Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Who  could forget Kurt Vonnegut in Breakfast of Champions.  "Dwayne Hoover's penis is seven and a half inches long erect," something like that:  the necessary description of the physical body that all artists must, like Rembrandt, and Giotto before him, like Wyeth, like Picasso, deal with.  Writers as well.  The look of the chin.  Kundera gives us the spastic diarrhea an attractive woman suffers given the knowledge of the apparatchik surveillance, gives us the moment of orgasm of a young man as he looks down at the eye of a woman's bottom.

I suppose I should have wished to attempt a kind of Richard Russo story about a guy fallen into the restaurant business, a bartender perhaps.  But in the research of a such a 'novel'-- anything you write basically being a novel, an act of the imagination not far away from a poem--I found I had to shepherd the body through an endurance event.   Of course.  I'm not complaining.

Hungry, working alone, almost to kitchen closing time, I couldn't resist a bite of a slice of baguette.  I didn't even butter it.  The boss sat there with his wife having endive salad and mushroom fricassee, followed by trout with a celeriac coulis and grilled seafood salad for madam with dressing on the side and a lemon half.  Inside the joint of the right knee, on the shin side, the twinge of old Osgood Schlatter pain, coped with by a second pot of green tea and three astragalus tablets.  Load of whites in the machine in the basement.  Dishes mostly out of the way, three burgers cooked in iron skillet along with mushroom and onion.  Shower time.  Must pack for family vacation.  One more shift to get through, jazz night, with server V and Satin Doll Trio with Mr. Koko on the leopard print couch, jazz standards, nice soothing music, my favorite guitar player Ken Kilpatrick on the arch top Guild.

"Market yourself, you must learn to market yourself."  What have I done to market myself, I wonder. Too much mental masturbation, over analysis, handcuffing myself, bleeding away the necessary self-confidence...

Hot water from the shower head loosens the spine;  put the calf under the water to open the varicose vein area should there be time to do some yoga, a headstand.  President Kennedy took two hot baths every day, poor bastard.  "Treat a duchess like a whore, and a whore like a duchess."  Yes, proud creatures who bear the race of evolved life that came on space traveling rocks from infinite worlds away...  Proud of penis size just right.  A little cortisone on the red spots on the cheek and the eyebrow.  JFK cortisone sun tan.  Lou Gehrig, color of mahogany.  Beach, suntan lotion, do not want to get skin cancer melanoma.  O type survival rate not good.

Packing.  What should I be taking...  V made mention of my gut.  Probably the wine, yes, certainly.  Boss:  Maybe you do.  Thanks.  You do one of my shifts and then sit down and eat vegetables.

Feeling tweaked, the man went about his small pre-work chores of the not worth mentioning variety almost like a man playing large drums, pivoting, moving shirts from the washer to the dryer one by one, like gentle boxer moves or tai chi., boom, boom, left, right, like the spoons out of the soapy water one at a time.  Didn't feel like eating, but must eat.  Shirt folded and placed in legal pad for wrinkle free transport.  Clock:  3:29.   Already hears V.'s loud voice.  Customer K will probably come tonight.

Okay, eat hamburger with onion and mushroom, no bun.  Support sock on left foot to the calve.  Levis on, hiking sneakers, reflective pant straps for the bike.  Getting serious.

Writers talk to themselves.  My mom.  Me.  Calming.  Or not.

Monday, June 23, 2014

A little spider, with long green legs, has crafted a web between a porch beam and a potted plant of organic basil.  Delicate in scale, it's a marvel, the circular part rising at a forty-five degree angle above the plant, with countless guy wires in all angles.  There are young shoots of the plant from which to harvest a leaf or two, and today, the original spider has been joined by a larger one, also with green legs.  The web supports them both.  The spider that made the web has a body almost like glass, with some dots I would need to inspect with reading glasses to describe more.

The writer's life is the same.  Each day, 'hmm, I guess I need a new strand.'

How the spider attaches a filament to the post, then runs it back to the basil stalk, back and forth, is mysterious to me.

Like a lot of people in different businesses, for a job, the restaurant business in my own case, I wake up, with a  few hours to use, wondering what I am doing in it.  What am I doing here?  "The son of two great educators...  and I'm a bartender..."  But, you get up, do what you can as far as keeping things tidy, and maybe, at some point, you look for meaning.  So, as any reader might see, some of us read up on the subject of Buddhism and its myriad wisdom.  Do a little yoga, meditate, try to put some of the enthusiasm and the interest into practice.

Day by day, another strand.  Who knows what it all means.  And basically, you're trying to improve your life, to prune away the selfish habits, to join in with a greater Universal will or aim, of which one might not be so consciously aware of or be able to put into terms.

The spider's web is a long haul for it.  One a season?  One a lifetime, if not disturbed?  After the incredible creation of the web then it becomes another game, one of vigilance and the craft of securing the insects caught in the filaments.  Where do spiders come from anyway?  How did the one with legs the perfect green just so come to the porch and the well-timed basil plant?

Perhaps the trick the spider's mastered
is simply staying calm.
Something we can only do
in meditation.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Saturday evening, off for a few errands:  tea, sunscreen for a trip, groceries for the work week, yeah, better get a bottle of wine just in case on the way back from the ATM.  So I take my own pace, in it, but not so much of the Saturday night, more like my Sunday night, no interest in the bars, not going out to dinner.  And somehow the vision of Buddhist psychology is very strong.  It doesn't need to be detailed, and I don't have the time for it anyway, but I comprehend the suffering beneath the surface, at least on many people, perhaps even most people.  Oh, I would know it too, so maybe my sense is keen tonight, looking at my own condition from a better perspective.  I see a young couple, a Lincoln Town Car Uber pulling up in front of Ruth's Chris.  She's dressed up,  in high heels, a short blue dress with a sort of prom frock sloping off the back, and he's neat and in control, and they strike me as largely unconscious, wearing a uniform.  He opens the door for her and they slide in.  Further up by the newspaper store that once back in the day sat at the corner with newspapers and magazines from around the world where there now is a bank, a woman of advanced middle age, Moroccan perhaps, stands in front of the gimmick neon tube and signage looking wearily down the street which too seems to admit it's past its prime, by the looks of the old Royal Palace next door and the impersonal corporate logos paying the necessary rent along the strip.

I cross Florida and through the double doors of the Rite Aid to grab a shopping basket, the security guard standing, not unfriendly.  Sunscreen.  I may need a lot of it.  Coppertone Spray gets a good review....  30, 50, 100?  How much?  Supplement with another kind, just in case?  Ahh, here's another one, with a sticker from the Skin Cancer institute.  Mom got sunburned last trip, her ankles and the tops of her feet...  I'm doing a pretty good job minding my own business, not being part of the rigamarole, no desire for Russia House, nor Veritas, nor Du Coin, and basically will be happy to get home once my shopping is done.  No, I'm not going to be goaded out of the house tonight, not be tempted by Facebook invites, but just go at my own pace, I got enough to worry about already...

In the supplement aisle, as I ponder finding Zinc tablets, there is a mighty pretty girl wearing very short white shorts light in fabric, and it appears she looks very healthy in them.  She's young, sort of nerdy narrow glasses, a neat sweatshirt top, and like me, she is reading labels, and studying whatever she is looking for.  And this is not fire and brimstone lust, just that, well, you want to say some form of hi to her.  As stupid and as foolish as that sounds.  "Well, just be confident.  You know how to talk to people, just be friendly..."  I grab the chelated Zinc, pick up a bottle of contact lens solution, let me see what else, than admit my business in this aisle is done, with grocery shopping left.  And I walk up past her, "taking your vitamins?"  "Yes," she says, in a friendly nonplussed way, and I say, with my momentum, "Good."  I run into her at the check out, where Chinese tourists are confusing matters for one cashier, and I have to admit seeing her from the backside in her pretty tight light shorts might indeed make you wish to grab a choice passage from the Marquis de Sade's Philosophy of the Bedroom, but I shrug, this is not a pickup place so much, what can you do...  As I leave, she's at the corner, to cross Connecticut, and I'm sort of walking that way anyway, if I were to skip groceries.  "Do you live around here," I ask.  "Yes," she responds, and the light changes and she kind of hurries on ahead, and in a minute I'm thinking to myself, "Jesus, that may have sounded like a really creepy thing to say."  And I end up crossing back over the avenue anyway, as little voices pick at me.  Groceries to get anyway.  Where would you start anyway, explaining it all, dukkha, deliverance from suffering.  One seems too stuck in a world full of stories in the news of nice young ladies being followed home, raped and murdered by troubled outsiders to bridge the gap of being passing strangers, that's just the way it is, anywhere you go, suspicion.

