Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Lost in Your Arms

When you are up then I am down.
When I have a smile, you wear a frown.
I'm all alone when I'm with you.
What's gone wrong with what we do?

I'm lost in your arms,
So lost in your arms
Can you please tell me how I got lost in your arms?

If I were you then you'd be me.
If you were jailed then I'd be free.
I'm so lonely when you're with me.
What's gone wrong that we can't see?

I'm lost in your arms,
So lost in your arms
Can you please tell me why I got lost in your arms?

Nearby but not together
Together but so alone
Alone with you is lonelier by far than being on my own

I'm lost in your arms,
So lost in your arms
Can you please point the way to escape from your arms?


Copyright William T. Reeves, 2014

Monday, December 22, 2014

Beggar's Ballet

This comes from an experience I had sitting in traffic in Lahore, Pakistan.

I was in a fine car on a big street in a poor land.
And as we stopped out of nowhere came a hand.
It danced and swayed, dipped and waved.
I had never seen a more beautiful hand.
Asking, beckoning, beguiling.
I'd never seen such a beautiful hand.
Dancing the beggar's ballet.

Because it's a fine line between want and need.
A short hop between slave and free.
I wish I knew what I want 'cause I sure don't know what I need.
Dancing the beggar's ballet.

The dancing hand came from a legless man.
Who traveled the world on a square wood slab.
No one sees him but for his hand.
I have never seen a more beautiful hand.
Asking, begging, smiling
I've never seen such a beautiful hand.
Dancing the beggar's ballet.

Because it's a fine line between want and need.
A tiny distance from lost to free
Please tell me what to want 'cause I sure don't know what I need.
Dancing the beggar's ballet.

I'm like the beggar and my hand sways too
Chasing pennies on a slab of wood
Come dance with my pretty hand,
Have you ever seen such a beautiful hand?
Asking, begging, pleading.
Have you ever seen a more beautiful hand?
Dancing the beggar's ballet

Because It's a fine line between want and need
A narrow space between slave and free
Won't you tell me what I need, because I just don't want to be
dancing the beggar's ballet.

To Know You



To want you
need you
you

To feel you tremble 
and hear you breathe
To see your tears
and make them leave.

To know your joy
and laughter too, 
To smile myself and 
laugh with you.

To know you
feel you
You

And when our time is done
in death, despair or ruin.
I am more for knowing you 
and you for knowing me.

And in the end when life  
has no more time to run,
You are more for knowing me 
and I for knowing you.

To understand you,
Love you,
You.

To live so that at the end of days, 
when all this world is done.
All of time cannot deny
that I knew you. 

And was found,
known and
changed
by you.

You.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Rain God or Rain Bitch?

I don't really think I'm a Rain God. Douglas Adams of Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy fame described one in that trilogy's fourth book:  The Rain God was an English over the road truck driver who delivered freight all over Europe in the rain.  Always in the rain.  He had seen so much rain that he had literally hundreds of names for different kinds of rain.  He hated the rain.  But the rain loved him, it considered Him to be its God and wanted to shower Him with its gifts and love and praise forever.  I think this is the predicament of The One True God (tm) :  constantly being pestered by the things He created telling him He's so swell when He already knows, yowling 'praise music' like tortured cats and then bellowing about their great spiritual yearning to get tickets to the Lorde concert, preferably back stage passes.  It's all a bit tedious for an infinite God who has developed literally millions of synonyms for mooch.

It turns out that I am an Ant God of sorts - at least for the Ants in my Ant Farm because they're always petitioning me for more grubs and crickets and sacrificing virgins to me as if I didn't know that virtually all ants are virgins.  Dumb bugs.   But I'm probably not a rain God because my super rain powers don't seem to extend much beyond the Houston metropolitan area and only are in evidence when the area has a surfeit or as the local Anglo Saxon dialect puts it a "shitload" of rain. But whether in Anglo Norman or Texas Saxon the fact is that I tend to attract the rain whenever I go outside.  Perhaps I'm a Regional Demigod?  I doubt it because the rain around here doesn't so much shower me with love as kick my ass.  No, I suspect that I'm nothing more than the Rain's bitch.  At least in Houston.

And I really can't help it - I have to walk.  And walk and walk and walk.  I walk because I need to think, I walk to stop thinking, I walk because it keeps me from imagining that I am the long lost member of Led Zeppelin who wrote all of their good songs not Jimmy and Robert, those fakers and I walk to avoid the stares of the all of the people who think I really do look like a washed up rock and roll has been. But I have to walk and I do it outside.  In the middle of the day in the middle of summer in Houston, TX because I'm not wimpy.  Nuts? yes. But not wimpy.  And inevitably when I do so, it rains.  People ask me "why in the heck don't you check the radar thingummy before you go out you big dope?" And you sir look as if your a sharp thinking chap yourself, thank you for that well aimed insult:  I do check the radar and never go out if there are any storms headed my way but those of you who live on America's South Coast know that sometimes storms just 'pop up' for no reason whatsoever and begin raining cats and dogs. Not that they really rain house pets which would be cool in a really messy and tragic way but it rains a lot - big huge drops with thunder and lightning and streams forming on the edges of streets.  In other words, a typical light shower in Houston.

And the thing is they always seem to 'pop' 'up' right above me.  It won't start until I'm at the standard "too damned far from home to get back without being soaked" distance which varies based upon the planned storm's intensity and scope but is never less than one half mile (and no I don't know that in Kilometers: I'm a rain bitch not a Demigod) and then it begins to sprinkle and quickly turns torrential so that everything on me gets soaked.   You can't imagine how many sets of earbuds I've had to replace because the rain pools in my ears and shorts them out.  Sigh.

I've tried to control my super power by commanding the rain to halt only to cause bystanders who - seeing my shouting and waving in the rain - say "look at that poor washed up old rock star, he really must have done too many drugs" to which I respond "I am not old and washed up, OK, so I'm old but I'm not washed up" to which they point out that I'm standing in a torrential rainstorm soaked to the bone so I say "Ok so I am old and washed up but I'm not a rock star and besides that's not the point" to which they roll their eyes and back carefully away from me with their umbrellas held slightly forward in the modified "brolly En Garde" position.

I've tried to leverage my powers into money by threatening the local baseball team:  The Astros.  Assholes are more like it:  they laugh at me and say "who cares? nobody comes to our games anyway, besides we have a roof that we can put up" and of course the Texans have a roof too and the boys at Rice University stink so nobody goes to their games even though they don't have a roof.  In fact, the one time I did a little demonstration there the entire Freshman class came out to do meteorological experiments on me for extra credit. Gosh darn geeks. No my powers can only be used for good. If you define good as whatever the hell the clouds want done which I don't.

I think to get any traction on this rain bitch thing I'm going to need some help from the Ice Queen.  She has the ability to turn anything she comes near into solid ice - a lot like my old....hamster did.  So what if I got together with this La Reine des Glaces cum Hamster and we had a rave somewhere nearby when the Super Bowl is in Houston?  How much could an inch of solid ice on everything harsh the NFL's buzz?  I'm sure that one will be worth millions but the Ice Queen is such a French....personality that it is going to take all of my powers of persuasion to get her to whip her iciness out when I need it to pull the "sting" off.  French Cubes are certainly the Coldest Cubes, aren't they?

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Sanctus

I saw her the moment she entered the sanctuary. She was wearing a long, stylish black raincoat that glistened from the raindrops she shook off. Her hair was chestnut made damp by the rain with a few drizzled strands stuck to her impossibly white forehead. Not flesh but ivory white and glowing from its rain kissed moistness. High, flawless cheeks flanked full crimson lips parted ever so slightly as she panted cat-like to catch her breath. For a moment she stood amidst the sitters as if she was taking a census of all the sheep – my flock. It was a feral, almost predatory aspect that set her apart from the other congregants sitting in placid somnolence, not yet knowing that something had changed - that a predator had slipped in their midst.

As I spoke, I couldn’t help stealing glances. At first, consumed with her survey she didn’t look back. Then suddenly she sat straight and stared. I stuttered and almost stopped but willed myself to keep speaking, my chest pounding. I couldn’t hear my words from the blood roaring in my ears. I glanced back: still staring. Again, staring. And again and again and again. I came to my conclusion and read it word for word lest I trail off into incoherence. When I finally looked up she was gone. How? I do not know, just gone. Later through careful, indirect questioning I would conclude that no one had seen her but me.

