The Power of Words

November 17, 2013

Mr. Floto was walking down the main street of his town (which must not be named) when a man held up a sign that said “Smash”.  Mr. Floto lost his breath and fell down but then got up, somewhat dazed.  Further along, someone else showed him the word “Omelet” on a piece of cardboard, whereupon Mr. Floto felt ill.  After that, he passed a little boy wearing a shirt with the word “Sticklebacks” on it, and he felt so enthusiastic that he jumped on the hood of a car that was stopped at a red light and then rolled off, laughing.  Then a severe-looking female graduate student held up a textbook with the word “Gastropods” on the cover, and Mr. Floto became so enraged that he smashed his fist into a newspaper vending box, resulting in a cut to his hand.  Finally, he passed the word “Sphenodon” spray-painted on the side of a building, and he ran in terror toward the police station.  But before he got there, he saw a store sign that said “Carpets”, and he immediately became calm again.

Did I say “finally”?  Sorry, my mistake.  Mr. Floto’s misadventure was not over.  A bus went by with an advert with the word “Fido”, which caused him to remember the child he had tied up in the basement for some reason which he could not remember.  He returned to find the child dead.  (Fortunately, the child had no relations, so he was never missed.)

Mr. Floto lamented the impossibility of living in a normal way in such a dangerous and uncontrolled world.  Damn all those words! he thought.  So he locked himself in his house, vowing never again to read another word.  He has not been seen since.

Copyright@ 2013 by Crad Kilodney.  E-mail: crad166@yahoo.com

Reminder: my French book, Villes Bigrement Exotiques, is still in print.  Published by Le Dilettante (Paris). 

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    Professor Lawrence Jost of the University of Cincinnati’s Department of Philosophy was walking along W. 9th St. near Elm St. when he saw a young lady walking an invisible dog.  Or so it appeared.  In fact, it was a novelty purchased at a novelty store — a stiff leash with a stiff collar attached, giving the suggestion of an invisible dog.  But Professor Jost did not know this because it was the first time that he had ever ventured off campus.  Convinced that he had lost his mind and was of no further use in academia, he ran home, distraught, swallowed a bottle of pills, and died.

    Soon thereafter, the university held a memorial for him and praised him for his contributions to philosophy.

    Copyright@ 2013 by Crad Kilodney.  E-mail: crad166@yahoo.com

    George and his landlord, Mr. Krashinsky, sat at a table in McDonald’s in Paducah, Kentucky.  They were having a coffee.  Krashinsky was talking about fungi, one of his favorite subjects.

    “There are those that are edible and those that aren’t.  The ones that are…”

    George was looking over Krashinsky’s shoulder at the Chinese student sitting at the next table.  The student had stopped eating and seemed to be staring into space.

    “…Which are found in France and which are very expensive, of course…” said Krashinsky.

    And as George watched, the Chinese student slumped down slowly in his chair and seemed to shrink.  His head slowly sank below the table.

    “…Some mushroom pickers make mistakes and pick something poisonous, and then, of course, what can happen is…”

    And the Chinese student sank to the floor and dissolved into a puddle, which evaporated very quickly, leaving only a pile of clothes and a faint stain on the floor.

    “…So you must consult a guidebook to be on the safe side.  One time when I was out picking…” continued Krashinsky.

    A McDonald’s employee cleaned off the table where the Chinese student had been sitting, swept up the clothing from under the table, straightened the chair, and moved on.

    George looked around.  No one had noticed anything.

    “…Isn’t that something?” said Krashinsky.  “Eh?  What do you think?”

    George felt his cup.  “My coffee’s cold.  Can we just leave now?”

    “Sure, sure, if you wish,” said Krashinsky.

    And they got up and walked out.

Copyright@ 2013 by Crad Kilodney.  E-mail: crad166@yahoo.com

    How could we do a world tour of exotic cities and neglect Mongolia?  Impossible!  My many Mongoloid readers would never forgive me.  Mongolia is far too fascinating.  And I have uranium investments there.

    But we’re not going to Ulan Bator.  It’s too crowded with tourists this time of year.  Instead, we’re going to Choibalsan, the capital of Dornod province, in the eastern end of the country.  It’s less well-known but still has a tourist trade.  And the weather is nice right now — just a tad on the cool side, with one sunny day after another.

    So I’m on this cute, little Saab 340 of Eznis Airways, coming from Ulan Bator.  Across the aisle is a lady from New Zealand — Cherie Howie, a reporter for the Marlborough Express.  She looks unhappy.  What’s the problem?  Well, it seems that some nasty person nominated her for New Zealand Media Twit of the Year.  Her co-workers tried to reassure her that it was only a nomination; she hadn’t actually won yet.  But her editor was not amused.  He said she had to redeem herself.  So he put a big world map on the wall, closed his eyes, and threw a dart at it.  And wherever the dart hit, she had to go there and get a story.  The dart hit Choibalsan, Mongolia.

