Thursday, December 15, 2011
Sunday, November 27, 2011
Friday, November 18, 2011
Wednesday, October 19, 2011
You have to be always drunk. That's all there is to it—it's the only way. So as not to feel the horrible burden of time that breaks your back and bends you to the earth, you have to be continually drunk.
But on what? Wine, poetry or virtue, as you wish. But be drunk.
And if sometimes, on the steps of a palace or the green grass of a ditch, in the mournful solitude of your room, you wake again, drunkenness already diminishing or gone, ask the wind, the wave, the star, the bird, the clock, everything that is flying, everything that is groaning, everything that is rolling, everything that is singing, everything that is speaking. . .ask what time it is and wind, wave, star, bird, clock will answer you: "It is time to be drunk! So as not to be the martyred slaves of time, be drunk, be continually drunk! On wine, on poetry or on virtue as you wish."
Thursday, September 22, 2011
My love for noir has continued with James Ellroy's "Brown's Requiem." Ellroy, whose most famous work is "LA Confidential (which was turned into an excellent movie)" tells the story of Fritz Brown a former LAPD officer who now works as a repo man in poor neighborhoods. His job as one of the bottom dwellers in the ghetto changes when he is hired by a golf caddie by the name of Fat Dog. The crazed caddie is misogynistic, racist, and deeply obsessed with his cello playing sister who lives with an older jewish man who pays the rent. Brown follows the sister around, and successfully sleeps with her. After dipping his wick in once he's in love (L-U-V) and goes out to try to thwart Fat Dog's maniac plans for his sister and the jewish benefactor. The story unfolds with soap opera style. Relationships aren't as clear as they might seem and lies beget lies which is typical par for the course in Ellroy's novels. The book was thankfully shorter than "LA Confidential" but didn't tell as much of a sweeping story. The writing is similiar as Ellroy's later works but is a bit more straightforward. An interesting quirk in Fitz Brown is his love of classical music which ties nicely into the most recent book I finished by James Cain, another author of the hard-boiled style. Cain is well known for noir classics; "The Postman Always Rings Twice" and "Double Indemity." Cain is not as well known for his proto-feminist novel "Mildred Pierce," which recently was turned into an HBO movie series.
While Cain is considered a hardboiled writer his novels are more dense and substative than the traditional mystery to which the style is associated. I finished "Three by Cain: Serenade, Love's Lovely Counterfeit, and The Butterfly," today. Of the three only "Love's Lovely Counterfeit" falls into the classical realm of noir fiction with its associations with crime, murder, femme fatales, and soulless men. As stated earlier Fitz Brown loves classical music as does the lead character of "Serenade" a wholly interesting tale of a former opera singer whose voiced cracked and so with no talent and luck ended up in Mexico. The washed up talent ends up falling in love with a mexican prostitute. He finds his ability again and regains status as a talented voice. With fame comes problems as his past life catches up to him, specifically in the form of a former male lover who pushed the protagonist too hard and made his voice/self crack. A battle of over the love and attention of the protagonist occurs between the female mexican prostitute and the well to do male lover. This tale was especially interesting as many noir tales tell little of homosexuals. Of course the homosexual was indighted as evil, but there were also obvious ways in which the antagonist was helpful for the protagonists life and on the flip side is the protagonists love affair with a mexican prostitute which is not exactly wholesome.
Cain continued to push the boundaries of what is wholesome in his tale "The Butterfly," which was originally published in 1946. This tale follows Jess, a god fearing man in the mining hills of Apalachia. Jess' grown daughter comes back home to live with him and he is seduced by her into making liquor, defending her honor, and eventually sleeping with her. It is revelead that he is not her father which only encourages him to bang her more. There's few tales that point at incestous lifestyles and pedepholia, perhaps Lolita being the only other that comes to mind and it was certainly interesting that Cain wrote the story considering Cain's other pieces but reading these "Three by Cain," continues to show me the breadth of Cain's work.
Lastly I've seen "Drive," a new release in theatres that follows Ryan Gosling as "The man with no name" who works as a stunt driver for movies in LA and moonlights as a getaway driver. Gosling falls for the girl next door and her son and when the girl's husband comes home he must do job that goes wrong in order to protect the family. Gosling goes on a knight's quest to protect the girl which is disgustingly noble and excitedly violent. The film is accompanied by an excellent synthpop score reminscent of Synth Britania and of course the entire film is a nod to JG Ballard.
Particularly enthralling is the slow cinematography that creates a constant feeling of transportation throughtout the movie. When a character is standing still there is still movement as if the character is always in motion, on a highway. It is probably the best movie I've seen this year. Certainly better than Harry Potter!!!
Saturday, September 10, 2011
I've read the Harry Potter Series. The seven novel chronicle by British author J.K. Rowling is a pop cultural sensation. The narrative follows young Harry Potter, chosen through a series of accidents (and the courageous love his parents) to defeat the most vile of wizards, Lord Voldemort. Our hero/protagonist ages throughout the books and chronicles his enrollment in Hogwarts, a magical school where young wizards and witches learn to hone their abilities. With each passing year Potter uncovers more of the mystery of whom he is, why he was not killed when Voldemort sought to strike him down, and why he must strike down his nemesis. En route to his role as savior to the magical kingdom he is joined by Ron and Hermonine. Whilst Potter close allies, the figure of Dumbledore is more important. It is revealed in the latter books that Dumbledore has been staging the events of Potter's life to conclude with a deadly duel between the two opposing forces. Basically he set Potter up.
Potter's naive belief in Dumbledore, a man whom he barely knows, is ridiculous. Potter's trust in Dumbledore's plan is brought into question but ultimately shown to be true, another sad moral to tell children. Often children are told to trust in adults for tautological reasons, because they are adults, because they know better, because they have more experience... Yet adults like children make mistakes and should be as trusted with decisions as much as children. Adults are just as rash, nonsensical, and absurd as children. The only difference is that adults have more experience in rationalizing their decisions and covering their mistakes.
