Saturday, February 06, 2016

Text to Chris: "Mission Control to CM, come in CM"

After being regaled with stories of the golden age of NASA by original aerospace engineer Alex McCool, I had to have a photo. Underneath the 3rd stage of a Saturn V rocket, which he worked to design, no less.

"I may not be in Australia, but I did hang out with NASA aerospace engineer Alex McCool, who helped design the Saturn V for fucking Wernher Von Braun. I cried, I'm not kidding. This guy knew Glenn, Shephard, Grissom... all of them. Wally Shirra, Jim Lovell... ALL of them. How did I only make it to the US Space Center in Huntsville at the tender age of 50? Been riding by since we were tykes in the back seat; Always wanted to go.. almost forgot. It was a religious experience."

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Remembering David Bowie. Still.

I keep thinking about him. Listening to his songs.

Being surprised that I'm so moved by the loss of him in the world. Reflecting on his significance to me personally but also on how he shaped popular culture, almost insidiously.

Most importantly, I've bathed in the human connections of the last several days — talking about David Bowie with my dearest friends, and also with casual acquaintances, people who by their own admission weren't huge fans, but nonetheless have been, like me, unexpectedly moved by his passing. It's incredible to talk to so many people, from college students to my mother-in-law, about their impressions of him.

He really was, in a multifaceted and astonishingly unique way, The Man Who Sold The WorldOn himself. On the idea of relentless personal reinvention. On the idea, as my friend Jonathan Piercy said, that "being yourself doesn't mean you can't be a million different things."

Monday, January 11, 2016

RIP David Bowie

Recording sessions for Low in Berlin in 1977 with Brian Eno and Robert Fripp.

David Bowie died. I stumbled across the news on an iPad, a device I never use to look at the news — I was simply using the light from its screen, trying to find my socks in the darkness of pre-dawn. David Bowie helped me find a lot of things in the occasional darkness of my life. His unapologetic idiosyncrasy helped me find the permission in myself to be idiosyncratic. His music — so much music — has been the soundtrack to my life for 40 years. Some of it — the best of it — was made in full collaboration with my other principal musical heroes, pictured above.

 David Bowie was one of my heroes. It's as simple as that.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Off to see The Wizard

It's hard to imagine the ludicrousness of writing about "how great the Wizard of Oz is," and yet, here I go.

I always assumed it would be the first movie she saw. That turned out to be Cool Hand Luke, but you can't control everything, am I right?

Having just returned from Vietnam, having missed Christmas, having missed New Year's, having missed my girls on these special occasions, I've been having the most wonderful time, these 48 hours since coming back to Kansas, er, Kentucky, I mean. And all day long for some reason, I kept thinking "Maybe it's time. Maybe tonight." I kept this opinion to myself, as I've learned to do with a four-year-old because once THAT idea gets out of the bag (or the wicker basket, let's just keep belaboring this), it AIN'T going back in. After a day of napping, wrestling, snacking, frolicking, reading, errand-running, and playgrounding, we come back home and Libby Lee, who's upstairs with Lucy, calls down: "Daddy? Can we watch A MOVIE tonight?"

It cost well over $2 million to make, and
earned just over $3 mil. It was a flop.
This is not a question often heard in our house — though that question is certainly soon to be heard more.

Lucy and I have been very tight-fisted where screens, TV and movies are concerned with Libby Lee. I just feel like those things are forever once they've been made, so why rush into them? That having been said, I've been waiting for this since Libby Lee was the tiniest bundle of joy — waiting for us to be "off to see the Wizard."

So, yes.. Yes, we can watch a movie tonight. Tonight we can watch … The Wizard of Oz. I went the extra measure. I joke that we always just kind of pretend that the TV is broken, but that's easy because it's got a cool cover over it, and it's just sort of never on, except maybe after Libby Lee has gone to bed. But for tonight? I re-attached the stereo speakers, and Libby Lee stuck close by me, as I sorted wires and plugged plugs.