    “It’s not so bad,” I told her.  “The dart could have hit the middle of the ocean.  At least it hit a place with people.  And I’m told that Choibalsan is very interesting.  You’re sure to find a good story.”

    When you get to the airport, there’s a minibus waiting to take you to the Swissotel Choibalsan (comfy, unpretentious, moderately-priced), whose General Manager is Bart Westerhout.  “This is the best posting I’ve ever had,” says Bart.  “I could have gone to Paris or Geneva, but I jumped at Choibalsan.  The climate is invigorating, the people are upbeat, and the food is superb.”  Bart has a vast knowledge of Mongolia and the Choibalsan region, and I learned some surprising things.  “Genghis Khan hated this place.  It’s the only place in Mongolia he couldn’t stand to be in.  He felt there was something evil about it.  And he may have been right.  There is a legend that an evil spirit, which is referred to as ‘The Evil One,’ comes to Choibalsan every thirty-three years.  Two-thousand-and-ten will be the thirty-third year.  That ought to pack in the tourists!”  What happened in 1977?  “That was before my time.  But local people say there was an outbreak of mass hysteria in the Buddhist monastery.  The monks claimed The Evil One had appeared.  They resorted to two days of non-stop chanting to drive it away.  Several people and some animals disappeared.  The government investigated and dismissed the whole thing as superstition and capitalist propaganda.  Today, the older people still believe in The Evil One, but the young people don’t.”  And does this Evil One have a name?  “It has a name,” says Bart, “but you must never speak it aloud, or you will die.  Before you leave, I’ll write it down on paper for you.”  Wow!  Now there’s a story for Cherie Howie!

    Another surprising thing I learned was that, despite the early Mongols’ reputation as horsemen, modern Mongolians are afraid of horses!  “They won’t even get on a pony,” says Bart.  But outside of town there’s a zebra ranch!  The government brought them to Mongolia as an experiment to see if they could adapt to the climate and also as a possible food animal.  The zebras adapted, but no one wanted to eat them.  So they serve only as a tourist attraction.  You can ride them if they’re properly tranquilized.  Another good story for Cherie Howie!

    Choibalsan has an east side and a west side.  The west side became seriously depopulated and fell into ruin when the Russians left, and the east side is where the action is.  But…something really big is brewing on the depressed west side: a hockey arena is being built!  And this story hasn’t hit the media in North America yet, but Bart is in the know, and he gave me the straight dope:  Jim Balsillie, who is trying to buy the Phoenix Coyotes and move them to Hamilton, Ontario, is secretly creating a Mongolian Hockey League!  For what it would cost him to buy the Coyotes, he could build a half dozen rinks, sign a lot of young players from the minor leagues, and create a complete league.  “The Mongolians will love it,” says Bart.  “It’s a novelty.  It’s a sport.  He’s made some good connections in the government.  It’s going to happen.”  There’s another  good story for Cherie Howie!

    Or so I thought.  I met the reporter for lunch at the Verena Restaurant and told her about The Evil One, the zebras, and the hockey league.  “No, no, no,” she said.  “The readers of  the Express don’t believe in superstition, they have no interest in zebras, and we don’t play hockey in New Zealand.”  Okay, well, I tried to be helpful.

    The Verena specializes in the local delicacy — sheep brains.  Head Chef Elshad Abasov is a master of it.  He gave me his recipe for Sheep Brain a la Choibalsan:

    Remove outside skin and soak brain in cold water until blood has run out.   Then put brain in pot with two quarts of water, four ounces of red wine vinegar, two onions (quartered), one carrot, one half head of red cabbage, two stalks of rhubarb, six okra, one tablespoon salt, one half teaspoon black pepper, one half teaspoon sage, one teaspoon chopped ginger, one half teaspoon chili powder, one tablespoon juniper berries, one sprig of dill, one sprig of rosemary, and two bay leaves.  Bring to a boil and simmer for one-half hour.  Remove brain, cut in half, and serve on bed of orzo and  cottage cheese.  Pour rest of the pot over the brain.  Heston Blumenthal has added this dish to the new menu at the Little Chef restaurant chain (U.K.) with great success.  (And you thought Brits had no taste, didn’t you?)  Cherie Howie went to the ladies’ room to throw up, but I suspect it was a trick to stick me with the bill.

    Not far from the Verena is the Choibalsan Music Hall.  The Mongolian heavy metal rock band Hurd was in town, so I went.  I have no idea what their songs are about, but they were loud, and they threw pieces of raw meat at the audience.  Hurd will becoming to Canada in April of 2010 for a tour of the Atlantic provinces, and Rita MacNeil will be opening for them.