So apparently I haven't been so perfectly Buddhist lately, and admittedly I have slipped with the wine, telling myself, 'ah, it's okay, medicinal, who can blame you--it tastes good, doesn't it?'  And so I let my real sense of the misery of Saturday night tucked away carefully after many years of thought and pondering and walking around like Shane MacGowan might, identifying with the bums, the old drunks, the junkies, the homeless on the Old Main Drag, seeing too clearly the deep poetry of the human condition to be caught up in the vain aspects of it, to let fall to the wayside over nice legs and a well-presented shapely bum, a cool pretty 'girl' who seemed like a nice sensitive person.  (God, anyway you say it, it comes out objectifying a person, when that hopefully wasn't the intent, the real intent being to cut across the loneliness of life.)  I should have gone on to her about my insights into the heart of Saturday night, but too shy.

And I end up having a nice chat with the checkout person of Glen's Market with my vegetables, instant gluten free oatmeal, my meat supplies.  She observes the weight of my bags.  Yeah, back to work tomorrow.  She's worked in craft beer, and when she'll go out, when she gets close to home across the big river will stop somewhere and have a beer and a shot, craving anonymity  as she does.

I went home and wrote.  And as I did, I had a thought.  Maybe my job isn't so bad, not if it lets me see I don't need to be a part of the delusions of going out on the town.  Maybe somehow this bartender has found a protective shell necessary for his health.

I go out for a jog after pulling out the old Martin guitar for a therapeutic strum.  There's a party or two on the street, the sounds of high social life.  When I come back, I twist open the cap of the 2009 Burgundy, 12.5%, and pour a healthy glass in a tumbler and pull the D-28 out again.  And after a while I'll fart around doing a bit of yoga as I watch Michael Palin traveling in Brazil from North to South.  And I do not read from the old classic from the London Buddhist Lodge, What is Buddhism, as I should.  I do not set out clothes for my trip.  Oh well, could be worse.

I gather that if people care to, along the lines of work, I am a trustworthy figure.   I mean, if you had to be served wine by someone, have it be someone who knows that quality of life the Buddha saw within human psychology.  And hopefully toward the end of work, when it's all done, I will have passed on that crucial first glass of wine and just get home safe and not feel the depression, the sense of let down tomorrow.

Time to go in and face the monsters people can be.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Journalism, of course, is a matter of interpretation of events open to interpretation.  There is data, there are sources, perspectives, different sides.  Bergdahl sends a letter home with his thoughts on Afghanistan, how one country treats another country.

And one wonders, why does the worst interpretation of human nature win out for the most part?  Is it direct experience that all of group X are terrorists and murderers?  Yes, there is the shining example of a few, the Hitlers, the Genghis Kahns, the group of a few mentally limited creeps who stole airplanes and did their best to ruin the world according to their creepy vision, who don't present much positive in the way of human nature.

Respectable morality of the most thoughtful sort warns against intoxication.  A bad thing if it fosters the illusions, the basest part of our rude nature, bends us toward pleasure.  But what about group behavior? What about the tendency of the human being to band into exclusive groups, insulating themselves even as they think they are engaging, and quietly letting a kind of mold grow, of 'here's our politics, here's what we think of X group of people, here's what we think we are, etc. etc.'

Yes, how could we live without shorthand, without 'this is what we think, and since you are one of us, or want to be, this is what you should basically agree to.'  So, a lot of people own cars and have certain kinds of jobs, and promote by participation a certain economy to which pretty people who seem with it belong, so why don't you belong?

Before you know it, people become adult, so they think, set in their ways, and the ability of have conversations that go beyond the accepted tone and tenor and view of the world's politics are pushed further to the side.  And even, because of this basic model of how people find that they should be functional and participatory, even the journalists must have a basic preset of agreed view really all that not far away from the talk of cocktail parties, influenced as cocktail parties are by believable sounding people who look respectable, who are, in some ways perhaps respectable, but maybe quite manipulative, like Dick Cheney was in accordance with years of training in PR.  Who, at the cocktail party, could stand up to old Dick's WMD, with even General Powell agreeing?  That essence of all political bad things, the great shouting down of anyone who might say, 'hey, wait a minute.. maybe it's not quite so, and this, rather, is what I hear from another source, the intelligent cabdrivers who drive me home, who said, ten years ago, "this is stupid, Iraq will fall into three antagonistic factions and the whole region will fall apart into permanent instability."'  Did Cheney or Rummy ever inquire with such a trusty source so readily available in the nation's capitol?  No, because they lead perfectly isolated and ass-kissed jerked-off media-posed lives of fantastic security, which is, of course, unfortunately, a great recipe for disaster.

But the fault of people is, maybe, the narrow look at morality.  The bartender who goes home late at night, surely an idiot, listens to cab drivers from different parts of the world, parts that have experienced colonialism.  The great respectable people who work the Stratego board game of the world, who focus on the difference of humanity, miss something in the potential.

It takes sometimes being alone, with taking a break, with thinking independently, creatively, maybe off the map in a way.  And what journalist, on a payroll, would want to do that?  That journalist, rather than trusting instincts in the old Edward R. Murrow way of watching London blitzed, feeling the ground shake and bricks fall, would want to master all the information in the information world has created in its great cocktail party of belonging, and not stepped back, like a human being, and meditated on Buddhist meaning, on the suggestion that all is in flux, that people change, that evil can be removed in its base.

Find one person of peace.  Fine one person rising above clichés, above party divisions, above ethnic hatred...  And that might be a good story.

Christ, we've got enough bad examples for a whole treatise on natural history, so why not project from all that some good way that might work to open up, to realize, the better peaceful easy going potential of humanity, channeled chastely away from materialism and into the life of all living (and non living) things.
I can understand the Hemingway dictum, always stop when the writing is going well, don't press on too far, then let the well replenish itself by no longer directly thinking about it.  That way you don't feel too wiped out and then wake up without having anything to say.

The temptation is to go on too long, to push to far, and then the next day the last thoughts written seem strange and tenuous.  There's a timidity of conviction, a hesitation of faith differing from where you were the night before completing your thoughts.  Heavier to pick them up the next day.

And so Hemingway stayed within his craft of fiction based on life.  He pondered deeper matters, but cut short of venturing too far beyond the mystic juju of his craft, the rules and the fondness for the creative process, the beautiful moments of watching orange peels in his Montmartre studio fireplace as he worked at fishing stories set in Michigan.  Observations.

He took it not his job to delve deeper, does not explore more than the edges of faith, which he boils down into courage and being beaten but not defeated, references to prayer, perhaps.  And so, as if by coincidence, he is a stylist, an artist, whose work therefore falls into fashion, well appreciated by some for what it is, spoofed occasionally, regarded as macho and things like that....  Just as art, when treated, can amount to style and collectorship, ins and outs, celebrations of the changing personality, but always stopping short of seeking a deeper fulfillment, the positing of the deeper questions on the nature of reality.  Perhaps for if one did, if one really were to ask the deeper questions in a studied way, then people would no longer feel obliged to collect things in style, no longer mistrust simplicity, no longer be willing to get overly excited about something passing through the current lens, no longer buy stuff, no longer support all the magazines and articles that insist on the latest trend or avatar of style.  Better wold the fluke nature of insight be recognized, and less would there be to worry about over the author's haircut and summer home and the particular settings and stylings.  Allow Kerouac to be stripped of the heaviness of the image placed upon him and maybe, yes, you get something deeper, something different than the Beatnik, and maybe you touch upon the things that people are responding to him anyway, as people do respond to the deeper.  But in the meantime, magazines have to sell him, or not sell him, and the professionals will never go out on a limb to discuss the deeper truths that bring us here, though they may claim to.  And artists of course, some of them, are shrewd at self-promotion and creating through the PR machine the picture of artistic success, and thus have the backing of the PR machine who has found a way to make money as gatekeepers.  Well, even modern religions seem to operate this way, the style of, what else, succession.

But what if one had the temerity, to write down, at least in italics, the longer thoughts that outlast all the other ones that come and go on the surface.  And what if someone were able to relate a simple useful fact, say, that ginger is a good ingredient, healthy, reducing inflammation, soothing to the stomach.  Well, people these days would probably say, 'no, do not teach such simple facts that ginger and the making of art is healthy for our children and humanity in general;  do not teach that the Sun in the center, rather than the Earth, of the small corner of the Universe we care to know.'

