Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Illusions of Holiday Magic

Please use the start arrow in the lower left corner rather that the one in the center of the screen. Enjoy 'Der Bingle' and then read my little ode to Christmas...

From the first pink and golden wink of dawn to shimmering days end the inexhaustible desert winter sun of Southern California shines as sure as a sky tearing arc light beaming upwards from a Hollywood film premier. And then comes the resplendent sunset, a blazing sky shifting into luminous opal hues of orange, mauve, and fuchsia.

As twilight drags its indigo cloak over the eastward mountains the winds switch direction and descend from pine clad peaks to blow from the highlands towards the sea, zooming through sage fragrant canyons to finally smooth the ocean surface into a gem like fractured mirror.

A handful of adventurous stars pop their heads out, and Venus in her shimmering diamond like light dangles above the dramatic tableau, a slowly descending specter set in the hot tangerine afterglow now boldly defined by an ever darkening horizon. The silhouette of Catalina Island looks like a colored paper cutout balanced perfectly on the border between night and day. Could nature be any more enthralling than this?

Winter skies in LA are so much clearer, and after dark the temperature quickly drops to the point where I can make frosty clouds with my breath (a somewhat odd thing to accomplishment while standing on palm tree lined streets). While running around at midday in cotton shorts and tee shirts one mustn’t forget that come sundown you’ll want those sweaters, hats, and jackets close at hand.

Even with such resplendent natural light and color illuminating our theater of hours there's a omnipresent sadness that somehow hangs over the lives of most people in SoCal. Such sad hunger seems rather strange given the fact that our universe creates such magnificent structures as these sunsets, and the eyes with which to see them, and the consciousness with which to be awed.

Spewing out tigers, flamingos, blue whales, and dragonflies as it does one must wonder how anything so beautifully complex can also be so utterly chaotic, violent, lonely, and completely incomprehensible. Scaled as it is into something so cosmically vast and terrifingly unrelenting our knowledge of modern life has reached the point of reducing personal existence to something bordering on meaningless, or at least chonologically insignificant.

And so, ergo, arises both the wonder & the sadness.Everything truly wonderful in our lives seems to have happened quite by some sort of synchronistic accident. Try as we may our constantly contrived edifices never quite ring the bell with that clear pure tone (that is unless we are Mozart, and he died penniless and misunderstood).

It is only when a strange confluence of diverse elements, events, forces and people (and almost always by serendipitous fortune) fall into place that the truly inspirational and beautiful in life is revealed, and even then it is often only apprehended in retrospect.Who knows whether there will be a beautiful sunset or not? And more than half the time the answer is…not.

But then there are those nights were it all just fuses together; the temperature, the winds, the precise angle of the sun, the length of day, the season, the instability of the air mass, and the reflection off the ocean… and wham – up pops a multidimensional rainbow colored layer cake woven of every imaginable radiance. Pleasant, deeply inspirational even, but for…what… 20 or 40 minutes? And the ephemeral sky possesses no mind to know what it is doing.

It's a fascinating mystic concept to imagine that there are invisible legions of celestial harmony workers tweaking the tonal patterns of the ring of sunrises and sunsets that at all times encircle the globe, but it's probably just not true. And yet there it is, in all of its day to night colorful glory.

As you stand and stare out into the dusk one can't help but wonder how is it that anything of this world carry such a signature of perfection, a yet the effect is so asymmetrical, fragile, and mirage-like…little more actual substance than a spectral phantom dancing.

If this ‘sand castle’ status is the basic state of all of Nature’s affairs how could we possibly imagine that our heartfelt dreams of holding on to true happiness could ever come to pass? Being completely happy in this life is a little bit like winning the lottery. Some people actually do win, but the odds against it are so astronomical that you’ll probably be hit by lightning first. And yet we persist, knowing that if we don’t put our name in the hat there is no chance to win. I'll just give up on happiness, buy the darn ticket, and have some mint flavored hot chocolate, which for me runs a close second, and is a reasonable stand in for bliss consciousness. Maybe hang up some colored lights?

It's probably for the better to live in what passes for ignorance, at least if we want to accomplish anything great in our lifetime. Being naïve, or even outright stupid, is a firm basis for actually succeeding, primarily because you don't know any better and you're willing to try things that rational minds consider impossible (‘cause if you don't actually try first there's no possible way you can succeed!).

So there goes the argument for doing things well, or at least with a conscious intention.

I guess the perfect combination for making the magic happen is a smart idea and a naive mind, two concepts someone with a Mensa card would naturally consider being mutually exclusive. And so we’ve concocted the winter holidays, our culture’s collective mythmaking day dream that are the legal drugs of those who’d rather not think too hard or who gladly choose the comforts of nostalgia over the heavy lifting of logic.

Call it a willing suspension of disbelief, or blissful stupidity, but how happy was I when it snowed in LA for ten minutes, under a 140 foot high Christmas tree next to a dancing fountain choreographed to the piped in beats of ”'Let it snow, Let it snow” & der Bingle singing 'White Christmas'? Completely, my friend, completely.

Yeah, it was totally phony (tiny, damp, fan blown starch flakes?), but I loved it, and loved the little kids crazy antics trying to catch the drifting white puffs, their smiles like swinging lanterns in the dark, eyes ablaze. We even came back an hour later to see it again. Add that to the opal opera of sunset, and I’d fallen hard for the Illusion of Holiday Magic in LA, my ad hoc winter wonderland. Joyous Noel!...warm sun, palm trees, and all.

"God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, Let Nothing You Dismay..."

-Richard Arthur Love
©2009 RAL

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Haunted By All Hallows Eve's Offbeat Demons

Personal Recollections of Halloween
Then & Now...

One could hardly call it the twilight hour. Tonight a thick amber haze of smoke shrouds Southern California, creating an ideal atmosphere for contemplating the upcoming Halloween weekend. Evening has turned the world into a brooding spectre, the skies swirling with an eerie looking tinge, the rising moon blood red in the west . My usual expansive corner office view over the west side of LA and on to the blue Pacific Ocean beyond has dissolved into slow moving opaque skies.

At my feet Wilshire Boulevard stretches out from Westwood village towards the palm covered bluffs above Santa Monica beach, and the tallest buildings lining the corridor are now fully submerged from top down, gradually disappearing deeper and deeper into the descending gloom.

As I watch them drown in the blanket of rancid smoke they begin to look like monstrous tombstones in an underworld graveyard. It’s a perfect hour to reflect on Halloween, and the colorful pageant this holiday has painted across our lives. Halloween is always such a remarkable and perversely spectacular event in Los Angeles. This quasi-pagan holiday pretty much stands in for American culture’s lack of anything like a real Carnival (in the South American sense). It’s not just a holiday for children anymore, or the slutty poorer relation of our revered winter holiday season.