    The Dornod Midget Ballet Company, based in Choibalsan, puts on a distinctly Mongolian version of Swan Lake.  You can see them at the Choibalsan Little Theatre, located on the bank of the Kherlen River, next to the mental hospital.

    There’s good shopping in Choibalsan, especially if you’re into guns, leather, and liquor.  The biggest surprise, however, is fashion.  The tremendously popular avant garde designer Helmut Lang has opened a big boutique and is setting the fashion world abuzz with what he calls the “Mongolian Psycho” look.  His proteges, Michael and Nicole Colovos, have been managing the label since 2005, but Lang has returned to manage the Choibalsan outlet personally because of his Mongolian roots.

    Lots of little shops sell quaint novelties, including busts of Elvis and Genghis Khan, but most of these stores are run by Chinese, oddly enough. 

    You can rent a Jeep and go visit the Organ Pipe Cactus Wilderness, a unique mini-ecosystem an hour’s drive north of town (bad dirt road, so drive slowly).  Here you will find the Mongolian leatherneck turtle in abundance.  Visitors can rent guns and shoot them.  The shells of the leatherneck turtle are fashioned by local artisans to make party hats and protective athletic gear.  (Where’s Cherie Howie?  This is a story!)

    At Bart Westerhout’s suggestion, I went five miles west of town to view the Moukalaba-Doudou Industrial Park, where all plants and animals have been exterminated to allow for coal mining, oil and gas drilling, and the manufacturing of toxic chemicals.  The multi-colored plumes of smoke are breathtaking at sunset, and any birds flying through them fall dead to the ground.

    Beside the park runs the Waka Canal, which carries untreated sewage from Choibalsan.  New grooms are invited to test their fortitude by diving into the canal to retrieve money scattered by their friends as part of a traditional Mongolian marriage custom.  It’s a scene straight out of The Magic Christian.

    Elsewhere, the Mongolian Institute of Aluminum Siding offers the visitor a stunning display of artistic and industrial metalworks.  Tuesdays are “pay what you like.”

    The steppes of Mongolia are mostly devoid of trees, but a rare exception is the forest of okoume trees south of Choibalsan.  The wood is used to make furniture for movie stars in Beverly Hills, and the fruit is used to make weight-loss products advertised in The National Enquirer. 

    Earthquakes happen occasionally in this part of Mongolia.  When the earth splits open, giant prehistoric bugs emerge to devour people and livestock.  But such events do not cloud the spirits of the normally optimistic Mongolians, who are used to adversity.  Indeed, Choibalsan’s official motto is “Gii chii pizda,” which means “The future has to be better.”

    Back at the Swissotel, I asked Bart Westerhout if Choibalsan had a sister city, and he said no.  We agreed it should have one.  So he invited the city’s Mayor, Shukhratjon Aikoraev (“Call me Shooky”) to come over for a drink.  Shooky doesn’t have any real governing authority.  He’s sort of a figurehead, who spends most of his time in a smoke-filled gambling den, but this was the sort of thing he could do within his limited power.  Sister city?  Great idea!  And I knew just the place — Bismarck, North Dakota.  Same climate, same geography, same spirit.  Mayor John Warford (“The fighting orthodontist of North Dakota”) was thrilled with the idea.  Bismarck didn’t have a real sister city (we won’t count Mandan), and with the mayoral election coming up in 2010, what a gift it would be to the community!  John Warford deserves to be reelected, and I urge all Bismarckers to vote for him.

    Cherie Howie happened to meet us in the bar, and I had a ton of story ideas for her: the rock band Hurd, the midget ballet, the Helmut Lang boutique, Organ Pipe Cactus Wilderness, the industrial park, grooms diving into sewage for money, the Institute of Aluminum Siding, the okoume tree forest, the earthquakes, giant bugs, and, best of all, Choibalsan’s new sister city!  But it was no, no, no, no, no.  Not for the readers of the Marlborough Express.  “Then what the heck are you going to write about?” I asked.

    “Cats,” she said.

    “Cats?”

    “Yes.  House cats.  How people here love their cats.  Our readers love cat stories.”

    Now that’s journalism!

    Before I left Choibalsan, Bart Westerhout slipped a folded piece of paper into my hand.  “You wanted to know the name of The Evil One — the name that must never be spoken aloud.  Promise me…you won’t even look at it until you’re on the plane back to UB.”  So I promised.

    Climbing into the cool autumn air, with the exotic city of Choibalsan fading from view, and Cherie Howie with her laptop out, putting the finishing touches on her cat article, I nervously unfolded the paper that Bart Westerhout had given to me and read the name of The Evil One.  And please…don’t ever say this name aloud:

    GORGULAX.

    Recommended vaccinations: Dyggve Melchior Clausen Syndrome, sacrococcygeal teratoma, Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease.

