Recent Work By Kris Saknussemm

The first book I remember reading all by myself I have here on my desk now. It’s called Tinker and Tanker Out West and it’s weathered and beaten, like the literary equivalent of the Velveteen Rabbit. The “Tinker” in the tale is in fact a rabbit, while “Tanker” is a hippo. (T&T were series characters developed and illustrated by Richard Scarry, perhaps not the best surname for a children’s author).

It never changes. Every time I even think of-let alone read or watch-the penultimate scene of Macbeth, I don’t just sit up, I stand up. I’ll stand right up in a theater-I have no problem with the violation of decorum in public places.

I know Macbeth is guilty of heinous crimes. I know, as he does, that he deserves his fate. I know he is the most despicable of men, a faithful general and friend-a true hero turned traitor, murderer…psychopath. I know he has sold his soul and become a greedy, power hungry madman. And yet…

I rise to my feet in respect, whether at home alone in my office, or in a theater in one of the world’s great cities. When Macduff reveals his prophetic magical protection of being “untimely ripped from his mother’s womb,” Macbeth at first acknowledges his cowardice. And then the old soldier in him, the noble though fallen inner man shines through, and he says for all time: I WILL NOT YIELD.

Macbeth

Though the line, “Lay on, Macduff” has become caricatured in many contexts, no one can ever minimize or demean the power of Macbeth’s assertion, “Yet I will try the last.”

With blood on his hands, doomed to die, he still draws his sword and calls upon the courage that made him the leader and warrior that has been his life. I get out of my seat and want to plunge into the page and the scene-because I want to help him. Despite his crimes, I want him to somehow triumph.

Hamlet, near the end, says, “We defy augury,” and goes on to fence to his appointed death. But my sympathy isn’t so much with him. I appreciate his predicament, but he seems a dithery sop to me-death is an easy way out. He’s a prince and fencing is something he learned indoors.

Macbeth wants to live. A Captain of Men, he’s seen the blood of combat and survived. He is in fact a professional murderer. Confronted by the same dark magic that had earlier protected him, he draws his sword one final time. I think I’m not alone in hoping against hope that somehow he will prevail.

The moment is a great triumph for Shakespeare. The fact that he could produce such remarkable comedy alongside this bewitched darkness is beyond saying. But to create a villain of Macbeth’s complexity-in this, his shortest tragedy-leaves me standing.

Richard III, Iago, Edmund-are all great villains that any actor of substance would kill for to play. (Richard Burton said, “Any actor given the chance to play Richard III who doesn’t take it, should be immediately executed.”)

But there is an undefeated humanity to Macbeth, and I long to join him…to bring Macduff’s head back on stage and not his.

I count this one of the finest, truest moments in fictionalized Western Civilization. There is Christ on the Cross, anguishing in vinegar and blood-but he had his Father’s many mansions to look forward to, and knew all along he was the sacrificial Lamb. Socrates? He knew the payment for the gadfly is hemlock. Odysseus? He would’ve run away. Macbeth draws his sword and says for all of us, YET I WILL TRY THE LAST.

The only moment to compare is early in Paradise Lost, when Satan sits brooding amongst his monsters and the exiled gods, and speaks with disturbing calm about “What reinforcement we may gain from hope…if not, what resolution from despair.”

Think about that…when the fallen angel of the morning star-a lieutenant to Eternity-speaks to monsters of “resolution from despair.” The vanquished ministers of vengeance and pursuit…under house arrest in Pandemonium, debating rebellion by either covert guile or open war against the tyranny of Heaven.

This is a moment in artistic civilization…not Mr. Darcy.

But oh, for Jane Austen, relative to her disciples today. Give me Jesus long before Paul. Holy shit.

I’m now very tired of warm fuzzy characters. I’m tired of the endless yeast infection of what is really chic lit, masquerading as serious fiction. I’m tired of the miserly boredom of figures as real and thin as toilet paper that get flapped in the published breeze just because someone is well connected and lives in Brooklyn.

The WitchesAnd I’m sick to nausea of fantasy hijacks of darkness, where witches and black magic are the stuff geeky boys and a politically correct girl have to deal with-like fodder from a bad Disney movie.

Macbeth, the warlord, met witches. Shakespeare always brought out all the tricks. But still, there is that final moment, when he draws his sword-and transcends gender, race and class in the doing. I WILL NOT YIELD. Though prophecy and fate be against me, he says…bring it on.

Makes me want to climb on stage.

Explosion

Watched my old quarry friends blow up a section of hillside today. With extreme reluctance I agreed not to film it, for corporate reasons. But, man, C-4 is breathtaking, a plastic explosive not quite as powerful as PE4 but half again up on TNT. A detonation velocity of 25,000 feet per second +. That’s pushing 18,000 mph.

I concede this kind of stuff is extremely dangerous and needs the tight controls it has. But it is a godful thing to behold in action. And contrary to what you might think, the satisfaction of watching it work lingers. It’s like a raw pink Argyle diamond placed in your hand. For one moment you hold what might be a million dollars a carat in Antwerp–and your hand knows. It remembers when that rough gem is taken away. It’s not the same hand ever again.

The same with a proper blast. Your mind holds it–even as pieces of bluestone are flying.

The care in setting a good explosion…

It’s an art. And it makes me think of my own arts differently.

If you’re not blowing something up, you’re not really making anything. That’s the new credo. I’m going to be sorry to miss these guys. One’s going off to Western Australia to blow up things for real money for the mining industry out there. The other is joining the world’s biggest building demolition team in America. They’ve studied for their credentials and expertise–good for them. Everyone has to explode forward or implode inward.

Gone are the days. But we went out with a boom.

To anyone in the arts, I say if it can’t also hurt you, it might not really be art. Think dynamite and pink diamonds.

In my interview with the late Dennis Hopper, he described his love affair with photography as an obsession. “I’m a compulsive shooter.”

I think the same thing can be said about the New York street photographer Matt Bialer (who is also a recognized watercolorist and published poet).

The Clap

By Kris Saknussemm

Essay

I’ve never been a fan of that line, “What is the sound of one hand clapping?” In fact, it irks me. Especially after last night, when I was at a theater performance and sitting next to an amputee. You know what the guy did when the show was over and the applause began? He slapped his thigh. Way to go pal, I thought. That’s the stuff. Sound of one hand clapping, my ass.

Gyp

Luciano, the Mastiff

The mastiff and I went out to visit a grave today. This is Luciano, technically the sometime girlfriend’s dog, who has been living with me for the last few years. He’s getting on a bit now from when this picture was taken, but he’s still a wiggly boy. And he was great company and a life sustaining force for a very special dog-my totem spirit, the dingo Gyp, who’s buried in one of the loveliest places I know-as befits a life of adventure, courage and dignity, right up to the end.

