THE TRUE COST OF DELUSION


Tito and Amanda Watts were arrested over the weekend for selling “golden tickets to heaven” to hundreds of people. The couple, who sold the tickets on the street for $99.99 per ticket, told buyers the tickets were made from solid gold and each ticket reserved the buyer a spot in heaven — simply present the ticket at the pearly gates and you’re in.

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“People can sell tickets to heaven,” a Jacksonville police spokesman said. “But the Watts misrepresented their product. The tickets were just wood spray painted gold with ‘Ticket To Heaven – Admit One’ written in marker. You can’t sell something as gold when it’s not. That’s where the Watts crossed the line into doing something illegal.”

Tito Watts said in his police statement:

I don’t care what the police say. The tickets are solid gold… it ain’t cut up two by fours I spray painted gold. And it was Jesus who give them to me behind the KFC and said to sell them so I could get me some money to go to outer space. I met an alien named Stevie who said if I got the cash together he’d take me and my wife on his flying saucer to his planet that’s made entirely of crack cocaine. You can smoke all the crack cocaine there you want… totally free. So, try to send an innocent man to jail and see what happens. You should arrest Jesus because he’s the one that gave me the golden tickets and said to sell them. I’m willing to wear a wire and set Jesus up…

Amanda Watts said in her police statement:

We just wanted to leave earth and go to space and smoke rock cocaine. I didn’t do nothing. Tito sold the golden tickets to heaven. I just watched.

Police said they confiscated over $10,000 in cash, five crack pipes and a baby alligator.

This story has made its rounds on the Internet and produced a chuckle and much head-shaking from readers who enjoy laughing at the antics of the stupid and deranged.  But apart from their lack of sophistication, crack addiction and poverty, how are their delusions fundamentally different from those of wealthy super-church pastors?  And now does one get to this point, anyway?

One step at a time.  Most people lose their way in increments.  Smoking cocaine will get you where you want to go faster, but it’s still a process of one bad decision following another.  You get an idea, you entertain that idea until you forget that it was once just an idea you had and not a fact, and then you start making erroneous assumptions, some of which seem to pan out.  If you’re lost in the woods and you find that the path you’ve been walking down for the last few hours was the wrong one, there in only one way to remedy that situation.  You have to admit that this is the wrong path, retrace your steps and start over again. Sometimes that choice seems too difficult to entertain, so you apply almost the same amount of energy to convincing yourself that this is the right path despite a growing body of evidence to the contrary.

If you accept one preposterous assumption, it’s much easier to embrace the next one.  If you live next to the dumpster behind the KFC, and talk to people who hang out in that neighborhood, you’ve pre-selected the people who might be able to give you an objective overview of your universe. And if you all smoke crack together, then anything is possible.

But if you work on Wall Street and sell derivatives, is that a whole lot different than selling tickets to heaven?  Remember, the derivative market in 2008 was responsible for the greatest “legal” transfer of the wealth in the history of the world. People all over  he world are still paying the price for that one.

Even though in our most liberal moments we  might like to believe that all ideas have some validity, it’s simply not the case.  Some notions are more grounded in reality than others.  Delusion has a cost, and followed to its logical end, it ends up costing everything.  The concepts of truth and falsehood are only interchangeable in the short run.

Mae Rim


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Mae Rim is a suburb to the north of Chiang Mai. About fifteen miles away, but there’s only one way to get there, along a highway that is often crowded and ugly in that way development has of being here. There’s also road construction that has been going on for two years now, and is thankfully drawing to a close.  But the air is sweeter in Mae Rim, the foliage more abundant and greener, and the mountain is closer than in Chiang Mai.  We found a house of the same size we’re renting now for half the price.  $110 a month!  There’s even room for a little garden. And there’s a market right next door.

So for that last three weeks we’ve been riding the motorcycle up there and checking it out.  Now that the rainy season has begun, the vegetation is lush again.

After lots of driving around I concluded, yeah it’s pretty, but that doesn’t make up for the fact that all my friends are in Chiang Mai.  So unless someone shows me an amazing place to live up there, we’ll stay right where we are.

SCRAMBLING TO GRASP REALITY


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TELL ME WHEN YOU SEE JESUS

The Scramble for Privilege 

“If you want to be happy for a day, get drunk; a week, kill a pig; a month, get married; for life, be a gardener.” That’s a Chinese proverb.  I don’t know if it would make much sense to modern-day Chinese who seem to be scrambling to get ahead as fast as anyone on the planet, but it makes an important point.  Aggressive action to improve your status or acquire advantage probably won’t make you happier in the long run.

