Thursday, July 2, 2015

In the old times, you know, things were figure-out-able.  The human being learned fire and cooking after hunting and shelter.  The beast could figure out everything, on up to science and writing.  Just like the first accomplishments, the doing of things was a matter of common sense, intuition, a desire to solve a related urge.  There was a large emotional element, gut instinct, the heart to keep at it and persevere, and where there was hope there was luck and spiritual insight.  Nature offered its riches, healing roots, plants with essential sustenance.  The being had a poetic sense, that the way things worked were related to how the terms regarding objects were expressed.  With ears one could hear, eyes provided sight, touch let shape be tangible, the moon and the sun followed each other in night and day, trees and plants had roots and reach, the seasons came and went, sometimes too hot, sometimes too cold, but survivable.  People gathered into friendships.  There was always the astounding inner sense of love.  A poetic term by which to approach a fact of life and the world allowed progress in understanding.  People started writing and then came along the book in all its history and story.

And then, somehow, things got complicated.  What was once natural, the therapeutic effect of a gathering with friends and some acquaintances and even strangers, became controlled, licensed, legally controlled, codified into proper behavior, particularly if you wanted to make a living at it, being a therapist, let's say.  What was once teaching, that younger people sat in a room and listened to someone with some mastery of a subject, advanced to the point where those with the highest credential of their professions were advanced without the slightest regard for actual teaching.  The literary world advanced the same way, along with so many other professions, that there became such a gap between the actual doing of a thing--which of course was a natural thing for the spiritual creature born in godly image and ability and reach--and the profession--which preserved itself ever forward--grew large enough, so as to squash anyone with the original desire to go about figuring things out as given to by innate talent.

Einstein was the 'certified ink-pisser' clerk, and the professional physicist was happy serving the state through the invention of poison gas as a weapon.

And all along, the being carried within the miracle of its creation all the beauty, all the wisdom, all the sanctity, all the gifts and abilities of the Buddha and Jesus Christ and other such luminaries you might name whether or not they have been obscured in normal human memory.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Typical guy who ends up working in a  restaurant as a bartender.  A sort of Dickens type character, not quite the drunk Sydney Carton from A Tale of Two Cities is, but more a fuck-up.  Perhaps a stubborn artist, like an unknown Beethoven at what he does, kept in shadow obscurity and night shift.  No girlfriend, which must mean something about him, some flaw, but perhaps for being somewhat like Sam Clemens was, fond of exactly the kind of base things a proper wife cringes at and edits out, amazing she puts up with him.  And, yes, like Arjuna, from the great meaningful tale of The Bhagavad Gita, not knowing what to do with himself a lot of the time.  But he still shows up for work.

A history of the Monday Jazz Nights leading up to the food critic's visit puts the bartender in a bad mood.  M, the waiter, who is good at pretending he doesn't know he's working upstairs, doesn't even bother to pretend to help set up.  José, the busboy, push all the low teak tables around into place, get the tables set up, while the downstairs guys fuss over a fork slightly out of line.  The bartender drags up the night's supplies from the basement.  No one stocks mineral water anymore.  And then the next Monday, M., I'm told as I get there, won't be coming in, closing on a house.  Great.    J, back from his travels, I'll help you set up, I'll float upstairs and down.   Great.  And then the night itself.   The band pulls up to the curb just as I get in...  Of course, help the old guy, Hod O'Brien...  Lug the heavy Roland keyboard up the stairs, and already there are people in my hair.  Hod sits down on the couch, on bare cushions, as I put the red cloth seat covers through the washing machine.  The busboy has his stuff to do.  Again, no one to help me.  V comes upstairs, goes into the wine room to lay on her stomach perfectly relaxed staring into some loud gibberish on her iPhone.  No help at all.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

I get down finally to reading the introduction of my W.W. Norton's edition of The Bhagavad Gita, sitting under the light of the Starbuck's patio after it is closed.  It's a bit lonely.  Holding the book in the streetlamp gets a little tiresome, a man and a woman--she is Russian, he talks with self-absorption--smoke a cigarette and chat loudly directly behind me, I decide to pack up stakes and head to a bar where the lighting is okay, one that servers Guinness and hamburgers, little bar tables off to the side where a reader can read in the corner.  I run into my buddies from Glen's.  "Let's go grab a beer at Board Room."  Sure.

One enters at around eleven PM, and leaves after last call, having paid the bill and tipped excessively.  And the next day I do not read much of The Bhagavad Gita, to be honest.  "How appropriate."

In a few short hours I'll go and face the egos, the talkers, and fall into it all over again.  "Man about town," my mom says.

