Sleeplessness 101

Ten years ago my younger sister and I were sitting at her kitchen table. She handed me a clipping from the Boston Globe and pointed out an ad requesting volunteers for a medical survey on sleeplessness.

“Beth Israel is paying $1500 to those candidates completing the 10-day experiment.”

“$1500. That’s a good wage for two weeks.”

She was right.

I was broke and called the clinic. The receptionist scheduled an interview at noon. My sister taught at a college down the street from Beth Israel and drove me into the Fenway. I walked over to the hospital. I had been born in its Richardson House. This was my first visit to the facilities since my birth.

On the fifth floor I was met by the female doctor directing the test.

“Basically you have to stay up 60 hours straight.”

I can do that.” Sixty hours were two and a half days.

A long stretch, but my need for money was as strong as crystal meth.

“Someone will be with you always.”

Three shifts I suppose.”

Correct.”

“Can I read or watch TV.”

“No, stimuli.”

“No music?”

“Nothing, this experiment is to see how far a human can stay awake without stimulation.”

None.”

“Only the lights.”

“Never off?”

“Never.”

“No touching myself.” I had a thing for Cindy Crawford. Her beauty was locked in my fantasies to be visited for my pleasure.”

“Certainly no touching.”

I recognized that this was torture, but said, “No problem. When do we start?”

I was ready now.

“First we have to do some tests.”

“Okay.” I was in excellent health for a fifty-six year-old man.

The next day I called for the results.

I had failed the physical due to a liver reading considered to be worrisome.

“It’s only temporary.” The Celtics had beaten the Lakers for the 2008 Championship. My brother and I had celebrated the hometown’s feat with a long session of drinking vodka.

“Maybe, but we can’t take the risk.”

I hung up the phone disappointed by my failure.

Later in the week my younger sister informed me that 60-hours sleep deprivation could cause lasting mental problems.

“And possibly death. Good they didn’t accept you.”

“I could have used the $1500.”

“Other harmful side effects of enforced sleep deprivation are Diabetes, Stroke, high blood pressure, amnesia, skin damage, and number of cardiac problems.”

“Okay, so I didn’t need the $1500 that bad.”

It wasn’t the truth.

My younger sister gave me a c-note.

Two days later I bussed back to New York with $80 in my pocket.

I read the newspaper on the Fung Wah bus.

The CIA was under investigation for ‘enhanced techniques’ on the thousands of suspects passing through the off-shore torture camps.

One of them was sleep deprivation.

Vice President Cheney had always insisted that losing a little sleep didn’t hurt anyone and neither did standing on their feet for eight hours at a time.

I begged to differ, because later that month I traveled to Russia.

JFK-Moscow-Kiev-Moscow-St. Petersburg-Moscow-JFK in eight days.

Too many flights in to few days.

Normally I crashed for a good 8-10 hours a night.

I barely caught three in Rodina.

My vim adf vigor were shot, but this was nothing.

The CIA had kept detainees up for weeks on end.

Without any cocaine either.

Give me a little blow and I’ll stay up for a week, but my nerves would be very frayed, despite previous Vice President Cheney’s protestation that a little torture was a good thing.

I love my sleep.

Plus I’m old-fashioned about my dreams.

Cue up Cindy Crawford, please.

I am Old School.

My Friend Steve

A young man named Brian was sailing solo around the world. A typhoon caught him in the open waters of the Pacific. His sloop was battered by giant waves. The boat was sinking. There was no time for an SOS.

Brian abandoned his sinking boat and prayed for his life, as the heavy seas savaged his life raft. Finally he was washed overboard. Water filled his lung. Death seemed certain, only he woke on the soft sands of a deserted island.

Water, coconuts, fish, and fruit provided sustenance.

A week and month passed with the rising and setting of the sun. No jets overhead, no ships on the horizon, no Man Friday and Brian resigned himself to solitude.

A year later an epic typhoon savages the island.

The next morning Brian spotted a life raft on the reef. Shark fins broke the surface. He swam across the lagoon to discover a woman. Not just any woman, but Cindy Crawford the supermodel. Brian dragged the raft through the tumult of the surf and nurses the famous beauty to health. Little by little she regained her strength. After a month she thanked Brian for saving her life.

