Sunday, August 25, 2013

It was a Facebook thing, an event invite I misinterpreted as a gathering of people I'd worked with years ago, up at a pizza restaurant next to where we all used to work.  We had all hit Austin Grill at a certain time in life.  The original management team were artists, who loved what they did.  And then it had gone to different management, weird, number crunchers, menu changes.  One morning we were shouted at, as if by Mussolini, on sexual harassment by its worst perpetrator.  I should have gotten out then.

I walked up Mass Ave past all the trees like I used to do, and crossed by the Vice President's house, entering the old neighborhood, Glover Park, on an August Saturday night, crossing Wisconsin at the light at Calvert, walking down from the gas station, past the dry cleaners, past Pearson's Liquor and Old Europe, past what used to be The Grog and Tankard back when, and then, not looking in through the window at the old bar I stood at for years, but for a shuddering moment, down the steps.  I was expecting a small crowd of familiar faces, of people who've been through loss.  I walk in, silent, unrecognized, to the end of the bar, and I know the manager, a good guy I also worked with back at old Austin Grill.  There is a crowd at the bar, just like there always was, the attitudes unchanged, the manners, just different faces, as if DNA were at work, recreating the same in the different, as I've seen even in restaurant staff.

Polite, thinking of escape, I had a glass of wine, a Langhe Rosso, beautiful easy going nebbiolo.  I had a good conversation with the woman next to me, a graduate of Swarthmore, about Joyce and being Irish.  And then another glass, and then I fell into talk with the restaurant guy I know who is sits next to me, who gives me the skinny on who's staying and who's going as far as the restaurant business on the block, a diatribe he thinks I'm interested in at the moment as TVs show endless sport loops.  I hear a good arson story.  And all the while, no Spike, no Jennifer, no old gang.  I see, looking out, up at the street, an old friend, I guess you'd call him, intoxicated, trying to persuade a stripper to get in a cab with him as he sways.  It takes me a moment to recognize him, in a gesture, the way he hunches when he talks to people when in his cups.

I found it semi-nightmarish to be back on the strip.  I asked myself, how could I have ended up there for so many years in such a subservient position, bartender?  What good did I do for humanity?  What an impossible shame.  Trapped there, by the drink, by the companionship in it, by the illusion that by working there and by writing I was building some kind of a career.  We worked, thought we were artists of some sort, liked the soundtrack, the food, the buzz, the friends.  And I had felt that the writing I did was somehow involved with the great academic background I had come from.  And the bosses never really talked to us much, until they turned it over and walked away.  One day, the music box which had played as we worked, one day it stopped playing the tune.

I do get caught up on the doings of old friends, thanks to Joe.  I find out about Keith, and Kevin. Tom has moved to Florida.  I express condolences to my friend over the loss of father.  Other than that, it's a lonely night.  The bartender knocks over a row of stacked pint glasses which fall to the floor with a crash.  I don't like bars anymore, a waste of time.  And then, four glasses in, I start my exit.  I walk up the steps to the sidewalk, to check out Bourbon, then Townhall, conscious of the sleeping unconscious sadness of the crowd passing on the street.  I enter a place I wouldn't,  the in-people who know how to dress, belonging far more than I ever will, in a uniform of shorts and summery light tee shirts without much care, but confidence in the belonging to the scene, a privileged confident entitled crowd of blasé attitudes all seeming to know each other.  I'm an outsider.  I ask the bartender for the wine list, don't bother having another glass, get rid of a two dollar bill the people at Kramer's gave me as change months ago.  I don't know, it seems like we served a fair cross section of humanity at the old Grill, journalists, a playwright, musicians, the neighborhood, young and old, funky and not, mainstream and non-mainstream.  It wasn't all bad.

I go and stand at the street corner at the light again.  I walk home, rather than hail a cab, to punish myself, wishing I had just stayed in, had no wine, read something useful.  Is it that there's always an excuse, always the illusion.

Rattled, and tired, defeated, and wanting no part of it anymore, I went to work, only because I had to, Sunday evening my Monday morning, and the door opened at the good people showed up, and I fell into the groove again, for better or worse.  Toward the end of the evening, joined by a regular, a good conversation with a person who has just moved from San Fran feeling a little sad, talk of Suffi poetry, talk of the Muslim world, Shi'a, Sunni conflicts.  And once again, I am a glimmer of a lost scholar of a vaguely religious kind, as I may have always been, but up close and personal with the existential sufferings of humanity and the sorrows of pleasure. What's the line of Buddha's?  Was it that he found himself 'ripe,' or, the perfect candidate for such an enlightened change, ready, perfectly prepared...

I come home and read a sad NY Times story of a generous Brooklyn restaurateur's suicide, and wonder, where do you go after you give your generosity and realize that everyone is suffering?  Do you renounce, and go on the road, like Jesus did;  do you go as Merton did, join a Trappist monastery;  do you become a moralizing writer (if you had the money) like Tolstoy;  do you recognize a moment with all prophets;  do you embrace Buddhism close and closer?  Do you write self-help books, like Tolle, and try not to act hypocritically, or rather, understandingly?  Or do you become a cultural historian, positing about how Christianity was a big hit in wine friendly Europe?

I have a glass of wine and go play some Pogues songs out in the backyard under the moon, liberated by a good run of Sun Sessions, James Super Chicken Johnson, and Austin City Limits, Roseanne Cash doing 'the list' followed by Brandi Carlile, on good old PBS.