How could it be otherwise, that consciousness precedes this particular ever-changing form of self.  How could it be otherwise than to think, in one way or another, that the wisdom gained in a life previous and unknown to this one, carries on, enabling people to know the truth of dukkha, of suffering and the unsatisfactory nature, the hard quality of being separate from those you love, and that therefore if follows that there is an honest way to cope with that, to be less selfishly motivated, to join in with the harmony of nature and existence.  And that's not all something that makes you necessarily want to jump up and shout 'hooray,' but, a good thing, satisfying, calming, proper.

Your father was the closest thing to being a Buddha as one can practically be in this world of professional existence, no egotistical perfection to him, middle path all the way.  Now he's gone.  Where did he go?

Friday, June 20, 2014

A day off, beautiful early day of summer, yes, I go for my walk in the woods along the stream.  Looking down from the footbridge to the sidewalk along Rock Creek Parkway below the Omni Shoreham Hotel, I see the mass of log and driftwood and sunken picnic beach lodged against the center pilings, upon which I've steadily seen two brown snakes sunning themselves on above the stream, has broken up.  The water is clear today, not high, but running well.  On the stream bed a small fish has made a circle, a perfectly round area about two feet wide cleared of algal muck to bare pebble and sand, the fish keeping steadily in the center as if to guard a nest.  And about ten feet away there is another cleared circle with another little silver fish holding against different angles, occasionally pressing out to examine a new ripple, perhaps to catch an insect, or to investigate the intentions of another fish, and then returning.

I come along the woods' side of the stream, up the sand and dirt path, then down under the bridge and toward the stream that comes down from behind Dumbarton Oaks and Montrose Park, to take my meditating post on an old log.  As I walk slowly along I feel the nourishment of simply being out in nature, my long week leaving me hungry and drained, and now soaking it all in.  I think of how the grapes upon their vines absorb their surroundings, the Chinon with the same water molecules that passed through the frog in the shade of the cool early morning, alluvial stones, mud, the green things that grow along a stream.  Like us, the vines meet each and every different day, bear the weather, take from the dance and agreements of nature, shared stories of sunlight, carry their grapes to maturity for an entire season.  A recent article spotted somewhere treats spiders that have a taste for fish, and I have no doubt that they do, strange as it might be to picture.   Nature having a taste for nature, the constant recycling of organic matter.

I think of the different time scales of the natural world.  The robin hops about, a few steps ahead, stopping to study.  The red squirrel with his tiny rapid heartbeat scurries into a crack, judging his movements just so.  This animal I am moves slower, but it's all probably relative, each going at his own pace, taking in, reacting, moving along.  To a larger creature our pace, an easy cant through the woods, would be of rapid fire nerve endings.  The trees stand still in their own spot, growing upward, thickening, and perhaps to them we are like insects spinning around at an almost atomic rate.

As a bartender, over time, you're never setting foot in the same river twice.  Each night, though related, is infinitely different.  Buddha's teaching, that all is in flux, that we too are constantly changing, not even a fixed self, applies well, and holds shiningly true.  The same person who came in a week ago is by now completely different.  And each person, at each point in an evening's meal, is at a different point, and so to work you must constantly shift gear, this person for a drink and a chat, those people for a family dinner, that long table all mothers who know each other through their children's school and now drinking Pinot Noir, celebrating their friendship with a touch of bawdiness, one having kissed Jodi Foster in an elevator once.  As an aside thought, it would seem that any system of morality should respond to the great fact of constant personal change.

So I sit, as lotus posed as I can, crossed legged, as the light comes down through Civil War woods.  The trickling water over the rocks makes a sound as if all solid things are in reality hollow.  I have a  few clear clean moments of not really thinking of anything, and sense meditation to be a cumulative endeavor, gaining strength, insight, building upon the base.  The trees rise above, gesturing to the light they can with all their leafy hands held out, direction, level, all agreed upon by the forest whole.  The boulders, the rocks, the pebbles, the grains of coarse sand, all the same, each on a scale suited to its place in life's order.

It takes an amount of energy dealing with people.  We're roughly, maybe some of us more than others, the same creature we were when there were not many of us upon the Earth.  For the early human, encountering another human must have been fraught with possibility.  Fight or flight, friend or foe.  However our minds might tell of a vast cooperative modern system, the instinct remains, and upon each and every meeting, a whole new set of agreements must come about, brain circuits to establish themselves based on memory and tribal language.  And then upon that there are the projections of ego, of made-up selves that constitute another whole layer that comes into play, calling the intellect's versatility to meet the challenge of finding common language, or just plain simply something to talk about out of the thousands of trivial things and reference points of modern eras.  One person alone at a bar to wait on can take up as much energy as twenty.  It would make sense if you secretly rather wished therefore to take control of people, perhaps by teaching them one great lesson to go and practice with diligence, something along Buddhist lines.  "This is all illusion.  Enjoy your glass of wine while thinking quietly about the nature within it."  That might take less energy.  Lincoln kept his Tuesdays open for his baths in (and of) public opinion.  He was a strong man.  Did he judge such a practice politically expedient, was it invigorating, was it good practice, did he derive some entertainment and wisdom from all the people with their demands?

I guess when you're exposed to a lot of that, as pretty much everyone is, one response would be to decrease the demands we place upon others, to make encounters reassuring and soothing, non-threatening.  Others take the same data and proceed aggressively, the clock running, I'll take mine, here's my meaning, my identity, my material well-being, my primate thump of chest.  But I myself, sometimes, find the response of the artist natural, Wyeth with his do not disturb sign, for that's exactly what it is.  To say so might strike you as psychologically unhealthy or misanthropic, but then while you may please some of the people all the time, all of the people some of the time, you can not please all the people all of the time.

Perhaps this is why I feel pretty rattled when I wake up at the end of the week with a blank space of time opening before me.  Things to take care of.  The calling of a quiet day.

By the time I come back with carry out Chinese I have changed a hundred times more, actively or not.  Outside of Du Coin there are guys I know wearing France World Cup shirts with garlands of silver shine.  I manage to glide past them easily unnoticed.  On the way back I find the bartender, a Chinese cat, standing outside the open windows on the street, a cigarette in hand, wearing a light leather jacket, his hair pulled back.  His broad face, slightly weary smile, strong teeth remind me of a sherpa, having read about sherpas in Matthiessen's The Snow Leopard.   "I wish you a peaceful evening."  We're both headed home to eat something, he and I with a similar understanding of Friday night's show.  He's shepherded the crowd through the big soccer match on the Jumbotron inside, France winning.  "You and I have the same perspective on all this," I say to him, smiling, before turning away down the avenue's sidewalk past the crowd in Maddy's tavern, where before the barman was taking a break, sitting on a stoop smoking a cigarette.

To read Buddhism, to study, to practice what I'm able to, it feels like coming home, like getting my life back, like being in some control again.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Okay.  A gentle pot of fresh green tea, a few yoga poses.  The thing about restaurant work is facing the down mood that may have come from easing through a bottle of Chinon in the hours after work to calm, to process the night, another night the lone server of a large territory, free wine tasting thrown in.  An article from the New York Times, "Ode to the Classic Bistro," saves the day.  I cook some Merguez under the broiler, think less of my brother's loutish influence over my college experience, meditate and go off to work for one more night of the week.  The second jazz night of the week, gypsy swing jazz will be ringing in my ears frenetically all night.  Great music, don't get me wrong, would love to play it, enjoy listening to it, but I wouldn't want to work to it for more than an hour, it seems, or am I just being grumpy.

Working in the restaurants, like a lot of jobs, involves fear and anxiety.  I wake and find the dirty dishes from yesterday, which were not done when I got in, and for a moment I stew about them.  And then, like the worker, I go and face them.  I rinse them under hot water, put them in a rubbermade tub in the sink, and fill some with hot water with a squirt of dish liquid soap.  Step one.  I am facing the fear.  The water is slightly too hot, but I gingerly get through them, the cups, the steak knives, the tongues, the plates, placing them in the racks of the open dishwashing machine to dry.