Much of what happens to us is the result of our actions, though sometimes we can’t see the causal connection. We see ourselves as victims. Everybody gets about the same amount of lucky breaks, but some of us know what do to with them while the rest of us insist on waiting for an easier, softer opening. Fact is, if you’ve identified and addressed your addictions, life can be pretty easy. Take it easy, act prudently, and wait for good fortune to strike again.

That sounds like a prescription for happiness, but it’s too simple for most of us to accept.  We would still rather believe that if only we manage our affairs better, we’ll be more successful, prosperous and happier.  So we lie awake at night, scheming. This time we’ll get it right.  We’ll hit upon the right formula.

But that’s not how peace of mind comes. Like the quality of mercy, “it droppeth as a gentle rain from heaven.” More than power, more than fame, more than riches, we hope to achieve peace of mind before we die.

I almost died a year ago.  Even though I had no history of heart disease, and had recently passed a medical insurance physical exam, I had a heart attack. Some recent events had transpired that were upsetting, and I allowed them to make me doubt my grasp on reality.  I won’t go into them here, but the story of the year before was quite fantastic and upsetting. But here I was back in Chiang Mai, a place I liked and felt comfortable in.

One scorching morning in June, as I sat in my guesthouse, checking my e-mail, an invisible hand gripped my esophagus and began to squeeze.  I thought “surely this is just indigestion,” but as the pain increased with no signs of subsiding, I decided to err on the side of caution.  Grabbing my wallet and passport and chewing a precautionary aspirin, I headed for the emergency room of a nearby hospital.

The whole way I kept thinking “I’m making this up. This isn’t happening. What a waste of time and money. They’re going to laugh at me and send me home.”

Instead they admitted me and rushed me up to stent surgery.  But as luck would have it, after threading the stent through my arteries to the main blockage, the surgeon could not proceed.  He came out and told me I was in terrible danger, that there was a huge blood clot lurking in front of the blockage, and they would have to abort the procedure and administer blood thinners.  Once the clot was dissolved after a few days, they would try again.

I began to feel scared, deeply afraid of dying. I thought “so this is it?  Too bad there’s no one around that I know to say good-bye to.”

They took me to the Intensive Care Unit and wouldn’t let me leave my bed for three days.  During that time, I had to pee in a bottle and to read lying flat on my back. I was bored and felt very alone, because no one spoke much English.  So I constructed an alternate universe to make sense of my reality.  I decided that this was a ward for people who weren’t really very sick at all, and that’s why we were all together, ten to a room.  This was like summer camp! At the time, I didn’t realize it was the ICU, and since this was the public hospital, I figured it was cheap and that’s why there were so many people around.  The nurses who checked on my spreading groin hematoma were my friends.  They liked me so much they wanted to pull my pants down every few minutes. They laughed at my jokes.

Finally, on the second day, I demanded to be allowed to go the bathroom. The nurses didn’t like it, but they let me use a walker to hobble over there.  Once inside, I heard a wailing noise.  A whole family was crying.  Turns out a patient just a few feet away had  died. This got my attention, for it underscored the gravity of my situation.  I was in a place where people just like me died despite all efforts to save them.

I later found out that fifty percent of people who have heart attacks die from them. My stent operation was not routine. The surgeon had not been exaggerating when he said I was in terrible danger. Three days later they performed as second operation and this time were able to place a stent.  A couple of weeks later they performed a third operation and were not successful in inserting a stent.  That blockage was too big to be penetrated.

During an aftercare checkup I asked the surgeon if I would have died that morning had I not gone directly to the emergency room.  He nodded his head and said “You would already be working on your next incarnation.”

Through all of this I still sort of believed that I made all of it up, that it didn’t really happen.  I found it hard to accept that it had been a real heart attack, and not a product of my over-active imagination.  A few months later I found that I have Parkinson’s Disease, though I had already been symptomatic for a few years. They can give you an exam in the office, but the only definitive test involves an autopsy.  The best test is if the patient responds to Sinemet, then it’s PD.  I took Sinemet and it alleviated most of the symptoms.