The series is additionally disappointing in its lack of violence. For an exceptionally evil wizard Voldemort doesn't murder many. He hardly engages in genocide. There are of course more "evil" things than homocide but Voldemort shys away from them. Evidently he's never read the Marquis De Sade nor Lautremont. Voldemort is hell bent on killing Potter (yawn... if I was the most powerful evil wizard ever I would be doing drugs, fucking, and eating babies) and attempting to sustain his immortality but really what good is living forever without sex, drugs, and baby eating?
While reading the series my pictures of Potter and his crew were always formed by the actors in the movies. Having seen the movies before engaging the novels, the actors were scripted into my imagination. When Snape spoke I imagined Alan Rickman speaking and not some character of my own creation. The same was true for Potter (daniel radcliffe), hermonine (emma watson) and Ron(Rubert Grint). Jerry Mander speaks of this phenomenon in his excellent book "4 arguments against television." Mander not only makes social arguments for the destruction of television but also biological ones. Evidently it is a common occurence for people to replace imagination with things that they see on screen.
Overall the novels are enjoyable to read. They are quick page turners that don't have much depth to them. Perhaps they will encourage people to read more... probably they will just encourage people to go see more movies.
Friday, July 29, 2011
"The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country. ...We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of. This is a logical result of the way in which our democratic society is organized. Vast numbers of human beings must cooperate in this manner if they are to live together as a smoothly functioning society. ...In almost every act of our daily lives, whether in the sphere of politics or business, in our social conduct or our ethical thinking, we are dominated by the relatively small number of persons...who understand the mental processes and social patterns of the masses. It is they who pull the wires which control the public mind." Bernays Propaganda 1928
During the radicalism of the 1960s and 1970s this view of the person whose consumption habits were to be controlled came into question. The left did capitalism a favor by opening its doors to the importance of individual choice as a means of self expression. According to Wilhelm Reich, a liberatory Freudian pyschoanalyst, the self's desires should not be suppressed but rather should continually be let loose. The inner unconscious desires and motives should be expressed. Capitalism adapted to this new view and began to market products as expressions of individual taste and desires. No longer was a commodity just a fulfillment of a desire but it was also a way to express desire.
I feel like the strength of this documentary series is in two things. First in showing the adaptability of modern capitalism to incorporate changing views of the self. Ostensibly the documentary is a depiction of the rise of Spectacular capitalism. The second strength is in showing how the self has changed with time. This change implies that our senses of self are not static, essential things but rather adapt with changes in social structure and events in our own personal lives.
Friday, July 15, 2011
"As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect-like creature. He was laying on his hard, as it were armor-plated, back and when he lifted his head a little he could see his domelike brown belly divided into stiff arched segments on top of which the bed quilt could hardly keep in position and was about to slide off completely. His numerous legs, which were pitifully thin compared to the rest of his bulk, waved helplessly before his eyes." The Metamorphis by Franz Kafka
Aurora Theatre, the location for Metamorphis by Franz Kafka and adapted by David Farr and Gisli Orn Gardarsson, was small and intimate. The theatre fit a hundred filled seats. The set was simple; a living room with two chairs and a television, a kitchen with a table, a set of stairs with a framed door and the protagonist, Gregor Samsa's bedroom. His bedroom was a simple affair with a bed and a framed window however the room was slanted downward toward the living room. The angle of the room forced Samsa in his motions through the room to crawl, beast like through the area.
Alexander Crowther, who played Gregor, was made not into a insect which is implied by many translators of the novella, but is rather given a general unwholesome and despicable character. This characterization is closer to the German Ungeziefer which literally means "unclean animal not suitable for sacrifice" and is sometimes used colloquially to mean "bug." Kafka in the novella defines Samsa as an Ungeziefer. Crowther does a splendid job as a green lit beast crawling about the set with darkened eyes. With little costuming he conveys bodily the disgust that Kafka intended.
The play is set in America during the 1950s, an era of witch hunts, paranoia, and sci-fi flicks such as Them! The Samsa family is given a heavy schelack of "normality" which is shattered when their chief breadwinner, Gregor, is unable to work, he is a disgusting beast instead of a good worker. The family is forced to take on a renter, and the father employment. While the economics of the ordeal with Gregor is brings the plot along the interpersonal relationships within the family is where the core of action resides. The cast shows their acting chops with attempts to continue on as normal whilst having a blemish in their lives. Particularly riveting is Madeline H.D. Brown's skill in portraying Gregor's mother. Brown face shows the strain of smiling under duress. Her features portray the tender line between facing things with a smile and cracking under the pressure.
What was particularly interesting about this adaptation was its humor. The novella is an absurd story and this existential absurdity is translated on stage as comedy. There was something poignantly funny when the Samsa family dealt with their new found filth. I'm not sure that it was Kafka's intention for his story to be one of humour and laughter but there is something absurdly comical about a man who wakes one day to find himself a Ungeziefer.
Wednesday, July 6, 2011
"Money," I said.
"It's money," he went on, as if he hadn't heard me. "Money. Too much money for the promoters, too much money for the managers, too much money for the fighters."
"Too much money for everybody except the press agents," I said. I was feeling sorrier for myself at the moment than I was for the game. That's what the battle always did to me.
"I tell you, Mr. Lewis, it's money," Charles was saying.
