Addled Musings


I used to keep an apartment in Tokyo.  I love Tokyo.  Imagine a huge amusement park, like Six Flags or Disney World, with roads and an underground.  That’s Tokyo.  Or that’s the feeling I get as I stroll through it.  It’s a visual feast of the cute and the quaint and the just plain odd; I get the feeling that it is all one big ride for which the longest queue would be worth enduring.  Whenever I’m there, I approximate the cliché of a Japanese tourist, constantly lifting and pointing my camera with the easy fascination of a child on his first visit to Disney World.

You aren’t buying the surreal scene I’m suggesting?  Okay, fine, let me give you an example.  I will tell you about frog boy.  I met him one day while strolling through Shibuya.  Shibuya, for those of you unfamiliar with Tokyo, is the home of a scramble crossing that is said to be the busiest pedestrian crossing in the world.  You’ve all seen pictures of it because no photo journal or video of Tokyo would be without a shot of it.  It is estimated that about 1000 people enter the crossing each light change, and, though I haven’t sat down and done the math, I would guess the total number of people that use the crossing each day would be enough to start a small country.  It was shortly after riding one of the perpetual waves of humanity through this intersection that I saw frog boy, and I guess the obvious place to start is by saying he was green.  He was green from top to bottom, from front to back, and from shore to shining shore.  The outfit he was wearing was reminiscent of Robin Hood’s garb, complete with a little feathered hat like the one Errol Flynn wore, except that the shoes, which curled up at the toes, seemed inspired by a jester’s motley.  You might decide from this description that, apart from his greenness, he looked quite un-frog-like, but he had finished off his ensemble with a most dissonant accessory, a pair of bubble-lensed goggles that, because they were so unexpected, became the focal point of his garb and effectively made him look like a frog…a frog cast in the part of Robin Hood, wearing jester shoes.  And, oh, here’s the best part.  He was window-shopping at a sporting goods display.  Now I ask you, who wouldn’t be fascinated by such a place?  At Disney World, you click pictures of Mickey Mouse, in Tokyo, it’s a 6-foot frog shopping for a tennis racquet.  I love it.  Click Click Click…I’m taking pictures…Click Click Click…And don’t give me that look…You dress like that, I’m taking your fucking picture!  And such sights are not rare.  Moments later, four college students dressed in combat fatigues and helmets crawled past me on their bellies.  At first, I thought it was some sort of initiation, but then I noticed some equally militaristic characters walking behind them handing out flyers for an anti-war stage production.  Standing to one side and laughing at the ridiculous belly-crawlers was a boy wearing motorcycle leathers and a scuba mask.  Could any scene be more surreal?  Click Click Click.

***

Here’s my version of a pop-up: Click to see photos of SHIBUYA

***

I should point out that Shibuya is a most fertile ground for such bizarre scenes.  All of Tokyo tends to the fantastical but Shibuya excels at it, mainly by virtue of being dominated by hormone-driven youth focusing their creativity on attracting the opposite sex.  It is home to no less than six universities, three of which are all female, so the high ratio of females acts like a penis magnet for boys from all the other Tokyo wards.  Well, you have to figure if a guy can get laid wearing a scuba mask as a fashion accessory, it must be every teenage boy’s idea of heaven—bring me your weird, your dysfunctional, your virgins.  But it is unfair to say that hormones are solely responsible for the youths’ quest for attention.  Perhaps, more simply, it is just plain rebellion.  In Japan, being different is a very un-Japanese thing to be; children are taught by parable that the stake that sticks out gets hammered down.  But “sticking out” is exactly what the current youth movement is about, and they are insolently spurning their elders’ admonitions to be good little ants.  They don’t want to fit into the cookie-cutter rank and file and disappear into a unified Japanese identity, they want to “stick out” and be noticed.  And in that atmosphere, the weirdest squirrel gets the nut—or the weirdest nut gets the squirrel, as the case may be.  And nowhere does the competition to be the weirdest get weirder than the Harajuku district of Shibuya.

