The Thin Man on Assignment

1DBD4BFF-E32B-4584-B058-469BDD270CC4The cry of a peacock, flies buzz in my head/ ceiling fan’s broken, there’s a heat in my bed/ street band playing “Nearer My God to Thee.”

Bob Dylan

Dateline Singapore, late fall during the 100 year anniversary of the end of the Great War

This little country, such an unlikely success story, such a strange winding of forces. The Thin Man has been on land for two weeks and his sea legs have mostly subsided. His stomach is still in limbo; years of gruel below the waves have seen to that.

Now there is nothing more that the Thin Man wanted after washing up here earlier in the season then a long weekend. Say, five years. Five years in the hammock, five years frolicing with the lovely ladies at the bar with the occasional flyer over in Macau. Five years out of the swim of modern capitalism, if you can even call it that. Five years clean. That was the dream. Twelve days in and the Thin Man was looking for work, the money gone in a haze of long days and longer nights. Wine, women, song, and a speedboat ride or two will add up quick. C’est La Vie partner. That’s what comes from burning holes up to heaven, in the words of the bard.

The Thin Man is a gamer, and is constitutionally unable to categorize situations as problems. No problemo senor, no worries mate. Instead, he has a few issues. The first being, he is barely employable. It turns out that a few decades on the ocean floor running the house game prepares him for casino work, underground games, and giving blood. That’s about it; he wants no part of card games and giving blood makes him nauseous. Also, he has a limited quantity. So, he asked around, kept his ear to the wind. A shipmate turned him onto a broker of services of sorts, the kind of individual who specializes in assisting upstanding institutions with their shining mission statements and their CSR campaigns navigate the grey areas of competition and market position. The broker, like all of his kind, couldn’t give a shit who he was pimping as long as he got his 8% commision. It was he that took the Thin Man’s data points and turned them into a resume which accentuated the high stakes, low reference point nature of his previous work. A bite came back within 36 hours. The broker knew his lane, apparently.

The man from Company X introduced himself as Alejandro, and Alejandro came bearing work. “What sort of work,” asked the Thin Man. Alejandro’s smile was thin as a razor. “The best kind, the kind where you get in and out.”

“I deal cards,” replied the Thin Man, “I’m not a safecracker.

Alejandro’s smile widened fractionally. “Of course not. We are a respectable company with a 400 year history. This work is simple. The company is in negotiations around a merger with Green Group Ltd. They are playing hardball and we need to know their real intentions.”

“Basically you want to know if they are bluffing?”

“Precisely. And who better than an operator such as yourself to find this out?”

“And what do I have to go on?”

“The Green Group will be having a party at the Swissotel downtown tomorrow night. There will be 200 guests. You will infiltrate the party and get the lowdown. That is what you British say yes, “the lowdown.”

The Thin Man was not British but it didn’t matter. “Yes, that’s right. OK, book me a room on the club floor. I’ll need a new suit, a haircut, and a cell phone. How’s $500 a day for expenses and $20,000 for the job?”

Alejandro eyed him carefully. “What about the broker?”

“That’s your end,” said the Thin Man. My end is $20,000.”

“Deal. Don’t fuck up.”

“I don’t intend to.” And with that the conversation was over. The Thin Man had acquitted himself well, but only by the grace of god. Several things were running through his mind;

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Some Things I’ve Learned by 44: A Poem

6AD91397-DC97-465E-808C-E0BD7853ACF3.jpeg

There’s a lot I don’t know

and a few things I might

life’s a hell of a show

a bit tough to get right

well, some folks they want you

and other folks don’t

some folks they will

and other folks won’t

you’ll get plenty of chances

you’ll blow the best part

you’ll twirl at some dances

you’ll get shot through the heart

some folks you can trust

up to a point, more or less

others? trust’s a bust

they’ll spilt the joint, leave a mess

try and tell the truth

you’ll take blow after blow

don’t tell the truth and

no one’ll save your soul

anything’s possible, in dreams

who’s better than you?

everyone, it seems

but it just isn’t true

they’re all full of bull

faking til’ they make it

so just push when they pull

baby stand when they sit

cause no one knows shit

and everything’s thin

I’ve been around a bit

a never was, a has-been

but that ain’t you baby

it ain’t me anymore

no one can save me

I’ve outlasted the war

so all you got is today

and maybe not that

that’s all I’ve got to say

take the meat, leave the fat.

