Tag Archives: short story

Are You In a Film or In Reality?

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. BIFF immediately gives SIMON the envelope and sits down. The two are on a black wrought iron bench in the shade of a frangipani tree in full bloom. The weather is unpleasantly hot and humid, the sky is blue and filled with big white clouds. Strings of round Chinese lanterns hang over the street like strands of red paper pearls. 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 
sewage pipe in the middle of the road “This is surreal,” SIMON says. 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.

Orange Song Blues (inspired by a painting by Picasso)

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:
  1. It is completed and I know exactly what I am getting.
  2. No schedules to co-ordinate, no studios to book.
  3. No possible personality clashes.
  4. The legal side of things is simpler.
  5. The synergy of someone who has a "new" following/fan base.
The minuses of using existing music are;
  1. Difficult or impossible to use lyrics created to specifically reference the story.
  2. There is no creative process.
  3. 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.  

Lorong 16

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

Life’s Rich Feast

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.
No money. No money. No money. That's OK,  the first twenty seconds of exposure.
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.
Art.
food

stock made from turmeric, ginger,cumin powder and Japanese vegetable powder (dashi)

jam and bread

hibiscus-apple jam, rosemary bread

  A horse or two in the race...

Doug and St.Petes

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. Girls. 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.

Yangon Notes (3 of 9)

This gallery contains 21 photos.

Second day: morning walk on one of the alleys off of Insein Street. Pancakes and tea. Back to hotel, off to find printing area. Was told there were many shops around 31st St. Had no address and walked around in … Continue reading

