Thursday, February 25, 2016

Lunch was called and the group of us seated in chairs, some of us, or parts of us, mesmerized by the flat screen televisions suspended above, each to serve the rows, with CNN political coverage playing Donald Trump, rose and filed out of the juror's lounge out into the wide hallway with courtrooms on either side, where earlier I'd watched a red-faced DC Policeman with full gear and a bicycle helmet sitting with an attorney, then later, looking around all by himself, his legs splayed out before him.  "You walking funny!  Been sittin' too long," one woman of a group of three said, chuckles around.  "Yep, you gotta move from one side to the other after awhile," another woman, with buttocks of a large frame, replied and they all got it and laughed healthily, and allowed others to chuckle too at the common fate of such a day, alleviating the torments of the lone individual.

It was cold out, and I was tired and didn't feel like leaving the building, so I went down on the atrium escalators to the basement cafe and had a modest lunch of curried chicken salad and a bottled water.   Attorneys sat around round tables in the cafe talking about a mix of things eating sandwiches, used to the place.  I went back up to the lounge, passing the bust of H. Carl Moultrie, after whom the courthouse building is named, and the wall of judge's names, the scene taken as a whole having a Fellini touch, the security line of the entrance, the mix of people... and sat in the chair and did not feel like reading from the books I'd brought along.  Then the lady came back and said "good afternoon," and then when we sleepily murmured, repeated herself, "GOOD AFTERNOON," to which we all chuckled and responded, some waving raised hands, as if in church, and then we were dismissed, we were happy and filed out again.

I got back on the metro, walked back from the station, changed, and rode my mountain bike out into the pouring rain to get to work because we had to get there early to set up for a private party, a law firm coming in for drinks then dinner downstairs.  I'd gotten soaked, changed out of my lined Dickies, put on a dry pair of underwear and socks from my courier bag in the bathroom, called my mom.

We set up for the law firm early arrival, with Sancerre and the Solitude 2013 Cotes du Rhone, and first it was one lone gentleman who had a glass of the white and then sat down, contentedly.  Then the group of them arrived, and a tall loud man stepped behind the bar to look up at the bottled beer offerings, and members of his firm said, "Stuart, who said you could go behind the bar," knowing him well enough, and he replied that he had asked.   Then latter he sat down, the tables all set for jazz night, and wondered aloud above the crowd if "we" could order appetizers, stressing the third syllable as a New Yorker might, and then later word passed through that he had just argued in front of the highest court of the land.  Soon they all went downstairs to dine.

We got through most of jazz night, just about to kitchen closing at ten when the regular guy comes in to set up camp.  A party of three, squeezing themselves in at the bar, and another, I'm told, will be coming.  Then there's also the nervous young man making a special cake, coming up and asking me how late I'd be, and I called the chef and told him not to worry, which would save him some trouble.  Chef is of Catholic belief, stands behind his people...  He didn't want to put extra burden on me.    He thanks me, his voice dry from a long day.  "Any time, Chef," I tell him.

So they have their first round, a Jameson on the rocks, two glasses of red wine, their one order of escargot arrives, the young help is eating in the corner where all the napkins and the silverware set-ups are blocking the cutting board and the oven door where the bread is kept hot, so I have to ask, because I'm taking care of several of the last tables as he eats and haven't had a chance, the busboy to set them up and I can feel I'm getting grumpy.  Some minutes later they ask what else there is to eat.  I told you, the kitchen closed at ten.  Oh. Can we get a cheese plate?  How about another order of escargot.  I run a finger across my neck just under my chin.  Done.

Later I'm stooping to restock the beer we've gone through, having to reach awkwardly, and the regular guy is talking to me and I'm pretending not to hear him.   When I stand later, he says, you look like you have the weight of the world on your shoulders...  He tells me, look, I'm your friend, share, and my father has stage four cancer, so let's talk about it.  I had jury duty today.

I get home pretty late, watch some Frontline, some Fat Guys in the Woods from an island in Northern Michigan, make toasted ezekial muffin simple pizza with a spread of tomato paste and sliced mozzarella on top to soak up a glass of table wine as I unwind.  I get that roof of your mouth swollen gum slightly burned puffiness, a piece of bio-feedback from the body one should pay attention to.  And earlier I had the veal cheeks, and ended up eating the orchiette pasta shells gooey with cream and basil and truffle oil to mop up the osso bucco sauce as I let them hang out, talking up adventurous things I'd rather not think about.  I didn't want to eat the pasta, now that it was my turn to stand in the hidden corner by the stove, for the effect it will have on my gut, but I did.   "Put on some Stevie Wonder," the guy suggests.  Sure, fine.  If it keeps everyone calm, fine...  And somewhere, with the take on pleasure as something to be consumed, there is some hint, a faint echo, of the hyperbole of the rich man and the likelihood of the camel passing through the eye of the needle, because he's too fascinated with the material pleasures his wealth brings.