Friday, August 23, 2013

It could only seem like a vestigial appendage we would no longer have the circuitry for, the ability, like Muhammad, to go up on the mountain and hear the voice of the angel.  We've become modern people, in charge of many powers and many things, but no longer able to receive divine thoughts, no longer believing, skeptics.  Anyone laying any sort of claim of such we would of course, perhaps rightly, be immediately suspicious of.  But like that of myth-making, it seems that somewhere along the line we've lost our powers for that mode of activity.  It seems we might go hike up the mountain, but what would we possibly receive, as we peeked from time to time at our phones, as if the prophecy or divine guidance should come through them.

The world of Islam choses not to aggrandize images of the prophet, a point made clear in the PBS documentary "Life of the Prophet Muhammad, Peace Be Unto Him."  It is the divine message, not the mortal messenger, to acknowledge and celebrate.  Our world seems instead to go for personal fame, even though a person is balanced when allowing the divine to flow through him, superseding the personality.

Muhammad, by the excellent account, was dissatisfied.  He was unhappy with society.   He had deep questions about the nature of creation.  He felt troubled, and he sought peace in meditation and retreats to the mountains above Mecca.  He need to get away from its tribal society, having experienced all levels of it, displeased with its treatment of the poor and marginalized.

"Read," the voice of the angel said to him as he awoke from a dream with a feeling of being stifled.  Twice he replies that he is not a reader, that he does not know how to read.  Finally, at the third urging from on high, from the angel who has caught him, the prophet asks, "what shall I read."  And it is the words themselves which, when transcribed, carry the prophecy, simply by their own nature, coming from God, such that a sensitive but not necessarily learned type might be perfectly able to take their dictation from the recitation of God.  So it is the word itself which has inherent importance.

"Read: and your Lord is the Most generous,
Who taught of the pen,
and taught man that which he did not know."  Qur'an (96:3-5)

Muhammad, after this first revelation, was of course frightened and agonized, needing the sheltering comfort of his wife and family, wishing to tell no one.  He would admit that he 'abhorred' poets and madmen in particular, and would never want to be one, just as he had told the angel Gabriel that he was not a learned worded type.  And the angel had wrestled him the first time and the second time appeared to him as if straddling the horizon as Muhammad had returned to the mountain, telling him that he was 'the messenger of Allah.'

Bring this to modern times.  What is it that man does not know?  What are the things that are worthy of such a pen?  What would the relevance of such words be to such a world, one we often think of as so advanced beyond the tribalism of the prophet's time (who so eloquently, in his last speech, given in Mecca at Hajj, reiterated the thoughts of how God, Allah, had created many different peoples so they could get to know each other, without infringing, without terrorizing, but to peacefully get along) or at least considering ourselves as civilized, but others less so.

Bringing the divine out of the personified myths of tribal paganism, the deeper human psyche's working its way out through storied tales, may have seemed to require some shift, anyway.  God, now one force, had to directly speak over all such tales, to say finally, more directly, what was good and bad, as far as behavior and ways of thinking, applicable to all facets of life.

How would a writer, with the same basic reluctance and suspicion, see his role, see the point of writing in the world, perhaps particularly there is so much writing in it already, and when anything he might say about the need for peace in the world would come of as juvenile editorializing, and who is he anyway but some punk kid, when compared to an expert like, say, Henry Kissinger.  Overwhelmed by all the feuds of the world, bombings, etc., what could we do but leave it up to the television itself, hoping that wise leadership or the better angels of our human nature might win out as if at the end of a grand morality play broadcast live, capable of fixing the vast complexities of the economic world too.

Can the world be solved by 'the transcribed' words of the divine?

Have we lost, then, a belief in the ultimate importance of the word, its power, its ability to convey the guidance of the divine?

One can only know his own dissatisfaction, his own disappointment in himself for fitting too eagerly into the modern world of personal fame, the cult of pleasure and luxury, the don't ask/don't tell of professional lives of monetary existences.  It was never his own personality that mattered, but the yogi presence within, and if he emphasized the former he was in for bad health and angst, and if he emphasized the latter he felt calm and in good health and did good things.

Fortunately the small profile of this "writer" as "barman" included his habit of wishing to listen to people in particular, to their trials and travails, shared over the vino's veritas, and how that was the most priceless for him.  He did not come to work in a bar to pour the latest cocktail, nor even to make money beyond the bit given to him, prizing the time and the labor for its own sake, perhaps for keeping him around other beings thus somewhat sane.  In his confusion, in his long harried night, unclear of his role in life, he too fell into the vanity and the desire for wine and fun and dancing company;  he too drank too much, so as to suffer the next day;  he too fell for tasty food and things beyond the simple, the good, the nutritious (though it could have been far worse.)  Perhaps it led to a greater understanding of the human condition, even as he knew not what to do with his own life.  But even the thought that he was 'a writer' too had much vanity to it, though I suppose a writer is always saved by allowing things, perhaps the subconscious, speak through him, impersonally.  (Writers who are forced into the awkward spot of having to be publicly a writer ego are in danger of falling into a falsehood, if they do not hang onto their journalism of the self behind the ego, which would entail disowning most popular images of the writer who is worldwide explorer and interesting personality.  Kerouac, he fell victim to the fame, to the portrayal of his personality, and to his credit his sensitivity and realness hung in there a long time;  it's obvious the poor guy wanted to escape, though of course it would be very awkward, publicly for the writer to escape his role, as society has done away with the old comfortable roles of myth tellers, prophets, bards, troubadours, 'poets,' scholars, philosophers, that gave writers acceptable roles and duties.  Kerouac, who was deeply religious, presents a very real and interesting problem, and it seemed that he had indeed come to a kind of safety with his Buddhist works, finding a real role for himself, which was not easily come by;  it must have been chemistry, past a tipping point, a lack of sufficient help protecting him against his drinking, on top of years of abuse when out in the wilds, that got him.)

