Oh, I found this is my ‘blog drafts’. Never published it, so here it is.
Don’t know if an extended reflection posted on Facebook means anything, but it’s my #1 broadcast network where I can shove my opinions in people’s faces. At any rate, outside of posting on my blog, which sees an entry once in a purple moon, FB is the medium of choice.
OK, the niceties are out of the way. Seems to be a good time to put Prince’s death in perspective. since I’ve personally reached the acceptance stage of grief.
My generation grew up in the shadow of the 60s, a time in the US of great social upheaval, uncertainty, and horrible political assassinations from the Kennedys to King and Malcolm X. I ended up in the early 80s at UCLA, Los Angeles, which at the time was arguably the most important culturally alive place in the country, and at the dawn of the Reagan Era (that’s as political this posting will get – PROMISE!). I’m especially talking about the Punk Rock / New Wave / Ska scene, my circle of friends, and the stuff we did for fun. I feel ridiculously lucky to have been there at that time. I found and lost love. I found a solid set of friends. I found some cultural and artistic anchors in music connected in many ways to Punk.
At this moment, I actually have the longest head of hair (excepting the little bald spot on top, and the grey of course) I’ve ever had, but the second longest head of hair ended up in Jonathan Hodges’ 1970s Cadillac, the two of us driving down Santa Monica boulevard in that hideously large vomit green boat, with an 8 track of Prince’s first album blasting loudly “I wanna be your lover”. We were more than likely headed to downtown for some night drinks or eclectic food. Downtown LA was starting to develop an alternative night life scene, so naturally we were drawn to it. A lot of you remember the days at 850 Milwood (The apex of “The Toxins” era), or more especially 417 Pacific (and the days of the immortal “Sports/Leisure Den” where we all watched the Bears crush the Patriots in SuperBowl XX). That, and a host of other events in that house shaped many our lives, and again cemented some lifelong friendships. The music that drove us was led by Prince, Bowie, Roxy Music, Talking Heads, X, Dead Kennedys, the Minutemen (still in the denial stage for d boon btw)…and a ton of other bands (of course I’m listing my favs…sorry folks). In short, we came of age. We passed into this nuthouse called adulthood with great expectations, anticipation, and the thrill of independence and setting our paths. The art we took with us was seeded deep into our collective souls. What connected this art was knowing that our awkwardness was actually perfectly normal…that we weren’t really different or apart from the herd we thought we wanted to be in. I don’t know if this is too cliche or not, but these musicians were reassuring in that the points-of-view we were developing about the world…well, they saw it too. So, our musicians had affirmed what we were seeing, and could articulate it in ways unexpected and heretofore unimaginable. Damn it was exciting to experience. We could actually be OURSELVES!
So, on we trotted with life, assured that we were never going to die, and we’d take all this wisdom with us into forever. I read somewhere in the past week that the reason so many famous people are dying this year is because there are simply many more famous people in the world now, especially with how much more we are connected. So there’s that. But Bowie and Prince? Within four months of each other? While I can’t empathise with people who lose family members very close to each other (though my dad and his only brother died within three months of each other), the shock we’ve been through (or should I speak for myself) is just another reminder of fixing our values away from the material, and more toward our ridiculously humble relationship with each other, those who we know and love, and the universe itself, and this teeny tiny blue ball that 7 billion of us and counting call our home. I guess the best metaphor is that two walls protecting us from our own mortality have been breached this year, and we realize that, well, ok, we ARE mortal after all, so there’s that. It’s a thing. That thing is here and now, and is happening not just to the artists we love, but our parents, sometimes our siblings, sometimes our old school mates. We hate the fuck out of cancer, rightfully so.
But with each passing – celebrity or closer, life becomes surprisingly sweeter and more precious. We’ve hit the age where we understand it’s about doing what we love despite the circumstances, and realizing the power of the positive. Being thankful, being grateful, dancing when there’s no music, and looking at the world each day with intense awe, because, you know, it’s fucking awesome! “Because the world is round, it turns me on.” is still a good 1960s sentiment that has transcended generations. Facebook is addictive because, for our generation at least, it’s a huge daily reunion and celebration of who we are, and where we’ve decided to be on this roundly round Earth. We develop an even deeper appreciation of the art that informed us, and formed us, and we come to cherish all the moments we pass through.
It’s been a year of grief so far, music-wise, but also a year for us to recall what got us through those tough young high school and college times and made us who we are today. So, screw grief. Bowie and Prince and George Martin and Maurice White…and and and and…haven’t stopped us from being who we are. They’ll continue to assure us that we are damn near perfect who we are right now right up until it’s our turn to move on and rejoin the universe.