FIN

Azerbaijan, 1990. Part I

14F05E5B-56BC-4624-AB18-F05B2E729E12So you think you can tell/ heaven from hell?

Pink Floyd

INTRODUCING MITCHELL GREY

March 7th, 1990. Mitchell Grey waits at a make-shift roadblock on the Iranian side of the Iranian/ Azerbaijani border at Astara. The Azerbaijani populace has been on a 40 day general strike since a desperate and cornered Gorbachev ordered a crackdown on the citizens of Baku. Nerves on the border are stretched thin, to say the least. Grey takes his time, keeps his head down. He turned 30 in November, a mid-Sagittarius, born adventurer. Not that he’d had much choice. Of course, Grey is no more his name than it is yours, unless that is your name happens to be Grey.

Four or five people, all men, are processed and it is Grey’s turn. He turns over his passport for inspection. The customs officer looks it over, gingerly as if it might be edged with arsenic. “What is your profession?” he asks, in perfectly good English. “Engineer,” replies Grey. He had settled on this option after much thought. Grey stands 5 foot 10, with clipped hair, three-day stubble, and work boots. He is operating on a $1500 advance paid three weeks ago in Milan by his handler whom he had met for 10 minutes. Precious little remains, and Grey is in no position, no mood to pretty himself up for the Astara crossing. He does not look like a businessman or financier, and is not about to take the risk of trying. Nor does he look like a writer, despite the capaciousness of that particular category. He looks like what he is, a hand for hire, a mercenary. Engineers are scientists, more or less, and he hoped that at least a patina of respect would be accorded his proffered status.

“Engineer of what? You are here to steal our oil, yes.” Not a question. The border guard gives Grey a look somewhere between a sneer and a smirk. A game player, thought Grey, a patriot perhaps, but a game player first. This is usable information. Grey takes a low deep breath and forced himself to relax. “A structural engineer. I specialize in basements and aqueducts,” he replies. Grey hoped that the word “aqueduct” would escape the guard and that he would tire of the game soon. However the young man was not such an easy mark.

“Basements,” said the guard, with heavy sarcastic emphasis. He turns to the man to his right, an older man, long past fed up with the conversation. “You have business in our country about basements?” It was time for Grey to fall back on the cover story. “I am not here on business. I am meeting an elderly couple in the countryside. They are passionate hunters, and we will be hunting your famous Caucasian snowcock. As well as of course quail and pheasant.”

“So you are on holiday,” askes the guard. “Holiday, now, after the brutal crackdown of the Russians, you are here to shoot birds on holiday.”

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Andrea in the Far East: Night One

Intense silence

As she walked in the room

Her black robes trailing

Sister of the moon

Stevie Nicks

Andrea got off the second leg of the flight to Seoul around 14:30 on Tuesday, military time. She had quasi-slept, faded somewhere into her subconscious, for an hour and a little. Andrea was not a heavy explorer of her subconscious, more like she knew it was there. On the flight, up there under an ocean of ozone, black window spiders jousted with a velvet gloved countess and bunches of green grapes for supremacy of the space. That was all fine, she was essentially sober, Mr. Brown had been rendered comatose by hour one, and as she rolled into customs she felt, if not exactly happy, at least ready. Ready for the industry conference and its banalities, ready for the Lotte Hotel downtown with its wall of kimchi options at breakfast, ready, even, for a puleun or two. Maybe. We’ll just have to see.