Halloween’s sense of silly dread and theatrical morbidity has taken such a hold on human imagination that it’s now being seriously celebrated well beyond America’s shores.I've always enjoyed the quotable wit of Oscar Wilde, and one of his more famous sly remarks implied that a man will never tell you the truth unless you get him to wear a mask. When we don our Halloween costumes we get to embrace an alternative and some what primal aspect of our inner being, one that is dying to be expressed, even if we haven’t consciously realized the need.

These glitter and fabric nocturnal facades serve as the disguises that allow us to get away with all manner of overt shenanigans. Who cares how stupid you acted…you were wearing a costume! It’s a basic mortal urge really, the need to put on a dramatic, albeit temporary, alter ego.

Personally I've always been keen on getting done up ‘en’masque’ and working the crowd for a reaction. Half the fun of a Halloween party is seeing how everyone dresses, checking out their ridiculous, sexy, and often astounding getups, and having a shocking, rollicking good time of it.

Thinking back over 30 years of Halloween extravaganzas I can come up with some astounding recollections (some of which I cannot put in print, would rather not repeat in public, or ever mention in mixed company). Many are absolutely dated, with no meaning to anyone but myself, but remain cherished memories of a night of harmless, spontaneous debauchery and outright incognito silliness, probably a good thing in world that is in the main far too serious.

Originally I held to the tradition that Halloween costumes had to be at least marginally frightening…carrying on the tradition of classic monster movies, morbid literature, or anything that had to do with aspects of death or of being deeply frightened. As a boy I thought that a 'Creature from the Black Lagoon' costume was the pinnacle of ubercool.

Nowadays I wouldn’t be caught dead in a rubber monster suit. Times have changed, but the reasons why I love Halloween are still very much the same as they’ve always been.

I guess my seduction with the entire holiday stretches back to my childhood in the 1950’s, a time when our family lived in the countryside surrounding the San Francisco Bay in what was then a ‘modern’ housing development set in a lovely valley primarily occupied by walnut, almond, and apricot orchards, and anchored by a meandering creek hidden in a forest of oaks and wild blackberry vines. It was a pastorial world, where people kept horses and grew vegetable gardens.

Of course the 1950's were simpler times (and whose childhood wasn’t?) and my mother was creative enough in her talents as a seamstress to fabricate remarkable colored fabric and papier-mâché costumes for all the kids. We were always proud of how we looked after she’d finished with us. One of my earliest Halloween memories is sitting in a neighbor's backyard in a wooded canyon, a huge bonfire blazing into the indigo sky. There were 30 or 40 people, mostly young families, and most everyone in simple costumes.

We listened wide eyed to tales of the Headless Horseman of Sleepy Hollow and bobbed from giant galvanized metal buckets full of floating local apples. Scarecrows and armies of corn stocks bundled together cast spooky shadows from the dancing firelight on the overhanging oaks . This was a magic world for a kid, and a strange and wonderful night to be alive. And of course there were always the pillow cases full of candies we collected trudging around our rural neighborhood.

For young kids the whole thing was absolute ecstasy. We were so jacked up on candy corn, chocolate bats, and licorice flavored wax mustaches that it really had to count as our first major buzz in life; the simple thrill of being totally doped up on a rude sugar high. And at every door we actually got to command grown-ups...for the first and only time, barking out our “Trick or Treat” in fearsome and demanding tones. It all seemed beyond good, and if you scored a Hershey Bar you felt like the king of the world.

As early teens, now too old to ask for candy, Halloween turned into something more roguish, and became the cover for our first frenzied stabs at juvenile delinquency. Halloween gave us the chance to discover the early effects of testosterone, running around in silly hats and army surplus coats with pockets full of eggs to throw at houses and passing cars, planting cherry bombs in innocent pumpkins and blowing them sky high. And there was always the cloaking of the neighborhood trees with tossed rolls of toilet paper. We were the tricky Halloween demons, and it felt cool.

But it wasn’t until I'd become old enough to vaguely grasp the intrinsic value of Girls that I began to realize how beneficial the innocent costumed debauchery of a Halloween party could be, particularly in regards to copping a feel from some comely witch, or even, eventually, getting some nookie! I lost my virginity at an après Halloween party, so how could I not adore this holiday?

In the late sixties Halloween had finally graduated to the big-time. In the prime of our hippie days everyone had plenty of Afghani hash to smoke or psychedelic mushrooms to chew on, and the wild outdoor Halloween parties took on the vibe of an almost mystical, pagan ritual. Costumes got wilder and came off easier, and the parties went on well until dawn. Strangely enough, life as a hippy was a bit like living in a constant Halloween party, only with gurus and Hopis and Hendrix instead of goblins, ghosts, and vampires. Sweet instead of scary, Halloween in 1969 really ramped up the entire Alice in Wonderland surrealism of that decade. Far Out!

Suddenly it was the mid 70’s, a time when all manner of remarkable parties were happening. People would completely decorate their sleepy canyon houses, turning them into surreal Halloween themed scenes. With their big backyard pools & cabanas, spot-lit palm & sycamore trees, garden pathways and houses illuminated with lanterns and candles, raging live rock bands, and giant tubs of highly potent passion punch to fuel the festivities, the A-list Halloween parties took on a special significance in an era that was well before there were any of the major public Halloween events that you see advertised today.

It was way more exclusive, with Hollywood stars throwing the most opulent bashes. Max Baer (‘Jethro’ of The Beverly Hillbillies) use to really put on some of the wildest Halloween parties. Who would have thunk'd it…Ol' Jethro out by the cement pond with all those naughty witches?

One year we decided to do a marathon So Cal party tour starting in South Laguna Beach (Orange County). Laguna back then was an eccentric little beach village with cozy wooded canyons that led to tiny picture perfect coves, a post card village populated by a high percentage of offbeat fags, stoned surfers, serious hash/Thai scammers, and generations of writers and artists.

Our plan was a simple one; take off in a caravan of exotic cars and go to as many Halloween parties as we possibly could in one night, and to see everyone and everything in the coolest, spooky places the southland had to offer. And believe me…this is exactly what we accomplished. Now that I think back about it I realize what an astounding feat we pulled off.

We went to four Halloween parties in Laguna Beach before we hit Corona Del Mar, Newport Beach, Huntington Beach, Long Beach, Palos Verdes, Hermosa Beach, Hollywood, Beverly Hills, Santa Monica, Pacific Palisades, Malibu, Ventura, Summerland, Montecito, and Santa Barbara. That night we went to 36 separate Halloween parties.

