Out and About


The hour is late. Later than I think, but what I think doesn’t really matter in the long run, for it is Fate that holds all the cards. My predictions rarely coincide with reality. Reality and I have never been close. We have always ignored each other as often as possible.

I just turned seventy and today I bought a minimal medical insurance policy that applies only here in Thailand, where medical costs are a fraction of what they are in the West, as well as minuscule term life insurance policy that they will not offer me next year, for by then I will be too old to be a satisfactory risk. My wife and I thought it would be the prudent thing to do, for watching my expatriate friends launch GoFundMe campaigns on social media to cover their medical bills seems, oh I don’t know…sad.

My Thai wife assures me that the six thousand dollar term life insurance benefit would cover a proper disposal for these tired bones. Nobody gets buried around here. It’s all about cremation. Your coffin need not be plush nor substantial, for it’s only going to be in use for a few hours.

When Asian people notice my long ear lobes they assure me I am due a long life. Like the Buddha, my ear lobes hang low enough to flap in the breeze. I will live well into my nineties. That could either be a blessing or a curse, depending on how things work out.

In fact, even though my wife is twenty years my junior, she may predecease me, for Thai people don’t tend to live as long as Westerners.

I’ve seen infirm and elderly foreigners leaning on the arms of much younger Thai women, and the attraction seems to the casual observer more centered on nursing than romance. Especially in Pattaya, the coastal city of a million people a two-hour drive from Bangkok, where poor Thai girls from the provinces go to find work, these pairings are common. If equal numbers of Thai elderly of both sexes exist, they are in hiding. They are not out and about in Pattaya, or Bangkok shopping malls.

There are no victims here, simply a mutually beneficial work situation. Forget about first world notions of romance and intimacy based on “equality” whatever that might be. Why call it “exploitation?” It’s a free market in action.

The Glamorous Lives of Most Expatriates


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Thailand serves the same function for the world at large that California served for the United States.  It’s the place you wind up when you bomb out of every other place.  Many an alcoholic abandoned his family in St. Louis or Omaha and drank himself to death in Los Angeles or San Francisco.  He was not alone in this, for there were legions of men just like him in California’s coastal cities, using alcohol to dissolve the shackles that bound them back east.

 

In many third world countries these men arrive from all over the world: Finland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Great Britain, France, Germany, Canada, Australia, the United States. They’re not in search of anything; in fact they’re in full retreat. The reason the language barrier doesn’t slow them down is because they’re not interested in communicating with the women whose services they purchase. When it comes to these men, there’s literally no one home. If you look into their eyes, it’s like staring at a stroke victim. Error Message 404 Server Not Found.

 

Some of them can still take care of themselves. They shower and shave. Others, not so much. It doesn’t matter to the ladies who are waiting for them to die. The younger bar girls have many of these men “one the line,” and their major problem is keeping all these geezers straight. The men return to their home countries, clean out another bank or retirement account, and then return to their “new home.” Often it’s a small room in a high rise. Often the room has a balcony for drying clothes and where the air-conditioner vents.

 

If the room is on a sufficiently high floor, the balcony can also be used as a final exit to the ever-diminishing existence these men have chosen.

The Reluctant Pupil


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No matter how early he woke up, or how hard her worked during the day, he found it increasingly hard to sleep at night. He never stayed asleep for more than a couple of hours. He wasn’t waking because he was hungry, although once out of bed he would eat to see if it made him sleepy. It didn’t.

As time went on, the insomnia only got worse. He would get out of bed and read, then try to fall asleep on sofas or in reclining chairs. Sometimes that worked for a while. But mostly nothing worked for very long.

It seemed absurd that in these, his twilight years, he was forced to pay attention to a show that long ago began to bore him with its shallow repetition and predictablity. Wasn’t this the time to zone out, to nap anytime the urge came? Why force the reluctant pupil to stay awake for a lecture he won’t remember anyway?

He tried a sleeping pill, an old antidepressant that had been faulted for making those who took it drowsy. It made him sleepy, but it also made him forgetful. Over the next two days he missed two appointments. It left him in a daze. So yes, he could now sleep, but there was no longer anybody home. The ship’s captain had gone AWOL.

Wrong or Not Right?


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Something’s not right. That’s almost as dire as saying “something’s wrong.” I’m seeing double. I’m worried all the time and my thoughts are negative. If I knew what to do to fix it, I would, but I don’t.

I can only sleep for a couple of hours at a time. Awake, I go to the computer and browse social media, having illusory contact with others, posting images and captions I don’t really care about and forget the moment I press “enter.” Others in different time zones skim them and forget them just as quickly. The whole forced and artificial process almost sickens me, yet I return to it every time I wake up because I don’t know what else to do with myself.

Minor problems worry me, and I dwell of them for hours. Now that I’m retired and living within my means I don’t really have any big issues, but being 69 and living on the other side of the world from where I spent most of my life is proving to be a conundrum of its own. Is this a symptom of senility?

It could be that I’m just unwilling to relax and enjoy the present moment. I’m addicted to anxiety, to problem creation and the attempts to solve them. They might not be real but they’re all I can focus on.

 

 

Where are the Dead?


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We recently enjoyed Halloween. Even here in Thailand, the days get noticeably shorter this time of year, and the temperature drops at night. That’s a good thing. Thus begins our high tourist season and the hotels, restaurants and massage shops finally become profitable again. For this they endured eight months of suspended animation.

I find myself remembering those who have crossed the veil before me. The older I get, the more of them there are for me to recall. They had distinct personalities and with little effort I can imagine having a conversation with any one of a number of them. So where are they now?

