Nowhere to Go and Nothing to Do


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We didn’t hear or see any explosions. Our first clue was when the Internet went down. A few minutes later we noticed no cell phone service. There was no reason to panic, it might have been a storm. When we checked the TV, some stations were still on the air. They were playing movies and game shows. But no news.

They say that people ninety miles from the big cities could hear the booms. People in Rockford, Illinois could hear the bombs explode in Chicago. They were deep. prolonged booms, but not terribly loud at that distance. Those who had been looking in that direction saw flashes, but not everybody was looking that way. Most people were indoors.

It turns out that it wasn’t a big attack, like the one we had all learned to expect from Russia. Only four cities were targeted. LA, New York, Chicago and Washington. Only a few bombs per city. No one knew who was behind it, or whether President Trump was still alive. Many people hoped he wasn’t.

It took a week before regular radio and television broadcasting resumed. Light entertainment predominated. News was a somber affair. White men wearing jacket and tie intoned facts and figures like funeral directors. There was still no report on the status of the President, nor most members of government. By now, cellphone service had resumed in many places, but not all. The Internet was still down.

At night, bands of orange light flickered overhead like the northern lights. There was a smell like burning wires. It became very hot for about a week, then smoke filled the sky and the temperature plummeted. Even though it was mid-summer, we had to wear jackets during the day. The plants that had survived the hot spell, soon withered and died in the cold gloom. Farmers threw in the towel.

We who lived in rural America paid the price for having let our towns decline. Now there was no getting away to the city. Gas prices went up by a factor of twenty, and there were road blocks on most major highways, so there was no where to go and nothing to do in town.

Those towns big enough to have a Wal Mart didn’t suffer much for the first month, but after that the shelves had been picked clean. Since everything Wal-Mart sells was made in China anyway, and because the prices of those items had doubled during the trade war, people were already used to getting by with less. Now they were going to have to get even more resourceful.

The hunger came on more quickly than anyone realized. After only six weeks there were food shortages. After eight weeks, people were starting to die. At first it was the young, old, and infirm who succumbed, but after three months, mornings found bodies stacked during the night on almost every street corner.

Nobody was ever certain who had attacked us, and why. The theory most people accepted was that it had started with a nuclear exchange between India and Pakistan, and then somehow had spread to Israel, Iran, North Korea, and finally to us. Since no missiles had been fired at us, it was thought that the bombs had already been in place, on the ground, waiting to be detonated at a later date. But as to who put them there or pressed the trigger, no one knew for certain.

After a year, things started to get better. It turns out that almost no on in Washington survived. Leaders from others states were brought in. There was a lot of talk of retaliation, but nothing was ever done because we didn’t know who to invade or bomb. You can’t just bomb everyone. We’ve tried that in the past, and it doesn’t work. Or maybe it gets you where we are today.

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Lock-Down


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You’ll have to stay put until something can be established. As long as no one is certain what’s going on, or can reasonably describe what happened, we’re going into lock-down mode. All exits will be sealed until further notice.

People don’t just turn into liquid and flow down the street. Babies don’t spontaneously combust. Sure, unusual things can happen, but then the burden of proof is greater. No one is going to believe you were taken up to Heaven, met Jesus, and then came back down to Earth to tell us all about it. At least they won’t believe it unless you can start showing some miraculous proof.

Miraculous proof is all that we require. Oh, and promotion. Nothing matters without proper promotion. In a better world the important and true would rise to the top, but not here. On this miserable rock bathed in a veil of tears, if it hasn’t gone viral, it simply hasn’t gone anywhere.

What you witnessed may or may not have happened. You might be deluded. Many deluded people aren’t aware of their condition. Look at our President. Just because you fervently believe in something doesn’t mean it exists. Artistic types make stuff up all the time. Some are quite convincing, but everything they invent is conjured up out of thin air.

These are not necessarily bad people who invent things that don’t actually exist. They might be benevolent, caring, imaginative, and supportive of creativity in others. They might also be pathological liars. We who are inclined of give the benefit of doubt are potential victims of this latter group.

And so for the time being we must seal or borders. We must suspect that everyone has a malevolent purpose. Their intentions are to do us harm. “What would Jesus do?” you ask. He would do what we are doing. He would hunker down.

“But” you protest “the Jesus I met in Heaven after I had been swept up to kneel at his feet would embrace even the most snarky of us.” Maybe. But we are not Jesus.

We are simply your neighbors who are trying to make the best of a bad situation. We did not cause this calamity, but we are trying to minimize the negative outcomes. Maybe there won’t be any. Indeed, we could be making a mountain out of a molehill. But someone did testify that he saw another person liquefy and that other person has not been seen since. There is a noticeable smell in the air, like burnt toast, except it smells a bit like burnt rubber and burnt toast. There is also a dog that won’t stop barking, but no one has been able to find the dog. So we are confused and anxious. We will batten down the hatches until the storm has passed.