"An athletic sport in an atmosphere of money is like a girl from a good family in a house of ill fame." p.7 The Harder They Fall
Budd Schulberg was not only a novelist but a screenplay writer who in his most famous title depicts the scandal and corruption of the boxing world. The story follows Eddie Willis a writer and press agent whose moral compass goes askew when he begins to work for Nick Belinzo, a boxing promoter. Belinzo contracts the behemoth peasant Toro Molina to become a fighter and spectacle for him. Toro is unaware of the complexities and business of boxing. Trusting his newfound friends Toro is led along on a string through a series of created victories. Each fight is made more spectacular and Toro is promised more money and all that he desires. In time with the spectacle is the diminishing of Toro's control over his life. Toro is eventually given a pittance of a payment for his work while the others, the promoters and fat cats get rich. Having no other line of recourse Toro is damned to continue to sell himself to fight.
While the action centers on Toro the realization of the grasp of capital depresses Eddie and makes him feel like a beaten fighter. In this way the novel is a classic noir. The main character is aware of fate and the social structures that create his fate but is totally unable to do anything about it no matter his valiant efforts.
Monday, June 27, 2011
Saturday, June 25, 2011
Society of the Spectacle 60
The gym was warm from the San Francisco heat. Summer solistice had just passed and the weather was finally turning. Neungsiam was doing padwork in the ring while my camera snapped pictures. The 36 year old Thai man will be fighting next month in Ponoma California. I was at his place to help him spar, and to possibly interview him.
"Hey, I like your writing a lot," David said to me. I turned toward him. He looked vaguely familiar, later I would recognize his portrait on a fight poster for a couple of years ago. "I totally live through you reading your stuff while I'm at my job."
"There's nothing quite like mediated living," I said in reply.
He looked at me quizzically and a friend nearby smiled.
This is one of the disheartening effects of writing and being public about my trips to Thailand via mymuaythai. People read the highlights of my "adventures" and don't realize that I live an everyday life that is quite normal. Put on stage my exploits are read as a life lived unfettered by social norms, a life of permanent vacation, the complete opposite of socially necessitated labor time/work. Just like happy hours and weekends my advertisements of a life fully lived ends up being escapism. Free time is the time away from work in which we are supposed to regain ourselves and replenish. Labour is a magical commodity in that it can be replenished unlike other items such as coal, meat, or toilet paper. There is a limited supply of the latter, (although I hope that toilet paper doesn't run out anytime soon) because the earth has limited resources. Yet in our free time we reinforce spectacular society. In the above case I am inadvertently reinforcing this idealistic notion of a life truly lived yet as long as there is capital there can only be choices made by and for economics.
Friday, June 10, 2011
I locked my bike to a bike stand and walked inside the barbershop. Outside a striped pole twirled denoting the nature of the business. Four barber chairs were set up on the north wall. One of them was occupied. An early thirties african american man cut the hair of another's with a clipper.
I took off my bag and set it down on a row of chairs for waiting clients on the south wall.
"You need a hair cut," said a barber. His occuppation was denoted by his black smock. He motioned me to take a seat. "What do you want," he asked.
"Cut down the sides to about one and then a little off the top. I have this weird patch of hair on the top of my head from getting stitches last month and I want it to look better. I don't care what you do to it," I told him.
When the hair on the side of my hair is trimmed short you can see the lightning bolt scars from my facial reconstruction. I liked to be able to see them, they are reminders. The lines recall my fight and the surgery afterwards. Are lives are composed of scars, layers upon layers of hardened flesh. Peeling back the topmost slab of skin reveals another and another.
The barber began to cut my hair. The clipper buzzed. Attached to the western wall was a flat screen plasma television. It was showing "Die Hard 4." Bruce Willis was once again trying to save america from certain doom.
"Yo Aaron, you seen that movie yet," the other barber said.
"Nah, I'm supposed to see it with my boy later tonight," Aaron said as he cut my hair.
The barber and I saw in silence except for the ever present noise of the clippers. I thought of chatting with him but my tongue was thick.
"Look good," Aaron asked me. I looked at my reflection. The lightning bolts were there so was the new pink scar that ran down my forehead and into my hairline parting my hair like a cowlick. I blinked at my reflection and nodded.
"How much," I asked.
"Twenty dollars," he said pointing at a sign on the wall.
I gave him a bill and a few dollars as a tip. I ran my fingers through my short hair. I felt the ridge that runs just behind my hairline. I rubbed the ridge and wondered if it would ever disappear.
The sky was still blue. The clouds were still sparse. I unlocked my bicycle. The chain still squeaked slightly. I rode home, my hair cleaner and my scars a little more visible for a while.
Tuesday, May 31, 2011
I buttoned up my black shirt, the garment had been purchased less than a week ago at the Sears next door, it was a necessary item for work outfit. Once buttoned and tucked in I put my suspenders over my shirt and rolled up the sleeves.
The small closet of a room stored the staff lockers. A large sign on the front of the door stated that "This room is not secure." Several of the lockers had small locks on them with various items of clothing, purses, and bags stuffed inside.
Next to the lockers was a rack on which lay various folded piles of towels; blue ones for the kitchen, white ones for the bar, striped ones for polishing. I took two towels of the latter types and an apron. I wrapped the thin strings of the white shoe length apron around my waist and knotted it. It was a stark contrast with my otherwise black outfit; black shoes, black socks, black pants, and black shirt. I opened up the staff locker room door and walked through the hallway and through the curtains onto the restaurant floor.
Having come back from Thailand broke I didn't have much option in employment. Not having a degree (which is worthless if its not a master's or graduate degree), and there being a recession meant that my choices for what type of work I wanted to do were limited so I did what an reasonable person would do, I canvassed restaurants for work. Having worked in the food service industry for over 7 years I've done it all. I've washed dishes, prep cooked, line cooked, bussed, food ran, waited, barbacked, and bartended. I've never stepped into the big shoes of a manager because of my distaste for firing people and mucking my hands with owners and upper management.