16 dog years is a lot of human living, but Gyp was always a soul of both greater and deeper experience than her years-and always a dog that embraced and barked at tomorrow. Snouty, feisty, loving, prideful, caring, devoted. A model citizen of the spirit, while retaining a contrarian, female, individual sense of attitude and joy in being.

She had survived an early brush with a fast moving car and being tied up on a short rope and left abandoned in the pouring rain to be rescued by the local ranger who brought her into my life at age 1.

She would go on to survive a brutal spike thorn that threatened to blind her in one eye, a fall down a mine shaft, getting lost in the deep bush, two dislocated legs, a painfully dislocated jaw, a bite from a red-bellied black snake and a close call with a huge and deadly brown snake (one of the most subtle and yet fear-inspiring creatures you can encounter in the Australian landscape).

She would also endure and triumph over one of the most vicious and aggressive lymphomas on record. In the space of two hours, a lump the size of a ping-pong ball became a heated lump the size of a baseball-and kept growing. The emergency surgery was massive, delicate and traumatic. As were the two years of advanced chemotherapy that ultimately saved her life.Gyp, the Dingo

She is now in the international veterinarian scientific literature and has helped inspire hundreds of people around the world to invest in the best treatment possible to protect the lives of their companion animals.

She prevailed in that crisis through strength of spirit and the will to live, insisting on the regular but slowed down walk even with the drainage tube from the surgery still in place.

At this point in her life it was like a great athlete struck down. She could catch a line drive tennis ball 9 times out of 10. It was impossible to get a ball past her on the ground-she was the ultimate shortstop. She could outrun every other kind of dog except a pure racing greyhound and could easily outswim any breed of dog, including the water savvy hunting dogs. She literally hydroplaned in the water-a particularly amazing feat in that she was more than a year old before she learned to swim.

At the beach she was an intrepid surfer, hurling herself into the waves to retrieve a ball and then with some real deftness, riding the waves back in…always barking vigorously to have the ball thrown once more. And once more. And again.

Her tremendous level of physical fitness no doubt aided greatly in her battle with cancer, but it was her spirit that pulled her through. I still recall too vividly, the glow of her puddles of bile in the moonlight in the back yard, when she got sick from the drugs. The trembling that would set in. The endless thirst. The fits that came and went, dismissed it would seem by a more powerful imperative to persist and thrive.

Against all odds and to the shock of the specialist who treated her, she went on to have several more lives. Together, we literally walked ourselves into the landscape in several different areas. I’m sure with the right eyes, if you were to go there now, you would still see us…part of the rocks and the trees. A golden-red dingo blending in with the sandstone, and me following behind.

The Chimneys

She adapted to a new environment when we moved from the town out onto the farm, my country property called The Chimneys, in old Australian gold rush land. She learned how not to disturb either free-range hens, the Anglo-Nubian goats, or the rather plump and overfed Suffolk sheep (who turned out to be a financial disaster)-and was in fact protective of them, keeping the local foxes at bay.

She was good with horses, children of all ages (except one little girl whose shoes smelled of her pet hamster), and she wisely never chased the kangaroos, although she could leap the fences with ease.

Post-cancer, her native athleticism returned with force. She ran down two rabbits (just try it, those little fluffs are fast)-and she caught mice-on pine floorboards no less. How many dogs are good mousers? Her strength of swimming was undiminished, such that I could take her to our local lake and have her torpedo past me-as I swam with the aid of fins.

Always calm in canoes and kayaks (knowing sensibly that she was being transported like a queen on a Nile barge), she acquainted me with what will forever be the best smell of all…the gorgeous scent of wet dog in the back seat on a summer afternoon.

She did however, have a weakness for marsh fowl, rather silly looking black birds with spindly legs and orange feet (that make an unfortunate squeaking whistle). Once that whistle was heard, Gyp was uncontrollable, more than capable of leaping off a six foot river bank in pursuit-and once on the Loddon River we thought she was a goner when she ended up in a maze of dense reeds-a place where many other dogs would have drowned. She didn’t of course, and returned with a look of delight as if wanting to relive the adventure immediately.

Over the years, she weathered emotional human conflict too. When the separation and divorce proceedings began, she loyally stood by me, keeping up the routine, providing solace-and then doing all she could in greeting and intermingling with the social situations that the awkwardness of my dating experiences led to.

She laid out nearby while I painted in the garage, she leapt on the bed when the massive thunderstorms would rock the windows, she walked with me in the mist of the old goldminer’s graveyard. (I would be curious to know how many miles I walked with her over the years.)

Gyp & LuciShe went on, late in life, having been “the” dog and “the only child” for so many years, to integrate happily and totally with the large (and huge-hearted) mastiff and a conniving but forgiving, uncoordinated cat with an enormous sense of confidence but a curious psychological confusion about being a cat-as opposed to a dog.

This was yet another golden period and Gyp savored it and contributed to it with a completeness of conviction. She got over her female jealousy very quickly and bonded with Karen, the new girlfriend, adjusting to the mixed family with great participation and enjoyment.

Before leaving The Chimneys, a place I once vowed I would never sell, Gyp showed some of her inner spirit in a very striking way one morning. A few days earlier, two police officers had appeared at the back door inquiring about a dog attack on the angora goats on the hill above me. I said my dogs were innocent-and they were fortunately asleep on their respective couch and chair at the time! But the police assured me that they weren’t pointing fingers-the culprit dogs had been seen-a “boxer” and a larger terrier. I’d never seen such dogs around I said.

Two days later, while returning from our morning walk I did see a large terrier on the overgrown side road that marks the property boundary-and no “boxer” but a large scarred, feral brindle pit bull. Both dogs were bloody from a fresh attack on the goats-and when the mastiff made a charge, he was surprised by the ferocity of the pit bull, who would’ve had his throat-if Gyp hadn’t intervened. An aging sprung legged dingo made for that pit bull at full force and gave me the chance to get in close enough to wallop the beast with Luci’s chain lead. Together, we drove them off, Gyp wincing with the pain of the exertion, but teetering to the back door under her own power. I would seriously liken the incident to an old woman taking on a Mike Tyson capable street thug in open combat. She committed totally to the fray, sensing perhaps the potentially desperate nature of the violence that Luci thought was ceremony. The pit bull was not going to back off because he was on someone else’s property-Gyp knew that. She knew it was a live fight. It was the most powerful display of raw courage and focused aggression I’ve ever seen. And she was very smart in her attack. If we say dogs behave according to instinct, we need to allow also for individual strategy.

