Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Brother Kim

Cover art

I just got an email from brother Kim in Thailand, some cryptic form of attack about always doing the same things and then complaining about the world always being the same. Got me thinking about what he could be talking about. I remembered reading last week Santayana on how epigrams always could be confirmed and denied by experience, depending on what aspect of life you looked at. Doing the same thing is persistence, determination, confidence, and it is also stupidity, failure to learn your lesson. All depends on whether you have reason to expect success or not.

The same thing brother Kim was complaining about was something like, as he might put it, "making a nuisance of myself by being myself."

The day I arrived in Tel Aviv, I talked at a cafe to a high school teacher of film-making. He was saying how in Israeli politics there were only sides, people who had habits of being military and defensive, and people who preferred to act in spirit of hope. All was constant contention, and in any case, who was happy with the world, he asks, or in his personal life, for that matter? What could be expected from politics when we make such a mess of our personal lives? I've been happy, I answer, sometimes, for a while at least, when I had left everything behind to look for it. Then you're a lucky man, he says.

Out there in Thailand: three half brothers, not seen for 17 years, the oldest now approaching 40, eager that I visit when I suggest coming from Los Angeles on the way to Tel Aviv. He's got a young wife, like me, and an 11 month old baby boy. He's now staying by the beach, doing his internet business a few hours a day from home.

The doing the same thing all the time soon asserts itself, at least on his side: we find ourselves every day sitting outside in the garden, looking past the immense swimming pool and screen of trees towards the other side than I am used to seeing of the Pacific Ocean, drinking beer. This much to the anger of his mother and his young wife and his brother, who works with his mother in a real estate office. (The third brother is in a Buddhist monastery.) The 35 floor condominium resort we're at is deserted because owned almost entirely by real estate speculators, among them his mother who owns the apartment where I am sleeping on the couch.

I have returned to the status "corrupter of youth" I haven't held since last visited family, though in this case the youth is not very young.

Brother Kim and I in fact are pretty much brothers, have taken up effortlessly where we left off 17 years before, and what's more now having in common pretty and young and misery-making wives, in addition to a penchant for getting along in life looking for happiness and finding it sometimes. I had just left my wife behind in Los Angeles, and liked telling everyone about it.

Brother Kim decides that I should establish myself on twitter, sets up an account for me under the name rextyranny, and I set off writing epigrams, a few every day. Sit in the shade at the bottom of the empty tower, at the wrought iron table, drinking beer, reading on the internet Santayana's Life of Reason while brother Kim does his few hours emailing and account keeping. The baby is mysteriously coughing at night, wife is outraged by his drinking, by my presence, by his mother's making a house-keeper of her, but all is well down here in the soft warm sun.

The cadre of dozens of housekeepers and gardeners have taken to inviting their families to the grounds, no one around to protest or no one caring, and their simple enjoyment of each other overlays the maniacal greed that has put up this construction and pays to maintain it. On the subject of this madness, I ask brother Kim whether I was witnessing a curious Thai custom of anthropological interest, the way his wife and mother do not bother to say hello or good-by entering or leaving a room, to each other, to brother Kim, to me.... Is it contempt? The usual custom? Turns out it's both: among a certain class of Thais, contempt has this customary expression when you have earned the status of not being worth greeting.

That's what I thought. This was part of my always doing the same thing, being around people who have contempt for me. Brother Kim says, though, this was why he wanted me to come: I was someone on his side, basically happy, satisfied with being able to enjoy life sometimes. But this draws down hatred....

Brother Kim is half drunk all day. Family doesn't like it. Mother has taken to staying away from home. Wife glares. I have to get my ticket to Tel Aviv. Trouble ahead. But still we're down in the shade of the tower built to greed looking across the garden to the Ocean, children of the building's attendants playing on the grass, drinking coffee now in peace....

The accusing email follows me to Tel Aviv, an apologetic email minutes later explains it was a bottle of red wine talking.

I'd sent an email to my wife, saying or singing, "We'll meet again in a more beautiful place," and was honored by an answering "Yes", but since then silence.

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