Alphabet Spikes is a collection of stories, essays and experiments created from February 2017 until now--and in the future! The core of the book is here, on Amazon, but this ebook actually something like crowdfunding.
Once you buy the book, send me your email and you will get an updated ebook with new stories, as I add them. Right now, the version on Amazon includes stories about a game developer, Antigone Cloud and my brief encounter with Anthony Bourdain. Next will be journal entries from the Bubiko Orwell Tour, which voyaged through Singapore, Malaysia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, Indonesia and Hong Kong. The purpose of the tour was to research food, to create a network of people interested in AR, and two work on two books.
Besides the tour journal, there are, and will be, short stories, interviews and essays about Southeast Asia and people, events and places connected to it.
Alphabet Spikes: Art and entrepreneurship go on a road trip in Southeast Asia. Lots of eating, a few meetings, and nonstop ups and downs.
In reverse alphabetical order, the following are some of my experiences in Hong Kong; these will become stories and essays. Questions? Leave in the comments section, as well as any info you'd like to share. Thanks!
Yam cha! The literal translation is "drink tea". However, yum cha usually means eating a meal of dim sum. Dim sum are the foods served in the round bamboo containers. Dim sum restaurants are everywhere in Hong Kong.
Xu Xi at the launch of Insignificance
“An audacious, inventive and original collection: these ‘Hong Kong’ stories are full of clever energy and lively strangeness.” - Gail Jones On Amazon.
Walsh, Joe. Performing with Shear, Jules and John, Doctor.
VR HMD ad on a tram.
Uniworks, the display of students' work, near the entrance of the Jockey Club Innovation Tower on the Hong Kong Polytechnic campus.
I bought the album for some reason. Mott the Hoople Live. Probably, before I'd boughten it, I'd only heard one song from it on FM radio. Undoubtedly the front and back covers made an impression. Anyway, the first song on the first side was called All the Way to Memphis. It's great, with a tinkly, funky, sad, happy and powerful little piano riff on the front. The piano was played by Morgan Fisher. The song is about going to Memphis, obviously. That song was my favorite.
So, about 25 years later, I was in Tokyo and thrilled to be asked to photograph the American South, for a Japanese magazine. The same day I learned of my flight confirmation to Memphis... Morgan Fisher called! He lives in Tokyo and we had plans to meet, but it was still one of those synchronistic little events that make one wonder.
The squawking stopped when the door opened. The biggest crow stared with its mouth open, then hopped in. It saw a grain of rice on the floor; it ate it. Two males walked closer, then flapped their wings to get inside.
Seven loud crows are now in the car. There are no more grains of rice. The door closes. The car’s voice sounds like a smiling British actress, "Good morning! Where shall we go today?” Beaks become fast yellow scissors, cutting the air into shrill shreds of anger, hunger and fear. The car drives off.
At the border, the scanners, scales and sensors work perfectly: the car is determined to be empty. The car heads towards Kallang.
Fortississimo: Caw! Caw! Caw!
The crows' fury, the driver's perfection: Singapore.
The concept of Urnovl/121.com is exciting, but it isn’t new. Their ‘texts with a word count of 121 ’ approach is a bigger, prose version of the “17 syllable rule” of haiku writing. Brian Williams once ran Littlerature, which featured stories 1064 words long. I had a few stories on Littlerature, including one about 3how, which is included in red dot SAD. So, the fixed short form is an old friend of mine. I am sure there were, and are, other flash fiction sites based on a specific word count.
The Urnovl/121 website is exciting because it is state of the art literature. Potentially at least: as with any uncurated, free platform, there will be “interesting” submissions. Two Shades of Gray proved that “interesting” stories can have interesting results. “State of the art”, in this case, means mobile-friendly, social media-friendly, attractive design and visuals. One or two things could be tweaked, but the site is still in beta. Two upgrades are planned before September.
So far, I’ve posted three pieces. The word count of 121 is a bit low for my liking, but that’s what makes it interesting. The texts have more depth than tweets, yet can be appreciated immediately; no need for links nor downloading, like ebooks. Readers, and those working in publishing, can quickly decide if a writer is worth learning more about. FWIW: This post has 242 words, the equivalent of two posts on the Urnovl/121 site.
