation. You had to be decisive and emphatic no matter how obvious and banal were the things you were saying. You could never stop selling your expertise. You were the expert and they were the client. Both of you could never forget that, not even for a moment.


I was surprised to learn how many wealthy people were also hooked on celebrity worship. Many of them had undergone plastic surgery to more closely resemble the celebrities they admired. I met a woman who had endured several surgeries to look more like Heather Locklear. If you saw her at a distance, and her hair was dyed just the right color and she was wearing the right clothes, it was possible to mistake her for the troubled actress who recently had been in the news for mental health issues.


My most successful client was a man who thought of himself as a chubby version of Mark Wallenberg. He kept referring to himself as “Marky Mark,” which was the name Wallenberg used in his hip-hop days. Again, in the right light and setting, he sometimes resembled the action film star. When you got to know him, you realized the true depths of his self-loathing, and it made you sad and somewhat frightened, because the enormity of his shame became palpable. 


I was losing the ability to cheer myself up, so I stopped taking the medicine my psychiatrist had ordered, and stopped visiting her, as well. Instead, I began to buy costumes inspired by various television shows I fondly recalled. My first purchases were outfits that Florence Henderson wore as Mrs. Brady, avocado and canary yellow, lime green and light pink pant suits.


Although I am technically male, I consider gender to be an invented notion of little consequence. Dressing like Mrs. Brady made me happy and nobody seemed to mind when I went out in public. When heads turned it was often in approval, or at least surprise.


I was not yet to the point where I dared wear my “happy outfits” to work. It would disrupt the workplace and draw undue attention to myself. When you work in a bank, it’s best to keep a low profile. When in doubt, sit at your desk and pretend to be absorbed by a spreadsheet.


I was as surprised as anyone to see large photographs of me wearing the lime-green and pink outfit on the bulletin board in our break room. Some candid cameraman had been following me. Was it a chance encounter, or was I being stalked by a co-worker?


This led me to further introspection. Was I an object of derision or a message of hope? No one said anything to me, but I did encounter some whispered conversations which quickly ended as soon as my presence was known.


I continue to hold my head high at work or out on the town. Not all of us can be bona-fide celebrities, nor should we wish to be. We live as productively as we can, sure in the hope that integrity is its own reward. If we die alone, so be it. We all ultimately die alone. But the journey is the destination. Brad and Angelina know that. Now, so do I.


What’s My True Vocation?



Here in Chiang Mai Thailand, I’m a member of two choruses. It’s Christmastime, so we’re working overtime. In addition to the usual tunes, “Deck the Halls,” “Silent Night,” “The First Noel” there are a lot of lovely songs I’m not sick of hearing, and learning the bass part makes them more interesting yet.

I’m grateful to have so much to do along these lines, yet I look back on my life and wish I had not wasted three years at University trying to be a scientist, when all I really wanted to do was theater and music. Heck, unlike math and science I have real talent in those areas.

Thankfully, I snapped out of it halfway through my junior year and snuck out with a degree in Russian, the foreign language elective I’d been taking just for the fun of it. Then I went to graduate school in creative writing. Playwriting to be exact.

When I squeaked out with a Bachelor of Arts in 1972, there were few jobs for Russian speakers,  especially for American kids who sort of spoke Russian. Within a few years, the Soviet Union would collapse and native Russian speakers would rush to cover the globe. In Argentina I met a Russian man with a doctorate in physics who was working as a motel clerk.

The idea of finding one’s “true vocation” is a lot like finding one’s “soul mate.” It’s wishful thinking meeting romantic nonsense.

They say when people are in hospice, they often share their regrets with anyone close enough to listen. Most have to do with remorse over having sold oneself short. “I always wanted to be a classical pianist. Why did I become a legal secretary?”

Democracy is Rare to Non-Existent


I live in Thailand, a country whose last government was abruptly dissolved by a military coup. The current prime minister is the general who led the coup. When he learned that tourists would find their travel insurance voided by staying in a country under military rule, he had the parliament filled with yes-men and members of the military, who quickly elected him prime minister. He promised elections would come as soon as possible, but that was four and a half years ago.

Is the United States a democracy? Hard to tell. How about Egypt, Iran, North Korea, Russia, Venezuela, Brazil. Guess it depends on whom you talk to. I would be more comfortable describing northern European countries as democracies than most African, Asian or Latin American countries. Money talks everywhere, but in some places it fairly screams.

The idea behind Democracy was a noble one. One person, one vote. Anybody could rise the top and be elected to high office. In the United States, it costs approximately twenty-five million dollars to secure a seat in the Senate. Senators earn $175,000 a year. Makes you wonder who they’re working for.

Maybe we should stop pretending and get real. We like to use the word terrorist to describe groups of people who don’t have well-equipped standing armies. We give Israel three and a half billion dollars a year in military aid. The Palestinians throw rocks. Guess whom we call terrorists?

Time-Out For Naughty Pictures



I tried to post two vintage 1920’s pictures of naked women on Facebook and was blocked from using that service for three days for violating their “Community Agreements.” A computer ratted me out, recognizing nipples. In my three day fast, I’ve been prohibited from sharing likes, posting new items, or sharing the posts of others. I feel like a citizens band radio addict who’s had his microphone impounded.

I wish I could say my time-out has fostered a mini-renaissance in writing and reading, but it hasn’t. I guess this proves that what’s left of my attention span is permanently fractured, reduced to fragile shards that cannot be swept up and reassembled. There’s nobody home anymore.

My menagerie of funny photos cries out from my desktop folder, demanding to be shared with the hypothetical thousands of “friends” I have. Since I post too much every day, no one has noticed my absence. This is what it will be like when I finally die. My Facebook feed won’t feel any different to most users, my blog subscribers will simply no longer receive emails about new posts, and it may take several years until anyone notices that I’m no longer at the helm. Pictures I’ve unearthed of silent era starlets and corny 1950’s ads will be discovered long after my ashes have been absorbed by the nearest palm tree here in sunny Thailand.