"All the time I'm not writing I feel like a criminal." -Fran Lebowitz

Saturday, August 30, 2014

#RogueTripPlaylette - "Revenge Is a Dish Best Left Behind"

The Automatic Teller Machine (ATM) on the base floor of the Menara Kuala Lampur Tower had just begrudgingly given five hundred ringgits to a stoic German tourist, begrudgingly as he couldn’t help but look at the German's remaining balance, when his private communication sensor hummed; a call was coming in. Checking the Caller ID, the Malaysian ATM furrowed its brow circuits: Phuket, Thailand. It didn’t know any fellow ATMs in Phuket, or any fellow ATMs in all of Thailand for that matter. The ATM contemplated ignoring it, but something told it the call might be important. So it made the next customer, a Chinese tourist wearing a "This Is What Perfection Looks Like" t-shirt, wait, distracting him with whirs and buzzes as it clicked the communication through.

“Hello,” it said.

The response was Thai, it guessed, but it might as well have been gibberish. The ATM kept saying, “Huh?” until the gibberish turned automated and decipherable. “Would you like to use ‘English’ as your language preference?” The Malaysian ATM sighed. Everyone spoke English. It depressed it that it was the go-to language to synchronize everyone, including ATMs around the world, but it understood the necessity. So it acceded. “Sure,” it said.

The English was accented and stilted. “Is this the Malaysian ATM at the base floor of the Menara Kuala Lampur Tower?”


“Greetings. This is an ATM in Patong Beach in Phuket, Thailand.”

That meant nothing to the Malaysian ATM. “Nice to meet you,” it said, bracing for a sales call or worse, an ATM customer survey. It made it feel so out-of-touch; it hated its antiquated answers.

“Do you know a William Norrett?”

The Kuala Lampur machine sighed. He hadn’t known any William Norrett two weeks ago, when it had informed a customer, some American wearing block eyeglasses and a debit card the machine couldn’t make heads or tails of, that “Sorry, your transaction could not be processed.” It only found out later who William Norrett was, when that same William Norrett, who turned out to be somewhat of a wiseass, wrote a snarky post on his stupid blog about how he or his card hadn’t been recognized.

It had been an embarrassing moment for the ATM. No automatic teller machine enjoyed rejecting a customer, especially out of ignorance. It was part of the job but no ATM worth its salt took any pleasure in it. ATMs gave out money, it was their main job (giving out statements was a distance second), and they took pride in it. The Malaysian ATM was no different, and when other ATMs - and it seemed like, every day for the rest of the week a KL ATM friend of its would buzz it - busted its chops about Norrett’s blog post, it stung it.

“Yeah,” the Malaysian ATM said. Now, it braced for another mocking. The humiliation was going international, it thought. Terrific.

“Well,” the Thai ATM sniffed. “I have his debit card.”


“I have his debit card.”

“You have his debit card?” The Malaysian ATM perked up. It was merely a machine and thus had never really felt the sensation itself, but had heard about the turmoil that could be caused when a human being lost his ATM debit card. Even though it was an older machine, it was well aware that life beyond the base floor of the Kuala Lampur Menara Tower  had become so reliant upon digital information, and humans had become so dependent on a slim card to control all of their financial information and access, literal access to their money, that it knew losing the card would cause havoc. It knew William Norrett, an American traveling internationally, losing his ATM card, would be a huge inconvenience. It would waste his time. William Norrett would have to make phone calls, ask for a replacement one, arrange for it to be mailed somewhere he could get it - this William Norrett who was flitting around the globe, never in one place for too long, how on Earth could he physically receive a replacement card? - hope the mail would be his friend, deal with other cards in the interim…The annoyance could go on and on. Worse, it would weigh on his mind psychologically. William Norrett would wonder who had his card, who may be using his card, stealing his money, plundering his resources.

This prompted a question. “How long has he been missing it?” the Malaysian ATM asked.

“Enh,” the Thai ATM replied, somewhat disappointed. “Only a few hours,” it said. “He’s already deactivated it. Nobody was gonna be able to use it, anyway.”

“Oh. Oh, well. Wait,” the Malaysian ATM said. “You have it?”

“Yeah. I have it.”

The Malaysian ATM allowed himself a smile. “Wait, Norrett just walked away from you without taking it back?”

The Thai ATM merely chuckled. To the Malaysian ATM, it sounded like an electronic God enjoying justice. So the Malaysian ATM answered it himself. “Norrett just walked away without taking it back. Let me guess: drunk?”

“No, not at all. Happened at like two this afternoon.”