The restaurant at which I work now is considered fine dining, which is merely a matter of appearance. Fine dining is more concerned with appearance and gives the customer higher quality food and beverages along with service. This labor and product comes at a higher cost both in terms of labour power and in price. With the higher bill comes a corresponding higher class of customer. Its hard to justify spending $50 on a meal as a worker that only makes $70 a day, but for someone that makes $150 or more daily the fee for luxurious living can be easily afforded.
As a bar back at the restaurant I am in in charge of doing all the grunt labor for the bartenders. The variety of tasks to which I am responsible for is enough to drive a schizophrenic sane. The onus is on me to make sure there is enough fresh squeezed juice, ice, crushed ice, bitters, liquors, utensils, plates, glasses, etc. all the while being burdened with customer service; clearing plates, getting and refilling waters, setting dining ware out. The pace of a restaurant is bipolar in the the psychiatric sense. The business can be depressed and slow with nothing to do and then all at once a maniac streak breaks out demanding immediate and sustained attention. This maniac dash must be reined in by concentration on a variety of tasks demanding one multi-task and constantly think ahead essentially doing labour saving tasks in order to make sure the job gets done.
Eventually the evening ends.I come home and I shower. The smell of food and liquor hangs on me like a foul perfume. The soap scrubs away the stench but doesn't alleviate the aches and pains. Its late and I know that there is no one to help me ease my pain other than other late night workers. I open a beer. The cold liquid rushes down my throat making my throat cold and my body warm at the same time. I stare out into space and try not to think of the things that I forgot tonight, of the repetition, of work.
Saturday, May 28, 2011
Monday, May 23, 2011
Greene returns to the theme of affairs in "The End of the Affair," which is a running thread in all the fiction that I've read by him. The story follows Maurice Bendrix, a slightly crippled writer who while working on a novel falls in love with a married woman, Sarah. Their love affair is troubled by Sarah's refusal to separate from her boring husband, Henry. Bendrix is a jealous lover and their relationship is plagued by his emotions. Set in World War II in London the climatic change in the novel comes about from a bombing. Sarah and Bendrix are at his home and Bendrix goes downstairs, a bomb hits. He is injured and temporarily trapped underneath a door. Sarah in a fit of panic prays to god to save Bendrix. Her lover is saved and as part of her prayer Sarah has promised never to see Bendrix again. Her devotion to god and her desire to keep her promise to the almighty sets the tone and subsequent dilemmas for the second half of the novel as Bendrix tries to reunite with her. The novel's ending is predictable but what is particularly irksome is the religious tract feel of the story. Instead of being a fictional tale about the sorrowful end of a relationship the novel turns into a polemic about belief in god. Several miraculous events unfold relating to Sarah and her faith which turns everyone into big old Jesus believers. Blech!
Reading about Greene makes me not surprised in the least about this latter turn, as authors' writing is influenced by their lives. Greene was a Roman Catholic himself and had an affair, in fact the book is dedicated to his mistress at the time.
Continuing on with the overally religious is Jeannett Winterson's "Oranges are not the only fruit," a book I shamelessly stole from one of my Thai roommates (sorry man I'll pay you back for it?). The novel is a bildsungsroman about a young girl whose mother is fanatically religious. The mother's social circle is confined to her church group who routinely chastise others for their sins. The mother is heavily influenced by missionary style beliefs and has a strong pentecostal background.
The essential tension comes about because of the young girl's (and narrator) affair with another girl. Under the guise of being especially devout the two girls spend all their time together, eventually a relationship blooms. Unfortunately the lesbian flower of youth is crushed by the hammer of religion as the mother and her cronies find the passion of the two children intolerable. The two girls are torn apart, yet the cycle happens to the narrator again, and again as she become mores cognizant of her sexual desire for women.
The narrative is non-linear with several side tales told about a young woman and a wizard along with knights of the round table. Heavy on the religious symbolism the book is quite layered but what ultimately shines is the simple desire for a more diverse world in which people's desires can be accepted. The title of the book comes about because of the mother's insistence to feed her daughter oranges. The fruit is the only food available until the close of the book when the daughter has come of age and separated herself, to some extent, from the confines of her mother's religion. The mother comes to an uneasy acceptance of her daughters carnal passions by not mentioning them whilst still going out to save the world from sin.
"Oranges are not the only fruit," is Winterson's first novel, published at the age of 24 and like Greene's novel is at least semi-autobiographical. Winterson grew up in a penecostal family. A devout child, Winterson began to deliver sermons and proselytize by the age of six. Ten years down the road she realized that she was a lesbian and left home which mirrors the narrative of the novel. We write about what we know, and we only know what we live.
Winterson includes a handful of poetic and interesting lines that I liked which are included below:
"I have a theory that every time you make an important choice, the part of you left behind continues the other life you could have had. Some people's emanations are very strong, some people create themselves afresh outside of their own body. (p. 164)"
"Time is a great deadener; people forget, get bored, grow old, go away. She said that not much had happened between us anyways, historically speaking. But history is a string full of knots, the best you can do is admire it, and maybe knot it up a bit more. History is a hammock for swinging and a game for playing. A cat's cradle (p. 166)."
"There's no choice that doesn't mean a loss (p.167)."
Tuesday, May 17, 2011
I came back a little over a week ago after a final fight at MBK mall in Thailand. My bout will be posted below. The bout went well considering my opponent's experience level, he had about 40-50 fights. My corner asked me if I wanted to keep fighting as blood dripped down my face and I said that I didn't want to make the decision. They made it for me saying that continuing to fight wasn't worth it. My bout wasn't at a big stadium, it wasn't for a belt, and the money was horrific, I got paid thirty dollars for the bout, granted that is a fair amount of pad thai.