The conference “event” is set to kick off at 8 Wednesday morning, and Andrea had no intention of being on time. Events, by and large, are well planned and poorly designed. They are programmed to run and be completed, and the narrative arc conception is, well, bad. The Seoul event would be no different. “An event should be eventful,” someone once told here, and Andrea had held on to that guy like a tailsman. And, sometimes when the event lacks eventfulness, well, you gotta inject a little of that yourself. She giggled at the thought; the possibilities were many. She got game, our girl. Watch the f*** out boys.

Why don’t you ask him what’s going on?

Why don’t you ask him if he’s going away?

Why don’t you tell me what’s going on?

Lindsey Buckingham

Jump cut on account of a lazy writer. Sorry Andrea, you just lost several hours. That’s the breaks baby.

10:47 PM, Andrea is on the STREET. Can’t learn it in the office, gotta learn it on the STREET. Monsieur Puleun 1 is strolling with a feathered friend on the boulavard. Site of a protest from earlier in the day that Andrea missed. Another peanut tantrum? Korean scandels are unrivaled in their bizarre and byzantine nature. And, the assassin chick of the brother of the NK head dude wore an LOL shirt. So 2017. Check the video. Check the record/ check the guy’s track record. (Le) homo sapien sapiens, them’s bizarre. Puleun 1 sees Andrea; she sees him. Opportunity presents itself–Andrea, she needs a token, a takeaway, a reminder that she was here at all.  At the “event” site no doubt volunteers are cross-stressing before cross-dressing. Could not care less—that’s all paid for by the company. Event spaces are super permeable. So is the puleun. Andrea swings into action.

“My friend, do you know how to get to Sungnyemun?”

“Yes I do. Go with me?”

Andrea pondered. On the one hand, well, you know. Street guy? Seriously? And on the other, well, she is on vacation. A. B, she has her needs. Not what you are thinking brother. Andrea’s needs are a little more, well, esoteric. For lack of a better word.

“For a little while. Let’s walk.” Andrea slips her arm under his and feels him thrill to her touch. Hooking, hooking is easy. She’s a natural. It’s pretty clear.

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Andrea Flies to Seoul, South Korea

5C105D1B-5CAA-4FA7-B455-35E91B1ADB53She’s got the Eye of Fatima/ on the wall of her motel room.

Camper Van Beethoven

The plane eased into its docking point, 15 minutes late. Andrea wasn’t fretting; she’d been around a bit and knew that things sometimes worked. Other times, well they didn’t.

She was not on the run, not exactly anyway. Nonetheless, the 27 hour trip from Buenos Aries to Seoul via Atlanta would put half a world of distance between her and M. Azur. Welcome distance for Andrea, as the formerly desultory attentions of her blue friend had recently taken a turn for the more incessant. In short, he was calling her daily, one thin pretext after another. “Everything’s thin,” she mused, and M. Azur could thin paint. A classy guy who makes decisions and implements is what she needed, not some milquetoast beta-male in the medical tubing industry.  For Christ’s sake already. So Seoul beckoned, and the plane, the plane was late.

Andrea scratched her nose, adjusted her glasses. The turnaround crew would need 20, 25 minutes minimum to turn the plane over for the flight. A quick scan of her messages showed three new bleats from her would-be paramour. Pretext, text, contex—still a no. She could handle herself, could Andrea. “Many apologies, I have been so busy,” she texted. “Dinner meeting is not possible this week. Tubing sales are up—talk again.” M.Azur would be a blue mist in no time. Ground staff opened pre-boarding, and Andrea, zoned in section 4, made a lateral move into zone 3 to make sure her carry-on had the room it needed. “Who’s better than me?”

Andrea is settled into her seat, 14A, a window seat. Bottle of water, headphones and a sleeping mask. Structured correctly, a plane flight can be made to feel like an undersea journey. All it requires is a little imagination.