That which he had done reluctantly, as if forced, knowing not what else to do, turning to words themselves, like Milton's Adam when expelled from the Garden of Eden in Paradise Lost, turning to that blind and amorphous project of "writing," as if to lay out the only few things that were observable, became a kind of habit.  And whereas none of it would ever go anywhere, at least it would inform him about how the words in gospels and sutras and other revelations might have come about.

Fortunately, today, obviously, we have a large body of religious texts to rely on, we have law and order, some of us anyway, we have educational systems, we try our best to bring equality.  Perhaps, the prophets are no longer necessary, as if we have figured everything out.  The only thing we might complain about is our own selfishness, our own egotism, our own pursuit of materialism beyond what we need, all the things that get in the way of our own reflections, our own desire to go meditate somewhere and make gentle the ways of the world, things we all might have access to in due time, our own ability to inhabit the high words of the visionary and make them truer.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

To me, yes, maybe he, Rick, that cool iceberg of a person of Casablanca, was, god forbid, at one point a writer of some sort.  That one quip of his, about the part of coming to Casablanca "for the waters," says it all.  "I was misinformed."  (Coincidentally the title of a good NY Times blog.)  He doesn't do it anymore.  He quit.  He runs his business, helps out where he can, keeps himself out of trouble, tries to live as neatly as he can, no clingy broads getting tipsy on him and causing a scene without getting promptly escorted home.

You almost see it in his hunch, the night he takes to the bottle upstairs, the solitary habit, almost see a notepad in front of him, as if he were to attempt to write someone a letter, sorting his thoughts out.  But he must have quit, at some point, grown tired of being the exasperating dumb fuck at the whims of the world.  And maybe this is why he came to, of all places, Casablanca.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

My moment of internet fame coincided with a trip to the Hamptons, passing through New York both ways.  I found myself indulging in a look at paths not taken in the past, rising vaguely above me like the city skyline, towers of mysterious activity and adulthood and real jobs, the hedgerows of time closing in on me, my life like the song, "The Days of Wine and Roses."  Not necessarily a healthy proposition to dwell in the past, obviously, but a conscious thinker is inevitably aware of the thoughts in his head, even as he might not be able to control them.

The neat access point to adulthood and big cities is after college.  I chucked all that fresh opportunity away, at least I think somedays.  But was my path directed, in part, by a lack of something, a deficit of oxytocin that led to unhealthy behaviors of the sort that got me into the restaurant business. I fell into a cycle, of some form of work, stress, the seeking of quelling the stress, and the resulting depression (if not combined with an actual headache) the next morning which itself led me to write, as writing is an attempt to get the good chemistry flowing in the brain if not simply the reflection of some kind of dopamine imbalance.  I felt like I'd fallen into a vicious cycle, that made health hard to come by, as if there were some kind of powerlessness about getting out of such a routine.  Healthy things like yoga and calming aerobic exercise, those always help.  They improve self-confidence.

But the lacking of good chemistry led to the background of the book I wrote, about a self-perpetuating situation, an unintentional misunderstanding that did not get addressed, two young people almost comically denying each other the oxytocin of a good friendly meaningful hug.  The writing, the effort to understand, work on that which I have a psychological issue over, led to the work I do.  But writing about it didn't seem to really help.  It didn't solve anything.  Like other parts of my professional life, it revealed a lack of a plan where everyone else in the world does have a plan.  Who could blame me for trying to find through my own readings that maybe there is a way out of such a mess, related to its initial causes, for whom no one is to blame but the chemistry of the creature.

In the end, the final analysis, I hope one writes not so much to whine, but to, perhaps in some crude and unprofessional way, to share.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

from the pages of Sketches From A Barman's Album

Casablanca is a movie that works, says a man, a director himself, grey haired, wearing glasses of the classic horned rim style, clear framed, after a short discussion on Truffaut's Jules et Jim.  The jazz trio is sitting down now in the corner, eating trout, while a small gathering mingles around the bar having passed through how the different parties know each other.  "We're both retired military.  We've worked on some projects together," the taller of two men says, comfortable with the venue.

Bogart's Rick, I ponder over him from time to time.  How would you describe him?  He's a bit of a loser, in some ways, in that he's not a doctor, nor is he married.  But give him credit, he runs a business out in a far strange corner of the world.  He's clever.  Though we might ask, what has he done with his life, it seems he is a survivor.

There are some shady things going on about him.  There are the bad guys, the Nazis, killjoys; there are the corrupt local officials, more or less amenable to better humor;  people trying to escape, etc.  We see the cold side of Rick, when Peter Lorre's character asked to be saved;  we see the good side of Rick, when he switches the money flow at the roulette wheel around to help out a young couple;  both sides are impersonal.

But his main reality, which has haunted him, shows up at his bar/club/hybrid casbah casino restaurant.  Ingrid Bergman's character.  In the course of events, some of his faults, his ego's feelings, will come out.  Sentimental, he takes to the bottle, even if normally he is a picture of self-control.  She will then take him to task for his short-comings, telling him that he is not the same man, after he expresses some bitterness of being left at the train station, not knowing the full story.

The movie ends in an interesting scene.  It's obvious he's doing the right thing, and her emotions come fully to the surface.  And to the deeper savage tribal subconscious eye, perhaps what he is doing is to bring forth the impersonal deep force of the Universe which is inclusive of what we beings call love.  Perhaps there is tension in the scene, in a G rated way, and in a deeper way, the eye sees some completion of the relationship between the two, despite the minor detail of everyone doing the right thing for the world at hand by whisking her away with the great war hero of free peoples, her husband.   We read that the plane is on the runway, revved up, fully charged, and that it will lift off, magnificently, but that for Rick there is still business to take care of, even while enjoying all this, which is to shoot the bad guy dead, a brave move, matter of factly without much orgasmic hoopla.  Rick preserves his energy, and it's a beautiful love scene all the way around.  The world will survive.