Coming back to the states is like coming back to a heap of problems, and the drudgery of everyday life. I have to find a job, I have to move, I have to pay my bills, I basically have to make up for the borrowed time that I was living on in Thailand. Vacations are borrowed time in a capitalist world, time you are lended in order to keep you in place when you return with more bills and more problems. That said my time in Thailand was one of the best times in my life because I was living exactly the way I wanted to. I went to Thai language school, I was in a great relationship, I had great friends, I trained all the time, I fought, I read a lot, I wrote a lot etc.
I would have stayed if it was feasible but its just not realistic as I don't have a degree. To get the most basic job, teaching English, you need a degree. That said degrees out here in the states are pretty much worthless. While giving a graduate a few dollars more in a new job they don't pay off the college loans right away, if ever. Instead they are a false promise of security down the road, a promise that is increasingly shown to be another lie of the capital-spectacle.
Coming back and not getting into the schools I applied for is pretty disappointing but also reminds me of how pointless it is to be university. If you want something you need to get out there and do it. Now all I have to do is fully express what it is that I wants.
Round 3 part 1
Round 3 part 2
Tuesday, April 26, 2011
My friend and I were walking around the backpacker's ghetto of Khao San in Bangkok about two weeks ago. The area is great for vegan fare and also a real hotspot if you ever want to come to an exotic country to buy stupid souvenoirs from Thais and or get your hair braided. The area is a dump, however it does offer a few used bookstores. Sadly books out here are expensive, and even more disappointing is the lack of translated Thai literature, if only Thailand had been colonized.
While I was there I picked up a collection of stories by Srinawk. The collection of stories is largely set in rural Thailand, which while making up the majority of the landscape of the nation does not usually factor into the spectacular image of the tourist haven. When people think of Thailand they think of Bangkok and beaches.
Set in the countryside the stories grapple with issues of modernity, gender, and the ever intruding presence of foreigners.
My friend and I sat down on a bench nearby the backpacker's ghetto. She laid down while I sat up reading the book aloud. Nearby boats shuttled down the Chao Phraya river and the yellow shirts headquarter, with its netted garb, churned out ideas to invoke the masses. The introductory story, over twenty years old still has resonance and impact. Not only does it speak of the ambiguous relationship of Thai citizens to their representatives, and the emptiness of democracy but also of the timeless quality of those relationships.
Thailand is gearing up for another election. The prime minister is calling for elections in the fall. It is worried that the red shirts party Peua Thai will oust the current administration. When the nation's television satellite was disrupted for a few hours, everyone throughout the nation assumed that a coup d'etat was in process...
Whatever happens in Thailand in the next few decades, years, months, we can safely assume that politics will always be the same shameful repetition that it always is.
by Khamsin Srinawk
The shadows of the soaring pines falling across the rough road had shrunk in size to a couple of yards. The market-place was quiet as usual at this time of the day. Once in a while a bicycle passed. Under the overhanging roofs thickly coated with dust a few groups of country folk were walking. Now and again shouts emerged from the cafe on the corner but the passers-by paid no attention since everyone knew that of all those who might be tipsy any time any season, who else would it be but Kerhn or, as he was known around town, Professor Kehrn, and his three or four hangers-on. To tell the truth, they weren't a bad bunch. If rowdy, it was usually when each had drunk enough to be stewed, and Kerhn, the leader, wasn't a debauched outsider. On the contrary, he had risen to be abbot of the local temple. He had reached the second of the three levels of Dharma studies, his religious duties were well performed and he was respected by the faithful. Had he remained in orders, it is not impossible he would have risen to be chief monk of the district. But alas, nothing is permanent. The belief of the devout, especially devout women, in the Sacred Teaching often becomes in time belief in a particular monk. When that happens, if the religiously inclined woman doesn't become a nun, the monk finds some reason to put aside the yellow robe. Abbot Kerhn was no exception. Among the devout women who enjoyed going to the temple, but not to listen to preaching, was a widow named Wan Im. Before long, as everyone expected, the abbot left monastery and robe and moved into Wan Im's house where it was understood that they lived together as husband and wife. They lived quietly for some years but then, though her heart was unwilling, disease took Wan Im away. Grief converted the former prelate. The chagrin, instead of dissipating in heavy drink as he had hoped, swelled. Several times people saw him weep aloud in the middle of the market-place.
His wife's financial status having been assured from lending out money since she was young, Kerhn had enough for food and liquor for a long time to come. Later, when Kwahn and Koi, disciples from the days when he was a monk, joined him, the ex-abbot became chief of the band the townsfolk characterized as 'long-time mokns, big time louts.'
'Professor, you've no idea just what a mess the country is in. Pibun and Pao have flown off to goodness knows where,' he said as he pulled up a stool to the table. The three turned to him attentively.
'It's a big mess all right,' Koi mumbled drunkenly. 'Maybe this is what the bigmouths were blowing about at election time. What did they say, Professor?' he said, poking his face at Kerhn. '”Cracy, cracy something”.'
'Democracy, nut! Not “cracy”,' Kerhn said severely, They call it a “democratic coup d'etat” see. You have to have a lot of coups d'etat. Otherwise it isn't democracy.' He continued showing off his knowledge. 'You're stupid. If you don't know, keep quiet. I know because at the last election the district officer and provincial governor came to me on bended knees begging me to be a chief canvasser for their boss.'
'Eh, true!' Kwahn put in. 'The Professor and I really gave it to them. No one had the nerve to speak. Now there's going to be another election of people's representatives, isn't there?' he added gleefully.
Gurt put the glass down, brought his stool closer to the table and shook his head two or three times. 'Election for sure. I heard the bunch up at the provincial office spreading it around that it was time to get some service points again by going out and having the people knuckle to.'
The wind puffed a cloud of red dust from the road into the shophouse. Falling pine needles pattered on to the tin roof.
'I have an idea,' Koi spoke up again. 'If they need representatives, why don't you run, Professor?'
'Ha! You've got something there,' Gurt backed him up.