That rainy winter's morning was the first time I’d regretted leaving the porn business since I had become a Priest.  I knew it wouldn't be the last.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Of monsters, minions and men

I've been perusing the book of Job and it's filled with interesting and surprising discoveries for a biblical semi-literate like me. For example, there's a definite hierarchy established in the book based upon who talks to whom. In our world we conceive of ourselves as standing between God above us in Heaven and that rat bastard Satan below us in hell. We're closer to God because we're on His team and after all, everyone says He 'loves' us. So 'yay' us, 'boo' Satan. And we conceive of Satan trying to 'tempt' us from below and us asking God to help us tell the squirrely red devil to buzz off but we always assume that YHWH isn't comparing notes about us with the Devil incarnate, much less teaming with him to maximize our suffering.

And that would be wrong because when you take a peek at the Book of Job you find God and Satan working hand and....claw to do some rather...well anyway let me tell you the whole story: In the Book of Job Satan and God are reviewing Job and his family - imagine it's Mayday in the Old Soviet Union and the Politburo are all lined up in their parkas in the snow on the wall of the Kremlin: The General Secretary - that would be God - on down. And there next to God, in a particularly commie red suit with all the Hero of the Satanist Union medals is Satan, one of the 'bigs' taking a gander at the 'best of the best' of God's people scuttling by. Job's not up there, he's down in Red Square with the rest of the scuttlers. In fact no 'child of God' is there at all, they're the ant like figures marching anonymously by the thousands and millions and billions by the Great Leader Himself and I guess the dear leader in the cherry tights next to him. Hmm.

And Satan is making snide remarks about God's people being 'bought' and if they weren't how they wouldn't be marching in line but instead would be shouting rude slogans and flipping God the bird. And God just takes it - stuff that He wouldn't take from you or me without giving us a good hard smite. Even an anti-semsmite, which everyone knows ever since Samson invented it, is the worst kind of smite of all. (Which is why tough luggage is called Samsonite because it smote even Samson's anti-semsmites.)

So Satan's snide, unsmited remarks get under God's skin (I'm not sure God has skin per se but whatever keeps whatever God is from spilling out over whatever God isn't, Satan got under that). And that's kind of weird when you think of it - not whether God has skin, although that's weird - but why would a created creature like Satan who God has already deposed, fired, stripped of his rank, evicted, incarcerated and for all I know disembowled and defenestrated be standing (well if he'd been D-Ded, hunched over) with the Politburo on Godday getting under His non-skin-skin? I mean I guess it goes without saying that whatever God has for skin is notoriously thin - that's why there's all the smiting for everything from making cow jewelry, to being Egyptian management in a labor dispute, to touching the wrong doohickey at the wrong time on the Ark thingy, to a little harmless tax fraud. God is notoriously cranky about almost anything that concerns him. Tick him off and he goes to pieces faster than a collapsing Jenga tower. And smites - boy does he smite.

Well I guess we'll never know why Satan got to hang out with God and the rest of the Politburo at the top of the Kremlin with the open bar and bottomless caviar bucket while God's most faithful servant was freezing his loyal nuts off in what passes for a Moscow spring day. Because the very next thing that God does after Satan razzes him about Job's loyalty being bought and paid for is that God says "hokay, I'll prove it: whack Job's family, his business, his slaves, chattel, cattle and rattles for that matter, waste 'em all and Job will still march on Godday without flipping me off"

Which is even weirder than all the other weird stuff. Because if there's one thing that Satan likes to do it's kill, rape, infect, cast aspersions, bowdlerize, insult, tease, mock, irritate and mildly vex God's people. It's what he lives for (does he? I mean live? Do angels live or do they exist and what's the diff? And if I tell Satan to get a life does that hurt his feelings? Or does he just go kill someone?). So why would God give Satan his 'heart's' desire given that Satan is supposed to be anti-God and all, isn't God supposed to be punishing Satan? Instead he seems to be underwriting Satan's brutal torture of God's top servant, Job. And not only that, it's God's idea. Which if you're Job, has got to burn. But not as brightly as the houses of his kids and his barns and every other asset or fixture that he had because Satan absolutely wasted JobCorp, down to the ground.

Then Job's wife comes up to him. Now isn't that just like Satan - given the mandate to waste JobCorp to the ground, the one thing he spares is Job's wife so that she can rag on him 24x7 about how he screwed up and didn't fireproof the barns and the kids and how she told him he should have gotten more insurance and that now that the servants were dead he was just going to have to make his own dinner because if he thought that she was going to do all this work just because everyone had been burnt up by the Devil he had another thing coming and anyway why didn't he just flip God the bird and get it over with so she could go back and marry that Chiropodist like her mom wanted, not Mr. "I'm so tight with God" and so on and so forth. Satan truly is a rat turd, isn't he?

So the next Godday comes around and all the muckety mucks file up onto the Kremlin roof in the brisk Muscovite breeze. Satan is looking particularly natty that day in a cranberry colored cape and tights combo that he nicked from the Archbishop of Canterbury, you know, the one that got sent to hell for saying Jesus was just this guy with a swell personality (okay, so it could have been any of them, don't be so literal). And the ants go marching by so to speak and everyone's craning to see Job and whether he's going to win the bet for Satan and everyone's a bit aflutter about the whole thing because it's not very often that anyone gambles with the infinite God who sees and knows everything. I mean have you ever tried to draw to an inside straight when Big Guy is sitting across from you? You lose every time. So this was quite the unusual occasion and as Job rounded the corner leading a couple dozen singed crippled cattle and chattels (Satan made a note to torture his burn crew for inefficiency) we noticed that Job's face was blubbery and barely in control but that his hands were resolutely in his pockets a fact that Satan tried to make light of with a crude pocket pool joke but everyone could tell that God had won and were patting the big Guy on the back. Well, not really, because to touch him is to die a rather horrible death, but you know what I mean.

                                                                      * * *

So as Job strides awkwardly into the sunset hands firmly trousered, God turns to Satan with a big grin.# This not being Satan's first rodeo, the pink poltergeist deadpans: "sure, Job can take the death of his kids and corporation - who cares about all that stuff, it's just a hassle, but let him start getting it in the shorts, with scabies, rabies, cankers on his wanker, shingles on his dingles and so on and he'll most definitely flip you off next Godday." And believe it or not, God buys Satan's line of hooey again. If I could get ten minutes alone with Our Lord, I'm sure I could sell him on a Whole Life policy - the premium would be infinite. Particularly when you remember that God is immortal which judging from the gap jawed credulous reaction that God gave to Satan's BS He won't consider until after He signs the paper work.

He'd probably just send the premium notices to Job for payment and if you recall, Job is seriously broke and as Satan spoke was already breaking out in an untold number of different rashes and painful conditions. Fortunately with trousered hands, he was able to discreetly deal with the discomfort while still on the parade route. But when he got home, or more accurately hovel, he yanked his hands out of his pockets and did a full body scratch, screaming: "Zits? You kill my kids and now you give me zits? Satan you bastard!".

Job had friends, like he had a wife. And just about as useful to a broke bezitted wreck scratching his itching and weeping sores in the ashes of his suburban Susa split level. They were very respectful, quietly coming up:

"Job? Job? JOB!"

"Wha? Oh....id's you, Sol"

"Yeah, how're ya doin' buddy?"

Job is having a hard time talking on account of all of the sores on the inside and outside of his mouth so he motions Sol to come closer.

"I'm habbing a widdle har dime dawking"

"Having a bit of talking trouble are you Job?

"Des. Ids beddy hard do dalk wid all dese sores"

"So I see, so I see, say Job I wanted to...."

"I don dink God likes me mush annymore"

"Well you see that's what I want...."

"Cause he led dad Sadan guy kill my kids and gib me sores and wreck my bidness, whid sucks, de basdard!"

"Who God or...."

"Sadan, sadan is the basdard, tho God led him basdard me, why did God led Sadan basdard me, Sol?"

"Well isn't it obvious, Job? You must have done something really bad."

