Here’s a funny joke:
A guy walks into an elevator with six other people. He sneezes. By the time the doors open up, three of them are dead and the rest have an unpleasant couple weeks to look forward to.
That’s right, good ol’ SARS has got me benched in Australia for a little while. Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Hong Kong, Vietnam. If I were traveling the same itinerary two months ago, I’d be Mr. Quarantine right now – the guy on everyone’s dance card.
As it happened, I was handled with great caution anyway when I arrived in Brisbane. I counted one person among my friends who didn’t ask if I had SARS within the first ten seconds of encountering me (Thanks Nae!). This is perfectly understandable, as the rest of the world is, after all, one giant disease-ridden deathtrap.
And word of my rash spread through town faster than the rash spread through me. I didn’t realize how many people were reading this crap until I got all the nervous, arms-length inspections.
The good news: the rash is all-but gone. Got a couple lingering scars and a little bit of itching, but otherwise okay. And fortunately, the Shock and Awe phase of the rash ended just before I arrived.
I’m going to keep using that term until it’s well past its Sell By date. I declare it the new “hanging chad.” A modern “can’t we all just get along?” The “I did not have sexual relations with that woman” of our time.
I communicate with other human beings primarily through anecdotes, obscure factoids, and unfounded assertions. It has, therefore, been very difficult for me coming back here and finding that most people have been reading this. An entire month’s worth of material has been completely used up, so there’s really not much I can say to people.
“How was your trip?”
“It was great. I went diving in the –”
“I kayaked with a –”
“In Micronesia, they eat –”
“Spam. Know all about it.”
“Well, did you know that –”
“Yes…Yes. I know.”
There is only one trivial anecdote I forgot to relay, and I’ve been coveting that one like the last surviving puppy from an anemic litter. I’m going to sacrifice my last puppy now, cause that’s how much it’s worth to me to entertain you.
This is dead dog-related, actually. Most of the islands in Micronesia are covered in dogs. They are sickly strays and they often sleep in the middle of the road. Driving to my hotel in Pohnpei with Johnson, we were swerving from side to side to let sleeping dogs lie. There were also chickens running amok, and we even stopped in front of a giant pig that was staring us down. He had no interest in moving.
So I asked Johnson if people kept these dogs as pets, and if there was a high mortality rate with all of them hanging out on the road. He said they didn’t get hit much, cause they were smart enough to know when to get out of the way. The real problem, he said, was all the people on the island who ate dog. He said his neighbors ate it a lot, and as a result he’s had three of his pets go missing in the last couple years.
That’s a pretty heavy thing to hold over your neighbor.
Johnson had never eaten dog, but he ate Spam every day. I still can’t decide which is worse. If I were a less emotional creature, I’d say Spam is without a doubt the poorer culinary and nutritional option.
I’m going to try to keep quiet about the war for a while. I know I went a little off the deep end last time. I’d just like to say that my views do not necessarily reflect those of this network, and I apologize for any distress they may have caused.
It goes to show you how dangerous it can be to interpret information and form your own opinion on things. It can get very messy.
So let me just clarify by saying that I support the troops, I support our commander in chief, and I think we’re doing a great job over there. We’re showing those people in that general area what happens when we are reasonably certain that they could potentially have the future capability of messing with us at some point. Take that, Saddam!
People have been very accommodating about scheduling events for my visit here. I went to Soph’s housewarming party, which was punk-themed even though there was no punk music actually played.
That reminds me, anyone having a party soon and looking for a theme idea: SARS. All you need is the masks.
On Sunday I went go-karting with the people formerly known as my co-workers.
I had a freaking blast doing that. It was a swirling miasma of sublime joy. A turgid symphony, ebullient with the swollen offerings of turbine and gas.
And the helmets looked really funny on everyone.
It was sort of halfway between videogame and real life. The speeds were such that we couldn’t really hurt ourselves, so we could get in some pretty nasty pile-ups and walk away unscathed. But obviously it was really happening, so ya know, that makes it less like a videogame.
For one reason or another, I can’t share a lot of what I’ve been doing this week. But trust me, it’s been amusing.
It’s hard popping back over here, though, after going through some very difficult and conclusive goodbyes. I know some people would kind of have preferred that I just stay gone, and I can understand that. I don’t really know what to say or do about it, but I understand and on some level I feel the same way.
A couple months ago I got in a cab here in Brisbane with a driver who had a very thick German accent. It wasn’t a Colonel Klink accent – it was more like Albert Einstein. But he was somewhere in his 60’s, and when you do the math on that, it becomes intriguing.
