Diaper Man, Cotton Farmer

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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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Lying for its own sake

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He had been lying for so long that telling the truth seemed unreal. When asked “what have you been doing all day?” his first thought was to make up a bunch of nonsense that would make him seem to be ambitious, inspired, and diligent. When he responded “not much,” it was as if a heavy object had thudded to the floor nearby. The truth is clunky. Not sexy. Not very interesting.

If it weren’t for the necessity of keeping his lies straight in his own mind, he would have an easier time continuing in his chronic dishonesty, but as he got older, he found it harder to remember his own bullshit.

So now, at this advanced age, he was going to try the straight and narrow. He would give it a try. He could always go back to lying if it seemed the only path. As soon as he announced is intention, he began a flurry of lying and exaggerating. If the real answer was two, he would say three, or one, if someone asked if he’d seen a movie he’d say “yes” even though he hadn’t, and before the words left his lips he would worry how he would get out of this one.

This was habitual lying with no motive of gain. Pure compulsion.

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.

 

Democracy is Rare to Non-Existent

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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?

FREE AT LAST

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His diary entry:

She meant nothing to me until I successfully ran away from her, and then she was all I could think about. Until I was free of her I blamed her for holding me back. As soon as I was free I was restless, unable to form a plan of action, and now I constantly find myself wondering what she is doing.

Her grip on me is positively demonic. It’s nothing she’s doing, of course, I’m the demon in this case, pretending that someone besides me is to blame. For all I know, she’s not even thinking about me most of the time. In fact, I’m almost sure she’s not, but that doesn’t make it any easier to forgive and forget.

What I’m waiting for is an apology. And for her to tearfully beg me to forgive her and then we can start afresh. No longer the needy wimp, I’ll be the man she always wanted me to be. Strong, self-assured, willing to take charge.

I’ve heard that I’m too late, that she’s already moved on, finding herself an alpha-male who also happens to be rich as well as athletic. I wish them well. No I don’t, I hope they die in a car crash and the sooner, the better. I can’t be big about this. I have to move on and stop thinking about it. It’s very hard to will yourself to not think about something.

Far easier to distract yourself by thinking about something your find interesting or delightful. In my case, that’s impossible, because I find nothing interests me except the desire to get her back so she can apologize and we can finally be happy.

Petty, vengeful, self-centered, demanding? You bet. I’m not proud of it, but it’s who I am. Again, if all it took was an act of will to change my fundamental nature, maybe I could try to focus all my energies and do it for less than a minute, but it wouldn’t last. I know myself. I would be back dwelling on her after than minute lapsed. Nothing would have changed.

Her diary entry:

Even though he hasn’t contacted me, I know he’s out there, waiting for me to give in to his infantile demands. I don’t want to be anyone’s Mommy, or Girlfriend. I don’t like most men, or want them around. A real man, yes, but there aren’t many of them. There are way too many babies whose feelings are easily hurt.

If there’s nothing in it for me, why should I play their game? Last thing I need is some guy expecting me to make him feel good about himself. If you don’t like yourself, leave me alone. Having two of us not like you isn’t going to make you feel any better.

A lot of this current crop of whiners are writing blogs about their “inner life.” They like to talk a lot about spirituality. They remind me of those people who have been to therapy and are now searching for “intimacy.” Give me a break. Get a job that wears you out so you sleep well at night and drop the search for intimacy.

 

 

Good Luck, Young Uns

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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

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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.