Andrea has all she needs to swim a little up there in the ether. Her phone is set to airplane mode and the seat next to her is vacant. Bonus, she tells herself. A non-descript business traveler has the aisle. He looks more like a brown than a blue. Won’t be an issue.

Andrea is a lady, a women really, somewhere in her later 20s. Probably, and we won’t ask. Attractive, but no waif, she enjoys fine dining and a glass or three of wine. When she drinks her cheeks get rosy red which accentuates her dimples. The gym is not the place to find a girl of her kind; the Mr. Blues of the world are advised to try the patissiere instead. Buy her a piece of pie. Cherry, lemon, coconut cream. Pumpkin, peach, pecan. Andrea might be a little picky with her guys; her pie game is more omnivorous. Without really trying, she has the attention of a half-dozen men within a thirty-year age range, all of whom she deflects with the grace of a fencer. Buenos Aries, Rome, Tampa, Algiers it doesn’t seem to matter where she goes there will be a guy or two. Boys on board and boys on deck. What’s the opposite of a chick magnet? Andrea might not be quite that, but she has options. A passing funny thought, so she dials up an early Bitch Magnet record on her phone.  That was Sooyoung Park’s first band, pre-Seam. Little Park, big city, Korean heritage. Going to Seoul, apropos. Bitch Magnet rocks.

What does Andrea do? It’s a question she can’t quite answer herself. Broadly speaking, she is in sales, a cog in the vast machinery of deal making between multi-nationals. In other words, she is around transactions, helps to facilitate them. An “industry conference” awaits in Seoul. The Korean word for blue is “puleun.” Will there be any puleuns at the industry event? almost surely. Andrea sighs at the smallness of it all. White wine please, make it a double.

The plane is well up over the Pacific by now and Andrea is tipsy at thirty-thousand feet. Where is she really from? It would take a month of pies to get that out of her.  A month of pies and a month of Sundays. So we shall say she is post-racial, like the women in Code 46.

“In a dystopian future, insurance fraud investigator William Gold (Tim Robbins) arrives in Shanghai to investigate a forgery ring for “papelles,” futuristic passports that record people’s identities and genetics. Gold falls for Maria Gonzalez (Samantha Morton), the woman in charge of the forgeries.”

Is “topian” the opposite of dystopian, she wonders. Three drinks and an hour of Bitch Magnet in and she’s feeling a little topian herself. Andrea would be fine in the world of Code 46. Hell, she’d probably thrive.

to be continued…

Works Cited/ Referenced:

Bitch Magnet.

Camper Van Beethoven, “Eye of Fatima.”

Code 46, dir. Michael Winterbottom.

The Hold Steady, “Spinners.”

Michael Knott, “Double”

The Thin Man Walks Into a Bar: A Wee Legend

Here comes a regular

Paul Westerberg

It’s predicted to rain on landing/ I predict we’ll have a drink

Paul Westerberg

Once upon a time in the lost city of Atlantis, a thin man rolled up looking a little the worse for wear. This was probably only to be expected; after all he had been sequestered on a submarine for a period of 22 years, or was it 27. After that long at sea, who can really tell?

It was approaching Halloween, and the proverbial Spooky Lady’s Sideshow was in full effect. The barmaids were called Eyes and Baby, their real names we presume. Or was she Baby Blue? In any case, the thin man and Eyes made eyes, in an innocent way, at least so the story is told.

Groggy as the thin man was, he had had a specialized role down then on the sub. You see, he was a bit of a mechanic, a card shark. Now, a card shark can work clean as well, and the thin man worked clean down there on the ocean floor. He saved his best moves for away games, just like Mike McD in that film Rounders. That’s an oldie but a goodie!

In one corner of the bar stood a pool table, where, of course, the nine ball is always on. The thin man could play a bit, although Eyes sized him up quick. A game was proposed, a game for two players.

