16 - Rotating With Cyrus Copeland (Ubud, Bali, Indonesia)
Ever gone “clubbing” with the Rotarians? Fine folk with a quirk or two. Add a half-Iranian guest speaker and shit gets, well, odd. My kind of evening. See Dick laugh.
by Mr. Nos T. O’maniac
SPOILER: BALI IS A TOURIST TRAP. Though undeniable, there are ways to avoid the snare with patience and effort. Get your own wheels. Open your mind. Stay perky. Talk to strangers. No longer satisfied at hotels and guesthouses, I sought lodging on Ubud’s outskirts. Renting a house is not only feasible but economical as well (at least it was). And I’m assuming “outskirts” still exist in the face of rampant development.
My search for housing lead to friendship. Cyrus Copeland is a half-Iranian/half-American author with a fascinating history, a history I would read about much later in Off the Radar: A Father's Secret, a Mother's Heroism, and a Son's Quest, an autobiographical detective story about his father and presumed CIA operative, Max Copeland. He’s also an expert in the art of writing eulogies, the focus of his other two books, Farewell, Godspeed: The Greatest Eulogies of Our Time and A Wonderful Life: 50 Eulogies to Lift the Spirit. Cyrus has no trouble keeping up his end of a conversation.
He’d recently spent a month in Iran researching his book and had truly fascinating tales to share. This trip was the impetus for his invitation to speak at the Bali Ubud Rotary Club. Fortunately, he invited me to watch his presentation. What’s a Rotary Club, you ask? Well, here you go:
"Rotary is a worldwide organization of more than 1.2 million business, professional, and community leaders. Members of Rotary clubs, known as Rotarians, provide humanitarian service, encourage high ethical standards in all vocations, and help build goodwill and peace in the world. There are 33,000 Rotary clubs in more than 200 countries and geographical areas. Clubs are nonpolitical, nonreligious, and open to all cultures, races, and creeds. As signified by the motto Service Above Self, Rotary’s main objective is service — in the community, in the workplace, and throughout the world."
This meeting, held at a Ubud restaurant, was brimming with odd right from the git-go. Cyrus and I are tall fellows, and on this night, both happened to be wearing black t-shirts. That was sufficient for repeated misidentifications, me for him…and two for tea.
Cyrus’ Rotary Club liaison, the woman who organized the presentation, showed up forty-five minutes late. Not sure why but I guess her presence at the start was essential. I doubt anyone would’ve noticed if the club president hadn’t kept announcing her absence over the microphone. His manner and affect screamed gay hairdresser or the Balinese equivalent. I was close—Interior designer. No confirmation on the gay part, but if I was a bettin’ man…For the record, I have nothing against homosexuals, hairdressing, or interior designers. It was the set and setting that invited contrast and made the whole thing feel like an Indonesian sitcom. And so I giggled…
Mr. Allegedly Gay Interior Designer rang a bell, called the meeting to order, and then spoke about god knows what in barely comprehensible English far longer than appropriate. His speech was erratic, moving from one topic to another whimsically. Or not. I was really, really confused. At one point, he passed around the microphone to facilitate introductions. There’s a weekly meeting, and from what I gathered, new people show up each time. It certainly felt like no one knew each other…or had a clue about what the hell was happening. I attempted to get to know folks in my vicinity, but this proved difficult as the mic was in constant use. Luckily, it didn’t make it my way. I was happy to avoid spouting off something along the lines of “Uhhhh…I’ve nothing to do with Rotary. To be honest, I’m not even sure what the frick you people do. I came for the food, the slideshow, and, of course, the pussy. Am I right? What has two thumbs and…”
About the food. All attendees paid 50,000 rupiahs for dinner ($4.50), the bulk of the proceeds benefiting the club. This isn’t a lot of money, but it was pricey for Bali. Normally, this restaurant serves ten-course meals, but the club had an agreement to receive three courses at a discounted rate. It’s no exaggeration to say I could fit all three courses in my palm or stuff them in my front pocket with room to spare. A small salad, three mushroom ravioli, and a mysterious heart-shaped dessert roughly Grinch-sized. (Before he saved Christmas, but after he stole it.) Delicious? Yes. Satisfying? Negative.