It's a fine cinematic few moments, of Rick's 'thinking for the both of them' selflessly without ego, and perhaps of a kind of Tantric energies.  And through it, Rick is reconciled, in the end, with his past and will now, presumably, live in the present.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

A writer is obliged to look at things from beyond the horizon, from a higher dimension.  The three dimensions of the present of what is taken for reality is sometimes nerve-wracking, and the writer will write to maintain perspective and calmness.

I chose to admit the basic nervousness I feel when proceeding out of a routine.  Traveling is something I'm not used to, and it is strange and novel for me to break out of my work and get down to the train station.  I feel the same way about packing.  For that opens up possibilities.  Many people seem to me to have absolutely no problem getting on airplanes and going places, but, to a primitive like me, it's all very strange as it is eye-opening with regard to the size of the world.  Fortunately, I have a good sense of direction, or at least my mother tells me this.

I find that even a little task, like staking up, retying a tomato plant out in the garden has psychic complexity.  Until I remind myself to not mind the mosquitos, to get out there with a piece of kitchen string and scissors, that I am armed with the knowledge of how to tie at least one basic knot, that I can, in short, 'figure it out.'  Which I go do.  But it always seems to me, such a venture would not be possible unless there really was a great Universal force out there emanating through all creation and all reality that is on the side of people trying to do complicated things for the general good, the general flow of Nature's good offerings.  Life is possible, the Universe whispers (or I make up), and if you try, put some common sense to it, you'll be able to get something accomplished.  Even if somedays it seems harder than others, like when I procrastinate over train schedules and wonder how the night's shift will go...

I don't suppose people could ever even write letters without that sense of things being doable.  Yes, you can say what needs to be expressed in a few simple lines, if you sit down and try it.  No matter the complexity, just boil it down to what in your heart you want to say.  And then, at least, like every body else, at least you are trying.

I know full well how the complexities of things can psych you out sometimes, pushing you back from trying to, for example, say the things you'd like to say to someone to gently start a conversation.  All you have to offer anyway is quite simple, though the confusions of personality and inner voices can make it seem very complicated.  The offering is to with your own humble being try to represent or bring out the greater force, the power of the Universe and all creation and reality, which we can usefully refer to as, well, love, I guess.

Short of brain injury and other bad things that can happen, no one really would, in a right mind, attempt harm.   And yet people do cause great harm.  Misunderstandings?  Fallacies of selfishness?  The political world is often a mystery.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

There's a time, brought on by obvious maturity--ha ha ha--when you find out that it's okay.  It's okay.  The entire Universe is built on something, some law, something that we could, perhaps, if feeling religious, call love, or, if you prefer, something grand and inclusive.   Sometimes referred to as Quantum Physics, of which there is no limit, an excess, a complete applicability.  That law might not care particularly about our corner of things, Earth, the way things are going here, seemingly quite disinterested, but still applicable when you consider life and nature and the shape of things.

So, given the reality of the great excess, the great energy of love behind manifested reality, so what if you just kissed her.  Something that happened once.  And then because of sweetness, irritating sometimes, nothing ever happened.  The great force behind it all had no need of anything particular, no need for anything dramatic, but the good sweetness that young people, full of life, bring to their dealings.  Okay, sure, it had its foolish immature sides, dumb, a waste, but you can only live in the present.  Love just is, a presence, a deeper reality.  It's not all meant to go strictly into reproduction of a species, obviously.  The force behind the reality is naturally channeled into a lot of things, art, poetry, kindness, the art of everyday life.  It wishes the best for us.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Maybe that's just the thing about it.  It's like the restaurant business itself.  You have to be in it.  You have to be there when it's busy, when you're in the weeds.  You have to immerse yourself in the flow.  You do what you can, extend yourself on some days, retreat on others, as it will make you nervous, and I've always worked in places that would make you nervous, and I suppose we all have.

But in order to think in such a way, to begin to figure it out, you have to be in certain nervous situations.  That's when you realize you need yoga, meditation, calm, a fresh perspective and distance from Ego.  And this turns out to be the guiding light in life anyway, rather than any fixed plan you might have thought out, drawn up.  Maybe you have to be in a 'when things fall apart' kind of a situation to be reunited with your humanity, I wonder.  There's just a certain math to it.

You can't put it together yourself, at least not rationally, and so you have to rely on something else, on the kind of confessional poetic aspect of the mind and life itself.  Is that where you find yourself, when you've been sort of knocked on your ass?

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

"You're wasting your time," the man of the retired couple from Florida in for dinner last night tells my coworker J.  (Or maybe it was, "you're running out of time," blunt enough.)  As people in from out of town, the man and his wife had engaged their server over the course of dinner, and J told them of his plans to go teach history eventually.  To a restaurant worker in his forties, J early, me late, there is a point, no doubt.  The couple was amicable, jovial, not unfun, so, let them be.  A little prod never hurts.  It's not lost, in the folds of the mind.  This is why one shares, in the course of his profession, only that which cannot be avoided to share.  Little hope that it will be understood as more than folly, but so be it.

And yet, I cannot help but feel that I've just witnessed the difference, the change perhaps, in consciousness, without which great works of art and science and philosophy, history, etc., cannot be born.  A new consciousness does not tend to come out of comfortable suburban retired Florida life, at least in stereotype.  (Though it's true that Kerouac settled and died in Florida.)  Consciousness emanates from 'certified government ink pissers' like Einstein.  It comes from degenerate ex-pat writers like Hemingway.  It comes from the drop-out sector of life.  It comes from the oddly called upon.  It may not, on the other hand, come from folks who sit too long in front of commercial television.