"I cand dink whud I did, my wif said dad I did a bunch of bad dings to her bud i don dink God dinks dose are bad dings. What bad dings did I do do God, Sol? Why wond he dell me? I ask him in prar and he dond dell me anyding ad all. Why dond he dell me noding, Sol?"

"Well you must have done something wrong, Job, because God wouldn't screw with you just to win a bet with Satan or something. He only does stuff like this to people for the best of reasons. Maybe you should just flip him the bird next Godday. I mean anything's better than this."

"No, Sol, I didnd do anyding wrong so I dond wand do give God de bird. God gave me lods of good dings and so now he gives me evil dings so I need to take the evil wid de good."

I note this passage because Job makes a very strange point (and Yes I know that it was his wife and not Sol he was talking to and that Sol is just a composite of his friends, my you are being miss Suzy Sunday School today aren't you?) that the God that gave him 'good' things is also justified in bringing him 'evil' things and I guess bringing Satan around for Sabbath dinner definitely falls into the evil category. But this good and evil dichotomy is quite significant,....it's just on the tip of my tongue, yeah, it's sort of like that yingyang, no, that's not it, that's dirty or Korean or something. It's Munchkinism, yellow brick road and all. No, that's not right either, less Wizard of Oz than Wizard of Id and that's Manichaeism! Yeah that's right! Manichaeism is where God brings both Good and Evil in one package but I thought it was verboten or verklempt or something. Because if I remember my church history didn't St. Augustine fight against the Manicheaters? Or was manichean just another word for crab grass because Saint "A" certainly did invent an important warm weather varietal grass that he planted all over the City of God, even the bits that weren't warm and humid, hence the crab grass problem that he had. And a yard half full of St. Augustine and half crabgrass would definitely be the Yin and Yang of lawncare.

And then there were the Hippos, I think Saint A fed the grass to Hippos, didn't he? Or something like that. If not, why was he of Hippo? Was he fat?

Anyway, Satan, with the enthusiastic endorsement of the One True God or the Tri Un God (funny how they sound the same, isn't it?), did another round of unholy hammering on Job. He hammered his skin, his mouth, his nasal passages, his (crotch), his legs, his arms, his butt, absolutely everything except his termagent wife which is definitive proof that at least some wives are in league with the Devil to torment their husbands. Ladies, you know who you are.

But Job didn't break. Not a yelp or half baked gesture came from the stinking, pus covered, quivering mess that Job had become. He resolutely refused to flip God off or even bitch slap his shrieking wife. And when Godday came around and Satan wouldn't let any of the surviving cattle or chattel carry Job past the reviewing stand, he dragged his own scrofulous body trailing a smear of necrotic flesh and pus behind him to the hushed nausea of the waiting throng. It took him forever to do this so most of the throng got over their hushed nausea and took the break in the action as their cue to leg it to the concession stand. So nobody actually saw Job drag over the finish line except for a small child who told him he stank.

And God. To give God his due I think by this time He was feeling rather guilty at all of the misery he had let Satan put Job through. But the official line is that God's perfect and all seeing and knowing and a snappy dresser to boot, so he didn't come too close to Job lest his gleaming raiment be spattered with phlegm. But he did see that Job was compensated for his troubles. He got new wives (which ticked 'ol Termagent off to no end "I told you that if you didn't flip off God you'd end up with new wives, didn't I tell....") and a bunch of new kids plus tons of even better cattle, chattel and rattles and it wasn't long before JobCorp was trading on the Big Board and Fortune named him 'Comeback of the Millenium'.

And Job still praised God and was the keystone in His church. But when it gets quiet and he's all alone, he thinks back to one particular little red haired girl. She would sit on his lap and he would look in her crystal blue eyes and tell her that 'I love you and so does God'. And he can't help but remember his granddaughter's shrieks as she was burned alive at the behest of Job's 'best' friend: the One True God.
So is Job better now? Yes. Is Job as he was before? No. And while Job loves God, it is a love shot through with fear and horror at the monster that at any moment He can - and no doubt someday - will become again.

                                                                         * * *

Job is an interesting book because it portrays a God that apparently challenges the fundamental assumptions of believers whether they are Muslim, Christian or Jew: That God is perfect and being perfect is perfectly good and being perfectly good is deeply interested and invested in our good. Or what I call the Tri-Perfecta: Perfect God, Perfect Good, Perfect for Us.

And the reason Job is such a great lens (look mom, no hands: I’m using academic clichés in a coherent English sentence) through which to look at these fundamentals is that at first glance, nothing God does in Job seems particularly caring of Job or his people, good, or for that matter perfect. Rather it seems that Job is tormented and his people slaughtered as a result of an off-hand conversation that God has with Satan. A conversation that could demonstrate:

That God’s not perfect – that he set into train a series of events that He didn’t intend or anticipate. It almost seems that in response to Satan’s trash talking, God is goaded into a bet that he later regrets.

That God’s not good – or more accurately God’s perfection does not conform to the standard that we have established for Him. We say that killing humans and inflicting needless pain on them are sins and are not good. But God’s standard could very simply be different: God could could be blessing us with persecution, torture, brutality and death because he knows deep down we like it (and Jew know who you are). Or God could be, you know, just not Good which means the rest of Job could simply be an incompetent Nixonian coverup of His screw up: “Okay Dean: you erase the tapes of the bet and the lives of the caddies that heard it. And Haldeman, first of all, get a better haircut you look like a damn Nazi and Mitchell, I want you to…..no don’t do anything because I know that you can’t keep anything from that drunk harpy of a wife of yours. Colson: for My sakes man, if you kill someone, do it quietly this time. And Ron, for once can’t you keep the frickin’ Babylonian press off of our keisters?”

That God couldn’t care less about us – he’s perfect and perfectly good but we’re no more important to Him than ants are to us. We have no moral agency, we’re just clever talking bugs who have wrongly interpreted the fact that once in a great while (about 2,000 years ago to be precise) God finds us amusing as evidence of a deep and abiding concern for us. It’s a natural mistake: my bloody ant farm is always petitioning me for more fresh cricket and sacrificing virgins to me as if I didn’t know that virtually all ants are virgins. Dumb bugs.

But if any of these things are true then Job undermines the whole point of the Bible which is of course ‘us 'n God' and how much God loves ‘us’ and the extremely complicated relationship that results from imperfect beings trying to interact with the tri-perfecta God (What else do you think we’d write about? We are above all a supremely solipsistic species). So Job requires believers to cling to God’s tri-perfection in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Which reminds me of the old kid and pony joke: A psychologist conducts an experiment that involves locking a child alone for a brief period of time in a room filled with horse manure. Most of the children - repelled by the ordure - retreat to a corner and softly sob until someone lets them out. But one kid reacted to the poo pile with joy, jumping on it and digging furiously. When later asked why, he replied: ‘with all this horseshit, there must be a pony around here somewhere’. Which is how believers respond to the overwhelming evidence all around them that God’s not Tri-perfecta: they’re busily digging through the shit of life for what they believe will be a pony. Above all, they want their damn pony.


#This is where I must defer to the authority of the theologians in the audience. Hello? I know that there aren't just crickets out there? So explain to me why the God of everything gets punked by a two bit defrocked angel? Or better yet, explain to me how a two bit defrocked angel gets by security and on to the wall on Godday, year after year after year as if he's Jesus' A list pal? Or even better than that, explain why the infinite God lets this little weiner get under his skin when any child knows what he's up to? Or better than all of them, explain why if God is so swell and powerful and clever and perfect and all does his best friend and his family end up on an all expense paid tour of the ancient Auschwitz?

#Which raises another question: Why should God give a rip what Satan thinks? Honestly, you'd think that Satan had something on the Old Boy the way that He simpers and minces around the little devil. It's positively nauseating. In a very spiritual and I'm quite sure perfect way, of course.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Why war torn Beirut and GI Joe beat peacetime Athens and ruins any day

When I was a boy our family moved to Abu Dhabi. Abu Dhabi in 1968 was not the skyscrapered 'city of international destiny' that it bills itself today. It was a sand blown pile of nondescript concrete block buildings that smelled vaguely of sewage. Perhaps because a common place for people to defecate was the side of the road. There is nothing quite like coming from chock full of toilets America to a place with casual open air dumping. For a boy of six it was….liberating.