The fact is, while doing some testing, we stumbled into a good 20 minutes of Pee Wee's Big Adventure and I watched as she sat — again the best word here is rapt — on the arm of the couch, with her fists under her chin, like some kind of poster for kids watching movies. And it was great, too, of course. Once everything was ready to go, including a couple of false starts (such is the world of, ahem, acquiring movies in the 21st century), Lucy and I both asked Libby Lee: "Do you want to keep watching Pee Wee's Big Adventure? It's OK if you do. We can watch The Wizard of Oz next time." Uh-uh. She said, with complete confidence "No, I want watch The Wizard of Oz."

And so we were off to see the Wizard.

I didn't expect that I would be pushing down tears as the intro credits rolled and straight-up wiping them away and trying not to heave too audibly as Dorothy Gale wings into Somewhere Over the Rainbow, in glorious sepia tone.

My god. Who knows how many times I've seen The Wizard of Oz? Is it the most universal movie in the Western world? I like to think so. Still, I haven't seen it in years. That sepia. As a kid I used to long for the the black-and-white part to be over because it seemed boring. I wonder if that's true. Not according to the look on my four-year-old's face as she sat between her parents, absolutely rapt and mesmerized, with a slight thrill of a smile, a kind of excitement at finally seeing it. It was like a Holy Grail (that will come later, of course).

Watching it now, with Libby Lee, the sepia seems so sublime, so surreal, as surreal as the technicolor Land of Oz that lurks behind that door just a few minutes later. I am no less mesmerized than her.

Libby Lee and I had read it over Thanksgiving. It was her first "big book." In fact, I'd never read L. Frank Baum's peculiar masterpiece. Again, stating the glaringly obvious, it was amazing. If you have never read The Wizard of Oz, do yourself the favor. And if you have the opportunity to read The Wizard of Oz aloud to a young child? That is an opportunity not to be missed. I'm grateful that I was given the opportunity, and will treasure it always.

Last night was so special, the three of us on the couch, both Lucy and I beaming occasionally at that small face sitting between us, transfixed, taking turns squeezing her, or holding her hand, occasionally singing along, noticing and sometimes exclaiming over details we'd never noticed, or had forgotten. Trying to shut up as much as possible, actually. All while a little girl sat stock still, eyes wide, wide open, mildly slack-jawed, with the tiniest trace of a mesmerized grin for 101 minutes.

I never want to forget it, and that's one of the reasons I'm writing now. Watching it (and 30 minutes of Pee Wee) helped take some of my anxiety away about my daughter and TV and movies. For a little while longer, we can control 100% of what she sees in our house; and there are some wonderful, wonderful things to see. I think I can see how "movie night" can work for us and can be a real family thing. I hope that's true.

And no matter what, I hope Libby Lee always remembers the first time she was off to see the Wizard.

The WONDERFUL Wizard of Oz. 

You should read about the history of the movie, which was the 4th film version, in case you didn't know, and considered a cinematic flop, at the time.

An urgent visit to Lexington's Yu Yu Asian Market:

My first trip inside a store since returning home — in a vain effort to hold onto Vietnam memories. Clockwise: green tea (looking for the right style, definitely not some epicurean variety, is my guess), instant weasel coffee (instant coffee -- who knew? The weasel part — you don't want to know), Dragonfruit. 

Monday, January 04, 2016

#Ukulele shopping on "guitar street," Saigon #vietnam #holyshit #santa #koa #vietkoa #soprano kinda tough to find but I'll persevere

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I am reinvented. #closeshave #burmashave

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@singerinsaigon classing the place up by magnitudes

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we had to. I'll take the blame. #kfc

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So — Does one say: "Welcome to Saigon," or "Welcome to HCMC?" #wemadeit #howdysaigon #Vietnam #motorbiking #hooray

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Pleeeeeease #mephisto boots: you've seen a lot of action with me. I need you to hang together just a little bit more .... #Vietnam

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My eyes well up with tears as we approach #hochiminhcity aka #saigon because while I do miss and love my home and family, I just cannot begin to describe how #Vietnam has enriched my soul. So, as a distraction while I pretend something's in my eye, here's some #geometry for @eamesdemetrios

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Let's roll, ladies. Next stop: #saigon #hcmc #hochiminhcity #Vietnam

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Saturday, January 02, 2016

The comeuppance to a popular joke of mine, when paying the tab in the US: Here in #Vietnam they actually DO take Diners Club, it seems. #probablynot

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Dinner last night with the Frenchies and the Norwegians:

Turns out the world is full of interesting, cheerful, insightful people, who speak many language, including English. Lucky for the ignorant, fat, monolingual Yankees, right?