But of course no game is really ever between two players alone. Baby Blue was watching—tough to tell her rooting interest. And the bar as a whole, the field so to speak, was tuning in to the frequencies of the game as the regulars made small talk and the travelers weak-tea passes at the local girls. Local girls are no push-over; sometimes folks get the wrong idea on that end. Certainly Eyes and Baby Blue could take care of themselves.

The game began; the thin man potted a few easy balls. Eyes surged back, she’d been around more than she looked. She was an expert at drinking what the punter was drinking. That’s a key part of the art of the barmaid, an underrated profession at the best of times.

The game was nine ball, what else? Eight ball is for rookies, a southerners game. The thin man hailed from the north and he knew a thing or two about sequencing. It goes with the territory of an undersea mechanic, after all.

The thin man was beginning to feel a bit ill–the combination of sea legs, Eyes’ Eyes, a cheeky Cognac or two, and the unfortunate wafts of burning tires from the docks (it all goes down on the docks, as is told). He carries on nonetheless, and takes a two ball lead when Eyes surges back, tying it up with only the 9 ball to go. It’s a touch and go situation. The skeletons muse over the action with as much interest as they can muster from beyond the great blue veil. The couple on the rail stops sniffing whatever they are sniffing, and ask the thin man to join them for a round. No time for that nonsense. Sea legs and beady cat eyes aside, the game is the game.

A couple of desultory shots bounce about as the players size each other up. Baby blue leans in; the skeletons whisper sweet somethings, even the bartender sneaks a peek. Everyone is getting paid, except the thin man. He is just there for the action.

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Notes on Day to Day Living

This is notes on breathing the second version. Well, the thing I’ve learned about breathing is, it is better to do it slow than fast unless there is a really darn good reason.

I’ve been using the apps Calm and Insight Timer to help me breath these days and I recommend you take a look at them. They have other great features like sleep help, chakra stuff, and yoga.

Also, The 12 Minute Athlete is a good app for exercising in small time frames. I haven’t mastered the art of the 12 minute workout myself, but I sure would like to get there.

Final pro-tip, sunlight helps provide us with Vitamin D, so I have heard. Sunlight. in moderation, is pretty sweet. It’s my jam.

The Respectable Man: A Poem

Here on thekyotokibbitzer we are continuing to post our older poetry. There aren’t many more, so this little thread will be finished pretty soon.
Today’s poem is called “The Respectable Man.” I wrote it when I was in my twenties and it shows. I guess it is sort of my version of a punk tune. Here it is for y’all:

The respectable man
reflects if he can
but the world won’t wait for reflectors
the respectable man
sits on the can
sits on the board of directors

The respectable man
hawks wares to the clan
who cannot tell shit from shinola
the respectable man
sees a water ban
and irrigates crops with a cola

The respectable man
works on his tan
en route to his room at the Hilton
the respectable man
is pimping a plan
with robust tax-giveaways built-in

The respectable man
spits on his hands
and scurries his way up the ladder
the respectable man
looks over the land
and respectfully empties his bladder

An Open Book: A Poem

Today on thekyotokibbitzer we are continuing with our excavation of the poetry on our first blog. As stated, we didn’t really know what we were doing when the blog kicked off, however one way or another some interested, and perhaps interesting, folks came around and contributed to the action. On of these was young Micheal Lyon, who I hear is still alive and kicking. Good on ya’ Mike.

A student in the English class of one John Innes, Mr. Lyon heard some stories in which I was included and these appear to have struck a chord. We wish to state, without equivocation, that all these stories are pure fiction. The purest.

Nonetheless, there is, as they say, perhaps “something of the spirit” in M. Lyon’s salvo and my subsequent response. In the interest of having our b-sides in print we are re-publishing the original piece in its entirety here. It’s an oldie, and a goodie.

