Bargain Hunting Through Life



The price of things is not as important as the things themselves. If promotions drive your decision making, then you’re a victim, not a player. What seems like  freedom is bondage.


“Think of all the money you’ll save!” screams the advert. You have to resist that notion by summoning a quieter voice that reminds you how much more money you’ll save if you don’t buy anything at all.


As pastimes go, recreational shopping is a relatively expensive one, with few ancillary benefits. If you buy something you don’t immediately need, then you have to store it and find it again. For some people, that is a nearly impossible task. The fact that the purchase was totally unnecessary and driven by a general feeling of emptiness only make the situation more demoralizing.


So we might as well do what we really want to do with our time and resources, price be damned.


Orange Moon Rising Over Tak



A hot day,  a warm night with a steady breeze from the West. Across those mountains the sun is setting behind lies the country of Burma, or Myanmar as it likes to call itself nowadays. Happy teenagers crowd around the food stalls on the banks of the river, near the foot bridge that crosses it. There’s  still a lot of dust and smoke in the year, for it hasn’t rained in  months. To this Midwesterner it feels like October, but it’s almost March. Soon, hot season will arrive. The rains won’t come until June.


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Me, Hold a Grudge?



After four hours of riding the motorcycle in the heat and dust, I treated myself to a ninety-minute Thai massage at the shop near our hotel in Tak. We’re two-thirds of the way home. Time to celebrate.

The shop was cool and quiet, the lady masseuse seemed to know what she was doing. But then the client in the next bed over was one of those Thai men who are totally addicted to his cell phone. Even while getting massaged, he needed to watch an action movie on his phone, complete with explosive sounds and occasional screams.

Surely, the sweet girl working on him would suggest he turn the phone off. No such luck. She worked away, smiling placidly, while I imagined getting up, calmly talking his phone and throwing it out the window. But then I realized, he would protest, so I might as well simply climb on top of him and pummel him in the face with my fists, as rapidly and forcefully as possible. Come to think of it, I might as well strangle him for good measure, lest he summon the strength to retaliate.

This train of thought did nothing for my mental of physical state of relaxation. I think my therapist might have noticed my tension, for she said something and the man turned his phone off. I managed to will myself limp for a few minutes, and that seemed to reset my racing mind.

Only a few minutes passed before I found myself recalling the treasurer of a self-help group of which I was once a member, who calmly announced at one of our meetings that since the mother of one of our members had recently died, she authorized spending forty dollars to send flowers to the funeral. She was sure no one would object, so she hadn’t brought it up before. I remember thinking, “That’s the last donation I’ll ever make when they pass the basket.”

Then I recalled that this incident happened at least twenty years ago. Why was it still floating around in my brain?

I used to think I possessed an especially easy-going nature, not harboring grudges due my my inherent sweetness. But then I realized I still remembered the time I loaned a boy in my third-grade class a nickel. The year was 1958. We were standing with some boys our age at the local five and dime, near some gumball machines. He asked me if I could borrow a nickel. I had a nickel, and I wanted to fit in with these boys and he was a “cool kid,” good looking and popular. His father had a good business. My father was unemployed. We had recently moved to town, hoping he would find work. So, I said “OK, I’ll lend you this nickel, but you have to promise to pay it back.”

He laughed and said “of course I will.”

The next week, at the same spot, I asked him to return my nickel. He sneered and barked scornfully, “it was only a nickel!” The other kids laughed. I remember the moment as if it were yesterday. I remember where the others were standing, the way the light came into the store through the automatic doors out onto the street. Something calcified inside me at that moment, something that I have used as justification for harboring that resentment for sixty years.

No wonder I find it hard to relax sometimes.

Diaper Man, Cotton Farmer


If you had told me a week ago that I would be flown to Bangkok for 3 days to play an American Farmer in a Chinese diaper commercial I wouldn’t have believed it. But indeed this is what has happened. The location for the three-day shoot is a rich man’s estate with hundreds of acres of lagoons and gardens with carefully landscaped Lombardi pines. It looks like Versailles transplanted to Thailand. I am hardly the most important person in this project, in fact I am almost inconsequential, but they saw something in me I guess they could not find among the expatriates living in Bangkok.

Or maybe I just had a lucky break and a good Agent. The woman who plays the mother of the cute baby who needs my diapers is an incredibly beautiful young woman. She is so beautiful in that Thai way that a billboard sized picture of her could stop traffic.

The man who owns this estate is probably long dead. There is a bust of him on the landing and a huge oil portrait of him on the second floor, with photos of him and the royal family, but no one in the crew seems to know who he is, or care. We’re just using his house as a location for a commercial shoot.

Sic Transit Gloria Mundi. You can be rich enough to own Versailles but your house will be used as a location for a diaper commercial and no one will know who you are.

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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.


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?”