Needless to say back then Abu Dhabi lacked some of the 'finer' things in life. There was the "Beach Club" which really was on a beach, hell, the entire island was a beach. It was composed of a quonset hut with a bar, dartboard and snooker table. And about a dozen air conditioners. I submit that Willis Carrier is the true founder of the modern Trucial States. Trucial States was what they were known as back then. Known as that because the British Empire told the Saudis and the Persians and the French to 'sod off' and wrote 'sod off' in genteel treaty language. Besides it sounded so much better to call them that than the "Sod Off States".

So in order to get its technical experts to move to Abu Dhabi my Dad's oil company had to let their wives and kids move there (this being in the dark days when sexists roamed the land) and to get the wives to go had to promise them that they could 'get out' for two weeks every fall and spring and 'really get out' every summer. This perplexed the burkha clad native women squatting by the side of the road who - considering the recent innovations of electric lights, potable water and in particular St. Willis' air conditioners - thought things couldn't possibly get any better.

Nevertheless we got to go to Beirut. Now I know what you're thinking: what a cool place to go for a young boy what with all of the incredible inter-communal violence, mayhem and what have you. And I confess that back then we boys, having been raised on a constant diet of Vietnam firefights on Walter Cronkite were definitely down with that famous song: "All we are saying is give war a chance". I mean the rest of the nightly news was just old dudes yammering at each other. But war….war was well, you know. But tragically for us, though not for the Lebanese, war had not yet come to Beirut. No, back then Beirut was known as the 'Paris of the Middle East'. And unlike most of the places that call themselves the "Harvard of this and that" it really was. The French have many flaws but creating really nice cosmopolitan Mediterranean burgs that are then progressively destroyed by third world socialists and radical Muslims is not one of them. Everyone agreed: Beirut was way cool. We stayed at the Hotel Phoenicia - a gleaming modern 30 story tower a few blocks from the beach not that we ever went - after all we lived in a bloody beach. But they had a pool that had a window in the bottom that looked into an elegant bar and we never lacked for new and controversial ways for making the bar's patrons spill their Kir Royales.

The only real flaw of Beirut was that it was all in French. I had a great love for Hergé's Tintin graphic novellas but they only sold the Francophone versions in Beirut. That didn't stop me as I simply pretended I could read French and surprisingly the stories became more interesting for it. But no flaw, no lack of salutary military violence, no silly French argle bargle could take away from Beirut's most dazzling, brilliant attraction: toy stores. Beirut back then had at least one (and maybe more, in my enraptured state I didn't notice details) toy store that rivaled FAO Schwarz - if President Eisenhower had given a speech about it he would have called it a Toy-Industrial complex where one awesome toy store begat another until toy stores ruled. I think this was because at the time Beirut was the only truly civilized city in the Middle East and so everyone who was anyone came there - hence the awesome toy-age. This store kicked Tulsa toy stores into the toilet - they not only had every possible variant of GI Joe (and this was back when GI Joe was big and had articulated arms that could wrap around Barbie so that he could be her boyfriend unlike that faker Ken) they also had GI Kraut and GI Jap back when those guys were just our allies and not the politically correct whiners that they are today. Needless to say, it was almost heaven on earth.

Which was why we were so excited when we came back for a visit in 1969. The first thing we noticed when we landed was that quite a few of the Middle East Airlines Comets were parked off of the tarmac. In blackened pieces - I mean they were pretty old and spectacularly dangerous planes to be a passenger in but still I didn't think all of them would crash at once. Apparently the PLO had done this and then the Israelis had done that and then the PLO had said "oh no you don't" and then the Israelis had gone "oh yes we do" and then the PLO had said "so's your old man" and the Israelis in righteous response had blown up Lebanon's airline. Which seemed a bit tangental to us but nonetheless it was cool. Blown up planes, tanks and militias with AK47s at checkpoints, desultory firefights chattering in the distance, the entire city locked down - I mean what more could bored boys ask for?

What we didn't ask for was being forced to hunker down in the apartment of my Dad's company's local representative while he furiously worked the phones to get us the hell out of there. We couldn't even look out the windows because the namby pambys were terrified of snipers. Talk about boring. Well, except for the chatter of the AKs and the booms of the heavier 'ordinance' as we liked to call it.

So to make a long story short, Dad got us on a flight out to Athens - Greece, the cradle of Western Civilization, the birthplace of Democracy, the font of something else that I can never remember. And the absolute most crapulous place for young boys to be stuck in the entire world. First of all the hotel was one of these old 'prestige' piles with all the guys dressed up like midget generals and tea time and absolutely no swimming pool with or without the moon window. And on top of that, in 3,000 years of civilization the Athenians had never figured out how to make a bloody toy store. The entire country was apparently a giant toy desert. No GI Joe, not even the basic one was to be had in that dark, benighted corner of the world.

And that left us to the tender mercies of archaeologists. In our naïveté we had not imagined that such dark, evil men existed. People who spent their entire life digging up old fallen down buildings and teacups and such so that our parents could drag us from one desiccated white pile to another while ceaselessly wah, wah, wahing, about 'the glory that was Greece'. They dragged our keisters to the top of the Acropolis and force-wandered us around that execrable pile for the better part of a day. They then put us on a tour ship - which was great until we figured out that the guys that ran the ship had no sense of adventure and wouldn't let us do a damned thing except sit like old people or walk up and down two flights of stairs over and over again. Which is what my brother did because he's weird that way.

And to add brutal irony to cruel insult when the boat got to where it was going what did we see? Another bloody Greek ruin. We were dragged from Doric this to Ionic that and don't talk to be about the gosh darn Corinthians. It was a dark time for the Reeves boys, let me tell you. We would much rather have been back in Abu Dhabi making fun of all the roadside crappers.

I can't speak for anyone else but at least in the late 60s for young boys like us, Beirut kicked Athen's ass. Hard.

Toadstronauts of Jakarta

My father was in the international oil exploration business - he and bunch of other geologists, geophysicists, petroleum engineers and drilling experts were sent into countries to find deposits of oil and gas - usually before the country in question had 'struck it rich'. My Dad's company liked to do this in mob form. They'd decide that a country was ripe for exploring and bung in a dozen technical experts at once - along with their families. And that meant hotels. Usually the best hotel (or the only one) for all of the families all at once.

Which always surprised me because it was a profound mistake. Not so much by the company - they got a group rate, economies of scale in transportation and they could keep an eye on everyone but boy was it a mistake for the hotel. Because we were what was known in the vernacular as 'oil field trash' - called that because it was said that we 'blew with the wind' from here to there and beyond. The term also signified a certain cultural something I'm not quite sure what but definitely the opposite of je ne sais quoi. Now in our defense we were very high class oilfield trash, our dads mostly had college degrees. Heck my mom even sang in the Kebayoran Baptist choir. So in general, we were a real step up from the Joads which is what the hotel management must have been thinking: "lots of rich Americans paying twice the going rate and thinking that they're getting a volume discount, what could go wrong?"

Boys. That's what could go wrong. There is something truly glorious but also frighteningly feral about boys running in a pack at a large international resort property. Indeed, as far as we boys were concerned the time we spent at the Hotel Indonesia in Jakarta, Indonesia was "bliss in that dawn to be alive" with us as sans culottes (although we usually did) and the hotel as the Bastille. And we certainly took Hotel Indonesia by storm.

Like the time we snuck into what was then a rooftop gourmet Chinese restaurant and took turns being spun on the biggest lazy susan you have seen in your life. We got one of the younger boys to go for the record and to our amazement he generated what we believed to be the widest spiral dispersion of vomit that any upscale, gourmet Chinese restaurant had ever experienced. I can't confirm that because of course we were long gone. Even the little hurler because in those days we held to the Marine ethos: leave no man behind, even if they're covered in puke.