Harajuku abuts Shibuya proper, and, in contrast to the collegiate crowd of frog boy and the belly crawlers, it is the stage of the lissome and epicene youth of high school.  They come out in force on the weekends, bedecked in frills and frippery, all appearing to be dressed for a costume gala.  The city blocks off Omotesando, the zelkova-lined main road leading away from Harajuku Station, and a giant street party ensues.  Apart from the youth, there are myriad performers displaying myriad talents.  All the usual suspects are present, including mimes, musicians, and magicians.  I will never forget one particularly bizarre mime that was always present back when I frequented the area.  He—I say “he” but the whiteface he wore created an androgynous effect so it may have been a she—balanced on ten-foot stilts.  He (or she, or…it) was draped in a white dress-like garment that reached the ground and concealed the stilts, and on his head was an exaggerated version of a dervish’s sikke.  And, come to think of it, a dervish is pretty much what he looked like, a whirling dervish with an overactive pituitary gland.  Except that he didn’t whirl.  He just stood in prolonged, statuesque poses.  I personally didn’t get it, but I was ever so curious if it was a boy or a girl.  I was tempted to go peek under his skirt to check.  Click Click Click.

Another regular of the Harajuku scene at the time—and still are, I understand, though sometimes they do their thing up in Yoyogi Park—is a group of rockabilly greasers who sport ducktails and pompadours and dress in black leather and denim a la Marlon Brando in “The Wild Ones.”  They play 50’s music over a sound system and dance their rockabilly hearts out.  And they do it for hours.  A large crowd inevitably gathers, which, it can only be said, is testament to how easily entertained are the Japanese.  Me, I do my Click Click Click and turn my attention to the real attraction of the street, which are the youth and their avant-garde frippery.  I plop myself down at one of the alfresco coffee shops along the sidewalk and watch as they strut up and down like peacocks, showing off their plumage of innovative fashion.

And innovative they are.  Something that many people don’t know—brace yourself—is that Harajuku is perhaps the single most important spot in the world of fashion.  Fashion designers from all over the world hire photographers to camp out in Harajuku on weekends to snap photos of these strutting avant-gardists.  Twelve months later, some of the ideas discovered in those photos will appear on the runways of Milan, Paris, and New York.  Yep, I’m not having you on, the youth of Harajuku are the trendsetters of the world, and, in Japan, there at least five major fashion magazines that focus solely on them.  Scary isn’t it?  Or not.  I’m ambivalent.  For me they are just part of Tokyo’s circus atmosphere.  I could smile, snicker, and Click Click Click at them all day.

***

A weekend in HARAJUKU

On a weekday, OMOTESANDO looks like this.

***

On the far side of Harajuku Station, in historic Yoyogi Park, the party continues.  Besides being a favorite destination of picnickers, sunbathers, and B-boys, the park is a favored busking ground for musicians.  And many of them are quite good.  Some of the biggest artists and bands in the Japanese market were discovered playing for coins in the park.  Some have even done well on the international market.

You will also see a lot of martial arts clubs practicing in the park.  Evidently, as I was told by more than one Japanese friend, many of the guys into Japan’s martial-arts scene these days are gay.  “They like it” was all the explanation I ever got.  Of course, I knew that homosexuality was common practice among the samurai class once upon a time, but I don’t think this is an extension of that.  I think that today the appeal is more a combination of the gay community’s affinity for physical fitness and their desire to be able to protect themselves against bullies.  And this assumption was backed up by a scene I was lucky enough to witness one evening in the Shinjuku ward of Tokyo.  I was sharing a basket of takoyaki with a Japanese sweetheart on the curb of one of the many narrow walking streets that are so common in Tokyo when along came a group of five loudmouth, and a little drunk, American rednecks.  Walking toward them from the other direction was a stunningly pretty boy who looked and dressed like Miyavi-san (pics below).

Knowing how low a group of loudmouth American rednecks can stoop, I braced for the show and prepared myself to be thoroughly embarrassed by my nationality.  Sure enough, as the boy neared them, one of the rednecks stopped in an aggressive pose, snorted contempt, and remarked, “Look at this faggot!”  I grimaced and blinked…and during the short amount of time that my grimace and blink took to complete, a Bruce Lee moment had left the loudmouth American sitting flat on his ass and trying to shake his eyes back into focus.  His friends stood mouths agape and watched as the angel-faced androgyny straightened his cuffs and continued indifferently on his way.  I watched him disappear with admiration, and, I must admit, feeling somewhat aroused.