    Copyright@ 2009 by Crad Kilodney, Toronto, Canada.  E-mail: crad166@yahoo.com

    Imagine yourself standing at the mouth of a great river, looking out at the sea.  Through the mist you can see two islands, Imaklik and Inaklik.  On a nearby pebble spit, native Yukaghirs cook walrus meat beside their yarangas, their baydars stacked neatly against a giant sequoia.  The wind blows the mosquitoes out to sea, leaving the eland and moose free to nibble the wild beets and scallions unmolested.  The sound of the crwth can be heard, along with a maiden singing in a strange language.  Floats made of inflated seal stomachs drift in the river, while overhead a flock of cassowaries fly toward their nesting grounds in the Arakamchechen Peninsula.  The sea, the sky, and the land are pure, clean, and peaceful.  Guess where you are….No, not Moncton, New Brunswick!  You’re in Cotabato City, Philippines!

    Book your trip on Philippine Airlines and pay with your American Express Card, and your recommended vaccinations will be free.  Depart from Vancouver, Los Angeles, San Francisco, or Las Vegas, and fly to Manila, then change planes to Awang Airport, which serves Cotabato City.  Look for the pink luxury bus that says “Raffles Cotabato.”  That’s your hotel.

    Nicholas Emery, the General Manager, runs the poshest inn in the city.  Expect to pay about $275 a night (or if you go during the typhoon season, there’s a 50% discount).  The Raffles touch is unmistakable: Lost Continent seagrass carpet, faux-penguin-skin headboards, petticoat-shaped chandeliers with multicolored lasers, vibrating bamboo bimbo rocker, digitized stereo spider monkey screeching from within the walls and ceiling, Spanish Inquisition brocade wall hangings, giant cactus pedestal, spacecraft-style transformer shelves with wheelchair assist, voice-activated hand-shaped entertainment pods, sandstone bathroom with jungle canopy, objets d’art imported from South Moluccas, Baroque combination desk/bar/coffee table/drug station, robot mini-fridge and rare earth ceramic stove ensemble, oversize walk-in closet with Victorian gynecology sex chair, replica Corinthian spitoon, Lunar Receiving Lab environmental control system with Rocketdyne bug zapper, and Siberian-style gulag party bed, flanked by avant garde waterfall from the House of Szemetlada (Oroszlany, Hungary).  Nick Emery is the author of the children’s book Tomaso, the Unhappy Potato Beetle, and he is the godfather of Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen.

    My host for this visit was Butch Bustamonte, who is the head of the John Ashley Fan Club.  John Ashley, star of Frankenstein’s Daughter and other B movies, is idolized in Cotabato City since he produced several movies in this part of the Philippines, including Beast of Blood, Twilight People, and Mad Doctor of Blood Island.  There’s a monument to the handsome actor in the city’s park, and Butch took me to see it.  It’s a fine life-size statue depicting John Ashley as he appeared in High School Caesar (probably his best film), surrounded by a well-manicured bed of crocuses and Venus flytraps.  The monument is cared for by Cotabato City’s civic organization, the Spitola Dumbasa.  The “SD,” as it is referred to, also runs a cake-decorating school for ex-convicts and sponsors the annual Philippines National Spitting Championships, in which boys compete in various spitting skills.

    “John loved the caves.  They’re the main attraction of the city,” said Butch.  He was referring to the Kutawato Caves, a long underground network right under the city.  No other city in the world has such a feature.  Don’t bring the kids on this outing, because the caves are 7 km long.  It’s pretty spooky down there, even with the lighting.  I thought of a good tag line for promoting the caves: Feel the Evil.  Butch laughed and said it was a good one and he’d suggest it to the City Council.  I noticed there were numerous passages that were roped off, and Butch explained that those areas were unsafe.  However, there had always been rumors — call it an urban myth,  if you like — that those roped-off passages led to the underground caves of an ancient race called the Deroes, who may still be alive.  Mysterious disappearances of people and animals have been attributed to the Deroes, including Amelia Earhart and Gordon Brown’s pet hamster.  Butch said John Ashley always believed that the caves led to something the government didn’t want people to know about.  The caves also have a lot of bats.  Khloe Kardashian and Lamar Odom visited the caves, because Khloe, like her sisters, is fascinated by cave bats.  Odom hated every minute of the tour, according to Butch, and couldn’t wait to get out.