Koi, gathering enthusiasm, half stood up from his stool and continued in a loud voice. 'Because... um... because the Professor is a great man. He has money and no children to worry him. Wealth is corrupting, so why hang on to it? That's dead right, isn't it Kwahn?'
The person questioned assented with a slow nod of his head.
'Easy dammit. You're looking for trouble.' Kerhn turned to him annoyed.
'They say these representatives are really big. Bigger than village heads; bigger than county chiefs, bigger than district officers, bigger than provincial governors, and what really matters, bigger than the police. Now that's it. You can do anything. Booze, beat up anyone, kick the Chinese in the pants. Who could stop you? You could get even with that bloody Police Sergeat Haut. Just yesterday we laced into each other at the poker game at the chief's house behind the police station.'
Kerhn listened intently to Kwahn rave. He chuckled, wagging his head like a tall bell tower swaying in the first storms of the rainy season. He muttered, 'This here Kwahn doesn't know what he's talking about. I used to be a chief canvasser for the provincial governor. Now I know that anyone who gets to be a representative has to be an important person. Really knowledgeable about money matters.' He paused for a second to reach for his glass of whisky, then took a gulp. 'Even as we are, people say we're bad. You know, if it wasn't because I have some money and did some bullying to help the big guys at the last election, by now the police would have done me in.' He fixed his eyes on Kwahn. 'I can't even be a decent person myself, how could I represent anybody else?'
'That's not right, Professor. I think to be a representative nowadays you've got to be a hooligan, shout a lot, and put people off by cursing their families right back to their great grandfathers. You the bunch running for office last time: no better than us ruffians, shouting around, swearing in the middle of the street. Even if we are a little wild, there are only a few of us. That last crowd of representatives brought in a pack of robbers, hundreds of them. That's why I think the Professor is great for being a representative.'
'It's not easy. I used to be a canvasser. I know.'
'That's it. That's just it! You can be a vote-getter for others. What makes you think you can't be a vote-getter for yourself? Give it a try, Professor, give it a try.' He patted Kerhn on the back. 'If anything goes very wrong, we'll punch them up. So what? Our fists are pretty well known around here.'
'But... ,' the voice of the Professor softened. 'But what will I say to them? I hear those people hungry for office blabbering, lying, boasting of a million and one things. People like me, even if I am a drunk … I was a monk, I studied, if you want me to lie and crow … well, it sticks in my throat.'
Kwahn called for some more whisky. The whooshing of the wind across the tin roof blotted out the whistling of the pines. Whisky gurgled faintly into the glasses. At almost the same moment, each of the four reached for his and drank. Their expressions and eyes were thoughful.
'Golly,' Kwahn groaned softly. 'Professor, you're making too much of this. How hard can it be? I could be elected if I had the money. You lambaste them. You can point your finger in their faces and give them hell.'
'If things go wrong, we'll smash them into the ground,' Koi interjected. 'We're local people. The folks around know what we can do. The odds are with us. Put up a fight. Look Professor, the more they say these representatives are bigger than the police, the more it's worth a go. How many times has Sergeant Huat pushed us around? Maybe it's our turn now.'
Outside the shop, the sun was dazzling. The grey gravel covering the road reflected the light like the scales of those plaster serpents decorating temple steps. Bicycles were passing by. Kerhn stared down the road that thrust straight into the dense forest. The surrounding mountains were faintly visible in the flames of sunshine. His head nodded drunkenly again as a dark green bicycle steadily approached.
'Eh, if it isn't Sergeant Haut.' Kerhn popped to his feet. 'Hey Sarg, I'm a representative. What do you think of that!'
Bicycle brakes screeched.
'Drunk again. Go home. Making a commotion, disturbing the people. I'll haul you off to the police station in a minute.'
Crestfallen, Kerhn dropped back on his bench staring after the grey shirt until it disappeared around a corner at the end of the market-place.
'That's the ticket, Professor,' a voice piped up. 'This isn't the first time Sergeant Haut's bit the dust.'
'In fact we take turns. Sometimes him, sometimes me,' Kerhn mused faintly.
The news that Mr. Kerhn Kianrak, more commonly known as Professor Kerhn, would run for election as a people's representative spread quickly from the end of the market at the beginning of the road right up to the provincial administration building. Government officials split their sides with laughter but the common folk knew only that a candidate had to be obliging and generous and good at passing out whisky, cigarettes and even money, and had to like loud talk about things no one knew anything about, and well … Professor Kerhn seemed fully qualified.
On the day fixed for the nomination of candidates, Kerhn filed his papers, accompanied by Kwahn, Koi and Gurt. No difficulties were encountered. Kerhn paid the deposit of 3,000 baht and handed in a number of photographs taken when he had just left the monastery. From that day on, the little market-place of this frontier province perked up. Cars of various shapes and sizes managed to make their way to the province and helter-skeltered from one corner of the town to the other. For this election, there were almost ten candidates including former government officials, lawyers, titled bigwigs anad grad city folks, most of them from the capital and neighboring provinces. Only Kerhn was a native of the province.
Reputations for handing out money, whisky, tobacco and food established by the last crop of candidates and the lack of farming to be done because it was the dry season brough a heavy stream of people down from the distant hills. The numbers grew with the approach of election day. Night after night the candidates showed their movies, some nights only one show taking place, but on others as many as three stands would compete with one another. Candidates proclaimed their virture as though they were supermen. The crowds milled around noisily from group to group watching to see if anything was being given away and if disappointed would move on to a another circle. It seemed even more festive than the annual fair. Kerhn and his cronies floated drunkenly with the rest of the crowd. He didn't have a chance to make speeches and if he did, wouldn't have known what to say. Thee most he could manage was to make disturbances as things went along. But even that didn't go over so well because the people, still hoping the candidates would hand out money and fearing Kerhn would jeopardize the opportunity, became menacing. One night, two groups of candidates set up their platforms, projectors and screens in different corners of the field. Each of the office-seekers boasted of his boldness, ability, honors, infinite qualifications. Some boasted of having built roads, wells, monasteries and even lavatories. One volunteered to construct houses, plant gardens, build schools and hospitals. The people looked on with interest. Kerhn invited four or five buddies to start shouting from nearby.