***

Click to check out YOYOGI PARK

Click here to see MIYAVI

EXTRA: You absolutely MUST hear this: Miyavi’s slap technique  (Allow me to introduce you to some Japanese talent)

AND I can’t resist adding this iconic video (This is Kabuki Rock folks): Neo-Visualizm (I particularly like how he incorporates tap dance into the beat.  There is a lot of English in this song, but Miyavi’s enunciation makes it all sound Japanese.)  I was lucky to discover a HQ version of this video, but the other video on the page is a poorly mixed cover.  Don’t waste time listening to it.

***

And then there’s Takeshita Street.  Whereas Omotesando is an architectural showcase and home of many flagship stores of the upscale fashion market, Takeshita is a pedestrian-only side street that is crammed with cafes and boutiques and fad shops.  And the fad shops offer some hint as to what is really driving the bizarre fashion parading around Omotesando.  Many of them are what are called “antennae shops” and their purpose is to test market fashion prototypes.  Manufacturers will seed these shops with some strange new product, as they did a few years ago with those dreadful six-inch platform shoes, and if the Harajuku youth fancy the item, the way they oddly fancied the six-inch platform shoes, they will soon be incorporating it into their personal wardrobe and subsequently photographed walking down Omotesando wearing it.  A year later it will be a worldwide fad.  Remember those clunky platform shoes that swamped the market a few years ago?  You could always tell when a girl was nearby because there was no way to walk on the things without sounding like Frankenstein.  And they were dangerous.  Girls spent more time in emergency rooms getting ankles wrapped than they spent upright on the damn things.  The shoes were patently ridiculous, and, ultimately, we owe them to the antennae shops.

The fad shops are a major part of Takeshita’s appeal, and a trip to Harajuku isn’t complete without giving it a stroll, although on the weekends it is so crowded on the narrow street that walking from shop to shop resembles a contact sport.  Let’s put it this way, strolling down Takeshita through the weekend crowd is as close as I’ve ever come to group sex.  And that is fine, mind you, far from me to complain, but I have more than once left Takeshita feeling dirty and used.   And, no, that is not why I recommend it so highly.  I recommend it because, well, some of the shops there are incredibly bizarre.  Where else, I ask you, can you find a hot-red storefront with a sign above the door that reads The Tabasco Store?  There’s no way I’m going to pass by without going inside to see how a shop can stay in business selling nothing but Tabasco.  As it turned out, they weren’t selling Tabasco so much as they were selling cute.  Yes, on their shelves was every size and flavor of Tabasco sold both on Earth and Mars, but the shop was mostly cute bric-a-brac such as Tabasco themed ceramics and stuffed toys.  I bought a red magic marker shaped like a Tabasco bottle.  Yes, it’s true, and I am truly ashamed.  In fact, it was when I got back to my apartment and looked down to see the Tabasco marker that I realized I may have been in Japan too long.  It was clear that my brain had been subverted by the Japanese to be unable to resist anything remotely cute.

***

Click here to see a weekend in TAKESHITA

***

I guess I should explain this further because the importance of “cute” in Japan is integral to understanding the, well, theme of this theme park atmosphere in Tokyo that I have been so keen to show you.  Let me explain it by saying that there are only two words that any visitor to Tokyo need learn: kawaii and sagoi, which mean “cute” and “wow” respectively.  In my observations, these are by far the two most frequently used words in the Japanese lexicon.  You will hear them constantly and often together.  I warn you, however, that being too close to Japanese women when they say kawaii may cause permanent damage to your hearing.  When excited, they tend to pronounce the word as ka-wa-iiiiiiiiiiii, ending in a high C that can shatter glass.  A young teenage girl caught me off guard one day at a supermarket with a ka-wa-iiiiiiiiiiii and the tomato I was testing between my fingers went everywhere.  And, of course, that gave her ample reason to gasp “Sagoi!”…which she did.  But what you must be wondering is what could possibly be in the produce section of a supermarket that could move a person to squee in high C.  Well, here’s the answer: in Japan, pretty much everything.  In this case, it was a cute cutout of a smiling carrot hanging above the vegetable bin.  Cute, you see, is the sine qua non of marketing in Japan, and if it weren’t the anthropomorphized carrot, it would have been any number of other point-of-sale cuteness within view.  Quite succinctly, Japanese marketing 101 can be distilled into the following sentence: if you have a product that is cute or can be packaged or advertised in some cute way, it will sell.  As you can imagine, the stuffed animal market in Japan is booming.  And you can see how this preoccupation with wowing people with cuteness helps to create an amusement-park atmosphere.  I mean, seriously, where else but in some surreal carnival-like reality could you walk into a supermarket and find a guy in a bunny costume selling sirloin steaks?  Japanese women will spy the bunny, let out a whooping “Sagoi,” run up to pinch his cheek while emitting a high-pitched “ka-wa-iiiiiiiiiiiiiii desu ne!”…and then buy whatever that bunny rabbit tells them to buy.  I witness scenes like this and feel like I’ve died and gone to Disneyland.