The most outrageous costumes were in Laguna Beach, the most outrageous parties were in the Hollywood Hills (naturally), with the most perverse action in Palos Verdes, the most sedate and over hyped being in Malibu, and the grandest and biggest of all being held in the elegant 1920’s clubhouse of the Santa Barbara Country Club in Montecito. It was a true spooky marathon, and while it’s stunning we could even accomplish what we did our successful pilgrimage had much to do with the simple fact that we were only 20 something years old, had every conceivable natural stimulant on hand, and that our shiny new German cars hauled ass (plus traffic wasn’t half as bad back then).

Things changed dramatically when we slid into the 1980’s, a time in my life when it seemed I had plenty of spare cash and had surely lost a significant portion of my innocence. Everybody remembers the 1980's as a decade of ridiculous decadence and silly haircuts, and we were no exception to the rule.

I spent a good many years living in the Hawaiian Islands and commuting backing a fourth to the West Coast (and to other points around the globe).Our 80's Halloween parties in Hawaii defined extravagant, and were usually held in outrageous locations. One memorable year we teamed up with an obscenely wealthy Iranian who lived next door to Ferdinand Marcos in Hawaii Kai and rented Oahu’s Castle Park, the Hawaiian equivalent of Disneyland, and threw a private Halloween party for 5000 people.

We had a blast converting the theme park into a haunted village, and everyone at the party wore an outrageous costume. We wouldn’t let you in without one (a favorite that year was the 16 foot tall Frankenstein Monster…some talented guy on stilts). The Castle Park Party had to rank as the largest private Halloween party I’ve ever thrown, or gone to. Word got out, but we didn’t care. People flew in from every corner of the islands (& the Mainland) for this one. It turned into the BIG EVENT of the decade, as far as parties in Hawaii went. Thank Allah for our Mozzie friend, whose name I can’t seem to recall, and whose bags of oil money covered the 180K we blew on the bash, (a tidy sum in 1983 dollars).

Two years later we held our Hawaiian Halloween party in a far more exclusive, exotic local -- a premier 2000 acre botanical Garden set in the mysterious and ancient Waimea Canyon on the North Shore of Oahu. The valley is legendary for being haunted by the spirits of ancient Kahunas and sacrificed maidens. It’s also the location of a unique restaurant and nightclub called The Proud Peacock, a stunning solid wood villa set snug in a steep jungle clad canyon about a half mile back from Waimea Bay’s white sand beach.

Here on five acres of putting green smooth emerald lawns spread out under huge sheltering Banyan trees we threw a Halloween soirée in that villa that stands as contender for the title of 'Close To The Best Hawaiian Costume Party of All Time'.

The gem-like peacocks seemed to be everywhere that night, and if you're even remotely familiar with these birds you know that when they scream it sounds like someone being murdered. Their presence only added to the bizarre ambiance of this awesomely beautiful place.

In what was an ongoing annual Halloween tradition, the evenings host was globe-trotting surfing impresario Randy Rarick. Already famous for a hosting a continuous decade of stellar Halloween parties, Randy was the last one to refuse our significant contributions to the evenings festivities, which included coughing up 100 magnums of chilled Dom Perignon champagne, and the handing out of rare imported hand wrapped diplomatic quality party favors to a significant portion of the guests (kudos to the Ministry of Agriculture in Cuzco, and the accommodating Consulate).

The setting was opulent, yet remote, serene and spooky, spacious, verdant, lush, and strangely illuminated. At the time the 2000 acre valley property was a privately owned botanical garden and Hawaiian cultural center, the grounds and gardens subtly lit with hundreds of colored outdoor spotlights. The property came complete with a 100 foot high roaring waterfall, and with smooth paved pathways with cushy golf carts to meander through the astounding tropical gardens.

There was an authentic ancient stone Village of the Lost Tribe, and 500 feet above, on the ridge of the canyon, sat the taboo Hieau, the graveyard of the ruling Kahunas, and scene of alleged virgin sacrifices. The surf at the beach was a thundering twenty feet that night. Could the setting be any more…impossibly perfect?

By special request a planeload of professional Hollywood makeup artists flew in from Studio City with trunk loads of paint and costume props & accessories. The entire party staff and a number of guests and friends got the full makeover treatment, and the effect was shocking. These were scary faces of another magnitude, detailed, haunting, and genuinely frightening.

Throw in gourmet catering, a suprise performance by a more than famous English rock band (album;Undercover), 400 madcap revelers in first class costumes and a full Hawaiian moon and you have all the elements required to insure a high probability of quirky romance and legendary hi-jinks.I can instantly recall a vision of dozens of couples strolling crisscross over the expansive moonlit lawns, their ghostly pale blue forms flickering in and out of the sheltering banyan trees shadows in a slow tropical cotillion.

One of the evening's many show stoppers was arrival of a Brazilian beauty queen clad as a nearly naked Cleopatra parading into the thick of the action while being carried on a golden palanquin by six refrigerator sized Samoan locals and a half dozen flower tossing dancing goddesses, all in matching Egyptian regalia. It’s fairly safe to say this is a sight not often seen in the South Pacific. As would be expected, there was dancing well into the dawn, and plenty of Kahmana Wanna Leia going on it the Gardenia beds.

Later that same decade I’d returned to California, and located a close friend who at the time was the Captain and proud owner of a 140 foot long solid teak 1938 luxury sailing yacht. Kept in absolutely mint condition the Francis Hershoff schooner Mistral was berthed in the exclusive Mainers Mile district of Newport Beach.

The captain and I agreed on a course for a Halloween cruise, and the elegant sailboat figured prominently in our plans. It was decided we’d carefully motor over to a nearby bay front restaurant and nightclub name of Harpoon Henry's. At the time this rockin’ local hotspot was owned by the former karate champion and bad action movie star Chuck Norris. My costume that night was a natural; a Pirate Captain of the Caribbean. Only fitting given our manner of transportation, don’t you think?

We gently slid the long smooth sailboat into the tight slip in front of the club, tied up, and made our way up the gangway for a wild night of live music, drinking, and shameless flirting. During the hours we were inside the party a minus winter tide had dropped the sea level substantially, and with it the boat sat lower and lower in front of the restaurant, causing the gangway leading to the Mistral to adopt an angle of decent resembling that of a Himalayan crevasse.All night long I'd been chasing after an astounding looking waif beautifully dressed as a mermaid.

Finally the Captain and I corralled the mermaid and her voluptuous naughty nurse sidekick and convinced them to venture down to the yacht for a bit of midnight bubbly. We were all well in our cups, and apparently the mermaid managed to trip over her fish tail on the way down the steep ramp. Well, before you could say Boo she’d slid a good twenty feet down the ramp, bounced cleanly off the side of the dock, and fell with a loud splash and a scream directly into the bay.

Swashbuckler that I am I immediately leapt to her rescue, and despite my Rum soaked condition raced down the ramp in a flash and with some genuine effort fished her soggy floundering form out of the 50 degree water. Among the many recollections I have of Halloween parties past there always stands out that mental snapshot of me dressed in my pirate’s finest, pulling the sputtering waterlogged mermaid out of the ocean and carrying her, now with real seaweed in her hair, onto the aft deck of a classic antique sailboat.