    After the cave tour, Butch took me to eat at a fancy restaurant called Putanginamo, which specializes in zebra mussels, a delicacy for which Cotabato City is famous.  Head Chef Cornelio Cuevas-Pena is the originator of Zebra Mussels Cotabato, and here’s the recipe:

    For the Sauce Cotabato, put four ounces of butter and three spoonfuls of flour in a saucepan and heat until smooth.  Add one cup of eel broth, bring to a boil, and mix in three egg yolks and a can of evaporated milk.  Add a half teaspoon of cayenne pepper, one chopped clove of garlic, and the pulp of three or four moonseed fruits.  Reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes.  For the zebra mussels, wash first to remove grit, then put in casserole with four ounces of white wine and one cup of water.  Bring to a boil, add six chopped shallots, and boil until mussels are open.  Remove the mussels to another vessel and strain the broth.  Serve on the half shell with the Sauce Cotabato and a side of french fries.

    The South Seas Mall, which opened in 2005, draws a lot of tourists, although it is plain and unremarkable by Western standards.  You may prefer the funkier old shopping district downtown, with its odd boutiques.  Kulangot T-Shirts, owned by Ramiro Villagrana, specializes in “mistake” t-shirts with unrecognizable faces and misspelled slogans.  They will custom-print anything you want on a t-shirt.  Pokpok, owned by Marin Agudelo, sells local handicrafts such as eelskin wallets and handbags, burqas for Muslim women, and a wide assortment of personal care products that failed safety tests in other countries.  And Braulio’s Sex Shop, owned by Braulio Soto-Loera, specializes in Filipino porn, which is heavy on exploitation and violence (and you don’t even mind that the Filipina women are flat-chested).

    The biggest surprise of my trip was walking into a dimly-lit second-hand bookstore and finding a worn copy of my 1980 classic, Lightning Struck My Dick.  I bought it as a gift for Nick Emery for $2, since he has a weird sense of humor.  You can try looking for this book (and my other ones) at www.abebooks.com, which serves the collector’s market, but don’t blame me for the high prices.

    The theatre district had two hit plays running while I was there — Cebu Boo-Boo, a musical comedy about life in a Filipino prison, and Shoes, a musical about Imelda Marcos. 

    One item you won’t find in any tourist guide, however, is the Washday Problems Center (note the American spelling), which is a CIA front located in a nondescript building above some stores.  I promised the Agency not to reveal the location.  If you should happen to find your way in, you will see people in white smocks doing laundry.  They’re testing laundry products, ha, ha.  The man in charge is named Mike, and he says he’s from Syracuse.  No, I won’t tell you what these people are really doing.

    Cotabato City is steeped in religious tradition.  Filipinos have always been extreme in their religious devotion, and there is no better example than the Good Friday “Procession of Flagellation,” in which devout Christians drag heavy crosses and whip themselves with flails until their backs are bloody.  The procession begins on Ecorse Road at the St. Rodan Church (named after the patron saint of virgins seeking husbands in the U.S., which rules out all Russian and East European women), then goes along Washtenaw Avenue, then along Packard Road, Geddes Road, and Textile Road, arriving finally at Jollibee, where everyone has milk shakes and burgers.  Street vendors will try to sell you souvenir whips, but they are poorly-made Chinese crap that falls apart after one or two uses (big surprise), not like the authentic Western-style horsewhips I use on that Socialist bitch Olivia Chow, who likes severe ass whipping.  (Hazel McCallion used to be into that but now says she’s too old.)

    I should mention that nutrias roam freely in Cotabato City, and tourists are always alarmed because they mistake them for giant rats.  These big rodents are quite friendly and gentle, and it’s okay to let your kids play with them.

    There are a lot of Muslims in Cotabato City, but they’re just as benign as the nutrias, so don’t worry.

    Speaking of Muslims, Cotabato City now has a “sister city” with a Muslim Mayor — Luton, England.  Mayor Muhammad Riaz has come a long way since the days when he stuck windshields on Vauxhalls at the local auto factory.  Now he’s the Mayor of “Britain’s best town” (according to a survey).  He’s eager to network with the prominent Muslims in Cotabato City and find out about such things as e-mail security, banking laws, and the police.  “We can help each other,” he says.  And he doesn’t mind admitting that he’s ambitious.  “So I’m a pushy Paki.  What of it?  Today Luton, tomorrow the world…..Don’t print that.”  England was once such a great country.  You can read about it in books.

    Somewhere in the U.S. there is a Dr. Jeffrey Brown, who was a dead ringer for John Ashley when he was a young man.  Every time I see a picture of Ashley, I think I’m looking at Jeffrey.  If you think you know him, ask him if he went to Syosset High School and if he remembers his next-door neighbor.

    Recommended vaccinations: dracunculosis, cholinergic urticaria, Yunis Varon Syndrome.

    Copyright@ 2009 by Crad Kilodney, Toronto, Canada.  E-mail: crad166@yahoo.com

    Do you mind if I take you to the driest desert in the world?  Don’t worry.  I won’t let you die (unless you’re an anti-capitalist protester).  I’m one of the world’s experts on desert survival.  Just read my article “How To Survive In The Sahara Desert” at www.pointsincase.com.   

