Thursday, March 28, 2013

The ironies of life abound, you realize as you get older, at least when you fall into tedium.  The norm is more that the great resources of natural life largely go to waste.  Each rule, condition, each judgment imposed makes it harder for whatever good gift there is to shine through and develop into use.  That forests are cut down, that rivers are polluted, that species should go extinct should come as no surprise.  Even thoughts themselves are too ephemeral to last for long, the mind that holds them changing, moving on.  The innocent Garden of Eden, where everything is perfect, in its place, awaiting its proper use, and from this we are expelled...

So there's that young man and that young woman.  If fate gives them something like a sense of working together toward the same values, the same ends, a similar project, the two similar talents stand a chance of growing into something lasting.  A volunteer effort, just as most good things are achieved.  But otherwise, if not the errors of simple naive idiocy, the innocent optimism, the belief that 'things will work out,' if not the judgmental neighbors, the Kafkaesque, the Shakespearean will quickly take over authoritatively.  And eventually, as history chokes itself with its weeds, egotistical conflicts on all scales, with all the dictatorial ambitions and oligarchs and plutocracies aligning corporate interest with political clout, the trap of playing to perceived public opinion, no one will hear any longer the voice of the teacher or the philosopher, as what they might say, by some great rule of nature and the Universe, no one wants to hear, and if spoken would be irrelevant anyway but to some perfect world which exists only in the imagination.

The hero will only defeat himself, sooner or later, then to discover all the myriad of ironies, all the mythical things that could have helped him along his way, the inspiring soulmate, the mythical mentor, the helpful father in law, the workshop that could have been created, exposure to the world of culture, the patronage of the benevolent emperor.  And what difference would all that have made anyway?  One still has to live out his life as a mortal;  better just to be honest, modestly resigned to the imperfect world and humble tasks and obscurity.

It's not a book anyone would want to write, about the missing out on using all the opportunities given, the moments to be seized.  Even fewer would want to read it.  No one wants to write about the confusions of a foolish young person given to pessimism, with hindsight being so clear, almost devastatingly.  The world would rather read about succeeding, about proper order achieved through perseverance.

However, the fallen must go on living.  Humbled, you pick up the pieces, and do the best you can, even if it isn't adequate.  With fine knowledge and battles with low self-esteem, you go on, very humbly, not expecting to change the world much.

With such thoughts, the intellect is cluttered.  No wonder Buddhist thought is sought, along with meditations, to clear the mind of such things, to live, again, in the present.

Regulations are placed on public school teachers, for example, such as No Child Left Behind, with perfect administerial logic;  students are confined into learning less and less (being directed away from the content-area reading that might organically interest them and pique their curiosities);  teaching becomes imposed, less flexible, less capabler of responding to an individual need.  (Learning is a part of one's personal life, not unlike the affairs of the heart, as one remembers more things that have an emotional impact.)

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

From the New York Times, a review of "Neva," a new play in which Olga Knipper, actress and widow of Chekhov, is a character, reviewed by Charles Isherwood, March 12, 2013, Self-Absorbed, With Chekhov as a Background:

"During Chekhov’s lifetime many people died because of politics. Before he became a dramatist of renown, Chekhov made a long visit to the prison island Sakhalin, where inmates suffered terrible deprivation and even death. His bearing witness to the cruelty and abuse they endured did not stop him from believing instinctively in the necessity of art as a civilizing influence worthy of his devoted attention."

Not a bad line to reflect over.  Indeed, the events of our lives give us material to reflect, and some would say, as I believe, that the things that happen are just the vehicle to aid us to enlightenment, toward being better human beings.  Years are spent laboring under illusions, illusions of what you take to be real; slowly, gradually, you come to realize the emptiness, the void-backed quality of the things you held in your heart as real but are only lessons of the coming wisdom that will liberate you.  Paul is not the only one who refers to mirrors, darkened glass, being cleared.

Isherwood's unprompted mention of Chekhov's visit to Sakhalin (an incredibly long trip with its traveller already aware of his tuberculosis) is interesting as a necessary background for any understanding of his work in prose and in theater.  What were the previously-held or discovered illusions going to Sakhalin might have dispelled for Chekhov?  Might he have regarded certain criminal types as irredeemable, less worthy of being treated with basic decency?  Or, perhaps, in the sufferings of others, here dramatic in a penal colony, did he observe the human condition?  What is imprisonment?  It doesn't seem the author of the long short story "Penal Colony Number 7" would have been too far off from opened eyes.