A Star is Born or Something

I'm huffing and puffing and carrying a large ironing board. I still have tons of things to do. One is to print out 60 copies of the show sequence. After that I have to attach cardboard fins to the ironing board and cover it all with aluminum foil. I need to make jaws out of paper plates or something. Where's Susan's classroom? I zip around the third floor. Finally I find the right room. Inside is a curvy, beautiful Chinese woman. She's naked. She's surrounded by people. She smiles at me. "Wow," I think, "I really should get some sleep." The shocked students in Susan's nude drawing class watch me retreat. Stepping backwards into the hall, I knock down an impeccably dressed student. I apologize by asking where the printer is. He stares at the ironing board as he gets up. My wild eyes meet his. The electric hair clipper falls from my overloaded bag. Then, the big ball of aluminum foil drops and rolls right in front of his fancy red shoes. "You're an artist or something?" "Yep. An artist or something." He steps towards a door and waves a plastic card near a space-agey thing. Like a scene from Star Trek, the door slides open, revealing a room full of grey desks. The student must leave, but he introduces me to Ginette. Ginette is what they call "a fixture on the underground music scene." She's just come from the airport after "my little show in Paris.". She's helpful and cheerful. She is attractive. Very attractive. She takes my thumbdrive and inserts it into her laptop. Yes, I know what you are thinking and I was thinking it too, but Ginette is a Singaporean superstar and I'm just a guy carrying an ironing board. Twenty minutes from now I'll be onstage, reading a sad story about hairless Chihuahuas. But yes, if I had time and we'd had a few drinks, I would certainly ask Ginette if I could insert my thumbdrive into her laptop again. Anyhoo, the printer's near a magnificent window and I spend three seconds taking in the sprawling dynamic, culturally diverse Singaporean nightscape before me. Yada yada yada. I finish, pick up my ironing board and profusely thank Ginette. I put my thumbdrive back in my pants and fly downstairs. Amith and Mel met each other for the first time about ten minutes ago. I introduced them just before I bumped into the naked woman. Amith plays acoustic guitar and Mel plays the nose flute and some kind of electronic thingy he made from an ice cream container. The y will play music while I read. I pass them the freshly printed show sequence. I say we'll do a quick runthrough when I "come back in a minute." I run off to finally make the shark from the ironing board. I reach backstage and suddenly ten people ask me twenty, thirty questions, all at once. I ignore them all. "Will you be a shark?" I say to Luke. Luke is a tall, thin Indian guy, dressed in black. Against the dark stage, he will be nearly invisible and it will seem as though the aluminum foil shark is magically and ferociously pursuing Joe the diver. As Joe is singing and being attacked, I will loudly proclaim that, "Joe the diver does not exist!" Luke adjusts his glasses worriedly? "Me, a shark? How, sir, shall this effect be realized?" "You see this ironing board? It'll be wrapped in foil and it'll have fins. I need to make some teeth. Anyway... just hold the ironing board shark and jump around like you're a bloodthirsty wolf of the sea!" Luke looks like he wants to write this down. "Bloodthirsty wolf of the sea... Understood. When, sir, shall this jumping occur?" "Just wait for the diver to start singing. Then, count to ten and start stalking. Stalk him like, like, like he's a chicken, a chicken dinner! Yeah, he's a chicken dinner and and you're a wildly hungry jumping starving sea wolf! Ignore my screaming and DO NOT attack me!" I walk backstage and answer hundreds of questions while using the last bit of happy face Scotch tape and some Band-Aids to attach the fins to the ironing board. Amith's gonna kill me because the tape and Band-Aids are going to leave gooey marks on the ironing board for sure. In the corner of the backstreets of my mind I am in a yoga position, cross-legged, chanting a long soothing mantra:Luke will be invisible. The ironing board shark WILL float menacingly and magically towards Joe as he sings his Air Supply song. The little yoga guy in my head can already see panties and bras being thrown onstage. The yoga guy can hear five hundred people in the audience screaming "Wow!" and "Magnifico!" Thato, one of the poet/performers from the Serengeti, patiently taps me on the shoulder and asks for his cue. Thato will perform his poem called "I'm Coming." Mel will accompany him with the nose flute. Then, Andrew will come onstage and will slowly gyrate his hips. In his best Barry White voice, he will read about the Armenian Church and pie dough. I cannot find Andrew. My Lady Gaga ringtone blares from the bag with the foil. I finally find it. It's Ben. He'll be here in ten minutes. I go on in five. My hair clippers are missing. I tell the musicians to forget about the hair performance art piece. Savinder pushes me and I nervously join Amith and Mel onstage... It was great. The music was incredible. As I ranted about not being able to see Joe the diver, the audience saw Joe walk onstage with his flippers and air tank, sounding like Darth Vader on his honeymoon. Then Luke the shark appeared. Joe tried to run but his mask was fogged and he plowed into Mel. Luke chased Joe semi-invisibly. His glasses fell off and he got lost in the stage curtain. Amith later said he was laughing so hard that he was in tears. Joe couldn't sing at first because using the oxygen tank on land made his throat dry. I couldn't hear anything. I was calmly reading to the four remaining members of the audience, expressing my frustration that it is impossible for the reader to accurately visualize the events which take place in a writer's head. 3how CD: The Riverwalk Session, co-produced by SB Mel Araneta and Stephen Black are featured in SPOKEN, a virtual exhibition
a man wearing a diving mask and tank on stage

Performance by 3how at LASALLE college of the Arts. part of the Lit Up festival organised by Word Forward. 2010

Snakefruit Epiphany (from Bali Wave Ghost)

