Provo poet lives to make people laugh

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For more than 20 years, reporters around the world have been receiving poems from a Provo man who reads their work and has something to say.

“It’s an obsession for me,” Tim Torkildson said. “Whenever I read something interesting I just have to respond to it in verse.”

Sometimes sent electronically, other times in the mail, poems range in length but are always witty and always rhyme.

He subscribes to at least seven papers — ranging from The New York Times to his hometown paper the Minneapolis Star Tribune — and responds to anything that “tickles” or “outrages” him.

The first poem he remembers sending was back in 1993, a serious poem about the Waco, Texas siege.

Since then the 61-year-old has written thousands.

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During an average week, he’ll write and send five poems to various reporters and news outlets. About 90 percent of the time he doesn’t hear back, but the few times he does is what keeps him going.

In January, Rachel Abrams from The New York Times wrote about the curiosity and persistence that eventually led her to interview Torkildson and publish three poems he sent her.

More recently, Torkildson said he received feedback from a reporter in Europe who called him a “genius” and told him she would “treasure” what he had done with her stories.

To hear feedback like that from a professional writer is gratifying, Torkildson said, especially as a college dropout. He likes the friendships it forms, and hopes someday his hobby could lead to a full-time poetry-writing career.

“I miss doing something that makes people happy,” he said.

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For a good chunk of his life, Torkildson worked as a clown for the Ringling Brothers. His poetry writing started years ago when he was a young father traveling with the circus. Since his kids were home in Provo, he’d write them poems as a way to stay in touch and let them know he was thinking of them.

After arthritis forced him to leave circus life, Torkildson spent 15 years teaching English in Thailand before finding his way back to Utah Valley.

In July 2014, Torkildson received some press from multiple national news outlets after being let go from his part-time job in Provo for supposedly promoting a “gay agenda” through teaching about homophones.

In between jobs, he’s searching for something that makes him and others happy.

“I’m not made to cause people unhappiness,” he said. “If I’m not entertaining people I’m not happy.”

(From an article by Keri Lunt Stevens in the Provo Daily Herald, Wednesday, March 4. 2015)

A Thai Love Story. Sort of.

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Those years in Thailand come back to me now like a pleasant form of indigestion.  Each mental belch retains the flavor of durian, the odor of fish sauce, and the release of a gaseous form of pleasure mixed with disbelief that I was ever actually there – working, eating, and loving.

I met Joom at the Bedrock Inn, a semi-respectable restaurant/bar/hotel on the beach in Ban Phe.  I was eating Penang curry; she was looking for her dog Nipoo.  Something about her face struck me as accessible as well as challenging.

I invited her to sit with me and let me buy her something to eat.  She gave me a wolfish grin and accepted – after she found her dog.   I offered to go with her on the search.

“Sit and eat, mister.  Nipoo will not come to me with a stranger nearby” she replied laughingly.

She left and I thought “Well, I’ll never see her again”.

But she came back fifteen minutes later, with Nipoo in tow.  Nipoo sniffed my ankles disapprovingly, then circled under the table several times before lying down with a resigned snort.

Joom had green papaya salad and sticky rice.  She told the server, a slatternly maiden who complained of being so hung over that her eyes had changed color and would not focus, to grind ten ‘mouse droppings’ peppers into the mixture.  This was excessive, even for a heat-loving Thai.

I raised my eyebrows at her order.  She gave me another wolfish grin – her teeth an aggressive white against her brown face.

She accepted my doubting look as a challenge, and when the green papaya salad came she took each bite, mixed with a ball of sticky rice, slowly and deliberately.

When her face broke out into a torrid sweat, the drops coursing down her forehead and spreading out on her broad nose, I asked her with a smirk if she would like something to drink.

“Leo beer” she croaked.  I ordered her a large bottle.

She finished her plate, and her beer, in silence, looking at me with mischievous delight while I looked back at her with frank admiration.

We became a couple at that first serendipitous meeting.

She was an easy woman to love.

About my age, with the lithe figure common to Thai women and about ten inches shorter than me, she was fiercely independent and tenderly possessive at the same time.

She drove a truck, but didn’t tell me she owned one until a month after we started going together.  Up until then she let me walk her around and deigned to let me pay for taxis.

“Why the dickens didn’t you tell me you had a truck?” I crossly asked her when she finally offered to take us down to Pattaya Beach in it.

