This last week has been a bad one. First my dog died, and then I turned 58 (you can imagine what that’s like if you don’t already know; that writing on the wall is not yours anymore, scribbling and doodling and making all kinds of graphs and graffiti; no that writing on the wall is bigger than all that, more like CAPITAL letters from the Big Guy). Actually I knew I was 58 before I knew that my dog died, but news travels slowly when it has to cross a major ocean at the speed of nought. My mother-in-law’s idea of high-tech is a plastic purple cheap-ass land-line phone with three bells and two blinking lights that looks like Mickey Mouse and shows you the number of the person calling, what Thais like to call “sho-ber,” short for “SHOw the num-BER,” two of the many hundreds of loan words that Thais have borrowed from English, and then proceeded to more-or-less create a new language with (unwashed peasantry need not apply), probably similar to what happened in post-Norman England with the Great Vowel Shift and all that. My dog lives in Thailand; did I mention that?
I don’t know why I should be so attached to a dog I’ve only seen one short week over the last four years, but that’s the way we are with our pets, aren’t we? We both should have forgotten each other long ago—I mean, pets don’t really think, do they?—but we haven’t. When we met up again a year-and-a-half ago after a two-and-a-half year break, he knew exactly who I was, even said something like “WTF?” under his breath, if I understood correctly. He sidled up slowly, not sure if he had some long-delayed punishment coming, but eventually bowed low in something like a Thai dog’s “wai” and snuggled up for some doggone love. We’ve had our problems, you see, cultural ones I guess.
My wife and her family let him get away with murder, literally. When he was caught in flagrante delicto calmly nibbling a chicken he’d just killed from a neighbor’s yard, they just pick up the carcass and act like nothing happened. I prefer to kick his butt. Then one day he came home with birdshot in that same butt. Guess who paid the vet’s bill. One of his friends didn’t fare so well. That did it for me. From there on out I adopted a no-tolerance policy toward his nonsense. When I came back after a long trip and found that he and his buddies were having rowdy play-fights extremely loudly every morning—at dawn—well, I put a stop to that in a hurry, over my wife’s objections, something like, “just let dogs be dogs.” Did I mention I have a wife from Thailand?
It seems the more we distance ourselves from other people, the more we love our pets. I’m not sure anything’s changed, really, and what has changed is maybe even better, like less of a dependence on BF’s and GF’s and BFF’s and SWF’s and all those formalities and designations. It can be more fun to befriend total strangers on FaceBook…sometimes. I know from my research into European hostels that that’s exactly what a lot of people want, pick-up party buddies, shit-faced friendliness around the continent and the world. Dogs just want to be loved, for the most part, or so it would seem. That’s their relationship to humans anyway; we bred them that way.
Like the evolution of corn as an artificially-selected food for humans, dogs and most pets are artificially selected for human companionship. For Joey, though—that’s his name—relationships with other dogs were another matter. There he was the alpha male, in his own mind at least. The other neighborhood dogs thought otherwise. For them he was a joke, the alpha male with the beta—for “birdshot”—tail. Anyway it’s all over now. R.I.P. Joey. He came from the local temple BTW, foregone and forgotten. They don’t have pounds. They have kilograms.
It wasn’t all wine and roses for me in Thailand. A lot of foreign guys there—yes, they’re mostly guys—claim to be in paradise. I wouldn’t go that far. I hardly had a book to read for ten years. Chiang Mai wasn’t too bad, not until I finished reading almost every book in the AUA language school’s library there. The city’s library was a joke, CMU library not much better. Ever been in a Thai library? It got worse when I moved to Chiang Rai. I even learned to read Thai, so at least bookstores became an option. Getting Thai Nat Geo was a monthly ritual, plus a few other ‘zines, too. I did have one book on CD-ROM, though, the Encyclopedia Britannica, one of the originals with long linear book-like passages instead of the constant back-and-forth that is normal now. So I read it over…and over…and over. Wanna’ know what language they speak in the upper baboon blush-red hiney-hole region of Ethiopia? I’m your guy…and I work cheap.
What I didn’t read much of was fiction. After all, “the novel” died back in the 60’s (or was it the 70’s?) or didn’t “they” claim so at least (“they” being certain at-large student critics with more off-the-cuff critiques than sweat-of-brow submissions)? So now that I’ve been back stateside for a couple years I realize there’s a whole body of work out there I’m out of touch with. And of course my long-lost just-found friend Barry—that’s Barry Wightman—has been putting me to shame, though not intentionally of course, with his finger on the pulse of everything novel and fictional, and even a hopefully-soon-to-be-published novel of his own called “Pepperland” that’s a rollicking good read. So I’ve got to play ketchup. I have library cards in three American cities, BTW, all with corresponding proof of residence—bills, statements, etc. I own no books of my own, except my own.
Surprisingly some of the names are the same—Pynchon, Roth, etc.—and I have at least read a few novels in the meantime, mostly travel-or-world-related—Naipaul, Iyer, Theroux, etc. But I assumed fiction as an art form was long gone, economics too pressing to allow for experimentation. So it was with some skepticism that I picked up a collection of David Foster Wallace stories to see if all the hype was (is) true. Of course prior to his suicide a few years ago I’d barely even heard of him, if at all. And he’s good, really good; but are these really stories? He’s almost more of a poet than a story-teller, a painter with words not water-colors. God knows poetry could use the help… Then I realized: these are stories about nothing! Seinfeld rules! There’s nothing about life, liberty or the pursuit of happiness…or even women. It’s just about spooge and self- contempt, mascara and masculinity, delusion and deck chairs…nothing, and all very well written.