But here I was becoming just like them.  I had always in the past been an observer, watching with some sense of detachment, but as I looked down at this silly Tabasco curio, I was suddenly reminded of that song by the Vapors about “Turning Japanese,” and I realized I was, not to put too harsh a point on it, becoming too easily entertained.  Had I been in Tokyo too long?  At the very least, I had been there long enough that the strangeness had ceased to be strange…I hardly took notice anymore when a human-sized squirrel sat next to me and asked for a light, for example.  And here I was looking down to see a magic marker disguised as a Tabasco bottle and thinking “Sagoi!  Ka-wa-iiiiiiiiiiiii desu ne…I absolutely must have it!”

***

TURNING JAPANESE

***

Of course, that isn’t such a bad thing, but just as the world one encounters in a theme park isn’t real, one must never forget that the Tokyo that meets the eye isn’t real either.  It is superficial, a quixotic diversion from reality.  So perhaps I had been there too long.  I mean, a theme park is a great place to visit and have a bit of fun, but you don’t want to live in one.  Too much of it and the brain starts to acclimate to the silliness and forgets where the stage begins and ends; one can very easily lose touch with reality.  And though I’m aware that I might be exaggerating and pushing this point a tad too far, I also feel there is some real truth in it as well.  Look at how the Japanese are so sucked in by the show.  You have marketers pumping out cuteness to sell things that aren’t even remotely cute.  An animated chipmunk with a wispy tail could convince the Japanese to get their rectums sandpapered…and pay a hefty price for the pleasure.  I shouldn’t have to stress how such a misinterpretation of reality can result in a rather rude awakening.  And yes, okay, I’m being hyperbolic, but on a quite serious note, consider how the rebellious youth can find the expectations of the establishment and their yearning for individualism at odds and extremely difficult to reconcile as they prepare to enter the rank and file of the “salaryman.”  It’s been my observation that reconciliation often takes place in a bottle.  And let’s not forget that the suicide rate in Japan is astronomical.  Tokyo—the Tokyo that shows a happy face; the Tokyo that I love so much—is sterile, safe, and fantastical, but it is also artificial and at odds with the hard-biting reality of life outside the theater of the Big Top.  It is easy, too easy, to forget that the fairytale appearance of Tokyo is just that, a fairytale.

But so what, right?  Yes, Japan is a killjoy bully hanging stubbornly onto a feudal past replete with outdated social hierarchies, but I am convinced that the youth are eventually going to win the battle.

[And if you don’t believe the feudal system is alive and well in Japan, consider how as I was about to sign the papers to rent an apartment there, the agent looked over and sheepishly informed me that I was expected to give an extra month’s rent to the landlord to “thank him for allowing me to rent his property.”  It was not a deposit that I would get back when I moved out, it was, as he explained, a “gift” and was part of their feudal traditions.  Well, I thought about that a moment and understood clearly that I was, in effect, being put in my place.  And, as you can imagine, I found it insulting.  I will never forget the look on the agent’s face when I informed him that was not going to happen.  “You tell the landlord,” I said, “that I will tolerate his rack-renting and include a deposit that he will return to me when I move out, and I will even be so gracious as to not require that he come to thank me for renting his property.”  The look of horror on the agent’s face was priceless.  Needless to say, I made an enemy of that landlord, but it was entirely worth it.  And I did eventually find a landlord of a younger generation that didn’t think of himself as an actual “lord.”]

