Month: August 2018

Making Ad Men of Us All



Things are good if you say they are. Your life and circumstances are as benevolent as you’re willing to acknowledge. This fact escapes most people most of the time, for we have been hypnotized into thinking that we lack some necessary ingredient for bliss. If only we had that thing that we now lack, we could be profoundly happy.

This is largely the result of advertising. The folks who sell you stuff have done an excellent job over the last hundred years convincing us that we have a need that they can fill. Neither part of that equation is true. We were doing just fine before J. Walter Thompson figured out how to sell Listerine mouthwash by convincing young women that the reason they were still single was because they suffered from a medical condition, “halitosis”, a situation so shameful that even their best friends were loath to spill the beans.

I’ve written some books which I’ve posted on Amazon as Kindle downloads, but darned if I can figure out how to promote them. Advertising has gotten a lot more complex since I started writing and nowadays most authors are forced to publicize their own works.

My Luck Hasn’t Yet Run Out




How many times have I been amazingly lucky and not known it? How many bad things have I avoided through no effort or wisdom of my own? When auspicious events did happen, how many did I even notice at the time?

There is no good reason to suspect that my luck has run out or is wearing thin. Even though I am old and retired, living on the other side of the world from the country I used to call “home,” I am not yet dead in the water. Wheels are turning. Opportunities continue to present themselves, though I am usually the last to know.

In these, my twilight years, I must make the effort to keep an open mind. If I am closed off from all serendipity, then probably my life will unfold as a self-fulfilling prophesy. Steady decline. Ultimate death. Me, in diapers, waiting for an attendant to bring me my next dose of medicine.

Did I take the last dose? Yes Mam. Actually, I hid it behind my pillow. My intention is to stockpile them and then take them all at once, hopefully overdosing in the process. I am, however, not ready to exit this stage quite yet. I will cherish this last hurrah, milking the moment, toying with the audience’s attention. I will slow my movements and modulate my speech. I will have them in the palm of my hand. Then, and only then, will I pop a handful of pills.

Little did I know that when I doze off the nurse comes and removes the pills from behind my pillow. She’s encountered my type before. She thinks I’m just another shell of a human on his way to the crematorium, when I am in fact awaiting my renaissance. My glory years lie ahead.

Oh sure they made me sign certain papers to be admitted to this program. No effort would be made to extend my life. Do not resuscitate. But all that applies to someone else, not me. These other poor souls really are on their last legs, but my limbs are growing stronger and more supple by the hour.

And along with my body, my mind is growing in wit and whimsy. Lately, the most complex problems unfold like a child’s puzzle. Small and seemingly insignificant events delight me. I am like a purring cat, licking its paws and staring with fascination at dancing dust motes.

Although I have few visitors, the ones who do stop by all remark how well I seem. A few have even accused me of faking it, of exaggerating my senescence in order to have a free place to stay. Well, for one thing, this place is not free. It costs about what I was spending to have an apartment in a fashionable part of town. My former life and all that it entailed is history now, and someone else inhabits my abode. He or she hears the rumble of my refrigerator compressor motor in the middle of the night. He/She says hello to my neighbors in the elevator.

I am now a voyager, bound for distant climes. No use stamping my passport, for the places for which I am headed have no borders to guard. They are vast, mysterious, and gloriously untrammeled. They are as fresh as dew and as picturesque as a Parrish painting.

So what if my disposable diaper flaps in the wind? It was never my choice to wear it in the first place. Of my own volition I am unclothed and unshod. I wear no armor, no uniform. I am part of no invading force. That which may dangle, does.

Most importantly, I am totally emotionally present wherever I go. No more fading out as I wait for time to pass. I am suddenly wide awake.

My attendants only check on me sporadically. When I leave my room, albeit haltingly, leaning on my four-point cane and shuffling from room to doorway, then out onto the path that leads into the woods nearby, I am undetected.

It is a pleasant morning. The heat of the day has not yet announced itself, the sun hidden behind dark clouds that may or may not foretell rain. Birds sing. A gardener is busy at his work and does not look up. I must appear as a thin, pink figure, bent and shuffling down a damp path into the foliage. My heart is high in my chest and I’m breathing deeply. I am in ecstasy!

I hear a motorcycle coming closer, at low speed and a banging noise. It is one of those scooters with a metal box side car for hauling things. An old woman is driving it. She stops and motions for me to climb aboard. There is a plywood board at the bottom of the sidecar which I can sit on. I do. We drive off, slowly.

This is fun. I have seen old people slumped over, riding like this. No one can see that I’m naked. Just as well. We leave the main gate and proceed down a common road, driving along for about ten minutes. Then we pull into a driveway of a dilapidated wooden house, one of those teak houses you often see. She motions for me to follow her. There is a rickety staircase leading up to the door. The house is on stilts and the door is ten feet off the ground.

There is no handrail, so it is slow going for me. I climb the stairs very slowly, using my cane to propel me upward and to keep me from falling sideways. When in doubt, I lean into the house. After fifteen minutes I make it to the door.

The house is dark and surprisingly cool inside. I sit down on the floor, for there is no furniture. She hands me a shirt and a skirt, the kind the Burmese wear. I can put the shirt on by myself, but she has to help me wrap the skirt. She brings me some water.

I say “thank you” in her language. Then we sit in the relative darkness and look towards the main window, which has shutters and is open to a grove of bamboo. I am glad to be here. We sit in silence for a long time.