Now I face the fear of writing, before, the fear of work, with possible thunderstorms on the way there.  Yes, I was pushed over the edge just a little bit.  I needed a little milk of human kindness at the end of my shift, so the downstairs bar with pool tables up the street, a couple glasses of pinot noir from the Pays D'Oc, higher alcohol than I would like, but not a bad wine, from Winebow Imports, trustworthy.  Yes, the blur of customer K, who arrives right at the height of the rush, right as the server has turned hostile to the crowd, as things have gotten confusing.  Needy customer K sits next to two attractive young ladies, and begins his great spouting, touching upon everything, riding, riding, riding the bartender.  I speak to the two ladies, he butts in.  "See, this is the typical loud American who destroys the (quiet, decent, polite, discreet) French vibe of the place."  Yes, it's nice to read an article about classic Parisian bistros, but not always a perfect translation is one able to construct on a given night of business.  And yes, we're one of those bistros, really to survive, here's your table, need it back in an hour and a half, of maybe two, though it's not always like that.

K is working his way through explaining everything, ordering another measure of the super runny cheese spread over toast, which sets off a gufuffle.  Bartender, thinking he knows everything, orders St. Marcellan, 4.50$, open food, and when it comes, no, that's not it, goddamn.  Busboy:  "I read the name on the package."  Shit, my fault.  K:  "Oh, I didn't mean to cause..."  But now he's fully leaning in to the two chicks, one of just the skin tone he tends to favor.  A few minutes before, the singer, approaches the bar, even though she is sitting down with her mother over in the corner, meaning server V is taking care of her.  "What wine do I like?"  Oh, fuck you, lady.  "Pinot blanc, you like Pinot Blanc, always," I say gritting my teeth.  "My mother would like a glass of wine too."  I look at her--"what?"  Guitar runs are working their way into the cracks of my defenses like snapping rubber bands, a million soft cuts.  "She needs a red, for her stomach, you know."  She smiles at me intently.  Why do I feel like the poor Superintendent dealing with Clousseau?  "Pinot noir, or Beaujolais?"  Well, (grandly), she's having paté, and an onion tart.  "Beaujolais," I say, pouring.  Beginning to not like singer very much, impersonally--she gets in one's face, has her   rules, pours herself a glass from a couple's $95 2009 Beaune Lycée Viticole.  I run the glasses over to the table in the corner.  Mama starts to tell me about her years in Paris.  "Have you been to Lyon," I ask.  "Oh, only once, not long enough."  We nod to each other.

"Have they tried the Bordeaux," K asks, referring to his two new friends, who've I poured tiny tastes of food order appropriate wines, and one of curiosity, needled by K about the new Malbec (Argentine.)   I ignore him.  I just don't acknowledge I've heard him, though of course he spoke in medium loud and perfectly clear, as if he were my boss, the fucker, turning away and batting his eyes like a grand lord, as I move about some bottles of white and rose in the two ice filled sinks before me.  It is 80 degrees today upstairs here at the wine bar.  And why would I think lightly dark thoughts about the perfectly nice and talented singer who beautifully sings French songs as the Hot Club bangs away in our little Chekovian provincial musical theater here.

K is probably making a study of my ignoring him.  So, yes, soon enough, it comes.  "This guy behind the bar wrote a book...  What's the title of it?"  "It's not worth looking I up," I say, refusing, through silence to speak of it.  As I write now, of course, one thinks, of 'what I should have said.'  It's not a happy easy topic to bring up, my friend.  It wasn't exactly a case of write a book or or...  But it's a dark offensive subject because it involves the charge of stalking and sexual harassment, because it involves a reasonable person being nudged into the corner of 'the deviant.'  Ironical, but that's how it goes.  The book involves many acts of perfect insane stupidity and foolishness, such that one would never even want to relate such things, useless things, things that get in the way of people meeting their basic clear-cut goals in life, and then being left to suffer the great pains of growing up with great dissatisfaction, the dissatisfaction of never being able to really talk things out, not to someone who wouldn't be taking a lot of money from you.  Yeah, my book, titled after Lermontov's, as I toil away, pestered.

And then, later, as one attempts to slowly pour cement over this Chernobyl, old and faithful friends, quiet, kind, respectful come in, and must too, observe the comedy, the band being fed.  The music has finally ended, and I open the closet door to put music back on, a Pandora station, the Police.  A Flock of Seagulls comes on, and K is riding it right out of the box.  "Oh, Ted's having his Flock of Seagulls moment."  (A few minutes before he wants to put a song from his iTunes on over the sound system.  I tell him NO.)  Each song that plays now, K will comment on, name the band.

I end up closing out the night sitting next to a big girl with tattoos on her plump white wrists.  She's cool, I like her politics.  At some point, after discussing her upcoming Scandinavian travels, she shows me how'd she finger Angelina Jolie.  Then finally I ride my bike home and watch a Nature show about Zebras, the nerve under my right eye twitching again.

To round out the week, I go in for Thursday night, leaving my keys in the door knob, discovered by the landlord who stashes them away safely.  It's a nice smooth shift, no jazz, no badgering.  And yet, at the end of it, waking fresh, I feel rattled, shaky almost.  The night had its good moments.  A nice lady who's sat with a long table of moms tells me before she leaves of the unhappiness of marriage.  "Yeah, I married a restaurant apparently," I say to her.  "Well, at least a restaurant doesn't talk back."  It's a nice moment.  We chuckle.  It's a beautiful job, truly enjoyable.  And then, on a day off, you need space, a walk in the woods, Buddha.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Growing up is painful.  Just as death is painful.  Just as life is suffering.  The Buddhist's plain logical math of Dukkha, suffering, unsatisfactory nature, the latent sadness in everything.  And isn't adolescence just perfect for that, that horrible awkward stage we go through that scars us for the rest of our lives.  The first real indication of what life really is like.  The early lessons teaching us.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Irish Wake, continued further sketch:

MacGowan:  But what if, like, chhcchh hhcch, you guys weren't, I mean, not to take the piss out of you, important, like, completely unimportant.  Obscure, like.  Say, like me, no one gives a shit really, go have a drink in a pub, no one gives a shit and at least, if you're reasonably lucky, they don't punch you in the face when you're in your cups talking to yourself, the cunts. You guys have been in bars...  Both of you.  The door to the outside shut, everyone equal... What if, like, all your worldly powers were stripped away from you, and you were like just words, like a nobody, or maybe a poet...  You'd have a different view of things.  Or maybe you'd have the same, I don't know.  I mean, I don't know what that would look like...  I mean, being Irish, I've always revered the shit out of both of you, and you can't take who you are and suddenly make you a person like me...  But what if you, like one day decided, well, none of this is important, this worldly business and keeping everyone from killing each other and sticking it to the next guy...  Like, for that matter, what do you do when you're dead?  When you're, like, hhch  chhh, 'looking down from fucking Heaven' or somewhere, and you can't do a thing about anything anymore...  Where do you go?  What do you do, what's it like?  Do you like sit around and reminisce about the past, about life on Earth, about the time you kept the world from being blown up, or, like trying to appeal to people's better side when you've just ruined their economy, for a higher moral purpose certainly...  Maybe that's enough...  Maybe you just get reborn, like, as a trout or something, like, fucking swimming in a river...  I mean, like, think of how truly fucking scary being alive is.  I get nervous about everything, I know;  everyone knows that about me.  I once had a crack up, and I know what it's like and I'm not ashamed about it.  I know I'm not the only one...  You guys are smart, you know the score, and I know you've both had your fucking nervous breakdowns too.    Yeah, you're alive and no one can really protect you...  I mean, what kind of shit offer can you really make, if you're not a doctor or a nurse or a farmer who can feed you for a year, that really justifies your existence, what can you really do that's all that important...  You get up, make tea, breakfast, wipe your arse, and that's if you're lucky!  All you can really do is help people think, to, like, teach them how to not let their own minds fuck with them quite so bad...  Or, like, not be hurt, when someone says something shitty to you, or you can't figure out some fucking girl and, like, your own fucking emotions get in the way...  Poetry isn't all that beautiful, you know, in the practical world.  That's why my songs always have a bitter edge to them.  Rainy Night in Soho, yeah, yeah, but you also get kicked in the head by a bunch of Mods or Teds because they take you to be a punk and they want to beat the shit out of you just for no reason.  And our moods are constantly fucking changing anyway, so why bother keeping track of them!!

(sings)  In the filth and piss they lived in, they would sometimes hum an air,
or talk in tongues of madness, keeping time upon a chair,
and for their wrists a numbered tab
in Westminster Morgue on a cold hard slab
when I was still a young man in NW3

(Kennedy and Lincoln look at each other.)

Kennedy:  Yes, it's true.  I had that hole in my back.

Lincoln:  I think I was one long nervous thing after another...

