HOW TO GET YOUR FRIENDS TO STOP TREATING YOU LIKE A THERAPIST


When you’re talking to your friends, avoid asking “How did that make you feel?” When conversing, face them directly. Don’t let them lie down and start at the ceiling while you sit nearby, holding a note pad and a pencil. Do not bill them for your time. If they suggest sexual activity with you, do not protest that doing so will cause you to risk losing your license. If you’re not interested, just say so. If you are, go for it.

In fact, trying to maintain any type of stereotypical image is a barrier to true partnership with others. Even if you haven’t the faintest idea of who you really are, try your best to be that person. Stop acting. Drop the foreign accent, the expansive mannerisms.

What might at first seem interesting or evocative might prove tedious and false in the long run. Leave acting to actors paid to play a part. Unless someone calls “action!” and later “cut!” do not assume you’re on stage or in a movie.

If someone confides to you that he is angry with another who cheated him, or broke a promise, do not say “Does this bring up any issues from your childhood?” It’s none of your business. Try to focus on what this person is telling you here and now. Forget about fifty years ago. It was another time and another place, and you weren’t even there.

No, you would do better to keep the focus on yourself, and if engaged in conversation with another, do your best to truly listen. Drop the scramble to come up with advice before the other person even stops talking. Relax. You’re not a therapist. Not really.

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.

MUSICAL MUSEUM


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As museums go, it was a real sleeper. Somebody had walked off with all the portable instruments, and the piano and organ were covered with mold. But I enjoyed the setting, nestled deep in several vacant lots.

 

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The groundskeeper was neither talkative nor helpful, but he did cast a menacing air that might curb further vandalism.

 

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There was a lunchroom just  down the road where the food was as cheap as one could hope for in these uncertain times.

 

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Apparently, the museum’s director is a graduate of Moscow State University, but when he returned to his home country for “continuing education” he was never seen again.

 

GREECE. Mani. Pirgos Dirou. 1962. Woman at graveside. "A Greek Portfolio"

 

I’ve heard his wife took it pretty hard, and is now housed in a nearby rest home, at the end of the one of the vacant lots.

So Excited


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We were so excited by the three new bridges across our divided highway. So this was the Progress we had been promised ever since the War ended! Just think of the high standard of living we’ll enjoy thanks to Atomic Energy and Free-Market Capitalism!

Let’s face it, motels used to be so modest as to be dumpy by today’s standards. There’s a new energy that is seeping into everything, a new confidence in a better future. I guess you could call it a “Hope In A Better Tomorrow!”

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Of course, not every building can be exciting. Sometimes, if you can’t see the sign you can’t tell what a building has been designed for. Is this a real estate office or a vacuum cleaner repair shop? No, there’s the sign, it’s coffee shop, or cafe as they say in France! Here in the Midwest, severe conformity and lack of imagination have their way with almost everything you see. That’s just who they are and they’re proud to let their buildings let you know!

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But drive a thousand miles to the southwest, and things perk up! Vacationing families can tuck the station wagon behind a saw palmetto bush and enjoy themselves at the pool, relaxing later at the piano bar. Like exhausted families, you can bet that lonely sales representatives need a good night’s sleep after a hard day of cold calling, and this is just the kind of place they can find it!

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.

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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.

THE PATH TO THE TOP?


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Portion of US factory workers who have a college degree:  ¼

Portion of University teaching positions that are led by graduate students or adjunct faculty : ¾

Percentage of college professors teaching online classes who do not believe that students should receive credit for them:  72

These three facts tell of a world of trouble with the U.S. higher education, yet nobody dare pull the plug on it, because how else are we going to induce compliance with and bolster confidence in the absurd and completely artificial construct that sells internationally transferrable credit hours and certifications? What if the people who owe the over trillion dollars in student loans suddenly decide they were tricked and have no intention of repaying?

Higher education is our gatekeeper to jobs that let you sit in an air-conditioned office and play with your computer. If we let just anybody compete for cushy jobs without first enduring this systemized hazing, why would anyone first endure years of superfluous schooling? 

To keep the barbarians at the gate, we must all believe in the importance of education. In Iowa, it’s practically the state religion. We might not have much in the way of scenery, but darn it, we have good schools. Or we think we do.

If I had to do it all over again, I would have skipped college and gone on to some sort of self-employment, learning valuable skills along the way. Having always harbored an aversion to hard work of any kind, I’m not sure what that might have entailed, but since it’s all moot at this point, I’ll encourage the reader to imagine me with grease on my hands, lying on my back underneath a leaking truck engine. Anyone who actually knows me might have a hard time picturing such a scene. Because, like most of us, I hoped that the university would be my ticket to Easy Street.

Fortunately, I didn’t incur debt as I learned to drink coffee mornings in the student union, and beer at night, while developing  an appreciation for the Firesign Theater. So my lost years weren’t really lost, just a sort of prolonged adolescence. Instead of drinking too much beer at night in a blue collar tavern after a hard day in the shop, I drank too much beer in grungy student apartment after a long day of goofing off. I thought reading Kurt Vonnegut was my job, not something one did for leisure and relaxation, after work.

But even though I didn’t emerge from six years of higher education any poorer, I did become a certified softie. After graduation, when I travelled in Mexico, people assumed I was a priest. They could tell these hands had never gripped a machete or a hammer. 

Now that I’m older, I’m often mistaken for a psychiatrist. Again, no one has ever assumed I knew how to fix a car or an air-conditioner, for I wear my artificial sense of entitlement easily. 

Unlike their South American counterparts, the real upper class in this country has learned to amass most of the wealth by simply playing by the rules. The bank bailout after the 2008 mortgage collapse resulted in this largest heist in recorded history, the greatest transfer of wealth ever recorded. And none of that money is ever going to flow back down to the middle class, at least in our lifetimes. 

So what advice would I offer my eighteen-year old self if I could go back in time and meet me? Learn a skill that rich people need, and then hang around with rich people until you get some of their money. And remember, most learning is not accomplished in an institutional setting. Anything else is an uphill battle, with the slope getting steadily steeper over time. 

Why do you think there are so many more plastic surgeons than pediatricians or geriatric specialists? Would you rather be an investment advisor or a Wal-Mart greeter? I don’t know how many Wal-Mart greeters have college diplomas, but I imagine over time the number will equal the percentages of investment advisors on whose office walls hang framed diplomas. 

 

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.