The final phase of her life had so many sub-phases…my move off the land into a small town again, with all its small town noises and routines. Kids passing on the way to school, garbage trucks and postmen (postmen!).

Gyp sat with me on the newspapers I spread out while I painted my office in the cottage without the heat or electricity on yet. She overcame her prejudice against lawn mowers. She was saved yet again by my lovely neighbor Viv, an older Irish woman who got her off the street when she snuck out before the garage door was installed.

She embraced a whole new era in a very different environment. She put up with failing back legs, stone deaf ears (unless of course if there was a food wrapper being opened). She had one epileptic seizure that required medication that made her groggy for weeks and an operation to remove abscessed teeth, and she put up with the indignity of having to be helped into the car.

But she never once lost herself. She remained beautiful, albeit a bit snowier than in her ruddy golden youth. No one who ever saw her could guess her significant age.

From the moment I laid eyes on her, to the moment I said goodbye, she lived a seamless life of being herself. A perfect life. A life that keeps giving.

A Dingo’s Legacy

Here are some of the important lessons I’ve learned or at least am trying to learn, which Gyp taught me:

Saknussemm & Gyp

• If the car door is open, always jump in without waiting to be asked. The journey, however long it is will be better for your company, and the destination will be more memorable because you are there.

• Risk being reproached to be included, and let others feel you are being included, even though you know you are really the one leading.

• Interaction is life. It’s all right to stand up for yourself in a pack, but the pack, the connection with others is what makes us who we are. We come to know ourselves only truly through others.

• Rest and give yourself over to lazing and dreaming to gather energy for interaction. Relationships give much but demand much. In quiet moments, take the time to be quiet and store reserves.

• When caught napping, always make the other party feel like an intruder and a sneaky voyeur. Then forgive them and let them know they can redeem themselves.

• Let others redeem themselves.

• Don’t hold standards for yourself. Either internalize them and be them-or let them go.

• Resist the urge to hide gratitude. Wag your tail.

• Develop a reputation. It’s like expanding your territory.

• Don’t depend on your reputation. Your territory is wherever you feel comfortable.

• When you play with someone, you both become bigger-a composite being, which though intermittent is always real and vital, and waiting to come forth again.

• Chasing things is OK. And often, not catching them is even better.

• Crave affection-by giving affection.

• When afraid and in trouble, have faith that someone or something will come to your aid-even if the rescue ends up coming from inside yourself.

• Even if you have trouble walking-especially if you have trouble walking-remember the importance of wiggling.

• Just because you’ve already devoured two fat chicken necks doesn’t mean you should let the cat enjoy his tiny one in peace. He’d be worried if you didn’t have a go at him. Keep up appearances well enough, and substance follows. The old woman with kidney disease on the corner may draw secret inner strength from seeing you out on a walk, even if you’re limping.

• Walking ends up being limping very well. Limp well.

• Be alert to the sounds, smells and sights around you, and know that you too are part of the scene-when you bark, where you walk, the scents you leave behind-all important elements of the whole. We all should be better witnesses, but no one is ever just an observer.

• There will never be enough swims, runs, fresh rabbit and nights out under the stars beside a bonfire. There will never be enough cool fresh autumn evenings…chasing a scent amongst the tombstones…of those who had memories and dreams too.

• Be missed terribly when you appear to go. Give your blessing to those who will miss you. We all lose each other every time we’re out of sight. Who knows how near and constant we remain-all the time-for all time.

The light is suddenly so poignant
and the air so gentle, we both
instinctively stand motionless
spreading out our shadows,
becoming what we are,
mingling when we move again.
Man-dog…Dog-man.
Spirits playing in each other’s bodies
even as they disappear.

Gyp

Saknussemm in Guandong

I hate to big note myself (unless I’m ill-advisedly tilting at the windmill of a luscious younger woman who I think may not see through the act quickly enough)-but, as a certified paranoiac, I do occasionally have moments where I draw some grand albeit dark and discomfiting conclusions about the impact of my psychic state, perhaps just even my physical presence, on the larger scene.

For example, I can’t help but feel some twinge of that famous sinking feeling when I think of the Chinese province of Guandong.

Things can start off innocently enough-say with a tea-buying spree in Shanghai or some casual misbehavior in Hong Kong (although I do have my friend, the San Francisco writer Leland Cheuk, to thank for bailing me out of an embarrassingly large bill once at a girlie bar in Wan Chai)-but by the time I get to Guandong, things start to openly wobble.

Each visit, some catastrophe has taken place. I lie. Multiple crises have ensued, erupted-and just plain exploded. I’m left with the nagging question-am I a DISASTER MAGNET?

Guandong is China’s most populous region and the driving wheel of their economic empire. Guangzhou (Canton) is the principal city. To say it’s possibly the world’s densest manufacturing center today is no overstatement and doesn’t really begin to capture the emotional-psychological aspect. We’re talking the intensity of a termite mound during a thunderstorm.

Guandong produces a signficant percentage of China’s entire GDP, and there’s an excellent chance that right around you now are a whole lot of things made there-from clothing to electrical goods, to things inside other things-to stuff you don’t want to know about. Anything you can think of in fact, may very well be made in Guandong.

Hong Kong and Macau were historically parts of Guandong, and Cantonese remains the main language spoken there, despite the recent flood of immigration from other parts of the country because of the employment opportunities. The bulk of the men and women who built the railroads of America and Canada originated from Guandong, and that same work ethic is very much alive today.

Which isn’t to say that all is well there. Not by a long shot. Most of the wealth produced is consolidated around the Pearl River Delta. Actual wages generally are often pitiful. Sweatshops, battery farms and bizarre factory scenes from out of the 19th century sit right alongside complexes that conjure the 22nd. Unidentified clouds of smoke hang over vast sections. I worked one summer on Neville Island in Pittsburgh, back when steel and coke were manufactured there, and it doesn’t even begin to compare.

Toledo painted by Saknussemm

I first went to Guandong because of this painting (ironically titled Toledo).

A gallery in Hong Kong had taken me on and had sold it to an advertising executive visiting from Guangzhou. The gallery owner’s tip was to pay a visit there. There was talk of the Chinese government turning an immense decommissioned military base into a magical arts colony, where artists from all over China and the world would be welcome to live for free, providing they fixed up their own studio quarters. I was on a plane to Guangzhou quick smart-and that’s when the pattern began to form.

I could be sitting peacefully at a Western style breakfast…and a fiberglass factory has burst into an inferno of flames flash-frying 400 workers in an instant. Phosphates are found to be leeching into a major waterway. 300 school children suddenly lose all their hair. The principal railway line suddenly gets closed for unstated reasons and men in strange uniforms appear. The next morning an “incident” has occurred at a sulfuric acid plant. (Incidents don’t occur with sulfuric acid-more like total havoc and mayhem.) And then there are the agricultural industry outbreaks.

