Hanky no Panky

A woman of my acquaintance declared herself ready to acquire a boyfriend. Having emerged from an emotional crash site, having brushed herself down, cheered herself up, adopted mindfulness and become a yogi, the woman confided, ‘I wouldn’t mind having a boyfriend.’ She meant me to understand ‘boy’ as a person in her own, non-juvenile age bracket. She comes, as she often reminds me, to a different – younger – generation.
 

 
The woman selected a promising candidate – fellow yogi, terrifically mindful, neither bankrupt nor lumbered with children, not a Trump supporter nor addicted. After the first date she favoured me with a report: ‘Charming fellow, good company.’ Yes, she’d see him again.
 
 
Following the second encounter I found her beaming. ‘He’s funny!  And considerate. I like him.’
 
 
The woman saw him on a third occasion. Following this
I heard no report. In due course the woman and I bumped into each other. ‘Well?’ I asked.
 
‘Well what?’
 
‘How are things with Mister Right?’
 
‘What are you talking about?’ A bit frosty. Irritated.
 
‘You know, Mister Funny, Mister Considerate, Mister…’
 
‘Him!  We’re not seeing each other. I’m over him.’
(That’s how she talks. That’s how Generation Alphabet talks.)
 
 
Nonplussed, I asked, was the matter settled, final? It was, utterly. Finally. Beyond redemption.
 
 
‘What happened?’
 
‘Nothing happened. He’s repulsive.’
 
‘Why?‘ I asked: ‘Bad breath?’
 
‘No. Something he did.’
 
‘What?’
 
‘Blew his nose.’
 
‘What’s do you prefer? Nosepicking?’
 
‘It’s not just that. He uses a hankerchief.’
 
‘What?’
 
‘He reached into his pocket, pulled out this square of folded fabric, buried his nose in it and blew.’
 
‘That’s all?’
 
‘No. After he finished, he folded up that precious bit of rag – some heirloom from his grandfather – and put it into his pocket!’
 
‘What’s the problem. His technique seems sound. Copy book, in fact. What would you suggest?’
 
 ‘A tissue.’ 'Since when did snot become so important that you need to carry a piece of material around just in case you need to blow your nose? Do you carry toilet paper in your pocket just in case you need to shit? And if you did, would you use it and then put it back in your pocket?'
 
 
This woman is not a doctor. She does not interest herself in the absorbing topic of how macrophages make their way to pathogens, how they engulf, destroy and wash them away. For her, it is not immune competence that matters, but style. Aesthetics. As a result the woman has no time for snot. I offered to enlighten her about the secret life of the albumen-born macrophage. ‘It’s not glamorous, but it is marvelous,’ I begin. She turned her face to me, sneering. From a person of her non-judging, all-accepting, mindful, universe-loving, recently renovated nature, that expression was alarming. And enlightening.
 
 
I persisted: ‘You know, we all make mucus. The membranes that line our hollow organs are named after it. That’s why they’re called ‘‘mucous membranes.’’ Their cells secrete a smoothing film of pearly fluid to keep things moving. Your nose does it, your sinuses, your eustachian tubes, your lungs, your bowel. And if you’ll forgive the expression, so too does your vagina. Snot makes the world go round.’
 
‘Not my world.’
 
“You’d be shot without snot.’
 
 ‘If you say so. I say, if you’ve got it, blow it and stow it, don’t store it.’
 
‘So, blowing your nose on a tissue is more elegant? Every tissue user knows the moist warm feeling of snot overflow drowning the tissue. Is that glamorous enough for you? Hygienic enough?’
 
‘Look, don’t give me your science. I just don’t want to be close to a man who keeps a clothful of old germs, and cold slime and green crusts in his pocket.’
 
The voice had climbed a few octaves and grown emphatic. Sober discourse and factual analysis were not what my friend was after. Aesthetics were the thing. And, as in all matters of taste, consistency is not the prize. It’s the vibe. I did not invite my friend to consider the content of the nation’s gussets, where innocent slime thickens and dries, its macrophages dying content with a job well done.
 
 
Troubled by thoughts of the man’s unfair dismissal, I appealed to proportionality, an element of justice; ‘So you deprive a person – a good person by your own description – of the sunshine of your company simply for possession of flannel and mucus?’
 
‘Certainly. I could respect him, but inwardly I’d shudder. I could never be intimate with someone like that.’

'It's also a symbol of his mindset. Who of my generation carries a hanky? Deep down he is obviously conservative, boring and predictable. The hanky says a lot about him as a person. If lunch hadn't been spicy I may not have found out about the hanky until it was too late.'
 
‘What if he treated you with tenderness and respect?’
 