DOWN THE DRAIN


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What happens, happens. We can delude ourselves into thinking that we’re in control, but we’re not. Not even close. Things will work out the way they’re going to. We could assume, the way they’re supposed to, but that implies there’s somebody else in charge who knows what’s best.

Recent evidence suggests that’s probably not the case.

The catastrophic and sudden collapse of our government took everyone by surprise, even those who hastened its demise. Trump never expected to win, and when he did, it shocked everyone, even Trump. Well, that shock was nothing compared to the sudden realization that we had lost every bit of democracy and benevolent rule we once enjoyed. Thugs were now fully in charge, and they seemed to enjoy their thuggery.

It was like watching Clockwork Orange, only it was real, and instead of England, it was America. Now there were no longer simple hints of anti-intellectualism, but a full-blown assault on intelligence and reasoning. Truth was an outdated concept. There was only belief and submission to the state. What Mussolini had hinted at, Trump had accomplished.

People had to pretend to be stupid in order to escape being targeted. Suddenly we became a nation of good old boys, Stepford Wives, grinning hayseeds. Rumors of lynchings spread, but none were reported by Fox News. The official face of America, at least the one you could see on TV, looked like the Mormons were in charge. You simply couldn’t be too white.

Homosexuals, intellectuals, people of color, and immigrants all kept their heads down. Better to blend in than to attract attention. Maybe this was just a phase we were going through. Maybe this would soon blow over. Somebody pointed out that’s how the rich Jews felt when they didn’t abandon their homes in Poland, Belgium and France. When they didn’t get out while the going was good.

The startling fact was that no one was making this happen. This wasn’t a conspiracy, a plot by the Deep State, this was simply mob rule. The Madness of Crowds. When 330,000,000 people decide to swerve, it’s a change with momentum behind it. Maybe unstoppable momentum.

The fact that the friendly neighborhood policeman had been replaced by a hormone-hopped hulk dressed in camouflage and body armor hadn’t really caused alarm until now. Now there were unmarked buses with blacked out windows moving about, taking somebody somewhere. Rumors spread that the FEMA camps were filling.

Popular entertainment and broadcast journalism simply ignored the phenomena. Movies starring superheros continued to be made and distributed. Sometimes that’s all you could find at your local cinema. Nobody complained, at least not out loud. Studios and cinema owners were happy because audiences kept coming. Not just teenagers, even adults thronged to view empty spectacle.

The last symphony orchestras and dance companies folded quickly and quietly. Universities shut down programs that didn’t attract grant funding. Since most jobs had already been sent abroad, there wasn’t much for most young people to do. Almost half of the people under thirty were in drug treatment or prison.

And this was just the beginning.

It got worse.

It wasn’t just America that was in crisis. Europe was roiling with social unrest. Huge numbers of immigrants were no longer even the least bit welcome in their host countries, and yet they had nowhere to go. You can’t very well send someone back to Kenya or Nigeria who spent his life savings traveling across Niger and Libya to board a rubber raft to take his chances crossing the Mediterranean to get to Sicily and then up to France where he hoped to hop across the English channel and take his seat on a cardboard box next to the homeless in London. You can’t simply send them home. There are too many of them, and besides, they’d just return.

All of a sudden, any progress mankind seemed to have made or have been making disappeared. We were heading down, straight down, swirling down some sort of cosmic drain, and the process seemed to be accelerating. Some people offered solutions, but nothing stuck. Some people claimed to know who was at fault, but a strange lethargy took over, and no meaningful actions were taken.

Then the plague started. It moved with lightening speed, killing half the population of China in a week. India and Africa were next. No one was certain how many had died, because the scope and scale were unheard of. The first peaceful use of nuclear weapons was to incinerate huge mounds of bodies. Burial was unthinkable. Disposal at sea unacceptable.

With so many dead, the support structures of these countries collapsed as well, leading to waves of subsequent deaths to to famine and cholera. All borders were closed. Air travel ceased.

For some reason, only the United States and Western Europe seemed to have been spared, but then their turn came. Fatality rates of eighty percent. Much higher than Ebola.

By now the rich and powerful had long ago disappeared into hidden bunkers. Since they were hiding they weren’t communicating with anyone, so no one was sure they had survived.

Someone who still managed to reach an audience compared the collapse of civilization to a motor that had been allowed to fall into disrepair. At first it wobbled, groaned, screeched, and finally ground to a halt. No amount of kicking or prodding got it running again.

The collapse of the power grid, food distribution, water treatment, and transportation continued. Just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse, it did.

Capitalism still functioned to provide for people who could pay for goods and services, even though the prices were sky high and selection severely limited.