Chekhov enjoyed in his travels relationships with people.  He drank vodka will local dignitaries, he rode in rickety coaches, voyaged on languorous ships, he visited geisha type houses for first-hand experience of other peoples.  He was a doctor, not shy of physical contact in certain situations.

And in a certain sense, without too much of a stretch, Chekhov is a doctor in the Christian sense, a physic amongst the ill and those in need of one.  It is as if he spent a professional life immersed in human suffering as a ballast for his observational material.

He gained from all his experiences, his great stories piercing the illusions of the momentary solutions people grab on to.

An experience of life:  something to study, by which to gain Buddha Enlightenment.

Monday, March 11, 2013

After waking from a night's sleep after Day One of the work week, I feel a bit of separation from the tenants of Buddha.  "What you actually do for a job is what counts in this world," the thought goes.  So how much purpose can I have when I'm up at 9, will be at work at 4:30, will be there for eight hours.

Well, look on the bright side.  At least you were too tired to even bother with a glass of wine when you got home after your shift last night.  That is good;  you didn't stay up late staring at the TV, and you slept solidly.  The sound of the upstairs neighbor going out the front door woke you, and you were brave enough to get up out of bed, retrieve the ceramic tea pot with yesterday's green tea out of the fridge.  Maybe there will be some yoga at some point, well after breakfast, maybe read some Iyengar, delve a little bit back into the Threefold Lotus Sutra, or read about the monk Nichiren.  How any of that will add up to anything to do with 'a career,' who knows, but you have to admit, it satisfies.  Nichiren put up with a lot, endured deprivation and exile to snowy isles, in the name of reforming societal view of Buddhism.  Maybe that is an avenue to pursue, lest the restaurant's duties take up more importance and energy than they deserve.

"Don't give up on yourself," the neighbor has said.  "Protect your talent."  An educator once.  "You can be a teacher without having to go in and stand in front of a classroom."  That is the rub, having come from educators, that strange world, as if it were aloof, separate from 'the real world,' the economy, the empire with its drone work feeding its own self-perpetuating unrealities.  And of course the emphasis is now on "Math and Science," stuff that will help create engineers and industry and economic value.  Who is left to protect the humanities, the arts, the things that give meaning to our lives, make them worth living, aid our moral compasses?  My father has passed away.

In the distance, the sound of fossil fuels being burned, the low grind of a truck engine, perhaps a dump truck, then a city bus, hums as if from leaf blowers, a general woosh or roar of airplanes lifting off reverberating off of low grey clouds, the city a reflection of such sounds, and I can even feel the rumble of heavy vehicles passing over the hollows beneath the roads.  I need a monastery, it seems, out in the country.  But what would I eat?

A few daily missions to attend to, to go out to the Rite Aid for some allergy pills, maybe do a 'hand wash,' clean the compressions socks and a pair of work slacks.  Walk to work for exercise?  Semi-begin to prepare for the coming road trip north to get away for a week and see my mom for her birthday.

Where, in it all, to find deeper direction?  Where to go about remembering the seeking of the That-Which-Is within, besides eating spinach and doing the dishes?  Well, I guess you read.  That's maybe all you can do.  And look on the bright side.  Were it not for having been written down, a lot of teachings would escape out into thin air.  It's not like we have the Buddha himself who lived so many years ago to come and instruct us, to conduct little seminars or give a TED talk.  We have to open up things like books and actually read, and then absorb.  Learning is not so complicated after all.

I made it out to Sunday brunch yesterday, I remember, was a part of the normal rhythms of life for a bit, before I had to go home and get ready for work.  I mentioned the Myoho Renge Kyo mantra as we passed by the SGI International building on Massachusetts Avenue across from the Russian Orthodox Church there to my lady friend, and she mentioned an interesting study.  Talk kindly to a plant and it thrives.  Even talk to kindly water, and its molecules respond in turn.  That must be an element, then, of That-Which-Is.  No wonder then, the pain of harsh words sticking with you.

