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Listen to Paul’s interview.

“All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players… One man in his time plays many parts, his acts being seven ages. At first the infant, mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms.  And then the whining school-boy… the lover,  sighing… a soldier, full of strange oaths… the justice, in fair round belly… The sixth age shifts into… the pantaloon, with spectacles on nose and pouch on side… Last scene of all, that ends this strange eventful history, is second childishness and mere oblivion: sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.” 

— Shakespeare


Although I’m calling this website “a personal memoir in flux,” it is also my hope that the various sections will be of interest to people, whether they know me or not. “Out on a Lim” shares short observations on day-to-day life. “Limerances” chronicles longer remembrances of things past. “Limoscenes” presents descriptions of the plays I’ve written to date, with production photos. “Images in Limbo” shows pictures of the aging process, of me with family and friends. “Limpets” are the non-human dogs in my life, and “Limitations” are tributes to people who are no longer with us. So here I am, past imperfect, present progressive, future tense. Let me know what you think. — Paul

27 June 2010: “Not tonight, Josephine!”

If men with erectile dysfunction can reach for Viagra and/or Cialis to make sure they’re “ready when the moment is right,”  it’s only fair that women with libido difficulties should have a remedy of their own.  According to an article in The New York Times, relief is just around the corner.  Right now, the F.D.A. is vetting a drug called flibanserin.  It’s supposed to increase female sexual desire, but it could also cause dizziness and nausea.  Thus, coitus could be messy.  Girl Sees Boy, Girl Gets Boy, Girl Vomits on Boy.  Boy Runs To Loo To Take A Shower.  Girl Loses Boy.   Maybe that’s what happened to Napoleon long before he met his Waterloo.  “Not tonight, Josephine!”

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25 June 2010: Wake Up, Little Sushi!

Scientists at Ocean Alliance, a research and conservation group, recently released a report which shows that “sperm whales feeding even in the most remote reaches of Earth’s oceans have built up stunningly high levels of toxic and heavy metals  like cadmium, aluminum, chromium, lead, silver, mercury and titanium.”  Industry dumps these things into the oceans, the fish are contaminated, the whales eat the fish, and we’re eating the same things the whales are eating, perhaps eating the whales as well while we’re at it.  Ahhh, what waiters in fancy restaurants don’t tell us when we’re ordering “the catch of the day,” or when we’re being poisoned slowly at our favorite sushi bar.  Tell your kids there’s no point trying to find Nemo or the little mermaid. They’re dead.  And we will be, too, if we don’t wake up to what goes on in “the water planet.”  BP isn’t the only culprit here.

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23 June 2010: The Place For Criminals

I’m hooked on MSNBC, which bills itself as The Place For Politics.”  But why is it that, whenever HARDBALL with Chris Matthews, COUNTDOWN with Keith Olbermann or THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW aren’t on the air after 10 PM at night, or on weekends, the programming inadvertently turns to something called LOCKUP, a prison documentary about hardened criminals?  Is this a portent of things to come in politics?  Is it just a matter of time before LOCKUP starts featuring senators and congressmen who ought to be in jail for defending oil companies because they get Big Payments from them?  Or for sexually  practising in private what they condemn sanctimoniously in public?  Or maybe just for sheer insufferable incivility towards the rightfully elected President and Commander-in-Chief of these United States?

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My Father’s Silence

I wrote a play in 1988 about my mother.  Although my father is talked about a great deal in Mother Tongue, he never actually appears in the play because I always thought he deserves a play of his own and that, one day, I would give him his due.  I still want to, but every time I think about him now, all I hear is his silence.

In December of 1969, seventeen months after I left the Philippines for the United States, my father died.  I wrote about those first seventeen months away from home in a short story called “Flight.” The story was published in 1970 and has been included in a number of anthologies, but I must admit that I haven’t read it, not since I wrote it, until just moments ago.

Here are bits and pieces from “Flight.”  It begins with my family seeing me off at the Manila International Airport.

I kissed my mother goodbye and told her to stop crying….Then I turned to my father.  There were so many things which I had wanted to tell him, but the words wouldn’t come.  They never do, when you most need them.  And then they sound false.  Luckily, my father understood….He grabbed my hand and shook it vigorously.  The strength of his grip surprised me.  I realized with a start that I had never shaken his hand before!  I withdrew my hand quickly, but he grabbed it again.  And this time he pressed his calendar-watch and amethyst ring into the palm of my hand.  The actual physical contact was brief, but his touching me like that brought back a load of childhood memories, many of them unpleasant as well as embarrassing.