“If there’s anything I can do let me know. Anything.”

Brian thought about it for a second and said, “No, I did what any human would do for another human.”

A week became a month. Cindy and Brian were young. Sex was in the air. Brian was handsome. Cindy was a dream come true. Finally one night they made love.

Paradise. Eden. Utopia.

In the morning they walked the beach hand in hand.

“You remember saying that you would do anything?” Brian asked Cindy with an almost perverse tone.

“Yes.” Cindy had been waiting for this moment for months. All men were alike.

“Did you mean that?”

“Yes.” Cindy was expecting the worse, but Brian had saved her life and she said, “Anything.”

Brian pulled out a Red Sox baseball cap and says, “Could you wear this and let me call you Steve? He’s my best friend.”

“Sure.” This was nothing and Cindy put the cap on her head. “Happy?”

“I couldn’t be happier.” Brian shut his eyes and said, “Steve, you will never believe who I’m fucking.”

THE TASTE OF PIG by Peter Nolan Smith

My great-grandaunt Bert circumnavigated the world on her father’s whaling ship in the 1870s.
In 1960 National Geographic published a story about her childhood travels and at her 101st birthday the old Yankee lady related tales of the black-toothed betel-nut chewers of Indonesia and tiger hunts on Java.

The only two other family members had visited the region of the Orient. My Uncle Dave had served on a destroyer during the Battle of Biak in World War II and my grand-aunt Marion traveled through Indonesia in the 1950s and brought back a statue of a bare-breasted Legong dancer from Bali. Their travels to faraway places sparked my imagination and throughout my youth I dreamed of traveling to Indonesia.

My chance to scratch this itch came in 1990.

That winter I sold a 10-carat diamond and quit my job at the diamond exchange.

Manny, my boss, asked my plans.

“Travel to Indonesia and write a novel.” My take on the sales was enough to buy a round-the world ticket.

“You should invest your money in some diamonds. That’s how you make more money.”

“I want to see the other half of the world.”

“Suit yourself, but don’t expect a job when you get back.” Manny was twenty years older than me and hadn’t taken on a vacation in years.

“I won’t.”

After buying THE ROUGH GUIDE I researched the various islands of the populous archipelago and planned a two-thousand mile trip from Biak in the east to Sumatra in the west.

My farewell party in New York was a blur and the day of my departure I rode the subway up to 47th Street to say my good-byes.

“How long are you going?” Manny was at his desk, sorting diamonds.

“Six months.”

“Six months? Sei gesund.” Manny wished me well and gave me a hundred dollars. I asked him about my recent commissions and he said, “I’ll pay you when you get back.”

Manny was the master of slow-pay.

That evening I flew from JFK to LAX and then onward to the small fishing port of Biak in Irian Jaya.

The Garuda 747 lifted off the tarmac.

I was the only Mistah or white man on the island.

And I couldn’t be happier, drinking a Bintang beer on the veranda of the old Dutch hotel overlooking Cendrawasih Bay.

For the next three months I voyaged through the islands on boats, ferries, trains, and buses. Indonesia had hundreds of language and cultures. Each journey brought me to a new land. The kids shouted ‘allo mistah’ and Bahasa Indonesian became my fourth language.

In early April I jumped on bus in a Sumatran coastal market town bound for the Batak Highlands. The seats and aisles were packed with Sunday shoppers and I stood at the back door smoking a kretek cigarette. The clove and tobacco smoke mixed well with the diesel fumes from the bus’ laboring engine.

I studied the chattering passengers. Their smiling faces were ethnically different from the dour lowlanders and halfway up the mountain they sang a song which I recognized as BY THE RIVERS OF BABYLON.

I loved the Melodians’ reggae version.

When I joined the impromptu choir, the closest passengers stared at me with amusement. At the end of the song an old man rose from his seat and shook my hand.

“Chretian?” He had several front teeth. They looked sharp.

“Christian,” I replied without hesitation. My atheism was a secret better kept from the devout.

“My name is John.” His English was a step above the usual ‘hello mistah’.

I told him mine.

“Where are you going?”

“Danau Tobah.”

The largest lake in Indonesia was set in a gigantic volcano. I had seen its photos in National Geographic.

