Monday, July 21, 2014

The conscious part of my mind indeed would rebel, and almost every day I thought of how I should quit the job immediately (though of course the problem of what else to do.)  I would drag myself in, really feeling miserable, almost with a sense of offending nearly everything important.  But, from time to time I would remember I was in a city, and that lots of things can happen in a city.  Art, culture, music, dance, the tango, and perhaps things that might inspire a kind of mysticism, the chance meeting of another person that made one wonder about the deeper significance.  Call it an education, peering into the souls of those who came to the bar in every sort of circumstance.  It made me think of all the souls who had wandered into Washington, DC.

There are the musicians, of course, people who've come to an ease from knowing through music the order of Heaven and Earth, people of unexpected generosity and a reference of wisdom.  That state of being touched the life of more people than one might have expected.  Madam Korbonski had started out adult life as a Chopinist before the Nazis came to the academy and put an end to that, and then she became what she became, a wife, a heroine of incredible wartime bravery, of Radio Free Europe, and as I knew her, a generous salon in a simple flat next to mine that had served as a gathering place for those of nations taken by Soviet occupation.  (I have her old Zenith turntable, along with a few other artifacts of Polonia, and a rare English translation of Pan Tadeusz, a gracious bow to my own literary effort, and her calling me Tadzio.)

How to explain a meeting like that?  And wine, as much as I had my difficulties with handling it, the diligent manual work it inspired in me, like food, like music, like sexual attraction, like the love of conversation, was a part of it all.  "Relax," one could say to himself.  "You've ended up alright, and haven't, as you might think, have tossed your education out the window.  Rather, to the contrary, have you used the noble wisdom passed on to you."  Not everything is easy to put into terms, easy to understand from the rational logical concrete achievement point of view.

Now and again, an old soul would come in, and then, by the light of a deeper understanding, it was okay to be a barman in Washington, DC, part of a reaction to a deeper mystical sense of order, of the consciousness we all bear, awakening.

Really, how else could one have faced such a task for so long, without attributing to it deeper meaning, random perhaps, but with a point to it, seen some times better than other times.  And I would imagine someone like Lincoln might have nodded at that.

My sports commentary from the front lines.

She told me once a story of meeting a German boy on a lake, before that time she met her husband Stefan (in an elevator), a flirtation, a hint at courtship, and then seeing him again in officer's uniform in occupied Warsaw, recognizing each other, then turning away, the encounter between enemies remembering the summer lake and sunlight.  She told me a ghost story, a blood stain on a rug at the bottom of the grand stairs of a house the Nazi officers had taken over that would come back after the rug was cleaned.  She would sit back, looking through her glasses, content with finding a repository for her meanings, and even chuckle a little bit sometimes.  "Oh, Tadzio, Tadzio..."

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Okay, you worked a Saturday night, now get up and moving, make your tea, think your thoughts before you go to work again, do the dishes, put things away.

I turn on the TV to the NBC sports station carrying the Tour de France, heading into Nimes today as I sip yesterday's green tea cold.  A commercial is on.  And then, back to the Tour, no, it's an announcer back at the main shop with screens behind him, a Sports Update.  Golf.  Then baseball scores, with highlight coverage:  hits, line drives, throwing errors, home runs, a pop fly that drops in, for five different ball games.  And in the brief few minutes during which I wait patiently for a glimpse of the French countryside, look what the American baseball stadium has become--advertising, everywhere.  Look even at what the Green Monster has become--a placard for Foxwood Casinos.

A Tour viewer is no one to talk.  The whole race was invented to sell newspapers.  But semi-radical that I am, given the age I live in, post mortgage scandal, post derivative greed disaster, I catch a whiff of the hypnosis the games have become, all taking down our natural guard and told, 'it's all okay.'  Corporate America, doing just fine taking care of its citizens.  You too must belong.

My thought, perhaps, is similar to how the writer of The Sopranos wryly put it as the show neared the final episode.  The message, the higher point of it all, just as it was all along.  "It's still okay to go out and buy stuff."

Well, you'd be a perfect asshole to nearly everyone if you might think differently.

