Birthdays, Books, Bananas, Coffins

Posted in Mixed Nuts on December 8th, 2010 by MadDog
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A friend of thirty years appeared to me yesterday morning at the office to be more than usually tired and glum. He’s carrying a load that would break my back. I heard him mention that he needed to get to the workshop to build a coffin. It was his second coffin making experience in the last few days. It suddenly occurred to me, as the murky haze shrouding me in self-pity cleared for a moment, that coffin building, let alone serial coffin building, is not something one should have to do alone. I coaxed him to let me drive down the the workshop with him to lend a hand.

It was a thought provoking experience. As we measured, sawed and hammered the coffin a boy who had suffered measles as a young child now lay dead from a type of meningitis which occurs eight to ten years after a measles infection. Sometimes it’s good to have something to do with your hands as dangerous thoughts run demon-like through your brain.

Death. We tread lightly around the subject. We seldom discuss it unless the prospect sticks its ugly head up out of the pit and says, “Boo!” A father considers the possibility when a child is ill with measles. It’s a killer and a maimer here. The son defies the odds and survives, seemingly healthy and strong. Years later the son sickens and dies as the time-delay fuse on the landmine burns through. A husband and wife quietly and with careful logic, keeping it at arm’s length, discuss the ever so remote possibility as if it were the most unlikely thing in the world. Suddenly the subject becomes less academic. The psychic earthquake topples all of the complex edifices. They show themselves finally as facades. How we trust life!

In the meantime, someone somewhere is nailing a coffin together.

Outside the workshop a banana tree was busting its guts to make bananas:

It’s got to be one of the stranger flowers on the planet. This orb holds a great number of very strange things – pathways leading to indeterminate destinations, doorways to alternate universes.

Here are the usual suspects present at Blueblood last Sunday where we celebrated several birthdays and one anniversary. Any excuse for a party:

We were desperately short of eating utensils. I ate with my fingers. Someone, who shall not be named, but is sitting at the far left of the picture, forgot to bring the cutlery.

Hmm . . . I seem to be rambling this evening. I’m between major dirges. This will be a tiptoe through the garden of fitful discontent.

Though I am sleeping much better now, I may as well get used to the idea that I’m never, barring a serious concussion, going to have a long, uninterrupted snooze again. Early life sleep patterns go awry in maturity. Onset of sleep becomes more haphazard and difficult to achieve. Interruptions are more frequent and the return to sleep is delayed, sometimes impossible. I’m trying to minimise as much as possible my intake of sleep aids, because they have some very undesirable side effects.

One thing which I’ve relied upon for years is a not-so-good book. I always keep my glasses where I can reach them without moving too much. The book is just under them. If I read through slitted eyes and try very hard not to go to sleep, I’ll usually doze off. Then the light interferes with slumber and my glasses are all cattywampus and hurting my ears. So, I wake up again. What do I see? Those who suffer insomnia will probably recognise this sight:

Yes, that’s your hand somehow still clutching the book loosely while the pages flap lazily in time with your breathing. It’s decision making time, eh? Rouse enough to remove the spectacles and turn the light off or find your place again (if it really matters) and try again. Sometimes it seems a very difficult decision.

We trip lightly through a world where most everything seems to stay in its proper place and things usually appear to work more or less as they should. We’re not seriously threatened by regular tragedies and life can go on for decades with little bother or fuss. There are usually no huge injustices or overly troubling developments to rattle our cages enough to enrage or frighten us. It strikes me that this orderliness makes us very innocent and vulnerable. We’re ill prepared for adversity:

The world can grow suddenly very dark and scary. Everything takes on a dual aspect of terrible familiarity while simultaneously being strange, out of kilter. This is the alternate universe idea of which I spoke. It is as if one accidentally takes a wrong turn, stepping through some odd black door and finds oneself in a world in which everything known is instantly transformed into a twisted version of itself. Up is down. Right is left. Right is wrong.  Look around for the back side of that odd little door. You can’t find it. It has disappeared – vanished in a puff of pixy dust. As it is so succinctly stated in The Eagles’ Hotel California,  “You can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave.”

Here’s me the Birthday Boy, perilously close to sixty-seven years young. That’s some kind of weird flower. It clashes with my very nice twenty-five year old silk shirt:

It’s a self-portrait. I call that a smile these days.

I had a very nice semi-surprise party at Monty and Meri Armstrong’s home. Meri had very sweetly asked me what I wanted to do about my birthday. Frankly, I’d been dreading it, along with Christmas. I not-so-subtly told her that I really didn’t want to be bothering with it, but if someone decided to do something about it I wouldn’t object. How clever is that? It’s about as nuanced as a ball-peen hammer wrapped in velvet. Meri was very gracious and within a day or two I had a mysterious invitation to “dinner” on Saturday night. I was not disappointed.