Well, thanks for the tip.  Enjoy your visit.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Amit Goswami, the Quantum Activist:

Quantum physics was very philosophical, and then World War II came along.
And after the focus shifted to America, where it was all very practical.
And then came the developments in biology, DNA, which promised to solve everything.
The philosophical was forgotten.

Quantum consciousness.
Electrons jumping orbits.
People sharing brain images through no direct communication or location.
I wake up often with a sense of things not going very well.  I wake up reminded that I live alone.  I wake up with a sense of finances as a concern and an uncertain future.  I wake up groggy and stiff, and I take my green tea, accept my situation for what it is, a sign of seriousness.

(The Post Style Section has a piece on the Very Rev. Gary Hall, new dean of Washington National Cathedral, who has come to see bars as a healthy place to discuss matters of religion and related views.  He's aware of the shrinking popularity of old school Orthodox Anglican High Episcopalian habits.  He has a term, 'bar theology.')

So, it is, that I work in a barroom, a tavern, a place of travelers, a place of familiar people, a place of talk, even if it hurts, even if it messes with my sleep schedule, and leadeth me to imbibe the fruit of the wine and be gluttonous, even if it leaves me blah.  I do, I am reasonably convinced, help a forum, humble, shifting, unruly, disorganized, scatterbrained, prone to distractions and mutual boredom as it is.

Yes, I would like the bar to have conversations about the difference between fornication, the urgent desire to impregnate and be done with it and move on, and the high transcendental love making that regenerates its participants and brings them to new unheard of levels of good health.  I would like the bar to discuss blind excesses of corporate greed, since, you know, corporations are people now.  I would like to discuss the possibility of CEOs who took modest salaries and had a sense of a company as a team of people, a family to take care of, so that all could contribute in a good and satisfying way.  I would like to discuss education as an exploration of cultural values, culture itself, so that young people could find themselves with a pattern of culture, moreso than education as an adaptation to the technology and economy of present nationalistic empire needs.  I would like to see the human dimension in everything, and this makes me a strange sort of cleric.   Disguised by running down a wine, making sure food gets to a table.

I don't mind mysteries of the theological sort.  One of them is that serious people often have to endure things because of what they are attuned to.  And I know that, as with many people, out of the personal gloom comes a real desire and ease to talk with people in a friendly way.  It can be five minutes to curtain call for this bartender who is saying, 'ugh, I don't want to talk to anyone,' and yet, in they come and there's just the spark, the electricity of communion and mutual compassion behind the ostensible need for a cheese plate and a glass of wine.

And what motivates some people more than saddening injustice, a disequilibrium in moral equipment, like slavery, or the treatment of the poor, or apartheid.  Do-gooder politics, or does such come from a real sense of morality?  The issue might boil down to some need, some desire to change people's consciousness somehow, so that they might join in an understanding.  But it all begins in someone's gloominess.

To pin down the cause, that is the problem.  To find the cause of malaise...  What makes us sad, lonely, discontent, questioning, concerned with society, and yet while also seeing the best in people...  What leaves us wondering where to fit in, and not out of place with other outcasts...  What does one see, what is the inner eye seeing, and why does it gravitate to people enduring a crisis through a stance?  What does this have to do with anything anyway?  Why not go back to the business of a normal Saturday night?  Where to go find a place for doubts and put them away from you?

One of the first things I wrote here recalled how I fell into the restaurant business ("Plane Crash," May 2008.)  I had encountered a problem of ego, a roadblock.  I wanted to be friends with someone, and it seemed, for many reasons, that she really did not want to be friends with me, and taking her to be a wise and sensitive person, this made me unhappy.  I found a way to keep busy, to keep my mind off it, to forget what my ego found important but which was not of living in the moment.  Running around, getting things delivered, talking to people, helping the bartender restock her cooler at the end of the night, I found liberating.  It wouldn't last, but when I worked, it worked.  And this was how my professional life began.

And somehow, as juvenile that anguish was, and even how it still can bug me, and even as such a concern is laughably little against the real pains that people might go through when subject to the whims of the world, I, in a small way, learned something about ego and its illusions.  For some they come by it through awful things followed by a time of digestion.  It seems par for the course for a thoughtful life.  The teacher in Robert Kennedy, for instance, who brought Aeschylus into the modern world, is admirable.

If you've 'read' history, what jumps out to me is a change of consciousness.  This is the story of Lincoln.  He simply showed up on the doorstep of history with a different consciousness.  We cannot trace that consciousness to any particular thing.  There were events, like when he was a youth, catching a silver dollar for his efforts on the Mississippi as a tip from ambitious business types, and a trip down to New Orleans where he encountered a slave auction.  He read Euclid.  He read what you might call Gnostic literature, so that he seems to have felt that he knew something, enough to see right and wrong in an issue where it might be obvious, but also to see that there existed the necessity to act in accordance with the right, even if it meant abolishing a very popular and economically driven wrong.  It was as if he believed in a higher plane of existence.  That, to my reading, is the story of Lincoln, of why he does the things he does, why he carries himself so.  A strange belief in, or maybe allowed by, a higher consciousness.

His grandfather, his namesake, fought "Indians" and was killed on his farm by "Indians."  His own father, quite symbolically, did not believe in books, and symbolically, Lincoln did not go see him as he was dying, even though this seems inordinately cold and cruel.  To him the law must have been like one reads today Eckhardt Tolle, in a way, or becomes a Theosophist, or absorbs Buddhism.  It was attractive for being a high intellectual calling like reading the Bible was, again, an intellectual matter more than membership in church.  It was a literate matter.  And it involved him mind, body and soul as well.