'NO GOOD! SHUT UP! NONSENSE! NO...' Before the word was out of him, Kerhn realized he was flat on his back from the force of somebody's fist to which was added a growl, 'We're all waiting for money so what the hell are you shouting for?'
Kerhn, his mouth and ears swollen, an eye closed, staggered towards home with his friends, dejected. 'It looks bad,' he muttered to his cronies while swaying down the road. That night all except Kerhn slept in a stupor. The force of the blow earlier that evening forced his mind to search for a way to get the better of them. He rubbed his mouth and groaned softly, but before dropping off to sleep, smiled.
At dawn, Kerhn, still groggy, got up and staggering a few steps forward stumbled over Kwahn, kicking him lightly in the middle of the back.
'Kwahn, get up, get up Kwahn.'
Kwahn turned over and bracing himself with both hands against the floor reached a sitting position but then fell over again. On the third try he stayed up and squinted about. 'You sure are skinny, Professor,' he mumbled while fishing about for a water bowl. 'Must be from too much drink and not enough sleep.'
'None of your flattery. Nothing physical is permanent.'
Kwahn pulled Koi up from his sleep. The cloudless morning was chilly, the mist tumbling with the pale sunshine. Kerhn looked at his two followers, his eyes showing fatigue.
'Koi, Kwahn,' he started slowly, 'I have found the way to do the loud mouths in. I know that most of the crowd have come because they think money is going to be handed out.' He stroked the still swollen parts of his face. 'So if you go around the market-place and tell everyone that if they want to get money, come to my house. Tell them I'll take them to get the money myself.'
As soon as his henchmen were out of the house, Kerhn went back to sleep. Later in the day he awoke, delighted to find the house was filled with noise and people. He tiptoed over to a crack in the wall to peep out at them: a real crowd, even more than he expected. His face dirty, his clothes wrinkled from sleeping, he stepped outside. Kwahn and Koi led the people with two loud hurrahs. The people echoed them with a roar. Kerhn yelled at the top of his voice, 'All right, all right, my brethren.' Interest focused. 'Now, there are a number of good people with money. They come here wanting to be our representatives...' A brief pause to gather breath. 'They all say they're going to build roads, dig canals, build us schools. Things like that they can do.' Brief pause. 'But compare those things to money, which do we want?' Fan an instant the question hung in the air.
'We want money, we want money, money, money moneeee,' the cry resounded from rank to rank filling the crowd.
'Good, excellent. We've got to go and get the money from them. They can build streets and roads. They need money to do it. They must have money. Where are they, where are they?' he asked provocatively.
'At the hotel, they're at the hotel, the lot of them,' returned the shouts from the crowd.
'All right, let's go!' Kerhn jumped from the porch, but fell over on his face from exhaustion of the previous night's adventures, arms and legs askew in a billow of dust and drawing a good laugh from the mob. He got up quickly, brushed the dust off and strode resolutely in front. A thousand people stretched in a long turbulent procession behind him heading for the small hotel, the only one in town.
Seeing a herd of people approaching, the group at the hotel with the politicians' instinct scurried to dress themselves as befits their dignity. Some quickly pinning on their medals and decorations, in full dress, throats twitching, gave orders to their people to connect the loudspeakers. 'Hey, hurry up, looks like they're really coming this way. See what I mean. The stupidity of the people really pays: it's like a pot of gold.' Some jumped for their beds and began practising gestures for their speeches.
Villagers, who hadn't an idea of what was going on, carried and dragged their kids along into the crowd. The whole body of astonished government officials dropped their work ot look on from the sides. The candidates formed a line in front of the hotel. Kerhn walked straight to them.
'We want to come to an agreement with you honourable representatives,' he began.
'With great pleasure,' the oldest one replied bowing until his body looked like an old shrimp at the end of the rainy season. 'If there is anything at all we can do for you, we will represent you to the best of our ability.' A broad smile pushed out his ruddy jowls as he led the whole group in a bow.
'What have you got to give us?'
'Whatever is the desire of the people of our province, whatever will serve the welfare of the people of our province, that will I do for my fellows until my last breath,' replied a young one at the end of the row winding up with a little bow which brought the others down in little bows.
Without hesitation, Kerhn yelled at his loudest, 'MONEEE, WE WANT MONEY!'
The crowd took up Kerhn's cry.
'Money, we've come for money!' The words reverberated over and over again. 'Money, money.'
The candidates fidgeted. Drops of sweat broke out. Some tried to state their policies and aims. Some began to praise their own past activities and offered plans for the future. But the increasing demands for money prevented them all from finishing. The old noble who had dragged his shrivelled body up from the capital fainted to the delighted cheers of the crowd. Those who tried to speak crumpled their notes in fustration.
The cries grew deafening as Kerhn firmly made his way to the microphone and gestured to the mass.
'All you faithful believers, you've seen for yourselves they're a lot of wind. They'll do everything for us, but how can they do anything when all we do is ask for money and they don't have any to give us? When that's the way it is, how can we believe them? How can we elect them?' His voice was emphatic.