Japan hasn’t been the same since its doors were opened to the west, and change has accelerated as access to western ideas and media has increased.  The feudal system, like a theocracy (more than like a theocracy, it was a theocracy since the emperor was once considered a god), is a system of suppression and control, and one easy to maintain when Japan was cut off from the world.  Give people the scent of freedom, though, and change is inexorable (which is why Muslim reactionaries like the Taliban are so adamantly against education outside of madrasas, I might add).  And what better way to style a revolution than as an assault by carnival.  As many sociologists like to point out, Japanese culture is far more motivated by aesthetics than the West, and this, there is no other way to put it, is revolution by aesthetic.  I think everyone will agree it is decidedly better than revolutions of the head-thumping variety.  In time the idealism will be blunted by pragmatism and the carnival-like atmosphere will likely subside, but the end result will be a Japan in which both individuality and diversity will be valued instead of frowned upon.  I do admit, however, even though I realize it is somewhat selfish of me, that I hope the change takes a long time to actualize.  Why?  Because the party that is the Tokyo of today is just too damn fun to want to see end.  I am quite willing to suspend disbelief and ignore the underlying tensions as long as I can go to Tokyo and buy sirloin steaks from fuzzy bunnies, see a frog window shopping, snigger at outlandish and sometimes ridiculous fashion, and find a little store devoted solely to a brand of hot sauce.  It is simply an experience one cannot pass up.

***

ENCORE:  I’ll let Miyavi-san sum up life under the Big Top.  “What a Wonderful World”  (Notice that the Bruce Lee moment in this video is directed at a rank-and-file mannequin, one devoid of face, identity, individuality.)  I found this video after I finished writing this piece…Imagine my surprise by its video imagery. As Miyavi says, “Check it out….”

***

[I dedicate this post to Caroline Smith, known on Twitter as @casoly.  Despite her Smithiness, she is also half Nihonjin, or Japanese.  After getting to know her on Twitter, I get the feeling that had she been raised in Tokyo she would have been one of the delightfully goofy youths parading around Harajuku.  I picture her as a cute yellow duck shaking her tail feathers and batting long ducky eyelashes at the boys.  Click Click Click]

Advertisements

I don’t own a car.  I don’t need one.  I live in Bangkok, a place where you can hail a taxi in your shower.  Okay I’m exaggerating, but in Bangkok, taxis are everywhere.  I can walk to the edge of any sidewalk, raise my hand, and three or four taxis will fight to the death to get the fare; imagine one of the motorized fight scenes from Mad Max with the dialogue dubbed in Thai.  The victor will slide to a halt in front of me and beckon me inside while he reaches out to dislodge a battle-axe from the hood.  It’s quite convenient.  Nevertheless, despite the convenience Bangkok taxis provide, once I’m in one I often hear a nagging question in my head, namely, why the hell don’t I buy a car?

It’s not that all the taxi drivers here are bad.  Many are friendly and honest, and they will convey you to your destination without undue hassle.  Some, however, are better endured under the influence of Xanax.  I am taking it upon myself, therefore, to inform you about the types of taxi drivers you will need to beware of should you visit here and provide some insight on how to best survive them.  I have classified them into five categories: The Mad Scientist, The Frugal Frumper, The Pale Rider, The Predator, and The Mentally Deceased.

The Mad Scientist: Unless you’re as fit as a NASA astronaut, you should probably tell this fella to take you straight to the emergency room because he’s going to put you there anyway…you might as well get there in time for them to restart your heart.  The problem is there’s no way to spot this type of driver before you get in.  You won’t realize what’s going on until you see a space up ahead that looks too small for the taxi to squeeze through.  If you notice the driver squint his eyes at the gap and then check his seatbelt, get ready.  And by get ready, I mean assume the crash position.  You are sitting in the taxi of a mad scientist, and he is about to test the theory that an object will elongate and grow thinner as it approaches the speed of light.

But, hey, the good thing is it seems to work.  It’s not something you should try with a weak heart or without a diaper, but it really does seem to work.  I can attest to this from experience.  From the second the driver begins his run at the gap, my body begins to collapse in on itself.  First, my stomach turns into a golf ball, and then the remaining cells in my body crowd together and hug each other in fear.  My eyes bulge out, probably because my skin is trying to hide on the other side of my head, and all the air in my lungs abandons me with a whimper as I instinctively twist my body into a sideways posture to become more streamline.  The taxi is now a missile.  Just before we reach the gap, my eyes duck inside and hide somewhere down around my tonsils…my testicles are already there.  My body has never been thinner.  I’m as thin as a sheet of paper, and because my heart has stopped beating, every bit as white.  Then, it’s over.  We are decelerating.  The mad scientist in the front seat is enjoying a chuckle.  I open one eye.  We are through.  We made it.