I asked him where he was from, and he confirmed it was Germany.
I asked him where i
n Germany, and he said Dresden.
Half my audience already knows this story. Less than half of the remaining half know about Dresden. So for their benefit:
Starting on February 13th, 1945, Dresden was the site of the most destructive bombing raid in history. It’s impossible to count the casualties, but even the most conservative estimates put the death toll well above the bombings of Hiroshima or Nagasaki. The reason they couldn’t count the casualties is because so many bombs were dropped, creating a fire so great that something called a firestorm occurred. A firestorm is when all the separate fires in a region create so much heat in the sky that the flames are drawn upward. Cold air rushes in from the sides and sucks everything, including people, into the singular tower of flame growing in the center. The heat was so powerful in Dresdan that the entire city was literally incinerated. It was the kind of thing God did in the Old Testament when he was really, really mad.
So when the guy told me he was from Dresden, I had to ask, “were you there?”
“Ya, ya,” he said. “I survived the bombing of Dresden.”
I asked him as politely as I could if he would mind talking about how he survived. He said his father took him into a building and they ran up to the fifth floor to wait it out. I don’t know what the theory was behind doing that, but it turned out to either be incredibly clever or a miracle of miracles, as most of the people who went into underground bunkers suffocated under the flames.
Incidentally, my favorite writer, Kurt Vonnegut, was in one of those underground bunkers and he survived to write a book about it. The book is called Slaughterhouse Five (It’s good. Go read it.). So that’s how I knew all about Dresden.
I should also mention that Dresden was not an important military target. Most of the people killed were civilians, and it is considered by many to have been a shameful act, motivated primarily by revenge.
We talked for a while longer. I mostly just listened and occasionally asked questions. Finally I thanked him, paid for the ride, got out of the car, and walked across the street. Before he drove off, he called me back over to tell me something.
He knew I was American, and he wanted me to know that he didn’t feel any anger toward the American soldiers who dropped all those bombs on him. He said it was war and everyone does bad things – certainly the Germans did plenty of them. It was a tough thing to know how to react to, so I just thanked him again.
Fast forward to two nights ago. I get in a cab and I hear that same German accent. 10,000 cabbies in Brisbane and there he was. His name is Hans, and he remembered me well. The first thing he said to me was, “Boy, how about this shit going on now?”
So we talked about this new war for a while. It was great getting the perspective of someone who’s seen the bad stuff that happens in wars from both sides. I won’t share his thoughts, cause I’m trying to tone down the rhetoric and I’ve already gone over my quota for today. Suffice it to say, he wasn’t too fond of recent US foreign policy decisions.
I talked to my dad last night for the first time in ages and was telling him about diving through the wrecks in Chuuk. He asked if Chuuk was anywhere near Truk, and I explained they are one in the same.
Here’s something I knew about my grandfather: After the attack on Pearl Harbor, he joined the army as an officer stationed in Hawaii.
Here’s something I didn’t know about my grandfather: He spent two years working out of a volcano on Honolulu called Diamond Head, helping to plan a land invasion of Truk – one of the largest and most threatening bases in the Japanese military. It was the base where the Japanese WOULD have launched their full-on invasion of Hawaii, if they’d ever actually tried.
The invasion of Truk never happened. Once the US learned how great the cost in lives was for taking a Japanese-held island, and once they discovered how short the Japanese were on fuel resources, they decided it wasn’t necessary. Instead, they could just bomb the crap out of it by air and move on. And that’s what they did. Now it’s the greatest wreck diving site in the world, and I was there, unknowingly carrying out a very belated invasion.
The irony has come into focus now of that moment in the Japanese cave with the gun pointed out at sea and those three Chuukese hoodlums staring at me. That was it: the great siege, 60 years in the making. And I was too worried about getting mugged to take a picture.
But nevermind that. I shouldn’t have taken a picture. I should’ve planted a flag.
That’s enough war stuff. I’m going away to Fraser Island for the weekend with a bunch of friends. It’s the largest sand island in the world, so I’m sure I’ll have plenty to say about it.
Oh yeah, and I went to Australia Zoo today with Eric. That’s the park owned by television personality and ADHD archetype, Steve Irwin – a.k.a. Crocodile Hunter. The park was very nice, and I’m glad I finally went to it. I saw a bunch of World’s Mosts:
World’s longest snake – Reticulated Python
Grows up to 34 feet.
World’s most venomous snake – Inland Taipan
Could kill 100,000 mice with the venom from one bite…if you had 100,000 mice, a lot of time on your hands, and a world class mean streak.
World’s most awesome name for a snake – Northern Death Adder