Again I did not know what to say.  I could not imagine my father without his old calendar-watch and amethyst ring.  He had worn both for as long as I could remember and now he was giving them to me!

The calendar-watch had hands which glowed in the dark, so you could tell the time all the time.  It made no difference whether you were in your bedroom at 12:00 midnight or inside a darkened movie house at 12:00 noon—you could still tell the exact time because of those big luminous hands.  As for the ring, it seemed almost too large and ostentatious for anyone’s hand except my father’s.  The enormous purple birthstone was flanked on both sides by tiny white diamonds, and the whole ring sparkled with life every time light fell on it.

I fastened my father’s old calendar-watch on my right wrist and slipped his ring onto the ring finger of my left hand.  I wanted to embrace him, to tell him that I loved him, but I checked both impulses as I disappeared into the departing lounge that hot and humid day at the Manila International Airport. I vaguely heard my father’s voice ringing after me.  “Don’t forget to reset the calendar date on the watch when you get to America!  Be sure to turn the hands back. You gain a full day when you cross the International Date Line!”  Those were his parting words.

They were also the last words he ever said to me.  My mother called me the night of December 6, 1969 to tell me that my father had died.  He had not been well for a couple of years, and now he was gone.  It was Sunday afternoon halfway across the world.  My father had died ten minutes past midnight on Sunday.  Mother said many of the people from the church were at the house.  They were a great comfort to her.  No, she didn’t want me to come home for the funeral.  She said my father would have wanted me to stay in school because it was the week of final exams, so I can graduate after just one more semester. “You can come home in May, after you graduate.”

I went to the kitchen and poured myself a Scotch-and-water.  Back in the living room, I remembered with a start that, seventeen months ago, my father and I had been drinking Scotch-and-water at the bar in the airport.  It was the first time we had ever drunk together.  I thought it ironic that the first time also turned out to be the last.

The living room was uncomfortably still.  Left to myself, I decided that I wanted noise, clatter, music, life.  I looked through my records—flipping through Liszt, Chopin, Bach, Vivaldi, Mozart—rejecting one and all until I chanced upon the “Farewell, Angelina” album by Joan Baez.

Joan Baez.  Her voice has an airy quality about it which reminds me of lofty rooms and high ceilings, rainy mornings and windy afternoons, snowy evenings and cold December nights.

“You must leave now—

Take what you need you think will last;

But whatever you wish to keep,

You’d better grab it fast.”

 I poured myself another drink in the kitchen and turned off the lights in the living room when I came back.  The house plunged into eerie darkness.  I looked at my watch.  Its hands glowed luminously in the dark.  It was only 11:30 P.M.

Then it dawned on me.

I realized with a start that I had been staring at my father’s old calendar-watch.  I was wearing the watch he had pressed into my hand the last time I saw him!  What had I done with his amethyst ring? Why wasn’t I wearing that, too?  Again I stared at the watch, my eyes following the voyage of the second-hand as it overtook the minute-hand and then the hour-hand.

I remembered my father’s parting words at the airport:  “Don’t forget to reset the calendar date on the watch when you get to America!  Be sure to turn the hands back!  You gain a full day when you cross the International Date Line!”

Saturday night was nearly over in Lawrence.  Then I realized with another start that, soon, it would be midnight.  Soon it would be Sunday.  Soon the luminous hands of my father’s old calendar-watch would indicate that it was ten minutes past midnight, in mid-America.  Technically speaking, right here, right now, my father was still alive, and he was going to die all over again, for my benefit–in Kansas!

“Yonder stands your orphan with his gun,

Crying like a fire in the sun.

Look out!  The saints are coming through.

And it’s all over now, Baby Blue.”

I swallowed the rest of my drink and held back my tears.

Forty-one years later, I still haven’t wept for my father.  Perhaps because I wasn’t with him when he died, perhaps because I did not go home for the funeral so I never actually saw him dead, for whatever reason, there has never been any closure for me when it comes to me and my father.  In my mind, he’s still very much alive, although these days I no longer remember what his voice sounds like.  He never spoke much, to begin with. And now all I hear is his silence.

Today is Father’s Day.  Bless me, father, for I have been remiss.

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19 June 2010: Women Beware Women!