Kennedy:   And there was that old drunk in a bar in Milwaukee or somewhere on St. Patrick's Day.  And it was cold, so Dave and I went in to warm up, and we all had a Jameson.  And somewhere there's an old drunk who's saying, "I had a Jameson with Kennedy..." and you wonder if anyone ever believes him.

MacGowan:  And Kennedy's grandfather ran a bar, or maybe both of them did.  Well, you finish where you start out, gentlemen, cheers...  (hiss laugh, lights a cigarette)

(quietly, as if to self)  Nothing's really all that interesting, except just, like, learning something...  Wish I hadn't been such a lousy student.

It was a ghost who came and sang me that song anyway, "I've been loving you a long time..."  That was what the ghost had to say, as for their lives, like, what remains of them, or what their thoughts were about...  "Down all the years and all the days... And I cried for all your sorrows, smiled at your funny little ways."  It was all quite simple for the ghost, I just had to listen.

But, keeping a pub, being a barman, that always scared the shit out of me, and it's hard work anyway, lugging all that stuff around, the kegs and bottles.  But the people, being around them, made me so nervous, like bleeding all over you with their problems and their strange fucking inner life craziness... I had to drink, no wonder I had to drink.  How could you not!

Lincoln:  I was a barman too.  You're right.  I was so damn sad all the time, and when I drank, few times I did, the next day I was even sadder, like I'd been bitten by a snake or something. I knew I had to get away from it.

(going into his own mind, kneels down on haunches, as if to draw in the ground, or look into a river)
'Mr. Chairman...  Mr. Cheerman...'  That's how my hick accent would have sounded to them, those New Yorkers and everyone else with their own funny accents.  My country twang...  An oddity to them, almost laughable, but, well, they got used to it, more or less.  Looking down at a dead bird, the same thing.

But some of them came to listen to me, to hear something beyond the every day logic, beyond the worldly condition of work and what you get from your hard work.  And some of them had the same deeper sense but just needed to be reinforced on it a bit.  I guess I looked the part somehow.

Kennedy (quietly):  Bobby has that sense.  That--ah--"tiny ripple of hope" he came up with.  Not as well read, not as political as I was, and in the end that makes you less handcuffed.  You trust your own sense;  you step out of the dialog.  That wasn't my sense of the job, but it speaks to the best of what we might have accomplished in avoiding war with the Soviets.

But with Vietnam, I should have listened more to Robert Frost, and less to Robert McNamara and all the Joint Chief and General types.

Lincoln:  They can be the vainest sons of bitches.

MacGowan:  Writing's hard work.  It's a completely different kind of work.  (lights a cigarette)   It's why Jesus took all those naps.

Kennedy:  I should go see him.  My back still hurts.  Maybe Marilyn is here somewhere.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Late night in DC, 14th Street, after the bars have drawn their shutters and closed up.  Young folks, curious types, vaguely Asian and some Latin inhabit the tables of Amsterdam Felafel.  The smell is funky, and the condiments are pickled, babaganoush, hummus, the air within spicy, the aroma of cooking beans and fry oil.  The feel of being in a bazaar.  There is talk of international relations and intellectual types who don't drink much and talk of nerdy things.  I use the bathroom and split.  At Taylor, a sort of a delicatessen, serving hoagies, the crowd is mixed, international, social in a  dating way.  I order a kind of meatball sub, but in a gluten free wrap.  (Everything else is cured, or vegetarian.)  The staff is friendly.  I ask a guy, perspiring behind the line and calling out ticket numbers, how long his shift has been.  He got there at ten, and now at three thirty, it's happily time to close.  Up the street, at Black and Orange, the burger place is busy too with DC locals who heartily admit and cater to their needs, booze, dancing, red meat and then quite possibly, sex.  Cars wait outside on the street.  Up on U Street outside of pizza slice place mobile types with agendas, places to go, are eating their slices out of the box or on paper plate, or just folded, leering around a touch, carefully.  A shout from across the street.  A guy leans out of the back seat of a car spitting up puke on the curb nearby.   At the corner I give the homeless man Mr. Giles, still with his insulated pants on, easy to deal with, and not crazy, a buck.
"But it's true.  It all would have gone a lot differently if at some point she had given him a handjob.  A kind gentle little tug in the right direction, a little pull or push and he would have walked, with her help, through a vastly different set of the infinite doors we all pass through as life takes shape.  She would have grasped the beauty and size of his engine, felt who he was as a person, inside, and it all would have gone a lot differently.  Had that all happened he wouldn't have fallen into war with himself.  He would have felt less the urge to numb himself, to retreat, to hide his light...

"But there are lots of causes to such a thing, and many moments, passes that contributed to the disengagement of two young people.  No one's fault, everyone's fault, his fault, she might not have helped, on and on and on...  And though he remained essentially the same person within, life and time shape things irrevocably.  Smart people can get dumbed down by their surroundings.  They can feel ashamed of themselves, and there is unfortunately no going back, even if there was no reason for things not to have worked out originally, but for a great misunderstanding.

"We all pick up our burdens, out of necessity, and move on, but some of us do it better than others, cleaner, I guess you could say.  Some can extricate themselves from the webs of memory and behavior and, as they say, move on.

"I however am not enough a writer to tell such a story.  What I do know is that socializing, though I am excellent at it, honed it as a trade, completely throws me off when I am taken out of work.  Some of us give to situations and we end up giving more than we get, humbler than others I suppose.  We put a lot out, invest our own sense of meaning into the encounters we have, take things seriously.  And the little we get, to us, goes a long way.  But still, there's a point where you realize you have to be more selfish, more self-protective.

"Or is it that those things akin to lonely frustration cause us to seek escape or self medication in wine, and we realize eventually that the habit of wine costs too much physically.  To go out and be social, just by old habits, lead me to consume more than is good for me...  And having one leads to more.  What's the way out of it, but to break out of the pattern, as much as you might love wine.  Not all our friends are good for us, you know.

"Which came first, the depression or the depressant?  And it would be depressing, maybe, to cut our old ties, to try and find a new kind of a life.

"Well, anyway, it is my own personal view on the social lives offered by a city that I endeavor to tell my colleague's, my friend's story, or maybe it is, too, my own story.  My blood seems to prefer walks in nature and quiet, peaceful sounds of wind coming down through the trees, the sounds, forms and movements of the creatures of the natural world, for in them I see humanity, more so than I do in this modern world in which we are obliged to make so many successes out of ourselves without so much caring....   Yes, I like to go out so much as the next person, but after fitting myself into the hours and duties of my job, my hours are strange, and rather than play with nieces and nephews I need the same time to do yoga, to get back in touch with my inner spirit and energies.  I need a bike ride or a walk by the stream, maybe to reinstill in myself the thought that this world is not all covered with concrete and buildings and the race of humanity struggling everywhere all the time to get ahead in all those fields that will be forgotten.  I'd rather have conversations that weren't so mired in social conventions such that would one offer to drop into them the deeper presence of human kindness or deeper thought and questions he would be met with 'oh my god, you are so, like, weird.'  Maybe with a homeless man on the street corner on a Saturday night (someone who can admit their loneliness), but otherwise people have pulled up their guises around themselves so thoroughly that little light can penetrate from outside.  Besides, the deeper stuff, I've often felt, comes out of our brains like sonar waves of the dolphin, soundlessly, from our faces, where our emotions are comfortably at home, should we ever have the bravery to show our real faces, without pasted on smiles and aggressive control, the attempt to dominate.

"I still find it necessary to take some time alone and think and explore.  Writing is a little hobby along those lines, and I find no need to tell some grand plot-driven story that has no bearing on our day to day.  'I got up, made my tea, took a shower to get limber, did some yoga, stretching this muscle and that tendon to the point of that vague sick feeling in the stomach, then I meditated.  I felt maybe guilty for a second, or glad, I can't tell, or all the above, of not having to go to work, all the less money for me, but, you know, we're human beings, there's lots to us.'  Probably not very exciting.

"For me personally, a story, however you tell it, should be, should serve the same purpose, as meditation, that kind in which you leave conscious thought behind, look for the space between thoughts where consciousness itself expands, a presence like clear light shining everywhere, no longer attached to this little personal self with all its little problems and all that illusion stuff that must itself ultimately break down and reveal that the self is the greatest illusion and that there is oneness, though you really have to be pretty well enlightened to get there, though it's worth a try for all of us.