Meri’s cheesecake was the star of the evening:

Since it was an intimate gathering of friends there was plenty of this magnificent bit of culinary prestidigitation for all. The blackish stuff is some kind of delicious berry, the name of which I can’t recall.

So, for the upteenth time I’ve gotten through a rough patch by the simple device of allowing my friends to drag me along. They suffer the thorn pricks and stone bruises along with me. They pick me up when I stumble, patch me up when I’m bleeding and leaking salty tears.

I’m a very wealthy man. You can’t count my fortune. Numbers don’t go that high.

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Walking The Tender Minefield – Quiz Night

Posted in CWA, Mixed Nuts on November 29th, 2010 by MadDog
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After my last post, all cheery and grateful, I’m ahead far enough on happy credits to grow all sombre and introspective again. Today I took delivery of a lonely, stormy Sunday. Last night I attended the annual Country Women’s Association Quiz night, a sort of mega-Trivial Pursuit distraction which provides the folk of Madang with an evening of aimless and good natured competition.

Since this is going to be yet another soul-searching ramble through the back alleys of my cranium, let me first demonstrate that I am not in a bad mood at all. These are among the finest bananas I have ever had the pleasure of smushing up in my still toothy gob. Somebody brought them up to the beach at Blueblood a couple of weeks ago. I must have eaten about six of them. As you can see they are rather small. They are incredibly sweet and the flavour is slightly reminiscent of green apples:

See, that’s a happy thing. You may find little flakes of freeze-dried happiness elsewhere on this page. Let’s see what happens. I’m winging it.

As I plan to intersperse scenes from last night’s frivolities here and there as I plod along, I may as well get started. This is our intrepid QuizMaster, Shane McCarthy overseeing the presentation of the craft projects. Each table of six participants was required, on pain of merciless ridicule, to create an object d’art  from the miscellaneous contents of a cardboard box. Imaginations ran rampant on the theme of “Christmas Carol”:

Once again I found myself facing a dilemma, the magnitude of which might seem trivial when seen from some remote location outside my skull. Over and over again, because of my life situation, smack dab in the middle of everything which meant anything to us,  I have to decide if I’m going to do this or that and wonder what my reaction is going to be. The problem is that there is no more us.   There is just me.  The range of effects which I have experienced has fallen between the extremes of euphoria and despair. I honestly don’t know beforehand what is going to happen. I’m just along for the ride.

This is a tender minefield. While that expression may seem oxymoronic, it is not. All that is happening here is that my community is allowing me the freedom to find a new normality. People are treating me as if everything is business as usual. This is exactly what they ought to do. From their perspective everything is  business as usual. The minefield is of my own device.

I had waited for an invitation to a table at Quiz Night until I felt that I had to take some active part in my life once more. Two days before the event I called two friends asking, in a not-so-transparent manner, if they had a table and if it was filled. Later that day, I did receive an invitation, after I mentioned it, from another friend. So, committed as I am to allowing life to carry me where it will with as little interference from me as is prudent, I accepted with a mixture of gratitude and foreboding. I’m such a drama queen. Everything has to be a big production. Nothing is easy. Truthfully, I blame my mother, but don’t tell her.

It is  a minefield, but it bears me no malice. It is simply there, inert until provoked. If I stay in place, I won’t get anywhere. I’ll stand and take root in this miserable existence. I can walk gingerly, experimentally, but I know that the odds are against me. I’ve already stepped on a few and I have big chunks missing here and there. The wounds are painful, but they heal rapidly, some more rapidly than others.

There is fun aplenty at every Quiz Night. Ridiculous, giggly fun. Here three teams compete to determine which can most rapidly expend an entire roll of toilet paper by wrapping a team-mate in it:

Following the analogy of the minefield, I’ll tell you a true story (really) about a related metaphor, The Point of No Return.

When you note that you have reached the geometrical centre of the minefield and you count your injuries, it dawns on you that you are only half-way home. Injury-wise it might make more sense to retrace your steps and return to GO, not collecting $200. Yet that way lies the madness of arriving back at the beginning and realising that the only reasonably safe option is to once again retrace your footsteps back to the point at which you turned around and proceed from there. You needn’t have wasted the energy. Rational decisions at this point are extremely difficult to reach.