“And you may ask yourself
Am I right?...Am I wrong?
And you may tell yourself
MY GOD!...WHAT HAVE I DONE?”
- David Byrne (note: David’s not dead yet)
“U’re so good
Baby there ain't nobody better (Ain't nobody better)
So u should
Never, ever go by the letter (Never ever)
U're so cool (Cool)
Everything u do is success
Make the rules (Rules)
Then break them all cuz u are the best”
- Prince (Rest in Peace / Purple / Power / Partylikeits1999)
“Once we have surrendered our senses and nervous systems to the private manipulation of those who would try to benefit from taking a lease on our eyes and ears and nerves, we don’t really have any rights left. Leasing our eyes and ears and nerves to commercial interests is like handing over the common speech to a private corporation, or like giving the earth’s atmosphere to a company as a monopoly.” –Marshal McLuhan, Understanding Media (1965)
“The English language has been the linear tongue of colonial discoveries, racial cruelties, invented names, simulated tribal cultures, and the unheard literature of dominance in tribal cultures; at the same time, this mother tongue of paracolonialism has been a language of liberation for many tribal people.” — Gerald Vizenor
Mongolia’s calling! Is Nepal far behind? Norway is glowing! (the) Netherlands teach sublime! Ethiopia is growing! South Africa‘s kept to the time. Oh Uruguay stop your stalling! The United States still in its prime. Australia and New Zealand dance away the night.
Written July, 1996. Forest Grove, Oregon. For my Guardian Angel.
April 24, 2005, Jimmy Johnson drew this Sunday panel.
It’s a reminder to be patient. It’s a reminder to be observant. It’s a reminder to appreciate the glory of life, the cycle of death, the power of nature.
It’s a reminder to look to see what works best, what to do differently, how to surprise yourself.
It’s a reminder to do things with purpose, with meaning, with full engagement.
I’ve had this panel printed on my door, on my computer desktop, and figured this is as good a place as any. It reminds me so much of this, perhaps the best C&H of all time, given it’s Watterson’s goodbye to the bullshit. Lucky Watterson. He could afford to go out on top, with integrity.
I’ve done about 11 hours worth of coaching now, and this stands out the most. I think one of the main jobs of a coach is to listen to how people frame their challenges. As a long time language teacher, I’ve known of the challenges, especially in English, which is idiomatic as hell. We frame a lot of what we say in idiomatic terms without a second thought. So, listening to my clients talk about things reminds me of UN simultaneous translators. They have to listen in one language, and translate into another. I think a coach is doing the same thing…listening to someone’s challenges while at the same time translating what they are really saying into some other language of explication.
The example I can think of is one client mentioned how far they felt from their goal. I stopped the conversation, and asked: are you far from the goal or are you close to the goal, because in fact, my perception was the client was very close to the goal they set. This simple reframing, I think, changed my client’s mindset to some extent.
One conversation at a time
This is one of the fundamental tenets of the job of coach, to help clients focus on one aspect of their challenges. All four of the people I’m working with have myriad ideas, tasks, priorities, things to organize. One client mentioned that the product was very important, and so was the marketing aspect. This client also felt that there were so many things going on in their mind that it was almost impossible to know where to start. So, I brought up the phrase “one conversation at a time” and said well, you’ve talked about the products and the marketing, so perhaps pick one and go down that road. This was enough to get them to, yes, go down that road. The client was able to do some deep exploring from that point on, and did not fret about all those other things fighting for their attention. I felt I’d said the right thing at the right time.
Self-regulation is a vital skill to learn early on
In my full-time job, I have designed a professional development session on feedback. One aspect of feedback is to help learners to become self-sufficient through what is called self-regulation. This basically consists of employing three important questions as they learn something.
What is my goal for what I am learning?
Where am I now in relation to that goal?
What do I need to do next in order to get from where I am to where I want to go?
So, sure, these three are vital skills, but there’s more! Long ago, when I was doing teacher training for prospective English language teachers, I would end my sessions with three questions for reflection:
What worked best in today’s session? I now like to call this the Positive Psychology question. Appreciative Inquiry, another concept which I’ve developed a PD session for posits that you must look at things from an asset-based framework…in other words, what do we already have now that is working best for us? This is opposed to what is called deficit-focused, where people tend to ask: if I had this thing, which I don’t, wouldn’t it help me to achieve this? The issue with being deficit-focused is that the thing desired is usually something that isn’t coming any time soon. It’s akin to a useless exercise to dream about something that’s not coming, and much more useful to see what you have, and what you can do with what you have.