“That is my home. You must stay at my guest house. Very cheap. Very good.” John motioned for the young man next to him to get out of his seat.

“No.” I waved off the offer. “I like standing.”

“No, you big mistah. Must sit. You my friend. Duduk.” The word sounded more like an order and I sat in the young man’s place.

On the climb into the mountains John proudly recounted the traditional fierceness of Batak warriors. saying, “Many of our people serve in the top ranks of the Indonesian military. I served with British against Communist in Malaysia. Good money.”

The Irish and Scots had assisted the English in the conquest of the world. John’s tribe had done the same for Java.

“My family live Lake Toba. Since before time.”

“It says in my book that the Batak people came to Sumatra 2500 years ago.” The Rough Guide delved deeply into history.

“2500 years before time.”

“This book states that 50,000 years ago Lake Toba blew up and nearly killed off everyone on Earth at the time. Some scientists think the population of the world was reduced to 10,000 and they lived someplace in Central Asia.”

“That book say many things, but Batak people believe world came from Sideak Parujar.”

“Sideak Parujar.”

“Yes, goddess leave husband, a lizard-god.”

John told his tale of creation in a combination of Bahasa Indonesian, English, Dutch, and a little Batak. The rest of the bus listened intently to every word and the children shuddered when John stabbed downward with his hand.

“Sideak Parudjar thrust sword into Naga Padoha. He not die. God never die and every time he move earth shake.”

His captive audience applauded his story and John lit a kretek cigarette.

I liked the smell of burning cloves.

“As Christian we not believe in other gods, but the old stories too good to give up. Maybe tonight you tell story.”

Nearing dusk the bus descended to Lake Toba and we boarded a ferry to the island on the opposite shore.

John led me to his guesthouse. The Batak Villa was simple and cheap. My room had a lake view. The other guests were European backpackers. Few Americans traveled this far from the States.

That night on the deck I narrated the story of the Evans Mountain ghost. His family gathered around our table, as I introduced the Batak clan to a haunted house in the White Mountains of New Hampshire.

John struggled to translate my tale, but the little children shivered with the old man’s version. At the end John said, “Good story. Everyone like. They think Mistahs not have ghosts. Only have one god. Good story. Now go sleep.”

I spent the next few days sightseeing around the island. The equatorial sun flayed the skin off my shoulder. John’s wife salved my burnt flesh with a healing clove oil.

Every evening I ate with John’s family. They asked questions about my family. I lied about a dead wife and showed photos of my nieces and nephews, claiming that they were mine. A man my age without a wife or children was considered strange by the Bataks and all Indonesians. They had big families.

The day before my departure to Medan John invited me to a pig roast in a mountain village. We arrived at a compound of wooden houses before sunset. The thatched roofs were curved like the horns of bulls.

Dogs tried to steal the offal. John beat them off with a club.

“Angin no good.”

“They like people.”

“Because people give dog food. I no trust dog, but everything have tondi, man, pig, dog.”

“Tindi.” I figured tindi meant soul.

Two younger men tended to the cooking. Pig fat sizzled onto the coals. We had finished the beer and drank arak or rice wine from plastic bags.

“Tindi live many places. The first in body. The second in birth bag from woman.”

“I was born with the placenta wrapped around my head. In the land of my grandmother the Irish think that gives the new-born the gift of sight.”

“Sight?”

I searched for the right word from a small Bahasa-English dictionary.

“Penglihatan, but with mind.”

“Ah, ESP,” John rattled off an explanation to his friends and they murmured in appreciation of my gift.

Batak people understood the shadow worlds.

“In old days every Batak men have birth bag buried special place to protect tindi.”

“Not the same as in America.” Doctors chucked the placenta out with the trash.

“America have no tindi.”

“Too much tindi.”

Spirituality in the West was the domain of priests, ministers, and rabbis and I almost told John and his friends this, except they believed every man was in touch with the world beyond our senses.

Once the pig was cooked, thick slabs of pork were sliced with the long curved kris. We ate with my right hand, since the left hand was for wiping the ass. John called his right hand ‘Adam’s Spoon’.

A young man broke out a bamboo flute and more sacks of arak were passed round the fire.