“I didn’t know if I would keep you” she replied saucily.  “Now I know; we’ll ride together for a long time.”

I was not interested in casual sexual adventures, so once she revealed her truck and her thoughts to me I began to press her to marry me.

Most Thai women of a certain age have got at least one ‘marriage’ behind them.  I use quotation marks because until very recently a young Thai girl in her home village was considered as a commodity to be casually sold to the first young man who wanted her.  The marriage ceremony, such as it was, was performed casually by the local Buddhist monks, and it usually lasted no more than a year before the young girl, now an experienced and disillusioned young woman, would leave her husband to strike out on her own – in business, at college . . . or as a prostitute.

After 2 such ‘marriages’ and ‘divorces’, with 2 grown children already successfully married and out on their own, Joom wanted an enormous bride price before we got married.

She was going to use it to build her mother a grand house, a regular McMansion, up in Loey by the Laotian border.  It would give her and her mother great face, she told me.

I demurred.  I’d already been married once, she twice; there was no need for a thumping great dowry or any ostentation.  And so the bargaining between us began.

We haggled on the beach in Pattaya.

We traded propositions while eating fresh coconut ice cream out of coconut shells at Chatachuck Market in Bangkok.

We grew furious and costive with each other on the way to Trat while I got my work visa renewed.

In Krabi, sipping soda water infused with sweetened hibiscus syrup, we at last came to an agreement.

I would buy her mother the largest plasma screen television available, and I would take over the payments on Joom’s truck.

Once that was settled we began to gather the required documents for a civil marriage.  The red tape involved would have choked the most dedicated bureaucrat.

But then Joom decided she didn’t want to be married again; she wanted a looser relationship.  Couldn’t we just be friends and continue to hang out together and travel around Southeast Asia together?

I said sure, why not?

Then I came back, alone, to the States to renew my passport.

That was four years ago . . .

And I’m still alone.

 

Beach Camping in Thailand.

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Thailand offers many magnificent opportunities for the camper and the hiker.

To the north it is covered with lush and rolling hills, shrouded in mist and still the haunt of wild elephants and the bird of paradise.  Hikers can trek from village to village, always sure of a friendly welcome and an inexpensive guest house.

Northeastern Thailand, known as Isaan, is mostly flat and agricultural.  But there are some interesting hiking and camping sites along the Laotian border.  But please be aware that there is continuing tension between the two countries and you should always check ahead of time to see if a campsite or hiking trail is going to be in the line of fire.

Central Thailand is all about Bangkok.  The city is ringed with several exurbs that are filled with lakes and canals (known as klongs) where the fishing is always good.  You can rent fishing poles, a boat with a  guide, and a spot to pitch your tent if you’re staying overnight, for the equivalent of $25.00 per day.

But it’s Southern Thailand that bears the bell away when it comes to camping and hiking.

Hikingware.com wants to clue you in on how to camp on the beach in Southern Thailand.  This is an experience that cannot be duplicated in any other country, because there are over 1500 miles of public beaches in Southern Thailand, both on the Gulf of Thailand and on the Andaman Coast. Their beauty, isolation, and freedom are unbelievable!

  • Most public beaches are free, but some of the more touristy beaches will charge you a fee – usually around 10 to 20 baht (35 to 75 cents in American money). Avoid the overdeveloped islands, such as Koh Samet, where Thai nationals can get in for 20 baht but foreigners are charged 150 baht.
  • Public beaches vary as to how safe it is to go barefoot. The rule of thumb is that if you have paid an entry fee the beach will be kept swept and free of debris.  Otherwise, play it safe and wear sandals or swimming shoes.
  • Remember that while alcohol is allowed anywhere on the beach, other recreational drugs are strictly forbidden and can get you deported or, even worse, thrown into the local jail for a few days.
  • Bring your own trash bags. You’ll want to leave your campsite as clean as you found it – or maybe even cleaner.  Trash cans are nonexistent on most Thai beaches.
  • Do not leave your tent up during the day. This is because mahouts often bring their young elephants down to the beach during the day to interact with (and mulct) tourists.  Elephants become nervous around tents, especially on a windy day, and may want to stamp yours into the ground!
  • Be respectful of the local fishing folk. On most public beaches in Thailand there is an area that is unofficially cordoned off for fishermen to cast nets.  There probably won’t be any signs or fences, but you’ll see where the fishermen congregate and you should give them a wide berth so as not to disturb their livelihood.  On the other hand, if you offer to share a beer or Fanta with them you are likely to receive in return a large fish fresh from the ocean to cook over your campfire!
  • Toilet facilities will be very crude. There will a segregated cement block hut for showering which will undoubtedly feature a squatter toilet, not a Western style toilet that you can sit on.  Also, bring your own toilet paper.
  • Limit your stay to no more than 3 days at any one spot. While the beach is free to all, the local police may want to see your passport or simply ask you to leave if they perceive you are overstaying your welcome.
  • Don’t worry about the ghost crabs. These tiny, transparent creatures are everywhere on the beach.  They will not disturb you once you are inside your tent, since they do not like to crawl over fabric.
  • Be aware of riptides. They are marked by what looks like a barber pole sticking out of the water.