What would you do differently? I now call this the critical and creative thinking question. Doing something differently doesn’t necessarily mean the thing you are always doing is something that didn’t work and so needs to be changed. Instead, I am finding that I will remind people that even if something works, there is opportunity to innovate and improvise the successes, so that you have multiple avenues of success.
What surprised you? Of course, the Emotional Intelligence question. When I say surprise, I define it as something that happens that you don’t expect to happen. Again, this could be a good thing, though perhaps most people feel that a surprise is usually a bad or unfortunate thing.
I realized just today, that these three questions are part of the first two self-regulation questions, so I’m developing deeper questions for all three of the self-regulation questions. I have a lot to think about for this.
Early on, I was concerned about offering advice. The job is not about advice, it’s about reframing what people are saying so they can hear what they are saying, and answer their own questions.
What I’m noticing about myself is that toward the end of sessions I will speak a lot more than during the session when I’m working on questions to help me understand more deeply what the client is striving for.
When I get into this talking mode, it’s sounded to me like I’m giving advice. Maybe I am. I am working to distinguish this. However, i’ve started to tell myself that I’m merely summarizing what the client has been saying, and making inferences about what they mean in terms of their options for moving forward. In other words, I am offering them collaborative suggestions. In telling them what they might consider doing, I remind myself that this is also a collaborative relationship, and so this telling is part of the collaboration. What I need to do at times is to try to listen more to what I say, to make sure I’m not imposing my judgement on things, nor am I leading the client down a path they might not want to go. I shouldn’t be leading them at all, so the balance of reframing and leading is, I think something I’ll need to work on.
These are obviously preliminary thoughts, worth writing down here, and I know I’ll work through some issues I have and make sure I am subscribing to what a coach is supposed to be. Here are some other things to write about in more detail shortly.
Why a laser focus on SMARTER goals is essential
The best way to end a session
Why I think framing language that reveals mindsets is a very deep deep venture
Creating optional activities based on the conversations within a session
I’m just cleaning up my desktop on a lazy Friday morning (my Saturday, because UAE is a Muslim country with Friday/Saturday as the weekend), and I found this, so this seems the best place for it. From an MS Word doc dated 15 OCT 2017.
PSA – very, very long posting ahead…SPOILER ALERT…no spoilers.
Part I: Life is a Ride
“The world is like a ride in an amusement park, and when you choose to go on it you think it’s real because that’s how powerful our minds are. The ride goes up and down, around and around, it has thrills and chills, and it’s very brightly colored, and it’s very loud, and it’s fun for a while. Many people have been on the ride a long time, and they begin to wonder, “Hey, is this real, or is this just a ride?” And other people have remembered, and they come back to us and say, “Hey, don’t worry; don’t be afraid, ever, because this is just a ride.” And we … kill those people. “Shut him up! I’ve got a lot invested in this ride, shut him up! Look at my furrows of worry, look at my big bank account, and my family. This has to be real.” It’s just a ride. But we always kill the good guys who try and tell us that, you ever notice that? And let the demons run amok … But it doesn’t matter, because it’s just a ride. And we can change it any time we want. It’s only a choice. No effort, no work, no job, no savings of money. Just a simple choice, right now, between fear and love. The eyes of fear want you to put bigger locks on your doors, buy guns, close yourself off. The eyes of love instead see all of us as one. Here’s what we can do to change the world, right now, to a better ride. Take all that money we spend on weapons and defenses each year and instead spend it feeding and clothing and educating the poor of the world, which it would pay for many times over, not one human being excluded, and we could explore space, together, both inner and outer, forever, in peace.”
I would shorten this as indicated – an excerpt – and provide the link at the end.
― Bill Hicks (1961-1994), greatest comedian (until Dave Chapelle came along).
Part II: Question Reality
An open letter to self, regarding that graphic you posted just over a year ago…
Remember that challenge on FB, during the election season of 2016, to post about what three fictional characters best summarize your personality…well, time to reveal to yourself why you chose these three…
Let’s start with the woodcutter from Rashomon in the little box in the upper left corner of the graphic. Rashomon, Akira Kurosawa’s 1950s masterpiece. Film buffs know this film, because, like Citizen Kane, it broke a ton of cinematic rules in its day and was a sensation because of it….but Rashomon is a tale where one must conclude that it’s imperative to question reality on a daily basis. Is this real? Or just a ride? The storyline, four different views of a crime committed, left you baffled as to what actually happened.