Back in the old days, one likes to think, the games stood in balance.  They stood on their own.  They might advertise themselves, the experience of going to the ballpark, paying for your ticket, watching the home team.  There was the Citgo sign, and the Jimmy Fund.  Lou Gehrig was played by Lou Gehrig, and in the movie about him, the next best thing, Gary Cooper (and yes, the mighty hitter, the Iron Horse, with the beautiful back, broad shoulders, hair and smile, who would himself return to dugouts and start crying, benched himself after contracting something very strange and horrible, and actually did die from it, way before his time.)  There was not the pollution of the field.  Storied men played the game, Leo the Lip, Musial, Yogi Berra, or were involved intimately in it, Branch Rickey... Baseball could be, on its own, a solid endeavor, something creative, athletic, healthy, celebratory of the innate talents of the human being, with sharp eyesight, reflexes, the bat of Ted Williams.  Kind of like when you played it in high school gym class out there on the field with Coach, discovering, errantly, your skills, when you had to.

I am radicalized by my line of work.  A restaurant provides good eat and drink, decent service, people come.  But I live in suspended animation, the idyll of a game, in need of buying into it all if it's even not too late.

The Tour comes back on.  A bunch sprint.  I hang in there, treated with a few scenes from the road out there, sun here, pouring rain there, vineyards.

The endurance sport, of stocking up, putting everything into place, writing down the specials, then the trickle, then the rush, then the last few people who really, out of mercy, should just leave you be after six hours,  and all the while being able to make conversation, putting people at ease, smiling, joking where possible, participating in a discussion about interesting things, overriding the arguable sense that one is a loser, with little social life of one's own beyond other restaurant people...  All the while too, people in some limbo between dealing with their issues and not dealing with their issues, falling on the sides.  Who wouldn't want to come watch!  Listen to the story of the two artsy guys who went to the theater and saw Carrie and needed a drink, of Muscadet, afterward.

In the defense of the sport, though, one must acknowledge the fact that such a gathering is indeed stimulating.  It gets you out of your own head.   It gets the creative wheels spinning.  Through sublimation, the inner mind works.

What advertisements should go in a barroom or restaurant, beyond all the trinket signs of Dubo Dubo Dubonet, the red rubber bar matt that sayeth Campari, the black ones with Remy Martin on them, the champagne poster with the beautiful lean woman from the Roaring Twenties on it.

Support the arts;  read the poor guy's book, not for any reason, but because, it's there, satisfying or dissatisfying as it may be.  Which most of you, kindly, already have, to the extent such suffering is possible, thank you very much.

Or better yet, advertise what you've learned on the long hard road, through all the things we've learned more or less the hard way, through the people who've passed on, through the people we miss, through the parent who died, lessons that stare us in the face every day, as they should:  that people are sacred, treasures;  that we can look upon the consciousness of each as coming from a consciousness before, that there are reasons, no coincidence, while we are all here.  And thus the Buddha, thus meditation, that we don't get our mind's eye obscured by the things of less importance that would provoke us to do harm in our sleepwalking unawareness.  What is important?  Do well by another being.

Rise above the costly logic, of slavery, of eye for an eye...

Friday, July 18, 2014

But my vision was always beatific, a bit more sad, a bit more inclusive of the main water of human experience, of the "infinitely gentle, infinitely suffering thing," even as it may not have come at an opportune moment, what can you do.  And I've been blessed by a mother who could always understand that, both the general suffering quality of human experience, but also a way to cheer up enough to go onward.

And it's true:  a woman should regard her man as a dark horse, as a brave and noble struggling survivor who puts the good of others first, who sees him not as a fumbling jerk but an underdog, a Lincoln, a JFK caught in the present time of his struggles.  And Lincoln sought to undo through the nobility of law the horror of the Mongol horde, of winner take all, and probably too would he stand against the freak of genetic blood that makes an attitude of the amassed wealth of the One Percent.

A man need not be perfect.  Indeed, he should be flawed and vulnerable, and admitting all that.  He should not be proud of himself.  But if he's left to grow, from boyhood, through all the confusion and disappointment, and somehow not fallen, then, maybe he becomes something like a man.  A man, who like Taxi Driver, has a feral reaction...

As if like a President who would say to the warring factions of the world, "look, here's what your reckless disregard for human life, for civilians, for the poor and suffering creature, looks like."
And the next day, you have to write all over again.