The Great Anti-smoking Crusade
But we weren't always anti-social. Sometimes our activities reflected a strong commitment to making our world a better place. Before we were exiled to Jakarta some of us had been indoctrinated on the evils of tobacco at the Singapore American School. Back then they laid it on pretty thick. I mean after the (chain smoking) principal gave a little speech about how "'cough, cough' these damn things will kill ya, 'hack, snort', call 'em coffin nails myself" we were treated to nonstop guts, goofy brown lungs and dudes with no jaws smoking through their neck. Needless to say it hit a nerve. And we decided that something must be done. So the hotel had a bunch of bars and lounges and of course each bar and lounge gave away little books of matches with its logo on them for the convenience of the dying wretches. So it was child's play to detail the smaller boys to snaffle every single match book they could get their hands on in the hotel because during the day all of these bars were empty and open. As they would remain until the hotel went into (a perfectly understandable) emergency lockdown some weeks later.

Now I know what you're thinking: awesome Meth raw. Suffice it to say had we known about Meth we certainly would have given it a go and I have no doubt some of the boys went on to very lucrative careers in recreational drug distribution but back then Meth was still a twinkle in some stoned chemistry student's eye. No, we were more into straightforward revolutionary pyromania. Do you realize just how big a fire hundreds of books of matches can make? And you can't imagine how fast people get upset. I mean they went to pieces faster than a falling Jenga tower - people yelling, running around with Indonesian fire extinguishers (you know, the ones that they told their boss they had gotten recharged but didn't so they went pphhhht and stopped), hoses, etc. But we could have told them not to worry because this wasn't our first match fire rodeo - we had done the same thing three years earlier at the Cuscaden House hotel in Singapore on their rooftop garden and pool area no less and nothing really bad came of that. So by the time the first responders actually responded with something that could be termed a serious response the fire had burned itself out along with most of the evidence. They must have thought us particularly inept fire starters: "after all, look how many matches they had to light to get it going."`

Love Javanese Style
Sometimes we let our thirst for inter-cultural understanding get the best of us. The hotel was the venue for some of the biggest society weddings in the country - they'd rent the great hall and invite half of Java for the big day. These were mostly formal Javanese/Muslim weddings and this may be my eurocentricity talking but it didn't look like much fun for the bride. Through most of the proceedings which included a lot of eating and cocktail party chatter the bride sat up on the stage in a little throne like a stuffed kewpie doll. She couldn't move, drink, pee - well maybe she could pee if she had....never mind. She just sat their and took it. Or maybe she was petrified at the thought of her wedding night. I dunno, I was just observing from the catwalks above. It turns out that there was a full complement of lighting and sound booms strung across the great hall with catwalks for the techies to get to and fro. We made these our own little Fagin's getaway so you can understand how irritated we were when this ridiculous wedding got started below us. So anyway, I was getting bored with the proceedings when little idiot Dave ignored our warnings and stepped beyond the catwalk onto one of the bars. He of course slipped and would have fallen to our punishment if not his death had not his brother caught him by the ankle. For some reason probably divine, little Dave who usually was the loudest of loud mouths kept his yap shut while dangling in full view at the very back of the great hall - right above all of the people who fortunately for us were at that moment focused on making quite a bit of racket. I looked quickly around, certain someone had seen him hanging by an ankle. And of course someone did. The bride - I saw her, sitting stock still up on the stage, with her eyes locked on Dave as he was quickly yanked up. She didn't say a word. I think had she yelled "aaiieeeee! there are white devil interlopers in the ceiling, get them" it would have queered her wedding or something.

Toadstronauts
In those days we had an insatiable thirst for knowledge - we were always conducting experiments - or at least trying to do odd things. We were particularly fascinated by the intersection of aerospace and.....toads. It's a little known fact that urban southeast Asia is crawling - well hopping really - with toads, particularly in the rainy season where they breed a hell of a lot faster than rabbits and make a deafening racket. A few months later when we moved into our house we found hundreds of the green skinned squatters from the size of a tennis ball down to a cute species that could sit comfortably on a dime hopping happily in our yard. Our Chinese mutt Dicey and calico cat Jingle Bells had a taste for amphibian protein they had picked up in Singapore and evidently Jakarta toads tasted even better because both of them got such distended stomachs from all of the toadage that they could hardly walk until only the 'dimestore' toads, so to speak remained. Anyway, toads everywhere so it was all toad all the time entertainment-wise at Hotel Indonesia for a while. For example, how many toads can you put into an Olympic size resort swimming pool? I honestly don't know, but a lot. And can a toad survive at the bottom of the pool overnight until the kid who put it there remembers that's where he put his favorite toad? The answer is, surprisingly: yes.

The aerospace angle? Oh, yeah, aerospace: so we lived in a twenty story high rise that towered over most of the rest of southern Jakarta and Kebayoran Baru and such a privileged vantage point could not be squandered so we began various aeronautical experiments. We built gliders and glided them off the roof - that ended up being an expensive hobby since they were inevitably either run over or stolen upon touchdown. We also flew the small Indonesian fighting kites off of the 20th to see how much higher we could get them (a lot). And parachutes - we did a wide range of different types of parachutes with different payloads. Our best were the "Apollo" line of parachute and capsule combo holding three toadstronauts from the inexhaustible supply downstairs. That was how we found out just how indestructible the common Javanese toad is: not only can they survive indefinitely underwater but they can also survive a 20 story fall. We'd loaded up a "Gemini" capsule with two toads and gave it the old heave - ho only to have the toads mistake our 'ho' for their signal to bail. We dashed downstairs and there they were lying apparently dead on the driveway. But after a few minutes they stirred and hopped off. Into the parking lot so they may in fact have had a little brain damage. But still, it was a scientific triumph.

Pornographic Arsony
As was typical in our particular gang, each new attempt at something became more extreme until something untoward happened which we took as our cue to shift to a new entertainment. This happened with aerospace when my younger brother (PBUH) and his accomplice Ben F. decided that if parachutes were cool, then parachutes with flaming boxes underneath them would be even cooler. Incidentally, Ben F. was a kind of evil semi-genius, he was always scheming some new outrage like a Dr. Evil of the elementary set so to speak (I exclude his full name just in case he has achieved his lifelong ambition to become a real Dr. Evil, you never know). As I said, he was my brother's best friend at that time and they ran what they called a 'movie' company but what was in reality a child pornography ring whose most valuable asset was one short 3 minute 8mm clip that my parents took of me when I was 3. Nude. Except for a foolscap loincloth taped to my front saying Happy New Year!. My brother the porn king and his malicious minion would sell tickets. To watch me naked. And if my brother ever tries to pull a stunt like that again I'm turning him into the authorities. And don't think I won't, Todd.

So anyway my brother the porn king and his sinister Swiss sidekick set their box aflame and tossed it out into the great smoky blue yonder (Please note: no Toads were injured in this stupid stunt, only reputations). Unfortunately, a gust of wind blew the box into a balcony that just happened to adjoin the room of Ben's parents: Dr. and Mrs. Evil. So not having the key to said room and not wanting to be tried for arson in a country whose (for all we knew) prisons made those famous Turkish ones look lenient, we advised the young Mujahideen to run downstairs as quickly as possible and try to look innocent (not a simple trick with hard cases like them) while we casually sauntered up to the room, knocked on the door and pretended to smell something and inform the authorities. Suffice it to say, the hotel didn't burn down and all that was lost were a few singed pieces of balcony furniture. The porn ring got off scot free while we had fun listening to all the Adults speculate on how the balcony furniture in a locked room got burnt: 'lightning", "the staff are smoking their gosh darn clove cigarettes out there, I can smell it". Being hardened dissemblers we would just smile through it all and bask in the brilliant intuitive sagacity of our Elders.

Indo-tolerance
So you might be asking yourself: what about the hotel staff? What did they think of all the flaming parachutes and toad filled pools? Didn't they notice the lunatic Okie boys running around perpetrating mayhem hither and yon? Well you have to understand that the Javanese outlook on life, particularly back in the 70s was a bit fatalistic. After all, they had spent the last two thousand years first being conquered by the Hindus and made to carve and worship all these funky 6 armed elephant gods and such only to be invaded by the Muslims who made them burn up all the cool carvings and do the squat five times a day. Then these lily white honkies with big boom boats show up and start bossing everyone around with their quite sinister, Hollywood villain Dutch accents who then proceeded to get chucked out by the Japanese who had even better villain's accents and who didn't seem to last long at all except that they lasted a lot longer than the Americans who were the first ones to actually bring any money with them and of course that meant that they only stayed for a few weeks. Upon which the whole kit and kaboodle was dropped into the 'Indonesians' laps only there never had been anyone called an 'Indonesian' before so no one knew what that meant until a smooth talking politico named Sukarno (Javanese hate extra names, most of them go with one really good one) explained that Indonesians were in fact people who did whatever the hell he told them to do and promptly demonstrated what a big mistake that was by letting commies ruin everything. Whereupon he was deposed by Suharto (one name again) who killed a whole bunch of people because they were Chinese who weren't necessarily commies instead of killing the people who were commies who often weren't Chinese. So long story short, the hotel staff were used to life just being one damned thing after another and as far as they were concerned, we boys were just another 'damned thing'. That's not so say they didn't notice and get payback. Because they did.