No wonder then, that a lot of the world today isn't exactly thriving.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Somewhere pondering The Stone's NY Times blog piece explaining Wittgenstein, how the philosopher seems to be falling into general agreement with The Lankavatara Sutra (stating that ultimately there is no form, no thought classification all that deeply worth pursuing), somewhere between such thoughts and the Lotus Sutra, a writer finds that rather than telling stories, reporting on events and people, the stuff worth writing about is from within.  (Wittgenstein observes that philosophy pretends to be a science, but cannot be, due to innate subjectivity.  Even science reaches a point, a limit of that which is knowable.)  The stuff from within, as fleeting and as ever-changing as it is, particularly the stuff that pertains to enlightenment, that is what is worth writing about.  (And this is what the market exactly protests:  who gave you authority to go beyond the strict details?!  Who let's you be the authority about what constitutes 'salt of the earth' types?)

The problem is, of course, the duties of satisfying the fascination with the news, with all the stuff going on, leading us to complete distraction ever at our fingertips.  I should know.  I'm as fascinated with it all just as much as you are.  An addiction, to whatever the next little blip about information might be, TV, internet, news, an email, a check of the cell phone, 'hot chicks,' entertainment gossip, etc..  With some exceptions, as the Buddha's great piece of radical and compelling wisdom tells us, it's all, by measure, illusory, a distraction.  The basis of everything is non-form, formless, void.

One discovers things from within.  Understandings must come from within.  One discovers through living the nature of That Which Is.  Being a part of That, 'thou art that which is,' one learns, at least from time to time, about the deeper creature, even the ideal, the organic shrinking from some things and growing towards others, the deeper generosity, even the Buddha Nature within,  and even trying to fit that sort of stuff in with daily life in a particular society.

So I could never really write satisfying reportage about the things that happen, or are supposed to happen, in 'a bar room,' when they are just little events that don't have much to do with the deeper reality.  Because such things never really happen.  What comes through the vibrations, the waves, the details, the real stuff, the compassion, the placing the bar experience quite beyond what it seems in actuality to be, those are the things worth making note of.  Bar talk, as we know, can be about complete vanity, utter hollowness, and this is what makes it incredibly tedious.  Only a saint would bother to filter it all as if there were honey to be collected from within its dust.

Wine, to me, is a form of herbal tonic.  It seems to be good for the blood.  It quiets anxiety.  It might help in confessional opening up of one's mind.  It can, surely, quickly lead to complete sentimental crap, but, at the end of the day, I suppose it's not the worst thing one could be doing, even though it would be better to keep the mind spotlessly clean, so that one can keep on reading and diligently studying sutras and what-not.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

I look upon all [living beings]
Everywhere [with] equal [eyes],
Without distinction of persons,
Or mind of love or hate.
I have no predilections
Nor limitations [or partiality];
Ever to all [beings]
I preach the Law equally;
As [I preach] to one person,
So [I preach] to all.

From the Parable of the Herbs
The Sutra of the Lotus Flower of the Wonderful Law
translated by Bunno Kato

This seems to make sense to me, and it boils down the depths and the limits of relationships and friendships.  Ultimately that final relationship between all of us, enlightened beings, potentially or actualized, has to do with passing on the knowledge of the fundamental nature of reality.  A father might love his son, but still must be impartial about exposing him to the truth in hopes that the son will pick up on it, as he would as a good student.  Of course, the Buddha being is greatly compassionate, even to this original prodigal son from sutra's parable.

And so, all works of literature must, if they tackle such core stuff, come upon one impartially.  Of course the Buddha is tactful in how he teaches, sensitive to the needs and capabilities of his audience to understand, but there are no favorites in his teaching methods.  The lesson to the beloved son is the same as it is to the stranger.

I wondered after years of working in restaurants if I had not made a great error.  My work it seemed emphasized a whole lot of escaping into pleasures of the senses.  Music, intoxication, sought out flavors...  It could have been worse, certainly, but as I came to get things more and more, I saw that the greatest matter was not that of all those customers having a happy time of it on a Saturday night (while, I to my credit, somewhat, was working away and in the meantime observing them.)  In a way, I've always felt alien, a stick in the mud, "in it, but not of it," when amongst people having a grand old time.  It was as if I liked a certain basic ability to enjoy such times, not that I wasn't perfectly incapable of it, just maybe that I always ended up seeing through it, sensing its fleeting nature, when deep down I would always be of the same mood anyway.  Burroughs writes somewhere, or maybe interviewed, that is was Kerouac's nature to always want to be sitting in the corner with a notebook, scribbling down notes and thoughts, even, as is perhaps implicated, when there was lots of stuff going on.