Having that image burned into my brain; Pirate Saving The Mermaid, is exactly the sort of bizarre, improbable, and fantastic scene that's the central attraction, my real motivation, for going to Halloween parties at all... hoping that some serendipitous goof like this could or would in fact happen.

And now, of course, it matters little that I managed to get the mermaid out of her brine soaked tail and proceeded to take her on a soggy midnight sail to a pirate's paradise. That silly, theatrical rum soaked conquest is hardly half as remarkable a treasure as is the indelible image of The Laughing Buccaneer Captain hoisting a wiggling, slippery, and very sexy mermaid aboard a classic wooden sailing ship.

And here comes yet another Halloween, and I find myself mentally sorting which (Hollywood?) spookfest to attend. I’ve arrived at a point where I’m beginning to ask myself if I'm up for this...again? At my ‘advanced’ age how could it possibly be as much fun? Now that we’re well into a new millennium and I have over 30 years of Halloween parties under my ever expanding belt will I have to finally admit to having simmered down considerably? Lord I hope not!

Then here comes that flood of fond memories...turning up as The Royal Court Jester, and with a bit of ‘magic’ (& helped by a long jesters wand with tiny bells and tickling feathers) I could reach into the giggling throng and tickle the backs of beautiful women’s ankles from a few feet away, undetected in the crowded crush and causing a riot.

I'd often score millions in 'Play Money' at the toy section of a local supermarket and later that night laugh my ass off watching the absurd 'double takes' and outright head bumping accidents after I'd clandestinely littered the party's darkened dance floors with crumpled wads of bogus currency. A Joker to the Bitter end...

Then there are my memories of being fully made over by a top Hollywood movie makeup artist, and donning a seven foot tall costume creation he christened “The Bride of Death”. Shrouded in a beautiful antique white lace wedding gown with a mask cast from a real human skull and sporting a pearl studded veil as a crown I could look through black glowing eyes and work the jaw. It was such an authentically frightening visage it gave heart palpitations to anyone seeing me come around a dark corner or who swung open a door to let me in. Being this scary this was beyond fun, and I loved working every gasp I could get!

And so comes again the central question; what will I be this year? A swami, a pirate, Henry VIII, Dracula? Anything with turbans is definitely out. I'm too tall to do Kim Jong Ill, the scariest character around. Whatever I decide it won’t exactly be a last-minute thing, but with my busy working life it'll be darn close. After all these years of joining the masquerade, it seems a tradition that I can hardly tolerate to miss. Perhapd the Pirate Captian. That is sooo me!

Certainly I don't go for the same reasons I used to, and I don't/can't get overtly stoned anymore. My private joy will probably be the same as it’s always been... relishing the freedom to act like someone I’m not, (or was in a previous incarnation) without anyone knowing who I really am, and without any excuses required, at least if only for this one night of the year.

Nowadays I find myself far more enchanted by the happily morbid folk traditions of the Noche de Muerto, the Mexican ‘Night Of The Dead’ festival, and can't help but laugh at the campy monster movies of my childhood. How could I have ever thought ‘The Attack of the 50 Foot Woman’ was seriously scary? No, I’ll do it simply for the pageantry, and for the chance to see everyone at their best and worst behavior.

One of the most outrageous Hollywood moments I’ve ever seen wasn’t an actual party, but happened well after the clubs had closed. I had left an amazing bash at the House of Blues Foundation Room on Sunset Strip and wandered/wobbled down to the International House of Pancakes on Santa Monica Blvd., ground zero in that gayest of gay zones in the heart of West Hollywood (pink shirts aside, I’m actually a straight cat). I just wanted to grab something to eat, and this was the closest place that was open for sure.

I was certainly on Auto-pilot, as tipsy as a lopsided pumpkin, with my stomach leading the charge. Sure, the IHOP is open 24/7, but I soon discovered that tonight wasn’t your usual midnight rooti-tooti fresh & fruiti crowd. So why I was so surprised? Let's just say I've never had such a blast ordering a patty melt, a chocolate shake, and some fries.

I'm positive every flaming drag queen and gay bizarro bondage alien in West Hollywood had descended on this ridiculously over lit greasy spoon to squeeze a last few hours of campy behavior out of the wee hours of the night. It was truly a sight to behold. I've never done Halloween in Key West, but I've been to Mardi Gras in Brazil and Trinidad, and believe me, I know real theatrics. I’ve since come to think of that early morning snack at the West Hollywood International House of Pancakes as being about as outrageous as anything I've ever witnessed.

I’ve no idea how many more years I’ll be able to keep up this sort behavior, and whenever Halloween rolls around I begin to question my sanity, but for now you’ll probably see moi out there with the best of them…but thank God, you won't be able to recognize me. I still hold the belief that life is great if you're weak enough to fully enjoy it.

Glance around...I'll be the oddball with the ridiculous grin on his face standing off to the sidelines dressed like Louis the Fourteenth or Zorro, checking everything out and grabbing what giggles come my way. Wear your best costume and I’ll be happy to give you a complement.

And oh yeah…here’s wishing you a Splendid Holiday Season!


click to enlarge image

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Torrid Noche in Old LA

In this fast-paced world we live in it seems so unusual to find real peace and quiet. In fact, it’s almost impossible to find either one without a three hour drive to the surrounding countryside and then a hike out into the boonies.

For me it's always been that strange balancing act between seeking out the excitement and cultural inspiration (and of course, the essential economic opportunity) the dynamic and high-powered city seems to always provide, and the essential inner need to get the hell away from all of the insane social hubbub and the inevitable headtrip that comes wrapped in ever aspect of city life.

Humans become so utterly submerged in their fabricated culture; awash in their habits, their communities, with their friends, their favorite restaurants, and with the movies, the fashions, and the music that swiftly become the collected identifying elements of our ephemeral internal mythologies.

Face it, we all live in a lovely dream…a dream that is interrupted only when life’s little indignities start to pile up, and suddenly everything becomes a nightmare… usually from having to deal with the billion variations of every other person’s misguided ideas of what your dream is really about. Artistic temperament and/or criminal behavior is often the only way to break out of the swamp of self supported mental limitation.

But in the end the only real balancer is being able to remember that a natural world extends beyond everything that we can imagine, and that beyond the city limits is the real world.

The beauty of the wild coast, beaches swept with the music of thumping surf on sand and rock; the jagged peaks and their whispering pines, and above it all, the astounding tapestry of stars, the stars that city people never see, and who often forget they even exist, painting the skies in parades of nightly celestial fire.

