When you’re surrounded by other people your own age and race, it gets clubby real fast. Assumed common values speed consensus and nobody thinks twice about offering an opinion. Here in Chiang Mai, Thailand, I have as many expat friends as I did my fellow students at University of Missouri. We all despised the Vietnam war and dreaded being sent against our will to the very region I now inhabit voluntarily.
Instead of eating army rations, I eat Thai food in incredibly affordable restaurants. My social security pension allows me a life of leisure. Since this is a Buddhist country and theft is rare, I spend little time worrying about my personal safety, though every day finds me riding a motorcycle through insane traffic, a clear and present danger, but rampaging scooters don’t hold a candle to mortar rounds or sniper fire.
Like all grumpy retirees, we like to complain…
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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.
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.
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.
I’ve been under the impression that they’re going to let me out soon, any day now, but each day that goes by I find that’s not the case. The administrators and supervisors who could or should know, avoid me when they see me in the hallways.
When they brought me
here, they lavished me with praise. I was the kind of young man they
wanted. My vocation was immediately apparent. It would be an insult
to God and a grave mistake for me to squander such an opportunity to
As time went on,
their enthusiasm waned. I was no longer the idea candidate. Other
boys came and went, but I remained, having been thoroughly charmed by
their appraisal of my gifts. Boys like me were the reason this place
existed. I was their walking mission statement.
My original mentor,
Father Pretorious, a kindly old man with rheumy eyes…
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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.
When things fall apart, it will be very sudden. Everyone will be taken by surprise. ATM’s will stop working. Recreational travel will cease. Borders that were once open will close indefinitely.
No one will be in charge, so there will be no one to complain to. People who don’t know any more than you do will try to reassure you that matters are under control, but they’ll be lying.
You won’t be able to observe much directly. You’ll see barriers that say “Road Closed” but you won’t be able to see why the road is closed. The reason for the closure will remain hidden. Rumors will fly, but no one will know the real truth. Most of what is said will be mere speculation.
It will steadily get worse. Food and water shortages will get everyone’s attention at once. Electricity outages, sanitation lapses, business closures, all will contribute to a mounting sense of panic. The more there is to panic about, the more the people who pretend to be in charge will say “there is no cause for panic.”
I began today by listening to Bertrand Russel’s 1927 lecture “Why I Am Not a Christian,” quite a brave thing for the BBC to broadcast at that time. I wish I had heard it when I was in grade school, for I wasted a lot of time practicing Catholic voodoo to ensure salvation for myself and others. Russel takes a dim view of Christian hell.
Today we went to the Wat Doi Kam, which is the Buddhist equivalence of maybe the Catholic shrines of Lourdes or Fatima. The Temple is located on a hill only a few miles west from our house. People come in droves to pray for good luck, facilitated in their efforts by a now-deceased holy monk. You say a short prayer three times, burn some incense, promising to return if your wish is granted and then leave an offering of fifty jasmine flowers. I’ve done it twice, once with my friend Nick last week, and today when I brought Wipa and Ken and his wife Jiew. So far I’m still waiting for results.
We all agreed it was a wonderful, colorful place, and not nearly as crowded as the temple on Doi Suthep which is serviced by tour buses.
Here are some pictures from it. A glorious day, puffy clouds, clean air, not too hot.
they’ve even got a golden statue of me in my present condition. How did they know I was coming?
Many of the Agent Orange victims of our war effort in Laos and Vietnam are still alive. They are still hideously malformed, requiring constant care from family members. We have never apologized, much less sought to make things right. We have never offered to pay reparations of any kind.
When you search the Internet for Agent Orange Victims, you come up with posts about our soldiers who were injured dumping Agent Orange on Vietnamese and Laotian civilians, and the forests and farmland in which they lived. Many people ask for compensation to be paid to our soldiers, but nobody is suggesting we pay the people on whom we dumped this toxic chemical.
Nor has anyone suggested that the stockholders of Dow Chemical or Monsanto (now Bayer) ante up. That was a long time ago, and even though we were embroiled in an undeclared war, those unfortunate people were “the enemy.”
Speaking of undeclared wars, the conflict in Korea was also such an affair “a United Nations police action” enforced by the country who gave the world napalm. We dumped plenty of the sticky, jellied gasoline on North Korea, and night-time bombing runs by Curtis Le May’s newly formed Air Force burned millions of civilians to a crisp as they slept.
Neither the Korean or Vietnam Wars accomplished what they intended. After hostilities ceased, the borders remained as they were at the start. Millions dead, billions spent, and few lessons learned.