'These fellows who are running for office come from different ranks and classes. That one over there is a knight.' He pointed his finger. 'The next one over there is a sir. And the one next to him is a lawyer. The old one there who almost died a minute ago is a noble. That one there who's hung a lot of magic charms on his chest is a general. All you faithful, decide for yourselves who you are going to elect. Now I used to be a canva... er, that is, I used to go to Bangkok. Now I'll tell you something. A lot of you probably don't know what a knight, a sir and so forth are. Well, I'll tell you. A knight looks after horses and also sometimes feeds and waters chickens, ducks and elephants. They do it at night. I know because I've been to Bangkok. A sir we ought to speak to as 'Sire', and we know that sires are kept for our mares that don't have any foals yet. As for this noble, I have my doubts about him. What kind of noble doesn't wear his proper robes? Maybe he's an ignoble noble.' He stopped to swallow his saliva.
'That one over there who loves those toys is a general. Take a look. Pinning a row of seashells on his chest. Those people are childish. They like toys just like our children. The one who's sneaking away, he's a lawyer, someone who likes trouble where he finds it. No money to give him and you land in jail.'
The crowd listened in astonished silence. Kerhn was still for an instant and then continued.
'Dear friends, the others have done a lot of talking. Today, listen to me. I'm a candidate too. Who was it a little while ago who said he really knows us, really knows our poverty and troubles? Ask him. Brethren ask him. Does he know how many acres we have? Does he know what we eat with our rice in the morning? Believe me, he doesn't know. Empty talk. Now take me. I'll do anything you want. Kick a dog, bash somebody's head in. Anyone you don't like, tell me. Er... uh.' As his eyes lit on Sergeant Huat standing at the side, his voice tempered. 'What I just said … in fact I never did anything like that. I'll end here. Amen. May you have long life, good looks and health, and may the Triple Gems help me become a people's representative.'
From that day, Kerhn's reputation flourished among the people while the other candidates dodged public meetings to avoid the taunts. Some, losing their nerve, fled back to Bangkok.
Election day came and passed without incident. The official results were announced a little past eight in the evening. Soon after, Sergeant Haut rushed breathlessly up to the duty officer at the police station.
'Now I'm in for it, sir,' the poor policeman gasped. 'Mr. Kerhn, he was drunk and raising a row in the market. I locked him up here since morning and now he's the people's representative. I'm not going to be in this district for long, that's for sure.' His voice was tinged with alarm.
'That's bad. That's really bad. Have you released him yet?' the duty officer asked, lifting his eyes from the daily reports. But Sergeant Haut had already vanished.
The duty officer then walked over and opened the cell door. The three of them were sprawled on the floor sleeping. The stench of vomit mixed with other filth wafted out. Locating Kerhn, the officer reached out to shake him lightly but swiftly withdrew his hand when he found his target covered with vomit. He grumbled to himself and used his foot instead, nudging Kerhn gently.
'Sir, sir, mister, hey Kerhn, Kerhn.'
'Huh,' Kerhn drawled. 'Where am I? Give me some water.' He screwed up his eyes. 'Black as pitch.'
'It's night already. You can leave, sir. Please wake up those two gentleman.'
'Eh, who are you talking to, lieutenant?' Kerhn asked bewildered.
'I'm talking to the honourable representative, sir. Please leave. The election is over now.'
Kerhn took some time to wake up the other two, then all three crawled outside. Each drank a bowl of water offered by the police, walked unsteadily out of the police station and disappeared in the darkness. Kerhn still kept to himself the news heard a moment before from the police. His ears were ringing with the words 'honourable representative' spoken with humility by the authorities who had for so long bullied him. The three bumbled through the blackness in silence and crawled up the stairs to the house. Kwahn and Koi flopped down at once and went back to sleep by the stairs. Kerhn rested, his brain agitated but confused. The drunkenness had vanished. He felt airy, as if disembodied. He began to think of things he had never though of before, of the words 'people's representative'. He though of Gurt's words spoken in the cafe. 'A representative is bigger than the district officer, bigger than the provincial governor.' Apart from that he knew nothing. Was that all? Doubt welled. Surely there was something more because he knew that every people's representative had to go to Bangkok. But they must have more to do than just go to the capital. Kerhn began to reflect on Bangkok and its crazy bigness. Didn't this mean he had to go there to live, separated from his own people in a different kind of life? Now what would that be like? The outlook wasn't bright any more. Kerhn had been to Bangkok once when still a monk. He tried to recall the name of the temple where he had stayed but couldn't. The failure preyed on his mind. Anxiety increased as he recollected a picture of a previous representative cloaked outlandishly in a jacket that looked like a whole blanket, with a silly rag dangling from his neck. He mumbled to himself, 'What a fool. You don't know when you're well off.'
The moon and constellations sank in the sky. 'Whew, this world is sure getting hot for me,' he exclaimed to himself. As he went to get a drink of water, the neighbour's roosters crowed their announcement of dawn. Kerhn was afraid of the daybreak. Bleakness was creeping in with it. The bushes and trees were beginning to have an outline. In that instant he made up his mind. Kwahn and Koi were dead asleep. He disappeared into the house for a second and returned, casting a glance and a sigh at his two disciples. Finally, he tiptoed past them, went out of the house and headed straight for the market-place, nothing in mind like a mechanical doll. At the head of the road at the end of the market area he saw a standing truck and heard three people making a noise, so he drifted over. Two young fellows faced him as if he were some night pilferer but beckoning asked for a hand to push the stalled vehicle. In a few words Kerhn learned that the truck was carrying rice and other goods across the border. He helped at once and in a second the engine fired and the truck disappeared in the direction of the glow on the horizon.
No one saw Mr. Kerhn again. No one in the province knows where he has gone. Those who knew turned out to be the reporters from the Bangkok newspapers. Several of the papers ran the story that a fearless representative of the people had his mouth closed by a dark power and that his body was thrown over a cliff for the vultures to pick at. The news item was accompanied by a photo of vultures under white clouds.
Now the little province is busy again. Every day fancy cars of the big boys from Bangkok investigating this mysterious case arrive and take back to the city a policeman or two. One car just went off this morning carrying away Sergeant Huat mutter, 'Damn, now I've had it.'