So, I would make a note of that basic unwillingness or inability to lift myself out of that distant mood, to join in with the joke.  I was always much better at being on the edges, like a servant observing while waiting for the next task to come, waiting, as they call it.  I've never minded waiting on people, not for a moment.  In fact, I find it liberating.  (I mean, you wouldn't want to work in some gross place, with drunken criminals betting over dog fights, or some exploitive place.  But, I must say, a lot of places offer loud music, thuggish culture, sex, aggression, drunkenness, hormones, a complete embrace of all the things that are false and fake and which lead to lust and crime and even murder, and I don't tend to willingly hang out in such places, even if only to observe.  Too sad, too unhealthy.)  Looking back on twenty years of it, I've worked in gentle places that fostered conversation and family, with Hank Williams in the background, give him credit for country philosophy and the portrayal of the human condition.

But, I wonder, sometimes, where do you draw the line from keeping the wine medicinal into seeking to obliterate suffering through more suffering (of sensual things.)  At one point does it facilitate the tempting devils of Mara, the Mara within you that is you?  On the other hand, there are occasions where a mellow conversation opened by a little wine makes perfect intuitive sense.

It serves me as a great lesson, the teaching of the Lankavatara Sutra that states that if you take all phenomena as being empty, based on no form and nothing, you're doing okay.  And, again, this is a good thing to have on a Saturday night when the world of the youthful city is involved in an exclusive mating ritual, blind to the souls left out of it.  To admit to myself that I wasn't a part of that, that I would be basically be happier home cooking a simple dinner, even if it was, perhaps painfully, by myself, was a good thing, a necessary thing.

As a recipient of knowledge, and hopeful of putting that knowledge into action, as art is action, I am happy to hear that Buddha dispenses his good stuff to all, and wouldn't say to me, 'forget you, you're a bum who's served too many margaritas and played too much loud music and done too many stupid things, I'm passing you over.'  He would include me too in his teaching.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Vis a vis iPhones left at work that disappear, traced to a certain neighborhood, but thievery denied, the boss of a small restaurant, asks that we move on, not wanting a dark cloud hanging over the place.  "Let's just not talk about it."  And for the psychology of the place, that's probably a good idea.  You move on.

Do you ever wake up with a dark cloud hanging over you?  Yeah, well, I seem to.  Had that feeling for about 25 years, actually.  Something unresolved.  You wish you could do something about it, but you can't.  25 years ago you could have, but your idiot buddies distracted you when you were due for a meeting.  And what can you do about it now?  It would be ridiculous even to pretend for a moment that you could.  Too much water  under the bridge anyway.  Times change, people change, commitments are made, directions are taken.  You count your blessings, and move on.  You were a decent person, acting decently, just got confused.  Maybe some form of ADD.  The only thing that, it's hard to forget it all, and it causes a lingering air of being unresolved.

And perhaps this is where the tactful genius of Buddha's simplicity has a place.  Remove desire, and you remove suffering.  An important lesson in life.

Sometimes in life, it seems heavily to be the case of Murphy's Law.  If something can go wrong, it will go wrong.  If you don't leave something protected for a moment, someone will come along and steal it. And this is the horrible truth behind things like the death of President Kennedy, that if, for one moment, he is not completely protected, boom, he is gone and then there's nothing you can about it.  It's simply randomness, the billion egos all clawing for something they want, taking away the things of other people in multitudinal acts of selfishness and strange will.

The wiser of us realize such things earlier.  They come to regard people in a negative way, about to be incompetent often enough, except for the rare few that you can count on.  And so they nail things down, take responsible action, don't leave things up to the whims of the gods and personalities, nor allowing for the sanctity of art to let things all come out in the wash.

And then, I suppose, there is art.