I am now working on the second draft of a 60,000 word book that has been written during my three month stay in Johor Bahru, Malaysia. The book combines fictional stories with essays on travel and food in JB and notes related to my proposed VR/AR startup. The book is called Game of JB.
As she sleeps, I look for bruises on her hands. Last night she kept smashing--really smashing--her fists into the knuckles of Errol, a Swiss martial artist. He’s also a bon vivant, but a hard working one, uninterested in kiss-kiss party talk. We discovered him on the hotel’s rooftop patio.
Errol left a government job to work with his wife, Olga. Together, they document vanishing or unusual cultures. They are in JB for Chingay, the huge procession dedicated to Guanyin, the Goddess of Mercy. A comparatively “easy” documentation perhaps, as hot water is everywhere. No waist-deep mud, no clouds of mosquitoes and, at the end of the day, beds with blankets and pillows instead of thin mats on dirt floors.
“Tsuyoi, tsuyoi, tsuyoi!” Errol had started by barely tapping her hands. “Tsuyoi! Tsuyoi! Tsuyoi!” The tapping became a revolving dance, then a serious boxing match. She surprised me with her ferocity; my little lawyer desk mouse had become a tigress. “TSUYOITSUYOTSUYOITSUYOTSUYOI!” Bigger than the roof,their voices; bigger than JB, big enough to be heard in Woodlands! Their fist-banging empowerment ritual happened in the middle of a night filled with the serious conversations of travelers. We leave tomorrow.
Next to the patio was the penthouse, now a subdivided maze of plywood and sheetrock with locks on flimsy doors. These were the cheapest rooms. The patio, with its stone carvings and arches, was an Art Nouveau time capsule, but with laundry racks and tiny bathrooms in yellow structures that looked like Porta Potties. I showered there this morning, when the world was dark indigo. I stepped out naked. I thought about the two letters- my father’s initials, upon a building to my right. Singapore was across the water, on my left. The ledge. The street below my feet. Finally, the dawn began and I went back to our room with something like certainty.
We had talked on the couch, on the tile floor and as we leaned on the balconies overlooking the night market and Meldrum Street. We watched the comings and goings at the musical lounge and the 123 Cafe. Our conversations flowed: Papua New Guinea, Geneva, John Zorn, Iggy Pop, parallel universes, Kryon and time travel. Visas and immigration, of course. Ender’s Game, but no one knew if an actual Ender’s Game game had been made. I listened to Errol’s advice about Wordfence security and how to enhance a media library. We drank cheap brandy. There was a crescent moon.
At one point in the night she asked me a question, not knowing that Errol had returned from the toilet. He was right behind her.“Can you call Minnesotapool?”
“Headpool!” We yelled the word at the same time.
Errol acrobatically tumbled over the couch and down onto the tiles. He rolled over and got up on his hands and knees. “Woof woof,” he said, with a slightly Swiss accent. “Dogpool!” we answered, like game show contestants hoping to win a million in prizes.
He stood on his knees, made himself childish and pretended to hold a sword.
He acted like he had very big boobs and pointed an imaginary gun. He thrust his hips.
“Wada Wilson,” I said,”Lady Deadpool,” she said. “Two correct answers! We have our winners!” We stayed up on that patio ‘til very late.
Until Sarina finally showed up at Western Union, our life was hard, frozen and dry. We’d met her just two days ago. Zero passports plus hunger minus sleep equals desperate logic. Big leaps of faith.But, she showed up. We then ate ham cha and drank ginger soymilk. We found a place where we could check in. Then, healing sleep. We woke up at twilight and found an excellent five ringgit vegetarian buffet. Came back, explored the hotel and met Errol. “I feel alive again,” she said, as we got into bed, “tonight was like high school.”.