But how can I not feel the sense of disgrace.  There is Arjuna cowering on the battlefield, shy, too much in his own head, thinking too much (or not enough), yes, being a coward, about to bring shame to himself for denying his own warrior status.  "Then Krishna, the Unshaken One, addressed dejected Arjuna as they stood between the armies, while laughing at him, as it were:"  (2:10)  Yes, laughing at him, or at least, a good belly chuckle in this tale of sometimes ornate description.

And Krishna, god in disguise of mortal form, charioteer, lays down some advice.  "Your concern should be with action, never with an action's fruits:  these should never motivate you, nor attachment to inaction.   Establish in this practice, act without attachment, Arjuna, unmoved by failure or success!  Equanimity is yoga."  Yes, good to know, there is an element of yoga, which will allow you to tell the difference between what is real, what matters, and what is not.

As I prepare to go face the egos and the talkers and the discussion of social lives, there is the coward, who'll listen to all the chat within minds and without.  There is the disgraced warrior of the educating class.  There is the coward who hides in barroom's giddy talk and in the drink itself.  There is the coward who did not stand up for himself many years ago over a matter important to his heart, finding discouragement more real than it was.  Taking from one apparent discouragement, a wide river, in his own mind, of other ones.

I must go and acknowledge my terrible mistake.  I must shrug at this effort of the writer falling into obscurity, a person who should have stood up, been a man, and taken up some form of actual teaching.  Was the book he wrote in such a cowardly state a spark of fighting back?  It does not seem to stand now as a very effective effort, given, perhaps, the state of literary matters today.  There was too much idiotic behavior that ran along constantly beside it, in that realm of actual life.  Whereas the ideal departs further and further away.

And what is there, there is yoga.

Friday, June 26, 2015

It has always been, how shall I say it, hard, strange, unwelcome, unpopular, to write.  You're standing outside the system, thinking you can beat it.  You believe your observations to be necessary, but why should anyone care, they have things to do.  There's no payment for it.  Of course not.  Perhaps if you create some new trend...  But it's a feeling, no one ever told you what to do.

Maybe this just ain't my town.  There was no positive reason I came here.  Little purpose in my being here.  No decision behind it more than 'well, you have to do something.'  Lots of friends, but isolation.  Don't ever feel up for going out on a date before eleven at night.

But if there is a purpose to it, you have to go through such sensations of the mind.  The writer's life is part of the physics of the world, a part of the Buddha's first noble truth of suffering, running perfectly in synch with it.  All the small dissatisfactions...  Fitzgerald's sense of 'bravely we beat on, boats agains the tide...'

You come out of it realizing that writing, as you saw it, is not the point.  So why stress yourself out?  Attempt to adopt the simple life you see in your mind's eye sometimes, like when you went out on a hike with the boss to a ridge line out in the national forest, on a border between two states.  Realize the wisdom innately within you, and keep the writing brief as possible.  One tick per day, as one day is a tick, and the act will in fact help keep your life simple, and where there is simplicity and realistic behavior, there is some form of contentment and peace, boring as it sounds.

If you were, on any one day, nail down the meaning of life, or write out the story of the Buddha within, what would happen the next day?  Well, perhaps you could count on yourself being just slightly wiser.

Clearly the world, and you and I am in it, see life as the struggle, the effort, an opportunity to go do things which represent life and living.  Work out your dream and give it shape.  It could be like Martha Stewart's dream house in Maine, it could be a successful date, it could be a trip to the beach, desirable things.  Find what it is you in particular really like, a new electric guitar, like the kind the Beatles had when they started out...  But then sometimes, like less and less, you see the flaw of that which is not readily available and free.  Then you see that the work you must do is within yourself.

This state, of obscurity, is liberating rather than confining.  It lets one find the voice, fold the yoga practice into the dough of the conventional desires of life.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

I am.  I am male.  Fifty years old.  Of uncertain future.  I am a writer.

The longest night of the week, the longest shift, I end up riding down the big breathtaking slope of Wisconsin Avenue from the plateau of The Dying Gaul and the neighboring garden and medieval library toward the river, Georgetown laid out before me.  I go down to the river.

I taxi on my bike on the boardwalk in front of the waterfront restaurants.  I cross paths with a woman shrouded by a sweat suit top.  Is she homeless?  I say hi, explaining who I am, why I'm here, after the storm, after a barman's shift, to look at the river, and she speaks with understanding back to me.