Because that’s how reality works.
In the light of the crimes I and hundreds others in my high school alum community have just become aware of…we can’t piece together what actually happened in every instance… 40 YEARS OF INSTANCE …and we are stuck trying to see the facts as they were. From a LOT of different points of view. Knowing that each view will be a little different. But we know bad things happened, and there was a pattern to it all that’s about to emerge. Like the woodcutter, you are about to see the forest from the trees.
Maybe during those quiet times, when that man of in a position of power abused a boy (sorry to keep you all nameless, but there are names a plenty) to satisfy some primal desire without regard to the human beings he was using as sex toys … it reminds you a little of the arrogant Tajômaru, the thief/rapist in Rashomon proudly boasting of his heroic rape, and the noble fight the victim’s husband put up to defend her honor, and which he, the Great Tajômaru won.
The woodcutter’s tale of the fight is very different… Tajômaru was not a man of courage or a hero of any kind after all, but a small-minded imbecile who got a lucky break in the swordfight after he raped a woman …but then [SPOILER ALERT …] you learned the woodcutter himself also lied about a certain missing dagger. Woodcutter 2.0. The dagger mentioned in the wife’s testimony and in the late husband’s testimony to the police. So even the woodcutter’s story can’t be taken as the total truth.
You are like that woodcutter – both facets – and to be honest, everyone is like the woodcutter on Facebook to some extent. You put up your nice veneer, awesome times, good times, check this out… but there are holes in your stories and skeletons in the your closet, some which might not ever see the light of day. You are human after all, and the woodcutter bears this out. Even in times of honesty, there lurks some darkness below the surface.
No justice, no peace. Fear, not love. Just a ride.
This week, you are going to learn that lesson about justice again, when the stories get exchanged, everyone shrugs, and moves on, possibly with an unwitting embrace of the fear that bombards us daily. The woodcutter didn’t tell his story to a lawyer after all… and left out a little detail when he told the police Tajômaru’s story in a different light.
Most days, you are the woodcutter, wandering deep in a forest, hoping you won’t stumble upon the Tajômarus of the world. But they are everywhere.
“One of these days When you hear a voice say come Who you gonna run to? You gonna run to the rock for rescue There will be no rock.”
– The Slickers, Johnny Too Bad
Part III: The Catcher in the Rye
Then, in the middle of the graphic you posted, front and center and larger than life, is good old Willy Wonka, the Gene Wilder movie version (not the Johnny Depp movie version nor the Roald Dahl book version). Willy…what can you say about this brilliant guy? The Augustus Gloop scene sums this up well.
At first, Willy is pretty upset as he tries to keep Augustus from drinking from his chocolate river, he runs to try to save him, alas his attitude changes completely once the boy falls in. This is the concerned Larry, wanting to keep people from harm. Fear. Not succeeding. Woodcutter 2.0.
The mom screams “DO SOMETHING”, and then, out you come, the Jaded Brechtian Ennui(TM) Larry, in all your glory: “Help. Police. Murder.” spoken knowing the damage is already done, and what’s the point. Just a ride. It’s like watching a 20 year old age into a 55 year old in a matter of seconds. There are seriously no more fucks to give at this age.
It’s just a ride.
20 kids dead in a mass shooting? Just a ride. Guy plans to kill hundreds if he can with a bunch of guns but only mows down 60 and only injures 500. Puerto Rico. Trump blah blah blah FEAR…or just a ride. Help. Congress. Murder.
Then later, the part that scared the living shit out of me when I first saw it, Augustus gets stuck in the pipe. Willy matter-of-factly states, in the best Dr. Professor Larry voice: “Well the pressure will get him out. Terrific pressure is building up behind the blockage.”
Then old Punk Rock Larry (RIP D. Boon – miss you DAILY!) kicks in with glee in his voice and a kick in his step, while popping popcorn in his mouth: “The suspense is terrible! I hope it’ll last!” Yes, it’s a dark satire indeed, and you’d be a woodcutter 2.0 if you said you didn’t have that in you…that part emerges as a kind of last ditch effort to maintain sanity given the horror of the situation.
Multiple personalities trying to make sense of a world gone mad. You post politics all the time, but everything’s already in that chocolate river. What can you do but say: Help. Mr. President. Murder.
In the end, you give the factory to Charlie. The boy with a heart more valuable than a golden ticket. “The eyes of love instead see all of us as one.”
You are SO VERY MUCH Willy Wonka on a daily basis.