“Everything Is Important and Serious. Decisions are heavy dates on calendars or sudden, unexpected jumps through doors, behind which consequences are feared or ignored. Obligations to society or personal growth, sometimes both. Rarely both. Now of course, we know we have almost no control over anything. We’re all puppets. Sometimes we perform for thousands, sometimes we wait in a dark box.” I recited that to her. It was written by my high school sweetheart a long time ago.
“She was so mature at times! I kept that letter from her forever, memorized every line. Her signature was small and cute. Later, she said she wanted the letter back, said the poems were terrible. My first real girlfriend… Do people even write letters anymore? The stamp was the face of angel, looking up at Love USA 55. I remember everything. Our love is a fast summer sea sun in an ice age year. She became a jockey, can you believe that? A jockey, then a financial consultant. A very successful one.”
“Did she like Deadpool?”
I don’t hear her question. I am thoughtfully looking off into the distance. I run my ginger through my hair. My gingernails are wrong. I accept my mistakes and the incorrect suggestions from Autospell as my destiny. Intentional confusion is not confusion. No puppet, no puppet, you're the puppet.
“Did you two attend the Highschoolpool prom?”
“Stop! Can’t you see that ours is a serious narrative and I am a troubled game developer who wants to prove himself as a Serious Writer by writing an angst-filled postmodern novel about love, tribulation and exile during a Millennium of Darkness? Nihilism, woman, nihilism! Not funny stuff.”
“Can we call Minnesotapool?”
“A curse upon you! Woman, I am deaf to your tomfoolery! I shall recite a touching poem that meant so much to me in my use. Then I will hurl a pillow upon your human form.” I again gaze into the distance, again move my ginger through my hair and think of the girl who broke my hat.
Let the Chinese and English lunchroom gang gossip continue; it is not ours. Moonrise is ours, our eyes. Twilight is ours, our ears. La Vie En Rose is ours, our hearts. Galloping, galloping; never drive me home.
“Never drive me homepool...” She laughs at me. ”This is Johor Bahru 2017, dear, not some black and white French high school yearbook. We’re old teenagers now, with jobs and commitments and Trump and Alzheimer’s waiting in the wings. So what? This, this, this… this is our new normal. We've got to make sense of things. Look here. I hate that view. It’s like the condo I had before my ex trashed everything. Holland V Big palm trees and green benches, a little park and a path where I walked my dog. Same fence with barbed wire. I bet there’s a pool in front. And barbecues.”
“What kind of dog?”
“A hairless Chihuahua. Peaches, sweetest dog in the world.”
“Peaches. A hairless Chihuahuapool.” I threw a pillow at her.
The room we are in is cheap; a dirty little rhinestone. A black dusty TV screen on one of the faded blue walls, old white curtains and a yellowed air conditioner. The bed is beneath a small window. She is still deeply asleep. Graceful.Her occasional twitches are like small, calm lightning. I study her knuckles one last time. They are a little red, but she is fine.
We’re on one of the few picturesque streets in the old quarter of Johor Bahru. We see three Malaysians loading a truck with furniture that they are carrying out of a big red colonial house. Now we see a man quickly walking; he is late: BIFF DANKLE, an American with long hair that may or may not be fashionable. He pulls at it constantly; BIFF’s nervousness is obvious. He's carrying a manila envelope.
BIFF approaches SIMON MURRAY and smiles respectfully.
SIMON crushes his cigarette and puts his hand out. He is in his early sixties, in excellent shape, and with movie star good looks.
SIMON reads quickly.
BIFF pretends not to study SIMON’s face.
BIFF again recites to himself some of the films that SIMON worked on: The Last Emperor, Life of Brian, Titanic, Distant Voices Still Lives, La Vie de Boheme, Indiana Jones... He’d seen photos on SIMON’s website; his pals like Madonna, Michael Douglas and Robert Downey Jr... SIMON is humble, but not afraid to mention those with whom he’d enjoyed himself, famous or not. One moment SIMON might mention Sir Laurence Olivier, the next moment, nearly in tears, he'd describe the cheerful, sweet innocent face of Jimmy Wu, the bespectacled little boy with Backlington Syndrome who had hobbled six miles through a minefield in the snow in the dead of night to gaze upon the glasses that SIMON had made for Harry Potter.