Late one Sunday afternoon in the early ’70s, I roared away from Chicago Midway Airport in a US Army UH-1 “Huey” helicopter with my crew of four en-route to Decatur Illinois, our home airfield. It was a late departure and each of us had a severe case of “get-home-itis”; families and jobs awaited us. I was Pilot in Command, as sorry a situation as you could want. I was neither much of a pilot nor much of a commander. Deeming that we had sufficient fuel, we lifted off post-haste.

Shortly after passing Kankakee, we could see a massive line of thunderstorms ahead of us. This is my no means unusual for a summer evening in Illinois and it seemed that there were plenty of non-flashing holes through which we could safely pass. We fluttered on, listening to AM radio rock-n-roll through our helmet speakers. After a while it was becoming more and more obvious that we were going to be doing some ducking and weaving. I tapped my finger on the fuel gauge. My co-pilot nodded and frowned. I considered a hop back to Kankakee and a miserable night with a grumbling crew in a motel and rejected it.

We dodged thunderheads visible only by their fireworks and suffered some moderate turbulence which reminded us how long it had been since lunch – just long enough. Nobody wants to barf into his helmet bag. With all of that dodging and searching for holes, I could see that fuel was going to be a teensy-weensy problem. The chatter on the intercom went significantly silent. Everybody knew that we had just passed the Point of No Return. I was wondering precisely how many Army Regs and Flight Rules I had already busted. I was about to bust a few more.

Well, I see that it’s time to shorten this long story. We passed safely, if unsteadily through the flashy Texas Line Dance of cumulonimbus incus aircraft washers and into the still, star-studded air of central Illinois. We were about twenty-five minutes from Decatur when the Twenty Minute Fuel Warning light began excitedly to advertise its presence. Uh-oh. As pilots are wont to put it rather indelicately, the pucker factor increased by an order of magnitude.

Let me take a break from that breathless and somewhat pointless reminiscence to show you our creation: (and then I’ll try to explain the inexplicable)

I sincerely hope that you can see that it is a manger scene, complete with a tiny, fuzzy Baby Jesus. I contributed, somewhat distractedly, the snowflake and the exclamatory Moo from the spotted cow.

So, was there any point at all to the helicopter story? Probably not. But, if I had to guess, I guess it would be that we are sometimes so distracted by what we so desperately want that we are unable to recognise what we so desperately need. Now, connecting this somewhat tenuously back to the minefield thing, a few of those mines might capriciously explode into bouquets of roses, unlikely as that might seem. Others will blow a leg off. Some might be duds. The problem is that I must  keep moving and the only way I know the intent of a mine is to step on it. You know, my situation is not a bit different from yours, now that I think of it. Humpf! And I thought I was special.

Some things which I fervently desire now are not yet available to me. Someday some of them might be. Time will tell. Time will also tell whether they were things which I actually needed. Other things, things which I do not currently yearn for, may turn out to be the things which I need. It would have been such a senseless tragedy if I had killed my crew and myself in a flame-out crash because I did not want to spend a night in a motel in Kankakee. That is what I needed.  I realised that most certainly when that warning light came on.

I’m striving quite earnestly to keep my eyes peeled for the warning lights. Right now, I know that I can’t trust my desires to be in my best interest. Though some, with that fearful symmetry, burn as bright as William Blake’s tiger in the forest, I can never forget the minefield. It is not just a figure of speech. I must move forward. Carefully.

So, with that hopeful thought, I will give you a happy, pretty face. No, not mine. Though I have now made myself happier than I was a couple of hours ago I am still no prettier. Writing does that for me.

This is the lovely smiling face of Michaela of Vienna, who rescued me from an evening of solitary regret:

Saved again by a sensible and loving friend.

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Banana Bana Bo Bana

Posted in Mixed Nuts, Under the Sea on May 4th, 2010 by MadDog
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Wooo hooo, I got up this morning and felt like Atlas. The world was wobbling around on my shoulders. After yesterday’s near anxiety attack, I calmed down nicely with a couple of beers, a nice cheap cigar and some encouragement from my soul mate. This morning it was all back. Nobody should ever have to start a new job. People should get jobs at birth and keep them until they drop. Think of the savings in stress alone. Of course, many would die of boredom, especially the renegades who expect more from life. However it might be a neat solution to the population problem.

Rambling already and I haven’t even gotten to the pictures yet.

This morning ‘s sunrise didn’t help much:I was about as stormy and confused as the inside of my head. I took a 5mg Valium out of the bottle and put it in my pocket, determined not to use it unless I felt like I was coming unglued. I made it all the way to 08:30 before chewing it for nearly instant relief. I an such  a wuss! My excuse is that I’m a recovering bipolar. That’s even more lame.