Meat Pig Head

We all know that chickens go supernova when the computers malfunction and too many hormones are administered. We all freaked out about Bird Flu. But what about suckling pigs with two heads? What about several baby pigs with two heads?

Yes, we’re willing to overlook a few oddball mutations. What would the traditions of the NBA, the freak show, and a good portion of next year’s admitted class to M.I.T. be without some wiggle room on this point? But it’s not a good look to be eating some Western style bacon in Guandong-overhearing that several hundred factory workers have been cooked like bacon, and only a few miles away, pigs are being born with two heads.

Now, I concede, it’s very possible-it may even be likely-that my coincidental presence has had nothing to do with these calamities. No one wishes that more than me. But I’ll tell you the thing that worries me the most. When this weird shit has been going down-and I count a total of thirteen “incidents” over the course of my visits that would’ve made front page/top of the TV bulletin news where I live-only one made it onto the radar of the world media that I’m aware of. One. (In a particularly worrisome instance, 4,000 people were exposed to toxic chemicals and I’m certain nary a whisper reached CNN or any outside news source.)

China has become much more media transparent than it was only a short while ago. The recent spree of attacks by lunatics on school children is a case in point. That news might well not have reached us once. The Olympics in Beijing helped. The influx of western businesses has helped. But in my view, we have the Chinese students and folks under thirty to thank for opening some windows that were previously sealed-and not always for reasons of some kind of political dissent. In fact, many Chinese young people are far more conservative than you might think.

The reason these younger people are conduits for news is that they’re often dislocated across great distances from their homes to study in the major cities, and like many of the population, they’re forced to occasionally seek employment at great distance from home. A lot of news that otherwise might not get out is carried in very personal ways by this mobile section of the populace.

It helps that these younger people are computer fluent, usually have cell phones, and have some degree of multilingual skills. But theirs isn’t for the most part any active attempt to subvert the official government spin on anything. The many students I’ve met are working hard just to cope with the challenges they face, and they have a great deal of pride in their cultures. Take my young friend Su, for instance.

She comes from an isolated rural village in the far north and lives in a shoebox, attending university in Shanghai. She’s the first person of her generation to go away to university, and in recognition of her achievement, her village named their most prized asset after her-a large earthmoving machine. When the government presented it to them, they had her name stenciled on the side. It sounds like a humble honor, but as everyone knows, 20 year olds don’t tear up all that easy-and she does when she shows the photograph-meekly but with reverence.

Her goal is to get educated and to help her family. She has no political radicalism. But she gets concerned when she hears from her brother, who works in Guandong, that several of his fellow employees have suddenly fallen gravely ill or that a few hundred at a plant nearby have been incinerated.

What did the plant manufacture? That’s another very big problem. It’s not just that industrial accidents occur far too frequently (whether I have anything to do with it or not), there’s a much bigger issue.

I have a friend who’s been a senior chemical engineer for DuPont (The Miracles of Science™). Their history, like Monsanto’s and others, is pretty checkered too. I don’t pretend to understand all that he does, but here’s how he puts it. “It’s very wrong to think the problem with developing giants like China and India is a matter of quality control and safety standards. That makes it sound like there are lapses in protocol that create accidents. It’s a lot truer to say that there are practices and processes at work that aren’t safe period. You don’t need a Ph.D. and twenty years of industry experience to know certain things aren’t only dubious, but highly dangerous. You can see them from the road. There are manufacturing facilities involved in multiple kinds of production that would simply not be allowed in the U.S., Japan and in all of Western Europe.”

Chinese Money

It doesn’t take a genius to understand why this is allowed to continue. It’s not a question of there being no photographic evidence, no chemical analyses, a tell-no-one conspiracy on the part of the government and its leverage over their media. We’re all engaged in the “conspiracy” because it’s right out in the open. We’re all stepping and fetching to the beat of China’s economic drum, with India’s juggernaut not far behind.

And yet, it’s a great mistake, too, to assign national blame in this regard, when multinational corporations are involved. Large portions of America have been similarly blighted in the past because of money and expedience (Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, Kentucky, and on and on). Think of the Midlands of England. Industrial devastation is nothing new-but it takes on a new meaning with both the scale of production in Guandong and what’s being produced.

Can any region, anywhere in the world sustain super-dense manufacturing across such a huge spectrum of industries, even if the highest quality work practices are in place? What if they’re obviously not?

It’s easy to think the problem is somehow “over there.” It’s easy to ignore what you hear only vaguely about, if at all. And sadly, it’s all too easy for whole nations to turn their backs on commercial negligence and malfeasance for financial reasons.

But sooner or later, a catastrophe occurs that inevitably does make the news-and like news-can travel. Look at BP’s tragic fiasco in the Gulf of Mexico.

Thank You, Good LuckI confess that I knew only generally what the situation was like in China until I physically paid a visit. There are thousands of legitimate enterprises that are being well run there-coping with a multitude of complex logistical problems. But while we may worry at large about China’s carbon footprint, I had some serious tactical concerns for my own, when I stepped through a marshy area and later felt a distinctly warm sensation. By the time I made it back to my hotel, the soles of my new Shanghai shoes were partially dissolved. Those shoes were dramatically cheaper than anything I could buy in America or Australia. But I can’t help wondering if there’s another price tag involved.

Singaporean Merlion

I love Malaysia. It’s a truly integrated culture of traditional pirates, fishermen, farmers (a few headhunters) and now respectful hardworking people from around the world, who actually get along with each other very, very well considering the grand divides of religion and language that they face. I’ve never been anywhere where people know as much about other people living in their community who are “different.”

I love smoking hookahs in Kuala Lumpur with crazy chattering Arabs. I love the mélange of Chinese, Indian and Malay. I love Penang. I love the jungles of Borneo with a thunderstorm coming up over the mountains (even though a spider bite I sustained there got so infected I nearly lost an arm). I love sea kayaking and parasailing in the South China Sea. I love the respect a Buddhist monk gets walking in the warm leaden rain past a mosque.

But I also love neighboring Singapore, which while technically separate, has much in common with complex Malaysia (which we must remember also includes the strange realm of Brunei, another world yet again).

I get annoyed when people often diss Singapore as not “exotic” enough. What they mean is code. Things are too clean and well managed. The situation is too livable. I say if you want grit, Bangkok, Hanoi and even Hong Kong are good places to start in Asia. You can certainly find some hassle now in Thailand. And if you want danger, I recommend Manila. Take but one step off the tourist routes in Cambodia and Laos and odd things can happen. But Singapore is just fun and welcoming-and after a police incident in Shandong and animal cruelty in South Korea, maybe a Singapore Sling and a Singapore fling is just what’s needed.