Thoughts had while walking in the woods:

Never ask for directions of any sort from a female.  The feminine brain sees things differently, navigating not in terms of direction but in terms of landmarks.   A different kind of orientation.  Don't expect clarity in affairs of the heart, because they need direction.  They may rant and rave, but they are properly passive to one with a sense of direction, otherwise a bit confused, even as they seem to manage perfectly well.   Yes, that would explain a lot...  Yes, I listened passively, thinking they had a sense of direction too, when all they had was landmarks.  So indeed it takes self-confidence, to provide them direction, to not confuse yourself with the thought that you need to respect their sense of direction in matters when your sense of where north lies.  It is simply better to establish yourself as an unambiguous landmark.

The Mongol hordes, with a new blood  type and an adaptable scavenger diet, with the aggressive conquest and rape of all women they encountered fostered a new kind of way of being in the world that humanity had not known, the rise of aggression.  The earliest bands of humanity, less populous, whose survival was more tenuous, cooperated in the hunt, saw helping each other out as supremely important, were extraordinarily resourceful and gifted, inventing the human creature themselves.  Then came a more agrarian type, adapted to a more of a legume and grain diet, whose existence depended less on following the animals, who stayed put more and made a good go of it in settlements.  And then came the hordes off the steppes, and by this time all had to compete, giving rise to an immediate selfishness really quite foreign to a good portion of people.   Rape spoke volumes about the new attitude.

I am too tired to sit on the log and meditate, and head bowed I walk slowly home with the phrase, " a crown of thorns" running through my head.  I pass people on the trails.

One week back, one full week of work survived, and to be honest the last three nights have not spoke well of self control toward the wine.  To celebrate the first night off, a Thursday I went out late, near last call for a glass of wine at Barcelona on 14th Street.  And I've been keeping it to Pinot Noir and Beaujolais, low in alcohol, easy on the system.  I come across high school kids out on U Street after a rave, dressed in ways  I would not approve of if I were a parent as I should be.  I have an all beef Ben's Chili Bowl chili dog and then go off on a bike ride up through Ledroit Park, up on the other side of MacMillan Reservoir, past Washington Medical Center and Children's Hospital, looking for The Soldier's Home and Abraham Lincoln's cottage.  The horseback ride up to this high mound of a hill would have been good exercise, a break, a change of direction, though surely the landscape has been changed with highways and construction.   And somewhere, someone got a shot off at him on a moonlight night, maybe not unlike this one, the bullet going through his hat.  (I encounter narrow sidewalks, chain link fence, construction entrances, pavement with broken glass, after I climb up above the city's maintenance facilities and lots with all its dump trucks, sketchy places far away from home for a bike rider and I have no spare tube on me in this no-man's land I know little about.)  I've been to this campus once before, coming at it from the West, via Kenyon Street, but as I taxi along the sidewalk perimeter I do not realize how far East I am going, and wisely look at the iPhone map to find where I am located.

I head back south, avoiding the freeway ramps and cross westward below the wide bank of unlit woods that must be part of the Soldier's Home, and as I head northward, now on the other side of it, the road rises and rises and finally there is a gate.  I speak to the guard, and no, you can't see Lincoln's cottage from the street and visiting hours, of course, are during the daylight hours, obvious, but something that I seem to need to be told.  Then, above that there is the cemetery, actually two of them, and again I have to go back downhill, this time westward, then north again as the street rises to find the gates, which, of course, are locked.  Rock Creek Cemetery, and then across the street the proper gate of the National Military Cemetery.  It really is cooler, in temperature, up here, and one can see how indeed its airs would offer relief from the city's swamp below.  You cannot even see nor have sense of the city from here.  All you see is a quiet field, and trees, and perhaps Lincoln could have felt like he were back in the Illinois countryside, as a youth, as a circuit riding lawyer.  The moon, at half, is up here, the view of the sky unobstructed.  It is perfectly quiet, and you find your expectations have suddenly changed.

No wonder they build colleges on top of hills where there is enough of a plain to find yourself in a new world, undistracted.

But what have I done, as far as following a direction in life?  Have I, like Kerouac, fell into some deeply misguided adventure based on the directions of other people, in his case Neal Cassidy, in mine the general crawling bodied anthill of a restaurant.  And maybe going back further, the momma's boy, looking for direction from female figures, who offer sound advice about many things, things psychological, things bearing on egotism, things about being true to values, but who don't have to cope with that fundamental need for a quest and work in male life, the doing of something based on an inner vision and making it operative in the world.  So leaving you to say, "but I thought..."  Well, you thought wrong, and now what the hell do you do so many years later clinging to some cottage craft, really no solid plan.

And that's where the wine comes in again.  The submergence of the inner plan, the postponement, the loss of self-control  in its grant of feeling less pain.  Leaving a man to drift in the wind.