But then, after about three months, I started wondering if I made all this up, too, so I stopped taking the medication.  After one day, nothing happened.  After two days, I began to have slower reaction in my hands and legs.  After three days, my walking became a shuffle and my hands became useless, aching mittens.  So I started taking the medicine again, and after three days I was back to forgetting that I had Parkinson’s Disease.

I seem to have the ability to not notice really important things yet to readily manufacture beliefs with no supporting evidence.  So it should come as no surprise that I have often have a hard time managing my affairs. Common sense and practicality bore me.

I once had a psychotherapist who encouraged me to act as if I were a normal person.  Try to avoid being exceptional in any way.  Just fake it and see what happens.

THE PLIGHT OF THE LONELY OLD GUY


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Older women tend to travel in groups and enjoy organized tours, or cruises where uncertainty and risk are at a minimum.  Even though they are vastly outnumbered by their female counterparts, older men tend to drift around the more affordable parts of the world alone. They often have no reason for being in any one place, other than drinks and women were cheap and available when the bus or taxi dropped them off.

One can spot these aging roués in guesthouses or cantinas in Central America or Southeast Asia, drinking or eating alone, staring at a cell phone or watching with total absorption as a gecko climbs a wall.

I’m in a small city in Northern Thailand, and it’s not uncommon for me to run into ten such men a day around here, eating alone in restaurants, watching traffic whiz by as they nurse a beer and talk to no one. They might have wives or girlfriends in this new place, but if they do they probably can’t talk to them, as neither really speaks the other’s language, and besides, the men probably don’t have much to say anyway.

Living abroad in the developing world is pretty easy if you have a pension from a first-world country.  The old guys from Scandinavia have such big pensions they can buy big estates and large vehicles, as well as take their wives and girlfriends on expensive vacations. In my experience, they’re a little bit happier than the guys who are just scraping by, but not much.  Most of them still lack a real connection to a community, and they still face each day without much to do.

Women rarely seem at a loss for something to do, but men without work often come across as lost. Maybe they are waiting for a woman to show up and tell them what needs to be done next, so they can give grudging consent and then forget what she said a moment later.

The Gingerbread Man in Zombie Land


getting more true every day.

geezersabroad

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THE GIFT OF ATTENTION

Lately, ever since I discovered Facebook, I’ve been finding it hard to give myself the gift of my own attention.  I am constantly trying to concentrate on five things at once, and so I end up unable to really focus on anything at all.  I am like a computer thrashing or hung up on an endless looping operation and no longer capable of doing any real work.

There was a time when I flipped on the computer in order to create. That time seems long ago, now that I am constantly receiving trivial inputs from multiple sources. I used to have ideas, some original, often synthesized from reading and prolonged thought.  Again, that was long ago and this is now.

Lately, I’ve found that I can write again if I simply close Facebook so that it doesn’t make a noise to snag my attention every time…

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Motor scooter ride from Chiang Mai to Phrao


geezersabroad

P1040225P1040228Took a motorscooter trip that I took once before two years ago. The scenery was fantastic, but I my picture-taking suffered from the same dilemma I faced when I visited Alaska. Majestic scenery doesn’t fit in camera frames. Cameras are good for close ups. But the air was fresh and every curve in the road held a new visual surprise.

I ended up getting into Phrao at noon and had lunch and a two hour massage before I hit the road again for Chiang Dao. There I found a little resort called “Chaing Dao Good View” which rented me the Hello Kitty room for fifteen dollars. Evening karaoke was mandatory. Everyone else sang songs in Thai and a ladyboy waiter sang in Chinese, but I sang Elvis, including a bathetic and lugubrious version of “My Way” in English, and they wouldn’t let me off stage for some time.

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The Downside of Being Wired


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HOW MUCH CELEBRITY GOSSIP DO I NEED?

Do I need to sign up for e-mail alerts so I can be notified the moment Lindsay Lohan goes back into rehab? What happens if a major Hollywood scandal breaks while I’m asleep? If I am to believe the Internet promotions I routinely receive, I might suffer the greatest humiliation of all, being outside the loop at exactly the time when everyone else in inside.

No, there’s simply too much at risk to let my need for celeb news flap in the winds of chance. If I’m going to be a fully-functioning member of society, I have to know what everyone’s talking about and be plugged in 24/7. Thank God for the many Internet “news” services.

The last guy who serviced my computer arranged for the MSN home page to pop up whenever I go online.  I haven’t figured out how to change…

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