But nothingness is not my fate as a writer, without even considering the question of whether I could pull it off or not. It is my stated goal to write about something, the other, something not me, and once that other is a known quantity then some other other expanding outward toward infinity in some meta-ratio that could probably be plotted on a graph. I care less about each other. I care less about an other. I care about the other, that indefinable otherness of which we are but pawns on a chess board—science, philosophy, and all that jazz, all that rap, all that post-modern relativism. If that means that I’ll never be a best-selling author then so be it. I’m writing for future archeologists, so that maybe they can see the slash/and/burn forest of our civilization that we can’t see any more because there are no more trees in the way. If that means I’ll never find a traditional publisher, then so be it. We all know they’re there to suppress writing, not encourage it.
I don’t care about fashion writing. I don’t want to write page-long paragraphs because they’re fashionable. I don’t want to write sentences without verbs because they’re fashionable. I don’t want to write dates with dots instead of dashes. I don’t want footnotes that are larger than the body of the text. I don’t want to have to look at a story to get it. If the written version and spoken version ultimately aren’t the same then I cry foul. I don’t want to write technically incorrect so that I’ll be fashionably au courant. I’ll be happy to be recognized—if not acclaimed—as a writer long after I’m dead. It’s too time-consuming to promote myself while I’m alive, time that I don’t have. I don’t want to spend all my waking hours making frivolous submissions to pomp-ass magazines promoting the lifestyles of the rich and famous, nibbling their cheese and sipping wine in Tuscany. I don’t want to paper my walls with rejection letters. I don’t particularly care for the rich and famous anyway.
The plan for the trip that I was to embark on next week was simple enough—book a flight from LAX to DEL with stopover in PEK for side trips to ULN and FNJ. From Delhi then go overland to Pakistan and on into Afghanistan. Then zig into Tajikistan and zag back to Uzbeki-wekistan. If I can get a transit visa through Turkmenistan and flight from there across the Caspian Sea to Azerbaijan, then do that, keeping options open for the enclave of Naxchivan and SE Turkey for visa-less entry into Iraq…or just back across the Caspian to Kyrgyzstan (or if Turkmen visa/flight not possible then straight on to Kyrgyzstan—or Kazakhstan—from Uzbeki-weki, whichever works better, one then the other. After all the ‘stans, then on to China, Urumchi possibly, Kashi (Kashgar) definitely. Keep options open for Tibet—and probably kill some time regardless—then across the Himalayas back into northern Pakistan.
From there catch a flight to Colombo, Sri Lanka (via Saudi Arabia, almost impossible to access otherwise, plus I can tell a lot about a country from the airport). From there take a quickie flight or boat to the Maldives, maybe even Mauritius/Seychelles if it’s cheap and there’s time or maybe ferry to southern India, then eventually on to Thailand to meet up my wife and in-laws, hopefully head back to LAX together. Sounds simple, right, two-three months no prob, right? That’s what I thought, too, until those drones killed the wrong guys and they closed the route from Pakistan to Afghanistan…until I suddenly had more reasons to be here than be there. So I’ve cut the trip back to just the opening and closing segments—LAX to BKK then stopover in Beijing on the way back for side trips to Ulan Bataar and Pyongyang. But that’s August.
In the meantime I’ll go to Mexico next week. Yeah, Mexico! That’s the quick ad hoc solution to my wanderhunger! I haven’t been there in years, one or two at least. Tour the Sonora borderlands and maybe plunge strategically into the interior, make it up as I go along, maybe tour the few remaining natives—Seris, Mayos or unrepentant Yaquis…
(You didn’t think I was going to write about Dallas-Fort Worth International airport, did you? And just what would I write about, the forty-two bobbercue joints they got spread out over six terminals and two time zones, sticky sauce slathered over pot-belly ribs just wantin’ to stick to yours? Ha! Not unless they get some tofu in one o’ ‘em bobbercue joints… I tell you what, son… I got a even better idea… You get me some bobbercued gluten ribs—no celiac disease here, not yet anyway—and I’ll write you some ad copy for it that could sell cutlets to cowboys, guaranteed. Till then, I’ll look for my pleasures elsewhere, where the sun sets over an ever-receding landscape, where communication occurs without a word being spoken, and where every human motion is an act of devotion…to a god with no face, name, or number…ready to serve and be served).
So I’ve got my tickets to Thailand, China, North Korea, and…the Air China website doesn’t want to give me a ticket to Mongolia, no matter how hard I try or which browser I use—Google, Chrome, or Explorer. But their website is 20% cheaper than Expedia, so I persevere. The Mongolian Air flight is only a little more, but their website leads me to a payment room that’s all in Cyrillic and feels like a vestige of the Communist era, cone of silence and all. Maybe that’s why they’re scarce on stateside booking sites, the ex-commie factor. Anyway I’m ready to head to Mexico…next week. My wife Tang leaves for Thailand tomorrow, so I’ll be alone—mostly in LA, aka “the loneliest place in the world”—for two months. This should be interesting.