The golden desert light of Southern California has a way as painting the City of Los Angeles and its environs with a thousand splendidly brilliant hues. The daylight colors are extreme, often harsh, and as I cruise around the streets in the sprawling communities of LA & OC it's always a vibrant eyeful; the crazy signage, the perfect lawns, the wild cars, and its bizarre occupants.

Personally, I become far more enchanted with the same city in its nighttime incarnation, when all the glaring details and tawdry aspects of the dusty old town are shaded over by a black velvet cloak of darkness, one studded with a trillion tiny light bulbs that once turned on create their own strange horizontal constellations.

When flying into Los Angeles International Airport at night one can only be astounded. Look outside the window of the airplane as it bumps and roars ever closer to the earth below, dancing like lanterns on that long line of hovering jets on final, and peer out at the vast spinning grid that flows from horizon to horizon in a sea of glowing electric lights.

Aside from occasionally wishing that I could have a penny for every blub down there, I can't help to be thoroughly astounded at the automatic and overwhelming sense of urgency and energy that one gets from seeing this astounding city blazing away in the pitch black of the Pacific night.

Humans are by nature far more emotional, passionate, romantic, belligerent, and dangerous in the dark. The daytime world has us by default acting on our best behavior. Daylight is the time we are to be at our most responsible; hard-working, practical, and attending to the thousand tedious details of our everyday mortal existence.

Nighttime, with its complex dreamlike Yin momentum, inspires people to dress more flamboyantly, become intoxicated, hunker down in fear, tend to the home fires, or go wobbling down life’s hazy byways on the often hazardous and heartbreaking search for carnal love.

Why do dinners away seem to be the most important, the most ceremonial, of all meals? It’s the night.

As I'm writing this it's the middle of October, probably the nicest month of the year everywhere in the world, and certainly a very interesting time if you’re in Los Angeles. This is when the palm tree bending Santa Ana winds begin to blow out of the high desert, snaking through the local mountains with the force of the prop wash of a hundred helicopters landing on your head.

The nighttime hours slow these localized torrid jet streams that race across the grid of the city and in one swift swipe clear away the perpetual haze, the smog, and the sea fogs from this vast and ever expanding bowl of lights.

Along with the Santa Ana winds comes the warm, shimmering, balmy nights that turn LA’s electric ocean into an undulating dragon, a sparkling rainbow colored carpet that when viewed from a poolside terrace in the Hollywood hills one could rightly compare to a ride on a flying carpet over a swirling Galaxy.

It’s the stuff of legendary romances, the backdrop to the passionate drama that gives life in this surrealistic town its meaning. The night in LA. That’s when this colorful sun washed city really shines.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

The Grass is Always Greener on the Other Side…

The Grass is Always Greener on the Other Side…

It all started on the beach. We were watching the jade sea splashing just beyond our comfy perch at a waters edge restaurant and I noticed a tall, good looking Thai girl a few tables over. She was talking in her sing song native tounge into her hand phone, which was completely normal, but what struck me as odd was that she was, in contrast to everyone else, fabulously dressed in bright blue long pants, a high collar blouse, dressy looking pumps, and was wearing what looked like a lime green full-length wool sweater. In all it was a very stylish, contemporary looking outfit, and as she passed me on her way out I got an even closer peep at her.

She was a real cutie all right, and had a gauzy silk scarf around her neck, and wore a big Jackie O hat and cool looking oversized blinged out designer shades. The only thing truly odd about this was the simple fact that she was so completely over dressed for the beach. And here we were, as close to being legally naked as possible in our surfer style swim shorts, rubber brazillian beach sandals, and oversized cotton tank-top tee shirts.

I was still uncomfortably hot, even sitting directly under a whirling fan that hummed and wobbled as it churned through the sultry afternoon air. It was by any reasonable measure a damn hot day, mad dogs and Englishmen nutty hot, and here was this gal wearing a long sleeve wool sweater.

Before long it was time for us to take off, and on the way out I crossed paths with another Thai person, this one wearing a nylon windbreaker jacket over their long-sleeved shirt, and sporting long pants and hard shoes. I started to wonder how on earth these locals could endure being fully dressed in this relentlessly torrid heat. It seemed to me no less than a mild form of tropical torture.

On the drive home I decided to stop off and do a little shopping. As I walked down busy aisles crammed with shampoos and soaps I noticed a curious thing. There were entire shelves lined with products designed to whiten your skin. Face creams, four step skin treatments, powders, lotions, sun-blockers, and pocket sized compacts of make up, all created specifically with a single purpose in mind, and advertised on a single premise; that using them would turn your skin alabaster white.

A lot of the labels were in Thai language or a mixture of English, Chinese, and Thai, and were packaged or promoted with a similar image; someone with a face so white that you could barely make out their perfect pearly teeth as they smiled from the picture on the label or some promotional sign.

Ironically, at the end of the skin-whitening aisle was a free standing display full of sun tanning products, with all of the labels written in either English or French. There were tubes and bottles of gels, creams, and oils blended specifically to turn your skin a dark bronze, all topped with a huge brightly colored die cut photo display of a well built blond model bursting out of her yellow bikini top while reclined on a bright orange beach chair, broiling under some photo studio stand in for some searingly hot tropic locale.

This photo left little doubt what these products were designed for. I recognized many of the brands, like Bain de Soleil and Hawaiian Tropic; products that conjure up thirty years worth of happy memories and visions of languid days spent lying on sun-baked beaches around the world.

Observing the passing shoppers in this crowded mega store was an interesting study in the significant cultural differences between the locals and the visitors. The skin whitening section was a busy location, with a constantly rotating crowd consisting at any given moment of no less than ten young Thai girls, who with studious concentration were diligently inspecting the’ turns you white’ merchandise.

Outside of two curious teenage dudes who stopped for a second to giggle over the picture of the Pam Anderson look-alike on the orange beach chair no Thai people passing the suntan section ever even gave a sideways glance at all these bronzing potions. Finally, a middle aged British couple with freshly toasted bone white skin stopped by to look for some serious waterproof sunblock to smear on their strawberry pink shoulders and noses.

The next day at the beach I noticed that it was only the white folks who ventured out into the sun. Nearly all the Thai people who made it to the beach spent their entire time not stretched out on the sand but intentionally lingering in the shadiest spot they could find. What time they actually spent at the beach was usually a very short period at that. Unless it was their office, and they were selling roasted chickens or massages, or some sort of fishing was involved, the beach during the daylight hours was to be avoided.

I’ve now realized that the girl in the lime green sweater wasn’t cold(how could she have been?) but that she was doing everything possible to stay out of the sun, and if being insanely overheated was the price of having completely white skin then that was a price she’d pay. I later discovered that Thailand is the home of a major “skin whitening’ industry, and that Thai people are so are obsessed with being as white as possible that it qualifies is a nation of wannabe Michael Jacksons.

