When even I'm offended, there's a problem . . .

So I was at one side of the family's celebration and there are a bunch of little second cousins running around. Normally I'm the one offending others by sometimes letting a swear word or sarcastic comment slip in front of the little ones. Not this year.

The second cousins in attendance ranged in age from 3 to 9. And they were all down in the basement watching the 9-year-old play Grand Theft Auto 3. Now, I know my relatives know what this game is. The parents of these kids are just a bit older than I am. They know the whole "point" of the game is to kill hookers and steal things. Which is hilarious, sure, but it's not a game for 3 to 9 year olds.

I'll start by giving a run down of the kids' names (with pronounciation guide):

Tyveil ("Tie-vel")
Damon ("Day-mawn")
Tyron ("Tie-rawn")
Cayla or Crayla or Kyla or whatever
Whyttnie ("Wit-nee")

So these kids are watching Tyveil beat and steal for awhile, and they're getting into it.

Then Tyveil drives towards a cop car, and little Cayla/Crayla/Kyla/whatever starts jumping up and down excitedly. In her high-pitch sweet little kindergardener voice she yells, "Pull him out of the car and beat him! Pull him out of the car and beat him!"

The older boys decide this is a capital idea, and Tyveil pulls the cop out of the car and starts beating him. Now all the kids, right down to the 3 year old, start yelling, "Stomp him! Steal his car! Yeah!"

Ugh. It says "Mature" on the box for a reason, dammit.

It's snowing here, wild white gusts have conquered the skies and the streets and there's nothing I can do about it. Not that I planned to. Knowledge that there are forces at work that affect my life that I cannot control. I could say I grew up with the snow, but that would be lying. I grew up in Sacramento, but had seen snow on trips to my relatives in Lowell, Mass.

Now I'm in Massachusetts, I lived here for seven years, leaving for sunnier skies a few years ago. Part of me must be used to the snow, must be, but when I saw the flakes start falling I couldn't help but feel something new, feel like I was witnessing something special. It was not special, it was frozen water, but what was special was the realization that I had become a tourist... in my own city.

I live in Spain now, Barcelona, and snow falls sparingly. I have been living abroad in a variety of different climes, but Boston has always been my response when people ask where home is. I was too young when I lived in Cali and after all, it's the formative years that count. I cheered and acted smug when the sox finally beat the yankees, trying to teach my european acquaintances what the curse of the bambino was. Guess I had this idea of home, where my friends are, where my family lives, a place not unlike a sitcom, where nothing much changes until one day you go home and everyone’s having babies.

A few months ago a relationship I was in ended. We were together for a year, and it was one of those intense things, spending every second together, traveling together, totally messing up each other’s heads. When I got down to Barcelona I swore I wouldn’t get into another one for some time... they can be damaging. I didn’t, I worked leading a pub crawl and had lots of casual relationship with travelers and fellow expatriates. I found it all boring. Honestly, I’d rather not. I am a man, and I am a mammal, and I understand that my body has certain physical needs, but after two months of not giving a fuck, I realized my lifestyle gave me a certain apathy of the lips, and it made me feel like shit.

Life’s kind of flattened out, I found a well paying job in a boiler room (and scamming people for a living has pretty much increased the apathy, now money has no meaning and I’m a bastard), and nice friends. I’ve gotten into the psytrance scene and have a lot of fun on the weekends. I met a nice austrian girl who I would love to be in a relationship with, but she seems to want to keep it at a friendship level. More appropriately she’s my girlfriend and we have no physical connection or commitment. This is all very strange.

Before I came home I stopped off in Stockholm to see my ex-girlfriend. I wanted to turn a former lover into a current friend. The girl’s amazing, creative, wonderful, and I loved her. She’s too much to lose and that seems to be happening. In Stockholm I realized she’s also manipulative and spoiled and we parted on terms like ‘I hope you find someone that makes you happy’ and ‘I’ll probably never see you again’. Beautiful. Now I’m back in Beantown... and the journey has proved strange. I am a tourist in my own city. Boston was never my home. My parents have moved up to Newburyport, a town I’ve never been to before, and my friends all have different lives, from me and each other.

Not sure what I expected, wanted. I know that you never get what you expect. But now... now I feel homeless. I have nowhere in America I can call home. Nowhere I know better than Shanghai, Stockholm, Barcelona, Boston, Olympia, Hong Kong. All my possessions fit in a backpack, a few books, some CDs, clothes. I can’t say I really know anyone any more. Maybe I never should’ve tried. Freedom’s supposed to be just another word for nothing left to lose, and that’s what I hope, but driving without a map just makes me feel lost. Happy Holidays everyone. Kiss a stranger on New Years. Mourn the terrible things that happen daily and fall in love. This beauty of life, it is beyond us and our creations. Society, morality, cannot touch it. It is strange and covers everything.