‘Tenderness and respect? That’s exactly how he treats his snot. Reaches into his pocket, pulls out his damask, which he’s folded and refolded into a fussy little square, unfolds it, takes a big breath and blows. You look away, trying not to vomit. You hear the flow. He sneaks a little sideways peek at his ejaculate, tries to hide his satisfaction, folds up the hanky and pops it into his pocket.’
 
‘So?’
 
‘So, if he carries a hanky – no hanky panky!’
 

The Barber and the Monkeys

The barber says he’s been listening to music by Bonobo. He adds, ‘Bonobos are my favourite animal’. The barber might be in his late thirties. Among the cluster of customers and colleagues in the small barber shop he’s a dominating presence . He wears serried earrings, his bright blue eyes gleam as he snips and trims and talks. His voice booms from the depths of the shop. All in the shop can listen in and enjoy his witty and erudite monologues. Invariably I do.

Greg – for lack of better knowledge I call him that I my mind – has a stoop, a marked forward hunching of his upper spine called kyphosis. I wonder about the voice; is Greg deaf? Beyond the earrings he wears no visible ear prosthetic. No matter the cause Greg speaks audibly and entertainingly. For the duration of my trim Greg’s subject is monkeys. The previous client (I believe that is the correct term) received a Ted talk on the football draft. My successor will hear Greg on the structural instability of the Chinese stockmarket.

‘Bonobos’, says Greg, ‘Are identical to chimpanzees but they are separated from the chimps by the Congo River. The Congo is a great river’ (who knew that?) ‘so the separation is complete. Unlike the chimps, who live in a patriarchal society, a monarchy in fact, the Bonobos are matriarchal. The chimps are fascists and the bonobos are hippies. They practise free love while the chimps – the young bucks – will kill for fun. Chimps use tools, the bonobo use sex, a sedative upon the male, whom the females fuck into a state of blissful passivity. No competition, no aggression, they live on lotus. Unlike the chimps who’ll eat meat the bonobo is a vegan. No meat, no aggression, no adaptation to the world of the tool, which is the world of weapons.’

In extreme cases of kyphosis pain is constant, breathing a struggle, circulation embarrassed and life shortened. Barber Greg is not such. A vivacious man, hunched like a gorilla, bright, full of energy, supercharged with conversation. I wonder if he lives with a deaf dog and comes to work for conversation. If so I’m glad for it.

Greg moves on to Margaret Thatcher: ‘They called her “PMT” you know.’ A twinkle, a grin, careful snipping around my ears: ‘Prime Minister Thatcher!’

Arrived at my own work I google bonobo. What follows is a series of remarkably unerotic you-tubes all showing copulating primates. Foreplay, invariably initiated by the female and always in the form of violence, is followed by energetic thrusting on the part of the male – who is smaller – accommodated by the female – who is hospitable. She accepts him from behind where the height differential doesn’t matter (useful tip for the short man?); or she invites him to enter face-to-face, hoisting his rump, providing her palms as a bum support while he ruts away. The male then slumps, tranquillised, until next commanded to perform by the pummelling of his lady friend.

There must be a lesson here. Time for me to revert for good to my (preferred) vegetarian diet? The image persists of the male bonobo, released for the nonce from service in the marital trenches, who toddles down to the river (the great Congo River?). He lies on his back, his slim white phallus perpetually semi-erect. He dangles his left foot into the stream, idly splashing water upriver. Sunlit, the grasses a brilliant green, the bonobo’s fur a rich auburn, the simian foot, large in proportion to the skinny leg, swings across his lower body, splash, swing, splash in the sunshine, Mister Bonobo awaits his mistress’ call.

No Sexual Massage in Yangon

When I visited Yangon a couple of years ago I enjoyed a number of curious, memorable and stimulating experiences. Among these I recall the vivid sight of a mouthful of ragged teeth swimming in blood-red betel juice. I saw lovely women and lovelier children with cheeks daubed in discs of a caked pink, ochreous pigment. I ran in a huge mid-city park where I was alone, save for thirty men scything a small patch of pedicured grass of brilliant green, and lovers on park benches, enfolded in each others’ arms in the slow ballet of discreet half-satisfaction. I saw women and men banquetting at kerbsides on evil-smelling fishes, I read an English language newspaper from cover to cover, in which grown up writers and editors repeated children’s stories for grownup readers. (These stories, simply told and endlessly retold, announced that the government was very pleased with itself and if we had any further questions we should read the account of the Press Release on page three, which announced how pleased the government was with its plans to change nothing.)