By now, the only restaurants were owned a a conglomerate of Monsanto, Dow Chemical, Bayer, Pepsico, and Nestle. Their favorite locations were the food courts of shopping malls, where they could have ten or fifteen various outlets with different names and themes, but all basically serving the same food under different labels.

Most of it was pizza or bread of some kind holding a meat of dubious origin. The drinks were artificially sweetened and mildly radioactive. Each featured several large-screen televisions which also served as surveillance cameras.

Finally, Donald Trump surfaced. He or someone resembling him appeared on the only television channel still working, Fox and Friends. He blamed Obama and Hillary Clinton for what had happened, and claimed that if people had only trusted and respected him, we would by now have been enjoying the great future he had planned for us.

Then the picture went dark and food court patrons who had been watching continued to stare at the dark screen for a very long time because they had no where else to go.

Confabulation Confounds Me


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My mind swims with words and images. I’m half asleep. Everything seems like a movie I might have seen once a few years ago, but one can’t remember much about it except that certain incidents, characters and settings are familiar. The story itself eludes me.

This is either a shot across the bow by the evil forces of dementia or a warning sign that I’ve bitten off too little of what life has to offer and am merely deeply and seriously bored. Stuck. Just waiting for the end.

On my best days I can delude myself that I’m making progress, but on my worst I’m just bumbling along on auto-pilot. Repeating the same few activities out of habit is not the same as being fully engaged.

Of course, I know the solution is to volunteer my time for some good cause. Join Rotary. Visit orphans and comfort the downtrodden. Embrace some new challenge. Really dive into learning a difficult skill. 

I am tempted to delve deeply into Flapdoodle for its own sake. To become the Irwin Corey of meaningless discourse. To ramble to the point of exhaustion.

 

 

 

 

NOTHING STOPPING ME


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the author thinking about nothing

It occurs to me that living in Chiang Mai, Thailand hasn’t really hampered my ability to be creatively productive. If I’m not writing or performing to the best of my ability, I can’t blame it on location. If I were hiding in a furnished room in Los Angeles, hunched over my laptop and drinking coffee from a paper cup (not Starbucks, too expensive) chances are my phone wouldn’t be ringing with offers from publishers, studios, or agents.

At the age of sixty-seven, I probably wouldn’t be going to parties a lot, either. The nightclub crowd would be unaware of my existence. Maybe I could pass myself off as Harry Dean Stanton’s younger brother, or Tommy Lee Jones’ cousin. A-list geezers.

 

 

MOVING DAY


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We’re moving today and tomorrow.  Today we pack up the few things we have in our pied a terre in Santitham, place them under the seat of my two motor scooters and scoot off to the new house, about five miles southeast of here. It’s in a neighborhood called “Snail Pond” which is historically prone to flooding. I’m not so much afraid of floods as I am of mosquitoes, now that Zika virus has been reported in Chiang Mai.

 

But it rained hard last night and is dripping even as I type this. With little in the way of infrastructure, when it floods in Thailand, it really floods. Our convenient room in the big city cost us 4,200 baht per month, about $120 U.S. dollars. No worry about floods there, for it’s on a fifth floor of a building new and clean. The room was small, with a balcony and a great view, but otherwise it was sort of soul-less and even though the air-conditioning was top notch, it was not place I wanted to hang out. Our rented house half an hour north in Mae Rim was a meager structure as well, but situated near the mountains. I could be riding in endless greenery in a matter of minutes. It cost 4,000 baht a month, which is about $110 dollars. Our new house promises to be quite luxurious and large, and will cost almost exactly what we were spending for the other two places. So it’s a lateral move cost-wise but probably a step up in long-term comfort. I’m hoping I will become less restless living there, and spend more productive time reading and writing in my office. Yes, I’ll have an office of my very own. 

 

I can’t believe I’m moving again. Every move I’ve made in the last ten years has surprised me, for I thought the move before was to be my last. I certainly drag much less with me now than I did ten years ago, when I fancied myself an antiques dealer with an auction shopping compulsion. On this new move I will have to buy a refrigerator, TV, electric stove, a few used tables and chairs, and I’m convinced these will be the last appliances and pieces of furniture I will ever need to buy. One of these moves I’m going to prove myself right about that.

 

It will be good to live in only one place. Every time I’ve tried to have a city house and a country house, it has brought me little in the way of peace of mind. Where did I leave those reading glasses? Here, hotel rooms are very affordable.

 

I no longer have any items in storage back in America. Most of what I now own could fit in the trunk and back seat of a Volkswagen Beetle, the same state of affairs I enjoyed back in 1975, when I moved everything I owned from Iowa City to Los Angeles. I was convinced it would only be a matter of a few weeks before I “made it.” My talent was such that I was certain to “be discovered.” I drank a lot back then, and smoked a lot of dope.