To respond to that though, Kerouac worked quite hard at a job, a dangerous one at that, as a brakeman on the railroads, the same job that injured Cassidy such that he got a settlement.   Kerouac worked hard at his Buddhist stuff too, and achieved a real grasp about it, such that you have to be decently read yourself to get what he's writing about, in Desolation Angel, really all through his long tale of autobiography (though that never seems a suitable term for his Dulouz Legend.)  The Void is not an easy term, something you have to really ponder.  He wrote a good little biography of Buddha, Wake Up, as well.  His writing was his quest, and really the only thing is that he should have put all the bad influences aside--a lot of which interested his creative eye--and quit drinking, if only for the sake of his health.  For he really had a problem, though it wasn't always that way for the poor old sensitive shy man that he was, deeply caring about a lot of people and the fate of the race in general, a big heart that may well have needed a healthier outlet.

Such as I would like to find myself, having been foolish enough for long enough.

Satisfied with my explorations, I consult the phone's map again and type in the address of home for directions.  New Hampshire I ride, a fairly long way, at one point having to stop to put the chain back on the chainring, downhill, here and there elderly African American men sitting out on stoops, until finding Park Road, then Columbia Heights, downhill to Florida, then back across 18th and then finally Connecticut.   I've crossed past many row houses and apartment buildings, many front porches with iron banisters and supports, many a brick.

I wake up in the morning light on the couch still, embarrassingly, in my clothes, still with my sneakers on, and feeling too fuzzy even to want to watch the Tour proceed into the Alps, feeling that familiar having lost control of myself with the wine, feeling very stupid, having gone off on a lone adventure that might strike most as madness.  I put myself to bed for three more hours sleep.  Was this the cumulative toll of the work week, and four nights enough to put me right back to my strange schedule, the equivalent of Happy Hour being midnight...  How can I get out of this insanity...

The exhaustion of yesterday has cleared, though there is no desire for going out of any sort, this being a necessary day of recovery for the writer struggling with his job as barkeep and his self-inflicted wounds.

So where does a sense of direction come from?  What is the vision that leads you?  I think I know better now how to take things at my own pace, a necessary thing.   By 7:30 in the evening I am ready for a bike ride, at very much my own pace, and maybe in the end there is respect between the sexes.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

And what also appears at the end of the week, to those who have been reincarnated enough to know that they have been reincarnated, a continuing of consciousness, is that there is something very close to the bullseye target of truth to the crown of thorns aspect at the heart of life.  Thus are brutes made gentle, passive, deeply concerned.
You get to the end of the week.  Jazz night is busy again, a full house.  Friendly second-date couple hangs out as I clean up.  A good week for business.

The Tour is racing through the hills of Beaujolais, up the Cotes de Brouilly, through the town of Morgon.   Very much like the countryside of the Mohawk Valley farmland.  Fertile, green, the sun golden on the valley.  The hot tar has arisen to the top of the roads and sealed them smooth.  Grass and hewn wooden fence posts.  I allow some of my jadedness to depart.  I see beyond the commercials to the weather and the move across the earth, the side of an interesting roadside farmhouse structure.  A white horse saunters joyfully across a field, feeling the power of life within, able to rise herself, her back, her entire body with footed sensual ease as if her very hide was vibrating with light energy.  She shakes her mane with a happy certain knowledge of everything and food.  Less am I noticing the odd specifics of fit men in lycra on agile bicycles.  I am encountering the deeper idyll of the land, the heady breathtaking feeling of soaring over sweeping land and lines of forest.  A sun and foot-worn town around a castle.  A sudden thick stand of pines near the top of a hill, a ridge of foothills, now shifting in perception from the green and tan brown of fields to an earthy blue, rising far behind, the floor of the valley unseen, almost unimaginable.  "Like that nicer part of Route 81, in New York State, suddenly high above a valley low," my body proudly remembers, and I think of the sweet sadness I feel when leaving my mom and driving back, the long way back to this almost invisible life I have here, a road driven now many times as day and night flash by, adding growth rings to the tree.  Barns and silo below, a river, a town with a church spire wishing to be a center of learning and culture but more forgotten into the everyday and auto parts than otherwise, and I'm on the road leaving it all, pressing forward to the city with vast expanses of commercial gloom, the difficult passage of Scranton and Wilkes Barre on the road ahead.  What am I doing, leaving all this, leaving the valleys of Central New York?  A writer is, perhaps, like Kerouac, a momma's boy, who idly watches idyllic clouds, not aggressive, not much a planner, not one to point to other people, "hey, you:  Do this."  Not one to drill for gas.  More the spider's careful strand of web, what for but to catch the meaty fruitful energy of the divine emanating Big Bang sunlight, source of all things.  To make some sense of things.  I watch myself fumble away.