The great Sen-sation
They did it in classic indirect Javanese style. We were lounging like a pride of satiated lion cubs on someone's balcony one day when someone spied a whole bunch of small rectangular pieces of paper strewn and blowing on the lawn out back. Currency, uang, jack, lettuce, money. Out back just blowing around for the taking. Enough currency for even our wildest flights of avarice. Needless to say we double timed it down there and filled several pillowcases full of the filthy lucre. And filthy it was - even for money. Filthy 5 Sen notes, shabby 50 Sens even some absolutely worthless 1 Rupiah notes which we threw away because even back then a 'Rup" was only worth a quarter of a US cent and besides....hey wait a minute. You don't think....and that's when we noticed the under gardeners and pool boys and chambermaids eyeing us as they went about their duties - giggling and pointing at us. It seems that we had been collecting old defunct currency from before the great Sukarno inflation and that it took 100 Sen to make one Rup which made a Sen worth .000025 dollars. We had just voluntarily cleaned up quite an historical mess not that the staff were grateful or anything. Indeed they spent the next few weeks smirking at us 'nouveau riche' idiots.

The lowering of the corporate boom and return to normalcy
It is a cliche trite but true that all good things must come to an end and so ours did with the lowering of the Great Corporate Boom. Apparently the General Manager of the hotel was from one of those countries like Germany or Poland where absolutely no one ever has any fun and not from Bandung as we had been led to believe. And there was definitely nothing indirect about his approach when he figured out who had been screwing with his hotel. So the hotel honcho calls my dad's boss who tells all the dads who then told all the moms. And all I can say is that it was good that school was starting up because all of those other boys, you know - the rotten ones - would have been really bored sitting in their rooms thinking about all the bad things they had done. Me? Being pure as the driven snow I tut tut tutted the "bad 'uns" as I turned to more refined pleasures.

I discovered to my surprise that girls weren't half bad



Author's Note:  Believe it or not these stories are all true. Or as true as I can make them over thirty years after the fact. We were serious pests back then - ask anyone. Some of you may think that I have gotten some of the details wrong which is probably true as my memory today is certainly no better than my maturity back then.  That being said, if you don't like my story make up your own damn memories - I mean faithfully record your memoirs for posterity. Then we can have a memory off.  God help us

Cancer man


Photo: My Dad staring down cancer as he has every day for the last 8 years. To look at him you wouldn't think that he's outlasted everyone that had his diagnosis.  By day he's a courtly grandfather with a bad Oklahoma Sooners habit. But at night he becomes Cancer Man: scourge of the three different cancers that have failed so miserably to kill him. Here we see him planning his next assault on their secret carcinoma lair.My Dad staring down cancer as he has every day for the last 8 years.  To look at him you wouldn't think that he's outlasted everyone that had his diagnosis.  By day he's a courtly grandfather with a bad Oklahoma Sooners habit.  But at night he becomes Cancer Man:  scourge of the three (well two plus a nasty dysplasia) different cancers that have failed so miserably to kill him.  Here we see him planning his next assault on their secret carcinoma lair.




Ratmi's tale

Ratmi worked for my family as a cook in Jakarta, Indonesia.  She was a 30 something woman with a broad smile and more joy than could be held in her short, squat body.  She lived in a room in our house and was there most every weekday morning when bleary eyed, my brother and I stumbled down the stairs. 

Ratmi's faith was a characteristically Javanese mix of superstition and Islam.  We would ask her to fry bacon and because of the Muslim prohibition against pork she would reluctantly comply.  She'd stand as far away from the frying pan as possible with her head turned away, one hand tending the bacon, the other with a kerchief over her nose and mouth.  When she would get sick, she wouldn't take our medicines, instead she'd take a 20 rupiah piece (similar to a quarter) and rub it up and down her body until angry red stripes covered her skin.  It 'got out the poison', she explained.

Ratmi was no respecter of persons or status.  We would constantly try to get her to subvert our mother's rules about in between meal snacks.  She would look quizzically at us, draw up to her full 4' 11" height and shout HA! which was her way of saying that we were full of it and that if we thought we were getting anything out of her we were badly mistaken.

My mother spent quite a bit of time with Ratmi, teaching her how to cook Texas style.  It was widely acknowledged among my friends that Ratmi made the best apple and rhubarb pies in Southeast Asia.  My brother and I loved her:  "like a second mother", my mom said.  Our mother, shocked by the poverty and malnutrition happening right outside our front gate plunged herself into efforts to help the working poor of Jakarta:  helping found a not for profit business to source hand stitched Christmas ornaments, produced by the families of our servants and sold in the US and Europe.  But that left little time for her teenage sons.  So Ratmi filled the gap.

Ratmi had a son by a man who exercised his Muslim prerogative and divorced her.  The boy lived in central Java with her parents.  From time to time she would speak of her ex-husband in dark tones:  "he no good man, he bad", she would say in her broken English.  Her family held her employment by "rich" Americans in the strictest secrecy:  if her ex found out, he would no doubt find a way to exploit that knowledge for money.  Sadly, one day the inevitable happened and Ratmi came to my father in tears.  What was she to do?  The man was a gangster and had police on his payroll.  They had come, telling her to steal things from us for him.  She wouldn't do it and now she was marked for punishment.

In the kleptocratic 'paradise' that Indonesia was back then it was no use going to the police.  We only kept them from robbing us by regular bribes.  My father quickly sized up the situation and realized that Ratmi (and us, so long as she was there) was no longer safe in our home.  So he got her a job cooking for one of his company's oil exploration camps 2,000 miles to the east in Irian Jaya.  There in the jungles of New Guinea she would be safe from the big city gangsters.

We were heartbroken by her departure.  Ratmi was family, one of the things that made living in Indonesia among all the filth and pain and suffering a true joy.  We cried bitter tears at her departure.

Ratmi had a hard life to provide for her son in that poor, broken country.  But things have gotten much better.  Indonesia no longer pretends to be a 'statist paradise' and democracy of a sort has come to the land, along with more market oriented economic policies that have almost eradicated at least the visible malnutrition.  It's still a hard life, but I like to think that Ratmi is at home in Yogyakarta now, teaching her daughter in law how to make real, honest to goodness Texas "Sonofabitch" stew and apple pie....and how to fry bacon from three feet away.

Gangsta Nappers

I have moved down to Houston to be nearer to my parents and specifically to help my father get through his latest cancer ordeal.  It's been great spending time with them but I have to admit that enduring the pounding intensity of the Octogenarian Lifestyle is sometimes difficult. What with all the gangsta nappers and gunplay blasting from Fox News at senior citizen volume.

I particularly am struggling with the "get dad to gain weight diet" which has totally bombed with him but has made me the bomb - Fat Boy that is. I have about 15 pounds of excess uranium or plutonium or something really nasty for me wrapped around my midriff. I mean how many different flavors of premium ice cream and M&Ms and pies and half gallons of half and half for the Frosted Mini Wheats do they have to parade in front of me?  I am not made of stone.

I'm not surprised that Dad's not gaining weight because when I waddle with him down to MD Anderson they draw so much blood that I question whether the founder, Mr. Anderson isn't in fact still kicking if not alive in some crypt in the basements near the radiation oncology death rays.  Speaking of death rays, I can say with certainty that radiation oncologists have absolutely no sense of humor.  All of my Dr. Evil and secret Volcano Basement Lair jokes fell completely flat.  Must be a side effect of all that radiation.  Because I don't care what anyone says, I was funny.