Singapore has long been a crossroads maritime center and its founding origins reflect the diversity of cultures that have played a role. Until very recently (when it was overtaken by Shanghai), it was the most active seaport in the world. Located strategically relative to the Straits of Malacca, it was from early days a hub in the trade of blue and white porcelain, rosewood, fish, tea, hemp…the list goes on.

Sir Stamford Raffles, who gives the name to the famous colonial style hotel that people like Somerset Maugham celebrated, put the British Empire stamp on the region, and that colonial flavor lives on in much of the architecture still.

But Singapore has had to work hard to preserve its history because new buildings are forever on the rise. Its central location makes it a natural business center in global terms, and it’s quite remarkable the number of places that two hours in the air will take you to from there.

Today, the city boasts an impressive skyline for the size of the population, and one of the most modern working wharf facilities anywhere. The days of the great shopping bargains may be over. The depressed world economy has meant a slowdown even here, and the cost of living is high. But this hasn’t stopped a large number of students from foreign countries enrolling in universities here, and the luxury apartment complexes for cashed up retirees from Dubai to Sydney keep going up. I can see a lot of excellent reasons for that. Here now are the five special things I love most about Singapore.

Sultan Mosque seen down Kandahar StreetThe first thing is the stark contrasts…between the super clean modern buildings and the mysterious laneways in Chinatown and Little India…the rumble and groan down on the wharves, and the quiet of the lush gardens and parks…the mix of Hindu temple, Buddhist shrine and mosque. There’s always some sharp juxtaposition, if you keep your eyes open. Stern, no fooling policing…and yet an air of freedom and spontaneity in the people. Just when you think you’ve made your mind up about the place, something you hadn’t seen before appears.

I like to start my visits down on Clarke Quay on the Singapore River. While there’s something to be said for having a Singapore Sling at the famous Raffles Hotel on Orchard Road, you really only do that once. Clarke Quay is much more inviting, with a range of great restaurants and bars, and an atmosphere that’s both festive and relaxed. (In fact, on weekends, the partying goes on until dawn.)

I was once innocently sitting at a Vietnamese-French fusion restaurant at Clarke Quay, with the Brandy & Benedictine on the rocks (with a sprig of mint) kicking in, my svelte Malaysian host looking ravishing in a plungeline coral shaded linen dress and a teardrop shaped pink Argyle diamond descending down her bosom, when I chanced to spot these amazing things flying around in the park across the water. And that, as they say, was that. Remote control kites with lights. You can take the drugs out of the boy, but you can’t…

I had to have one. The folks who launched this enterprise are all young student types, and they are absolute kite flying masters. Check them out. Kite flying is a great tradition in Singapore and Malaysia, both an art form and a kind of ceremonial combat. But these young people have done something really inventive and inspired with it. And I think of this as a symbol of the Singaporean mindset overall.

The eating in Singapore is superb, with its wide range of influences: Malaysian, Indonesian, Vietnamese, Chinese, Indian, Thai and Middle Eastern. Because Hindus don’t eat beef and Muslims don’t eat pork, there are many quality vegetarian places. Seafood is exceptional, with the famous dish being barbecued stingray, char grilled in rich sambal sauce. But what I enjoy the most is the simplicity of satay sticks in the night markets with a Tiger beer (you’ll find the street peddlers wander through selling Kleenex and napkins for a reason-you never have enough napkins with good satay).

There are several markets lined with hawker stalls, but better still is to follow the students, the golden rule when eating in Singapore. Go where the young Singaporeans go. You’ll steer clear of the older tourists, and more importantly find good food that’s cheap, with some lively company that may introduce you to some dishes you’ve never tried before. The relentless fusion of culture and cuisine means there’s always something new happening, even at the hawker stall level. You can eat fabulously in Singapore without spending a lot of money.

Wherever I go, I always need to have a little perverse fun (to enhance my sense of belonging you understand) and when it comes to the markets, particularly on especially hot, humid days (and bear in mind the humidity is pretty constantly at damp shower curtain level), I like to get a Thai coconut in one of the open markets (and the Chinatown markets are especially good for this). Thai coconuts are particularly sweet and refreshing, and short of hot tea are far better actual thirst quenchers in the heat than anything else. Then, while sipping casually from my coconut with a straw, I like to waylay British tourists, the most disoriented and pasty skinned group I can find (or, failing that, any group complaining in French). I wait for that immediately recognized tribe, who are so fundamentally middleclass of heart they’re never happy anywhere and always getting sunburned while you watch them. I then sell in the delicious and reinvigorating benefits of Thai coconut juice like you wouldn’t believe, and send them on the most complicated route I can devise through the swarming thick of the most congested parts of the market, where the odors of food and sweat, the pushing and the jostling are all at peak levels, and of course as far from refreshment as I can arrange. Cruel? Yes, but enjoyable. And I always savor it most when the interaction occurs right in front of where I’ve bought my coconut, because it’s so clear that these people aren’t looking around in the least. They gullibly follow a white person’s advice, when their own eyes would tell them what they wanted to know, and they’re so distraught by the wafting scents of tamarind and ghee, they don’t realize others are noting the polyester perspiration that arises from them.

Sri Mariamman Temple, Little India

Even higher on my list of twisted amusements however, is haggling with and hoodwinking Indian tailors. They’re everywhere, and they’re intense. They stand in front of their shops and will literally grab you and drag you inside for measurements. There’s no casual fondling of fabrics with these gentlemen. The sales job is so aggressive, coconuts and tea don’t work after, if you manage to escape. Only alcohol and Malaysian chili crab will do, followed by a water pipe on Arab Street, and in extreme instances, a dalliance with a Singaporean call girl (who range from exquisite to just very nice and make the service seem professional and even dignified, especially when you tip them and have a cocktail by the pool with them afterward, instead of beating them up like some Indian men do).

I was terribly in love with an Indian woman once. Two of the smartest men I’ve known were Indians. I remain good friends with a young Indian I wrote a recommendation for years ago. The maze of Indian culture, music, food, religion and stories amazes me.

But I’m the sworn secret enemy of Indian tailors. After about three of their manhandlings, I thought fuck this. I went to one of the many copy centers and had some fake business cards made up, using one of the many local answering services as my office number. There are a lot of people swinging into Singapore who get business cards made up fast. And you can get some slick ones very quickly.