I rediscovered snow, and that was nice. I saw my family for the first time in two years, surprised them. I lost a person and a place, two things I never actually had. When I worked in a cannery in Alaska a friend of mine up there, his brother called and left him a message. His brother had worked there before. Message said: I know things are getting tough up there, you’re probably not sleeping much and working all the time. Hold on to your sanity, but don’t hold too tight. Sanity like grains of sand will slip between your fingers if you grip tightly. Instead cup it, like a boob. Words to remember. Also: No one gets out of here alive.

One thing I'm discovering about travel, is that it's possible to take a piece of everywhere you go with you. On arriving home, settling back into your 'normal' life, you can find that the people you met, the places you saw and stayed, have a permanent impact on who you are, and who you will be. More than just memories, it's the knowledge that for a time, some place thousands of miles away was home for a time, and you left that place having learnt something about yourself, having learnt something about this world we live in, and knowing that the path you take through this life is just a little bit different than it would have been had you never been there.

Koh Phi-Phi is one of those places for me. Last night, it was one of many places in South East Asia hit by a powerful tsunami, created by an earthquake which struck off the coast of Indonesia - measuring 9 on the Richter scale, it sent massive waves surging in all directions, straight towards costal towns and cities in a part of the world where the sea is the regions lifeblood, whether that be for the fishermen harvesting, or the tourism operators banking on the sun and beaches this region is famous for. The most powerful earthquake to hit the earth in 40 years struck without warning, taking seismologists by surprise, and launching devastating tsunami which hit the various coasts of the region with absolutely no warning. Lacking the sophisticated early warning systems which provide some measure of protection in the Pacific, the first most people knew of the devastation coming their was water rushing towards them - far too fast to outrun, far too powerful to resist. At this stage, up to 23,000 people are feared to have lost their lives. That figure is sure to rise.

I was on Phi-Phi in October, and I'm having trouble imagining what it must look like right now. What I do know, without relying on the news reports which confirm my thoughts, is that it would have been devastated. More than that, the place would have been smashed. Let me try to describe the main island to you. Imagine a dumbbell - two large ends, linked by a narrow bar. That's something like Phi-Phi - large sections of island, quite mountainous, linked by a narrow strip of land which is very low lying. On each side of this thin part of the island, there is a bay - water on each side, and the land between these bays wouldn't be more than a couple of metres above sea level. This is where the main tourism part of the island is concentrated. Shops and hotels, resorts dotted with bungalows, dive shops, restaurants and bars crowd this part of the island, and more were being constructed all the time. The ocean on either side of the island was dead flat - the only waves being created by the longtail boats transporting people from place to place. One side was a busy harbour - boats would constantly leave and arrive, ferrying tourists on and off the island, along with the supplies needed to keep them comfortable. On the other side, at low tide you could walk a good hundred metres into the bay it was so shallow.

I think the work idyllic was created to describe this island. If you want to see a before and after picture, go to my homenode. The top picture I took when I was there. The bottom one I found on a news site today. When I took my photo back in October, I didn't realise that it was going to be the perfect image for a before and after picture.

I woke up this morning, turned on the news, and a sense of numbness set in that hasn't really lifted all day. It kinda took me by surprise - I mean, this is a place that I visited for a short time, one of many, yet every time the news turned to reports out of Thailand, it was like my heart would stop. Pictures came in of the destruction on Phi-Phi, and I found tears in my eyes. Reports were told of bungalows washed out into the sea, and I knew just how easily that could have happened, as well as how helpless the occupants would have been. Death tolls rose, and I remembered the Thai women desperately trying to get customers into one of the many massage shops, the shop keepers trying to make a living selling the same clothes as the store next door, the people who's entire livelihood depended on the stall they had selling jewellery, corn on the cob, or pirate DVD's. I remembered the makeshift shacks, nestled on the shore, just a little bit away from a resort on the beach - a couple of hundred metres away from air conditioned bungalows, made of tin sheeting and packing crates, with chickens scratching around in the dirt and sand, and washing hanging over railings. The pictures I saw weren't the Phi-Phi I took away with me. I don't know whether that place will ever exist again. Reconstruction will take place, but if I were to go back again, it would surely be a very different island.

When I travelled, for my first five weeks, through India and Nepal, I was with a very special friend, and her sister. Her sister is studying nursing, and is currently doing a nursing exchange in Thailand, based north of Bangkok. It turns out that she was on Phi-Phi last night. She's ok...at least physically...I can't image what she's been through, what she's seen. Her sister told me that they're hoping that she made it off the island tonight - they haven't heard anything apart from that she's safe and well. I've got my fingers crossed, because one thing I know for sure is that there would be very few places to sleep on the island tonight. Most of them wouldn't be there any more.

