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 Truth was an outdated concept.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The fact that the friendly neighborhood policeman had been replaced by a hormone-hopped hulk dressed in camouflage and body armor hadn’t really caused alarm until now.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.

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Playing Hippie Fifty Years Later


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Yesterday I attended the Shambala Festival in Chiang Dao, Thailand. It’s a small city in northern Thailand that is dominated by a tall mountain that abruptly rises from the rice fields. It’s a lovely, dramatic setting for what is essentially a “Rainbow Gathering.” The participants were mostly young people, a mix of Thais, Europeans, Americans and Japanese. Anyone who wanted to walk around barefoot and smell of patchouli oil.

 

At age 67, I am the age of most of their grandparents. A chorus I’m a member of was performing at a small venue near the kitchen. We were by far the most professional and rehearsed of the small stage acts, but yet the audience sprawled in front of us was half-asleep. They were here for the long haul, days of hanging out. It was a bit unnerving to perform for such a laid-back crowd. On the other hand, I’m sure things liven up at night at the evening stage, now baking in the sun during the day but which would come alive after dark and would host amplified bands which would inspire hippie dancing. Shake your dreadlocks, baby.

 

There were many beautiful young people there but there is a new sort of odd, non-sexual thing happening now. No nudity. No coupling in public. Lots of hugging and flamboyant physical displays of yoga inspired gymnastics, but the obvious sexual attention-seeking is a thing of the past. They’ve moved beyond that.  As someone who was their age at about the time of Woodstock, I am pleased that there is still a demand and audience for this sort of thing, and glad to see that I am no longer the least bit tempted to partake of it. It never even occurred to me to sleep on the ground. I went into town and rented a hotel room, something you can do in Thailand with pocket change.

 

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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.

 

 

GEEZER TRAVEL


HOW TO ROAM THE PLANET LIKE A TEENAGER WHEN YOU’RE A GEEZER ABROAD

I started wandering whenever possible right after I found out there was no law prohibiting it. I got my first passport when I was eighteen, and visited my first foreign country, Russia. The year was 1968. I celebrated by birthday in Leningrad, and our tour group went to the theater to watch a production of Swan Lake. The sun didn’t set that night, it just hid itself behind some buildings at eleven and rose again two hours later.

I was hooked on travel. Money spent on travel beat money spent buying things. Cars, houses, boats…you can keep ’em. They require maintenance, steadily depreciate, and are forms of bondage disguised as assets. People even borrow money to buy them! Go figure.

I started going to Mexico first. You could drive there. From Missouri it took twenty-four hours, but that didn’t seem like too much for my roommates and I from the University of Missouri campus in Columbia, Missouri. Inspired by a Bob Dylan song, we drove to Juarez and stayed at the Hotel Diamante for two dollars a night, split three ways. A beer cost eight cents. Mystery meat tacos grilled on the street cost the same. I was further hooked.

I made twenty more trips to Mexico until I found you could fly pretty cheaply to other places if you planned ahead. So I went to Ireland, England and France, back when the cost of doing so wasn’t prohibitive. A hotel room in the left bank of Paris was a cheap as a Motel Six in Columbia, Missouri, and a heck of a lot more interesting.

I never gave much thought to making money for most of my life because practical matters left me cold. I graduated from a prestigious graduate school with a degree in Playwriting. There seemed no obvious path to monetizing this diploma, so I moved to San Francisco with five friends and we acted in a comedy troupe. Again, the dollars just flew by but not into our pockets.

Life happened. When I had three kids with another on the way I moved back to the Midwest to see if I could score a teaching job. A few temporary appointments came my way, but nothing that spelled tenure. My kids grew older and so did I.

When I was about sixty I saw the handwriting on the wall, and it said “take action or be doomed to a life as a charity case.” So I widened by travel scope. I went to Argentina about fifteen times, Nicaragua twelve, Ecuador, Peru and Colombia. All excellent places, but then I discovered Thailand, where I now live.

I’ve been lucky, and I know it. Some people have been luckier and some not so much. I have a cousin who is a billionaire. He recently endowed a building at his alma mater’s business college. When he spoke to the students at the grand opening, he advised them to not bother to learn a foreign language, as it was his experience that the international language of business is English.

His sister told me this. It gave me pause. I imagine he was speaking the absolute truth from his experience. When he travels on business, someone meets him at the airport holding a sign with his name on it. He is taken to the convention center/hotel where the staff all speaks English. No matter where he goes, in his world everybody who’s anybody speaks English.

My experience has been the exact opposite of my cousin’s. Nobody I meet in my travels speaks English, because I only go to places off the beaten path in emerging economies that haven’t quite emerged yet.

My cousin is my age, and I hope to compare experiences with him before we both make that last journey to the great beyond.

One benefit I have enjoyed was learning Russian, Spanish and Thai. I suppose if that had been my main goal I could have achieved it far more directly and economically than enduring bus rides where my fellow passengers held life poultry, the bus room being reserved for luggage and hog-tied pigs.
WHY THAILAND?

It’s cheap, it’s interesting, and they have Thai massage. The people are sweet. I like the food better than the rice and beans with a smattering of chicken or pork they eat in most of Latin America.