“Dema loot, dema shoot, dema wail” – Desmond Dekker, 007 (Shanty Town)
Part IV: Fake News
There are two Hobbes. This is the reality Hobbes. The stuffed, motionless tiger. The Willy Wonka Jaded Brechtian Ennui(TM) Hobbes, perched on Willy’s shoulder. The woodcutter Hobbes, telling the real story while still craving a hearty can of tuna fish. Is he a figment of Calvin’s imagination, or is he a magical autonomous entity? Am you real, or is this just a ride? How many political comics have you seen drawing Calvin and Trump in the same light.. and me, that imaginary foil to Trump, rolling your eyes, losing faith in all that is human. Do your exist in Trump’s reality? You are mostly the stuffed Hobbes to over 65 million Americans, and face it, close to seven billion other people.
Hobbes is a shapeshifter, that’s for sure, but only for Calvin. Me, only for American politics, it seems. Maybe for some people some of the time. That stuffed form resonates with you, doesn’t it? You’ve felt like stuffed Hobbes most of the time when dealing with politics…with people, and why you cling to your introversion and am perfectly content to have yourself as company. Yet on social media you go doing this type of live active Hobbes doing dances with Calvin and getting all up in his grill.
One time, Calvin took Hobbes out on a safari, and for whatever circumstance, left him behind. He got all angry and frantic at the same time. Calvin’s panic was palpable. When he found Hobbes, boy was he mad at Hobbes for getting lost. Calvin lost the stuffed tiger, and the living tiger ran away dancing in the forest with the woodcutter 2.0.
There are actually too many Calvin/Hobbes stories to tell, but there isn’t a moment when you don’t feel like Hobbes rolled round in earth’s diurnal course with rocks and stones and trees (apologies to WW).
It’s tough being Hobbes to the world of Calvins out there, many of whom are real, actual friends or acquaintances of yours (you reading this know if I’m giving you that living Hobbes stare at your RIGHT NOW).
Anyway, back to stuffed Hobbes, who explored a lot of the world with Calvin whether he wanted to or not. Remember the last strip, the fallen white snow, the world of possibilities to explore. Such delight on Hobbes face. Off they went to explore “space, together, both inner and outer, forever, in peace.”
Thanks for the explanation, Larry.
* Soundtrack to the 1973 film classic about the hard life Jamaican’s had back in the day, and you know the US CITIZEN Puerto Ricans and Virgin Islanders are having the same hard time right now…
“Many rivers to cross And it’s only my will that keeps me alive.”
– Jimmy Cliff
“Well, they tell me of a pie up in the sky Waiting for me when i die But between the day you’re born and when you die They never seem to hear even no cry So as sure as the sun will shine I’m gonna get my share of what’s mine And then the harder they come The harder they fall One and all. The harder they come The harder they fall One and all!”
– Jimmy Cliff
Anyway, back to stuffed Hobbes, who explored a lot of the world with Calvin whether he wanted to or not. Remember the last strip, the fallen white snow, the world of possibilities to explore. Such delight on Hobbes face. Off they went to explore “space, together, both inner and outer, forever, in peace.” Um, you just woodcutter 2.0’d didn’t you? You are really living Hobbes. Yeah, thought so. Thanks for the explanation, Larry.
The evening of September 10th, 2001, I lay on my back in the dark. I was on a secluded beach, barely 1/2 a mile long, on Tioman Island, Malaysia. The island is a two-hour speedboat ride due east off the southeastern tip of peninsular Malaysia. Take a few moments if you will, to locate the country on a map somewhere and see if you see the island. It’s shaped like a bowling pin.