I keep waiting for her to say something, but she doesn’t. In trying to guess her age, sometimes I conclude that she’s roughly the same age as me, other times that she’s twenty years my junior. After a few hours she goes about making dinner. It’s a very small and simple dinner, but I can eat it.

There is a toilet in the house, one of those squat affairs with a plastic bowl and a water bucket instead of toilet paper. I am not yet ready to use it. When she cleans up my mess, she does so as if incontinence is normal. When darkness falls, I sleep where I was sitting. There is a pillow for my head and a blanket nearby, should I need it. She sleeps on a hard surface, as well, a sort of wooden sofa.

After a few days, I realize that I can make it to the squat toilet on my own. I can also crawl around well enough to explore her house. It is a simple place with few secrets. She comes and goes once or twice a day, but I stay behind, because I imagine they are looking for me and I don’t want to be found.









Have Never Written a Song



How do you come up with an idea? I was going to say “new idea” but then realized that most ideas have already popped out of someone’s subconscious, maybe multiple times. There may be precious few new ideas.

I write fiction, and I confess that I don’t know the source of my inspiration. Words and characters simply arrive. Chopin wrote his Ballade Number One when he was 25. It has several themes which come and go, but the central theme is heart-breakingly lovely and slow, so even I can play it. I will not attempt the fast and furious parts.

I have never written a piece of music. Words pop into my mind with little effort, but musical themes are strangely absent. I don’t even know how one would get a “musical idea.” From the little I’ve studied of music theory, I can see how most pieces contain variations on a theme, but where did the theme come from?

I have a lot of musical talent. I can sing well, hear harmonies accurately and recreate them, and I appreciate music more than most people. So why can’t I write music?

Why I Will Never Work Again



There’s nothing wrong with me that a brain operation wouldn’t fix. But is being fixed what I want? Truth be told, I enjoy my little dysfunctions. I revel in my quirkiness.

It’s going to take a lot more than a brain operation to get me to conform and become a regular guy. No employer has ever been glad he hired me. I could never run for public office. An organization with lax entrance requirements would soon ask me to leave.

This is why I no longer apply for jobs or attempt to join groups. By knowing myself I can save both of us a lot of time. You can take your job and shove it where the sun don’t shine. I say that to imaginary employers before I even apply for a job, and it spares me the agony of being hired or fired.

Best of all, it saves me having to pretend to work. I don’t mind working, but pretending to work drives me batty. Most jobs are inflated by the last person who held the position, and since no one wants to admit that they’re holding a position that doesn’t warrant being a full-time job, they learn to waste time creatively. They learn to feign work.

If you find yourself in such a position, then you can either resign or play the game. I used to work for temporary employment agencies, which would allow firms to hire someone to fill in for a few weeks while the regular employee was missing. Perhaps there were subtle details that could not be explained in such a short time frame, but in my experience, most of these jobs amounted to two hours a day of work and six hours of hanging out.

So I won’t put myself in those positions again. I’ve found that it’s often easier to reduce your spending than to make more money. Now that I have relocated to a third world country that is anywhere from five to ten times cheaper than living in America, I can live comfortably if I can only discipline myself to live within my means. Shopping is the great downfall of most people who have money problems. I no longer shop recreationally.

Striving Because I Want To



Probably most of what I’m working on won’t pan out. It won’t make me or anybody else any money. I’m writing a book “Stroke of Luck” for Amazon Kindle, and if I’m lucky ten people will buy it while I’m still on the planet. I just printed out the first 50 pages and proofread them, the made the changes. Oof! Work! Haven’t done that in a while.


Writing is work. It takes focus and discipline, two things that don’t come easily to this graying geezer. I’m uploading the book as I write it, having already created a virtual cover. I like to imagine that I have readers waiting for my updates. Somewhere, maybe in a tubercular asylum in Turkmenistan, or a prison in Patagonia, someone with a Kindle is reading my book. Fear not, gentle reader! I won’t let you down!

20th Century Fox as a Leper Colony



I live in Chiang Mai, Thailand, about four miles north of McKean Rehabilitation Center, a former leper colony established about 1910 when the King of Lamphun gave large parcel of land to the Church of Christ to operate as a leper colony. There still are a few lepers in residence, but mostly it’s an assisted-living facility, a hospital, a hospice, and emergency housing for poor refugees from Burma. The trees are enormous there because it’s never been logged.


I amuse myself by riding around on my motor cycle and taking pictures of tropical vegetation. That’s how I entertain myself when I’m not writing or practicing the piano. And in doing so, I found a back entrance to McKean that felt like one of those dreams where you find that a familiar place, say your family home, has a secret doorway that leads to places you’ve never before seen.


Today this happened. I was following the river road, turned off on a small lane, came across an abandoned gate and guard shack, and entered McKean from a side I’d never before seen. The style of the buildings is 1910 Tropical Colonial. The  trees are enormous.


It so happens that in 1986, I made frequent trips to the 20th Century Fox Lot in Los Angeles. I was developing a children’s TV show based on Dr. Science, a character I co-created with Merle Kessler of Duck’s Breath Mystery Theater, a comedy troupe we founded in our last year of graduate school at the University of Iowa.  So I got to know the Fox lot quite well, those 1920’s Spanish style buildings set on lush lawns beneath large trees. Just like the McKean Center here in Thailand. Strange how things come around. Here I am on the other side of the world thirty-two years later.