The President Travels to China. A Reverie.

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Politicians travel for a number of good reasons.

To duck a question or to watch the changing of the seasons.

The President is traveling to China, so I hear,

To take a bunch of Snapchats as a bona fide sightseer.

 

He will meet with Xi Jinping, a president who sneers

At other presidents whose power base is in arrears.

They may carry on with deep discussions, all Confucian,

But in Beijing they’ll produce but phlegm from the pollution.

 

I guess if I were president I’d travel overseas

To mend a couple fences and try out the local cheese.

But I would sidestep China and enjoy a little whet

in Thailand while I dallied with the gals on Koh Samet.

Joom. Sonnets of a Romantic Has-Been.

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#1

I said your name in anger, I said your name in love.

I said your name a thousand times; it fits me like a glove.

When dew slid down the bitter gourd I softly called in vain.

Your image comes, and vanishes, like sudden monsoon rain.

Have I the right to think you would return my longing call,

Or do you hold me in contempt while holding me in thrall?

Once you whispered in my ear, the words I’ve not forgot.

You called me your beloved; my heart to throat was brought.

I measure our affection in mere months, while the long years

Since I have heard your dulcet voice have crushed me like cold gears.

Perhaps I’ve said too much of deepest import writing here,

Since sonnets are a poet’s way of weeping at love’s bier.

But should you call my name again, in whispers or in screams,

I’d launch a thousand ships for you – if only in my dreams.

 

#4

Where did I truly meet you first, whose eyes are the color of tea;

Was it a restaurant, the beach, or some haunt of my own rank fantasy?

The color of life you carried with you, as if ‘twere a purse with a strap

That held all the hues and the prisms of love done up in a gaudy gift wrap.

Ripe yellow at dawn with the orchids ensconced; was it there I discovered your charm,

Or was it at sunset with rubies aflame that my heart first came to such harm?

The green of an afternoon nap in a swing, your arms round my neck, all a-swoon;

It is this I recall with the sharpness of white, like the spray from a deadly harpoon.

The surly black clouds overhead gave a roar when I asked you to share my poor life;

I felt the blue depths of your passion for me – you would be so much more than a wife!

Quotidian grey overcame my designs, like smog choking off a long race,

And I found myself exiled back home for a debt I had never been willing to face.

What color would now I dare use to describe the void where your presence held sway?

The spectrum contains nothing visible which explains my deep sorrow away.

siam

 

Joom #13. The Souvenir.

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I picked you up in a souvenir shop, as a tourist of love,

Thinking you were chintzy and as magic as a dove.

Then I saw the label:  Not Yet Made In Anyplace.

I felt the Thai craftsmanship carved into your face.

 

Like a statue of Buddha, you cannot be exported.

Like a plague on my heart, you ought to be reported.

I bought you but cannot keep you as the souvenir I wanted.

Instead all my hours by your absence are haunted.

 

Never will I shop for souvenirs again so brashly.

Never will I love again so beautiful and rashly.

Mere splinters are all that is left of the spell

That raised you to heaven and threw me in hell.

Joom #12. Love Sonnet.

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Joom #12.

 

You are a good meal undigested yet;

After many other meals, I still don’t forget.

I ate your hair and your eyes and your ears,

Dressed with love and with laughs and with tears.

 

On the boat to Koh Samet you cracked seeds

Between your strong white teeth; it met my needs.

To know your feral appetite made me thirsty on the beach.