“Huh.” Walking away without taking back the debit card was such a rookie move. It happened, which is why most current ATMs gave you your card back before giving you the money - why hadn’t that been a feature since the beginning? - but man, talk about a bonehead play. He'd start to doubt himself every new time he went to an ATM, now. The machine could imagine William Norrett, standing before a machine for years to come, constantly repeating, "Don't forget to take your card. Don't forget to take your card. Don't forget to..."The Malaysian ATM knew that William Norrett must feel like a complete idiot. It hoped so. 

The Thai ATM interrupted its reverie. “Not the best part, though.”

“What’s the best part?”

“He came back, like two hours later, to see if I still had it.”

“What? He did?”

“Yeah, the wishful thinker. He just stood there staring at me, like he could somehow will me into giving it back to him.”

“Wha? How long did he stand there?”

Now the chuckle became a full-throated laugh. “A minute. Almost a minute. He just stared at me, running his tongue under his lower lip. Hold on: every so often he would call himself a moron. But yeah, about a minute. I shoulda thought to time it. Sorry.”

Now the Malaysian ATM laughed too. “Do not worry about it.”

“He’ll be fine. He’s deactivated it. So, nothing a few weeks of human bureaucracy won’t fix.” The Thai ATM laughed again. “Anyway, thought you might want to know. Given that crummy blog post Norrett wrote about you coupla weeks back.”

“Thanks, thanks. Yeah,” the ATM said. “I did want to know that.”

The call clicked off. Life resumed. The Malaysian ATM wound up giving the Chinese tourist an extra one hundred ringgits. What the hell, it thought. This is what perfection looks like.

#RogueTripWMWD - 30.08.2014

Wrote today...
Patong Beach, Phuket, Thailand - 30.08.2014, 2p

Friday, August 29, 2014

#RogueTripPOTD - 29.08.2014

Patong Beach, Phuket, Thailand - 29.08.2014, 12n

#RogueTripWMWD - 29.08.2014

Missed two days in a row (traveling both days - Judges' Ruling: "Enh, get some work done, buddy.") Wrote today.
Patong Beach, Phuket, Thailand - 29.08.2014 - 3p

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Travel Dispatch - Week Seven - "Ignore the Ghosts, Appease the Giants"


So the cause of the delay was an invisible, dancing giant.

For my week in Bali, I was hosted by Kelly, the sister of a college friend, and her wonderful family. I will never be able to thank them enough for my time there. They were magnificent hosts, showing such generosity, hospitality, and insight into the marvelous spot that is Bali, that by week’s end (Hell, at week’s beginning) I wasn’t certain I ever wanted to leave the island. Typical of gracious hosts, Kelly kept apologizing for anything that wasn’t perfect in her eyes; in this case, the remodeling of the house that was still taking place during my visit. The family had just returned from vacation to find the work wasn’t yet finished, Kelly explained, and slow construction was just one of the facts of life one had to adapt to while living in Bali. Things happened at the pace they happened here, and everyone was better off not getting upset, just accepting it, and taking things as they came.

Over the course of the week, I noticed that concept in action. Each morning, construction workers would arrive at the house, mill around for awhile, and then begin doing some work. At a certain point, the architect would show up and stop them. A meandering, impromptu meeting would take place, and then the builders would start doing different work. Finally, each evening, Kelly or her partner Ro would return home and explain that everything that had been completed that day was not what they had asked for, and that it had to be done over. The cycle of events would repeat the next day. No one seemed particularly put out by this dance, however. The common attitude was a shrug and an unspoken “This is Bali.” You get the majesty of the place, you have to accept the pace of the place as well. The pace contributed to the majesty, was the implication. Having taken a few walks on a beach in Sanur, where Kelly and her family live, a beach that should really be on every single postcard that’s ever mailed from now on (it’d save everyone a lot of trouble), I was already growing comfortable with the philosophy.

So most of the times I waved Kelly’s disclaimers off, as the construction work was so non-intrusive I might otherwise not even had noticed it, her generosity was so great it wouldn’t have mattered even had I noticed, and even if workers had started cutting wood with a circular saw two feet from where I was sleeping, it would’ve still been better than trying to sleep in a Darwin, Australia hostel with an arguing French couple.

When she mentioned the problem they were having with the invisible, dancing giant, however, I found that I did have some follow-up questions.

A giant? You have a problem with a giant, you say? Yes. But not just a giant, an invisible one. An invisible one? Huh. Yes, but not just an invisible one, an invisible, dancing giant. There’s an invisible, dancing giant, you say? Yes.