This disaster has hit many poor countries, completely unprepared to respond to something on this scale. The Red Cross is calling for donations - to donate, visit your country's Red Cross website:

Australia - www.redcross.org.au
United Kingdom - www.redcross.org.uk
USA - www.redcross.org

Over the years, I’ve tried to teach the little one that sometimes you can take greatest joy out of the simplest of things. We don’t have many of the electronic gadgets and the technological gizmos that so many other of her and, for that matter, my, contemporaries feel that they can’t live without. To me, life is easier without most of them and all they do is serve to further clutter an already cluttered life. I think the message might be sinking in…

For me, Christmas was good. As a matter of fact, it was very, very good. It didn’t start out that way though.

I think it was the 22nd when an ice storm decided to descend on my home town. At it’s peak, there were an estimated 200,000 people that were left with no electricity and no heat. It’s now the 27th and there are still about 65,000 people still left in the dark. In the time that ensued, temperatures bottomed out at around -5 degrees Fahrenheit. No matter how you slice it, that’s freakin’ cold. My heart goes out to those who found themselves in such a state. Me, I’m truly one of the lucky ones. Mine was only gone for a day or so…

So Christmas with my daughter, once threatened by events beyond my control, was now back on schedule. There were presents to open and memories to be had…

I usually try to center most Christmases around some kind of theme. One year, it might be books and another it might be crafts. This year, I centered on games and puzzles. There was a simple caveat though.

These were not the kind of games that you plug into the wall or that come up on your television set or your Game Boy or what have you. These were not the kind of games that are rendered as useless as the battery when it runs out. No, this year the games were centered around the simple ones, the board games that most of us who are getting up there in years grew up with. These were the ones that, at least in my case, not only provided you with some form of entertainment, but, were also in danger of actually teaching you something. There was mancala, dominoes, Othello, Rummikub and Monopoly. There were jigsaw puzzles and a brand new copy of The Three Musketeers on hand when we tired of the games. There were few, if any, moving parts to contend with and there was no assembly required.

This year, I think however unintentionally, Anna seemed to follow suit. Her trinkets to me included some hand made pottery onto which she had painted a rainbow. There was some kind of utility tool for my forays into the world of golf that I could keep in my pocket as I cursed my way up and down the course. Best of all, there was a home made blanket of blue and green that I’m sure will keep me warm for years to come.

There were simple breakfasts of sausages and French Toast with cups and cups of hot chocolate to wash it down with. There were the low strains of commercial free uninterrupted Christmas music playing in the living room. There was a glazed ham and a sidewalk covered in snow and there were hours and hours spent at the dining room table plotting little strategies in whatever game we had decided to play. It was unhurried, it was so, I don’t know, “nice”. For those moments, it was like we had the world to ourselves..

I’m guessing that as the years go by, Anna will be influenced more and more by her peers than she will be by me. There’ll be things such as fashion and style that will come to invade our house. There’ll probably be in the inevitable cry of “But, (insert name here) has one!!!” There’ll be parties to attend and places to go.

I’m hoping that one day when she’s older and maybe off on her own, she’ll remember a simple Christmas with her simple old man and a simple smile will cross her face.

I’m hoping her eyes mist over like mine do when I look at her when she’s doing something and isn’t aware of my gaze. I’m hoping she has to blink away the tears like I’m doing right now when she remembers the time way back in 2004 that she and her pops sat around a table for hours and hours with nothing more than each others company and a few simple things to keep them occupied and to keep the world at bay.


Do you ever get the feeling your life is like a segment of the Truman Show? Every move you make and everything you say and every thought that passes your way – it is constantly watched, constantly judged by someone more pretty and more comfortable and more loved up.

And there she is, glamorous, sitting on her ruby couch, glossy legs outstretched. Crossed, daintily. Her long crimson nails are hooked around the crystal glass. Red wine lips. She is sitting there. Watching you. Judging. Criticizing. Laughing. And all you can do is passively play along. You are her toy. Her puppet. With every smirk and smile and blink she has you enraptured and you cannot break free, as hard as you try. You have been cast under her spell. You are her subservience. You are the flute she plays when she wants to sing the song of life, power, love, control, passion, zest, success.

And with you, she brings him forward. Glint in eye, she curls those crimson nailed fingers beckoning him. Drawing him closer. And he places his fingers upon her neck as she throws her head back, eyes shut, eyebrows arched, lips dry. Her heart is beating faster, her pupils are dilated, her hair is on end. Still, through the passion, ecstasy, magnetism, she is watching you. She cannot take her eyes off of you. She judges and criticizes and laughs.

And you are standing, staring blankly back. Your hair is limp, falling across your down-turned face. Your mouth is somber, your eyes glassy and wet and self pitying. You are a black and white sketch, and she is the Mona Lisa.

You are a jigsaw. You fit together as no one has fit together before. You are binary.

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