    But we’re not going to the Sahara.  We’re going to a secret place — hidden, remote, mysterious — a place where time stands still, as if in a dream.  It has been compared (inaccurately) with Michael Jackson’s Neverland.  Exotic animals roam freely, and men lost in deep thought step in their shit.  It is situated on the fabled Coast of Pirates, near the northern tip of Chile.  It is the “Miracle of the Atacama” — the exotic city of Pisagua, Chile.

    No one knows how old this city really is, for it is built on ancient Inca ruins that have never been accurately dated.  The descendants of the Incas lived here in the Golden Age of Pirates.  They traded with all the legendary pirates, including Blackbeard, Calico Jack, Henry Morgan, Captain Kidd, and Bill Mazeroski.  The inhabitants of Pisagua traded borax, which they mined in the desert.  The pirates used it for their laundry.  In return, the pirates traded colored beads of little value, because the local people were not good in business.  This may offer a clue as to why the Inca empire collapsed.

    All along the coast north and south of Pisagua, the pirates are reputed to have buried caches of treasure.  They have never been found.  But adventurers still try their luck, walking the beaches with their metal detectors.  Rogues have sold numerous maps over the years purporting to show the location of treasure, but all have been denounced as fakes.  Does this mean there is no treasure?  No.  The coast is still largely unexplored.

    Fly to Arica, Chile, and leave that crowd of tourists behind and take the bus south to Pisagua — a place usually bypassed.  There is one good hotel — the Waldorf Astoria Pisagua, which is moderately priced.  Its General Manager is Dirk De Cuyper, to whom the Atacama Desert is like heaven.  “For years I worked in Shanghai,” he says, “but I got sick and tired of being surrounded by slitty-eyed Chinese bastards.  You’re from Toronto, so you know exactly what I mean.  My soul longed for the desert — but not one with any Muslim bastards either.  The Atacama beckoned to me in my dreams.  I don’t know why, but I just had to come here.  It’s the driest desert in the world, you know.  Dead bodies that are left exposed don’t decompose.  They just dry up like mummies.  The landscape on the other side of the highway is as bleak as the moon.  What hotel manager wouldn’t love a place like this?”  Enough said.  Rent me a suite long-term!

    The Waldorf Astoria Pisagua used to be a prison.  When Pinochet overthrew Allende, he banished thousands of Commie bastards to the north of Chile, and most of them died there.  The prison at Pisagua was eventually closed, and Waldorf Astoria bought it and turned it into a hotel.  (Big secret: Waldorf Astoria is going to buy Alcatraz and turn it into a luxury resort!  You heard it here first!)  Renovating it would be a challenge, so the company gave the job to the famous Mexican designer Carlos Raul Gil Barragan, whose TV show, Prison Makeover, is distributed internationally on satellite by Televisa Networks.  The basic boxy layout was left as is, but the interior spaces are cleverly broken up with mirrors, partitions, and windows, along with avant-garde furniture and unusual wall paint.  So the eye fails to see the right angles and sort of slides over things instead.  It’s a bit like the stealth profiles of modern warships, which scatter radar and are almost invisible.  I’m going to buy one and get close to a Greenpeace ship and blast it out of the water.

    The hotel is known for its excellent spa, which makes use of natural deposits of borax, iodine, and nitrates.  These minerals dissolved in the hot water rejuvenate the skin and cure arthritis.  They also cure eating disorders.  Kelly Ripa, Victoria Beckham, and Tori Spelling have all been to the spa and have benefited from it.

    The Waldorf Astoria Pisagua also has quite a good restaurant.  Dirk De Cuyper gives all the credit to his Head Chef, Roberto Aguayo Briseno.  “He just showed up out of the blue and said he wanted to cook.  I didn’t know anything about him, but I decided to give him a chance.  He’s brilliant.  He could be working in Paris or Rome or London, but I’ve got him here in Pisagua, Chile.”  Chef Roberto’s specialty is llama stew.  Here’s the recipe:

    Remove head from llama and send it to PETA, along with a note telling them to shove it up their ass.  Clean carcass and carve out large rump portion.  Also save blood and liver.  Cut rump into two-inch pieces and put in large pot and cover with equal parts of water and white wine.  Add sliced carrots, coarsely-chopped onions, a bouquet garni with plenty of thyme in it, a tablespoon of salt, and two tablespoons of peppercorns.  Let stand for 48 hours, then drain and remove meat to a platter.  In a large frying pan place one-half pound butter and a half cup of flour, and stir over medium heat.  Add pieces of llama and simmer for ten minutes; then add the juice from the original pot and a glass of water or bouillon, bring to a boil, cover, and simmer slowly.  Separately, parboil and fry in olive oil two cups of pearl onions, and a half-pound of salt pork in half-inch squares.  After 1 1/2 hours of simmering the meat, add the onions, pork, and a cup of  mushrooms, and continue simmering for another 1/2 hour.  Chop the liver fine, mix with the blood, and stir into the stew just before removing from the stove.  Don’t let the liver boil.  Season to taste and serve with a sprinkle of chopped parsley.