Dad also got a new high tech chemotherapy infusion pump so that they could slowly poison him 24 hours a day.  There is really nothing quite so creepy is sitting in a waiting room with a bunch of pumpers, their "little poisoners that could" going screet, schroink, whoosh, rrrnk in complete disjoint cacophony. With everybody just sooo damn happy to be there.

I consider myself to be pretty tough, really - Ok, knock it off wise guys - but I can't take the kids.  The bald, half starved toddlers with deep circles under their eyes and the exhausted, frightened looks of their parents.  I have several long walk routines that I do to cope with all of the waiting - I think some of the staff think me demented because I pace and pace and pace - but I've had to stop going by the Adolescent and Children's clinic - I actually go upstairs and then back downstairs again.  I just don't want to witness sorrow that I can't do anything about. Not now, not with my father so sick.

So much for the poor pitiful meing.  I've been trying to get out more to get to a lower stress environment so I went to my international high school class reunion.  And I was struck by how old all my old friends looked. I concluded that they must have taken a lot more drugs than me because, damn!  Then I looked in the mirror.  I mean really looked.  And damn!  If I keep decaying at my current pace there is no way I'm going to survive the Octogenarian Lifestyle.

Just another day in paradise

I was having my regular lunch of 4 'gourmet' tacos (39 cents each, hot sauce and water included) on the SLU Del Taco 'terrace' when a lean bald man with bad teeth and a goatee came up to me clutching a crumpled up yellow page: "do you know how to get to Des Peres Hospital? Mo Baptist Hospital? Alexian? Which is closer?" We talked for a while about it "You don't wanna go to Des Peres, no bus", and "why not St. Louie U hospital?". The conversation was confused by another guy and his girlfriend who had definite opinions and were trying to bum cigs off of goatee-boy. "Hey howzabout a cig for a quarter? You don't wanna go to Des Peres, bad gig, it's Alexian for you, just take the Grand Bus to Chippewa - hey I gotta transfer, how about a cig for a transfer?" The interloper was a shortish man in a Hawaiian shirt that hung off of his lean frame, he was with a dark haired woman with a perpetual cigarette and too much flesh.

"Why don't you want to go to BJC? or SLUH? I asked? Or there's the Vet up on Grand..."

He flashed a conspiratorial grin "Well to tell you the truth, I'm lookin' for pain killers". The Hawaiian shirt interjected, vibrating like Rodney Dangerfield: "Hey, if you wanna pill, the place to go is St. Anthony's, they'll give you a Percoset there". "They useta give you a shot, really good shit, but they won't do that anymore, just a pill. They'll give it to ya though", he vibrated. "What bus do I take?", the goateed one asked plaintively. I shrugged, "dunno".

I had evangelical visions of intervening: "You don't want the pain killer, my man, you want Jesus!" with 'Jesus' said in the same orotund tones that Oral Roberts used to use on his show. But I didn't. I just got up and said, "Sorry, wish I could help you" and walked back to my office. Said a prayer though, "Lord help this man reach bottom quickly and when he does, please be there to catch him".

I learned from myself that you can't catch a man while he's falling. The truth is we don't fall, we strive and actually swim for the bottom, we're so certain about what we need. You've got to wait around until he hits it, until all of the shine wears off. That's when when you notice Him...right there, next to you. When you're all alone and no one else is there to help or explain or even to trade a cig for a quarter. I pray that I can be there when it happens for my friends and my family and even goatee boy and his newfound vibrating friend.

Because it's at the bottom where the miracles happen.

Cussing

Boys are the world's acknowledged experts on cussing.  If it offends, boys use it.  When I was at that stage we were moving around the world and every time we landed, my brother and I would set out to find out what was obscene so that we could use it with impunity until our parents caught on. (I know, I know, but it was a living.)

But we ran into a tricky situation in Indonesia.  Tahi (poo or 'shit') and kontol (penis or 'dick') were two words that we found immediately.  We ran around tahiing and kontoling to our hearts delight, certain of our transgression.  Then one day our pet dog tahied in a place thought inappropriate by our very respectable Javanese maid:  Ratmi.  She shouted out "aduh ada tahi!" "Darn (or ouch), there's some poo" while swatting the dog.  We were stunned.  Our respectable Ratmi had cussed.  But of course she hadn't cussed, she was merely using a language that being young hadn't produced words that had 'obscene' emotional impact.  You see Bahasa had not had a thousand years of Anglo Norman overlords to turn common nouns 'obscene'.

Bahasa (The Language) is a lingua franca that has its origins several hundred years ago.  It was developed by Dutch, Indian, and Chinese traders to communicate with the inhabitants of the over 10,000 islands in the Indonesian archipelago, each of which seemed to have its own incomprehensible tongue.  After Indonesian independence in 1948, the government standardized and adopted Bahasa as the national language.  Like Hindi, Urdu and Swahili, this 'syncretic' language overlays a rich tradition of local tongues.  One of the consequences is that Bahasa, being used primarily for commercial and external interactions has not developed the rich tradition of obscenity and invective that characterizes indigenous languages.  This was certainly the case in 1970s Jakarta where my brother and I were plotting our cussing careers.

I mention all of this to address an observation that my Pastor made in his sermon at church today.  In a sermon discussing the right and wrong ways to adapt the presentation of the Gospel to modern ears he pointed out that some Christians were advocating utilizing 'obscene' or 'cuss' words not only in everyday speech but in sermons.  This, needless to say, was not an example that he endorsed.

But should he have?  An interesting thing to do if you can pull it off is to hang out with people who speak some English as well as one of these other Lingua Francas and listen to how they use language.  When the conversation gets heated they often use Anglo Saxon obscenities to make their points in Hindi or Bahasa (or even Singlish).  Yet they don't come from cultures where those words have any emotional content.  When asked why they use one, they shrug or say because it was the best word, perhaps it is more fashionable or has more impact.  I think it's also because Anglo Saxon scatalogical phrases (shit, piss, fuck) have currency everywhere the way that the more sophisticated Anglo Norman words don't (defecate, urinate, fornicate) .  Everyone knows them and how to use them.  This was illustrated in one of the truest moments in the rather sophomoric (but hilarious) film "Stripes" when Harold Ramis is teaching an English as a foreign language class and asks the students if they know any.  One of them immediately pipes up:  "Son of bitch, shit!".

Why do the basest English words have the most global currency?  I don't know, blame it on sailors or Hollywood or even teenage boys.  But I do know that English has slipped any guide wires that used to constrain its development on its way to becoming the most ubiquitous language the world has even seen.  The result is 'proper' usage is becoming an anachronism as different cultures take the lingua franca and make it their own.  One of the more frustrating things I have experienced is to be  in conversation with three or four non-native speakers from different languages.  They are all speaking English and understand each other.  Me?  I struggle to understand them.

So what's the point of all this tahi?  Simple:  what is obscene in English is shifting.  As it becomes more and more the lingua franca that dominates world culture, it is much less useful to 'speak right' than to 'speak to communicate'.  After all uttering an 'obscene' word only becomes a sin when it offends or otherwise causes distress to a hearer (I of course exclude from this analysis those words that transgress the 3rd Commandment).  I think this is what those people that my pastor was describing were really saying. 

And I think they're right.

On crashing and burning upon reentry into the real world

They tell me that landing on a pitching and bucking aircraft carrier is an art, not a science - you have to have a feel for the deck and your plane. And the worst thing you can do is to come in too hot. Many an aspiring fighter jockey have had their hopes, dreams and bodies scraped off of the flight deck of one of our giant aircraft carriers that way.

Which is not unlike my experience reentering meaningful interactions with the opposite sex after 20 or so years floating embryonic in the weightless environment of marriage. I talked to lots of women in those days but it was just married talk - you know, like doing the tightrope two inches off the ground. Then my wife divorced me and turned off the life support, so I was forced to reenter life's atmosphere.

Author's note: OK, I'll admit that my metaphors are hopelessly mixed here but so was I so I think that my mixed metaphors are in fact a metaphor for my mixed up state of mind. And if you don't like that rationalization I've got some others we can try.


Ouch, baby, very ouch.