Later, after I look in at the hot new restaurant I am getting stories of, its windows dark, its vibe somehow tangible, laid naked in the night for the kind of establishment it is in its heart, an illusion of pleasure bitter in its core--I exaggerate some, in Buddhist mode, and there is nothing inherently evil about serving up a good dining experience to people who feel like getting out of the house, and perhaps I speak more of the service end of things here--that I finally lay my old road bike on its side, take my helmet off, and sit down overlooking the river across at Roosevelt Island, hoping for some sense of why I should be here, in this town, why I should like the old river, the Potomac, itself, why I should find myself here, why or where I might find some primeval taste of nature here after my long shift that began early with real estate agents and ended up with CFOs who, after dinner, always want one more drink, one more drink.  "Can I buy you a drink," such men ask, peering at you, looking for a way in, a crack. "I don't know if you remember me..."  Oh, yes, I remember you.

Giant steps sit above the river itself.  The rats come from the park and take their way down the steps and along them, down to the river, where ducks sleep at four in the morning and small driftwood comes down through the ripples after the big rain, after the strange light in the sky after the big thunderstorm and its torrents.

What do you think of talking to therapists, I ask, of the woman I passed by earlier, who has found some sort of quiet on the same steps above the river.  They drop off so that you would not know there are any steps beyond the drop.  I saw her slip down into the space earlier, next to the bushes, and wondered if she was, indeed, homeless.  Was there something a little unsettled, a little wide eyed, a little cautious, yet still able to handle a stranger...  I'd hoped to present myself as harmless, just another soul in need of nature.  And when I finally sit down, not far away from her, after talking to the ducks in their own language, my presence is accepted, from 12 or so yards away, too much equipment with me to be a threat.

They can be quite corrosive.  What can they do to really help you, how can they change you?  Studies show it's good to have a dog, or go for a walk, and these things change your brain and make the chemistry for happiness.  What can a therapist do?   They waste your time.

You know what?  I agree.  After getting through a long shift, I agree.  I was resourceful and industrious to get to this spot.  I dealt with people for ten straight hours.

"How do you feel about rats," the woman asks me, looking over at me.  I guess we are on the same big step, three above the waterline, after talking about photography.  You could count all the ripples on the river, here diagonally to the other side, the light cast by the tall office buildings of Roslyn.  "What don't they turn the lights off," I ask.  "There are people working in them still."  "Oh, right. Yeah, journalist, financial workers..."    The rats are us.  They are not our enemies, I've got no problems with them here by the river.   I don't go into work, that if they were to run across my feet, just saying,  in any place of work, that might be disconcerting.  But they don't do that.  Here they are. It's summer's first days.  They know how to drop down the steps, holding on, reaching down, then flat away.  They do not come toward neither me nor her.  I see the silhouette of sleepy female ducks curled on the last step platform just an inch above this placid boring slowly moving sea that is as far across as it can be.  The mud of that little island that is a break, a fresh breath, closed in upon by city lights.

This is not my town.  I add to it as much as anyone, maybe even more.  I've found a small niche in it, a place to live, temporary one as they are for all of us.  I speak of Maya to my new friend, who is involved with the legal professions.  I conclude she is not homeless as I might have suspected.  She might seem a little wide eyed, but it turns out she is Canadian.  I have a bottle of wine in my bag, but no corkscrew, and she doesn't drink anyway.  But, as they say, the world we see is a projection, an appearance to us based on a collective subconscious we all share, and, in addition to that, spiced by our own individual subconscious.   Why do I feel this is not my town?  Why do I suddenly sense, or rather it slowly dawned on me, as I stood outside the great blank night dull windows of Fiola Mare, that this is not my town, not my match, nothing to do with my own subconscious, but that it makes me always a friendly outsider ready to greet people at its gates, welcome them, but that it makes me one of the better conversationists in the town, though an unsung one...  I make the town something else than it is, almost as if it were a college town, or some great city where all people spoke to each other evenly and happily, as rarely happens.  I've got all the basic ingredients for such at my beck and call, at my reach, and after expanding out my rays of light, still, thank you very much, I go home after it all, a creature of the night, still wide awake, and people being happy with what I do, their little quiet Mother Theresa of the barroom, they wouldn't want me to fly away.  Even as I might bore them by my appearance, and make them ask, "what's he doing here still..."

Well, it's not like I have a girlfriend after all this, not one I know about.  And the nearest local restaurateur is basically not the nicest guy in the world, but in it for himself, entertaining as he might immediately seem to be.  Do I want to spend my money there?  No.  I'd prefer to go back to the weird, to the peace that strangers even might find overlooking the river, one male, one female, in the quiet dark of night.

