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.





color garden


I taught for many years, mostly at the University level, but most recently I taught high school students in Paraguay. Since this was an English conversation class, I was attempting to get them to talk about anything, rather than to just listen to me talk at them. I asked them what they wanted to be when they grew up.


All of them said “famous.” Some wanted to be movie stars. I thought that odd, because in humble Paraguay we were far removed from Hollywood or any important cultural center.  When celebrity culture grew like a malignancy back in the eighties, I thought this would be temporary, but almost forty years later its spread to infect most of the organism. Maybe social media and smartphone use has something to do with it, but the desire to stand out from the crowd by becoming famous is now thought of as admirable. It’s a legitimate goal for anyone who can afford to take the plunge.


Wanting to be famous is the desire to be loved by strangers. Based on the values we ostensibly hold and attempt to teach our children, this seems an odd goal to set for oneself.


In Paraguay, almost no one I met had ever been anywhere else. The super-rich visited Disneyworld in Orlando, Florida, and then went shopping in fancy malls. Often fifteen-year old girls would go in a group, chaperoned by a rich aunt. I suppose it’s normal for teenagers to be impressed by celebrities, and to want to be more like them, but it seems from the perspective of this retired American as if the whole world has become a shallow teenager.


When I taught in Thailand, I was teaching classes in performance for broadcasting at the University level. The students there all hoped to become celebrities. Thailand doesn’t have much a movie industry, but they crank out lots of daytime dramas to air on television. Nobody pays them much mind. They don’t want to be Thai TV stars, they want to be International movie stars.


Even though their English language abilities were often minimal, many of my students were very cute. In Thailand, boys and girls both aspire to the same level of cuteness. Even though Hello Kitty was invented in Japan, it seems to have found a permanent home in Thailand, where cuteness at all costs is the national motto.


Cute and sexy aren’t the same thing. In fact, they’re almost opposites. If your path to being famous depends on being super-cute or super-sexy, you’re in trouble, because there are more people on that road than it can handle. Time is of the essence, and it’s always running out. Better get there at just the right time and don’t dawdle!


Maybe someday young people all over the world will snap out of it and decide that their goal is to be kind, to develop charity in whatever situation they find themselves, to learn diligence and patience, but most of all to see service towards others as a lofty goal all in itself. Screw being famous.


Maybe they will realize that the desire to be loved by strangers is an artifact of a sick culture based on voyeurism.

Touched by a Stooge, Real Life Encounters with the Howard Brothers

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Kids growing up in the fifties and sixties in America often saw the Three Stooges on  their local TV channels.  The two-reel short subjects that had been cranked out by Columbia pictures from the thirties to the early forties were now fodder for cheap programming, and by virtue of the fact that anything so numerous and cheap would be replayed continually meant that many of us who had memorized most of the Stooges shorts also saw our fill of Gene Autrey “Radio Ranch” serials, Flash Gordon and The Little Rascals.

But we knew the world of the Stooges better than our own backyards.  The films we saw were scarcely thirty years old at the time, which would make what we’re talking about the equivalent of today watching TV made in the late eighties.  Something like the Power Rangers.

Most kids get up earlier than do their parents, and at least in cities, TV programming began at dawn. (Farm TV also began at dawn but was limited to a man stiffly reading the Livestock and Feed market prices, along with a brief weather report.  Then the TV channel left the air until evening)  As a child in a Chicago suburb, I would carry my bowl of Cheerios to the Silvertone to watch Industry on Parade newsreels, to hear mellifluous announcers narrate the saga of Aluminum, Friend to the Housewife, as ore became pot and pan which is turn helped a harried homemaker make dinner.  I would watch whatever was on. This included religious programs and armed forces recruitment films, endless re-runs of World War II footage and any other free programming the stations had to offer at that hour.  In the afternoon, after school, the fare was more kid-friendly, Bomba the Jungle Boy, early Tarzan movies, and of course, the Stooges.

Fifties kid-TV offered a puzzling pot-pourri, and stew that gave glimpses of a more ethnic America that one saw on Ed Sullivan or What’s My Line?  For me, the Stooges held the greatest mystery of all.  Why were these three Jewish men so poor and so mean to each other? I thought Jews had money and were funny, but these guys slept three to a bed, owned one suit of clothes each and were always looking for work for which they had no skill or training. Were they brothers?  Who was that woman who threw them out of bed in the morning?  Their mother or their land lady?

The TV became the parent in locis, and seemed to say every time he or she was flipped on (after fifteen seconds of warm up, first a dot, then a full screen) “Welcome kid, this is the world you were born into.  Good luck.  Looks kind of scary sometimes but it’s not that bad.  Could be worse.  You could be that kid in the iron lung on display at the State Fairgrounds, the one staring up through the little window while other kids walked by, some dropping a dime in the little bucket that hung at the head of the machine.

Besides, the Cuban missile crisis is just a few years in the future and we’ll probably all be incinerated by then.  So drink your Kool Aid and yukk it up with our good friend the Station Engineer, who is half-heartedly pretending to be a cowboy or a clown, and who is looking forward to that happy hour drink he always takes as soon as this kiddy show leaves the air.”