I then have two different strategies. First, I seek out the real offenders, the hardcores. Once I’ve got my targets in mind, in one instance I go out dressed as fashionably as I can afford. Fancy brand label stuff. I flash a wad of money and my best-looking credit card. I offer my new business card straight up. I insist on taking their attention away from other customers. I want a fitting. I want a whole new wardrobe in fact. I want a classical look in the finest fabrics. I don’t want their two suits and some extra trousers offer, I want ten suits, ten other trousers, and a whole casual ensemble to match, plus ten of their most beautiful shirts. And I want it all ready within a week.

Of course, you’re thinking they’re going to want a deposit, right? That’s when my drink gets delivered. A young Chinese lad comes in on the pre-arranged cell phone text message beep, and I have some French champagne delivered, to toast my new tailor friend and to nurse me through the grueling ordeal of the fittings. They’re not expecting that, and they’re all so competitive, you can run this little scam and not have any of them confess to anyone else that they’ve been done.

When they do ask for a deposit, I say simply, “That’s not the way I do business. Have the suits ready within a week or not. Or I’ll go across the street.”

They’ve now invested time in the procedure. They’ve seen an act they’re not sure about. And it’s not like I’m walking out of the shop with anything. It’s what I’ve left behind. Gnawing doubt. Their whole hassle-you-into-buying deal has been turned around on them. It’s suddenly their risk, not yours. I leave them with the bottle of champagne and move on, strongly suspecting that those suits will be made. Maybe they can sell them later. I’m an average sized guy after all.

Then I seek out one of those tailors who’s actually making headway with a group of numb, sun-reddened, panting Brits (the very sort of people I sent looking for coconut juice down the organ end of the market, where the smells get rich). I wait until he’s just about closed the sale and some real money is about to be put down. Then I come in fuming (and I do good fume). I come in SCREAMING actually. No one is ever prepared for that. I bellow and rant about shoddy workmanship. Nothing fits. I’ve been taken. I’m going to call the police, the government, and the media. This is outrageous! You yell that loud enough and people listen. But you have to be cranked up for it. Suddenly, these hard ass, cutthroat, do-anything-for-a-sale guys give it up. That look in the eyes. That’s worth the whole exercise right there.

“Oh, I’m very sorry,” I say suddenly. “I think I’m at the wrong address. I had your shop confused. Carry on.” Of course the Brits have bolted by then.

View from Jurong Island, looking South

The final thing on my list of favorites is something I think is very underrated. The beaches. There are quite a few of them close by, and if you’re renting a car, the possibilities open up still further. It’s true that there are a lot of freighters always lying offshore, but that’s where the energy of the area comes from. To me they add to the atmosphere and not detract. This is a bustling center of international culture with one of the finest major arts festivals in the world. This ain’t no tropical island. It’s one of those places that reveals more the more closely you look.

In DreamsDateline New York City, once the center of world culture.

Medical authorities have been forced to at last acknowledge a previously concealed epidemic in the wake of recent admittances to the ER’s of both Beth Israel and Bellevue, along with several other hospital facilities throughout the five boroughs.

According to Dr. Wynona Gripp, one of the world’s leading specialists in traumatic gynecology, “We remain uncertain as to the cause of the disorder and so we were reluctant to come forward in the fear of creating further panic. But we are now well advanced in developing a profile of the victims. So far, the pathology seems to target principally corporate publishing editors, who have been elevated in authority far beyond their intellectual capability. We’ve noted cases arising from the fields of finance, law and advertising, but publishing seems to be the hot spot industry affected.

Experts remain divided on the question of whether or not the malady is ultimately genital in nature, or the result of a systemic disease that expresses via the genitals and perianal region. Some have suggested underlying blood or heart defects-others a hidden neurological cause that is referred to the pelvis.

In a briefing to the Health & Science media, visiting surgeon Beverly Newman of John Hopkins had this to say: “We’re seeing presentations of total clitoral shrinkage and an unexplained absorption of the labia, rather like the inverse of a prolapsed scenario. In some instances, urethral function is maintained. In the more advanced cases, there has been complete closure and a kind of carapace has developed over the entire area, including the anus and rectum, which has been clogged with a sandpaper-textured scaling that resembles hardened toenails and dry wall in consistency. The retention of waste and toxins in these situations has been near fatal and has required invasive drainage operations.”

Dr. Winsome Schlick of the Brookdale University Hospital and Medical Center has fueled further controversy in the matter by insisting the pathology has jumped the gender gap. “Testicular atrophy and the rapid onset of penile mortification has been rife for years, particularly in publishing. This may simply be the female manifestation.”

Urologists Dr. Peter Tinkel and proctologist Dr. Mark Ringman vigorously support this view. Said Dr. Tinkel, “I have seen several male editors who are now in a crisis situation resembling that of a Ken doll. A complete disappearance of genitalia and a strong suggestion that both guts and heart have been decisively compromised. While not one to believe in such popular myths as zombies, I have no other way to describe those so afflicted. It’s simply a medical miracle they’re still functioning.”

Fringe holistic therapist Ruth Zion of Queens has so far achieved the greatest treatment successes. Her theory is that the disorder is alimentary in origin, and she has had some breakthroughs with the radical rectal insertion of Patti Smith’s Radio Ethiopia and John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme, followed by the novels of Walker Percy and some of the shotgun paintings of William Burroughs.

Said Ms. Zion, “This is in the end an anal problem, and so the solution suggests an insertion. We’re working hard to get the balance right. Everyone, even a corporate editor, deserves to have a decent bowel movement and to at least confront the possibility of sex.”

Do you know someone in publishing who’s suffering in silence? Do you know someone in publishing who’s insisting others suffer too?

Don’t let vaginas, balls and penises just disappear. Let’s not let relatively innocent anuses seal over in unsightly crust. Reach in today. All art is in an intervention. Intervention is the art.

Julia Gillard

In one of the wildest 72 hours in backroom politics in Australia’s history (which is saying something), Kevin Rudd has been deposed as leader of the Labour Party, and Julia Gillard has taken the helm as the nation’s first female Prime Minister.

The news has shocked the nation and many political insiders as well. While it was no secret Rudd’s popularity had been falling drastically in the polls, no one officially predicted such a leadership spill, and certainly not so suddenly or so decisively.

Only a year ago, Rudd’s approval ratings seemed rock solid and many pundits described him as unbeatable. Of course, twelve months is a very long time in politics. Still, his ousting is historic in itself, as a stellar example of a falling star.

His response to the World Economic Crisis was seen as satisfactory. His experience in foreign affairs and fluency in Mandarin pleased many who hoped to see Australia have a stronger international presence, and definitely more prestige and influence in the larger Asian region. What brought him undone?