SNAKEFRUIT EPIPHANY The backpacker walked in, ordered turmeric tea and began pulling books and pamphlets from her bag. Half an hour later, the blonde arrived in a motorcycle sidecar that looked exactly like a very big bottle of champagne. She caught the eye of the waiter the moment she stepped in. Neither she nor the backpacker recognized me. Though seated at the same table, the two women ignored each other; the reading materials were like a wall. Finally, the backpacker cleared her throat and began to read from a pamphlet. Trunyan is an ancient village in Bali, whose inhabitants call themselves “Bali Aga” or Old Balinese. In the center of the village is a temple called Puser Jagat, meaning ’The Navel of the Universe.’ The temple’s architecture is unlike any other on Bali. It stands under a massive banyan tree. The backpacker is a freckled cherub with tattoos and a pierced nose. Calm and factual at first, now she slowly raises her hands like a wizard performing a spell. When a villager passes away, the body is placed under the banyan tree. The tree emits an arboreal fragrance that masks the stench of death. Her hands flutter back onto the table.”Lovely perfume Francesca.” “It’s Krasnaya. Lovely of you to comment.” On the other side of the room the waiter holds up a carafe. Francesca nods. The waiter points to a red table cloth. Francesca shakes her head. He points at the crotch of his white apron. She smiles, then briefly glances at the backpacker. “I notice you still don’t use perfume,” Francesca pulls cigarettes and an ashtray from her purse, “nor deodorant.” The waiter brings the wine, a glass and bruschetta: toasted slices of bread, basil, cubes of tomatoes and cloves of garlic. Francesca picks up her glass, the waiter pours and the backpacker reads again. Once a sleepy village, Jimbaran lies on Bali’s southern peninsula. Its pristine sand beckons you for long walks along its coast. Or, enjoy dining at one of the beachside seafood restaurants. A reef provides protection from the wave action, allowing excellent swimming. Jimbaran is known for its spectacular sunsets. “Speaking of sleepy villages, how’s Perth? Everything running smoothly at the orphanage? Oh wait, you volunteer here, in Bali. And the orphanage is in, is in… Denpasar? No, that isn’t correct is it? The orphanage is in Singaraja? No, that’s not right. Oh yes, I remember. The orphanage is near Ubud, in a jungle valley with a river. With a bar and a pool overlooking rice terraces.” “We have a karaoke once a month in the dining hall. And it’s a pond, not a pool.” Francesca refills her glass. Another passage is read, this time with the voice of a pirate. In the 1830s Kuta was a bustling slave market and a base for a notorious variety of international lowlifes. The backpacker again clears her throat and almost looks up. Hippies and surfers began arriving in the 1960s. Kuta is now one of the busiest tourist areas in the world, a wonderland of sun, surf, hotels and bars. Fran moves her glass over one of the books. “Eat Pay Leave. Your pirate voice might make it interesting.” “Must you always emit such massive negativity? You’re like a... like an...Anti-Eat Pray Love Person! Why don’t you write your own book? Three years here, for sure you know everything about the real Bali.” “The real Bali? The real Bali is a ten minute kechak dance during happy hour. Or the beach in Kuta. Makes me ill. Anti-Eat Pray Love Person? Me? No, no, no… I am the most positive person you’ll ever meet. Just ask your father.” She says this slowly, in between smoking and looking at her phone. The table has become a boxing ring with a vase of frangipanis and crisp linen napkins. One fighter starts tapping at Facebook, her opponent points at maps in a Lonely Planet guide book. Francesca finally looks up. “Gattopardo! Finally! I have you all to myself. Sit down!” Gattopardo remains standing, smiling and serene. “Francesca! Amore! Beautiful to see you and your charming friend. Your invitation is very kind. But, sad to say, my morning delivery just arrived. Now I am a headache.” He looks at Francesca, slowly rubs his hands. “Amore, of course you know I would enjoy with you a bottle of wine. Or champagne. “ “Both.” Francesca leans back and runs her fingers through her hair. Her eyes are locked on Gattopardo. She is petite; when she extracted herself from the champagne sidecar, she did so with the grace of a ballerina. Francesca leans forward, looks directly into the eyes of the backpacker. “Gattopardo, am I a lush?” Gattopardo gazes out at the rice fields. He looks over the golden umbrella above the small stone shrine in the parking lot. The bottom half is wrapped in a black and white checkered cloth; a saput poleng. Gattopardo looks at Francesca. “Amore, you are most certainly not a lush,” he says quietly. Twenty minutes ago I experienced an epiphany because of Gattopardo. He didn’t sing me an aria as I ate spaghetti; he hadn’t taught me a Sanskrit mantra. He didn’t read my palm. Gattopardo simply served me a plate of snakefruit pasta. “Tagliarini al salak,” he said. The moment he placed it before me I began moving my nose through the delicate steam swirling above the glistening noodles. Like a magician, Gattopardo then reached into his chef’s jacket and produced a heart-shaped, reddish-brown leathery fruit.”A snakefruit, a salak.” He placed it on my table. “Bon appetito.” Heavy yet soft, the pasta was a perfect balance of egg yolk and double zero wheat flour. Shavings of roasted almonds, the sweetness of mascarpone cheese and a whisper of seasoning. The crunchy snakefruit, delightfully sour, had been sliced very thinly—and frozen! As I ate, I drifted. I contemplated my hand’s relationship to the fork it held. I saw new colors when I looked outside. I went to the wheat fields of the place where I was born. I imagined what a salak tree looked like. The food was transformative. One moment I was in a happy credit card commercial, the next I was confronted with a huge, messy map of my destructive life. You are here. “Join me,” Francesca purrs to Gattopardo, swirling her chest, running a finger along the stem of her glass. “Just one.” “Amore, my heart says yes, my schedule says no.” Gattopardo pushes his glasses to the top of his nose. “But I promise we soon have a sweet time together. You have my word.” One of the cute Japanese women sitting in the corner gets up and approaches my table. She’s smiling and holding a camera. I know she’s going to say something I’ve heard millions of times. “Excuse me, Mr. Orgasm Donor, can I take a picture with you?” ................................................end........................... Voila! The debut of a new dish, tagliarini al salak. The dish has yet to be actually created but was conceptualized by Chef Ezio Barbero, owner of the La Bruschetta restaurant in Sanur, Bali. The above is an excerpt from Bali Wave Ghost will soon be published. Artist/writer Stephen Black has written several other books including the Singaporean cult classic I Ate Tiong Bahru. ! The debut of a new dish, tagliarini al salak. The dish has yet to be actually created but was conceptualized by Chef Ezio Barbero, owner of the La Bruschetta restaurant in Sanur, Bali.