Anyway, by the time that 10:00 rolled around I’d received several emails which ameliorated a soupcon of my self-doubt delivered a second blessed release of endorphins. It’s 14:24 now and I’m about half way down. I think I can do this. I know  I can do this! I’m The Little Editor Who Could! Hey, it’s not Rocket Science.

Which, in an unfathomable way, brings me to my bananas. Of course I do absolutely nothing to grow them. Juli, our house helper, has absolute dominion over the garden. I’m allowed to walk about importantly, stroking my beard and saying things like, “Ah, yes.” and “Coming along fine.” while wagging my cigar around in my teeth. I call it “Playing the Planter”. Here is a bunch of bananas which Juli harvested yesterday:

Note that they are green, but not the green which you get from temperate zone store bananas. These are one to four days from going brown. You have to eat them quickly. They are called banana mau  or ripe bananas. They are incredibly delicious. I prefer mine after a day or so when they turn yellow. Eunie likes hers a little firmer.

These however are the gold standard of banananess:

If you harvest at just the right time, you will probably be rewarded by a very few bananas which have ripened sufficiently on the stalk that their skins have split. You have mere hours to get to these. The level of flavour and aroma is indescribable. These “splits” are my favourite. Bananas in heaven must taste like this.

By the way, the title comes from the 1964 song The Name Game  written by Shirley Ellis. I remember it being all the rage. How simple life was then . . . hmmmm . . .

Switching from bananas now to something that doesn’t make my tummy gurgle with hunger, let’s have a look at my foolish interpretation of the week. This starfish, a Linckia multifora,  reminds me of (get ready for it now):A joyful person dressed in a cover-me-all-over pink cow suit running to the right and hollering something like “Whoop tee doo!” If I have to explain it, just move on. It’s getting crazy in here.

Let’s settle down now for some nice relaxing Dascylus Reticulatus:I don’t know why I say relaxing. They are very nervous fish. At the slightest threat they dart down into the spiky coral and hide. You can see a Red and Black Anemonefish over on the right. Note the greenish background colour. It was impossible to take available light images at The Eel Garden.  There was a metre of cold river water on top which was loaded with algae. Everything looked very green.

This last image blows my tiny little mind. This is two flatworms doing . . . something . . . I honestly don’t know what. Truly, I don’t care to speculate, but what the . . .  I can think of three possibilities. (1) a simple crossing of paths (3) someone is about to have lunch or (3) I don’t want to say it:I’m going with the “ships passing in the night” hypothesis. If this is true, it must be an astoundingly rare occurrence. As if you could possibly care, the dark one with the solid, 24 carat gold dots is a Thysanozoon nigropapillosum  and the fancy yellowish one being wrestled to the coral is a Pseudoceros dimidiatus.

I wish I was rich and had time to indulge my dilettante fantasies. I’d research this incident until the cows come home and write a scholarly paper to submit to some club of dorky flatworm experts. It would be my fifteen minutes of fame.

I would dig that.

Really.

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Back to the Market

Posted in Mixed Nuts, Opinions on November 15th, 2008 by MadDog
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When I travel back to North America one of the most common questions I hear is, “What do you eat in Papua New Guinea.” That’s when it’s nice to have photos of the market.

I enjoy going to the market. Sometimes I actually buy things.

Usually, however, it’s to see what’s going one and take some photos.

How about some nice, stinky smoked tuna heads? Or, if you can’t afford a head, maybe a tail will do:Stinky smoked fish at the market in Madang, Papua New GuineaIf you’re making a stew, some carrots will do:Super-orange carrots at the market in Madang, Papua New GuineaThe colours are sumptuous at the market and the light coming through the trees plays wonderful tricks. These tomatoes are every bit as tasty as they look:Sweet, sweet tomatoes at the market in Madang, Papua New GuineaMaybe you’ve never tasted a sugar fruit. They are like passionfruit, but sweeter. The flavour is very yummy and aromatic, but the seeds are very crunchy. The flesh is very . . . I can only think of the word slimy to describe it. The combination of the gooey, slick flesh and the crunchy seeds takes a bit of getting-used-to. Think of bits of broken glass in gelatine:

Sugarfruit at the market in Madang, Papua New Guinea
Here we have sugarcane, bananas, green coconuts, and a big papaya:Sugar cane and bananas at the market in Madang, Papua New GuineaYou only need take a few things to the market for a pleasant hour or so. Take coins and small banknotes – they usually don’t have change. Take your camera. And don’t forget to bring your smile.

You’ll need it.

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