I'm not such a bad guy.  I always and ever will approach people gently, not wanting to bother them, but there for them, ready for a conversation, if they too are alone.  That's a lot of life.  Alone, or able to offer friendliness to a stranger.  That's what, one might gather, they don't get in the war-edge torn parts of the world, even though they would but can't break out.  Make one tribe wait on the other.  Make that tribe go and wait back on the first.  That would fix things.  Nelson Mandela once told a story saying as much to friend of mine, Jeffrey.

There are some people--is that the way to say it?  There is a mode of what people do now, one that makes certain people look at what I do, that kind of gentle bridging of the gap between cultures and strangers and minds, and ask, something like, "why don't you have any self-confidence?"  That was a jarring moment of my life.  I suppose I had to write about it, being unable to change my dumb-fuck-ed-ness.  That's what you get.  Able to talk to anyone, to meet anyone on the path, and you get that.  Like, what are you doing with your own life/  Are you weak?

I never took that as a sign of weakness.  Being humble and agreeable, and, that final high talent that goes unsung, being able to, god forbid, wait on people, meet then in and out, strangers, weirds, drunks, normals, high and mighty, low and pensioner, even other restaurant people, who are able to say to the dismissive, 'we have families too.'

I guess, coming on the train, sad, mourning, lost, I pictured Washington DC as the town of, say, someone like Bobby Kennedy's sort of a ghost if you had to build the consciousness you'd want.  Or maybe that of Lincoln, and his ghost, who too might come sit over the river the middle of the night after one of this mid-atlantic swamp thunderstorms.

I don't know what I was thinking.  I came, I arrived.  It's been the same ever since, not much headway, a place to live, best friends asking me, what I'm going to do with myself...  Where you gonna live when you're old?

The week has ended.  The last shift, busy, was the least tricky of all.  I get home, on bike, and start the laundry.  My hands smell like Shout, after spraying the inner collars of Brooks Brothers shirts and the spots of stains that might have fallen upon them.  There is wine.  Red.  Chinon.  There is the red road bike on the stand for a fifty minute roll.  There is memory of the yoga class on Sunday morning outside, the soreness gone by now, very early Thursday morning.  It was very hot before.  Now the air is clear, and here, on the quiet street, with the earthen bank, in the early light, there is a vague memory of camp ground and trees rising from dirt and undergrowth.

I have all the windows open, the fans on of air conditioner window units to help.  I turn the lights off of the vestibule.  The neighbor, upstairs, will wake, soon enough.  I have no desire for an encounter, to have to explain the far bounds I've reached in my service to humanity, and even to him it might make little sense.  The city, at 6:20 AM, has begun to move, and I hear a truck sail by whistling through the wind down on Massachusetts Avenue below, moving eastward.  A bird with two note punctuation sings from a tree.  I've watched a bit of a Herzog thing found on Netflix about fur trappers in the taiga, Siberia, and it made me want to adjust.

At the end of the week, flashes go by.  I have memory of a Siberian Husky type of dog running along the fur trapper's snowmobile over the frozen river from day into night, not ceasing to run.  How can I explain that to people.  I remember the first sort of tap on the shoulder of the very first customer of the week as I sat and wrote the chef's dinner specials out on my little pad of paper.  Listening to everyone's talk, being their therapist, their ear, certainly takes so much energy.

I'm told of certain things, on Monday and Tuesday, and I forget what they just were, though I remember who told them to me.  I still am attached to the idea that our blood-types have so much to do with not only how we should eat, what we should watch out for as far as health issues, what exercise we might best engage in, but in how we think, what we are attracted to.   No way around it:  a type O will think differently than an A, than a B.  Literary critics are too confined to acknowledge the basic physics of literature.  To wit, my type A economist friend--what you expect from him--can only squash my humorist enthusiasm for the life of the Taiga Siberian fur trapper with immediate discouragement that goes with being of the Agrarian phase of humanity, all in good humor.  "Where are the museums, the culture, the jobs..." he asks.  He's a man of good humor, some of it sarcastic, so, sure, that was my point, get a chuckle out of life, that brief moment of a broader view from our little dugouts of life.  It doesn't get far with him at his hour of day, even with a glass of champagne, an onion tart, and a glass of Bordeaux trickling down into him as he resides quietly over a cheese plate.  "Maybe if you had a really good wine cellar..."  I can totally see his point.  But the beauty of being in nature, and being self-dependent in it, seems to hang in my vision as I bring the work part of my foolish week to a close.

The copy of The Bhagavad Gita sits on my bed cover still, after buying it at Kramer's after my little Monday morning therapy session.