"We all know it's no good, that it serves no useful purpose to obsess over the past and our problems, that you have to make the best out of the present day as you can, building something upon the present, based on things you find enjoyable, personally satisfying.

"Ah, well, when I think about it, tending bar is a real thing.  I'm not for the other side of the bar where  you have to put on some sort of act.  I'd rather be real, hard on you though it is.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Author:  Yes, I wasted years, playing along with the whole myth of 'being a writer.'

Buddhist monk:  Perhaps there is something flawed, in the end,  about putting the reality of life into terms.  Nirvana cannot be grasped by words, by thoughts, by the mind, but only through the clear consciousness beyond self.  Spiritual insight.

I'm sure it's tempting, maybe a fundamental need, to put things into words.  Maybe it is even a good exercise.  Used in the right way.  But 'writing,' to put a term on it, is part of the heaps, the skandhas that would lead us to believe we are a self of independent thoughts and senses and apparent form.   It is through these forms that we come to realize the teaching of Buddha at its most basic, dukkha, suffering, the unsatisfactory quality of existence, and then freedom from it.  But until we are able to reach that, there is, as I'm sure you know, self-medication against the continual vacillations of mood.

Author:  That I am familiar with.  But the one thing I will say is that, yes, at gut level I found this to be the human condition, in general, behind the make-up and the show, and I guess that's why, if I could rationalize a reason out of it, why I fell in with restaurants and bars, with service people, with customers, people in need of company.   And it was all quite a show, quite an ant farm, you know, those glassed in little colonies of ants that tunnel through the sand, they don't make them anymore, sparing ants such a life.  But oh god, the years I tossed away.  What a great great shame.  I'll never be able to make anything of my life now.

BM:  Well, you were learning what we all must learn, in order to evolve.  Take refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma, the Sangha, as you can, but, become a Buddhist, meditate, take a step back.

A:  Evolution is in order, I'm sure.

BM:  Yes, it's natural, where a thoughtful person ends up.  Otherwise...

A:  You're just making matters worse.   Yes, believe me, I know that.  Somehow I didn't see it, you know, caught up in it all, trying to solve my problems...  I could cry.

BM:  That's probably what Siddhartha probably said to himself at some point.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

It's a nice day out, my Sunday, so I go off to my brother's house to take his Lab for a nice walk up to the park, throw a little ball, pick up a nice poop, and then spend the afternoon visiting and dinner.  My niece and I decide to draw up a list for a vacation.  I write things on a piece of paper with a  crayon, first on the list, 'bathing suit,' which I saw carefully and slowly, 'because we're going to bath in the sea.'  The list grows, interest wanes slightly, and my niece suggest we go find some tape, because, of course, we need to tape our list shut, now that we've drawn a scribbled beach sunhat on the back side in green.  So, she leads, and we walk down to the kitchen and find some tape in 'the junk drawer.'  And four, five, six, seven pieces of tape later, most applied diagonally, not counting the throw away sections of tape, my niece seems satisfied.

Later on my bro explains to me that 'remember, you're the uncle (the adult) and she's the niece, and if you're not careful, temper her plans with some adjustment, she's going to take control with her suggestions.'  Which I gather might explain my general psychology and reason to see a shrink.  Yes, indeed, growing up the baby around some Irish domineering types, I can see that.

I am too easy going, in a world in which people management and some craftiness is required, largely so everyone doesn't turn out looking like an ass.  I've been an agreeable yes man, I've taken things young women say at face value, gone on my bumbling way at other times, and this tolerance or arrogant shy laziness to face other people, individual wills, is probably why I am where I am, a barkeep going on a large decade without a lot to show for it.  Yup.  You have to impose your will sometimes, not just be meek and turn the other cheek.

But there is the influence of my gentle father, Theosophist, Buddhist, professor of plant biology, who was gentle, kind, but stern when he needed to be.  Having seen his immigrant mother die of tuberculosis at home as a boy, learning that 'life can be pretty grim' (as he once confided me when I was young, when we drove into town to get the New York Times on a sunday), he had a certain distance from emotions, a tolerance for other's emotional outburst that came from deep within, which I suppose, temperamentally I was more drawn too, though of course I have my sins.

An interesting combination.

I read about Voidness and Nirvana, which can only be represented by admitting we have no terms for any of it, not even one.  All we have is the spiritual insight of clear mind of the Universe we are.  Maybe that's why people enjoy me as a barkeep.  I am that absence of terms, that lack of show, that amorphous kind person who is still semi-intelligent enough to crack a joke.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Well, you meditate and realize, "that's the thing:  It's the ego, that's what's causing all the unhappiness, and it's an illusion."  And looking around you, it's all about the ego!  The market economy modern "Western World" must of course cling to that consumerist ego as driver of the economy, creator of "wealth and prosperity."  All based upon this great illusion that has no deeper reality. Thus, wars are fought, empires stake claim, individuals get greedy, strife and conflict happens, money made, money lost, bitter struggles to dominate life...  All missing the point.  And yet, we don't seem to know any other way to make it happen, as if everything got away from us, so long ago, so many population booms ago, so many changes of social structure that we're stuck in our addiction and all the ways that enable, allow and continue it.  We squabble over politics, based on selfish concerns.

So, take a moment to do some good yoga, then sit cross-legged, incense lit, candle flickering before Buddha, proceed to meditate.  And then you realize, "ah-ha, This! This is what I always wanted to do with my Friday evenings, something good for you, something which gives you will-power and perspective, the perspective necessary to see the path and do the things you really need to do."  A small step forward, maybe, but earth-shaking in its own little way, changing the way you see things.  And it beats sitting and staring at your iPhone waiting for something, some message.  It lets you see the things of illusion which you are enslaved to.

The insight strikes you as an exact flip of what inculcated common sense tells us.  Unless you're an educator (and even then...) your professional identity only serves to feed the chain of egos.

Personally, I know.  To always be listening to that little figure of your ego seated at your temples, a little friend telling you what to do, very much like you were a bartender and the ego was a customer subtly persuasively demanding things to which you feel you are obliged by some duty to fulfill, it just doesn't work.  And being a person inclined toward a general kindness can make you more rather than less self-indulgent, indulgent to the ego's biddings.  There's always the ego-driven person who wants to do stuff. and though, yes, stuff can be nice and enjoyable to a point, simplicity wins in the long run.

Maybe you break out of it by slowly patiently doing yoga, incorporating that with readings, then discovering this great distance between "the real you, the real clear mind" and this little voice constantly bugging you, discovering further the littleness, the small-mindedness of that voice, its foolishness.  And hopefully you get to a place, to a state where you don't have to listen to the little pestering voice.   You see the great exaggeration wherever it crops up, and it crops up everywhere, in consumer society, but also in the very way we think.

It might not seem earth-shaking, but the perception brings a sense of peace and calm.  It helps you judiciously deal with people who are relatively more assured that they who their egos say they are, which in some ways in inevitable of them if they have lots of stuff, have 'worked hard,' 'done lots of things,' want this and that, have become a particular professional identity entitled to certain things.

It helps you sort everything out.  It buys you some self-protection.  It buys you some maturity.  But it is radical, quite so, and probably not popular amongst city people who have so much at their beck and call, so many things to do, so many options.  You have the Buddha on your side, at least.

I guess we hope or expect to find within ourselves an individual talent, something that sets us apart.  That would be a life, relying on your own unique talent.   But perhaps that's not how things get done, how novels get written.  Perhaps any work has to reject that perspective of a fixed self, of a strong ego, of individual conquering, of all the things we feel we deserve as individual egos.
The night found me experimenting with buckwheat flour, an honest attempt at pizza dough after the walk down to Whole Foods on a beautiful clear cool Thursday evening.  And while I'm down there, sure, along with a basil plant, yeast, fresh mozzarella, vine ripe tomatoes, soda water, I pick up a bottle of Pinot Noir.  I like the lower alcohol wines these days, this one from the Pays D'Oc.  And when I get home, yes, I open it, shower to get off the pollen, the feelings of great general disappointment at my own life, then start the dough process with yeast, then mixing it in and letting the whole thing rise on a warm stove.  I cook for myself, a lot, eat out as little as possible, and occasionally try an experiment.  Like the Cornell Fireman's Field Day chicken cook out recipe I tried earlier this week grilling out on a hot afternoon, trying to nostalgically duplicate that smell from boyhood summers and Fourth of July.