It boggles my mind how, in recent years at the University of Kansas, so many of the young women in my classes do not want to be identified as feminists.  They seem to want all the benefits, and actually take all the benefits for granted, but would rather not be identified with the cause, or the history of the struggle.  Back in the 60s and 70s, life seemed so much simpler when opposing forces like Germaine Greer and Phyllis Schlafly were at least civil with one another.  These days, temperate and well-mannered people in politics like Hillary Clinton, Claire McCaskill and Maxine Waters seem to be horribly outnumbered by the likes of Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann, Sharron Angle, Sue Lowden, Liz Cheney, ad nauseam.  So can we blame young women today if they would rather not be identified with these shrieking shrews?  What hath feminism wrought?  Perhaps Jacobean playwright John Middleton said it best, back in 1657, in the title of his play, Women Beware Women.

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17 June 2010: Big Porno?

Now that BP has made Big Promises to make Big Payments (industry experts say the $20 billion in escrow will grow to $65 billion by the time this is all over), and now that BP has also provided some unintended comic relief by allowing Big People to laugh at the expense of “small people,” we all need to start filling up our gas-guzzling SUVs and RVs this summer at BP stations all over America, to make sure that BP stays solvent as a company, that it does not go into bankruptcy, that British Pensioners can continue to enjoy their cuppa as their American cousins cry all the way to the bank.  Drill, baby, drill.  Keep the oil coming.  Plug that hole.  Why does it all sound like Big Porno?

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26 May 2010: “Plug the damn hole!”

Says President Obama to BP.

Says the rabbit to the tree after Alice fell into Wonderland.

Says American cheese to Swiss cheese.

Says the flat tire to the garage mechanic.

Says the IRS to all the loopy tax laws.

Says the dike to the little Dutch boy.

Says the wounded gunman to the Mafia medic.

Says the unhappy stigmatist to God in heaven.

Says the dietician to the obese teenager.

Says the porn star to the dentist.

Says the Octogenarian Mom to her obstetrician.

Says the pharmacist to the leaky bottomless dancer.

Says a reformed Tiger Woods to another acquiescent cocktail waitress.

Says the priest to the altar boy.

Says the bishop to the priest.

Says the Pope to the bishop.

Says Who to the Pope?

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My Mother’s Laughter

Although I emigrated to the United States in 1968, my mother did not come to visit me in Kansas until August of 1976, after she had already been in America for four months.  The reason why she decided to make the long journey from the Philippines was because my play Conpersonas was being performed in April of that year at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., and also because (I think) she finally realized I was never going to be a doctor or a businessman, so she might as well see what I was really up to.

I was still in Kansas when my mother’s early-morning flight on Philippine Air Lines landed at Dulles International Airport in Washington.  I was arriving later the same day, but I had made arrangements for someone to meet her at Dulles, and to check her into the room which had been reserved for her at the Watergate Hotel, right next door to the Kennedy Center.  I was about to leave the house for my own flight to D.C. when the telephone rang.  It was her.

“Why weren’t you at the airport to meet me?” my mother asked hysterically.  She had been flying for nearly 16 hours, had been in transit for over 30 hours, probably hadn’t slept a wink, and had probably been terrified of going through U.S. Immigration and Customs all by herself.  “What kind of a son are you?”

“Mom,” I reasoned with her, trying my best to explain that I had no control over airline schedules, but that I would be at the Watergate in time to have dinner with her.

“Hurry!  I’m hungry!” she wailed.

“Order something from Room Service.”

“It’s okay.  I’ll wait for you.  But hurry.”

“I’m on my way.”

“Take a taxi.  It will be faster.”

To this day, I don’t know if my mother was trying to be funny with that remark, or whether she really had no idea that, unlike the places in Manila that she frequently visited and patronized, Lawrence, KS was not a short cab ride away from downtown Washington D.C.

But, back to the momentous event at the Kennedy Center. If nothing else, I think my Chinese mother was truly impressed by the fact that my play in English was being performed by Caucasians, in front of mostly Caucasians, at the Kennedy Center.  Although Conpersonas was a serious drama about identical twin brothers who commit suicide within hours of one another, my mother sat through the entire performance at the Eisenhower Theater with an enormous grin on her face.  She might as well have been watching My Fair Lady or The Sound of Music. She had been introduced from the stage earlier in the evening, so people knew where she was sitting. If anyone in the audience had seen her beaming happily as the two unhappy brothers in the play shot and killed themselves, they might have jumped to wrong conclusions as to why I had left the Philippines, why I had safely chosen to keep my mother 7,000 miles away from me.