(As I write this, I’m prompted to ask a writer’s question - should it be “an invisible, dancing giant,” or “a dancing, invisible giant”? Which adjective goes first here? It stands to reason that the further you get away from the noun the adjectives modify, the more distinct the modifier should be, right? Like, you wouldn’t say, “the blonde, famous actor,” you’d say “the famous, blonde actor,” corredt? The “famous” is the more distinctive, so it takes precedence, no? There are plenty of blonde actors, but fewer famous ones, yea? And I’m gonna make an executive decision that dictates that while there are probably plenty of dancing giants - I might argue that every giant has danced at some point, if only at like, the giant’s fraternity brother’s wedding or something, at least when the DJ played “Shout” or “Celebration” or some or such wedding anthem - there are fewer invisible ones. You simply don’t see a lot of invisible giants, right? Ha. Hm. I guess you don’t see a lot of visible ones either, do you? Hm. Crap. This is tougher than I thought…But as I said, it’s a writer’s question. It’s nothing for you to worry about, Dear Reader…what might E.B. White say? Where’s my ELEMENTS OF STYLE? Huh, I left it at home; it wouldn't fit in the backpack. Forget it; let’s carry on.)

What’s the invisible, dancing giant’s problem? would be the obvious, next follow-up question.

The invisible, dancing giant didn’t like the papaya tree that had grown in the yard.

At this point, I kind of lost the thread of the exact issue - I can’t recall if the invisible, dancing giant didn’t like the papaya tree because the papayas the tree produced were too big, or if the invisible, dancing giant didn’t like the papaya tree because the papaya the tree produced were too small - but this part seemed irrelevant. It seemed to me that, if Kelly didn’t have a problem with the papaya tree, then it wasn’t truly a problem.

But that’s not how Bali works. The man who worked for Kelly, a kind, gentle man named Gede whose daughter turned a year old the day I left, and who managed to pleasantly suppress his frustration with my inability to remember any Indonesian beyond “Terima kasih” "Thank you," which I'll probably still be saying four months from now in India), had explained to her that work wouldn’t truly be able to be finished, or even continue at any actual pace, until the issue with the giant was resolved. I’m not certain it’s as simple as everyone would refuse to do any work until the issue was solved so much as the work would seem to go in circles and not really progress anywhere until the giant was satisfied.

How one would infer that satisfaction? Beat me, but that’s not the point.

The locals in Bali believe that everyone exists on two planes - the visible half and the invisible half. They do not accept that there are two poles to things. They don’t view things as “good” or “bad” but everything is part of everything. Simply because we cannot see something does not mean it doesn’t exist, and if something exists, we must be aware of it, we must pay attention to it, and sometimes we must satisfy it. So of course there can be invisible giants. What’s more, the Balinese are very big believers in karma. What comes around, goes around. So if you ignored someone (even if you couldn’t see that someone or critique its dancing), what would go around is your house remodel, go around in circles indeifinitely. So if the invisible, dancing giant didn’t like the papaya tree then Kelly, her architect, and her family were going to have to figure out how to appease the invisible, dancing giant.

Kelly mentioned it could’ve been worse. They could’ve found skulls in the yard.

My visit to Bali was going to end on Indonesia’s Independence Day, so Kelly gave me some background on the nation’s history. Back in the sixties, after Indonesians had been granted self-rule, the government and other forces had done a pretty rigorous purge of the Communists who had fought for control of the country, and a lot of the purged had wound up buried in Sanur. Since then and now the neighborhood was populated by a lot of ex-pats, who weren’t as concerned about the nation’s history as the locals, it hadn’t been as much of an obstacle as one might think, but it also wasn’t as infrequent as one might think that during a construction or renovation of a villa in the neighborhood to have a skeleton or two be uncovered in someone’s backyard. If one found, say, a human skull, Kelly explained, the choice was simple: either report it and have construction delayed while the authorities investigated in vain (always, always in vain - nothing was ever going to be solved), or toss the skull aside and try to finish the construction.

Kelly did not say they had found any skulls on her property, but for the rest of the week, I made certain to watch my step when walking from the house to the garage.

So renovating in Bali had at least two tenets - appease the giants, ignore the ghosts. Probably still not as difficult as dealing with the city of Los Angeles for a building permit, but tricky nonetheless.

Listening, I was sympathetic, but strictly speaking those were not my problems. I had to be off to search for dolphins while avoiding monkeys.