And then there were the people. Good people. They donate their time, money, and most importantly, their energy to help the Balinese. And as far as I can tell, there’s a Rotarian age minimum. Most folks were above fifty, probably retired. Their kindheartedness cannot be overstated. I was only a tourist. These people were much more. They were also a little off, albeit in a cute, quirky way.
There’s the gentleman who kept confusing me for Cyrus, making offhand, ambiguously snide comments about Iran in my direction outside the context of any actual conversation. He continued doing so even after Cyrus’ presentation. I corrected him eventually, but only after he addressed me directly as Cyrus. Why not sooner? I really, really thought he’d get there on his own. Nuh-uh. After I identified me as myself and pointed to Cyrus, he informed me, quite curiously, he’d removed his glasses. I say “curiously” because he’d been wearing them during earlier misidentifications.
And then there was his wife. She was disappointed to hear Cyrus wouldn’t be speaking about his eulogy expertise, only his trip to Iran. She had three friends about to pass out of “the living realm” and felt a “shiver down her spine” when she learned he was the keynote speaker. Later, I kidded him about pissing on her parade. I should mention he did, magnanimously one might say, offer to give her any advice she requested and a free copy of one of his books.
Later on she rose, microphone in hand, to inform members about upcoming events. I tuned out but was abruptly brought to attention when she announced free pap smears would be offered to locals at an impending dance benefit. Oh, the expression upon my face. She made this statement with such a perfect combination of nonchalance and conviction, I had no reason to doubt its veracity. And the way that night unfolded? Free pap smears? Why not? Judging from the crowd’s non-reaction, I wasn’t alone. When I discovered she was kidding, I nearly soiled myself.
Envision a modest social gathering, in a restaurant perhaps, where everyone attending has varying levels of Attention Deficit Disorder. People kinda spoke to each other, or at least in specific directions, but it felt like no message hit its intended target, like they were looking at one person but speaking to the person behind that person. It was odd. I dared not look Cyrus in the eye for fear of uncontrollable giggle shitfits.
At the conclusion, a gentleman rose unprompted and told a joke that concluded with a golf reference. This was strangely apropos. I wanted to grab the mic for a joke of my own. “Ok folks, I’ve got one for ya’ll. How do ya get a witch pregnant? Anyone? No? Give up? Ya fuck her! Duhhhhhh! Thank ya. Thank ya, very much. My name’s Cyrus. I’ll be here all evening. ”
And then there was the bathroom. A unisex bathroom. It might’ve been, and could still be, the nicest restaurant bathroom I’ve ever been in. The floor was dug out and filled in with carefully placed flat, smooth rocks. There was an abundance of plant life, and the toilet sat directly in the room’s center. Imagine executing number one or two in Adam and Eve’s garden bathroom, the one adjoining the master bedroom. A shitter suitable for the Pope.
As I stood there emptying my bladder, I began reading one of the many framed posters decorating the wall. Upon closer inspection, I realized almost all had a salacious, if not downright pornographic, theme. They resembled the licentious t-shirts tourists buy on Bourbon Street in New Orleans. One had “Casual Encounter Wanted” illustrated with Dick and Jane-type stick figures in various sexual positions. There was the “Why a Beer is Better Than a Woman” poster and another with cartoon depictions of different types of dicks, containing drawings of the various phenotypes. (My favorite was Santa Dick.) There was “Woman on a Bicycle” which portrayed a woman with no underwear and a hiked-up skirt riding a bicycle accompanied by a cryptic explanation of when one might encounter such. The winner included a drawing of a penis-shaped mushroom beneath a tree with an ass-shaped pear hanging above. Your guess is as good as mine. Keep in mind, this bathroom was unisex. When I returned to my table I instructed, make that commanded ,Cyrus to use the bathroom. And so he did.
Strange. Very Strange. I couldn’t wait to leave for our after-action review. And that’s why I love to travel.