One moment SIMON might explain the influence his mother had upon British postwar playground design; the next he'd be describing an Oscar party he’d attended with both Playboy’s Miss January 1983 and a former Miss Texas who had “worked with Elvis”. BIFF remembered wistfully how SIMON once had effortlessly segued from a naughty casting couch story set in a Viennese penthouse to a description of his father’s meeting with Gandhi, to tips on how to get building permits in Los Angeles. SIMON knows both the dark secrets surrounding the present location of the Beatles’ Sergeant Pepper costumes and the simple joy of sharing
BIFF’s heart leaps. He hadn’t thought that the script he’d risked his health and sanity for would be considered “surreal”. But if SIMON MURRAY thought it was surreal, then his script was surreal, goshdarnit! Great! Actually, BIFF’s aim was to write a mashup; something like Waiting for Godot meets Mission Impossible. One draft had been titled Waiting for the Pink Panther.
“Absolutely surreal” SIMON repeats.
Eventually, BIFF understands, sadly. His script is not surreal; SIMON's mind is preoccupied with Something Else....The Meaning of Life. The Undefinable Power Which Pervades Everything Yet Cannot Be Proved. Malaysia. Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown.The fact that Life is unscripted, yet filled with countless scenes containing countless varieties of brutality, no matter how much we think otherwise.
SIMON lights another cigarette. We hear only the sound of diners in the cafe across the little street. BIFF becomes aware of the aroma of herbal soup.
”OK… No bulldust”, SIMON says. “Your script. Some good ideas, but... don't do two things at once. You can’t be both opera and MTV. Ballet or gangsta rap. You must decide. Hemingway or The Bard. Whattsap. Commitment. Your Mr. Yellow character is unbelievable; I am unclear as to whether he has Parkinson's or just a silly walk. Your script should be a ticket away from reality. It's not."
SIMON looks at the truck. "I had hopes..." Suddenly SIMON starts barking like a big basset hound; the loudness he makes is the sound of being upset and surprised yet happy. The men packing the truck stop. SIMON is amongst them immediately. He shows them how to pack properly.
the first blog post of this series is here.
I have been involved with bands, musicians and music production all my life. My last "proper" project was co-producing The Riverwalk Session by 3how.
So...Picasso. Music... I am working on a piece of interactive fiction that combines my original story ideas with factual information about a painting Picasso painted in 1921.Here is a great description of interactive fiction, as well as the Interactive Fiction Competition which I am determined to enter.
At the moment, I am focusing on music/a song which would be heard beneath the end credits.
I would prefer to create something new, working with musicians, vocalists and other people. I am now in Singapore/Bali. The music should be finished in the next three weeks. I have started work on lyrics and can suggest types of music, instrumentation, etc. that would reflect well on the story and the painting itself.
But, although I am fortunate to have talented friends here, there is probably not enough time to create something new. Which means using existing music.
The pluses to using are existing music are:
It is completed and I know exactly what I am getting.
No schedules to co-ordinate, no studios to book.
No possible personality clashes.
The legal side of things is simpler.
The synergy of someone who has a "new" following/fan base.
The minuses of using existing music are;
Difficult or impossible to use lyrics created to specifically reference the story.
There is no creative process.
Solitary, brief-lived enjoyment
I should also mention that that there is no budget for this project. Later, when it is finished, it will become a game for sale as well as an ebook. There are other possibilities as well.
I don't like asking people to do things "for the publicity". I would pay people if I could. But the best is working with people who are excited and focused, whether paid or not.