And a phone call finds that mom has visited someone, a former colleague from the university woman biologist with a garden of indigenous plants somewhere near Hannibal, New York, met there a man who is growing hops with organic intentions, as they do outside of Munnsville, the towns of Brother's Keeper where I used to bicycle in my own sun filled afternoons of youth, the road big and dropping off past farm protecting dogs with a mighty hairpin near the bottom and the stream, and also Waterville beneath the gentle bosom of Tassle Hill, the recognizable feature of the ridges toward the south from the open fields above our old house and then where Dad lived up past the college.

Nostalgia is understandable.  With the insights time and age bring, you get the sense of how rapid the changes of everything within and without.  The thoughts and emotions of the previous week no longer apply and I've burned through another week of work to find myself standing alone again though it offends me not to do so often enough. And now what.  Changes.  That Kundera's sense of the lightness of being, Matthiessen's The Snow Leopard's deep poetic sense of the uncomfortable embarrassment of finding yourself alive, as the sherpa stands around waiting for whatever it is to wait for.  The Buddha's sense of everything burning, of no solid fixed self, the hardest of thoughts to really grasp...   Is that contrary to womanhood, this suggestion that entirely shifts the importance of things that is itself deeply shocking and scary, making one wonder if he is some form of traitor...  Nice to have a task like laundry to grasp and carry out physically in time, one foot in front of another.   And hunger rises.  Who am I, what am I doing, where am I, that sort of thing, as energy and the ability to do things seeps back into the body.   Do I deserve anything, have I accomplished anything, what claims may I make.  Does anyone have the right to talk to a person who has over time become the stranger she originally was...  Why do we talk to anyone;  what are  our motives, particularly if we barely take care of important professional things ourselves?

A plane crash no one wants to think about.  A different day in history, in the things that actually happen in the world.

And yet, by surviving another week, by putting the hours in, standing there, doing a reasonably good and efforted job, by thinking honestly, by working responsibly at what you do actually do in life as far as earning tasks and by being a reasonably good person with all whom you encounter, you somehow are indeed a better person, a continuity of an inner noble nature that is often quite confusing to bear.  Still with health insurance but without retirement plan, yet with a reasonably good understanding of a healthy body and what to give it and how to care for it without completely dismissing it away.

And there is something within us, silent, that deserves tenderness and direct and giving affection and love, a spark, a glow deep within behind our eyeballs or breathing within along the spine that makes our belonging true and significant.

I am a writer, I suppose, even though I've never for a moment understood the job or why.  The thought of making money at it, by now, would make me laugh.

Suddenly the Tour riders are on flat land, the approach of a town, the complications of its traffic, and then a little more farmland intercedes, woods coming down to meet the road before the final stretches to the finish line, a breeze gently sweeping through the trees that line the wide main road into St. Etienne.

Must one be stupid to find intelligent things to say; I wonder.

Outside there is no one on the street.  The writer is a tiny percentage of another tiny percentage of humanity, and no wonder he feels like a freak, it might be perfectly natural.  No hot dates tonight.  I hope to walk in woods, meditate on the log that overlooks the stream, and I hope a bike ride too.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

But all things must be said and done with the Buddhist perspective.  All things must be done with deep respect for people.  All things must acknowledge that even in pleasure there is suffering, always a quality to enjoyment in which there is preserved in the mind a haunting sorrow, a place out of which honesty comes.  And perhaps there is in suffering, not that anyone would or could by human nature ever endorse suffering over the easier ways of life, the joy of finding something real, like love, in many ways the emotion of great embarrassment and chagrin, but yet a facet of our character.

There can, as an adult, never be any simple thing, it seems, not fraught with tension.  Even to read and write can be pained and painful, as much as it is some sort of positive effort to garner meaning out of life.

This is the essentially Buddhist teaching of The Last Supper.  Even during a fine feast with wine and friends there is suffering, if not present, not far away and comprehended.  Even as the master's "feet" are relieved of muscular tension.