Coming clean

Do you ever leave the shower before fully washing yourself?  I’ve come close a couple of times recently, and here’s why:

Thinking about unrelated matters.  This — combined with a spacey personality — will botch a great bath.  One must focus.

This is my normal routine:  First I clean the package and the back door.  This is hand work, no washcloth required.  Plus, it’s kinda fun.

The hair comes next, the shampoo.  I buy cheap shampoo because I figure soap is soap, and the rest is advertising aimed almost exclusively at women who will believe and buy anything when it comes to their appearance.

The hair does not require a washcloth either, so the cloth remains hanging on the ceramic hook.

I sometimes turn next to the navel.  If you’re an innie instead of an outie, you gotta deal with the navel which can collect most anything.  It’s a garbage bin.

Soap a finger and excavate.

Okay, some time has elapsed.  I’m thinking of a million things, and I figure I’m clean.  I start to turn the water off  but — just to make certain — I touch the washcloth on the hook.

Dry as a bone.  My chest, my back, my legs, my feet, my armpits, etc., have not been touched.  They are wet, however, and that is how I get duped.

This is disturbing.  I think I’ve never actually left the shower before finishing the task, but this is uncertain.  If you ever run into me in person and detect an uncertain odor, just give me a wink.  I’ll go directly home and wash.

Thanks in advance.

Goodbye, Pepe


Pepe looked high in the southwestern sky at the vultures circling beyond the aqueduct.

The soldiers had come late last night, or at least they called themselves soldiers.  They had uniforms, and they were mean.

He was leaning against an adobe wall, thinking of tortillas, maybe some beans and salsa picante.  Pepe was very hungry.  He had not eaten in 14 hours.

Pepe was a simple corn farmer, and he told them that.  They had just laughed and slapped him.  It was good that Lupita had fled into the fields with Juanito and little Maria.  He prayed they were not hungry too, but they surely were.

A capitán stood 10 meters away, and he held a sword.

The harvest would have started next week.  Pepe had already asked his amigos Pablo and Manny for help as he always did.

They would have come with machetes to cut the corn.  Some would have been sold, and some kept to be ground into flour for tortillas.

Part would have gone to Pablo and Manny and their wives and many children, but they wouldn’t be needing corn anymore.  None of them.


The sky was blue, and the air was chill.  Pepe inhaled deeply, both to enjoy that air and to keep from crying because he was so close to crying, and he did not want to do that.  Men do not weep no matter the circumstances.

He thought to that day nine years back when he and Lupita wed under the scrub oak tree, all made proper by the wandering priest who comes now and then.

Pepe had come close to crying that day too, so beautiful and sweet was his new bride.  He could not believe his Good Fortune that he — the son of a poor nopál farmer — would lie evermore in the arms of such loveliness and grace.

They were blessed by Juanito and little Maria.  Family photos, shot by a traveling wagoner, were hung unframed but proud on a wall spike in their adobe cabaña.  Their lives were simple but good.

Pepe looked again at the vultures circling.  The rope was cutting into his wrists.  The capitán brought his sword down with a dramatic flourish.


Everything became clear to Pepe.  He cried tears of joy with no shame.

Personal evolution

I’ve undergone a personality change.  It started earlier this year.  I have no idea why.

It was like spontaneous combustion.

Some people who know me personally probably noticed.  A primary symptom is that I have lost what little patience I had previously, and what I had before would have filled a thimble.

A symptom that my cyber-amigos would have noticed, though they would not have known the cause, is that I abandoned my website about my new country.

I can explain that part:  The novelty wore off.

After living outside the United States for 12 years (come January) what once was fascinating has become mundane.  Now, when I go to the United States, which happens too infrequently, that’s what fascinates me.

Another symptom:  I once enjoyed ranting about politics on another of my websites.  My interest in that has dropped drastically, and I have taken that website offline.

If you want piercing political insights, you’ll have to go elsewhere.

So there you have it.  I’m a new man, reborn.*  Spontaneous combustion arrives in many guises.  Guess I’m lucky I did not burst out in actual flames.

You’re never too ancient to evolve into another life form.

* * * *

* No, not like that, church people.

Books and booze

Earlier this year I read War and Peace and Anna Karenina back to back.  Earlier this week I started The Brothers Karamazov.  If it’s any good, and it’s said to be, I’ll go directly to Crime and Punishment.

I should have read these epics eons ago, especially since I spent my professional life messing with words.  But I spent my leisure time carousing with the Demon Rum a bit more than was prudent.