You can check out the Thai TV shows and commercials and plainly see that those with the whitest skin rule. This strikes me as bizarre because as a unique race the Siamese certainly have the most beautiful skin in the world. Thai women have skin that not only feels like silk, but looks like it. True Thais ( i.e. those without Chinese heritage) have the most amazing natural bronze color, and skin that almost radiates. It’s the ideal of every westerner who ever tried to get a tan; it's the perfect tone, the richest sun bronzed hue possible.

All the Thais need to do to have this color is to wake up in the morning. And yet almost all of them want skin that looks like the Scots or the Russians. And then it’s the white folks, say for instance the Swedes and the Irish, who you will see smearing on the suntan lotion and lingering on the beach for hours on end, all in hopes of eventually looking like a Brazilian, or, like...a Thai!

The body whitening cream and the sun tan lotion sections in the store were only a few meters apart but they might as well been on separate planets.

One culture’s idea of beauty is the other culture’s image of all things unattractive.
It’s a crazy world, and nobody can explain or make sense of it. Personally, I’m voting for the culture that requires the least amount of clothes being worn in the warmest climate money can buy. If that means getting a suntan, well, so be it.

I feel sorry for the girl in the lime green sweater, and the cultural attitude that tells her that her golden skin is anything but beautiful. Yes, the grass is always greener on the other side...of our minds.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

A Serendipitous Visit to Revelation Island

A True Caribbean Tale

I’d been hanging out in the West Indies for the better part of two years, writing, painting, surfing, and hobnobbing my way through the expat culture of sunstruck American, British, and assorted South Americans that found the languid pace of the islands relaxing.

Now, alas, my funds were running low, and the time had come for my return to California. As a cost saving measure I conveniently managed to spare myself the price of a plane ticket by hopping a ride to Miami aboard my friend Dave McCann’s sleek new turboprop airplane.

Two days later we were lifting off in comfort in a Beechcraft King Air from Barbados’ Grantley Adams Airport. Once airborne I discovered there would be one quick stop on our flight to Miami, in the British Virgin Islands, one of my favorite places. No worries Mon!

It was well into midday when we put down at the tiny Beef Island airport, then took a bumpy Reggae music enhanced taxi ride to the Virgin Gorda residence of Dave’s business associate.

At the top of a ridiculously steep hill sat the sprawling luxury estate that was our destination. Once at the top I was mesmerized by the astounding view. The perfectly sculpted coastline rolled out before us like a primetime Technicolor advertisement for packaged holiday trips to paradise. The opulent tropical gardens were a riot of lush color, the tall palms nodding in the refreshing trade winds as if to offer their approval of nature’s astounding display.

After introductions to our congenial host and his wife, the pilot and the owner of this lavish hilltop hacienda retreated to chaise-lounges in a white tent-like poolside cabana to discuss their affairs. I was left sitting in a spacious living room enjoying an exotic imported cigarette and chatting up the attractive lady of the house, a charming young woman indeed.

After a few moments in this unfamiliar but relaxing place I began to notice in greater detail the rich and tasteful decor of the room, particularly what appeared to be a pair of original Matisse portraits. Who wouldn’t have noticed them?

Upon inquiring about the paintings, the woman gladly walked me across the room and into a long adjacent corridor, guiding me on a tour of their impressive art collection. Now this was a true privilege to see.

They were indeed real Matisse paintings, and there were also a pair of Degas, three Dali’s, and a large Marc Chagall.

We stood together, taking our time to view and discuss each of the paintings, and they were all breathtakingly impressive, but what finally stopped me in my tracks was an unusually ornate gold gilt frame showcasing a large piece of richly crafted calligraphic poetry.

The penmanship was exquisite, looking much like an illuminated manuscript from Fourteenth Century Firenze, only written in English. We both stood gazing in a reverent silence as I read the work, which now held my total attention.

By the tenth line it dawned on me that I was somehow familiar with the piece. The more I read the more familiar it seemed. By the last stanza, I realized I knew the author very well indeed. My surprised expression caught the notice of my hostess’s watchful eye.

“It’s quite special, isn’t it?” she exclaimed.
“Why yes. Very!” I replied. “Where did you get it... Who did this?”
“There’s a bit of a story attached to it, “she said. “Sadly enough, I don’t know who the author is.”
I turned to look at her, the fire in my eyes now shining brightly, and I said, “Well, I do. Would you like to meet him?”

She looked at me with an expression of mildly humorous disbelief.
“You’re kidding, of course…“
But with her gaze riveted on my face, she quickly realized that I was entirely serious.
“Would I ever! You don’t know what this poem means to me.”
‘Why don’t you tell me where it came from, and I’ll tell you who wrote it,” I replied, burning with my own curiosity about how she came to have this work of art.

And tell me she did, explaining that the antique frame originated from a friend who’d found it in the Amsterdam flea market, and that a pair of classical Italian restoration artists at the Met in New York City had done the calligraphy and the artwork at her request, and all from a poem she had found draped over the haphazard mess of a restaurant busboy’s tray, tossed in with the dirty dishes and silverware waiting to be washed.

Her face fell when I asked, “Did you find this poem in Ford’s Café at Victoria Cove in Laguna Beach, California, sometime in the late summer of 1976? Probably written on a paper placemat?”

After a stunned pause she narrowed her beautiful green eyes and blurted out, in a genuinely suspicious state of awestruck wonder, “How on earth could you possibly know that?...where I found this poem? How…?!?

I had spent years living as a prolific unknown pundit, scribbling and leaving inspired aphorisms, Buddhist sutras, and illustrated musings in my wake, written perhaps for no reason other than I was creatively compelled by some greater force to let my hand dance across any unmarked surface that presented itself.

This was a period when almost every restaurant in America put white paper placemats on their tables, a perfect canvas to scribble on while waiting for my order to arrive.

I may have left behind hundreds of poems on forgotten topics on an equal amount of tabletops, but this one I knew only too well, and I recognized it with no doubt of the time and place of it’s origins.

It was penned the week I separated from my then greatest paramour, the path to true love never seeming to run a straight course, particularly for the emotionally charged young artist that I was then. Ford’s Café was my regular stop off on the way home from surfing Salt Creek Beach. Good chili and great coffee. And java at Ford’s Cafe was still a dime a cup, unlimited refills included.

Now the site of the Laguna Nigel Ritz-Carlton Hotel, Salt Creek was then a pristine stretch of coastline, a virgin beach, sweeping Pacific surf thumping incessantly below steep yellow wildflower covered bluffs, a wild watermelon patch above, the entire coastline owned by two grumpy old codgers who ruled the place from a tilted driftwood shack and charged surfers the then exorbitant price of fifty cents to drive into their beach, thus inspiring us to trespass over the wilderness trails to avoid their sassy taunts and unwelcome tariffs.