Journalists gathered at for him at Cooper Union during his campaign for the great office.  They were transfixed.  Something entirely new, and yet very old, came through, and it surprised them, caught them off guard.   And there is another very major and historic speech of his of which there is no transcript, no recording, quite as if John F. Kennedy's speech at Los Angeles accepting his parties nomination for the Presidency had so entranced every individual that no one was able to leave a record but from bits of memory here and there.  He must have come at them with something akin to mysticism, a transformation of consciousness, leaving the Tolstoys and the Gandhis to play catch up ball for years to come.  What others in the future would do as a form of protest or disagreement or literary act, he did confidently as he made public policy and delivered a few Presidential lines at Gettysburg.

Who knows when he or she finds a part of the day to draw in tune, in alignment with such things as higher Theosophical worlds were ideas are passed on mystically and the soul passes on, leaving one to inform another, quite beyond any logic but that of physics and mathematics.

It is for the usual hackneyed reasons that a piece on Lincoln on History Channel on YouTube has quickly become like a 5th grader's understanding of the man, even with Ph.Ds given learned opinions, which of course are worth respecting for certain purposes and reasons.  But they don't reveal much, once you've heard the story, unless the historian has a particular charisma to convey between the words something deeper, as an educator really should be able to do, after enough years of practice.  They all have the same trace of outline, and where one might say Mary abused him endlessly another will say, as I chose to believe, that they had a sacred marriage that worked for them, strange as it might have been to an outside observer.

The basics stand for themselves.  A backwoods boy reads books in a deep way on his own, and finds somewhere along the way, through his own loner ways and depressions, a deeper way of thinking about things, as he can share with very few people, even if he can refer to it with confidence in addressing certain popular issues.  Something within that experience gives him confidence, earned through his own personal individual trials that no one else will ever be able to experience.

Take those pat lines, about the story teller people were, in Old Salem, attracted to. Well, there is an element of truth in them, obviously.  But perhaps the reference is to little quips he might come up with as one might have passed him, a general quick wit.  He liked to tell jokes.  That's fine and acceptable, but, maybe they gained in presence because of the quiet background they stood out against.  As if one were to note surprise that a tall grey and sluggish fellow might suddenly twinkle out of his depression in an unexpected way.  The basic juice of history we must drink, but allow it across our lips at our own judgement, at our own taste, and make sense of with our own tongues.

Friday, August 2, 2013

"Tadzio, dear," she would say, "you must be serious."  And I would look at her, not know what she meant, and know even less how to put what she was talking about into any terms even to begin with.  "You must be very serious," she would say, a little more slowly and leaning forward, and then she would lean back and laugh her old-fashioned Polish laugh like French women sing when they talk, suddenly unable to control herself, look through her glasses at me again with a serious expression, and then say, "Oh, Tadzio, Tadzio," and start sort of giggling again in refined hushed tones, sometimes having to wipe a tear from her eye almost.  Then sometimes she would narrow her eyes, and slowly say, from a distance just the word itself, as if hoping that would help such a lost cause, "serious."  Often while we sat facing each other at a card table we'd just removed some paper clutter from.  Enough room for a few plates and our wine glasses, coffee cups waiting to the side, the bottles kept up behind the television.  (She didn't mind her white Bourgogne at room temperature.)  She had lived in the same humble apartment, with her husband until he died, in 1988, since something close to 1965, the year of my birth.

Madam Korbonski, Pani Korbonska, as I would call her by, had married her husband, a prominent Warsaw lawyer, in '38 or '39, been an integral part of the Warsaw Underground, the Underground Polish Parliament, the Warsaw Uprising, and she was my neighbor until at 95, really 98, she passed away.  When the moon was full, or there was another excuse, I would be invited over for a late night 'coffee,' or really wine and cheese and sometimes things stronger than wine, along with lore, history, the personally smoked salmon of Kuklinski, who had survived, old photographs, the life she shared with her equally heroic husband and the secret radio broadcasts they had pulled off at great peril under Nazi nose and triangulation, lessons in music, such that sentimentally I hold on to her old Zenith hi-fidelity portable record player from the Sixties even though it doesn't work.

She believed, in things like ghosts, in chance meetings, in the Polish character, romantic as Chopin's, independent, in folk medicine, and talked to her sister, ailing, back in Warsaw over the phone.  She did, when I knew her, travel back to Poland--she and her husband had escaped the Soviets by boat to Stockholm with little more than photos and the shirts on their backs--for the opening of The Museum of the Warsaw Uprising.  Returning on the airplane the circulation of her lower leg veins was compromised, and she bravely fought back to health through some great pain after ignoring the initial need for medical care.  Our visits continued on.  She showed me serious medals she had been given, in a box, with a wide red and white ribbon of an important order with the Polish Eagle in grey metal.  Her funeral ceremonies, one at the small Parish church in Silver Spring, and the one in Doylestown, Pennsylvania where she was ultimately laid to rest next to her husband, were completely in Polish, the latter after a, to me and my mother, Fellini-like procession following, with ranking Polish military, her stainless steel flag-draped casket through a Polish festival with tee shirts, fried dough and peirogi and grilling kielbasa while the priest chanted through portable speakers another behind him held raised on his cassocked shoulders.