The Greatest Music of All Time

Nona's drawing of James Brown

Al Green wrote the most glorious song in the world.

Love and Happiness is the beautiful insanity of cherry blossoms. Love and Happiness is poetry, fear, hope, weakness, strength, violins and big fat funk beats. I have a version of it on a CD,  Al Green’s Greatest Hits, an incredible release by Motown Records.

On the booklet that came with the CD is the Motown Records logo.  The logo features a map, and on the bottom part of the map, leading south out of Detroit, is a highway called I-75. My daughter and I are now northbound on I-75. We’re going to a concert: James Brown.

The show starts with Funky Good Time and the crowd is a smiling big fat body, clapping and shaking. James Brown is a wildfire of greatness. My daughter’s on my shoulders waving her arms. Without missing a beat, James Brown pulls her up onto the stage. The two of them boogie around and the crowd goes even wilder. The song finally ends and my daughter skips to the side of the stage. She waves at me, her happy eyes as big as saucers. James jumps into Say It Loud-I’m Black and Proud. Detroit chants it right back.

Funky, funky minutes pass by. Then, in the midst of Please, Please, Please, James Brown collapses! A man rushes onstage and covers Mr. Brown with a blanket! My daughter’s hand freezes over her mouth. James is unconscious. The troubled band slows down, slows way down… what to do, what to do? Fear and worry fill the summer air. People gasp. You can hear the cars on the highway and the quiet of the neighborhood. James is a lifeless crumpled heap.

Then, like secret doctors, the guys in the horn section nod at each other. They start radiating whispery, jazzy notes of soul.  The trumpet grows stronger; a light house. The drummers start to sound like waves. The backup singers harmonize deeply on a  melody that's dark as sunrise.

His hand twitches!