In any case, to my great surprise, after the hoopla of Conpersonas at the Kennedy Center was over, instead of returning with me to Lawrence, KS, where I had already been teaching as a Graduate Teaching Assistant in the English Department at the University of Kansas, my mother decided to spend some time with her friend Helen from the Philippines, whom she hadn’t seen for some time, who was now living in Brooklyn.  “Helen never graduated from college,” my mother confided, “but already she is running her own business in Chinatown!”  My mother thought it might be fun to live with Helen for a while, perhaps even work for her for a while.

Hard as I tried, I could not picture my mother working in a sweatshop alongside all the illegal immigrants from China and Hong Kong packed to overflowing on the second floor of an old building in Chinatown that probably should have been condemned years ago .  And I was terrified that she might get mugged in the subways.  But there was no dissuading her.  In the Philippines, my mother was accustomed to having servants attending to her every need, chauffeurs driving her everywhere.  But now she was determined to be independent, to earn her own keep in America, just like an American, walking the mean streets of Lower Manhattan, daring anyone to mug her, in the subway or anywhere else. “Don’t worry about me,” she said.  “Go back to Kansas.  I’ll be fine in New York with Helen.  She is like a daughter to me.  She will treat me like her own mother. If I get mugged, it will be God’s will, because I would not be here in America had you not invited me to come and see your play about those two brothers who killed themselves at the Kennedy Center.”

And so, with a heavy heart, I deposited my mother with Helen in Brooklyn.  But, before I left, I cautioned my mother never to look anyone in the eye when she’s out and about, never to argue with anyone who accosts her and, most importantly, to carry at least $20 at all times on her person, so she can give it to anyone who wants to rob her, to keep muggers from harming her because she wasted their time when they could have been mugging other rich old ladies. My mother looked at me oddly, as though I were in cahoots with her would-be muggers, but I wouldn’t leave until she promised.  And so she did.

Months went by. I called my mother two or three times a week from Kansas, and was delighted to hear that she loved New York, that she was “Miss Popularity” in the sorority of sweatshop sisters, and that she had yet to be mugged. According to my mother, Helen’s “factory” was turning out high-end clothing for fancy department stores like Bloomingdale’s, and it was her job to inspect the lingerie which were coming off “the assembly line.”  She was Inspector #17, and she tucked a slip of paper into every piece of lingerie after she was done inspecting it, signifying that the garment had been inspected by Inspector #17.

I used to daydream about anyone who might have bought any lingerie at Bloomingdale’s on Lexington Avenue and 59th St. in New York City between early May and mid-August of 1976. Chances are my mother had her finger on the unmentionables of unsuspecting shoppers like Kim Novak or Jane Fonda long before they slipped them on (or off) to charm their beastly bedmates.

When being Inspector #17 finally lost its glamour in that non-air-conditioned loft in Chinatown in the heat of August in New York, my mother decided it was time to visit me in Lawrence, KS.  Her arrival had been much anticipated by all my friends and colleagues at the University of Kansas.  She was going to stay for a couple of weeks, so I prepared a bedroom for her on the upper level of the house, with a bathroom all to herself.  I was giving a cocktail party for her. Lovely finger sandwiches were being prepared by a woman who was nearly blind, who lived in North Lawrence.  The only way I could ever find her house was by the three-foot tall statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary she had out on her lawn. A bartender had been hired to mix and serve drinks, and to help clean up the place afterwards. Invitations had been sent out to 75 people, and everyone had accepted.

When the appointed day arrived, my mother emerged from her bedroom, resplendent in one of the many bejewelled evening gowns she had brought with her from Manila, one of which she had worn the evening of my play at the Kennedy Center, but the others she had had no occasion to wear in Brooklyn or the sweatshops in Chinatown.  She was a big hit at the party, a merry widow too young to have a son like me.  Everyone loved her.  No one suspected her secret life as Inspector #17.

The morning after the night before, sometime around 6:30 A.M., I heard my mother scratching on my bedroom door.  “Paul! Paul!” she whispered.

“What?  What time is it?  Why aren’t you still in bed sleeping?”

“Paul! Paul!” she repeated, more urgently.  “Did you take the toothpaste from my bathroom upstairs?”