It was a piece that had held a prominent place in my personal history and was the first page of one of my poetry chapbooks. I remembered the poem being dated September 1976. I knew the work in all certainty to be mine. I must have left a raw draft of it on a paper Ford’s Café placemat—shortly after dreaming it up while soothing my lovesick heart in the cool and comforting arms of the blue Pacific surf.

“How could I know that?” I said. “Simply because…I am the author of this poem!”
Frankly, I don’t know who was more shocked by this odd revelation, her or me. We both stood stock-still, frozen for an infinite moment by the sheer strangeness of our shared discovery.

“This is beyond belief,” she said, and took my hand and led me across the room to a long white linen sofa where we sat, still holding hands. “I can’t believe this is happening.”

She continued searching my eyes for some sign of a trick, for confirmation of the truth of my confident pronouncement. We just stared at each other until we both broke into ridiculous grins. It was true, and we both knew it.

“What do you say we…” She rose, moved to an elegant adjacent bar, and returned with a cold clear bottle of Christal champagne and two long-stemmed glasses.
“This is a special moment. Will you share a glass with me?”

Naturally, I accepted, opened the bottle for her, and carefully poured, filling our glasses with what had suddenly taken on the air of a ceremonial toast.

As I watched the tiny bubbles streaming up from the bottom of my tapered crystal flute, she began to unfurl the colorful details of how she came to have my poem, and the dramatic results of her first reading it. With an innocent sense of real intimacy this lovely woman told me a tale of how she had been a struggling waitress who at the time was dealing with the tragic loss of her first fiancé in a fatal car crash.

Despondent, repeatedly harangued by her boss, and drifting on the verge of an emotional implosion, she had found my poem sticking out from a pile of dirty dishes in a red plastic dish room tray. For no logical reason she set down the food order she was carrying, fished the crumpled paper out of the muck, smoothed it out and read the darn thing.

Finally, after rereading the coffee-stained thirty-line sonnet for the fifth time, she realized she was half sobbing, half laughing, while a flood of fat, sad tears streamed down her face. Embraced in something of an epiphany, she dashed into the dining room of the café shouting at the startled customers, demanding, pleading, to know who had written this poem. All she got were blank, somewhat frightened stares.

Her boss was so bent out of shape by this emotional outburst he promised to dock her a week’s pay, shouting “Shut up, Shut Up!”

Apparently, that was all it took. She quit her job on the spot. Within a week, after hawking her furniture in a yard sale, she left Southern California and its sad ghosts, setting out for San Francisco in a beat-up Volvo, her cat at her side, and all of her worldly possessions piled on the back seat.

After only one day in the Bay Area, knowing no one, and with little money, her luck took a sudden positive swing. She met a young couple in a city bakery who offered her a free apartment and a job.

The place was across the bay in Oakland, and was part of a project to build a temple for a remarkable man from India, who was identified only as Baba. The pay wasn’t much and the neighborhood was a little dodgy, but it was a clean apartment, and the people were absurdly friendly, and it felt like a fresh start.

She fell in with the temple project people, helping cook for the building crews, answering phones, and assisting other newcomers to learn their way around. It was there, two weeks into her new adventure, that she met the kind hearted man who would become her husband.

He was an architect who was donating time to the building project. One afternoon she served him some peppermint tea, he smiled, and the rest, as they say, is history. Extremely happy together, they were married within three months. Less than a year later, he had moved his practice to New York City. They first came to love the Caribbean Islands when he was commissioned to design a luxury resort in the region.

When his grandfather left him an unexpected fortune in the form of a fine art collection they decided to move to the Caribbean and raise their first child out of the big city. She had the poem laid out by a renowned calligraphic penman, then had it turned into an “illuminated” page in the style of the Florentine Renaissance by the top restoration artists at the Met.

And that was her story.

Entranced by this amazing saga, I then recounted to her how I had written the poem, and why, and how, through my habit of penning public poetry she had come to find it.

She confided to me that she always considered my poem the key to her current happy fortunes, that this cast-off piece of scribbling had been the catalyst to the most dramatic change in her life, and for this reason she had enshrined it here, among their collected masterworks.

With both the bottle and our revelations spent, we were again rendered speechless, mostly by the true peculiarity of our chance meeting, and for her, I assume, the “mystery of the poem” finally being revealed.

There came a shift in the mood, and a bit of embarrassment and some quick explaining, when at the exact moment that she decided to hug me her husband and my friend David entered the room. They both found the story of the poem, and my being there, a tale that defied all probability.

With business concluded, it was time for the four of us to enjoy a quick but excellent local seafood meal, during which we all agreed that the odds of us ever meeting, five-thousand miles from where we had once crossed paths and many years later, were somewhere around 10 billion to one, or greater.

I was given an open invitation to visit their home again, and after kind farewells and a comfortable ride to the airport in their spotless ivory Land Rover I found myself winging my way through a brilliant Bahamian sunset, en route to an unknown future of my own.

Throughout that flight, and over the many years since, I have always been amazed at the lesson I was given that day: That we are all inexplicably bound together, and that to commit ourselves to both the act of writing, and to the free sharing of our ideas and efforts, provides us with a secret wealth that we should never doubt the value of.

How could I feel sad about the challenges of my chosen path knowing that something so simple as that abandoned poem would be the source of such amazing inspiration to a total stranger? Now I know the truth.

-Richard Arthur Love

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Blade Runner Redux

It is easy, by no stretch of the imagination, to think of Samui Island as a tiny window on the world of the future. This torrid tropical resort set on a tiny island in the Gulf of Siam has at its core a truly peculiar Blade Runner-esque quality.

With its swiftly growing image as every Asia’s lover’s favorite tropic wonderland, Koh Samui is quickly becoming a micro-cosmos reflection of the complex splendors and inherent pitfalls of our rapidly globalizing world.

Certainly, Thailand has long been famous among the cognoscenti for its odd mixtures of the classical and the modern, the elegant and the tawdry, an ancient yet open society. And perhaps as much or more than any other Asian country, Thailand not only permits but actually panders to and quickly emulates western cultural and commercial ideas.

And yet Thailand somehow retains its proud and unique culture, quickly discarding anything that keeps the Siamese from straying too far from their inherent inner “Thai-ness”. This is what gives Samui its crazy mismatched neon mix of Colgate mint gel toothpaste brightening the smiles of elegant tenth century temple dancers.

Thailand is one of the ‘Big Dogs' of South East Asia, and nearby Burma, Malaysia, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, and Indonesia all are measured, for better or worse, against the culture and the dramatic economy of Thailand, perhaps the number one success story in the region.