A writer is a person in between.  He sincerely wants to practice Buddhism and meditate and be calm and not drink any alcohol whatsoever.   But alone, recuperating from some long shifts at work, sore, feeling depressed, attempting to cook for himself, for energy as much as anything else, he has some happy juice.  And perhaps this represents a basic inability to step forward, not having the courage, the moral fortitude, to just say, you know what, that's it, I quit, I'm getting away from wine (and the rest of it), goodbye.  But the follow through, pretty good sometimes, isn't perfect.  To the mind, a complete ban seems a little severe, no?

You acknowledge the good that you have done, the cutting back, the distancing from the knee jerk, "time for some wine now."  That's been good.  But after you do the tidying up, the dishes, the groceries, the laundry, and the exercise, more important, you made no advancements.  You frittered away Friday by sleeping in, because you are lazy and still a little tiny bit foggy, not clear in the head. And this is a waste.

This vacillation is evident in Keroauc, life and works.  It didn't help him when people came knocking on his basement window as he wrote, "King of the Beats, King of the Beats...  Let's party with the King..."  His work, of course, is peppered with spirituality, and he'd been a serious reader of Buddhist literature.  But when we read him in Dharma Bums (I think) and he says at the end, lyrically, "a new life for me," alas, we know it's not true.  He's stuck in a rut.  No references to get him out.  The same thing happens in Big Sur, trying to be a good boy, but falling to temptation, and then really going through a horrible alcoholic episode, that he faithfully recounts, at one final point, he swears, seeing "The Cross."

Don't want to play by all of society's rules?  Well, pretty soon you're going to be your own worst nightmare, nothing but a goddamn bum.

Meditation is the thing.  Through meditating calm is achieved and life's surroundings will improve.  And with that in mind it comes to me how when I wait on people, particularly those who've already had a drink, ego comes forward, a person's false construct to which he has clung to in order to be 'who he is,' in order to be 'a success, with family and property,' an adopted identity of mannerisms and its own (tedious) sense of humor, not that that ego personality is not affectionate or friendly.  The ego jumps out of their eyes and mouth and the person within, whatever, however we might construe their true 'self,' has receded, as if entranced by the show of this ego, this mirror, this projection of 'who I am.'  And so you have to--or rather I often enough find myself in this situation--dance and duck and dive around this bestial ego that is trying to nail you down as well in the same way, "oh, what is he?" claiming to know in the same ego terms.  Is that why people get clinging and touchy in wine bars?

I feel tired after a walk around the block, and fall into a long nap, feeling the pollen again.  Napping is good, causing no harm.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

I got home at 1:38, or that was when I turned the TV on, to come down after my night behind the bar. You can't just come home after work and fall right asleep.  I have a little Beaujolais to chase some feta and fresh mozzarella.  Still hungry.  At work I waited 'til all had gone to eat the salmon tartar I ordered.  I reheated the food I brought in the oven at behind the bar (ground organic beef burger, grilled peppers, brown rice) rather than waiting 'til I got home so that I wouldn't be kept up too late digesting or wake in the middle of sleep.  After I ate I looked out the window at the downpour heavy rain.  I did the last few tedious things to close out the shift, put the checkout with the money in the manager's office, changed out of work pants, went down to the basement to get my bike.  The rain had stopped, little shafts of mist rose from the blacktop, and the air smelled sweetly of pollen and weedy basil.  Over the Buffalo Bridge the street lamps of Rock Creek Parkway below shone into expanding cones of watery air.

The hospitality is gone now, behind me, the smiles, the jokes, the graciousness, the conversation, the eye contact, the genial hand gestures, and I sit around alone waiting to be sleepy enough for bed.  I made no notes on the day, watch an episode of Bar Rescue, and then the Dave Chappelle Show, with many commercials, nothing on PBS, beyond old sunken D-Day equipment with its own sad watery grave stories, the body not wanting to move.   Two nights back at work after my stay-cation, two nights interacting with people, doing what I do, good people, entertained.  I didn't want to go back, but I went back, and I did a good job, but it all feels hollow, see-through, or rather, seen-through.

And today I wake up from them feeling down, wishing to be out in nature somewhere...  And I find my depression coalescing around the friend of my father's who encouraged me to get into environmental studies a long time ago, another opportunity I shrugged at.  The man did a lot for Massachusetts wetlands preservation.  I could have played a small part doing something useful for humanity, and made a life studying nature, as I was meant to, but instead I was selfish, a slave to the emotions of pop culture, to the Black Monk nihilism of fancying myself a writer as if I had something to write about, as if there were a purpose to it.  I know intuitively that the wine from last night, which really didn't seem a lot (and no esophageal burn from a mellow Beaujolais of 12% alcohol) has inclined my chemistry to feeling down and hopeless, but still I have to get through this afternoon, after a lazy nap which turned out to be sound sleep, and on to a better mood.

But this is all conscious thought, of not much worth.

I call mom as I walk up Massachusetts to the sanctuary of the weedy species-invaded slice of forested nature that exists at the edge of Rock Creek Parkway and the tamed stream itself of man made rock banks with sewer run-off pipes as rush hour traffic heads north out of town.  "Put that energy into finding a class to take, or a retreat," my wise mother tells me.  Okay.  On the wild side of the creek I walk along a dirt path and stop at the small footbridge to look down and look down at the brown snake resting motionless on top of the pile of branches and dead tree trunks, a park bench submerged topped with twiggy detritus on the upstream side of the pilings, and as I walk up its gentle rounded slope a green heron skims in overhead and lands, wings spread, on a branch above the water.  I heard two of them overhead, calling each other as I crossed Sheridan Circle after my long night with my ignoramus coworker, close to home on my bike, and looked up in time to see one following another in the honeysuckle perfume mist.  Maybe this bird is one of the same?  I watch the bird for fifteen minutes or so as it moves closer to the water, taking interest in something in the weedy silty bank.  Runners come and go, and cyclists blow through a bit too fast, one road biker silent without warning I could have easily turned into, intent on his status amongst cyclists.  The bird has a pointy beak and feathers that stick out behind its head, its cap, an aerodynamic accent for the speed with which it strikes forward.  I leave the bird watching down into the brown water.  People consume exercise and get very serious about it.  Only two people, women, stop and query me about the bird I watch.

Interesting that some atoms, such as carbon, have a karma of their own, which determines whether or not they come to constitute organic or inorganic materials, making up the bird or the stone.  I walk slowly along the path, trying to more conspicuously look not like a troubled strangler type when women walk or job by, and I am looking at nature anyway, at leaf form, or the way wild grasses are growing upright, like a head of hair, on top of an overturned tree's rooted stump of intertwined roots and stone and hardened dirt.  I stop and sit on my old decaying log meditation spot uphill over the feeding stream that comes down from behind Dumbarton Oaks, and as I've walked here I've thought about how the efforts to calm and assuage the mind, through wine last night, have resulted in a kind of backfire, the mind less controlled through the abeyance to it of calming it artificially, today the mind everywhere, difficult, and in a bad mood, so to speak.  I need to meditate, and maybe do plow and headstand and shoulder-stand.

From its writing in 1973, thereabouts, there is a line from Matthiessen's The Snow Leopard as he's leaving the last outer towns of region of the Crystal Monastery of remote Nepal, after having crossed many high ridges and difficult passes and paths, as he realizes, on the trek back to civilization, that he's leaving the last stands of the old faith, that mankind has entered a dark age as far as its spirituality.  Are some of us left in such an age as isolated candle flickerings of faith as the modern world drives by intent on its worldly missions without carrying along much deeper thought beyond their own struggle for material comfort and profit?

I still feel like hell by the time I slump home, but, probably, better.

I remember, from last night, my boss, sitting next to his wife and a few of her friends at the bar as he ate his trout and talked to a friend of mine with whom he shares an interest in sailing, telling the man, responding to the jokes the man was telling, kidding me indirectly, "it's a very hard job, being a bartender... " He let the statement hang in the air.  "You look at the bottles (on the shelf) and they talk to you.  I did it once.  They look good.  Beer, schnapps, beer, schnapps...  I put on some pounds, and I was twenty.  You don't see many fifty year old bartenders who drink shots of Gran Marnier."  He wipes up some sauce from his plate with a bit of bread.  I like my boss.  I've seen the guys who did the Gran Marnier at close range, yes I have, the thing back in the day in Georgetown.