I find it more difficult to imagine that they no longer exist than to visualize them somewhere else, in another dimension, one at which I will arrive any day now. I can easily admit that the body dies, but not the spirit. It can’t simply vanish, can it?

For some reason, over the last two weeks more than six of my friends have suffered heart attacks and strokes. Vascular surgery and stents have given them a newly extended warranty, but that temporary fix will eventually lapse. Since death is certain and forestalling it a doomed enterprise, why not just surrender as soon as the grim reaper knocks?

It would be easier if all this weren’t so hypothetical.

The Futility of Addiction


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Released from the obligation to work, many retired people find themselves to be unsuspected addicts. With plenty of time on their hands, they are free to finally ruin their lives through addiction. Alcohol, drugs, shopping, gambling, sex…almost any activity can be ruinous if taken to an extreme.

Addicts usually spend a great amount of time rationalizing their addiction before daring to confront it. It’s not that bad yet…You’d do this too if…I only do this because she doesn’t…I’m just letting off steam…besides, what else is there to do in this stupid place?

Addicts often wishfully conclude that if only they take their addictive behavior to an extreme, they’ll somehow “break through to the other side” and prove to themselves that this way lies folly. They’ll tire of the game. They’ll have finally had enough. By “maxxing out,” they’ll find freedom from the compulsion.

You can never get enough of what you don’t need.

An addict is like a man digging a hole so deep he can’t climb out of it, but he’s convinced himself that if he digs faster or harder or more efficiently, he’ll finally find a way up and out. He can’t face the fact that he won’t be able to take any action to climb out of the hole until he first stops digging.

To use another metaphor: if you’re walking down the wrong path, walking faster won’t get you where you want to go. Imagining your goal around the next corner won’t help. You’ll simply have to realize that you’ve taken the wrong path, stop, turn around and painful as it may be, retrace your steps until you get back to the place where you made a wrong turn. You’ll have to chalk up all the time and energy you spent going the wrong way as loss. There is no other way around it.

Is The Fat Lady Singing?


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There are days when everything is simply too much. You don’t feel well enough to tackle a new project and the outstanding tasks seem onerous. It would be nice simply to take a day-long nap, but you know that won’t pan out either, because if you sleep all day you’ll toss and turn all night.

Today is one of those days. My headache is mild enough for me to forget to take an aspirin when I pass my the medicine cabinet, and the act of retracing my steps feels prohibitive. I have no appetite. I sip water.

Could this be it? Am I dying? Dengue? Brain tumor? There are no cures for these so there’s no point in bothering to get a proper diagnosis.

I could read but then I’d have to sit upright and pay attention.

After two days of this I go to a hospital clinic. A blood test confirms I don’t have dengue. They give me a shot to relieve my muscle pain.  The whole thing costs twice as much as I thought it would. It’s still about what a deductible would have been if I’d been in the states and insured. It was worth it to know that I don’t have anything seriously wrong with me.

When I feel better, I’ll get back to playing the piano, writing, cruising around on my motorcycle and taking pictures. Those are my only jobs nowadays.

 

 

 

SMOKE GETS IN YOUR EYES


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…and lungs, and blood. Rather than show a picture of smoke, I thought I’d share this diversion.

I’m back after five days on the road, driving five to six hours per day on a Honda 500cc motorcycle. We went to visit her mother who lives about 300 miles away. Thai roads are far better than the roads of their neighbors, Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar, but you can’t just expect to travel an average speed of sixty miles per hour. I’m surprised at my age I could still pull a thing like this off. What a grind for a geezer!

It was smokey and not terribly scenic, as the hills were hidden in smog. It hasn’t rained for months, and everything looks burned up, because a lot of it is. The way farmers clear land here is by burning the old crop residue. No amount of official threats or sanctions are ever going to change that. As I sit at home writing this, I have two air purifiers at work in my bedroom.

Thailand has lots of problems that don’t get talked about much because discourse is discouraged by libel laws. Even if you’re proved correct in your statement about someone’s behavior, you can be sued for damages to reputation. Face means a lot here,

The minister of tourism doesn’t like to talk about air pollution, or piles of trash dumped along the sides of roads, and so if you want to bring it up, be warned, there may be consequences. The largest corporation in Thailand is also the parent company of the 7-11 chain, the largest telecommunications company, and the largest agribusiness. They probably have the leverage to do something profound about the seasonal burning, but lack the incentive to do so. Being Thailand’s largest corporation, they’re probably well connected inside government.

That’s as much as I’ll venture to say, but it was quite a drag to see the most of northern part of the country draped in smoke. Or maybe I should say, “not see.” The haze makes me dizzy, mildly nauseous, and short of breath. In a couple of weeks we’ll head to the seashore for a respite, but that will cost money that I’d rather not spend if I had the choice. I don’t feel I have that choice.

Yes, You Will Die


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We will pray for you, if that’s any consolation. You ask “is there any way to avoid death?” In the long run, I’m afraid not. We are all on that journey, like cattle in a chute. We hear the frantic mooing of those who are ahead of us on the one-way path to the slaughterhouse. There, a man who holds a large hammer stands poised to strike.

 

What, you have other plans? Sorry, they amount to no more than wishful thinking. This world is a small part of a much greater cosmos. Will you persist? I can’t promise anything. To tell the truth, I don’t know what awaits us. I only know we’re in the chute. You can moo and kick the walls all the like, but you will move forward. See, you just took another step!

 

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Facebook Exile


Time Out for Naughty Posts

 

 

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.