(as I mention from time to time, if you're reading this directly on Facebook, you may be missing some photos. I strongly suggest hopping over to for the full effect)

And magnificent sunsets

Good evening and good morning (respectively) from Mũi Né. Saigon looms but a day or two away.

I've shed some tears thinking about this, because it signals that we're near the end of our motorbike odyssey through Vietnam. There are no words, though I've  written many, to truly describe how deeply and profoundly this journey has nursed, challenged, and enriched my soul. So I'll stop now, because I'm getting teary, and I choose to eat more breakfast and write more later.

Here's what the south calls an "omelette." Delicious, but a total departure from the "piggies" that the Northerners call "omelettes." This is more scrambled eggs poured into a blazing hot skillet and swirls around with ham and tomatoes. Blam, onto my plate. As I've mentioned before, most hotels offer a free breakfast of Dionysian proportions -- fruit, eggs, bread, coffee, tea, the best damned strawberry jam I've ever had over and over -- and I eat, like, five of them. Thankfully, the Viets live to serve and I've never been castigated.

Also, the "bacon" is actually bacon, but nowhere have I encountered a cook who knew how to crisp it. (Chris says this is true the world over). I suspect many places actually steam bacon. Not complaining, just observing. In fact, think I'll order some more. Now.

Best Day of My Life, So Far. And it's only 8:30 am.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Hello from 2016

(Facebook friends: Reading my blog is much better in its native form at

I feel like an explorer. An astronaut, maybe. Reporting from unknown regions. From far away. And it's true. Everyday I wake up and It's Vietnam Outside. 

But today it's a different year than it is at home in Kentucky, USA. In other words: "Duuuuuuuude.... It's January 1, 2016 up in this bitch."

More importantly, it's breakfast time, and I'm writing to you with all the wisdom that a fairly hungover, hungry, uncaffeinated stranger in a strange land could posibly offer. Such are my gìts to you from the Future. 

Let's see: It's bright here in The Future. I'm blaming that on the big windows and my hangover, but do not let that detract from your own soon-to-be-bestowed future = brightness equation.

It's also kind of still Christmas, at least almost as much as it's ever been, which is to say: completely manufactured. I will say that those who are concerned about the loss of the Big C in Christmas should come over here and stomp their feet, because these Buddhists seem to give not one fuuuck the baby Jesus. He's nice enough, I'm sure many of them would agree. But the Viet people are niceness incarnate, so no need to mince over some kind of immaculate conception. 

"SANTA! Christmas tree! How long until Tet?"

The Viets just want a big decorative tree, a red and white Santa hat, too small, often with the world "Santa" embroidered on it (which is a little on the obvious side, don't you think, Vietnam?), and, y'know --- Jingle all the way. And what's wrong with that? 

It's pretty great. In the US, we fight about it; they're actually full of joy about it. Hard to argue with that in terms of the "reason for the season." And anyway, failing a crèche (and I've seen not one image of Jesus in Vietnam, although Chris's bumper car the other night in Tuy Hôa did seem to sport a lit-up cross on the back, so let's just say "Chrismas" from now on, shall we?),

 "Thank you for funny smashing into frightened children's bumper cars. Now get out, and come again!"

They've got altars out the Yin-Yang -- from along the glorious wonderful muddy country roads, all the way up to big city hotels, like this one. In fact, here's Mick's Favorite Altar Award #1

Lobby of the Legendsea* hotel. Baby Jesus don't get Choco-Pies, does he?

(*Quick note: Last night, I heard the hotel clerk proudly pronounce the place's strange name and she said "Lee-Jen-see." So... get it? SPELLING IS HARD. Or  maybe somebody already has a joint called the "Regency.")

Back to the altars and their offerings of food for the Buddha: I don't know what happens if you're dumb enough to try to take some of Buddha's Choco-Pies, but I suspect it could be kind of embarrassment-inducing. Kind of like ambling into a funeral, snapping photos. 

