Well, we'd gotten through the night and were cleaning up, a private party, a college classmate's fiftieth birthday thrown by her husband, thirty or so, and a gyspy swing band in the corner. A pleasant crowd really, and happy with what we served them, dinner buffet style. My back is turned from the bar, putting things away into the cooler, the juices, moving around the mineral water, the sour mix, the white wines into the ice bin, a few checks left to close still, the bass player having skipped out on paying for his salad, before the report is printed and the paperwork from the night's sales and tips to do. I hear a little feminine pitch voice behind me, hi, hello. Oh, crap, who left the door unlocked.
The night had just ended nicely, with a good little cheers to my old college classmate Linda who's known her man since they were sixteen back in Rhode Island. The boss smiled sociably, and compliments and what a nice party are exchanged.
I sigh quietly and turn around, just as we'd gotten everyone out of here, one person, who I just kind of look at. Oh. Hi. Her greeting rings in my mind for an instant. One of our late night friends who drops by really just to talk. She asks if she can smoke a cigarette. No, I tell her. I'll just go and smoke by the open window. She has two salads from King George's down the street and believes they are bad. She tried to get them to take one of them back. "They smell. Do you think they are bad?" I look over at the styrofoam container and shrug. "They would not take them back. Assholes. 'Come back with me,' no I'm not going to go back with you." She looks at me. "Do you want one?"
"Do you have any fresh squeezed juice? Oh, I've been drinking too much, and smoking too much. Too much, really. I don't know... Look, here is my video from karaoke, at the Russian place. I am so drunk I am just yelling, ha ha ha." I pour myself a little pinot noir, tread down the steps and lock the door. Where there is one there may be more. "Take it easy, tiger," the busman says to me, with a verbal wink. "Oh, yeah, man."
She goes over into the corner, by the window overlooking the street. I can smell her cigarette, that particular metallic chemical smell. Jesus Christ.
She likes to walk up the street after coming from Georgetown around midnight. She walks in the light pink flip-flops from nail salons. They are very comfortable. She wears lycra tights and her figure is something the men driving up and down Wisconsin with windows down at this hour will stare at. Her father was an artist, a painter.
"Are you on Facebook?" No, I say, half-heartedly. I remember now reading a quick email from my mom asking her advice about a query for the well-read principal of the Catholic school where two of my guys went. Yes, I went on too long, and tomorrow I will face cutting it. I made the mistake of saying hi to her the other night just as I was leaving work on my bicycle. Sometimes you want a quick friendly chat, and then sometimes you don't. I ended up walking her up the hill to the front door of her building across from the CVS above the late night pizza hookah place, a basement level bar with pool tables dangerously close and with old friends about. She took out her pack of Capris. No, I don't smoke anymore. I never really did.
I forget, was it one night with the inimitable Mr. Tappy enjoying his after dinner 25 year old Calvados--he'd shared some of his St. Julien with me as he related the histories of colorful gay bars with names like "The Ramrod" and "The Gloryhole"--with the window open that we were foolish enough to call out the window when she happened to be passing by, her tastes running toward the sweet sparkling pink wine we have from the Savoie. Those seem like older days now.
It's that point in the night where you have put some things away but there are still things to put away. And the washing machine still you are loading it, pressing the button to run it through, then opening the front down and pulling the rack out, wiping the glassware dry, hanging the neoprene mat and the rubber bar mats that say Campari and Remy Martin, red and black respectively, fidgeting the bottles, somewhat proud of yourself that you called the party right as far as the number of bottles of Sancerre and Corbieres you'd lugged up from the wine cave in the basement at the long-ago beginning of the night, and checkout, you still need to do checkout. She is looking through my Facebook page. Who is this? "That's my sister-in-law," I say, feeling vaguely violated, a sucker, caught up in it now, whatever it is. "Look at this." She shows me--I lean over the bar, having just cleaned the rail liquor well with its bottles-a picture of a house with a glass-walled bedroom suspended over a cliff, then two versions of "Happy Birthday" one with candles and balloons, and then a picture of a woman's hips and legs with red glittery stuff covering her privacy. Do you like? Look at this one. Which do you like better? The second one shows the legs of a couple shot from under the table, with her panties slid down but now showing anything beyond that. What? Nothing.
More about the salad saga. And then about something happening down in Georgetown, three young males taking over the sidewalk but fortunately a man with a briefcase behind her and a couple walking a dog as the young man gestured wildly with their walk. "It's like they think they own the city." Dumbarton Street is blocked off by police, and a lady comes out and tells her there was a break-in and she shouldn't be out walking the dark streets at this hour. And she'll have to go up further to get to Wisconsin.
Later on after I'm finally done--energy levels drop quickly at this hour--and changed into my clothes, she is still concerned about the safety of walking at night. "What kind of fruit is really healthy," she asks, inhaling from another cigarette by the open window. "Oh, figs, plums. Dark fruits with all those antioxidants and stuff. Berries. Nothing too acidic." Just ride it out. Almost done. Hide the inner gloom, the sense of being set upon by the less-than-centered, that their drama might have a stage.