The Demon Rum and reading are not good mixers.  Even so, I have always read more than your Average Joe.  My wife thinks I’m the smartest guy she ever met.  By smart, she means well-versed.  Culto, in her idiom.

When I quit toiling for cash on Dec. 19, 1999, and thought about what I would do with my increased freedom, I decided I would read a lot.

I also thought I would help orphans and old ladies, but I’ve yet to do that.

I had renounced the Demon Rum earlier, March 30, 1996.  Mix that in with no more working for money, and you can see the free time we’re facing.

There was even time to pack two bags and move alone to another country, learn a new language, dance in the moonlight.

I’ve yet to read a single book in the new language because so many remain unread in English, and Amazon’s Kindle makes them accessible and cheap.

Orphans and old ladies still await my attention.  Maybe next week.  Or after The Brothers Karamazov.  Or perhaps Crime and Punishment.

Or never.  May the Goddess forgive me.

Death vs. dying

Not quite the same thing.  Death is the moment.  Dying is the process.  Most accept death.  It’s the dying that disturbs us.

Some skip the process, driving directly into death, or so it seems. You go to sleep one night saying,  See you in the morning — to your sweetheart.

You turn off the reading lamp.  And never wake again.

These are the fortunate people, providing it doesn’t happen when you’re 42 years old, or in that premature ballpark.

We have no statistics, but let’s assume most people feel the process in one way or the other.  Prolonged or brief.  The latter is preferred, a brief process.

Say, a car crash after which you spend some time on the pavement before the moment arrives.

The prolonged process that we all fear is cancer.  There are other prolonged processes, but cancer is the most popular one to dodge if you can.

If there is no pain and discomfort, the process still is troubling because you know.  There is one way to avoid the process, but you still know.


Think of Hemingway and his shotgun in Idaho.  Or the suave actor George Sanders who killed himself by downing five bottles of Nembutal in Barcelona on reaching age 65 because he figured the best of life was behind him.

So death and dying are not the same.  I wish a speedy death to you all.  But no time soon. And may you all miss the process, going directly to the moment.

Say good night to your sweetheart.  And a kiss.

On the loquat

Lying in bed at sunrise, looking through the window and 20 yards farther, I spot him sitting there.

A lone hummingbird on the peak of a loquat tree.

Lone hummingbird  borders on redundancy because a hummingbird will almost always be alone if he has anything to say about it.  Smokin’  love would be the only thing to alter that misanthropic attitude.

Even though my specs still sit on the bedside table, I can see that hummer sitting there through the window 20 yards away.  I later measured the distance.

There is something written in a dusty old tome to the effect that if one sees a hummingbird atop a loquat tree immediately on waking,  life will turn out better than average.

One would prefer this omen earlier in life, but this will surely do.

* * * *

(Note: This upbeat item is dedicated to my cyberamigo Ezra in the State of Maine who thinks  The Unseen Moon tends too often toward the grim.)

Poor us

Just $1,700 a year save me and my wife from being poor.

Television news told me today that official poverty in the United States means an annual income of $22,300 or less, and we surpass that max by a measly $1,700.

Our income is my Social Security plus a miserly pension from the Hearst Corporation. We are borderline po’  folks!

And yet we live in a big fancy house, own two cars, eat in restaurants more often than we ought, have no debt whatsoever and — the Goddess willing — we’re flying to Buenos Aires next April for our 10th anniversary.

Plus, we usually vacation twice a year in a suite overlooking the Pacific Ocean in Zihuatanejo, Mexico.

How is this possible?  Easy. We do not live in the United States.

My advice:  Get out of there.


Jahn ran his tongue along the length of the cigarette he had rolled. Then he fingered it nice and tight, put it into his mouth, picked up a match from the bedside table and torched the twisted tip.

The day was off to a great start, and he was sitting naked on the edge of the bed in the Marbol Hotel.  He had murder on his mind.

Murder for love, which is the best sort, the most unstoppable, the most satisfying, the most sensual, murder you do with blood in your eyes, killing the competition.  And he wouldn’t use a gun or a knife.

No, he was gonna bludgeon that sumbitch to death, show him who was boss, even all the scores.  And get his woman back.

Jahn inhaled and reviewed his plan because planning is critical when you’re facing a man as cruel and crafty as Lechke.

Lechke had brought her to this city months back from Lisomon in the foothills of the high Nevatumblas where the three of them had once lived.

Get out of town, Lechke told Jahn, and Jahn had done it, like the pusillanimous piece of pathos he had been at that time.

But time and anger had changed him, and now he was cocked.

