Stranger in a Strange Land

Most if not all of the bars and clubs have been closed since Saturday night, I haven’t ventured out into the Jogja evening yet, but fasting and all that does not begin until tomorrow. The last two mornings I have been awoken irredeemably at 4 AM, which will happen every day that I remain in this house. But this afternoon returning from work I met the wall I cannot climb. Celebratory music which means nothing to me blasted from the speakers in the pics further down this page, into my home less than a hundred meters away. Quite literally, I could neither think nor focus for the noise. My driver walked a water cooler, a gallon jug, a mirror, and a rack to hold glasses (minus the glasses) into my house and set them up. I pointed out the leaking faucet, the toilet that floods the bathroom floor constantly (not so bad as it’s from the cistern and it’s a bathroom where the shower floods everything anyway), and he promised to have someone do something about it tomorrow. He left, confirming an 8 o’clock pick up in the AM. I put the glass rack in the back yard.

I closed the porch, carport, and backyard doors I had opened to let out the day’s heat, but that of course did nothing to diminish the ‘music’, because in the absence of a/c except for the bedroom, every wall of the house has windows covered only by screens. I went into the cool bedroom and stripped off the day’s 19-times sweated- through clothes, for a pair of light long Hawaii-patterned shorts. I turned on some music of my own. That helped. I reopened the doors. I cracked a beer. That helped. I sat in my “living room” chair and finished up some work. The mosque music switched to a prayer call. I turned up the rock’n’roll. That helped more. The mosque music died. It was about 5 o’clock. I turned my music down, took my beer, phone, and Pelacanos’s SHOEDOG out on to the front porch with me. The woman in the pic below was just passing my porch, heading her heavy load. Does she live on my street? “Moondance” came on. I read about Constantine remembering his youth as he revisits Northwest DC near Military, drunk and stoned, and can’t remember the names of his childhood baseball-team friends, as a slow parade of neighbors walked up my street away from the mosque. When a trio of under-10 fully covered girls walked by, I mentally re-registered my Hawaiian shorts, beer on the arm of the chair, and pleasant but quiet rock music. I looked up. Their heads were turned in my direction as they strolled by. Before they had passed, one of them looked over her shoulder back down the street, took her friends’ hands, and ran away up the street with them. I went back inside, turned the music down still further, put on my last remaining relatively clean short-sleeved shirt – a traditional, ceremonial, lined silk Batik number. I leave it unbuttoned, and grab another beer.

The prayer call erupts again. I turn up the music. Mustang Sally. Palm trees and sailboats on my shorts. Beer can to my right, chest and stomach exposed under the burgundy and gold Batik. A breeze wafts through, but I’m still perspiring a little as the light begins to fade. A group of boys walk by, staring. The mosque-call stops. I turn my music down, and take my laptop out to the porch. Ten minutes later, darkness coming, a man in a loose long white shirt, sarong, and skull cap walks in the other direction, carrying a prayer rug. He’s heading for the next-door mosque that called him and wakes me against my needs every morning. He does not look at me, but he must have heard my music. Soon after, a parade of similarly attired males follows him to the mosque. No women. I continue to write. After fifteen minutes, the same men head back up the road past my porch. Most look at me, now well-lit by porchlight against the complete darkness: beer, skin, Stevie Wonder’s “Signed, Sealed, Delivered” audible but not obtrusive, flashy clothes, computer.

In the last fifteen minutes, only one kid on a bike distracts me from this story. One porch other than mine is lit, but all the homes within sight are dark. It’s me. I feel obtrusive. Nearly every aspect of the culture in which I’m living has confronted me in the last two hours, and I feel I should not live here in this community. As much as that community, through no deliberateness of it’s own, makes my life largely intolerable, my only escape from it here (music, beer, shorts, shirtlessness) disturbs the community at it’s most sacred time of year.

And yet, through it all, I remember the names of nearly everyone on my childhood soccer team at Greenhill in Dallas, Texas: Matt Manna, Keith Money, Jeff Summers, Dan Burton, Keith Goodnight, Mike Weinberg, James and Michael Masters (the Brits), even Michael La Rue… Simon’s “Mother and Child Reunion” just kicked on. Time to wrap this up.

As I’ve been uploading, the music segueed into Tiny Dancer, and the mosque replied. Now families are heading down the street in the dark. Time to turn the music up and say goodnight. “Caroline, Why?” and “Get Up Stand Up”


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