Tadzio, be serious, she would say, always with a bit of a giggle to the side, then a stern look over at me, going so far as to lower her glasses for effect, and then we'd listen to music, I'd hear more stories, she'd ask if I had any girlfriends, she would let out that her friends probably thought she was quite crazy for having Tadzio over, for such fine spreads of pate and terrines and plates of cheeses, stranger more Old World delicacies, chocolate, a fine staple food for people fighting back, fruit, and finally it would be almost light out and we would adjourn and I would almost sneak back to my flat next door parallel to hers, sleep late, rise a little bit hungover and go off to work.  And one Christmas Eve, I forget if it was before or after midnight, somehow we did it the right way with a toast of vodka and pieces of smoked or pickled herring-like fish served on little pieces of bread that to my ears sounded like "sledge."

And in all the time, no, she never really explained what she meant by being serious, though of course, she, her husband, all of Poland and the stern looking fellow in a photo, was it Rataj, with a mustache and a handsome widows peak, shot by the Nazis, all knew what it was, to be serious.  Somewhere along the way--I helped her for a time on Wednesdays with her grocery list (typed carefully), until, a boy still, I let her down--she'd read a printed out manuscript of the book set at college I'd written, and she proclaimed and exclaimed with real excitement and pleasure, in a fine note, and immediately also over the phone, that I was indeed 'A Writer,' confirming it for all time, and that I must keep at it.  For a brief interim period I would slink by her house thinking of the boyish at times puerile tale she, a great lady, would be abused to read over, the typical callow stupidities, the foolishness of directionless American college life, until the glowing note arrived, brought over by one of her helpers.  And something about reading a manuscript reminded her of the life she had lived with her husband, how she would transcribe the histories and stories he wrote on her vintage green Olympia typewriter for which I'd sometimes go find ribbons for, the books left to record the history of a nation tossed to the wolves.  One is lucky not to have seen people being blown up, lucky not to be beaten on the scalp with a belt during interrogation, lucky to have not had to walk through Siberia to freedom.

And unfortunately, "writer" too, is a term like "serious," incomprehensible to an outsider until it maybe falls upon him.  What does it mean?  When does it apply, and to whom?  What do we really know about Ernest Hemingway, about his methods and abilities, beyond that he was a magpie, a bit of a clutterer, who liked to hang on to things like old theater tickets and feria posters, odd bits and ends, memorable stuff, who kept cataloging sort of commentary notes he wrote himself in the margins of the books he kept in his library, as if all such things might pop into his mind and remind him of something that would one day be useful to writing something, as if they held a latent emotional import.  (Worthless to anyone else.)  Why did he hold on to things?  Why did he go to bars and talk to people?  Did such things offer some form of encouragement to him, as Madam Korbonski was subtly offering me encouragement with 'be serious,' surrounded as she was herself by mementos and pictures, one of a pet raccoon from summer in Cooperstown perched on someone's shoulder.  The entire process and the product itself, at the end of the day, how could you possibly define it, explain what was satisfactory, or what had been achieved in it, but that now, or one day, it would be like an old song, worth listening to again.  And perhaps the two fall into place beside each other for some of us, as the only way to be serious in life is to write, as the only way to write is to be serious?  How do you become a writer?  Well, as been said, you write, you write a lot, you write when you can and at other times absorb, largely out of things you enjoy doing anyway and that seem good for the health and spirit and mind.

Was there any hope for me, about becoming serious, in context of a woman whose husband had realized he was on a train to Siberia he needed to escape from?  The discussion, she never allowed it to go further, or elaborate, or leave helpful hints that I didn't completely miss beyond an envy for the serious. And what should I do, how should I get out of the restaurant business, in order to better be a writer (whatever that could be, in my humble context), and she looked at me quite calmly and would say, "Ah, but Tadzio, you must.  Everyone must have a job that pays them."  I would think to myself, glumly, 'okay,' but then the glum would lift, even if my job seemed hardly cut out for someone of noble intentions.  And I would bring her back halves of the good baguettes from the night, leaving them in a little bag hanging from her doorknob when I came home, and that was obviously a good thing.

And it probably took me a long long time, and a good few years after her death, and after my father's death--the two had met and really immediately been two peas in a pod and sang words to a Chopin air that he recalled and that she immediately picked up on--to think on seriousness.  ("Oh, I'm sorry to hear that," he said, with a thick voice and then a sob, as a kid wouldn't hide one, when I told him the news of her death.)  And maybe these things are, really, right under your nose, and that's primarily why you don't see them.  It is the seriousness which you let yourself, help yourself bring to any job, and in a way I've finally seen the seriousness behind the general job of hospitality, the job of bartender.  Maybe it's what you bring to it.  Maybe you can feel some days like you bring too much to it, too much that will never get used, perhaps things that will almost seem at times antithetical, like a Buddha talking to himself in a room full of wild-minded tongue-loosened pleasure seekers.

Pani Korbonska was an intimate friend of the beverages of life and hospitality, her style being the formal Polish table, to which she welcomed later in life a Polish president, and Lech Walesa.  To one of her luncheons, it was best to bring the appetite of a horse and be prepared for wine.  I will admit, some of her lady-in-waiting and sweet helper's schnitzel ended up, half chewed, in my sock.  Like the homeopathic medicine she told me to rub on my bare chest to keep the cold away, wine and brandies and vodkas had a medicinal reality, an obviously beneficial spiritual presence, and so, perhaps my deep intuitive understanding at the little brand of good I do with my two hands in a troubled world isn't so far off.

Over the years, people have shared quite a lot with me, deaths of pets and dear people, illnesses and medical reports and coping mechanisms, books, thoughts, career achievements, the changes in personal lives, and to the extent I can, I've been, I've tried to be, there for them, present and not just shaking a drink, but listening and feeling what they feel.

Many lessons over the years, about how to be patient, non-judgmental, lessons about the humanity in everyone, minor lessons about egotistical people who wave you down and ask you to check with the maitre d' when the table is going to be ready as they sip their martini.  Lessons, repeatedly taught, but not quite grasped, about how it's really best to avoid the shot of whisky, as good an idea as it might seem at such a time of camaraderie.  Let's admit, none of us are saints.  We fuck up.  We get up late and hungover, until I suppose at a point we learn better, through certain obligations of adulthood, not to.