I rode in taxis that had been young when I reached puberty and which still functioned – but only just. I recognised my own physiology mirrored in these noisy, puffing, sluggish vehicles. At the airport I was met by unsmiling men wearing military and paramilitary uniforms that would be laughable in comic opera. Under the hard eyes of these protectors of the public order young female Immigration Clerks checked my passport for twenty solemn minutes before passing me down a chain of clerks similarly trained in solemnity. The solemnity training is impressive, achieving as it does the extinguishing of the endemic native joy that radiates from the Yangonese. In a shop I saw a longhi. I always wanted a longhi and when I went to purchase one, eight young women, so feminine, so, so slim, all stepped forward to fit me. I went to a hairdressing salon where some hair was cut and someone sold someone else a massive bag of rice, while all the staff – including the person cutting the hairs around my throat – watched a lengthy and particularly violent show on TV.

I saw and enjoyed many things in Yangon but I never bought, received, contemplated, witnessed or wished for sexual massage in Yangon. I did, however, post an innocent blog report on my visit to the hairdresser.

Ever since that post my blog has been visited by readers from around the world, googling key words ‘Sexual Massage Yangon.’ I have innocently discovered the secret to a massive blog following. In posting this I expect to redouble that following. Fame and Greatness beckon.

Return of the Pantry Moth

They’d visit every year, in late spring as I recall. And they’d stay until the end of summer. The pantry moths were our uninvited guests. “House guests are like fish”, as my cousin in Des Moines remarks, “They’re fine at first but they start to go off after three days.”

When they first arrive the moths are inoffensive in their delicate off-white coats. Standing upright, which I’ve never seen them do, they’d be a fraction taller than a centimetre; in full and fluttery flight their wingspan is about two-and –a half cm. I don’t mind them at first. Their numbers are few and they shun attention, nestling discreetly in the groynes of the kitchen’s plaster ceiling. What they are doing, I discovered, is waiting, plotting, fantasising. What is it that the moth’s minute brain contemplates high in the groynes? Sex, of course. Sex in our kitchen. This, I believe, ranks as an offence against hospitality.

Now I’ve never actually caught the moths at it. Perhaps they are too quick. Discreet they certainly are, as I observed earlier. But I know they do it. In the lines my late and beloved Uncle Abe loved to recite:

I can tell there’s been some pushin’
By the marks upon the cushion
And the footprints on the ceiling
Upside down…

In the case of the moths it’s their offspring that offend. Somehow they are born lengthier than their parents, at 1.3 cm. These pale plump maggots (I know, I know, they are pupae or something), these maggots drop from the ceiling onto the kitchen benchtops and worm silently, slowly, heading for some unseen bourne.
A few weeks after the arrival of the first of these obese spermatozoa we come across them in the pantry, within sealed jars of farinaceous foods. Their brains might be small but these fellers are all Houdini.
I have written previously of the obscure pleasure of discovering that the curious black crescents in my breakfast cereal I have just consumed are actually mice poo. Less charming somehow is the discovery of pupae in your oatmeal. After the first few of these vernal experiences we examine every package, every plastic container, every jar in our pantry and empty those infested into the bin. Then we buy some more and wait for next spring.

While still invaded and under plunderous attack, we counter-attack. Our weapon is chemical, doubtless banned by the Geneva Diet of Worms: the weapon is a Hovex Pantry Moth Trap. This consists of a small square of pink rubber steeped in some chemical pheromone that seduces the randy moth, who flies towards it in a state of high tumescence and lands on old fashioned fly paper, where cruelly affixed as if crucified in glue, the moth expires.

That’s how it used to be. Come spring, when

The flowers appear on the earth;
The time of the singing of birds is come,
And the voice of the turtle is heard in our land;

our fornicating moths would return.

But last September the moths failed. No flapping in the groynes, no wrigglers in the oatmeal. It felt lonely. It felt like environmental doom. I felt a shapeless guilt. Needing to apologise I wandered empty through my springtime kitchen looking for a maggot.
This environmental emptiness reminded me of the time on the dry land when the blowflies failed. On the lonely road to Bunninyong the words of the Preacher echoed obscurely:

Lest the evil days come
And the years draw nigh
When thou shalt say
“I have no pleasure in them.”

The world had changed ominously. Drought haunted the land.

But after a decade of drought the blowflies came back. And now, at the onset of winter, our pantry moths have returned. Unseasonal visitors, they are harbingers of environmental recovery.

Let all those souls who despair for perishing species visit our flapping, squirming kitchen. Or the blowfly haven of Bunninyong. Nature, it seems, loves the maggot.

Road to Recovery – (my piece published in Australian Financial Review)

Road to Recovery Financial Review article

This article appeared in the Australian Financial Review 3 January 2014. It first appeared in the Griffith Review 10th anniversary edition in 2013.This story is an edited version of a piece that will be published in 2015, in an upcoming book entitled ‘Burned Man’.