Here’s the original:

Editor’s Note: For reasons passing understanding, one M. Lyon has decided that Mr. Thomas is a fit subject for a project in romanticization. To his great credit, he sent me a request for information in verse. I have posted his request and my response.
“M. Lyon‘s Project”
M. Lyon
Pt. I
I heard a legend of a man,
a man who was quite great.
He is the focal point of my master plan,
and the reason I’ve cleaned my academic slate.
I once heard he lived in a closet for a year;
only appearing at 4.
This mere fact made my purpose clear,
I must write fiction until I simply can write no more.
Pt.II
Yet there is a barrier in my path
simple lack of facts.
I need to know some info,
on a thing about your high school days.
I’ve abandoned my pattern,
and probably my meter,
but who gives a crap,
I’m just trying to get some facts.
Did you ever toss a man in a river?
perhaps on his birthday?
In freezing cold Washington,
on a Thursday? Tuesday? Maybe never?
Who’s to say?
All I know is this:
A story is brewing,
about a man who graduated in linen.
The story will forever go incomplete,
if I cannot muster some details.
About your senior year of high school.

Note: This is my response to Mr. Lyon’s project.

“An Open Book”
M.S. Thomas


Not really in the mood
but you’ll think me quite rude
if I don’t make a reply
around me on the plane
folks eat, are entertained
no one’s writing save I

So I’ll take a look back
to days at the dog track
where I ended up by mistake
thought we could beat the odds
just silly teenage sods
there was no money to make

I know not if J.I.
has spun a pack of lies
concerning my personhood
Yes, I wrote poems for girls
who told me they were pearls
ah–but they weren’t any good

About a cold river,
+ the rest of his quiver
of myths and exaggerations
Well…if someone was shoved
it was done out of love
or of congratulations

So to upstate New York
in a trenchcoat–what a dork
but the world took pity
the life there was fine
but naught was on the line
should have gone to the city

I did two things quite well,
needing something to sell
I wrote brilliant excuses
‘bout ridiculous capers,
couldn’t finish my papers
I claimed aces, held dueces

My second great skill
is one I hold still
I fell for crazy ladies
locals, Russians, and Turks
they all drove me beserk
with a boatload of maybes

Four years in the dorms
and countless reforms
led to little of note
I left sans a sob
a plan or a job
and without my trenchcoat

~~~~~~~~~~ ~~~~~~~~~~

Here was M. Lyon’s response to my response to his project.

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Half Hours on Earth: A Poem

Singapore, October 2018.

Over at @kyotokibbitzer on Periscope we like to “play the hits,” as any self-respecting radio station should. New content is, I promise, on the way soon, however in the meantime we are playing not so much the hits but rather the B-sides from my first blog Classical Sympathies. On Sympathies the longer pieces of linguistic anthropology got the most attention, followed probably by the pieces on the film My Dinner with Andre. There was some original poetry on the site as well, some of my own and some from talented contributors. It is, in my opinion, all worth looking back at.

Here is “Half Hours on Earth,” which I wrote in Auckland in 2009. There are a lot of mussels served in Auckland, incidentally.

The theme is pretty obvious; the poem is about an encounter, or, more precisely, an event, during which time, for me, compressed itself almost to a standstill. You have probably had this experience if you have been knocked of your bicycle by a car or something like that. When this happens over a half-hour, that’s a bit of a different guy.

Anyway, here is the poem, unchanged since it was written in 2009. I’ve always loved a good b-side. Hell, I even like the bad ones.

The quality of experience in half hours
is not uniform.
Some half hours are simply wasted
in others, something occurs
and leads into something else.
Other half hours pass quickly
they are maintenance,
but leave little residue.

Half hours on earth
what are they worth?
I don’t know.”

With the occasional half hour
something actually happens,
in the Raymond Carver sense,
something that matters.
The air is charged and thin,
butterflies roil one’s viscera
and something is on the line.

Half hours on earth
what are they worth?”

These electric half hours
even those isolated in time
are frightening, or better
giddily upsetting, and dangerous.
They sear themselves into the memory
more–they ripple the fabric of the cosmos.

Half hours on earth.”