Carlyn lit the blowtorch. Tango delicately lowered his body so he could stare deeper into the rat’s eyes. The rat smelled Tango's breath and immediately pulled its head back and flattened its body against the bottom of the cage. It couldn’t move back any further. Tango’s nose almost touched the slowly frantic whiskers. The rat started shivering. The cookie pan was ready. Carlyn stepped back. The rat’s tail had been moving back and forth wildly. Now it stopped. Carlyn remembered when that rat was born, when it was pink and blind. Tango opened the cage and she closed her eyes, waiting. Click, click, click,click. Then, the red hot corner of the cookie pan and the very brief little sizzling sounds. Calmly, Tango picked up the newspaper and walked towards the door that led to outside. Mad Dog held it open and Tango lobbed the rat in front of the window. ”Now!” said the girl in the white dress, the moment the rat’s body hit the ground.. Tango went into the greeting room and stood next to Douglas. The rat had quickly regained consciousness. Now it was letting out long screams, gasping for air and trying to run on its pawless legs.It didn’t go far. It became still. ”Now!” the girl in the white dress said again. The girl watching the clock said “Forty five seconds”. “I win!” said the girl in the green sequinned dress happily, “I bet forty-eight! I win again!” The other girls grumbled in Cantonese and looked ready to kill her.Rizal trotted in, immediately disappointed that he’d missed his chance. “The Hold’s getting stronger,” Tango said, understating the obvious.”Yesterday was a minute fifteen.” Douglas turned and walked away. Tango and the girls watched as Carlyn ran out, grabbed the dead rat by the tail and dashed back in,holding her breath the entire time.Tango and Rizal had been talking as they walked from the greeting room to Tango’s office.Now, in the doorway to Tango’s office, Rizal stopped. Douglas was inside, sitting behind the coffee table topped with two glasses, a bucket of ice and an almost empty bottle of Glenmorangie. Rizal had been talking about getting more plants from a grower in Malaysia, one up in the Highlands.”Just need a car and a couple of masks for two days… Four hundred dollars should do it.” “I’ll think about it.” “Sure, boss.I’m ready any time, but the sooner the better. Safer that way.” Tango closed the door and sat back down. Douglas took care of Tango’s drink. The silence between them was comfortable,as it always was. Sometimes,though, they had music.They listened to the vinyl LPs Douglas had brought over with his treasured record player. The two had memorized and discussed LPs by Fritz Kreisler, Jelly Roll Morton, The Replacements,Dick Lee,Frank Sinatra and Helen Reddy. They debated Hendrix vs. Prince vs Tommy Emmanuel and complained about the Cantopop the girls listened to.Douglas taught Tango some simple blues riffs on the piano.Once in a while Douglas played and Tango sang. Always they ended with Love and Happiness by Al Green. Finally, Douglas leaned forward. “Just a coincidence... best plants are at a nursery up near the casino…” “Probably. Another coincidence... Rizal needs 400 bucks and a cash advance.” Douglas looked around the room, then looked through the one way mirror to the greeting room.There the wall behind the couch was completely covered by greenery. “Rizal really does know how to take care of plants. I wasn’t happy to let him go.” “Your loss, my gain. He replaced the rotten wood on the windows. Sealed ‘perfectly. Took care of that fan. Haven’t had a blackout since he started.I think he’s changed...” Tango took off his jacket, went over and carefully hung it in the flimsy Ikea closet.“...but if he hasn’t, outside he goes. If he’s lucky, he’s lucky. But if The Hold’s like it is today, he’s got twenty seconds to make it to McDonalds.“If they’re open...” “...and if he’s got money for the guard.” Douglas was leaving in four days, moving to the mountains near Yogyakarta. The two met the day Tango moved in. The Hold didn’t have a name then. The first deaths occurred on a cruise ship, the night before it was supposed to dock in Singapore. Only two thousand passengers died. The Straits Times said the deaths were caused by Indonesians burning poisonous plants as they cleared the last remaining jungles for palm oil plantations. Then, two days later, a wave of death struck from Tanjong Pagar and Sentosa to the oil refineries in Jurong and beyond, up into Malaysia: ten thousand people. Scientists then said that global warming and air pollution were interacting to create “super blankets” of carbon dioxide. People could not escape Singapore fast enough. Within a week, the unexplainable asphyxiations--similar to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, had filled the Central Business District and the surrounding areas with corpses.The homeless camped in the MRT stations, gathered on Mount Faber and in the inner