So I started talking - accidentally it turns out, I thought she was someone else - to this interesting, witty attractive person. It was going pretty well (was it?, well I thought so but what do I know) when some short person butted in and for one reason or another I never circled back round to continue the conversation before she left. And that upset me. Because I liked her and after several years living in a hermit's cave making rude noises any time a woman came near, I had decided that gosh darn it I liked women after all. So instead of playing it like all the manuals say - perhaps dropping a line a few days later saying hey it was good to meet you so on and so forth I, in my alcohol 'enhanced' state went in way too hot for an immediate email on my phone that....well, lets just say that it probably would have made the Pope paranoid.

Imagine the scene: it was late at night (of course) and I'd been drinking (of course) and as I furiously fingered my smartphone the airspeed warning lights began blinking and then the claxons started going eee-eee-eee. The guys in the control tower shouted "you're coming in too hot, abort! abort! oh for fuck's sake, you idiot." And then there was a ghastly silence as I hit send and then a ghastly noise as I crashed and burned and then an even ghastlier silence as I realized what I'd done. They're still scraping bits of me off of the tarmac, with a lot of tarmac mixed in.

It must have been so much easier (from a male's perspective, of course) when we were still living in trees and the alpha male just killed or drove off the betas before going off with whomever he liked. Except I suppose I would have been one of the betas. And there's really nothing worse than hanging around a bunch of losers talking to each other rather than talking to all the women around them. That's actually how I met my former-wife. I was stuck somewhere with a bunch of losers and for reasons still unclear to me I decided I was sick of it so I strode up to the most beautiful woman not being actively guarded by some baboon and started talking. Perhaps it was alcohol or a surge of testosterone or just the accumulated irritation of years of wasting my time thinking about women rather than being with them but it worked! And long story made short, she ended up marrying me despite me not noticing that she was taller than me - with heels, quite a bit taller.

But I dealt with that (and the envious, resentful stares of other men) by celebrating her statuesque presence rather than worrying about it. And while in the end we divorced, we managed the incredible feat of having a son and a daughter that are so beautiful and promising and embarrassed when I talk about them in such terms that I can hardly bear it. So I'll always be grateful that she married me in spite of her initial reaction which she admits was: "Nope, too short".

So once in a while coming in too hot pays off. Now if I could just get all of this tarmac out of my skin....

Kwashikiorkor Soccer

When I was a boy I lived in Kebayoran Baru, just outside of Jakarta, Indonesia. My house was the last western style 'mansion' carved out of the kampung or urban village. The kampung had few roads and was a clean but disorderly mishmash of tin roofed, concrete floored cottages with plaster walls painted in light pastels. The people were uniformly polite and on the typical day the kampung was as safe as a Church.

In a crowded city on a crowded island the only open space was the street in front of our house. So the local kids played there night and day. Once in a while I'd go out and play soccer with them. I was a small American boy but compared to them I was huge. Some of the children looked rather funny, they had distended bellies, stick thin arms and legs and had either lost their lustrous black Javanese hair or it had turned gasoline colored. They tried to play soccer but they were weak and moved around like old women.

For the first time in my life I was an athletically on top, outrunning these tiny, skinny kids, knocking somebody else down for a change. I was a 'stud'.

I didn't know - wait that's a lie - I didn't want to know that the fat bellies and stick thin limbs were symptoms of Kwashikiorkor - a disease of malnutrition. You see, while all the kids there were malnourished by my standards, the Kwashikiorkor kids were literally starving to death. Yet I knocked them down and exulted in my 'mastery'.

The science says that without aggressive nutritional intervention 2/3rds of KK victims will not live to adulthood. I've asked God for forgiveness for my arrogance, cruelty and willful blindness and I know that he has forgiven me. But I don't go a week now without wincing at the memory.

The truth is that while we can be forgiven for our sins the damage can never completely be repaired on this earth. That's why it is so important to protect your heart from sin in the first place.

My reality is that I earned this cross of shame and I will drag it to my grave.

A diamond in the rough

Dinner at the Shaved Duck with Robert Morrissey. Robert is Saint Louis' leading fine antique dealer. His shop is a (very tasteful and restrained) riot of ancient and beautiful things. At dinner he told me about the Stan Masters retrospective that he is putting on in a Manhattan gallery next month. Stan Masters is an American Realist painter in the tradition of Andrew Wyeth or Edward Hopper, He was from the City and produced hundreds of strikingly powerful pictures of old St. Louis - capturing its essence from a time long gone by. He died a few years back and Robert has been carefully collecting and curating his life's work. It is beautiful and I have no doubt that the showing will be (as they say in the NY art world) a 'triumph'. Wish I could go.

At dinner we struck up a conversation with the pretty, young and extravagantly tattooed bartender. She was remarkably "normal" for one so heavily inked. She showed us her various tattoos: "what's this gun and rose one for?" "Oh, that's for my favorite band: Guns and Roses." She gives us a mischievous grin: "want to see my favorite one?". We look at each other and vigorously nodding said "yes please". She then proceeded to lift her arm to expose her exquisitely tattooed armpit. "It's my 'diamond in the rough'".

Out the door into South Grand, poking in and out of stores. The used bookstore recently changed hands and is now owned by people who believe more in the power of computing than the printed word: "Do you have any Flannery O'Connor?" "let me look him up in our computer system - we have over 150,000 volumes....did he write fiction?". Sigh.

Back outside gazing in the pawn shop window - strange things for sale - a captains wheel, what looked like old fashioned leg braces and dozens upon dozens of nail guns and other expensive tools hocked by carpenters and journeymen made redundant by the economy's collapse. Into the Gelateria for some ice cream - I mean gelato - wonderful flavors - we taste them all. I never knew that chai ice cream was edible.

We went into an odd shop filled with this and that - the proprietor was a lean, voluble man in his fifties: "yeah I been retailin' ever since I got laid off at the drug factory". How does he choose his merchandise? "ya gotta know the neighborhood....when I had that store in Eureka there were lots of bikers - they like the leathers. But here in the city, they're into different stuff. " as he watched me finger a black studded dog collar that no dog would ever wear.

Back into the chill repeating old Monty Python jokes back and forth: "Shrubbery", "I fart in your general direction". Edifying, really. Back across the park, up the stairs. Home.

Just another night in paradise.

On loss

I was walking this morning. In the rain, the cold October rain with the wind blustering around me. I was cursing myself for not dressing for the weather when I spied a large blonde dog staring at me a block away. My first thought was of raised hackles and growls and began casting about for a detour when I noticed that she was being led by a stately older woman who was also staring. They both stood there as I approached, never taking their eyes off of me. As I neared, the woman called out "I'm sorry but this dog thinks you are my husband - he died two weeks ago and she's been looking for him everywhere, you look a lot like him". I bent down to pet the dog. When she smelled me the expression in her eyes changed from expectation to confusion, even sadness. I stood up and saw the same expression in the woman's eyes, disappointment really. "I am so sorry for your loss", "Thank you".

Yesterday I uncharacteristically went out the front door of our office, by our receptionist Nancy. Nancy is my age and is a feisty, enthusiastic, opinionated woman, which makes her good at her her job. I called out as I am wont to do "how's tricks?" she shouted back "great" and then as I was turning to leave she said in a low voice, almost a whisper: "my aunt's dying". Throughh red rimmed eyes that fought to hold back tears she told of how her Aunt 'taught her to be a lady' and looked out for her when her mother couldn't. I grasped her hand and held it over the counter while she explained how her aunt was the last living link to her long dead father and about the brain hemorrhage that was carrying her away and of her fears that she would linger as her father had. "I'm so sorry for your loss", "Thank you". "Can I pray for you?" "Yes".

It seems that when I see pain and loss in others eyes I experience more than simply recognition of their emotion, I feel it as a real substance that passes from their hearts through their eyes and from there into my heart where it illuminates the same loss in me. Only in my case it was not disease or death that left the mark but selfishness and pride. But the sense of loss remains the same, the pain and longing for a different path, a different outcome is still there. This thing that we all feel - that all Creation feels, even the dog felt it. This longing, this sense of brokenness, of loss. It is real and is deeper than any financial reverse or job loss or even death. It is in our souls and we long to fill it.

We can't fill that hole, though sometimes we try. God does that. All we can do when a friend has suffered a loss is love them,  walk with them and recognize their pain in our experience.  But make sure you stick by their side as they they pass through their valley of despair.  Never leave them alone until they are safely on the other side. Out of the darkness: where life and beauty persist.