 

Now I no longer expect anything from my moves except having to learn a new neighborhood. Where is the closest coffee shop with wi-fi? At night in my new home, which way to the bathroom? Where are the light switches?

 

The older I get, the more I appreciate the Christian concept that we are all just pilgrims, passing through. The Buddhists here in Thailand are big on this concept, too. Everything is change. Here, they burn your body at the nearest temple. If you can afford it, they set off fireworks while they’re burning you, probably to scare you on your journey. “Don’t stick around, you’re dead, be off!” Boom!

 

The Road Ungraveled


I like being spontaneous, and acting without forethought. Plans bore me. So after a delightful afternoon drive through the mountains to Somoeng, a town an hour and a half from Mae Rim, I thought, “what the heck, let’s continue onward to Pai. There’s a back road that I hear is mostly passable, and we can probably be halfway there before dark.”

We hadn’t packed, not even a toothbrush, and I didn’t have a map with me, but since everything had gone so well already. Bidding “so long” to our traveling companions who returned to Chiang Mai, we set off on the back road to Pai. We left about an hour and a half before sunset. I imagined a cute little guesthouse on the way, a good meal, hitting the hay early and driving the remaining two or three hours the next morning.

At first the road was excellent. Then it turned to cobbled cement blocks, but then became excellent again. I was already imagining describing the road in the blog I would write. “Mostly nothing to be afraid of. Don’t know why nobody goes this way.” We were up high enough for pine trees. Crimson light lit them and the peaks of the eastern range. How beautiful! But night was falling, and we were in a hurry and in no mood for scenery. Then darkness fell, the stars came out, and it got cold. Very cold. Since I hadn’t known I was leaving on this trip, I hadn’t packed any warm clothes. My pants were the sheerest cotton, my shoes, flip flops.

At about the time the last glow faded behind the ridge of mountains to the west, the road turned to dirt. Not just dirt, but deeply rutted dirt, with gullies big enough to swallow the motor scooter. All I could see illuminated by my headlight were these never-ending furrows that reminded me of those images sent from the Martian probes. There was no traffic to speak of, either behind us or oncoming. Every once in a while we would pass a hovel with some people sitting around a fire in front of it, but then those stopped appearing as well. The stars were so beautiful, the night was so clear, and we were so…cold.

The only extra clothing I had in the box beneath the seat was an orange plastic raincoat. I stopped and put it on. The pants I was wearing were also orange, Thai fisherman pants, made for hot weather, so I must have looked like a fluorescent orange traffic cone as we motored along. We were now making scant progress, maybe an average speed of 8 miles per hour. We saw a sign saying the next city was in forty miles. Surely the good road would come back. Surely a town would come in sight.

Truth is, I was getting scared. The colder I got, the stiffer I got, and my arms and legs were uncovered. At each new gully I had to stop to plan an approach, for I could not afford to slide and fall. So then, of course, I did.

The dust proved as cold as the air. Wipa was unhurt, I scratched my knee, the motor scooter was still running, so I switched it off. It got very quiet. The stars above grew insanely bright, mocking us. Then after a minute or so we saw headlights, as a truck lumbered around the corner in front of us. Fortunately, the driver saw us and stopped.

He was a young man, and pulled the scooter off me, then had to help me stand, as I was too stiff to easily do so on my own. He asked Wipa if I was a monk. I guess in his headlights, my orange outfit looked like monks robes. She said I wasn’t. Then he asked me if I were drunk. No, I replied I’m just old. And tired.

He left, wishing us “good luck,” which is what people here say a lot. After they opened up a new underpass in the road from Mae Rim to Chiang Mai even the highway department used its new electronic sign to wish drivers good luck in the new year. To my Western ears, having a government agency in charge of public safety wish you “good luck” seems odd, but here they put a lot of stock in karma, which is why there is no drivers education to speak of, and Thailand enjoys one of the highest rates of traffic mortality in the world. They put great stock in luck.

I wish I could say that there was a cute little guesthouse just a mile or so down the road, but no, about an hour later we came to a settlement of about twenty houses, and I stopped at the biggest one. I presented my case. If you don’t help me we will die. Turns out he was the town mayor, and he arranged for us to rent a room used for migrant workers a few yards away. It was unheated, and the blankets thin, but we slept that night knowing we weren’t going to die. In the morning I heard a pig grunting under the floor, and baby chicks peeping as they ran about. I laughed as I threw open the shutters.

The next morning everything had a luminous quality. We were still alive! The motor scooter wasn’t even damaged! Just dusty! There was a coffee shop in town. Like George Bailey in the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life,” I saw everyone as beautiful, charming, clever. Thanking them too profusely, we drove off in the morning light to continue another three hours to Pai. By the time we arrived I was warm enough so my teeth were no longer chattering.

road less graveled

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here is a link to a sound recording of the author reading this piece.