parts of the heartlands. The world listened as scientists explained why this disaster was uniquely Singaporean. Then, the same catastrophe occurred in Houston. Then Amsterdam. Then New York. Yokohama, Shanghai and Long Beach. Millions of people poisoned by breathing in fatal amounts of carbon dioxide. Within three years most of the world’s coastlines were graveyards,all deathly still because of something like Crib Death. The Apocalypse was started by carbon monoxide poisoning, the coastal lungs of the planet unable to refill themselves with oxygen, with Life. Almost no one knows why this happened.There’s a knock on the door. Before Tango can reply, Wendy pokes her head in. “Papa, the American! She cut her wrist again!” Tango looks at Douglas, rolls his eyes and empties his drink. ”And you think my life is nothing but looking angry and orchestrating orgies of mass destruction,” He puts his glass down with a surprising softness and rolls his office chair back, ”well…it aint.”Wendy steps back. “Room 12, Papa. Rei found her.” Without speaking, they rush upstairs, down the hall, towards the red light above Room 12.To be continued
I'm a writer in Bali, watching long, green banana leaves fearfully twist and sway. I'm an author in Queens, watching snow cover the tires stacked in front of the graffiti on the wall of the garage run by the guy from Ecuador. I'm a novelist watching the doves on my window sill, the Bastille like a green pin. A screenwriter in my mom's basement wondering why the meth dealer's room is dark.
Hugh Howie says indie writers are running the show percentage-wise, but that's like saying on average, everyone is a millionaire when Bill Gates enters a bar. Hugh Howie says reading is bullied by games and movies. Hugh Howie says Amazon is a beacon that minimizes friction. Hugh Howie says write something great and it will sell.
My partner does not know about Hugh Howie. Nor algorithms nor plot points. A skeletal existence brings out the best, the worst. She makes soup from leftover soup. She tells people I'm not here.
Time. Words. Money.
stock made from turmeric, ginger,cumin powder and Japanese vegetable powder (dashi)
Last Saturday night, I read this at Artistry in Singapore, as I was the last reader at StorySlam. I read it in a hurry and it was written in a hurry. I am late, but happy birthday, Brian Buckley.Cheers, Doug....
Dub Rogers. Brian Buckley. Doug Geoffrion.
University. High School. Grade School.
So... I attended the Rochester Institute of Technology, where one of my best friends was Dub Rogers. Dub and another great friend named Eric Nelson and I did the things that people seem to do only when they’re in college, things like rebelling, celebrating life and pushing the limits of everything. Dub was from the South and decided to transfer to a school there. One result of that decision was that he was living in New Orleans.
I missed Dub and Mardi Gras was coming up and I didn’t have any money... So, I decided to hitchhike from Rochester, New York to New Orleans. I left on the first day of Spring in a snowstorm. Made the trip in less than three days. Yes, there were adventures in New Orleans and Dub and I had a memorable time. But these are stories for another day.
After Dub and Mardi Gras, I walked out onto the highway near the SuperDome and started hitchhiking to Florida. There were gunshots as I walked up the entrance ramp. But I made it to Florida with no visible scars, and connected with Brian Buckley. I met Brian in high school. Central Catholic, one of several educational bodies I attended but did not wear a cap and gown at... But these facts are deviations, more stories for later.
So... Doug Geoffrion: my best friend in grade school. Doug was a character. Once, in third grade, we all had to take a math test, the kind that you answer by filling in a circle with a number two pencil. Doug was the first one done and he received the highest score in the class, the highest score in the entire state of Ohio. Maybe he was #1 in America. He was hailed as a genius. The special attention lasted for about three days when it became obvious he knew nothing about math. Doug had just filled in the dots without looking at the questions.
In seventh and eighth grade, we were on the basketball team, benchwarmers almost always. The one time that I started was in a play-off game and I scored 14 points. My scoring spree surprised everyone, myself included. Our team was able to advance in the tournament, which most of the school was pretty happy about. Except for Sister Thaddeus who taught English. Sister Thaddeus was unhappy because, for at least a couple of months Doug and I had been on another team, a team that was rehearsing for something like what we now call a Poetry Slam. Once a week we got out of English class and went down to the gym and worked on our presentation of a poem by Stephen Vincent Benet, a poem called The Mountain Whippoorwill.