I drank you in and gave you pearls beyond my reach.

 

I’m coming back, floating in on the tide;

With chili peppers I’ll keep you supplied.

We’ll sup with a runcible spoon, we two.

And eat oysters till our mouths turn to glue.

3 Sonnets to Joom.

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(Editor’s Note:  Long ago & far away the author of these sonnets loved a Thai woman.  Various circumstances separated them five years ago; he was forced to come back to America and she chose to stay in Thailand.  These poems are written in nostalgic agony to her memory.)

ONE.

I sit in church and listen to the sermons one by one.

My mind drifts back to shores of gold beneath the tropic sun.

Drying fish and sticky rice assail my nostrils while

I sing the songs of Zion with a melancholy smile.

The mem’ry of you plucking strands of gray from out your hair

Excites in me a spirit that in church I cannot share.

In keeping the Commandments, I’m in church where I belong.

In keeping fresh your visage am I under siren song?

The folding chairs in Sunday School are cold unyielding gray,

As unlike your caresses as the night is to the day.

The whiteboard with its bleak expanse reflects my sterile heart,

Since I left the fevered land of which you’re still a part.

O resurrect that loving time, to make her mine again,

Is the secret prayer I cherish saying the amen.

 

TWO.

As a child twas Cream of Wheat sustained my morning hours

In the chalky schoolroom or out trampling the flowers.

In stature grown, a family man, twas eggs upon my plate;

Served up cold or burnt or bare, by my receding mate.

Alone and drifting off the chart, I washed up at your feet.

Cunning and delicious, you prepared good things to eat.

Tiny shrimp in piquant sauce, tunneling through rice.

Iced Ovaltine and mangosteens – Thai woman, one more slice!

One more kiss and one more plunge into your gray-green eyes.

Rice porridge in the morning from your hands is paradise.

To feast upon your loving only fed my appetite –

I wanted more of you than was particularly right.

No crumbs are left now from those meals, just tepid indigestion.

My heart becomes dyspeptic as you fade into a question.

 

THREE.

One scented night, as on the beach we ran,

You said in a former life you were a man.

A soldier and father, thrusting your way

Through concubines till break of day.

Half believing, half scoffing, that you were right,

I asked if I should play the woman that night.

Your laugh was a bark, your kiss was a bite;

You squeezed me in arms that were way too tight.

This role reversal I now hated;

Could love survive being reincarnated?

I looked at the moon, the moon looked at me;

I waited in vain – no answer had she.

Love makes pagans of us all, so it seems;

We sacrifice our heart and worship our dreams.

 

History of a School that Failed.

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It all started when a friend who was moving back to the States offered me his wide screen TV.  He didn’t want to lug it back, so I was happy to take it off his hands.

I installed it in my spacious apartment just off Soi Asoke in Bangkok; my Thai landlord had given me a steep discount, in return for teaching him an hour’s worth of English each day.  Otherwise I would have never been able to afford it.

This was a tony Thai neighborhood, with marble mansions secluded behind wrought iron gates tortured into the shape of dragons, garudas and various other mythological and menacing beasts.  Jed Clampett might have sauntered out of any one of ‘em and drawled “Sawadi krab, y’all”.

English teaching gigs were drying up on me, so I hit on a plan to open my own English language school in my apartment.

But not just any language school.  No sirree bob!  I would show American movies on my wide screen and explain them scene by scene to curious and well-heeled Thais.

Since I was going after the carriage trade, so to speak, I advertised rates that were, to put it charitably, astronomical.  I hung some hand-made posters, in English, around the neighborhood, and sat back to await results.  If any.

It would, at least, make an interesting letter to the folks back home.

Imagine my surprise when half a dozen young Thais showed up at my door the first evening of class, checkbooks in hand, asking if there would be fried banana chips!

This is where I made my first mistake.  And my biggest.

I only charged them for the first class, figuring I would gouge the rest of it out of them after a few more classes had really whetted their appetites.

The first film I exhibited for my pupils was Gene Kelly’s Singing in the Rain.  They were more familiar with Bollywood than Hollywood, so it took several classes just to get them up to speed on what and where Hollywood is.

I’m happy to report they thoroughly enjoyed the whole shebang.  Curiously, the scene that intrigued them the most was Donald O’Connor’s “Make ‘Em Laugh!”  I had to rerun that one about a dozen times.