“What’re you talking about?  Why should I take your toothpaste?  Go back to bed, please.”

She went away, but only briefly.  Moments later, she was again outside my room, scratching on the door.  “Paul! Paul!” again she whispered.

“What is it now?”

“Did you take the Revlon Blush-On from the bathroom upstairs?”

“What Revlon Blush-On?  What in God’s name are you talking about?”

“My Revlon Blush-On.  You know, for my make-up.  I cannot go out without my Revlon Blush-On.”

“Oh, for God’s sake.  What on earth would I do with your Revlon Blush-On?”

There was no going back to sleep, so we searched through all the drawers in her bathroom upstairs. The guests at the party had been using that bathroom all night.  All her travellers checks were still there, as were some of her more common everyday jewelry.  Nothing was missing except her toothpaste and her Revlon Blush-On.  It was a big mystery.  My mother burst out laughing.  She laughed so hard the tears rolled down her cheeks.  She laughed so hard, her knees were weak, and she had to sit on the toilet.  I’ve never heard her laugh like that, ever.

“What?  What’s so funny?”

“I lived for four months in New York, and nothing happened to me,” she howled.  “Everyday, I put $20 in my purse like you told me, to give to muggers, and no one ever mugged me.  But I come to Lawrence, Kansas to meet your friends, and someone goes into the bathroom during the party and steals my toothpaste and my Revlon Blush-On!”

A couple of days later, when I was telling this story to some friends from the Theatre Department who had not been able to attend the party because they were in rehearsal with a play, one of them snapped to attention

“Wait a minute,” she exclaimed.  “at one of our parties, the morning after, we discovered that someone had taken the Johnson’s Baby Shampoo!”

Others began to remember losing similar sorts of things from their bathrooms after parties of one sort or another. Nothing valuable.  Always small, inconsequential items.  A bathroom freak was among us!  An academic klepto!  We began to compare the guest list at these parties, and it did not take long before we thought we had our man…or woman.  No way of proving it, of course, but when I described the woman in question to my mother, she lit up immediately.  She remembered the woman, a recent arrival from Poland.

“Why, yes,” my mother laughed.  “That woman asked me how I managed to keep my skin so soft, and I told her that the only make-up I use is Revlon Blush-On!”

Mystery solved.

After that first visit in August of 1976, my mother has been back to see me in Kansas three or four more times, and each time she doubles up laughing whenever I tell people about how she once dazzled an “admirer” in Lawrence with her pearly white Asian teeth and her blushing pink cheeks.

My mother is now 86 years old, living in Manila with my married sister, her husband and their three children.  It has been thirteen years since she has visited me in Kansas.  If she is reading this now, I doubt if the story will make her double up and laugh, like she used to.  I don’t know if she will remember the story at all.

My mother is suffering from Alzheimer’s.  My sister says that, these days, our mother just sits there all day, not recognizing anyone, but she smiles whenever she feels a friendly presence nearby.  I hope she is smiling right now because it’s Mother’s Day.  She has had many sorrows in her remarkable life, which I’ve written about in my play Mother Tongue, so perhaps it is a blessing that she no longer remembers the wars in China and the Philippines that she has lived through, the children she bore who should not have died so young. Although my sister, my brothers and I now choose to remember only the happy times we’ve had in each other’s company, someday we too will forget that we were ever even happy together.

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9 May 2010: Big Prawns, Dead Prawns

Back in 1999, when one of my plays was in competition at the Edward Albee Theatre Conference at Prince William Sound Community College in Valdez, Alaska, site of the disastrous Exxon oil spill, there were lots of cocktail parties given by the oil companies for people attending the conference.  Albee himself told us to be sure not to miss the one being hosted by British Petroleum.  “You know what BP stands for, don’t you?” the playwright asked mischievously. “BIG PRAWNS!  Lots of BIG PRAWNS!”

Well, given the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, thanks this time to British Petroleum, I’m afraid we’ll now get DEAD PRAWNS!  Lots of DEAD PRAWNS!  To say nothing of dead fish, dead birds, dead turtles, dead dolphins, dead whales.   Maybe also DEAD PEOPLE!  Lots of DEAD PEOPLE!

My play which was in competition at Prince William Sound back in 1999 was called “Report to the River.”  It won the top prize at the conference.  It was about a river, but it wasn’t about the Exxon oil spill. Maybe it’s time to write another one, and this time not just about a river.

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