The Frugal Frumper: This guy is dinner at Denny’s compared to the mad scientist, but he will still provide you with an experience that, if you let it go on long enough, will leave you suicidal.  He is also known as The Green Pedal Pumper or The Eco Imbecile, and his mission is to concurrently save the world and make you wish you were dead.  He does this by driving in a most irritating manner; one that he is convinced conserves fuel.  It doesn’t.  In fact, it most assuredly uses more fuel than the normal, sane method of driving.  I will, however, say this for his method… it does give your neck muscles a good workout.

Here is how it works.  He stomps on the gas, making the engine go FRUMP and the taxi noses up and lurches forward.  The G-force of the acceleration plasters you against the seat, your head bends so far back you are looking at the sky through the rear window. Then he abruptly takes his foot off the accelerator, whipping your head forward until this time you are looking at your shoes.  He coasts for a while.  When the taxi has slowed to a crawl, you will hear another FRUMP, and the whiplashing process starts all over again.  This will continue until you reach your destination.  Sound like fun?

Part of me wants to strangle him.  The other part of me also wants to strangle him.  Fortunately, both parts agree it wouldn’t be a good idea while he’s driving so I satisfy myself with making his life miserable.  My favorite way to do this is to emit groans of sexual ecstasy each time I’m thrown to and fro.  This earns me dirty looks from the frugal frumper, which only encourages me to groan louder.  I am enjoying this far more than he is.  He is becoming agitated.  He shifts in his seat and looks over his shoulder at me.  I lick my lips and give him a wink.  And when I see he’s as sorry he stopped to pick me up as I am, I let out a high-pitched orgasmic scream, smile, and tell him to let me out so I can smoke a cigarette.

The Pale Rider: This fella offers no entertainment value at all.  His real name is Death.  You don’t want his services.  Thankfully, there is a way to spot him before you get in.  On his dashboard will be an apotropaic shrine, complete with a few Buddhist talismans and a flower rosary hanging from the rearview mirror, and if you look inside, you will see white smudges in the shape of a pyramid on the ceiling where a monk has blessed the car.  All of this is designed to protect the driver from accidents, and from the idiotic way Pale Rider drives, it is clear he truly believes no harm can come to him.  I, on the other hand, am not so confident.  I spend the whole ride with my fingers dug three inches into the upholstery and my eyes the size of volleyballs.

My first experience with Pale Rider wasn’t too bad when I first got in.  We were in Bangkok traffic where everything was bumper to bumper so there wasn’t much he could do, but when we got on the tollway where he could let it out and run, I was so scared I almost got religion.  It wasn’t that he was driving twice the speed limit.  The problem was how he would weave wildly in and out of traffic and tailgate anyone that dared to block his progress…and by tailgate, I mean he got so close to the car in front of us, all he had to do to have anal sex with the other driver was unzip.  It was insane.  If the other guy so much as tapped his brake, we were goners.  It probably wasn’t a good idea to distract Pale Rider at that moment, but I remember squeaking something about slowing the fuck down, and evidently, my squeak was still in the range of human hearing because he immediately began to back off.  Then he looked over his shoulder at me and said, “What’s the matter, aren’t you in a hurry?”

Sigh.

I told him, “I’m not in a hurry to die, if that’s what you mean.” Then I instructed him to take the next exit.  I hailed a new taxi for the remaining ride home…one without a shrine.

The Predator: This vermin preys on tourists.  You will find his taxi outside the major hotels, tourist sites, and those certain areas that specialize in the sex market.  He has a slimy quality about him that is visual.  He wears wraparound sunglasses, a pinkie ring, a toothpick in his mouth.  He never smiles.  When you get in, he will invariably lean over the seat to inspect you…he pushes the sunglasses down his nose to get a better look, two beady eyes appear.  I love this guy.  I’m going to have fun with him.

I know what’s going to happen so I try not to speak in Thai at first; I tell him the address and that is all.  Satisfied he has a sucker in his cab, he pushes his sunglasses back up and pulls away from the curb.  He does not start the meter.  I wait a few moments and ask, “Meter?”  Him: “No meter.”  So I say, flatly this time, “Meter.”  Him: “I take you, 500 Baht.”  I ignore that and say again, “Meter.”  Him: “Meter broke, 500 Baht.”  And by this time he is well into traffic and far from the tourist site where he picked me up.  If he lets me out now he will waste gas to get back there, and then he will be at the back of the long queue of other predator taxis…so I now say, in Thai this time, “If your meter is broke, I’ll just get out here.”  His head whips around and again he unleashes his beady eyes on me.  He curses in Thai under his breath.  I smile.