His greatest faux pas has been a perceived abandonment of the hard line and forward thinking climate change legislation that he rode to electoral victory on. The public doesn’t like broken promises, especially when they are big broken promises.

His most recent millstone was a proposed tax on the boom profits of the mining industry. It got the rich mining companies upset and the public confused when the numbers didn’t seem to add up.

Naturally, he faced other hiccups along the way. But few leaders have ever been seen as such a liability, so relatively quickly, without having a major catastrophe or personal morality incident.

The Opposition Party he has faced off against has been inept at best, and virtually in constant disarray themselves since the election, with turnovers in their leadership that screamed disunity and confusion to the public. It can hardly be said that they played any role of consequence in getting him knocked off.

Nor can it be said, despite the history making aspect of the country’s first female leader, that the startling developments have anything to do with gender. A much repeated stand-up comedy line goes, “I didn’t know Julia Gillard was a woman.”

In my view, Gillard was Deputy and the Labour Party wanted Rudd out. Period. More about her in a minute.

It seems to me that no one failing or political decision brought Rudd down. Even the disappointment and anger over the climate change flip-flop can’t account for his tumble in the ratings. This was a seasoned politician who experts predicted would be in power for years to come. Now the wires are running hot with speculation and analysis of just what broke down. I don’t think the answer is going to be easy to find. In some crucial sense, it’s no more mysterious than the public losing interest in him. The luster wore off. While he wasn’t blamed for the financial turmoil of the last year, he hasn’t been seen to have the solutions either. Almost every major category of consumer purchases has seen heavy price hikes. People are doing it harder these days, and they need someone to be held accountable. In the words of President Obama regarding the BP debacle, they want an “ass to kick.”

But of course the voters weren’t the ones to kick Mr. Rudd out. It was his own party, behind a closed door. One of the little niceties allowed in the Westminster System. It may be that his career is over because he simply didn’t do enough politicking with his own team mates. So, out came the knives.

To be sure, Labour will now call for an election just as soon as they are allowed under law to do so. They can’t let a Prime Minister who has taken power within the party stand in office very long without the public approval of an electoral victory. Especially not the first female PM in history. They will also want to move fast while the Liberal Party is still in a volatile, rumpled state itself.

The result will be a bitter policy-free campaign that offers two choices in leadership personalities, despite the fact that the nation has just witnessed how fragile the personal aspect can be!

I wish I could express some enthusiasm for Julia Gillard as the country’s new head. But I can’t.

She was born in Wales and came to Australia as a child. Her background is as a trade unionist lawyer. She cut her teeth in that field working for a tough industrial law firm called Slater & Gordon (known colloquially as Slug ’em & Grab ’em).

Her mindset is very much back in the 1960s when there was a sharp divide between workers and big business management. Today, Australia, like many other Western countries is a totally different place. 75% of all Australians are employed by small business-and 75% of all new small businesses fail within the first three years.

As in America, where there is government assistance for (and collusion with) those enterprises “too big to fail” and failing spectacularly, no political party in Australia has offered any real vision or tangible support for small business. I think it can be reasonably argued that in no technologized country on the planet, is it more difficult to launch a small business than in Australia.

Julia Gillard is one committed to making things more difficult still. She will further retard initiative at the smaller levels and undermine business and economic confidence at large. She also brings no foreign affairs experience to her new job, and indeed seems to have a very strange perspective of Australia in the world.

I’m all in favor of women taking leadership roles. Particularly capable ones. There’s no question that Gillard is a capable politician. She pulled off a backroom decapitation. It remains to be seen if she is any real kind of leader, and what policies I’ve seen her champion so far in her career suggest a desire to turn back the clock, not to move forward with vision and innovation.

The photograph to the left (which has been cropped and can be clicked to view the full image) is one reason. I took it on 31st Street off Fifth Avenue looking north one oh-so-mysterioso night around midnight…an hour in town from Texas…a spring rain having swept through like drum brushes only moments before…still cool enough for some manhole steam, just warm enough to bring out a few optimistic short skirts and frilly dresses. God love those.

I’d like to think it captures some of the majestic monstrosity of Manhattan, which Kurt Vonnegut called Skyscraper National Park, but it’s really just an impulse shot taken in a moment of loneliness, like a lamb in a large country, as my minister father would’ve said.

Of course, everyone adores and worships New York — when we’re not hating it. But I’ve found in my wanderings that what makes a great world city, whether it’s Rome or Rio, Buenos Aires or Berlin, is often not the grandeur or the big picture stuff that gets written about and photographed endlessly; it’s the smaller, quiet things that we personally take away and make our own.

I remember once in Beijing, with literally millions of people all around, I chanced to see an old man leaned up against a wall. He grabbed a tiny frog from off the pavement — and Lord knows how that frog came to be there just then. He put it in his mouth and smiled at me. Then he opened his mouth and let the frog go. Everything else I saw there lives in the shadow of that one scene. The eye contact. The feel of that frog in my mouth. The puzzle of its being there.

Cities are puzzles — and the world’s greatest cities are revealed in the little details and passing moments. The smell of the Union Square subway station — the remnant of a Cuban cigar left smoldering on a curb — they’re part of the puzzle that’s New York for me. But here now are the five essential things that make Manhattan worth coming back to in my mind.

  1. High on my list of favorites is the rightfully famous Carnegie Deli on 7th Avenue at 55th Street. This is a Midtown establishment that still delivers far beyond any tourist district standard. It has that old authentic deli atmosphere — lots of shouting and jostling, and no question that your sandwich is being prepared by human hands right on the spot. And what sandwiches! The first pastrami I ordered from there, I literally had to sit on in the bag, just to crush it down to eat without dislocating my jaw. They also do knishes, matzo ball soup, and pickles that make your eyes water. And they do good shouting, which I appreciate. But their pastrami sandwiches are simply in a class all their own.

  2. With so much great art to see in the city, whether on the acres of museum walls or the galleries of Chelsea — wherever — it seems sort of criminal to return time again to work I know well, but I can’t help it. Whenever I’m in town for a few days, I always make a pilgrimage to the Guggenheim to experience again Kandinsky’s watercolors. Seeing them close up somehow helps prepare my mind for other art and new visions. I get tuned in again to the synchronicities of the city.

    Once, coming out of a reading, with snow falling, a crazy Jamaican Rasta man cab driver pulled over for me. He had my book on his front seat.

    One late summer day on the steps of the Museum of Natural History, I was for some reason discussing with a female friend who I was trying to bed at the time, Jane Fonda’s curious insistence on portraying non-penetrative sex in the film Coming Home with Jon Voight, and how disappointed she was in researching quadriplegics to find a man whose paralysis triggered four hour erections — when who should I literally collide with but Jon Voight. What are the chances? An obscure, unlikely conversational topic, a metropolis of millions — and there’s Jon — right up in my grill (and he’s a big guy to run into).