Moods are products of our chemistry, the quarks, the quirks, the physical adjustments our systems make and take.   To a great extent, we are just born the way we are.  Some are happy, some are smug, some are prone to melancholy, some need the juice of adrenaline to keep them on even keel.  Some are fighters, believing in their own righteousness, and some aren't, prone more toward reflection or the curse of being a sensitive guy.  And all of us are trapped, really, in our little systems, sometimes within the ticking time bombs of our personal chemistry.  Which of course does not excuse anyone from being a pedophile or a murderer, rapist, what-have-you.  Some people like incessant chit-chat.  Some are self-serving.

Well, anyway, you find a little bit of a rhythm in your daily life, and odd as it is to maybe someone else, if it works for you, you keep at it.

When I'm at a loss, I lay down on the rug and look up at the ceiling.  I guess it's a form of meditation.  I think of the opening of Islands in the Stream, where Hemingway gives us a self-portrait of a man staring the fire in his fireplace, the driftwood of Bimini lending different colors to the flames.  There might not be a plot to it, but it strikes one as accurate, and worth its observational space.  In another place (A Moveable Feast) he writes of going to the Paris apartment he used exclusively to write, how at a loss he'd eat oranges and through the peels in the fire and watch the colors.  I think random thoughts, I feel the flow of breath and atoms within me, and then I gather the strength to start the day's tasks.
One had the feeling it was Lincoln himself, finally, winning the Oscars for best of the best, what we all do, act.  Mr. Day Lewis, a fine genetic relative, from frame and brow and skin down to a closeness of the very same voice, prone to need to rise to be itself and make a good point, to make itself a little bit louder, serves an excellent choice of stand in, with plenty enough of the same soul that we all have inner access to.

It came down to scenes like the telegraph office, a shawl around the President's sleepless shoulders, asking the kids (the young guys working), 'what do you make of it all,' or, 'what do you think this is all about,' with complete interest, then, offering, as we all do, our own story.

These stories of Lincoln we are prepared for, from Sandburg and the like, the work of historians, interviewing Herndon, common people's memories lasting 'til the end of the 19th century.  Oral history.  The gist of his personality coming through letters, all easy to get sentimental about.  An every day guy.

Did he, as Kushner places emphasis, have great tension with oldest son Robert about signing up for the war?  Narrative arch stuff, keeps the eye, misleading in some ways, true in other ways, if, say, you really wanted to get down to the nitty gritty between, as Spielberg's Lincoln is intent on, Abraham and Mary Lincoln.

But, I myself wonder, why was the final dream, of Lincoln's ignored and passed over?  His dream of coming down, just days before Good Friday, April 14th, to see the muffled casket, and asking 'whose it was?'  Day Lewis certainly would have read, rehearsed in his mind, such a moment, the deep sensitivity, and even alignment with dreams as Lincoln, the poet, had.  That would have refocussed the energy, the dynamic between the intimate husband and wife in a different way from Kushner's script.  It would have given us a script where we all face the ultimate, in which we all know, at some point, we will die.  Would not the math of Lincoln's life experience, as a lawyer, seeing people's life shit, as a depressive, as a dreamer, the dreamer an integral part of all his aspirations, of seeing his own mortality (why else would you help a pig up out of complete mud?) lead him to a conclusion about doing the right thing, and doing the right thing only.  Strong, fearless, sensitive, perhaps he sensed, in his subconscious, in his dreams, the backlash for what he willed, but that not stopping him.  He may too have sensed his wife's afflictions, as part of all the diseases of mortality, a token of his understanding of human frailty and foible.