Tioman is so far away from any city center that sure enough, as I had suspected, I was able to gaze up into the heavens, as I had many times and many years before when I served my country in the United States Peace Corps in Kenya. A lot of good memories flowed within and through me as I looked again at our glorious home called the Milky Way, and I could see where we on Earth are positioned within this galaxy, and I could remember again what tiny place I occupied in this universe of ours. I stared deep into that inky blue sky, savoring what might be my last chance to find such a remote place for a long time. The tide was out, and the waves provided the background music, while the salt air moved in and out of my body. I thought a lot about how good my life was, that I had a loving wife and beautiful daughter and that I could share good and bad times with them through my journey on earth. My view of the night sky was relatively unobstructed, as the waning moon would not come out until I was deeply sequestered in sleep in my air conditioned “chalet” that lie just 10 meters behind me as I gazed up. What was really exciting about that night was the anticipation of seeing a shooting star again. Our home, Earth, is showered daily with bits of ancient rock that find their way to our outer atmosphere, then, in a beautiful brief moment, they penetrate the atmosphere and tumble burning until they are vaporized. If you are good at using your peripheral vision, you can catch a star for the fraction of a second that it takes to burn up. If you are very lucky, you might even get a single second burn-up, or, for the very luckiest, a two-second show. A unique thing about this is that you are probably the only person on earth who gets this show at this particular moment, as if it’s a special gift, just for you…
That evening, though, I wasn’t alone. I had just finished the second of a two-day vacation there, with my good friends Julie and Ali Hassan (not their real names), and their good friends, another married couple Pesha and Abudu (not their real names, either), a nice young pair in their own right. At 39, I am a good 6 years older than Ali, who is the oldest of the four. They are all UK educated Malays with respectable jobs (Ali works for the Ministry of Education and I met him here in Hakodate Japan. Julie is a teacher. Pesha works for the formula 1 circuit in Malaysia and Abudu is a uni professor turned advertising man). They are, by Malaysian standards, upper middle class, though their income compared to US or Japanese standards, is quite small. I invited them to this special show on the beach, because, as Abudu had said…what are we gonna do without TV?!?! He said this in a half joking matter, but all of them are children of the media age, more than I. Ali loves his Playstation 2, and I brought him a popular game unavailable in Malaysia, but easy to get here in Japan.
The night sky induced a state of semi-dreaminess in the five of us as we lay there. A long silence was split by Pesha, who asked where the moon was. I said that it would be coming out later in the night. In a surprised voice, she said to me “how do you know that?” and my answer, after thinking back to my Kenya experience, was “I just know.”
I didn’t really realize how much Kenya was in me. One thing I learned there was the pulsation of the moon. I pretty much know whether the moon is waxing or waning. I pretty much know it’s cycle of rising later as it wanes and earlier as it waxes. I love seeing the crescent of the new moon, too. It reminds me a lot of the small ornament on top of the Witu village Mosque. Seeing the crescent is one of the most magical parts of moon watching, almost as if being present at the birth of a new child. Living in that darkness in Kenya made me appreciate the short life that we all have, and makes me live each day as if it might be the last. Work hard, play hard, love hard…the human condition.
After being on our backs in that inky, milky darkness in a half dream state for about 30 minutes of the greatest of all TV shows, the four of them decided to turn in for the night. Our trip back to Kuala Lumpur the next day would consist of a two-hour boat ride back to the mainland, followed by a six-plus hour bus ride, so they wanted to get their beauty sleep. I, however, took pleasure that I could be in solitude with the Milky Way for a few minutes longer, free of all the stresses of everyday life, and the eventuality of returning back to Japan to work. I took my time, hoping to glance a passing satellite, and follow it on its lonely journey across the face of the sky..but no luck. A few airplanes whispered across at 35,000 feet, and their blinking red and white lights heralded their passing, transporting people and families from one experience to the next through the secret night. I looked up again at the Milky Way splotched like a faint cloud behind most of the other distant specs of light dotting the sky. I looked at Pink-brown Venus, our next door neighbor, the brightest light in that night sky. It was so peaceful and beautiful. There I was again: standing tangent to the earth, waiting to leave the gravitational pull and drift into and through that vast expanse of gas and dust from which we all have come and must return. I’ll never forget it. I’ll never forget my time in Kenya…or those brief 48 hours on Tioman, where I got to see a Kodomo dragon slink away into the bush, a truly giant, and disappearing, species of lizard unique to the region.
“But the days grow short, when you reach September”
The next day, September 11th was different. It consisted of a two-hour ride on a larger boat. I shot some video of my four friends, and they made fun of me and we all had a good laugh. We ate cookies and chips and drank our bottled water. We waved at a few ships of the Singapore Navy resting at Tioman before pursuing, in conjunction with the Malaysian Navy, the South China Sea pirates, who roamed the area southeast of Tioman. We watched as we passed by islets tinier than the 6 mile by 2 mile Tioman. I dreamed of building a secluded house with a giant NO TRESSPASSING sign on one of the tiny drops of rock outcropping and establishing the Republic of Larry, population 3, and 3 cats. It was a nice fantasy. We arrived at the jetty town and waited another two hours for the bus. I did some quick email to people, bought some little gifts and said farewell to Tioman. During the sleepless six hour bus ride back to KL, I played a game that Ali had beamed me through his Palmtop, a game called “helicopter rescue”.