Which we did. 


"Cool! Country dress-up party! No? Wedding? No? High School Graduation? NO?? Funeral! Come on in and take photos, though? Great plan! Sorry for your loss!"

"Thanks for insisting we come in and take pictures of your graduation or whatever. Say, isn't that a coffin in the back room? Cause it sure looks like a coffin..." (not pictured, because I'm not that bad)

Oh, sorry -- back to my report from the future. It's great! I need more coffee and breakfast Phô, pronto. In a little while, I'm going to get my feet fixed up, in a plush pedicure chair. I found a place that has that type of chair, which hopefully guarantees that I'm not accidentally hiring a hooker. You can't be too careful. I've resolved not to have a massage here because I just don't know where that's going. An Aussie friend told me that if somebody says "You want massage baby?" then cover your junk. That's a handjob. A comma can make all the difference. 

Nonetheless, I was offered a massage here at the hotel because last night I was the only one clownish enough to get up in front of a lobby of people with the staff emcee and lead the hotel NYE revelers in "some New Years songs," as she requested of me. All they've got is ABBA's "Happy New Year," which she had sung or played over the lobby PA several times prior to drafting me. People seem generally pleased, but where do you go from there? "Some New Year's songs?" Hmm, I didn't think they'd know Deathcab for Cutie, and my rendition of Auld Ang Syne didn't quite ascend to "It's A Wonderful Life" altitudes -- though the look of glee on Viet faces whenever I play ukulele makes it worth more than all the Dong in the world. Sorry -- unfortunate word choice. It's the Vietnamese currency. What do you want me to say? 

But I've got a trick up my sleeve because I know The Song. And I told her. Somehow she produces sheets of lyrics of The Song. The Song that has enchanted young and old alike across the land, from the most backwater rice paddy burg right up to the cosmopolitan gleam of Panama City-like Nha Trang. The Song is magic. The Song is baffling. The Song is .... Leo Sayer's 70's hit "More Than I Can Say." She and I practice a couple of times -- a few feet away from where we'll sing it together in the center of the lobby. Into an open mic, we practice it. So, you know, this is going to be a huge surprise to our eager fans, who, like me, are really there for the snacks and free booze. 

But sure enough it slays. I never doubted the power of The Song. I hope one day to find out why in the fucking fuck every person in Vietnam knows The Song.

In fact, here it is, so "Happy New Year, Happy New Year," something something something something something, whatever ABBA says.

Finally: Despite being horribly underpracticed, I decided to drop the Frank Loesser Classic, probably my favorite holiday song ever, "What Are You Doing New Year's Eve?"

Twice even. Because later after most of a bottle of Vietnamese rum that tasted like grapes and probably didn't have any grapes in it but was full of booze, I played it again for some drinker than I South Africans on the roof of the Legendsea. 

So happy new year, my loves. Don't hate me because I get to celebrate it twice.  It's only because this is the Best Day of my Life So Far.

What are YOU doing?

My NYE is complete because I got to play Frank Loesser's timeless gem "What Are You Doing New Year's Eve" for two appreciative audiences tonight. I'm out. G'night, America! #drunktiredhappy

@amahiukulele around the world bringing peace and love. #Vietnam #ukulele

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HAPPY NEW YEAR FROM The Jeffries Brothers in Vietnam!!

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Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Accidental grab, Comrade, I promise: Guy taking a leak beside typical Communist billboard, the #graphicdesign of which I love and delight in every time. This juxtaposition was happenstance. After the shot, I noticed this guy's buddy kind of staring at me laughing and I realized what I'd just captured. #Vietnam #oops #pissoncomrade #shityouseeinvietnam

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Teaching #ukulele to school kids in rural #Vietnam. My @amahiukulele soprano wins the day, EVERY time: "I've seen a million Viets, and I've uked them all." #wanted

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This gent replaces the battery on my motorbike, Comrade Jane, and I play my #amahi #ukulele for him. Brother "Jeff" calls the ukulele the "universal symbol of goodwill." All I I can say is: "I've seen a million Viets, and I've Uked them all."

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say "chào bạn" to one of my new custom-tailored Vietnamese aloha-style shirt from Su!

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