One gathers, though, that it's hard to make a movie, commercially successful, depending on Dreamworks funding, that tells a tale, as the classic Japanese films of the post WWII era might, of mortality, of a striving to do the right thing, met by equal and opposite forces, the ultimate meaninglessness, or, rather, the ultimate meaning gained through the grace of human respect and decency, the sense of honor and golden rule.  It would be hard to really lay out the life of Lincoln and the death of him, as our guts might understand the whole of him.  It would be hard to lay out the close up of him dying, even as the great photos close in on that same face we want to see, want more of, a fascinating thing.  It would be hard to interrupt the plot arch with the sudden cruel death, and yet we know that life does such things.  Fatalistic as he was, would Lincoln have sensed his own death as more tangible, closer, more inevitable, an understanding steeped in whatever spiritual understandings he may have come across.
I wonder sometimes about those great artistic achievements that came out of living Paris in the Twenties, the community of artists, the poets and painters, survivors of the Great War like Apollinaire, joined by the ex patriots of the English speaking world.  Picasso, for instance, kept a great circle of friends, and when done with the work of the day, they'd gather, eat, and drink wine, and they'd talk, and compare notes, argue, expound.  And they seem to inhabit a last, or perhaps a new and wild and different, finger of the Renaissance, as if on an outpost of it, meeting the sea.  They had, of course, hang outs.  They had Picasso's 'laundry boat' up on Montmartre near the top of the hill above a gentle bend in a road.  They had places like The Dingo, along with all the cafe spots the folks like Hemingway celebrated through utilization and fully living.  For the artists, such places were gentle, accommodating, and alive with possibility, and the art that was spawned in the subconscious revery and relaxations and wordless thoughts that happened within their confines was, of course, art that matched them.  The art that sprung from them was the art of the lives that wandered through, and so cubism was born, paintings of prostitutes, war survivors, free spirits, talkers, artistes, as the pages of A Moveable Feast sketch out for posterity, there Joyce, with his glasses, eating over with his family, encounters with Gertrude and Sylvia and Evan the poet, Fitzgerald.  (History will conjecture later of Joyce's afflictions--knowing certain habits of his--and the medical treatments that ruined his eyesight.)

And now places have changed.  Times have changed.  Economies have changed.  And somehow it is hard to recreate, in the current business model, an environment where artists might thrive, have productive discussions in public meeting places.  To create a flicker of such a place where people could meet, shake off their day and all its impositions like a dog shaking the wet out of her fur, relax, take comfort, have conversation, enter into discussions that go beyond all the tedious specifics of the day, to be transported, to have a little daily break, a teeny tiny vacation yet one that acknowledges all the personal realities, that would be, and is, an achievement.  And such a place would serve as a classical thing, and rise above its earthly duties of providing food and drink and other people's presence, to shine and accept its charges.  Such a place would be no small accomplishment.  It would have to rest on a good reservoir of the waters of hospitality, and one wonders if these times are prone to drought and 'here's your check.'

Show me a writer, and I'll show you a place the writer inhabits, as if he or she were a certain kind of wild creature, prone to certain habits.  Some people like mass behavior, loudness, thumping bass and displays of strength (shouting), for kicks, some like Bistro Du Coin, some like clubs called Dirty Martini, some like hipster hangouts, and some people are like the sweet creatures of nature, prone to find spots where they are comfortable, tree tops, overlooks, safe forests, undisturbed streams, where they might encounter other beings like themselves, with that flicker of nature.  Like things of the green world, healthy art and thought (effecting all aspects of life) must find a healthy place to grow, generous of water, sunlight, breeze.

(And I am relieved to find that the earliest of humanity is exonerated for enjoying fermented fruits, as the latest study of a particular branch of the digestive enzymes of our closest ape ancestors suggests that folk like gorillas left the trees, came down to enjoy the fruits fallen from the tree tops, dealt with it digestively, whereas folk like orangutans preferred to sleepily stay up in their tree top havens.  Humanity, in other words, didn't have to go to great agricultural lengths to whip up a little vino, or, at least, were capable of taking benefit from fermented fruit, even if they didn't immediately set up portable hunter gatherer stills.  That booze is traditionally brewed up in the natural cover of mountains doesn't seem to far off the general direction of humanity.  The soothing effects from digesting fermented stuff told the animal, 'this is okay.'  We're going back about 10 million years in evolution, so it's okay if you like a glass of wine.  It ain't no sin.)

After a few longer than normal weeks, Valentine's Day, Restaurant Week, someone on vacation, at the restaurant, I leave the restaurant without my phone.  The door locks behind me, I have the key to the top lock, but not the door knob.  Bundled up, courier bag on my back, it's not in all my layers.  Well, I'm tired, I'll get home, and come back to tomorrow and it will be there, like it was when I left my old iPhone behind on the bar or at the table by the chair where I took off my work slacks, changed into my dungarees, put my shoes on and packed up to leave, turning the lights off and all alone.  I get home, have my glass of wine in peace, find sleepiness somewhere down the line, get up around one, get ready, go to work, and, guess what, my phone, a new iPhone 5, isn't anywhere to be seen.  Hmm.