The Mentally Deceased: I tweeted about one of these gents a while back.  He was old, although to say he was old is something of an understatement.  He was a poorly preserved antique, and his brain had gone to rust.  I looked up from my reading to find we were on a road oddly bucolic for the middle of Bangkok where we were supposed to be.  I leaned up and — not too loudly because I didn’t want to stress his heart while he was going 50 KPH and in control of the steering wheel — I said, “Where the fuck are we?”  He rounded and looked at me as if he was aware for the first time he had a passenger.  I continued, “The Sky Train?…at Mo Chit?”  And at that point recognition came into his eyes and he started bobbing apologetically.  He had forgotten.  He was sorry.  He’d taken the wrong turn.  He would adjust the meter so I wouldn’t have to pay.  He was embarrassed.

Sigh.

And that, my friends, is the problem with the mentally deceased.  They are such genuinely sweet people you cannot possibly be angry with them.  He had me feeling guilty for not going the direction he was going.  I heard myself telling him, “It’s no problem, don’t worry.  We’ll get there soon enough.  It’s no big deal, really.”  And, of course, I wouldn’t let him adjust the meter.  I would pay the full amount.  I guess the lesson here is that if you’re a tourist and don’t know the route to your destination, it is probably better to avoid the mentally deceased taxi driver.  You tell him to take you to Bangkok’s Weekend Market and you’re likely to spend the weekend in jail for trying to enter Burma illegally.  However, if you do happen to find yourself with such a driver, I strongly advise that you remind him often where it is you’re going, avoid loud noises, and keep a close eye on his pulse.

***

So there you have it.  While writing this I had to go out a couple of times and I took taxis hoping for a terrible experience to share with you.  Unfortunately, both drivers were friendly and professional.  It really pissed me off.  But that just underscores the fact that most of Bangkok’s taxi drivers are excellent.  The five woeful beings I just described are rarities for the most part.  Oh, if you’re a tourist, you’re going to run into The Predator a few times, but just know that their meter is never broken, and if they refuse to turn it on, get out.  It’s not as if it’s going to be difficult to find another taxi.  All you’ll have to do is raise your hand and watch as three or four of them fight to the death to get to you first.

[I dedicate this post to the lovely and ever young Denise Railey, known on Twitter as @sunnysocal.  She was another friend that urged me to start a blog.  She might well have been the first to suggest it, but it’s been so long ago I can’t remember for sure.  That’s what happens when one is slowly transforming into one of the mentally deceased as I am.  Denise’s first novel is in the works, but you can enjoy her writing now at her blog: http://deniserailey.wordpress.com/ ]

One of my favorite moments in a movie was a scene where a woman turned to a man as they were exiting a theater and said, “What do you think the significance of the Rolls Royce was?”  The man, nodding thoughtfully, replied, “I think that represented his car.”

I think of that scene sometimes when I overhear people discussing movies or art and the conversations descend into pseudo-intellectual blatherskite.  One such conversation in particular comes to mind.  I remember I had ducked into the Smithsonian’s Museum of Modern Art to avoid a sudden rainstorm.  I know almost nothing about modern art, but I figured I could at least enjoy being dry while not knowing anything about modern art.  So I loitered.  And, though my knowledge was limited, I did loiter past some names I recognized.  There were a few Picassos…everyone knows Picasso…and I spotted at least one Miro.  The Miro was a painting of a circus horse and I stared at it for ten minutes before I gave up trying to find anything resembling a circus or a horse.  Then I saw a wall full of lips by Warhol. There were many lips.  I’m pretty sure he liked lips.  A little further, I happed upon some bronzes by Matisse and Henry Moore and remember thinking the ones by Matisse needed better skin care…some exfoliation and toner, perhaps.  And, finally, I saw the painting that is the star of this recollection.  It was a painting by Jackson Pollock.

I’m sure you know who Pollock was and how he worked his magic.  He would lay a canvas flat on the floor and then drip, slop, sling, and sprinkle paint down on it…sometimes detritus from his cigarette would also sprinkle into the composition…and the result truly was magic because the art world responded.  I have a theory that the magic worked something like this: one or more art experts, people who drop their jaws and speak without moving their tongues, decided that Pollock’s struggles with his inner demons of alcoholism and depression qualified him as a troubled genius, and that Pollock’s technique was just novel enough that it could only be inspired by eccentric genius.  They, thus, proclaimed him and his work, well, genius.  That they didn’t appreciate or understand the genius made no matter; they would pretend to appreciate and understand it.  And because they liked it, so did the rest of the art world.  Magic!  Jackson Pollack was a hit.