It was a fiery concoction.

“You like pig.” John swayed to the music.

The other men were entering a pig flesh trance like Americans after gorging on turkey on Thanksgiving Day.

“Saya suka sekali.” I had never tasted better.

The older men toasted my compliment with hunks of sizzling meat. We smoked kretek cigarettes to the filter and I felt one with them enough to muster up the courage to ask John a question, which had been nagging me for days.

“Islam came to Banda Aceh almost seven hundred years ago. Most of Indonesia submitted to Allah, but the Batak and other mountain tribes resisted Mohammad’s call. Why?”

“First we have the Batak tradition.” John licked at his lips and spoke slowly in simple Bahasa, “At one time Batak people ate men.”

“I had read that.” The Rough Guide covered every aspect of a culture without recrimination.

“We drank blood and ate heart, palms and soles of feet. They were good eating and rich with ‘tindi’ or the life-soul of eaten. In old days we ate man with his family. We suck the bones dry. The meat we eat last and we store bones in cave. If man stranger, we ate him cepat. Fast fast. You know what we call these men?”

“No.” The fire flickered low. Dogs slept at our feet. The jungle was filled by silent shadows. The horned houses were giant buffaloes. I could have been Marco Polo. The year was 1231 AD.

“Babi Bisa,” he spoke the words in a hush.

The other men woke from their stupor and muttered the words in unison, “Babi Bisa.”

“Big pig?”

I recognized the words from my guidebook’s extensive dictionary, but I didn’t like John’s tone.

“Yes, and that why we not Muslims. Because pig taste like man. We killed them on stone.”

The elder explained our conversation to his tribesmen. They laughed and stared at me with an ancient hunger. No one in my family had ever eaten another human being andI tried to hide my shaking as I said, “I like pig too. Not because it tastes like man. I like pig, because it tastes good. Even the oink.”

I snorted several times in my best imitation of a pig.

The party chuckled in convulsion and lifted bags of warm arak. The pig was gnawed to the bone. The snarling dogs had their way with the carcass. We snacked on the crispy ears. The fire died out and John walked me to the hotel.

At the door of my room he said, “I tell story to many Mistahs. It is joke. No Batak eat man in 100 years. Many westerners run away, not you. Why?”

“Because I like pig too.” Bacon was my favorite meat.

“Why?”

“Nothing taste like it.”

“Not babi besa?”

“I don’t know, but I think not. Man is not as clean as a pig and not as smart. Dumb men can’t be good eating.”

John lifted his head to the stars and laughed aloud. He clapped me on the shoulder and fondled his muscle.

“You not good food. Too tough.”

“Same you.”

His wife shouted at him to come inside. John ignored his wife’s entreaty and walked over to the restaurant. His friends greeted him. John’s right hand surveyed the flesh on a fat man. He turned and mouthed the words.

“Babi besa.”

“Makan bagus.” Good eating, because a young pig was always better than an old pig even with babi besa.

“Sama sama. I not here tomorrow morning. Selamat jalan.” John wished me a good trip.

“Selamat tingaal.” I wished him a good life. It was the best thing to do with someone who hadn’t eaten you.

And everyone who has a taste for pig knows that is the truth.

BERENTI MISTAH by Peter Nolan Smith

In 1991 I bought a round-the-world ticket for $1399 from Pan Express. The owner set up a magical itinerary.

“New York – LA – Hawaii – Biak – Bali – overland to Jakarta.” John recited the trip from memory, since he sold hundreds of these tickets every year.

“What do you mean ‘overland to Jakarta’?” Their advertisement in the NY Times offered a flight between Bali and Jakarta.

“Oh, sir.” The Hindi travel agent produced an Indonesia brochure extolling the volcanic beauty of Mount Bromo, ruined temple of Borobuder, and ancient palaces of Yogakarta. “Many people prefer to travel overland to see the sights of Java of which there are many. I will reserve you a flight from Jakarta to Padang.”

“Padang?”

“Yes, sir, in Sumatra.” Another brochure praised the cultural heritage of the Batak, the awe of Lake Toba, and the jungle paradise of the orangutang reserve. “You fly out of Medan to Penang and Malaysia and overland to Bangkok.”