Running in the Breeding Grounds of Yangon

The weather forecast is for a hot day. That’s the forecast every day in Yangon. My own forecast – it’s hot now at 8.00 am, it will be hotter soon: if I am going to run today I should leave now.
I take a taxi to the park. Were I hungrier for inhaled hydrocarbons I’d run there, but I’ve already breathed enough smog to create a decent cancer.
Yangon boasts the largest city park in the known world. I do like to boast that I have run around the largest park in the known world: in Vancouver I ran around the world’s biggest, then in Bristol I did the same on the Downs.
But this beauty might just be the real thing. I can’t see its further end. Its jewel is the lake, a lime green affair that stretches further than my eyes or legs can follow.
The world’s longest boardwalk is a joy, bouncy and springy underfoot, launching my every next step upward and onward – and backwards in time to when running fast was effortless. Zooming around the lake, I find myself running parallel and close to the shore, close enough to feel like a voyeur as I pass numerous courting couples. The young people, engaged discreetly in the business at hand, hear my footfalls and look up in surprise. I keep my eyes on the winding boardwalk which flings me around bend after bend. At every turn I disturb another couple’s progress.

The shoreline is ringed by tall trees and shrubbery. Between the botanical specimens the park’s designers have placed benches large enough for two adults to recline, one beneath the other. The plantings afford privacy which the occupants appear to enjoy and take for granted. So when an old foreign mountain goat speeds into their breeding grounds, the locals are surprised. The consternation is mutual and thankfully brief.
After a time the boardwalk deserts the shore and heads off into open waters. The circumambient lime-green is the colour of too much life, of a watery milieu where plant growth is phenomenally fast and rotting keeps pace. The confectionary colour makes me slightly uneasy: I’m not anxious to take a dip in it.
Abruptly that becomes a real prospect as the boardwalk comes to a fullstop. I jam on the brakes and retrace my bouncing steps. Once again I disturb the courting couples, who, I cannot help noticing, are making good progress.
It reminds me of Buenos Aires, city of the long slow kiss. Another town where the poor are many and libidinous and strong urges find no indoor accommodation.
I leave the lake and head deep inland. Atop a rise I come to a large emerald of lawn. Eight slim men, bare chested, wearing longhis, trim the grass, each wielding sort of scythe, a linear metal blade about a metre long, with which they shave the green. Labour must be cheap: the area they ‘mow’ is about the size of a doubles tennis court. Hot work on a hot day, their bronze bellies shine in the sun.

***

I’d like to have a longhi. Which man wouldn’t?
I enquire and the smiling men of the mowing brigade direct me to the market. Happily I get lost many times: lost among the strong-smelling smoked fish sellers, lost among the fruit vendors, lost in the laneways clustered with jade merchants, lost among the corn on the cobmen, the hot food stallholders, the fabric traders, the toysellers, the tobacco factors, the beggars, the amputees, the gleaming smiles of white, the grins that drip red with betel juice.
At last I ask: longhi? – indicating my below waist area. More smiles on every side. The word goes around, people point and smile and tell their neighbour about the old foreigner who points to his privates.
A kindly soul – they all seem kindly – taps my shoulder, points to the shop directly behind me and nods: longhi, longhi.
The shop is narrow, but easily wide enough for the four or five – they come and they go, so the count is fluid – four or five fetching females who attend to me. They show me bolts of fabric, all smartly pattered cotton affairs. I choose the two lariest fabrics. The four or five fit me with my longhi. I leave, beaming, a prince among princes, splendid in my longhi in Yangon.

The Reader in the End Times

You and I are fellow readers. We see words and we read them. It
happens without deliberation; it has become our condition, our
constitution.

This morning, I sat in a small room and performed one of my daily
functions, a function one of my patients termed his ‘constitutional’.
And while in that small room, I read. I didn’t go there to read, but
there was reading matter.
These are the items I saw, the texts of evacuation:

CAUTION: CONTAINS ASBESTOS  (3 items)

PLEASE PLACE SANITARY ITEMS IN THE RECEPTACLE ON YOUR RIGHT

NOW YOU HAVE TIME ON YOUR HANDS, DO YOU KNOW WHAT ELSE IS ON THEM?

ADVANCED LIFE SUPPORT (4 items, once advanced, now outdated)

THREE SIMPLE QUESTIONS THAT COULD SAVE YOUR LIFE
Q.1 – are you over 18 years of age?
Q.2 – have you ever had sex?
Q.3 – is it more than 2 years since you had a Pap test?

I read all of these documents and gave them due thought. In
particular, I answered the (highly personal) questionnaire above. I
was candid: I answered ‘yes’ to all three questions. The notice went
on to advise me:
If you said yes to all these questions, you should have a Pap smear
without delay.
This left me even more thoughtful. Continue reading