Heck, you gotta settle down someplace. Not choosing is also a choice, and an expensive one. So I chose Chiang Mai, Thailand, and so far I have no regrets. When I get really old I might choose a mountain village somewhere, but hopefully in a place where I don’t have to learn yet another language.

Time to Get Serious


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All  this laughing  through tears isn’t going to get our grandchildren a better world in which to live. Some serious bad stuff is going down and somebody somewhere is going to have to take a stand to stop it.

The first step involves naming. It’s not just Fox News or CNN, it’s corporate lying. It’s not just quirky candidates, it’s pathological narcissism and limitless greed. Rather that a little deal, it’s a big mess, and the costs to clean it up will prove staggering.

Serious people used to be valued, at least in certain positions. Now everybody has to be entertaining first and then maybe capable of taking action when conditions are right, but you can’t blame them too harshly because doing the right thing can sometimes be a tough call. In general, there’s a general feeling of impotence and hopelessness that has trickled down from top to bottom. Facts don’t matter as much as beliefs. Judge me on my intentions, not my actions. Cut me some slack!

It’s amazing what some people were able to accomplish back before foolishness and whimsy became a way of life for most public figures. Now everybody’s a comedian and nothing good seems to be coming down the pike. I’d like to believe that we haven’t all turned into characters from a Seth Rogan comedy, but maybe I’m fooling myself.Maybe we really are all self-absorbed dimwits and will get exactly what we deserve.

 

Just 3.5% of Americans Travel Overseas


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Fewer and fewer U.S. residents are even interested in international trips, dropping to just 9 percent of all leisure travelers today (versus 11 percent last year). Most of those trips are to Canada and Mexico. Only 3.5 percent of Americans travel to distant lands.

When I lived in South America, I was puzzled to see how few American tourists or expatriates I came across. Europeans far-outnumbered Americans. Even though Chile and Argentina are at least as sophisticated as is a lot of America, it was hard to bump into an American there.

Certain retirement magazines and websites keep flogging the same places, like Ecuador, or Panama, but I think they must have a vested interest in doing so. Relatively under-developed Nicaragua is socialist, but neighboring Costa Rica is basically one big Coldwell-Banker sign. There are lots of people trying to urge us to move to Costa Rica, and relatively few hawking Nicaragua So I would not trust most promotional literature, unless it was prepared by that rare soul without a hidden agenda.

Once I decided I was the kind of guy who would do better moving to an “emerging economy” (polite way to say “third world”) I became quite the wanderer. And then I discovered Thailand, and it became apparent that my pros and cons balance sheet was heavily skewed in favor of Southeast Asia.

I’ve heard that Budapest is wonderful and that Turkey is exotic, but I’m done weighing my options. Chiang Mai Thailand will do me just fine, thank you. And when the traffic becomes absolutely unbearable, which may be any day now, I’ll find a mountain village within and hour or so of the city and spend my days like Thoreau on Walden Pond, absorbed in the “bliss of the present moment.”

So why haven’t more of my friends and family followed me to distant climes? I don’t pretend to be Daniel Boone, nor am I in the business of selling retirees on Chiang Mai, or Thailand, or anywhere else for that matter.

When I see Facebook posts of my friends back home, it looks like everyone is completely fed up with what’s happening to our country. Many of my friends are terrified by rising medical costs, demoralized by politics, horrified by the sterile options open to most of us who must drive a car to accomplish even the smallest of tasks, shop and eat in franchised establishments, and endure an increasingly militarized police state. Why not at least venture abroad to see what other options exist?

You do realize that you still receive social security if you’re not living in the States, right? You do realize that medical costs in many places are less than co-pays required by most medical insurance plans. Most Americans over sixty are taking five or more prescription drugs. Ignoring the fact that many of them might be happier and healthier avoiding those pills, you do realize that most of those drugs are available abroad for a fraction of their costs at home. Don’t you?

The number of Americans holding passports is ten times the number who actually use them. This figure is artificially high because the vast majority of Americans born abroad have passports, but the number of us who actually have and use a passport is amazingly low. Is this because most people can’t afford to travel?

I found that I couldn’t afford to stay at home.

I suppose I am an economic refugee. I don’t say this to evoke your pity, but cost of living is a major reason behind why I made the leap. That and boredom. In most places in the States people come out for organized festivals, but otherwise the streets are quite dead. People drive from their homes to malls and back again.

If I were to attempt to return to the states, I would have to find some sort of subsidized senior housing. The last time I visited a friend in one of those places the aroma of stale urine was unmistakable. I might have to eat some of my meals as free lunches in church basements. Maybe I could qualify for Food Stamps, but the more I read about the future of that prospect, the less likely it is. I could wander the streets looking through plate glass windows at young people enjoying three dollar cups of coffee and staring at their laptops.

No thanks.

So if you’re afraid to take the leap without first checking out the overseas alternatives available, now might be good time to get that passport. I’ve been to lots of places and would be glad to offer my advice. The longer you wait, the harder it will be to finally take action.

 

what follows is a link to a recording the author reading this essay