    Of course, llama is probably not available where you live, so you’ll just have to come down to Pisagua to enjoy this dish.

    Llamas roam freely in this part of Chile, and they’re seen all the time by the writers and artists in the “colony” outside of town.  This is what I was referring to in the introduction when I mentioned men lost in thought stepping in animal shit.  These artists and writers rent little cabins for next to nothing, and they have a quiet place to be creative.  There are about two dozen cabins scattered in the desert between the town and the Pan American Highway.

    But according to Dirk De Cuyper, the current lot of writers and artists is rather suspicious.  “These guys don’t look or act like writers and artists.  When they come into town, they don’t want to talk to anyone.  What are they writing?  What are they painting?  They’re evasive.  They could be wanted criminals, for all I know.”

    I got curious, so I went over to the Elbow Room, the town’s main drinking place, to try to meet some of these people.  The bartender pointed out two of them for me.  “That one’s a poet, and the other one’s a painter,” he said, indicating two scruffy, sullen-looking guys with hats pulled down over their faces.  So I went over to them, I said I was a Canadian writer, and I asked to see some of their work.  One fellow gave me a suspicious look, then reached into his shirt pocket and pulled out a piece of paper that was soiled and yellow with age.  It was a photocopy of a poem:

    Dialogue of Deaf Persons

–Are you an American?

–No, I am another.

–Are you a tourist?

–No, I am two ones,

  for I’m not alone but with me.

–What o’clock is it?

–It is seven o’clock ben.

–Yes, it’s seven o’clock at my sock. 

    I knew the poem was a plagiarism, and I knew who the poet was.  “Very interesting,” I said.  “What have you got?” I asked the other one.

    The “artist” gave me a twisted grin and pulled a much-traveled paper out of his pocket.  “I’m still working on it,” he said, his rotten teeth showing.  It was obviously a tracing of an illustration from a magazine ad for a mail order art school.

    “That’s very good,” I said politely.

    “Thank you,” he said.

    Later, I took a long walk out to the area of the colony and discovered a bank of mailboxes by the road where these people picked up their mail.  I wrote down some names for the benefit of the morbidly curious: Gabriel Tapia-Lemus, Ramiro Hernandez Lucatero, Alberto Molina Infante, Martin Moreno Oseguera,Galindo Nunez Melgoza, and Ismael Rios-Gallardo.  Those are certainly great names for artists and writers.  Maybe my suspicions and Dirk De Cuyper’s are all wrong.

    I spent a lot of time at the Elbow Room, which is mainly a fishermen’s hangout.  The fishermen go out for tuna, skate, pollock, and herring.  Sea lions can also be seen from the window of the tavern, cavorting in the surf, but they are protected by law.  The fishermen drink a local liquor called cara de cona.  I asked what it was made from, and they laughed and said, “You don’t need to know.  Just drink it.”  This is the sort of place where you’re apt to get beaten up for ordering a banana daiquiri.  (Just ask Adam Lambert.  He’ll never come back.)

    Because Pisagua is not yet well known to tourists, visitors can enjoy a relatively uncrowded beach.  A few boats will take tourists out for a day of fishing.  Otherwise, there are no special attractions.  Main drawback: no hot babes anywhere in sight.  This beach needs help. 

    The only day tour you can go on is a bus ride out to the salt flats, where you can watch flocks of flamingos and puffins next to each other.  This is the only place in the world where these species are found together.  On the way back, you will stop at an abandoned borax mine, where hundreds of dead bodies of prisoners are stacked on pallets.  They’re absolutely dry.  Now, that is the sort of tourist attraction you’re not going to find anywhere else!

    The night sky is brilliant with stars (northern Chile has the best viewing conditions in the world), and the local astronomy club likes to set up their telescopes and let tourists have a look (remember to give the boys a tip).  It was here in Pisagua, in fact, that Comet Pelotudo 2005 was first identified.  This comet is now believed to be correlated to the appearance of the 17-year locust, a discovery which, if confirmed, would be “of immense importance to mankind,” according to David Suzuki’s housekeeper.  The comet is also unique for its violet color and approximately rectangular orbit.