“When the autumn weather/turns the leaves to flame/ One hasn’t got time/for the waiting game”
In the game, I was the daring helicopter pilot, rescuing good guys who were jailed up and guarded by bad guys and their rockets, missles, tanks, planes and all sorts of bad guy things. I could advance to the next round by rescuing at least 9 of my 12 compatriots. I had six hours to play the game on the bus. There were so many maneuvers to learn in those six hours. The copter rising from the ground, fast forward, slow forward, hover, slow backward, fast backward, shoot straight, drop a bomb while hovering, safe takeoff, safe landing. I would lose a guy if they shot down my helicopter, or if I landed in the improper position. There was a line in the game that I could pass which was the safe zone. The enemy planes couldn’t shoot me if I were past that line. My little stick guys would rush out of the copter and into the headquarters building if I landed safely in my safe zone. I could only help four at a time, and had to return through hostile territory to help the others to safety. I worked my way up to being able to rescue 12 guys in each of three rounds before my three helicopter lives were used up. In six hours, I managed a score of over 1000 points.
At one point during the game, we stopped to rest for thirty minutes at a roadside rest stop. Malaysia has better than Interstate quality roads these days. They are 4 lane divided highways with large shoulders that band up and down the western side of the peninsula. The rest area was full of Chinese Restaurants and background music of Malaysian Pop Bands played REALLY LOUD. The bands were trying their best to imitate American pop bands, I suppose, and they pretty much sounded like them, only they sung in Bahasa Malaysia, the Malay language or in Chinese. I bought a mask from Sarawak, which is on the Island of Borneo across the South China Sea. There had been some ethic killings on Sarawak recently. People getting decapitated and whatnot nonsense. It’s a cheap tourist mask, to be sure, but I like the colors and patterns, and I’m collecting masks now that I bought one on my trip to Bali, the Hindu enclave in the world’s largest Muslim nation, in 1999. That was it for the bus ride. We got back to KL, said goodbye to Petra and Abudu, who disappeared back into the city of 2 million, and took the subway to a taxi and back to Julie and Ali’s. I showered off all that salt water, and dressed for my looming airplane ride: brown slacks and a long sleeve button down greenish shirt. Airplanes get cool and dry on long routes, and I was scheduled for a six and a half hour redeye commencing from 1:20AM on the 12th.
“The days dwindle down/to a precious few”
My bags packed and my body and mind refreshed, we went to an outdoor restaurant in the late evening. It consisted of stalls selling Indian, Iranian and Malay specialties. There were about 40 tables under a covered area. The menu signs were all in English, my favorite one said “we guarantee you fast service, no matter how long it takes!” Most of the signs, though, I couldn’t read as they were in Arabic. Most likely passages from the Koran, I assumed. I had some tandoori chicken and butter chicken with a scrumptious bit of roti bread, round, fat and very nice, to sop up all that buttery oil and curry. To top it all off, I had a mango lassi served, incredibly, in one of those two and a half liter beer steins you see if you drink in a beer hall anywhere in Germany. There was no way I could finish it. At the table next to us were two guys, one a Malay and the other, his friend, looked of Chinese extraction. It was gratifying to see, really, that Malaysia is a multi-linugal, multi-cultural society where freedom of religion is a very important part of the country, despite the rise of Muslim fundamentalism in some of the poorer northern parts of the peninsula. They were chatting in English to each other on this sultry night. Julie , Ali and I were all a bit tired from our trip to Tioman. Then, the Malay guy’s cellphone rang, most folks here have Nokias…they are everywhere and they are all manufactured here these days, along with most computers and hi tech stuff. We tried to ignore him as he talked, but he kept saying something about how first one plane hit, then another hit in the other building. Anyway, we were finished eating that delicious food, so I paid and we left…I had a cab to catch to the airport, which was still another hours’ drive away from where we were.