Unlike the ultra conservative Nipponese, or the industrious but basically unimaginative and socially conforming Chinese, or the rich but culturally entrenched Indians, or the Indonesians and the Phillipinos, both cultures dominated by non-indigenous religions and having histories of colonial military occupation, the Siamese stand alone.

The one country that remains staunchly independent, has never been colonized by western powers, and yet is a symbol of tolerance and personal determination, Thailand remains the most popular travel destination for westerners visiting Asia.

And why not? Thais will let almost anyone visit their country. The Buddhists are a notoriously non-violent bunch, and Thailand is probably the safest travel destination in the world for women traveling alone or without the company of men. The food is fabulous, the people smiling and damn good looking, the prices are beyond a bargain for westerners, the scenery is often breathtaking, and you can do pretty much as you please. What’s not to like?

It was another Sunday night at the Secret Garden, and the band was blowing out passable but humourously off kilter Pink Floyd and Red Hot Chili Peppers tunes. A sense of sultry desperation hung in the torrid air like a spark spewing Chang Mai white tissue paper lantern lit into a slow amber glow and set drifting lazily skyward. The regulars had found their niches and were yakking away like Titanic survivors at a reunion. Tonight that old coconut telegraph was humming faster than an unsecured wireless Cisco router in a crowded apartment complex.

I found two damn cute and slightly high Danish blondes willing company in the barBQ line, and again later at the overly pregnant Dutch model's table. I chatted them up for the better part of an hour before I got bored with how absolutely perfectly white and western they were, and went looking for a way to get my ass into Hell.

Hell, a resident Canadian hit man's latest venture in wildly off center bar / lounge events was all the dish this evening, and the haves were sporting plastic laminated passes swinging on red cords around their necks. The entire thing smacked of some back stage pass obsession from the seriously wild American rock concert circuit, a game we once played so deftly, and with such well-heeled and passionate panache.

Go to Hell were the words bouncing across the obviously new black plastic badges, little white arrows showing the exact route to take. I was waiting for my chance to order ice water in Hell. Getting there was simple. It would be getting home that would prove challenging.

I sat in a corner of the beachfront bar conversing with the usual who’s who. This time it was Scottish Bob and the oddly attractive wife of a French GM working the tres chic designer hotel side of the local Hospitality Industry.

The wife had the squeaky clean look of Audrey Hepburn, a real Holly Golightly breakfast cereal heiress debutant healthy vibe, that Palm Springs in ’64 look. I thought she was a straight knock out, and when I told her this was my take on her she acted shocked, fluffing up her short pixie cut auburn hair, and swiftly shifting into her 'Bad Girl' persona. “What...ME?” she said, a look of offended distress dancing over her arched brow.

"Holly Golightly?...Never!"
Ces't la Vie, I thought to myself, That sure went over well...”

I knew I’d do better chatting up the wild crowd of strangers in Hell. It was only a ten minute drive on 'The Ghost Road' across the island, into the heart of that most surrealistic and rockin' of local neighborhoods, Soi Green Mango. I put on some chillout tracks from an all night Ibiza café, sucked down an iced mint coffee, and changed into something black. Damn the mosquitos...I was going to Hell, and there was no stopping me now...

Samui is the craziest place. At one moment it's a lush and idyllic island, drifting through a timeless realm of ten thousand gold Buddha’s, torrid, opulent and reeking of mystery and history.

And then a few hours later and 5 kilometers away its no less than a mind-boggling vision of a surrealistic global village gone ecstatically haywire. Perilous late night steaming Johnnie Mnemonic traffic jams ripping through hopping neon mosaic seaside villages, high camp cyber slums populated by the most incongruous cross section of sunburned and tipsy humans imaginable.

I tried to take a photograph the other night while waiting for a friend in his green Range Rover and watching the swirling street scene. The picture didn’t really come out well. The lighting wasn’t right, and the traffic got in the way.

But essentially this was the picture; a line of six strikingly beautiful Thai gals in classic gold and silk floor length dresses with brocade sashes and shimmering gold tiara headdresses set in their jet black waist long hair were walking in single file towards their night jobs as waitresses at a classic style seafood palace.

To get there they had to pass on the sidewalk in front of a typical Thailand beer bar full of painted up working girls dancing in skimpy outfits and platform shoes, the thumping beat of disco dance music washing over the sidewalk.

Next to the front of the bar was a vendor selling racks of cheap rubber fright masks. A bunch of drunk bar patrons had bought masks and had managed to engineer the drinking of their cocktails through straws. From across the street it looked like the pumped up party girls were chatting up Tony Blair, Osama Bin Bombing, George Bush, a space alien, and Elvis.

A certain portion of the Bar patrons were a bit eccentric looking anyway, sporting full length full color body tattoos and purple or blue hair. You know the type.

Christmas lights strung across the front of the bar painted the rain wet street in pools of red, green, and gold, and sparkled like fireworks off of the shimmering crowns of the passing classic Thai waitress/princess/goddess looking girls.

Their serene parade seemed to float past the madhouse bar, none of the elegant waitresses even registering any expression or making even a split second notice of the entire tawdry bar scene as they passed mere inches away. This was way too facinating for me to sit still for, and I grabbed my Nikon and lept out of the Rover,
aiming my camera at the bizarre tableau.
But exactly as I pushed the shutter button my flash bounced off of a giant fully refurbished olive green World War II US army truck full of shaved headed monks in brilliant orange robes as it passed directly across my view of the girls.

The Monks were followed closely by a parade of Martial Arts boxers in bright knee length satin boxing shorts, holding trophies and waving flags from three pickup trucks. Promoting that nights MuayThai boxing matches, each truck blared loud traditional ethnic music from bullhorn speakers set on painted billboards. All of this insuring there was no way to get the shot.
Not that I didn’t try!
I just about knocked yet another Swedish super model off the sidewalk when I hopped out of the Rover to get the shot from higher ground. I just gave up and stood there drinking it all in, thinking that Fellini couldn’t have done a better job laying out this incongruous a cast of characters.

Naturally the entire scene had shifted and everyone was gone when two minutes later my friend stepped out of the Hong Kong tailors shop and returned to the Rover. He had no idea why I kept prattling on about missing the shot of the century. Everyone had moved off into the sultry night and all I had was left this exceptional vision in my memory.

Since then I’ve realized what I was witnessing was no less than the two primary forces, the Yin and the Yang, each in their full tilt sacred and profane human forms; whores and goddesses going one way, non violent monks and professional ass kickers going the other, passing each other at that exact moment, one hundred yards from the hiss of a warm jade green South China Sea.

I guess the real charm of this place is that even though this is a modern country it is teetering on top of a very ancient world, and by any western standards is really semi out of control. Yet that exact chaos is the appealing factor. It’s The Good, The Bad & The Ugly all mixed together, and that’s how we like it. Pungent, juicy, wild, and alien, all good descriptions. And it could have only happened in Asia.