Does one allow himself to be serious ever?  Or is indeed, if ever achieved, something like the seriousness of Lincoln, who would soften serious and grave matters with the seeming polar opposite of a little tale, or a kind of joke, the humor always a step away.  Do matters of life that require seriousness simply fall so that one must pick up seriousness?  Live, I guess, and learn.

Perhaps not many of us can claim seriousness as much as, say, "the poor handless Spaniard" Cervantes --he got an axe in the battle of Aleppo--and even he begins his great work with the small basically polite joke that the poor figure who will be both brunt of and inspiration for, fool and brave hero, has from reading too many old tomes of chivalry, like El Cid and that sort of thing, gone completely soft in the head, taken upon himself the fancy of having fallen from such pages as regular townfolk are wise enough and practical to burn.  That hero, Quixote, of course, is at home in a tavern (indeed meets the reason of his quest, the beautiful Dulcinea, in one, fancy that for odds) and in a barroom, as if such were a fine place for light to shine upon his noble visage, which of course he, like many of us, puts on.

And how else would anyone ever tell a tale of barrooms and bar tending without that Quixotic element, a basic sharing of life and stories, flawed and distorted and told from angles as they all must be.

The nighttime, obviously, at least in Pani Korbonska's book, was a time for explorations, for relaxations and stories.  And even, yes, a time for seriousness, sometimes the only seriousness we will ever know.

Perhaps that was the joke she was an insider to, to which I had not developed the proper sense of humor or cultural understanding.  This before me, live, with the moon full such that one wouldn't be sleeping anyway, even if she was 94, maybe particularly so, was seriousness itself.

And so it seemed to me, what I had long heard, what I had even long been telling myself in my own way, what everyone around me was telling me to do, that indeed I should write about bar tending, about how I kept my own sanity through it, with it, sometimes despite it, how I might have helped keep other people sane and balanced, to the extent one can as a more or less helpless outsider.  I should write how tending bar was deeply related to writing, and how, in the end, it was a deeply serious calling.  The only thing was, that I felt obliged to do it in a certain way.  "Here," John F. Kennedy once wisely said, in one of his many little poems, "the myths are legion, and the truth hard to find."  ("Those who wished to ride the tiger/ ended up inside.")  I could only write a personal book, about how I saw it, what I took its purpose to be.  I could only write it is a reflection, maybe in the way that Hemingway wrote that book, early on, about, of all things bullfighting, with periodic meetings with a wise old Spanish lady who seems to offer question and advice.  I would write about it in the way Kerouac wrote of his jobs, the difficult one of being a brakeman, perhaps as a traveller ostensibly helping out delivering a motor car across country.  And I would be thankful for it, even if it didn't always feel that way.  Could I even remember all the things I should relate, enough to make for a readable story?  Would I have aphorisms, or advice, or funny tales of dealing with certain types?  Or rather wouldn't I write a book about being a sort of sponge, and the things that attracted me as I drifted, the things that helped me when I was alone at night with no more Polish lady next door.

Lord knows, I get sentimental.  And there is a fine song that has that line in it, sung by Astaire.  Why do people, with their guard down, at ease, like to listen to music, like Sinatra or Ella Fitgerald when they unwind over dinner?  Hey, a glass of wine, what's not to like?  And somehow, I think, the whole thing does lead you to a certain wisdom, something about the ego, something about letting that go, something about allowing yourself to enjoy without preprogrammed judgment the moment before you, which is, really, as wise people say, all you have in life, anyway.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Liberal arts, good teachers, all those books we read, their purpose is to remind us of the basic creativity of the human creature.

I get done with the work week, and there's a lot of good stuff to think on, probably the kindness and compassion that flows sometimes, but I'm also tired, from fighting something.  I have sore need of getting my chakras back in order.  The need comes from too much witness of consumption as a substitute for creativity.  It's a demon running through some people, and my job involves enduring it sometimes.

Perhaps it is the curse of some part of modern society.  Does it come from too much preaching of our own perfect gods to people who already enjoyed perfect and balanced sex lives, South Sea Islanders, lazy Buddhists, the backward and loin-clothed?  Is it the wave of our own consumerism overriding the perfect happy creativity within.? And school kids are given iPads rather than paper to draw on, pushed to receive more than do.

To make gentle the ways of man... something Robert Kennedy once said.  And I feel sort of sad, after it all, or perhaps just simply tired from being chased by all the overdoing, the consumption, the loud music played when I let a friendly customer take over the sound system with his iPhone.  Don't we know when to say when?  Go home, find clean pleasure with your partner.  Go find sweetness, quiet, innocence.

Or maybe it's just me, having been around the strange situation, the late night bar, too long, the lonesome, me included, clinging to a beverage when doing yoga or even grocery shopping to feed the body or sitting outdoors would be healthier.  Stuff that speaks of the blank healthy omnibus creativity we all have and might encourage in each other.

Ah, but what am I talking about.  Wine is a holy and mystical and creative beverage.  It is the sun's power in a glass.  It calms, it soothes, and on many a night there has been found the right wine to drink.  Tonight, as I think quietly on goodness, it is a good old friend, a Cotes du Ventoux, just right under the stars with the background pitch of crickets.  And I can't complain about the night before, a beautiful 2003, and very rare, Domaine de Trevallon, a remarkable wine indeed, that made all other wines look, well, not quite as holy.  Wine, yes, it too is creativity, part of the cycle and the judicious use of life on Earth.