I say this for other bartenders, for other people who've fallen into odd work, night shifts.  It's hard.  It colors the rest of your life in a thousand different ways.  You're nice, exceedingly kind to just about everyone who comes in, but when you go out in public, no one knows you, and they don't care, and they won't stop to be kind for a moment--why would they, how would they know?  Thus one can see why Gehrig, even Gehrig, was shy and had enough self-doubt to go back into dugouts and almost cry sometimes, because as much as anything he knew the entertainer's life of isolation even though it wouldn't seem so isolating, even though it seemed he all the friends in the world he would possibly want, an adoring wife, though of course she would have felt the same isolation.  Gehrig would have been stuck being friends with Ruth.

I am a surviver of a strange kind of gulag, one of unhappy people who entertain, one of the Gran Marnier drinkers, who tolerate ignoramus co-workers.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Static, static everywhere...  Where does mass culture end and the person's mind begin?  Wake up and try to avoid it.  What do I need today?  What do I need to check in on?  Pick up baseball tickets over in Georgetown?  Go grocery shopping--yes, but where, and what on the list?  Yoga, and meditation, surely, just like dishes and a load of laundry, careful to keep the pollen level low.  Walk to grocery store, or ride bike?  The pressing in of information, news, weather, reminder of the job...

What escape is there from popular desires, from the unquestioned habits and accepted behaviors of belonging, from the ticking of the clock?  To indulge in one popular release, leads to other, more wish to have wine, being out on the town, and all of that, you know, it's like a mass lie, a mass agreement, 'oh, this will do;  it's the best we can do;  try it, you'll like it,' and then everybody participates in it, primarily to belong, to fit in, to acclimate, to be social, to have a bit of fun along with work.

And yet all that provokes great anxiety.  Or is it that I feel completely uninvested, lacking sincerity when I try to fit in or do the popular things, always the lithe little voice in the back of the head, you'd rather be somewhere real, in tune with the deep truth of reality which in our world can be best described as agreeing with Buddhist thought.  There never was a heavy fixed self, so why make big impossible plans for it, be the great lawyer, the business person (unless you could really fit such activities into a meaningful pursuit of the Dharma.)

A little bit of camping gear arrives, and while I'm happy with it, the insulated sleeping mat, the mummy bag, the water reservoir, the water purifier, the backordered REI Quarter Dome 2 tent--yes, I like stuff too, maybe in the way the crow does, shiny objects, curiosities--there's an element of 'a child's game' to it.  Reading on the web has lead me this morning, to read up the Kagyu Lineage of Tibetan Buddhism, in particular on Taking Refuge (in the Three Jewels--Buddha, Dharma, Sangha) and, well, becoming a Buddhist.  It seems a pretty drastic thing to do, but maybe otherwise you'll to be left always facing discontentment, and somehow persuaded to do things you really honestly don't want to do, as if lacking a language, a way to propose, to say no, to say 'here's what one really should be doing now, forget all that society stuff, none of it is all that satisfying anyway.'

Try to find a connection outside of family, the life you already have, and even were it great and intimate, would not it be undermined by my own packings, my own lack of security, profession, real estate, etc., unless other people were miraculous too, like your mom.  Or would it not be undermined by your own timid weakness to offer in real understandable terms the truth behind human activities...

Well, draw up a grocery list.  You need to eat, healthily, as that much has been established.

So much of stuff spoken of in social barrooms is details, is a lot of strutting of unimportant things.  If people could check their egos at the door, that would be nice, but most of the time they sit and wait their chance to do what everyone else does, me me me.

The past, it turns out, has worked out just fine.  I wrote a book from the heart, and its overall effect, missed by the professional reviewer, has a point, which is to downplay the importance and the sway of emotions...

Sunday, June 1, 2014

A few days off and I haven't even written anything.  I've been for walks in Rock Creek Park, Thursday in the rain, Friday, Saturday, scrambling up the outcrop rocks above the creek and the stream that comes down through the woods to feed it where I saw a red squirrel scoot under the footbridge, cheeping at me, two notes, disappearing into the rocks then reappearing several more times, two more notes, drawn out, as if we were playing a little game, and then he finally scampers away unseen, maybe across the stream under the fallen tree.  I know that meditation is helping, helping me gradually clear my deeper mind, and slowly, gradually improving my surroundings with calm.  On my way to the woods I speak to my mom, and we talk about books and the list serve for the society of the history and preservation of reading materials and books.  She's found a book that lists what Melville read, and I have a twinge of regret for not having read any Melville in a long time, regret for allowing myself to be dumbed down in my work, but also a crack of light that holds out reading as a part of salvation that might even give me some career direction.

It was a decision to make, meaning it wasn't easy or self-evident to stay home, not take the train up to Amherst for a little get away.  I cancelled the train reservation and got caught up on rest, and slowly the pain in my neck and shoulders eases away.  "Was it all about going to see so'n'so who treated you terribly," my mom asks, and honestly, I can say no, though it is nice to meet again quality women from old college days, safe to admit a mutual crush from years ago now that they are married and with kids and jobs.  It's a place to visit, far less light pollution, stars, gentle old campus, tree specimens, view of the Holyoke Range, the quiet, and of course, just to get out of DC, the swamp.  The Friday morning came, and I just wasn't up for it, eight plus hours on the train, and with old family friends busy with grandkids visiting, no room at the inn for that extra night, the spiritual check-up...  I will visit again sometime.  And interestingly enough, I felt no regret for not going, and maybe chalk that up to meditation, the calming of thoughts that race in the mind that can drag one off like wild horses.

Calm is not found having to go off to tend bar, and I finally get in some good yoga and a lotus pose.  I lay back in corpse and I feel the energy flowing, the inner breadth coming up through the anus, all up the spine, and for the first time in a while the energy flows through the neck vertebrae up to the third eye, as if something there had been blocked, as if the body hadn't been so connected as it should with the mind, the higher intellect of insight.  Maybe it was a twist of the neck catching a cup about to fall out of a kitchen cabinet that pulled something, initially.  Is that what can happen in life, the failure to connect and have an intellectual conversation, the thing one longed for, a simple meeting of the minds, and that not having happened, a blockage.

And this is the healing thing about, say, the Buddha, the meditation, the reopening of the scarred channel, the blockage melting away in the warm inner steamy rising light of all the five elements (if that is correct to Tibetan Buddhist understanding), wind, fire, water, earth...  Away, illusions of self;  stop blocking life here on this earth in this special time, the gentle wise being that comes by making no claim on anything, just, yes, being.

But we were all caught up in duality, even as part of our youthful intellectual careers, the qualifying of things, the putting of things into specific terms, heeding the dualistic distinctions, the careful papers of history, textual analysis, geological detective work this on top of that.  This was the very stuff that would lead us on to handsome careers in the law, the careful parsing of terms.  Always, the mental definition, this is such a thing.

Some of us, though, rejected that and listened to deeper things, not that we necessarily got much credit for it, but rather the opposite.  What is the writer up to anyway?  What does it mean when one captures all the textual details of life in this world, the coffee cups, the dirty blinds (T.S. Eliot's "dingy shades in a thousand furnished rooms"), the rust-hued gin and tonic with bitters that a Hemingway self-stand in takes pleasure in in a later work, his cat sitting in avocado trees hunting bats, or Paradise Lost's scene, Adam and Eve, bare to the Levant and Ponent Winds, expelled from Eden turning to words finally.  What does it all mean, a young and impressionable mind might ask...  And a young person can do this, be pure enough of mind to read on a deeper level, even as they may be pushed to be more technically critical like a scientist's dissection, (as if such properly lent itself to any science beyond what the writer had invested in the original, indeed, as the writer is saying, clearly, 'here's my science.')

Too bad we did not study Buddhism then and there.  It would have made a lot of things clearer.  Perhaps such stuff has to do with the kind of education my father practiced as an educator, as a cleric, putting things not into egotistical terms, but freeing them from that, even from academic egotism itself.

Learning about Darwin's Theory of Evolution, versus the Creationist, a useful exercise of scientific method and scientific history, a good tune-up on critical thinking, yes, a good thing to do, of course.  But in another sense, what difference does it make, once having mastered the theory of Natural Selection, what difference might it make to our own lives directly, but almost be a side issue, like Buddha's story of the person wounded with the arrow.  Get to the matter of curing the person wounded with the arrow, directly, not by asking who shot the arrow and what that person was wearing.

I find now and then a little break, a clear moment, a freedom from defining things basically, to take a short cut, good or bad.  Having already entered into that mindset, there is good and bad with respect to 'me,' there's no escaping constantly wishing to put terms on everything.  "This was smart, that was stupid."  And what you long for, without realizing it, is freedom from that.