    You know by now that I try to find “sister cities” for my Exotic Cities.  In searching for a sister city for Pisagua, I looked for a place in or near a desert, and one that I felt deserved the same sort of tourist boost as Pisagua.  And I found it: Halls Creek, Western Australia, on the northern edge of the Great Sandy Desert.  I was unable to reach Council President Jim Craig of the Shire of Halls Creek, but I was able to reach Warren Olsen, the CEO of the Council.  “I’m the guy who gets things done around here!” he shouted over the phone.  “The Members of Council are a bunch of useless, do-nothing slackers!  I’m the one who keeps Halls Creek from sinking straight down to the earth’s core!”  Olsen never heard of Pisagua, but the deal was done in less than five minutes.  “That’s how I do things!  Just do it!  Bang!  If you were dealing with the Councillors, it would never get done!  So you tell those Pisagua people, if they need something done here in Halls Creek, talk to me!  And another thing.  Who do you think got the toilets fixed around here?  I did!  And who gets the payroll done?  I do!  And who sends out the tax bills?  I do!…”  I love this guy.  He has a hostile, authoritarian personality, just like me.  Give guys like us some real power, and then step out of the way!  Nuke the homeless!

    Before I left Pisagua, Dirk De Cuyper told me about the town’s biggest mystery — a series of little signs that suddenly appeared by the side of the road about fifteen years ago, long before he came to Pisagua.  “They apparently were put up overnight, but nobody knows who did it or why, and the locals have never understood them.  You’ll see them on your way out, on the right side of the road, just before you get to the Pan American.  They’re spaced about a hundred feet apart.  They’re easy to miss if you’re not paying attention, and the lettering has gotten bleached by the sun and is pretty faint.  But you can still read them.”  De Cuyper refused to tell me any more, but from his smile I inferred that he fathomed this mystery that the locals couldn’t.  So, on my departure by bus, I made sure to get a window seat on the right side.  And, sure enough, I saw the signs:

    When morning sun…

    Shines on your head…

    Forget your job…

    Go back to bed…

    Burma Shave.

    Recommended vaccinations: parvovirus, nemaline myopathy, Eales Disease.

    Copyright@ 2009 by Crad Kilodney, Toronto, Canada.  E-mail: crad166@yahoo.com

    He may be big and tough, but The Undertaker, one of the World Wrestling Federation’s most popular stars, has a tender heart.  And right now it’s hurting really bad.  And why?  Because his bunny, Oscar, has died.

    “He was my best friend,” says The Undertaker, who was willing to talk to me on the phone.  (Like all famous wrestlers, The Undertaker never gives out personal contact information because he values his privacy.  It was only through great effort that I was able to get a phone number where I could leave him a message.  He spoke to me from somewhere in Texas.)

    “He was cute.  He was wonderful.  He was my faithful companion,” The Undertaker goes on.  “He would eat out of my hand.  I gave him nice treats, like raisins and dried apricot and pineapple.  And he had a nice, warm box to sleep in.”

    I made the mistake of referring to Oscar as a rabbit.  The Undertaker set me straight on that right away.  “He was a bunny, not a rabbit.  A rabbit is an animal that people eat.  But a bunny is, well…a companion…a buddy.  He enjoyed sitting on my lap.  He had the softest fur you can imagine.  I liked to stroke his ears.  He just naturally cheered me up.”  Did he do tricks? I ask.   “Naw, Oscar didn’t do any tricks.  But he was curious.  He would sniff around everywhere.  Sometimes he’d disappear some place and I had to look for him.”  The Undertaker explains that Oscar was strictly kept indoors because there were too many hazards outside.  And there were no other pets in the household. 

    I asked how Oscar passed away.  “He apparently just died in his sleep.  He wasn’t sick or anything, as far as I could tell.  I just woke up one morning and found him dead.  He was six years old, so he was getting on.  I guess it was just an old-age death from natural causes….I cried when I found him.  I buried him in the yard.  It was dignified.”  I can hear the emotion in The Undertaker’s voice when he talks about it.

    Will there be another bunny to replace Oscar?  “Maybe, maybe not,” says The Undertaker.  “Oscar just sort of happened.  That’s the way it is in life.  If another bunny should happen into my life, swell.  If not, okay.  Life goes on.”

    The Undertaker admits that he has kept his grief hidden from his friends and fans for months because he didn’t think they’d understand his deep feelings about Oscar.  But now he wants to let the pain out.  Lots of people have lost their beloved pets, he explains.  It’s a common human experience.

    Did Oscar’s death have any particular meaning for him?  “Oscar’s death sort of put things in perspective,” says The Undertaker.  “No matter how much we reach for glory, it’s the simple things that really matter.  And in the end we all have to face up to our mortality.  We have to learn to be humble.”

    I’m sure The Undertaker’s many fans will be touched by his poignant words, and their hearts go out in sympathy over his loss.

    Now you know what a soft heart beats within one of wrestling’s most awesome bodies.  And that’s just one more reason why he’s our hero.  He’s The Undertaker.

    Copyright@ 2009 by Crad Kilodney, Toronto, Canada.  E-mail: crad166@yahoo.com