By the end of that screening I had a steady attendance of 11 students.  I began rubbing my hands and chuckling in miserly glee like Silas Marner.  But I held off on collecting any more fees.  Perhaps I could round things off to an even dozen!

Then on to John Wayne in Red River.

The Duke was never in better form, and I was hoping to inculcate my scholars with an understanding and appreciation of the American West.  But instead they became extremely indignant when they finally understood the plot line.  How dare the son, even though adopted, turn against his own father!  John Wayne had every right to kill him for disobedience, they told me; and they were highly dissatisfied with the ending where he gets off scot free.

Thai culture, in case you haven’t guessed, is heavily weighted in favor of parental authority.

My last opus was my favorite.  I ran Laurel & Hardy’s Sons of the Desert.

I did this to introduce them to the American conception of marriage.  Great comedians show more emotional truth than do great dramatists.

But my plans to guide an informed discussion on the marriage state were sidetracked by my student’s constant hilarity.  At one point in the film Stan begins eating a wax apple, under the impression it is the real McCoy. My Thai students could not get enough of that scene; I had to stop the video and rewind it to that moment again and again.

During a pause in one of those rewinds I reminded my pupils that the rest of their tuition was due immediately.  Begging me to show them Khun Pom (their name for Stan Laurel, which means in Thai Mr. Skinny) again, they promised en masse to hand the balance over at our next class.

So guess what . . .

You got it.  I never saw any of them again.

It’s not that they were trying to cheat me.  They just figured we were now fast friends and money no longer entered into the arrangement.  I invited them over for an evening of good movies out of the kindness of my heart, just as they would have done if they had thought of it first.

That is the brief history of my Hollywood English School.  If someone else wants to try it, go ahead.

My only advice is to collect everything in advance.  And don’t start serving the fried banana chips till you get every last baht!

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The advertisement for America First Credit Union has been removed, at their request.

 

 

Thai Doctors Develop Ebola Anti-Body.

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The World Health Organization is asking doctors at Mahidol University in Bangkok for permission to test an antibody to the deadly Ebola virus that the doctors announced they had developed last week.  Meanwhile, the government said it would make free antiretroviral therapy available to anyone living with HIV without regard to the level of their infection.

Two weeks ago, doctors at Mahidol University said they had developed an antibody that had succeeded in fighting off the Ebola virus in laboratory tests, and they would like to launch clinical trials on humans as soon as possible.  Such trials usually take years before being carried out in order to ensure safety for subjects, but the urgent nature of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa has doctors fast tracking testing of potential cures, and using experimental treatments in hopes they will be effective.

Ebola Hemorrhagic Fever (EHF) has claimed the lives of over 4,000 people in West Africa, and public health officials are concerned that the outbreak may spread rapidly beyond Africa.

Dr. Udom Kachintorn, dean of Mahidol University’s Faculty of Medicine, said he received communications from the World Health Organization’s (WHO) head of Ebola research, Dr. Martin Friede, asking for samples of the antibody so the organization could authenticate the achievement and hopefully use the treatment.  Mahidol University is home to one of Thailand’s premier medical schools.

The Thai-developed antibody has only been tested, however, on an artificially created copy of the Ebola virus.  Thai researchers were unable to use the actual Ebola virus because the Kingdom does not have what is known as a Level-4 Biosafety Laboratory, the most secure laboratories where the deadliest pathogens are stored and used.  Thailand has a Level 3 facility.  WHO would like the Thai antibody so it can test it on the actual virus.

“If it works, this method could shorten the clinical-trial procedure and be developed for EHF treatment in humans,” Dr. Udom said.  He added that he would like Thailand to improve its medical research facility and have a Level 4 lab.  Thailand’s public health system and medical research facilities are considered advanced for a developing country.

Also last week, the government announced it would make free antiretroviral medicines available to anyone infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, regardless of the level of their infection.  Previously, the drugs were only available for free to those whose infections had progressed to a certain point, documented through blood tests, which was in line with general medical opinion on how to treat those infected.

But opinions have changed, and now many in the medical community advocate more aggressive early antiretroviral treatment.  In line with that thinking, Thai public health officials will now make the drugs more readily available.  Global health officials have praised Thailand’s response to the HIV epidemic as a positive model for developing countries.