We get out the door. I've already gotten by bike up from the basement. She wants to go to Safeway and get some blueberries. Then I can ride home. She brings up the horrible murder that happened recently not far away from the VP's house. We cross the street. "Will you wait for me?" I almost say no. "Be quick about it." I slump down on the bench by the lit entrance and look at my phone. And then, finally, we are up the sidewalk and standing in front of the glass doors near the wine shop. There is a little yoga studio storefront crammed in. I peek in through the dark windows. "What is chakras?" she asks. I explain, energy centers through the body running up the spine that need to be balanced, opened up through all these poses so that life's breath flows. Yoga will make you quit smoking. "And what is this word, namaste?" That means I salute the god, or goddess, within you, within all of us. She looks out of her Russian face, her eyes looking out from under bangs and prominent brow, taking things in. Yoga is good stuff. There are no errant desires, no feelings within of anything but wanting to be fair, to teach what you can, help out where you can, but know your limits. Peace, that's all you want out of anything, really.
And now, I can go. Mounting the Bianchi, up past the dangerous bar at the dangerous hour--their patio is quite full now at 1:25 AM--past the sushi bar, the strip club and the bars on the other side of the street where I see behind the cars my old friend Herb strutting slowly with Redskins jersey and a cap on, and I keep on and make a right, cross by the Finnish Embassy and glide down the hill with all my lights on, careful for deer.
"Tadzio," I remember Madam Korbonski telling me, "write about the street," she would say, with a little chuckle at something concerning me. She meant the little street she lived on, its history of generals and her parties and the sagas of different neighbors, the old cat who'd show up for handouts. But that of course was what she knew, and could write about if she felt like it on her old typewriter, and any street will do, but I just know too much, or rather have spent too much time, working to pay rent overlooking another one and all its wanderers and passers by. Tragic in a way, all those years.
When you heal your life some, you change a bit. You don't want the things that passed you by anymore. You're okay with things. You do yoga and meditate, aware of a great spiritual life within. Centered, you're happy, not wanting much, almost, almost a simple mountain monk, at least for as long as you can get away with it.
But then, now that you are here, what do you do? What do you do with your life? Where do you go? Where will you end up?
In the meantime there is the street, and also the distance from it. The first night off, there is a bottle of wine with dinner, home, alone, and the day was good because you did some good yoga and you also got out for a nice long walk in the woods by the stream.
And today, there is, again, the need for calm. Calm to figure out life.
To be a writer is to commit some basic social blunder. Well, it's not completely a blunder, but it sets you apart, or rather, it aims you toward a certain way of life, one different from the typical householder described in Buddhist tales. I mean, you're still quite capable of living a normal life, but that it is a life different from normal expectations. Normal expectations are like a layer you have to peel off. You peel away the layers of vague expectations you know not from where they came and see how things, like relationships, really are. You really do see a crazy connectedness of things. You sense the calm celestial presence within. It can make you a very private person, finding a lot of lives led in strange ways, even as you really do wonder what you are doing with your own.
The good news is that the basic yoga ethos really works, or can work, if anyone wanted to join you. And then you'd see that that thing that most centrally concerns our minds and bodies is best handled, indeed, in a Tantric fashion, and that this fact of high enjoyment leads us too to realize the flow of life through the Universe and beyond that its own principal task of healing itself through finding the appropriate in all things. Not so far removed from our native state as animals, even when we are being polite, we do not always immediately know what is appropriate and what is not, and anyway, these are matters of personal explorations that must be made. And a therapist might still prove to be very useful.
But writing and yoga really do seem to go hand in hand. Going into each pose one beams, if you will, the breath and energy into each chakra energy center, in effect asking that particular one to help you align your body into the pose. Each chakra offers a better way to bring the spinal core into the pose, and when you go through each one of the seven main, from bottom up to top and back down and back up again, then you're well situated in the pose given what your abilities are. And then, even as the body might tremble from its own weight, there is that light inner core that would seem to, if it needed to, be able to move at the speed of light, something like that.
And when you write, that too is really to be okay with things, to ask within of your own opinions, your gut feeling, your native animal intelligence, and this element of self, perhaps it too has chakras or can reside in the same. And the basic questions are always hovering around a writer: what to do about the sexual instinct, what to do about feeing yourself, what to do about using your intellect, how to do you say things, to whom do you say them to, what bond do you establish, how to help out your own simple survival... Thus we come about our own values, our own take on things, as to what, say, a relationship might look like, in a way that's real to you, not just go along with everyone else's convention (not that they themselves are simply being conventional.)
Indeed, getting into yoga can be like opening up a can of worms. You'll open yourself up to how you truly feel about things. Worst of all is opening yourself up to being wise. Which is a frightening thing. Will I be dogged for it? "Who am I to be wise?" What do you even say, when you are "wise?" If you were wise, wouldn't you have a retirement plan at your age? Yeah. But what can you do? No one, really, is going to hire you for being wise. So I guess you just have to get over it. Makes sense you would directly know the human condition, on an intimate basis.
Then the thing becomes to not dumb yourself down, not to be distracted. To try and listen to that higher self, or to be there, nearby, when it has something to say, to everyone, but you are within earshot, so take down your version of what it says.
Jesus, the yogi, whoever he was, he was close to it. Same with Buddha, who of course had done all the yoga disciplines before sitting under the bodhi tree. And that's the stuff we get distracted from, and there is a lot of distraction going on, a lot. We're told we need things.
So there you are, not knowing exactly what to do with yourself, but to write, on a day off, and do your yoga. Is this confidence, or is this being timid, hiding away from the world? How would you know?
Is it not the divine which one should be afraid of anyway in the natural state of humanity... The 'artist's reward,' Hemingway called the general feeling.
In the proper spiritual state, we are told, the left hand does not know the right hand is doing. The reading is not aware of what the writing is doing. And the writing is not aware of what the reading is doing. Until later, when you've sort of made your peace with the day, which you are only able to do through going through this awkward state completely on your own.