    Kandinsky gets me synched with the coincidental magic of the place, so that I’m loose and ready when, for instance, filming rotisserie chickens spinning and spitting fat in a window on First Avenue, I suddenly turn to meet an old neighbor from College Avenue in Oakland. That kind of thing could be upsetting if unprepared psychically — especially since he did jail time and I walked.

  3. New York is of course a great city of sound — often so much so that you stop listening — and shut down. But then there are those lovely lulls in the rhythm when you momentarily hear deep into the machinery of the whole carnival, and you wake up. One of my favorite sounds in the entire world is the sensual percussion of Puerto Rican girls in very high heels click-clocking between the traffics of the traffic. I have a special admiration for their ability to outright sprint on knifepoint heels to hail a cab or catch a bus-and to never lose their composure or their balance. They are some of the hardest ass females I’ve ever encountered  — yet they are the most sincerely gracious and thankful if you hold a door open for them or pick up a package that’s been dropped. One thing they for sure don’t teach the nice white private school babes from Connecticut is how to say a simple thank-you to a stranger. Those girls just grow up to be editors for Simon & Schuster. Give me a Puerto Rican shoe store chick a long way from the Sarah Lawrence degree and the family house in the Hamptons. There will be a lot more blood in her heart and a musical smack and crackle in her walk. You can fool people with a cashmere sweater and an Upper Westside apartment. You can’t fool music — and a New York City sidewalk is where some of the most fundamental music in life is made.

  4. Growing up in a religious family, I was steadfastly steered into not causing trouble — which is of course why from an early age I’ve often felt obliged to promote whatever commotion I can. Fortunately, I’ve learned a few lessons and have structured my perversity in ever more subtle ways (police beatings will do that to you). One little form of discord I particularly enjoy stimulating concerns the chess players in Central Park.

    I don’t play a good game of chess, but I don’t play a bad game either. And my real game is finding out a bit more about who’s playing at any given time. I like to target those older Jewish guys who take it very seriously, especially the ones who insist on playing without their shirts on come the warmer weather. They may beat me — but by the time they have, I know a lot about their style and what gets their goat. Then, when they’re playing amongst themselves, I start to kibitz and lurk around, occasionally flashing some bills. It’s the “betting” money I’m holding, you see. And I always have some names from the local chess clubs to throw around.

    While they were fixated on whipping my ass, I found out the names of their kids and where they grew up. They wouldn’t remember if I was left or right handed — but I can almost tell their blood pressure. They know I can run an opening gambit. They see the money. They hear names from the city chess scene they’re familiar with. Man, you should see how I can escalate a friendly game between old friends into a pitched battle. These old-timers are so inherently competitive, behind their friendly façades, it doesn’t take much to move them like pieces on a board. Chess? I have my own kind in New York. I can make a jeweler or a tailor at a glance. If you were in retail or sales, I need five minutes to nail the main industry. Food or hospitality? Three. Wholesalers just give it up. It doesn’t take much to make these guys really believe there’s book made on them, and suddenly a quiet game (that actually wasn’t very quiet at all) can become a contest of wills and spirit that makes a sweet counterpoint to the gentle clip-clopping of the carriage horse hooves and the tinkling of the merry-go-round. Check mate.

    Someone really into the grift once told me, “The secret is always making the other party think they’ve won.” He lives in Belize now and isn’t coming back stateside any time soon, but I like applying that good advice in humbler, sillier ways. There’s twisted fun in manipulating people who think they’re smarter than you, when they don’t even know what you’re doing. A little show of cred, a flash of real money, and some research — that’s still the essence of every scam. It’s just a question of scale and intent on return. Me, I like to see proud, puffed up old men have punch ups over chessboards, not knowing how the game got away from them.

  5. If I sickly stir up some heated feelings amongst arrogant old farts, I do my atonement by supporting the city’s very fine musicians, at what are still some of the greatest clubs in the world — for jazz, anyway. I like the Lenox Lounge in Harlem and the Zinc Bar in the Village (they moved from their wonderful but very small quarters on Houston Street to great premises at 82 West 3rd Street, between Thompson and Sullivan).

    The Lenox Lounge is at 288 Lenox Avenue, or Malcolm X Boulevard at 124th and 125th. There’s a lot of history in this venue, and a lot of musical life still going down. At the Zinc Bar, you can hear phenomenal talents like Cidinho Teixeria, the Brazilian pianist, who’s a get-the-party-started-no-prisoners player if there ever was one. If you don’t have fun listening to him, better check that pulse.

    Even more commercial, somewhat cynical clubs like the Blue Note at 131 West 3rd Street or the Iridium at 1650 Broadway in Times Square, are still great places to really hear music — and they continue to draw rich talent.

    New venues keep popping up, thankfully. Such is the nature of live music. But you can’t go past B.B. King’s joint on 42nd Street. Some rather important people have a way of appearing there — and James Brown was on the way to that door when he died. We should all have such a good destination in mind when the sand’s running down.

    On my last visit, I realized, while doing book interviews, that Irma Thomas the Queen of New Orleans was playing. Six bourbons down, the latest interview done, I charged the box office. “I have to see her. I must be right down front.”

    I was told, “I’m sorry sir, we’re all sold out.”

    “You don’t understand,” I said. “I have only two weeks to live. I know all her lyrics. This is a chance for you to gain some karma credit.”

    I got my seat. Right down front. And the security dudes were very kind when I attempted to take the stage. Some of my tablemates from Westchester County were a little surprised at my doings — but that’s because they didn’t know the songs.

    The girl on the ticket desk who I’d spun the yarn to get in spotted me on the way out. “Two weeks to live, huh?”

    “Maybe three now,” I said. “Thanks.”

    “Well, you told the truth about knowing all the songs,” she said. “We heard you from here.”

    “This is New York,” I said. “If we don’t remind ourselves we’ll forget.”

    “You’re not from New York,” she said, noticing my accent.

    “Perhaps not,” I replied. “That’s why I know I’m here now.”

I Heard That – The Hard Bop and Slow Blues of Brooklyn’s Eric Wyatt

Jazz saxophonist Eric Wyatt with mentor and godfather Sonny Rollins

I first met the American saxophonist and Sonny Rollins protégé Eric Wyatt on a bitterly cold rainy night in Shanghai a couple of years ago, when I was still sore in the hip and limping from the little street urchin who’d gaffer taped himself to my thigh in a late night ambush outside my hotel, which I strangely had to admire for its sheer commitment.