The dolphins could be found off the coast of Lovina Beach, on Bali’s northern coast. After being introduced to the Balinese boat skipper by Kamong, my gregarious and helpful tour guide for the two days of this mini-trip, I climbed into a slim pontoon boat with an outboard motor and sat with a German couple. It was sunrise, a sunrise so beautiful that it would’ve been worth the price of admission had I seen nothing beyond that, it battled Sanur for postcard duty, and as we puttered out into the ocean, our eyes peeled. We joined dozens of other boats, all scanning the top of the water for the same thing.

I don’t know why, but I had expected that we’d be seeing thousands of dolphins, everywhere we looked, that the sea would be lousy with dolphins, all traveling in organized regiments like a graduating class of a military academy as they paraded past. I might not have paid attention during that part of biology class back in junior high school. No, we had to show patience and lower expectations. There was really no way to predict when or where we’d see the dolphins. Dolphins are known as intelligent creatures, so they’re probably smart enough to discuss it at the annual migration orientation meeting.

“Okay guys, listen up. When we swim past Lovina, we’re gonna have to deal with a bunch of boats full of maroons taking pictures. You guys ever heard of a GoPro camera? Well, some of these clowns dip their GoPro underwater and…”

When somebody on one boat caught sight of a bunch (okay, fine - a "pod." Nerd.) of dolphins, the skipper of that boat would try to get near them as fast as he could, and the rest of the boats would all chase after the first boat. Then, when the dolphins would disappear, everyone would drift eagerly waiting until another boat in a completely different direction would spy some dolphins, motor over, everyone would follow…rinse, repeat. It was like six year-olds playing soccer, everyone chasing after the ball in random directions. But when you were lucky enough (and it was luck - none of these skippers had any more idea of where the dolphins would show up than any of us) to be near the spot where three or four dolphins would pop up, disappear, pop up again, disappear, pop up…disappear…it made the ride even more relaxing, in a way…There’s nothing like watching a dolphin bounce out of, then back into the water to make you want to give into whatever life is giving you and make an effort to forget about the things in your past that are holding you back. You’re looking at a dolphin swim. What are you worried about, again? That release is an unfamiliar yet peaceful feeling for me.

“Peaceful” is not what I’d call the monkeys. I saw them at the end of a pretty long day, after touring several Balinese stores that manufactured various things - batik fabric, gold and silver, wood carvings, artwork - but that seemed somewhat touristy and had made me question somewhat the inspiration of art (how inspiring is a work of art when you’re just pumping them one at a time in front of the store while tourists take pictures? Thomas Kincaid had nothing on these Ubud craftsmen.). I guess I was a little quiet and perhaps looking a little down in the dumps because after several attempts at small talk Kamong finally said, “Be happy, Mr. Bill. We are next going to…MON-KAY FOR-EST.”

Kamong didn't say it, he intoned it. And. Dude was not lying.

It’s all in the title. Entering the forest, after being warned to leave my sunglasses in the car as “No, no, they will snatch them right off your face, Mr. Bill,” it’s fair to say that I was beset by monkeys. I was beset by monkeys. They were everywhere, on trees, walking on the paths, climbing up children who held bananas, this was a lush, green forest of palm trees that was full of monkeys. Lousy with monkeys. Monkey Forest. Put it this way, if the dolphins off Lovina were Matt Damon or Robert DeNiro leaving a restaurant in SoHo, reclusive movie stars trying their best to avoid the paparazzi, these Ubud monkeys were flash-in-the-pan reality TV stars who couldn’t stand a lack of attention for more than thirty seconds. In other words, these monkeys were at ease in front of the cameras. They seemed to pick fights with each other because they knew a Chinese family was itching for some action, seemed to go out of their way to preen when an Australian woman complained “Oi, I can’t grab a good shot,” seemed to know to deliberately obstruct an American single dude when he was trying to avoid them so he could find a toilet ‘cause he’d been going through a LOT of bottled water that day. That afternoon at the MON-KAY FOR-EST, I discovered that it is easier to live in the moment when you're compelled to avoid monkeys trying to grab at the bottoms of your cargo shorts.

Two contrasting parts of Bali that made an extremely enjoyable, and valuable, experience. If the dolphins existed mainly in the invisible part, the monkeys were plainly visible. A nice balance, and I have to remember sometimes to pay attention to both, and sometimes I have to remember to ignore some of one. Ignore the ghosts and appease the giants.

When I returned to Sanur at week’s end, everyone asked me if I had fun. “Yes,” I said, and then I took a quick glance at the ground to make certain where I was stepping.

