18 - Sand In The Hourglass (Ubud, Bali, Indonesia)
I was in lollygag mode, a victim of Bali’s space-time continuum. Meeting people. Making friends. Getting little done. Watching people piss in the street. Haggling over cock-shaped bottle openers. Ya know, high adventure?
by The Nostomaniac
I HAD MY Phantom. And then I had a plan…kinda. Vague, but getting less so. Go east, young man! Drive/float east to Lombok. Climb Mt. Rinjani. Explore the Gili Islands. Then to Sumbawa for whatever there was to do on Sumbawa. On to Flores, the launching pad for Komodo Island. Mud wrestle a dragon and then, well, that’s as far as I got. Slow progress, but progress nonetheless.
Complacency. That’s the word. I was in no rush to do anything. Ubud was my tranquilizer, my seductress. I struggled to break free. I would sleep in. Take naps to compensate. Drive around aimlessly. Weeks passed. Time was irrelevant. There were bouts of “Bali Belly” as it’s affectionately known. I might’ve shit my pants on one occasion. Who can keep track? What I didn’t know at the time was much of this lethargy was physiological. I was anemic, iron deficient. If you’re looking for a way to de-stress…
Goddamn social butterfly. That was me. I spent more time with Cyrus, whiling away an evening or two with stimulating conversation and spectacular sunset vistas. He was renting a place smack dab in the rice fields. You might say the only thing missing was artificially colored baby chickens, but you’d be wrong. We had those. They’re sold on the street and are popular during festival time, which means all the time because there’s a festival for everything. PETA members would not be amused, and they’d have a point. Most chicks don’t survive long, and there’s something unsavory about disposal fowl. I suppose I could’ve punched Cyrus in the dick and stormed out for buying them, but they were too adorable to abandon. One fell victim to a cat (cycle of life?) while the other passed to a friend. We still keep in touch.
I met a young German woman exactly where you’d expect, at a Bali Rotary Club soiree. Cyrus played matchmaker. She was interning at a German-owned guesthouse run by a tyrannical marshmallow and his incongruently benevolent Balinese wife. She found solace in my warm, iron-deficient embrace. There was a particularly romantic highlight. We were enjoying cocktails in one of Bali’s signature open-walled restaurants when an employee (manager I believe) walk outside and pissed in the street. He did this right after a disclaimer about this being the “Bali way” of doing things. I guess if you’re the last customers of the night, things go the “Bali way.” It’s difficult be offended or disgusted when laughing effusively. It was late. He was drunk. We were on our way there. I’m not sure I would’ve cared if he took a dump on the sidewalk. Live and let shit. That’s my motto.
Curiously, he provided this cultural tidbit not fifty feet from the restroom. He went on to explain when rainwater runs low, flushing the toilet can be expensive. Customers only. Yet another great reason to keep Dewi Danu, the Balinese water goddess, happy. Otherwise, the streets of Ubud would be awash in urine. Huh. You could say our friend was like Kermit the Frog. He was just being green.
I also added some Indonesians to my tribe, or I should say, they’ve added me to theirs. For all things visa related, I chose an agency in town to advise me (Balimode). I quickly became friends with the employees. Many a time I went there for a cup of Joe and a little Tom Foolery. Case in point: I educated my new friends on the proper meaning and usage of the F-bomb. Monster…created. They began throwing it around with reckless abandon (especially my man Dhemy). This happened in front of clients. Oopsie. If you didn’t know better, you would’ve assumed my name was Muther Fucker. I would’ve put an end to it, but I was laughing too hard to do so. Fuck it, right?
They invited me to play soccer with their friends in Denpasar, and I agreed…reluctantly. Although I jumped at the chance to hang with locals in a non-tourist setting, soccer doesn’t excite me. I think it’s because I suck…hard. Outside the U.S., soccer is quasi-religious. I was afraid of committing blasphemy. Luckily, I never had the opportunity to showcase my footwork. The Balinese space-time phenomenon came into play, the very same one that kept me in Ubud. Leave at 6 pm, play at 8 pm, and be back by 10:30 pm…allegedly. We arrived at the indoor soccer facility at 7:45 pm only to learn a court had been reserved for 10 pm. Super. As much as I relished the thought of watching others play soccer for two hours only to later turn “soccer spaz” in front of my homies, I was relieved when Dhemy and Agus voiced their desire to bail.
So, off to dinner we went. Their treat. They brought me to a food stall down a side street in tourist-infested Kuta. It appeared to be locals only, so they took the liberty of ordering. They went with soup. Soto ceker. At first I thought, Huh. That looks a lot like chicken feet in the bowl. Naaaaah, can't be. Who the hell’d eat that? Answer: People in over twenty countries…and me. I popped my proverbial Chicken Claw Soup (Soto Ceker) cherry. I couldn’t hide my reaction, but I dove in feet first. The broth is incredibly flavorful. The feet themselves? Welllll…crunchy and gelatinous. What’s not to love about small bones wrapped in flesh? Yum. I’d give the flavor a 10, but the texture a 4.5. It wasn’t all that bad, and I shudder at my response when I look back. In the years since, I’ve come to appreciate the nutritional value of a head-to-toe philosophy. The odd bits are where it’s at and so undervalued in Western society. Cheap. Delicious. Nutritious. If I’d have eaten more like a local, maybe I’d have avoided anemia. Silly rabbit.
After my culinary adventure, we cruised Kuta's main drag for honeys. This is Bali’s version of a Spring Break atmosphere and decidedly not my cup of tea. I’d been avoiding the area from the start. When in Rome…and someone else’s car. Watching my Indonesian counterparts whisper borderline salacious comments at passing female tourists of varying denominations was strangely entertaining. I blame Darwin.
There was a sobering moment when we passed the monument erected in honor of the two hundred and two souls killed in the 2002 terror attack. It’s right in the center of the action. I tried to imagine the pandemonium that must have ensued but failed miserably. Bali joined a club nobody wants membership in. I suppose, in a way, coming to Kuta to get drunk and laid is a figurative “Fuck You!” to terrorism. Bin Laden couldn’t fight the moonlight…or herpes.
I treasured the unpredictable nature of my budding friendships. Rarely, if ever, did I have a fucking clue as to what the hell I would be doing, where the hell I would be doing it, and how the hell long it would take. The Balinese space-time continuum was always in effect. “Close by” could be across the street or a twenty-five-minute motorbike ride. Throw in a minimal but not insignificant language barrier and you have a surprise around every corner. This organic class of virtual reality suited me well.
It’s common for Indonesian male friends to refer to one another as “brother”. Dhemy (the gratuitous F-bomber) took it to another level by assigning himself and Agus my last name. I could do worse, but adoption is a big step.
Need a gift for the guy/gal who has everything? How about a carved cock bottle opener? I should’ve bought them all and shored up my gifting strategy for years. Everyone gets a cock. Birthday? Cock. Christmas? Cock. Graduation? Cock. Bar mitzvah? Cock. (Are they circumcised? You be the judge.) Fiftieth wedding anniversary? You guessed it: Two cocks…black. Try keeping a straight face while negotiating over the price of a wooden dick with an elderly Balinese woman. She managed to do it. Me? Not so much.