What was Jay telling me, what was Jay saying...  telling me what I might do with my life now that it is here where it is....

There is no doubt to me, Hemingway, to me, certainly a Type O, needed action to write.  He needed to write, and so he needed activity and things to do, places, weather.  Because of that he needed to write.  He needed the material, and then he needed, or rather, enjoyed, simply, the prose.  There is still lots of discrimination against such people who have to live life that way, action on the one hand, experience the bridge, prose, thought, digestion in the mind on the other.

A writer has as much a chance as anyone to make some figurings on the nature of reality, sort of like Einstein, or the Buddha.   How can nature be aligned so that the inner world is perfectly reflected by the outer world in this strange trip of ours called life?

Thursday, June 18, 2015

It was Wednesday, Mary's live gypsy swing loud from the corner, a 14 top going away party for a JAG friend heading off to Bahrain, Jeremy and I got to talking about service.

I started on the topic earlier, describing the treatment a former World Banker turned fancy restaurateur on TV gives her servers, the browbeaten looks.  There's something missing from her model.  She pays a secret shopper to tell her the obvious, though, being a paid professional he puts in a way that justifies his own position and the need for it, rather than getting to the root of the problem, which is her own attitude, the suggestion she might develop a fresh respect for her staff.  What do you tell people in such a position anyway.  "Work with us and you're set for life..." the owner of a meatball restaurant seems to suggest as he tries to boost morale, numbers down.   A satisfactory answer only for so long, as I would well know from my own experience.

Jeremy has mentioned a coworker having an off-night, the guy who comes late from time to time, a bit  ODC, all over the place, vocal sometimes.  "It's very hard to be consistent," I was telling him, "so, you got to come up with a reasoning behind it.  It's an intellectual challenge to come up with the will and ability to do it."  We talked about the hospitality, the real stuff, that keeps us going.  "Yeah, I was a bit off yesterday lunch.  K (big customer) came in with a chick he used to date, wasn't so happy with me.  He had a gift for her and put it right on the table where I couldn't really see how full his wine glass was...  'Just leave it on the table so I don't have to track you down,' he said."  Yup, Monday morning, the blues, the why am I doing this, what's my future going to look like, what should I be doing for a better life, all those questions seeping in, and the putting on of a brave face almost in spite of it all.  "It's hard to come back in after a few days off," I mumble, relieved to have gotten the 14 top sat and the bubbly poured.  Team work.  It's fun working in a  busy restaurant with good people.

Later, a good hour or two later, he looked back at me and said, as we stood together in the bar mouth, my taking dirty plates from his hands to wipe the food scraps off with the silverware on them into the trashcan, stack them in some order from larger on the bottom to smaller sometimes in different piles, "There's no short-cut to hospitality(/good service.)"

 "Yes, exactly."  I smiled and washed my hands in the sink with a squirt of liquid Dove hand soap.  Yes, there is a fascinating intellectual issue at the heart of good service, the actual wanting to do it, putting aside your ego sometimes.  Putting aside sometimes, the 'why don't I have a social life...'  The problems in the mind that stack up like dirty plates.
The issues as they are presented to you can seem so substantial.  They can come as pressing social engagements, shoulds and shouldn'ts, claims, responsibilities, restaurants, events one should go to in hopes of meeting someone, rings to kiss, things to do because everybody's doing them...  And then there is the peace of Buddha and meditation, the calm presence in the present moment, one that leads to question some of the solidity of the world as it might appear to us, pressing upon us.

We have the guru,  the inner one, the outer ones we know from reading about, to guide us.  And there, after tending four pretty busy shifts, there is, again, the ikon, of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples.  And, one wonders, is this picture the culmination of the focus of the Christian story.  After all the wisdom, the miracles, the story of old prophecies fulfilled is the man himself, as if 'at last.'  Here he is in this ripe moment, good coming out of good, still, in this time of possibilities, before the realization of the bread that will be broken and the wine which is his blood.  The simple culmination of a wise life, not for any particular reason, not for any particular scriptural point to fulfill by letter, but simply to be who he is, to be, as the Buddhist might say, even that, simply, 'which is.'

Turn the world around and see it as it is.  Be 'that which is.'  Avoid the psychosomatic illnesses that come from believing too much in the solidity of appearances.  Be the man joyfully waiting on people.  Because it's your thing.  What took you so long.  There is nothing wrong with you the way you are.

That is the lesson.  You are perfectly fine the way you are, and the one waiting on people is doing very well in fact.

Of course he liked his disciples, his friends, his co-workers.  He liked hanging out with them.  Their core truth was the same of his own.  He enjoyed their banter.