So... the day of the poetry slam was the day of our playoff game. Doug and I choose basketball over poetry. The fury of Sister Thaddeus did not hide her broken heart. She pulled Doug and I out into the hall. “It isn’t right that you’re drop out of the poetry competition. Why didn’t you tell me you were going to be in the tournament?”
Doug looked at the nun. “Sister it’s a miracle from God. Black scored 14 points and the final score was 17 -11. And besides, if you ever saw us play you’d know that there was no way in hell that we were gonna make the playoffs.”
We went to different high schools but we still hung around together. Doug drove his mom’s car, something we called The Rocknroll Falcon. It was dull green; a boxy little two-door with an AM radio. Doug and I went to a lot of parties. Once I bought a bunch of tickets to see Van Halen and Doug scalped them and we split the money. Once, my dad drove us up to Pontiac to the Silverdome to see Ted Nugent and the Cars and we stayed in a hotel. The legal drinking age in Michigan was 18 for a while… The cops came when Doug had his birthday party.
Doug went pretty far with girls earlier and faster than I did. He told them he was sterile. Maybe he was. Doug was born with cystic fibrosis. He had an oxygen tent over his bed. He coughed constantly, was always trying to spit up phlegm. Sometimes it was frightening. Doug should have avoided smoke and eventually he did. It got to the point where even perfume and the occasional smell of Toledo’s air pollution became life-threatening. When we were kids, most people with cystic fibrosis died before they became adults. There is no cure.
Once, in second grade, Doug had a really bad attack. The nuns led us down to church and a mass was said. Doug had been given last rites the night before. Though I went to a catholic school, my parents never forced me to go to church and I rarely did. That mass, though, I did everything a good catholic is supposed to do; my heart flooded with sadness and worry. Doug survived.
So... University. High school. Grade school. As I said, I hitchhiked down to catch Mardi Gras with Dub, then I hitchhiked to St. Petersberg to see Brian. Brian was as crazy as I was and soon we found ourselves in the very very cold middle of Florida. We had thought it was a brilliant idea to hitchhike to the east coast of Florida. We gave up and turned back.
The Detroit Tigers baseball team do their spring training in Lakeland Florida. A coach or scout for the Tigers picked us up and gave us a ride back to the outskirts of St. Petersburg. Brian and I saw a club from the highway and walked down. It was happy hour. So... we walked in, and who was on stage setting up gear, but Doug!
He called me a punk and I said he was a hippie. Went outside and sat in a truck and talked. He told me he moved to St. Petersburg because the air was clean.
That was the last time I saw him.
But one day in 2003, when I was in Singapore, Doug sent me an email. Said he’d just heard the song by the Who called Who Are You? I bought that record the minute it was available and called Doug over. We listened to it together.
Doug's email brought us back. We started talking on the phone. He asked me about Japan and my daughter. We talked about Taoism and girlfriends and the technicians at the hospital. The Rocknroll Falcon and hanging out at the pizza place that was in the field by my home. Once, he told me that he pretended he was a tax auditor for the government and called my dad to ask him questions about his “so called truthful declarations”.
I was looking out a window onto Emerald Hill Road when Doug told me he was finally leaving. He was in his room downstairs, away from all of the people who’d gathered to say goodbye.He wasn’t sad, just wanted to be alone. We didn’t talk about grade school or Van Halen or girls. I listened to Doug talk about a chariot and the sky and a wheel of fire. Then Doug said goodbye.
(The image used for the header of this post is an album cover by Pablo Cruise. I just saw it for the first time, though the "branding" of their other albums is very familiar to me. They had one song that had a line, something about "it's alright (alright), once you get past the pain". AM radio played that song a lot. Doug's version was "it's alright (alright), once you get past her pants...."
It is an interesting co-incidence that the turtles are playing ping pong in something like this., project I am very familiar with.