The angels with guitars slowly play riffs that sound like medicine and the horn section is now the grace of God and… yes! Yes!YES! James is given the gift of life! The drums become heartbeats and the band starts pumpin’ and James is up and the blanket’s a robe! The funky medicine gets stronger! The robe’s a cape!  James Brown  kicks the mike stand! The stand lands in his outstretched hand! The band drops into the biggest baddest groove in the universe and Mr. Brown picks up where he left off! He gets his good foot up... homework gettin' done! OUTTA SIGHT! Men stare and dance and the women whirl like they’re in a trance. Detroit sheds tears of joy and James takes us even higher. He lets the groove get there, get there, get there one more time and then, with a sideways stuntman acrobat ballet body snap, he stops the world on a dime…and then THE scream from THE Godfather, “Ahhhhhhhhhhh…. 1, 2, 3, 4!”  I Feel Good! Bigger than life, all three drummers pullin' out the joints! My daughter’s up there, smiling and spinning.

That was the movie I  played in my head as we drove up I-75.

Al Green’s Greatest Hits was the first CD I ever bought and James Brown Live at the Apollo was the second.

Yes, CDs in Japan were expensive but James Brown is James Brown and Al Green is Al Green. My wife and and I needed some soul music. We were living in Tokyo and Tokyo can be soulless. Those CDs were better than gold. Now, 13 years later, I am bringing our daughter to see James Brown.

Even if I had a James Brown CD in the car, I wouldn’t play it. She’s happy with whatever’s on the radio. She knows James Brown like she knows Richard Nixon.

We start walking across the dusty parking lot outside the Michigan State Fair. The sad Detroit skyline is big on the horizon. I sense, but cannot see, the empty car factories. The little house that was once the home of Motown Records is somewhere nearby.

Five bucks and we’re in. She gets her face painted. We get tossed around on octopus rides with lots of little flashing lightbulbs and heavy metal music. Hot dogs, blue ribbon pigs and prizewinning carrot cakes: this is the American Midwest, ground zero.

I’m nicely surprised to discover that Little Richard is also on the bill. Little Richard talks and sings and talks some more. We roll our eyes when he starts his second encore. Little Richard talks a lot. I prepare myself for two scenarios: the first scenario is like the movie in my head. The second is a collision of boredom, hypothermia, claustrophobia, cotton candy-fueled adolescent bad temper, food poisoning, angry whines and crying.

Little Richard finally says goodbye and waves good night. We work our way closer to the stage. We wait. She starts yawning and looking cold. We wait some more.

Finally a large group of beautifully dressed people come on stage- the Soul Generals and the Bittersweets. They play snippets of JB classics and the announcer, Danny Ray, starts building  excitement. Lights flash! “Star Time!” James Brown marches out, smiling but serious, with perfect hair and mirror shoes.

Boom! Make It Funky begins. The crowd goes wild. The song ends and James starts talking to Motown like he’s catching up with an old friend. He  becomes wistful, sounding like a concerned favorite uncle as he describes “all the good times and the eras full of bad nothing…You gotta do it for yourselves you know.” He  kicks into Living in America. She’s tired, but my daughter sings along. We’ll leave soon.The song ends and everything becomes quiet.

James steps back from the mike! An instrumental? A man who had been singing backup smoothly steps in. James barely moves his hand: the band gets ready. James silently mouths a countdown and then… a magical guitar riff floods my soul….

“We’re goin’ up front,” I tell my daughter as I lift her onto my shoulders, “and then we’re goin’ home.”

James Brown is grooving slowly in his gold suit.  Love and Happiness is being performed. He looks out and sees my daughter on my shoulders. His smile brightens even more and, for one serene instant, we are all in sync.

Great examples of the power of words

There is no theme to this post, except that I like the way the words work. Like ten pounds of mud in a five pound sack... Comment made about an outfit worn by Dolly Parton.   Like buying a dollar for ninety cents... Comment made about Amazon stock when it first went on sale...   ... when the Okies move to California, the average intelligence of both states increases... -Will Rogers Most rock journalism is people who can't write, interviewing people who can't talk, for people who can't read. -Frank  Zappa  

In a constantly changing world, not taking risks could be the most risky thing one can do.

-headline of internet article

He writes like a foot.

-French expression about someone who writes poorly.

Giuliani is a short man looking for a balcony.

-Jimmy Breslin