“Let me guess.” I was falling into step with the program. “Most people do this overland.”

“Yes, sir. What are you going to do on the trip?” Hindi are a curious people and John was no exception.

“I’m writing a novel.” NORTH NORTH HOLLYWOOD was a story about a hustler forced into a contract murder of a porno producer by dirty NYPD cops and who avoids violating the 5th Commandment by escaping into the desert with two lesbians filming a movie about the last man on Earth. John didn’t need to know the plot. Hindi men were in some ways very curious about sex.

“Oh, sir, I must warn you that many countries in Asia do not like writers, especially journalists.”

“I’m not a journalist.” My typing was atrocious and my grammar was even worse.

“Whatever you do, do not tell anyone you are a writer.” His head bobbed side to side like a broken bobbing dolls. “The police do not like journalists in Asia.”

“I’ll keep that in mind.”

John was 100% correct about overlanding across Java.

I saw the dawn from the rim of a volcano, met the sultan of Yogakarta, drove up to the vertiginous heights of the Dieng Plateau, endured the scorching equatorial sun riding a motorcycle around Lake Toba and watched male orangutang masturbate without shame. The females shunned the jerk-offs. I arrived at the Medan airport for the flight to Penang. The police spotted my typewriter. I

“Berenti, mistah.

“Saya?” I had learned a little Bahasa in three months.

“Yes, you.” A short pineapple-skinned officer nodded and his two uniformed compatriots pulled me from the line. The other passengers smiled with relief, happy to not be me. The police sat me in their very official office and the head officer asked, “Journalis?”

The trio wore grim faces. A single overhead fan wobbled in its socket. The chair was nailed to the floor.

“Tidak journalis. Penulis buca.” I claimed the higher status than journalist.

“You write books? About what?” The lead interrogator leaned forward with a metal sap in his hand.

“About the mafia. Porno. Hollywood.” I was one smack away from squealing the truth about any crime dating for Adam’s eating an apple .

“Hollywood?” The three cops intoned the word with sanctity normally reserved for Allah. Indonesia was 90% Muslim.

“Yes, Hollywood.” I followed the lead and told them about how JFK was killed by the CIA. They spoke about the betrayal of Sukarno by the present dictator. A bottle of Johnny Walker Black hit the desk. Red is beneath them. We drank toasts to freedom.

“Beraka,” I spoke every language with a Boston accent.

Whiskey in hot weather was a hard slog. It was getting late and I asked the chief officer, “So I missed my flight, how do I get to Penang?”

“You didn’t miss your flight. We held the plane. One more drink and kamu boleh pergi.”

“To whiskey.” Without it the Irish would have ruled the world.

The police drove me to the waiting plane. The other passengers were gobsmacked by re-appearance from the belly of the beast and even more so by the power fist salute of the police.

“Beraka.”

It was a small world after all.

Radical Weather 2018

Fires are burning the West of the USA.

Fires also torched Greece, Spain, and France.

Hot weather has torched America, Europe, and Asia.

Rivers are dry across the globe.

Drought has parched fertile farmlands.

Summer has another month to run until autumn.

The weather will be cooler unless it gets hotter and the world is getting warmer, despite the comments of the Global Warming disbelievers.

The end of the world will not be from a asteroid striking the Earth, but self-inflicted suicide.

Today the Daily Express published an article about an apocalyptic computer model foretelling the end of civilization by 2040.

According to the report the prediction came from a programm nicknamed World One, which was developed by a team of MIT researchers and processed by Australia’s largest computer.

It was originally devised by computer pioneer Jay Forrester, after he was tasked by the Club of Rome to develop a model of global sustainability, however the shocking result of the computer calculations showed that the level of pollution and population would cause a global collapse by 2040 and end up at levels close to 1900.

My of estimates are 500 million humans in 2050.

I will be 98 and seen the rise and fall of consumerism.

The only way to prevent this catastrophe will be deconsumption on a massive scale.

No more wide-screen TVs, SUVs, megahomes, transglobal holidays, plastic, and fast food.

And even that might not be enough to re-right the scale of annihilation.

500 million and only a few hundred around the holy mountain Khailash.

Bring back the buffalo.