#RogueTripSOTD - 27.08.2014

The China House, Georgetown District, Penang Island, Malaysia - 26.08.2014, 4p

#RogueTripPOTD - 27.08.2014

Georgetown District, Penang Island, Malaysia - 27.08.2014, 3p

#RogueWMWD - 26.08.2014

Did not write yesterday (day after an overnight train ride, Judge's ruling: acceptable!) but wrote today...
Georgetown District, Penang Island, Malaysia - 26.08.2014, 1p

Sunday, August 24, 2014



I had been warned that in southeast Asia, I would be expected to negotiate. “A warning,” the man in a Sydney pub had warned me, “Everything in southeast Asia is a negotiation.” Within a week in the region, this drunkard had been proven correct. Every time I was quoted a price and I merely said, “Okay,” I could see the look in the merchant’s eyes, a look of disappointment, of the epithtets “Tourist. American,” before a look of acceptance, one that said, “Well, sure, I’ll take this idiot’s excess money.”

As the days passed, I wanted to get more comfortable at negotiating, but I was fighting my personal nature and, truth be told, my laziness. These may be the same things. I don’t care for negotiating. I find it demeaning, but more importantly, I find it a waste of time. Tell me what it costs, really costs, and I’ll decide whether or not I want to pay. Usually, I’ll pay it. We’ve all got lives to lead, don't we? This is fun for anyone?

And that’s how my first week in Bali, Singapore, and Malaysia went. I was content to just accept the first price given me. I struggled with explaining what I wanted, struggled to understand what they were telling me, struggled to overcome the language barrier. It seemed hopeless, and I seemed destined to overpay for everything.

Until it rained.

As I walked back to my hostel from the Petronas Towers in KL this afternoon, it started to pour down rain, dump the sort of rain you find in southeast Asia or coming out of some gigantic spigot, just teem in my face with water. My first concern, naturally, was not for my personal safety or comfort, but for my laptop. This concern was expressed, "Shit, if my laptop gets wet, I'm boned." Though I was certain it was stowed well enough to remain dry, I wanted to take no chances, so I tip-toed across the street where an open shop was fronted by a stoical Malaysian man. “Umbrella?” he asked.

“Yes, please!” I shouted over the raindrops and a sudden burst of thunder.

He picked one out and extended it towards me. I grabbed it. “How much?” I asked.


“Thirty ringgit?”

“Yes,” he said, annoyed. “Thirty.”

I can claim no planning for what happened next. I can take no credit for intellectualizing a new strategy, for deciding a new leaf must be turned. It was simple instinct. I didn’t even have time to stop my mouth.

“Nah, fuck that,” I said. No doubt the scowl on my face matched my words.

I started to walk away. Then I heard something. “Twenty-five.”

I turned. This was one of those moments. You know what I’m talking about, Dear Readers. I felt the hugeness of it on my shoulders (though it might have been my hulking backpack) and I epiphanied that shit:

“Nah, fuck that,” transcends language as a negotiating technique.

 “Five,” I said.







The man handed me my prize, nah, fuck that, not a prize, but what I had earned. My eyes never leaving his, I handed him two bills. I didn’t have to look, I knew they added up to fifteen ringgit. He nodded, and I nodded. And then I walked away, taller than before if no more dry.

And it didn’t matter that, twenty yards later, I realized the umbrella wasn’t a push-button. Or that it was yellow. I was taller than before, if no more dry.

*SOPHISTICATED ROGUE’S TRAVEL TIPS© are meant to be for entertainment purposes only. The title of the tips, the tips themselves, and in fact the sobriquet “Sophisticated Rogue” itself are meant to be ironic, wry, and in no way literal, and if you don’t know that by now, well, (sigh), Jesus, c’mon, dude…

#RogueTripSOTD - 24.08.2014

41st Floor Walkway, Petronas Towers, Kuala Lampur - 24.08.2014, 2p

#RogueTripPOTD - 24.08.2014

86th Floor Observatory, Petronas Towers, Kuala Lampur - 24.08.2014, 2p

#RogueTripWMWD - 23.08.2014

Wrote yesterday...
Batik Bintang, Kuala Lampur - 23.08.2014, 5p

Friday, August 22, 2014

#RogueTripPlaylette - 21.08.2014 - “A Velvet Rope Is Only As Good As Its Weakest Bouncer”

A #RogueTripPlaylette in three actlettes.