"Well, hey, check it out on 'find your iPhone.''  Okay, thanks.  I put my password in on iCloud.  A compass wags, and then a dot appears on a map.  New Carrolton?  Lanham-Seabrook?  WTF?

This happens to be exactly where the honest sweet steady venerable Salvadoran cleaning lady who's been there forever, back to when the restaurant was a Greek restaurant, matron figure of much of the staff, happens to live.  Chef gets here on the phone.  "She says she doesn't have it."  I sit with the waiters and we watch the little dot on the map, and it moves, a little, then finally settles, at a particular corner, a block or two from, well, someone's house.  So, we get ready and do our shift, swallowing the sickened feeling.  "She'll bring it back tomorrow," someone says.

But she doesn't.  She keeps to her story.  "But, but..."  We consult the surveillance video.  Nothing.  It was Oscar night.  I called my mom around midnight that night.  Where exactly did I leave it?

I go and grit my teeth through Monday jazz night, through Tuesday wine tasting night, through Wednesday night, summoning vestiges of hospitality, reluctant hospitality, such that I have to grab each piece of it by the tail while people arrive and smile and want to relax.  I want to blow my stack.  Each night, I walk home from work.  I get home late anyway, but these too are late nights, maybe particularly so.

Finally the week ends.  Whatever avenue anyone might pursue here, as far as getting my phone back, leads nowhere.  What we all want is for the dark cloud and the suspicions to pass and be forgotten.  The boss is extremely kind, and solicitous, and it's obvious he cares about me personally and values my hard work as one of his main barmen.

I sleep all day.  I don't feel like dealing with ATT.  It turns out to cost quite a bit to replace your phone. You already have a contract and have to pay full retail.  I have my old phone still.  Soon I'm eligible for a discount 'upgrade.'  Upgrade.  Try, 'replacing my stolen fucking iPhone5.'  Next time, I'll get the carrier's insurance, as Applecare doesn't cover loss, theft or normal wear and tear.  A hot shower abates a headache lingering the last 24 hours.

I order Chinese, do some laundry, try to ignore the thumping bass and yells from the idiot kids next door while contemplating filing another noise complaint, take another nap.  It's only finally when I look for a PBS documentary on YouTube about Appalachia, (finding the meantime some nice scenes of Caroline waterfalls) that I come across a soothing mountain air, played on mandolin, that I feel some kind of catharsis.  (Music always draws us in.)  It's a song that is the opposite of the jarring sort of message of the modern advertisement's attempt to overwhelm your innate humanity with seeds of lust.  It's told in an old pentatonic scale that a child could put together, and it belongs to no particular country.  It could be originally Japanese, or Indian, or Middle Eastern, but anyway, it, or the basic scale and notes struck the Irish and the Scots as something worthy, so that they brought it with them, and played it on whatever tuned instruments they took the time and trouble to build in the midst of their hardscrabble existences.  And the music is the same as the teapot that whistles, as the octave reached in the sound of filling a vessel of water, or the same notes we have within us when we react honestly to something.  Music, as the ancient Chinese might say, reflects the order between Heaven and Earth.  Buddha's early lesson talks about the string tuned just so, quite centrally.  The song is, in one carnation anyway, called Beech Spring, an old harp song, an ancient air and maybe a dance.   The opening strains of it soundly oddly familiar and close to Happy Birthday.  It's played well in D, basically the key of Beethoven's 9th.

And as is my habit, I will refer to some wisdom of Shane MacGowan, that you can hear music everywhere, in the water, in the ground, in the wind, in the rain.  "We just put ... it in boxes."  (While delivering a lesson on the relationship of Irish music and the blues.)

Yes, the blues.

It is then, in the quiet of the night, that I feel my ancestors, that I feel music, that I feel that old scale and it's old song cheering me, letting me morn the potential loss of the last little iPhone videos of my kitty cat licking away at her bowl, or tossing a little furry catnip mouse around, stuff like that.  Downloaded to the computer, at least, but playable?  In the end we lose everything, health, home, life, so why not the dress rehearsal played out in some cheap but expensive scale, plus the hassle.

That's life for you.  Thank god for music.  For a glass of wine for digesting, when you are ready and capable of digesting.  Apes, we came down out of the trees, even as we admire our friends the birds, down to earth.