His woman’s name was Lydia, and they had been long in love when Lechke snatched her and dispatched the competition, Jahn, as easily as spitting tobacco on cold cement.

There was nothing to be done. They had cried and parted rapidly one night while Jahn could still escape with his skin attached to meat and bone.

* * * *

He went to a park last night and chopped a hunk of hard oak.  He chiseled it with an ugly knife till it was four feet long and thick all around except at the thinner base where he wrapped adhesive tape for a sure grip.

He sanded some, but left the head rough and brutal.

Every night Lechke took Lydia to a downtown dive on Duval Street named Danchiuk’s where they drank vodka and ate dolmasy till closing time at two.

Walking later down the dark street, hand in hand, they always passed an even darker alley, and that is where Jahn would launch his attack to get his woman back.  He had not heard from her in the year since he was sent packing ignominiously from Lisomon.

* * * *

They were tipsy and laughing as they approached, and they did not see Jahn in the alley.  They sailed past, and Jahn slipped astern, lifted the hard oak and brought it down on Lechke’s head with a killing force.

He dropped heavily.  And forever.

Lydia saw Jahn and began to scream.  She turned to Lechke and dropped to his chest, wailing,  My love!  My love!

In that instant, shocked, all Jahn’s plans changed.  He raised the avenging oak once again and crushed Lydia.

He stood there confused for a few seconds till his head cleared.

He looked up and down Duval.  All was silent except the sound of dripping blood.  He dipped into his pocket for paper and tobacco.  He licked his lips.

He was a man again.  And totally free.

* * * *

This story had a beginning.

(One of a series titled  The Marbol Hotel.)

Desert angel

She had graduated 12 years earlier near the top of her class at the university where she studied third-world economics and English.

Her name was Alala, which means the lost one. A large firm in the capital had offered a fine position, but she returned to the village where she was born because she was needed there.

She married Jelani, which means mighty one, and he was an officer in the village bank. There were two children, Jamar, which means handsome, age 8, and Fatima, which means weaned, though that was not quite the case.

Fatima was six months old.  She was fat and happy with round black eyes.

The family made payments on a new condo on the village’s outskirts, part of a government project called Hope.

They drove a Ford Fiesta and entertained friends on weekends when Alala would serve groundnut soup, waakye and grilled antelope strips.

That was how it had been, but today was different.  Alala was near death afoot with no family on the pitiless sands of the Majarani Desert.

* * * *

It had started the day robed men raided the village atop fast camels, sweating horses and dirty Nissan pickups painted black and tan.

They carried long knives and rifles, and they killed scores the first day as Alala and Jelani crouched in their condo closet with Jamar and Fatima who would scarcely keep quiet.

At nightfall, the raiders bunched on the plaza, lit into the hooch, and howled around bonfires.  Alala heard terrified screams from young girls and women who had been corralled there for abuse.

* * * *

On the second night, they collected food from the kitchen, as much as they could gather, which was not a lot because they had to carry Fatima.  At 1:15 a.m., they walked out into the dark desert.

Destination: the frontier with Darkeen, over 140 kilometers distant.

They were not alone. Other families were doing the same. Alala spotted them in the near and far distances above and between the endless dunes in the moonlight. Gradually, they all vanished into the vastness of the Majarani.

* * * *

The family trekked cool nights and rested hot days under the occasional date palm or behind shade cast by soaring dunes.  The food did not last long, and neither did Fatima.  It was a horror.

Then, on the fourth day, Jelani died without warning.  Alala could do nothing, near blind with grief and pain.

She and Jamar kept walking.  The boy cried, and Alala despaired. Thirty-two hours later, Jamar too died, and it was then that Alala saw the winged Bedouins in black robes sail through the moonlight on albino camels.

This story had come down the centuries among desert tribes, but she had never believed it. She had a university degree and spoke two tongues.

The winged Bedouins in black robes had always been so much poppycock till now, flying above her so plainly.

She was faint from hunger, weak and dizzy. On the seventh day, nighttime really, she was lying beneath a date palm. There should have been water, but there was none.  Water had appeared now and then, but nothing that anyone could eat.

* * * *

There was a sound, and Alala opened her eyes. The moon shone atop a distant dune and there, directly before her, were two winged Bedouins in black astride snow-white camels, standing on the sand.

Come with us, they said, smiling.  We have your family, and they are waiting.

Jelani has grown mighty. Jamar is so handsome. And you must wean Fatima who is fat and happy again with the round black eyes of a desert angel.

Alala rose and went with them, surprised that she could fly.

Fact, Fiction and Opinion Stirred in an Odd Pot

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