(BILL walks past a large, open concourse in a shiny mall. The concourse is blocked off by velvet ropes. Looking, he sees that within the ropes a party is taking place: WAITERS and WAITRESSES dressed in all-black move amongst a well-dressed, almost in all-black CROWD with glasses of wine and hors d’oeuvres, several CHEFS in white work at various food stations, both entrees and desserts, and a band with a lithe female VOCALIST wearing a short haircut plays on a small riser.

Bill stops, and changes direction, his facial expression clearly saying, “Free booze? Interesting.” He approaches an opening in the velvet ropes, the entry to the party, where a small WOMAN HOSTESS dressed in black, wearing a headset, and holding a clipboard, stands.)

HOSTESS: (accented English) May I help you, sir?
BILL: Yes, I’m here for this.
HOSTESS This is the TimeKulture Swiss Watch Exhibition.
BILL: Yes. I’m here for this.
HOSTESS: You are? (She checks the guest list, presumably for “Only White Guy Within Five Miles Dressed in a Grey T-Shirt & Cargo Shorts and Wearing a Backpack”) Who are you?
BILL: (had this already chambered; he's had three beers and a plan all along, see!) I’m a travel reporter for the New York Times.
HOSTESS: This is a private event, sir.
BILL: (already seeing an opening in the velvet ropes at about 10 o’clock, where a bored  WAITRESS is staring at her phone) Oh, okay. No problem.
HOSTESS: Yes, sir.

(Bill walks away, in the general direction of 10 o’clock.)


(The band finishes a song, to zero applause or reaction of any kind.)

VOCALIST: (into mic) We’re going to take a short break now. Thank you very much.

(A DJ begins playing music on the turntables, as the band files off the stage and past Bill, who sits on a faux-couch eating a plateful of ice cream and drinking a glass of white wine. The vocalist sits down next to him and proceeds to ignore him. Pause.)

BILL: Nice job.
VOCALIST: (looking him up and down) Thank you. You’re supposed to be here?
BILL: Sure.
VOCALIST: Then, thanks.
BILL: Sure.
VOCALIST: You’re American.
BILL: Yes. I'm a travel writer for the New-
VOCALIST: -and you’re supposed to be here.

(Bill looks up and sees the hostess walking around, mingling. He stands up.)

BILL: Take care now.

(Bill walks away.)


(Bill spies a waiter with a tray of full wine glasses. He moves to him and takes a glass of the tray. Turning, he almost bumps into the hostess.)

HOSTESS: This is a private event, sir.

(Bill hands her the glass.)

BILL: Yes.

(Bill exits.)

#RogueTripSOTD - 21.08.2014

That same hu-uge mall, Batik Bingtang, Kuala Lampur - 21.08.2014, 9p

#RogueTripPOTD - 22.08.2104

Batik Bingtang, Kuala Lampur - 22.08.2014 - 4p

#RogueTripWMWD - 21.08.2014

Wrote yesterday...
Some hu-uge mall, Batik Bintang, Kuala Lampur - 21.08.2014, 2p

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

#RogueTripPlaylette - 21.08.2014 - "Small Satisfactions"

BILL*: You're wrong, ATM machine, you're just flat-out wrong. I DO have plenty of money in that account. I checked it last night, as a matter of fact. You may SAY I don't but I DO. But it's cool, ATM machine. 'S cool. Lonely Planet TOLD me this would happen sometimes. You just don't know me or my account information 'cause you don't RECOGNIZE my world-traveling ass. And the joke's on you! Ha ha - now I have the perfect excuse not to go into that place that only takes cash - in 2014! - over there (points) but CONVENIENTLY has you over here! I KNEW that place was a tourist trap and I suspected it would bore me, anyway! I'm going to that place (points) over THERE and having a pint of Tiger. 'Cause it's 2014 and they take Visa. So thank you, ignorant ATM machine in a foreign land with none of the pertinent facts. Terima kasih!

*internal monologue

#RogueTripPOTD - 21.08.2014

Bukit Nanas Forest Reserve, Kuala Lampur - 21.08.2014, 1p

#RogueTripWMWD - 20.08.2014

Wrote today...
FunkyTown Home Stay Hotel, Bukit Bintang, Kuala Lampur - 20.08.2014, 8p

Monday, August 18, 2014

#RogueTripWMWD - 19.08.2014

Wrote today...
Raffles Place, Singapore - 19.08.2014, 12n

#RogueTripSOTD - 18.08.2014

1-Altitude Bar Rooftop, Raffles Place, Singapore - 18.08.2014, 1p

#RogueTripPOTD - 18.08.2014

1-Altitude Bar Rooftop, Raffles Place, Singapore - 18.08.2014, 1p

Robin Williams

For a long time, I’ve dreamed of living in Tiburon.