When I first saw the painting, it was at the far end of a long, narrow room that looked to me more like a wide hallway.  It sat on an easel to the right of the far exit, and as it was the only painting not hanging on the wall, it became the focal point of the room.  The name of the painting was “The Tiger,” and I spent less time looking at it than I did the Miro to decide there wasn’t anything remotely resembling a tiger in it.  Here, see for yourself…

Okay, maybe if I had taken a hit of acid and squinted my eyes till they bled, I could have spotted a tiger lurking in its depths, but I was drug free and sane enough to see it as nothing I or anyone else couldn’t do dripping, slopping, slinging, and sprinkling paint on a canvas.  Let me prove my point.  Look closely at the painting and ask yourself this question: Is it right side up?

Well?

You could sit that canvas on any of its four sides and it wouldn’t make an iota’s difference, am I right?  Why?  Well, because there isn’t any subject…there isn’t any tiger, not crouching nor lying nor standing on its pink little nose.  Perhaps, and this is just my opinion, the painting is more aptly called “The Tiger Camouflaged by an Impenetrable Eyesore of Dripped, Slopped, Slung, and Sprinkled Paint.”  But, as with beauty, art is in the eye of the beholder, and I stood there and eavesdropped as many a beholder walked up to praise The Tiger.  What was fascinating to me was that none of them liked the painting until they’d approached close enough that they could read the plaque that told them it was a Jackson Pollock.  Then they loved it.  For thirty minutes, I stood there and listened to an endless litany of adjectives like powerful, awesome, stunning, deep, moving, and, yes, genius.

Sigh…

I was looking for something sharp to stab myself with when things started to look up.  A middle-aged couple appeared in the far doorway, and they looked like they were packing loads of entertainment value.  I got the feeling the husband would have much preferred to be gawking at the Air and Space exhibits.  He sulked with disinterest by his wife’s side.  She, on the other hand, was in her element.  She was the only person who recognized the Pollock from the far end of the room and she made sure everyone within shouting distance knew it.  I watched her drag her unimpressed husband up to the painting and tried my damndest to keep a straight face.

She began instructing her husband as to why it was such a great work of art; she was a fount of theories about how the painting channeled the spirit and form of a tiger.  She pontificated with such melodramatic passion and grandiloquence that I half expected her to switch to French at any moment.  It was torture.  I had the overwhelming urge to snatch the canvas from its easel and beat her with it.  Then I heard her ask her husband a question that stopped me cold.  She said, “What do you think the green symbolizes?”

The scene from the movie flashed into my mind.  I held my breath in anticipation.  I silently rooted him on.  Say it!  Say it, damn you, say it!  And I was so surprised I could have pissed myself when he actually did!  He nodded thoughtfully and replied, “To me, dear, it just looks like green paint.”

Yes!  I stifled a laugh…or I tried to, anyway.  A loud snort escaped through my nose.  Let me put it this way, it packed enough force that I needed a handkerchief.  I willed myself invisible and slunk toward the exit.  As I was leaving, the woman was leaning back and examining her husband as if she’d just discovered she was standing next to a huge pile of turds.  He shrugged.  At that moment, he was my hero.  It wasn’t that the green couldn’t have represented something.  Sure it could…it could represent purple if you want it to.  The thing is it could just as validly represent something completely different to the next person.  It’s the reason a song will mean different things to different people.  Anyway, I think we can safely say that, in this case, the brave husband was right: the green in the Pollack painting represented nothing more than the color green.  Her attempt to make that inscrutable muddle a tiger and the green mean something other than green was just mental masturbation.

I reached the street to find the sun shining and a rainbow arcing across the sky.  The rain had cleansed the air and everything seemed in perfect focus.  I looked around and took in all I could see.  Every color Mr. Pollock had strewn across his canvas was there in that incredible scene and I wondered why I was the only one stopping to admire it.  It certainly had more transcendental capacity to induce orgasmic ranting than the Pollock painting.  Besides, there was even one cloud hovering overhead — a magnificent, towering cloud — that looked remarkably like a tiger.

[Just for fun: Can you name the movie where the scene described in paragraph one occurred?]