We drove over to Julie’s aunt and uncle’s house. They lived in a luxurious apartment in a part of KL where all the embassies are. The richest and most sumptuous part of town. Needless to say, Julie’s uncle is a very successful businessman. I was surprised, because I had met her aunt a week earlier, though I didn’t know it at first. The aunt had given me a ride to the Petronas towers, the second tallest towers in the world (China now has the tallest tower, in Shanghai, I think), which contains a gigantic, American style, American class shopping mall, all of six floors and possibly over 150 shops, including a 12 theater cineplex where I saw Kubrick/Speilberg’s A.I. for 3 US bucks. A.I. is set in a fictional futuristic New York City. The reason I didn’t recognize the aunt at first was that her head was uncovered. She wasn’t wearing the head covering that most devout Moslem Women wear in Malaysia, probably because she wasn’t out in public and maybe hadn’t expected us. She had beautiful long black hair, with heavy accents of gray, for she was, after all, somewhere in her early 60’s. Seemed a pity to keep that beautiful head of hair covered up, but that was her belief. I wondered why Julie never wore one, but her generation is obviously more liberal in its tolerance system. As we came in to the apartment, they led us to sit down and switched on the TV. They put CNN on. That’s when I saw first one plane hit, then another hit in the other building. Within 5 minutes, it was time for me to get into the cab for the drive to the airport. I stood outside with Julie, Ali, the aunt and uncle. My body was shaking. It was about midnight in KL, exactly 12 hours later than the real, non-A.I. N.Y.C. I shook Julie’s uncle’s hand, it was warm and firm. The aunt let me shake her hand, too. I said goodbye to Ali and tried to shake Julie’s hand, but she gave me a hug instead. I almost forgot to wave goodbye as the cab pulled away, because my body was still shaking. I tried to fix their four faces in my mind as I left. They were smiling, and I was smiling, or I imagine I was smiling, I can’t remember.
As I drove to KL International Airport, I couldn’t think of anything. We drove by the two towers, the Petronas towers. They were standing, the second tallest buildings in the world, the tallest twin towers in the world, encircled on several floors with beautiful lights, which nevertheless paled in comparison to Tioman’s magical milky way light show, but still, beautiful for their manmade attempt to recreate nature’s profound glory. The darkened highway was empty and we zoomed at 120kph, past Mosques silhouetted against the night sky, past neon signs in Chinese, Malay and English, with the occasional Tamil sign here and there, for there is also an Indian minority here. Just inside the lobby of the airport, again, were huge televisions, all tuned to CNN, and all surrounded by people watching first one plane hit, then the other hit the other building. I went to the toilet, which was situated next to a small prayer room for Muslims. My stomach was suddenly not so good. My appetite was gone. Later at the departure gate, I stood in line with the other Japanese returning to Nagoya. Next to our gate, we had to pass by a bunch of white South Africans heading back to Cape Town. Everyone boarding both flights was getting patted down in a newly meticulous search. First the arms, then the back torso and back legs, then the front torso and finally the front legs. I was asked to open all of my bags that I was carrying on the plane. I had to open a box of three clay cups I had bought for my family in the Petronas Towers mall a few days earlier. I had to unzip every pocket in my camera case, and pull out my video camera and show them that my telephoto lens was a telephoto lens. Then, as I entered the plane, I had to show my passport again, with its gold embossed cover, eagle with the thirteen olive leaves in one claw and thirteen arrows in the other claw, inky blue on the cover, like the night sky of Tioman. “Passport” above the eagle and “United States of America” in italics underneath the eagle. Then we, me and a plane full of Japanese and the sprinkling of Malays (the pilots, too, Malay as this was Malaysian Airlines) went shaking, or singing, up into the milky way obscured sky, turned to the northeast, I could see out of the left window seat near the rear of the plane those two towers again, such tall towers they were, twin towers, among the tallest in the world. Then, those two towers had passed away.
“And these few precious days/I’ll spend with you. These precious days I’ll spend with you.”
*Quoted lyrics from “September Song” Weill and M. Anderson
Never mind the small apartment, Or the vermin infestation. Those things mattered little or not at all. He did not care - for such trifles. Ignoring. Ignored. Ignorant. No. The time came when Mr. Wonderful was obliged to find his way through to the Gateway Arch, St. Louis, Missouri: The Gateway to the next world!
Rather than walk, or drive, or take the train, or commute Everyday, he chose just a single trip to Missouri. My guess is, it was in the unmarked white panel van, Adorned with nothing at all, parked facing away from outside the crematorium. In fact, it’s not a guess. Nothing about Mr. Wonderful was left to guesswork: only the appearance of the Sadness that kept pulling him away from me, from us.
By most accounts, his Art spoke for him. Unrepentantly unpracticed scribbles labelled “Green Eyes”, “The Red Lady”, “Self-Portrait”. Throwaway-able: one and all. “Professional Art”, Greg, his neighbor, said.
Really, though, “Self-Portrait” expressed it well enough: a head with an Empty face. Greg and Jane and Brian, all explained it: Mr. Wonderful was charming, but ultimately you would notice, As always, him holding something away. His face: Expressionless-in-Practice. Isolating. Isolated. Isolation. Not once could he face it, face us; so my brother and I, we helped push him. St. Louis, Missouri - pushed his expressionless body through The Gateway to his next world.