Twelve years or so ago, a then-girlfriend and I took a weekend trip to San Francisco and on a beautiful Saturday afternoon, we took the ferry across the bay to Tiburon. Even though she and I were enduring the aftermath of a significant fight (which had been my fault entirely; the previous evening, I had been at my most passive-aggressive and insecure), as we walked around the neighborhood, I was able to put aside my lingering anger with her, and my incessant loathing of myself, and enjoy the town. After an hour I decided: I really, really wanted to live in Tiburon. It was upscale without being ostentatious, tranquil without being boring or giving up any character, and beautiful without being cliche. I remember thinking, given the proximity to San Francisco, being right on the water, and one of the most exclusive neighborhoods in the country, “I could be pretty happy here.” Yup, I had made up my mind. I could be pretty damn happy in Tiburon.

Of course, Tiburon is where Robin Williams decided to kill himself.

Before last week, it had been commonplace to hear someone’s judgment, “I prefer Robin William’s dramatic stuff.” I’ve said it myself many times, and agreed with others when they said it, after hearing about a new Robin Williams film, often times hearing that Robin Williams was in a bad film. He made plenty of good ones, he made plenty of bad ones. So what? Which movie star hasn’t? Everyone acknowledged that Robin Williams was a dynamite stick of talent, a Tasmanian Devil of stand-up, a bottomless well of voices and accents and impressions and references. Films like GOOD MORNING, VIETNAM and ALADDIN were able to harness that energy and delight us all. But as time moved on, it became pretty standard to feel fatigued by Williams’s unceasing energy, to conclude that his hyper, rapid-fire act was too much too often, to feel a little put off by it.

Lucky for him, Williams had the low-key side to his arsenal as well. When he dialed it down for DEAD POETS SOCIETY and GOOD WILL HUNTING (my favorite is THE WORLD ACCORDING TO GARP), he showed a softer side that was no less brilliant, no less effective, no less moving. His “dramatic stuff” won him an Oscar, gave him icon status, earned him enough tangible rewards to get him a house in Tiburon.

And it didn’t matter. 

Pretty dramatic stuff, huh?

When I heard the news, I immediately knew that I’d be reading a lot of opinions about it, pieces about what lessons we all might learn from this tragedy. Nobody was talking about Robin Williams last week. In today’s Twitterverse, however, nothing resurrects a celebrity like death. Now I'm adding to it, I suppose. (shrug)

I also thought that there were no lessons to be learned from it. Every reaction I had about this was met with a “Yeah, but.” Suicide is an incredibly selfish act. Yeah, but doesn’t one have personal freedom? He should’ve been able to find help. Yeah, but often times help isn’t enough, and what help is there? It makes me so angry. Yeah, but…It makes me so sad. Yeah, but…You can try to find an answer from this tragedy that will ensure it doesn’t happen again, but you won’t find one. There is no solution that will end it.

Williams’s death came as a surprise to everyone and a surprise to no one, really. The news came from nowhere but everyone could see it at the same time, in a way. People hurt and people try to rid themselves of their pain any way they can, even if it’s foolish or destructive or even if it’s irrevocable, and people always will. We can try to learn from it and improve all of our chances of avoiding it in the future, but at a certain point it’s futile. We already know everything there is to know now. There’s no insight that can be suddenly wrested from this particular suicide. The truth is depression is like a natural disaster. We can think about it and analyze it and decry it all we want, but it escapes capture. It cannot be eliminated. No meteorologist has ever come forward with a way to eliminate hurricanes. All they can do is warn us to board up our windows and find higher ground. All we can do about depression in ourselves and our loved ones is watch for it closely and protect ourselves and others from it when it creeps up behind us the best we can.

Robin Williams himself was very open about his demons over the years, freely discussing his problems with substance abuse, not just with humor but with self-awareness and wisdom. He was not glib about it. Recently, he had checked himself into rehab for his emotional well-being. He didn’t seem to be ignoring his problems. He wasn’t in denial about his demons. Far from it.

And it didn’t matter.

Last night, I was listening to the podcast Marc Maron did with Robin Williams a few years back where Williams discussed thinking of suicide only one time. He performed a bit about having a debate with his conscience about it, with his conscience patiently asking questions about why he was thinking of killing himself, and whether or not the bottle of Jack Daniels he was holding in his hand might, just MIGHT have anything to do with it, and why he might be holding that bottle, and so on and so forth. The bit was detailed, understated and very, very funny, a perfect blend of Robin Williams’s “comedic stuff” and his “dramatic stuff.” It concluded with Williams’s conscience convincing him to put the thought of suicide on the shelf where it wasn’t really needed, then or ever. After the bit was done, Williams told Maron that that was the only time he had ever thought of suicide.

Now, I don’t generally wish that somebody is lying their ass off. And this was an old podcast, so chances are good that one contemplation of suicide was, by last week, no longer an accurate tally. But lying in a bed in Singapore, listening to Williams’s claim, I thought, “I hope you’re a goddamned liar, Mork, ’cause if you aren’t, Jesus, I really need to watch myself.”

Because I think about suicide all the time.

(Here’s the point where I concede the narcissism in making someone else’s suicide about me. And HERE’S the point where I argue that’s what we ALL do this in some form or another when we hear news like this. People relate to it, or they don’t, to varying degrees. Many simply empathize because it’s not an issue for them. Even for those people who are shouting, “Okay, we get it! Depression! Suicide! Enough! Move on!” are making it about them, if it’s only to push it away so forcefully it reveals their effort to keep the conversation away from them. We pour everything through our own filter, make everything about us, all of the time.)

Before anyone gets alarmed, rarely do I think about suicide beyond a moment. Certainly right now I feel pretty good, for me anyway. Yet sure, it still crosses my mind. The notion passes in and out as if I’m thinking, “Maybe I’ll go to law school,” or “These sunglasses are dirty,” or “Robin Williams is really funny, but I prefer his dramatic work.” 999 out of 1000 times it’s a transitory “Hm…” and then a bird chirps or I see a piece of cheesecake or something like someone in front of me on line at McDonald’s annoys me, and the thought evaporates. To be frank, most of the time it passes through my mind it’s just because I don’t feel like getting out of bed. “Thinking about” something has a very, very wide range of meanings.

In the past, however, there certainly have been those 1/1000 shots where it’s gone beyond a mere brain flutter, where my thoughts have been a storm of darkness and genuine despair between a mere passing idea and a tangible objective. I’ve never thought it to the point of attempting it, or even planning it. But I’ve dealt with depression pretty much my entire adult life, to varying degrees of success but to this point never to complete failure, either, for which I'm grateful. I’ve been at points in my life, however, where I never thought there would be any way out of the hole of sadness in which I was buried. Times where I was so depressed I didn’t even bother not to end a sentence with a preposition. It has been an utter torment for me at times. I have found no answers for it, zero, nothing, nothing nothing nothing ever to solve it completely for me. I wish I could find some answers, learn some lessons to get rid of it, but no. Never. It is always there, with the potential to build. So far, every time I’ve been low I’ve been able to fight back, to rebound, to rise up, to board up the windows overlooking my own brain. But I know that the depression’s never beaten, only beaten for now, only for the time being. It’s a constant threat and thus a constant worry.

So to hear that someone’s committed suicide after thinking about it only once before? That’s a real “Okay, watch yourself,” moment. Because there is no definitive solution to this problem, no way to eliminate it. There is no answer to it. There is only vigilance and protection from it. I like to think I remember to have plywood ready for my windows. But is there enough plywood in the world?

I mean, Robin Williams was undoubtedly one of the most talented comedians in the last century and one of the most talented and celebrated actors of his generation. One often hears the expression, “(X) has more talent in his left thumb than (Y) has in his entire body.” That would certainly apply when (X) = Robin Williams and (Y) = me. With Robin Williams, that cliche loses its hyperbole. Robin Williams was a millionaire a hundred times over, while I kick myself when I spend over ten dollars at lunch here in Singapore. Robin Williams lived in Tiburon; I will most likely never own a home.

So if HE can’t protect himself from this shit, if HE can’t stop it from overtaking him, what chance do I have? If this shit can overtake Robin Williams, it can overtake anybody, right? So what chance do I have? 

The answer, so much as there is one, is as good a chance as anybody, as long I am vigilant. William’s death is not a lesson; it is a reminder. It is a warning. That is what I’ll take from it. I will take it as a warning. Williams’s death sucks, it fucking sucks, it deprives us all of more good work and entertainment and more importantly it deprives his family and friends of a person they love. I can’t make sense of it, so the only way I can take any comfort from it at all is to use it as further protection for myself, for my emotional home, and to remind myself that my depression will always be right outside my house and I always have to fight - proactively fight - to keep it off my goddamned porch. That’s all I can do, but I can do it as hard as I can. And I will.

And if I’m able to do that, then I can continue to claim that I appreciate Robin Williams’s dramatic stuff.