And after hearing so much and having so much of their clever intellectual-soundings kind of talk, ah-hah, I propose to them that our friend himself is proof enough of Einstein, like the sound the two black holes made, proof of the bending of waves of time, space, light, gravity, morals, as we've all fallen into one of his pockets, making clocks out of whack at this late hour, the barman, trying to pull out of this gravitational field full of words constant and rapid as if no one is quite listening to the other, tiredly putting things away, closing checks, in hopes of running the night's report so then to count the money, and fill out the night's financial sheet.  I've privately exaggerated him as "Satan," as in, "Get thee behind me," but perhaps his phenomena are better studied and understood through science.

The night before was kinder somewhat, though I did it all by myself.  At the end of it, the new server, a young lady who plays tennis, came up as I worked not as enthusiastically as I might have wanted to  my plate of veal kidneys with mustard sauce.  I fed her a taste and as a reward we had a glass of pinot noir together.   "Now this is the famous Ted," she explained, how she liked my lectures of wine and where it comes from, from when she came in as the young guy server's friend.   Her aunt lives in France, and she remembered being turned on to wine when she visited there when she was thirteen.  "This is the famous Ted, who all the customers ask for..."  And it's nice to hear, how I seem to impart my knowledge, my passion, how people seem to appreciate it and give me credit for it.  The watery fruit of the vine, the terroir, the ins and outs, the hidden gems, the simple pleasures, the slow putting together of a body of knowledge from the mouths of many.  Wine comes from sunlight, earth, water, the work of human beings that makes them content.  The beverage that makes our toils worth it, that gives us energy to feed ourselves, that gives us the calm to explore our minds, that soothes us enough to endure our own psyches, our histories, our troubles, our problems, the times when we are feeling bad and do not know what to do.

The day off comes, lots to think about.  The dream of an encounter with a bear, quietly playing possum as it comes down out of the forest into the neighborhood and lingers up upon you, enveloping you in close-up hot furry darkness as you strive to breath calmly, as if pretending you're asleep, focussing on the flow through your chakras, and finally the bear departing, no harm coming.

I look up, remembering my thoughts in the night, a certain Father Girzone, a priest who wrote a few interesting books, distributing them out of the back of his old Le Baron, finding fiction the way back to knowing a Jesus obscured by that long ago birth era of the different churches and the settings of their catechisms....  I came across his obit in The (NY) Times, on line...  In a simple manner, he wrote his books, so people of all ages could read them, as he lived his life simply too.  On the one side, the professional literary world, the critique of his style, almost childish, and on the other, from the church, that of is taking much poetic license with the central figure of a codified church.

So Doctor, what path do you take?  Do you go get the MFA writing workshop thing, or do you undertake some theological study, so that whatever you do end up writing has something of value...  This Father Girzone writes a book about Joshua, a stand-in, to bring Jesus out of the Gospels, to get to the point that the church itself gets in the way of, to better know him.  And he wrote simply, and sold a fair amount of books...  I don't know...  Get the credential, academic, or... write about normal people and their own spiritual issues, wants, desires...  Not all of us are cut out to be sophisticated, even as we might want to be scholarly somehow.

But of the work you'd want to do, it's the form of creativity, the essence, and that shouldn't be constrained, like, you can only write a short story...  Real people, real issues, how to put your talents to use, while remaining humble and true...  If that's not all beside the point.

Take the beam out of thine own eye...  Tolerance.  Love for others.  That was the kind of guy Father Girzone was, the sort of thing he put into his writing, 'take the weeds out of your own backyard,' to quote someone who knew him by way of explanation.  Non-judgmental guy.

Yes, what happens to those who are not called to the specifics, to be the lawyer, the doctor, the businessman, real estate...    What of those of us who seemed called to some form of action, something in a realm of, say, the Christian thing, a mortal form of the guy who went among publicans and sinners drinking wine and eating, in essence humble, loving them all as he could?  Who sort of knows what it might feel like to wake up feeling crusted like a leper by one's sins...  Maybe that helped Jesus cure, knowing what an inhabiting bad spirit was really like...  Empathetic kind of a guy...  There's action, the action necessary to inhabit that kind of a life, and to gain real life experience...  That kind of a writer, who is kind of like, some form of a reporter...  Give that guy some credit, even if he's not big at writing anything that sells, not the kind they throw money at.  And yet, Father Girzone had a pretty good cottage industry, selling a lot of copies...

Ah, but lighten up.  One can soon get fatigued over such attempts, such subjects...  Get back to realities of daily life.  It's hard enough a job anyway, and it doesn't pay much.  Gives you a social life, what more could you ask for?

Wine is important, a balm, part of Christian healing.  No shame in receiving its gift.  Not all of us can afford to go out to bars, much as we'd like.  And there is stress, which cannot be avoided.

But if it's true, that Thou Art That Which Is, and Jesus is Jesus, an explanation, very much an essence of That Which Is, what does that make you then?  That's the only way I can think of my little sketches, writings on life, on keeping a bar, on the things we go through, as fitting into some kind of coherent narrative.  If we get some understanding of the nature of reality, then we understand what he's saying.   At least that's a calling, to try to understand.  Not that we can ever fully do.  What does that even mean for us?  It sounds pretty crazy.  I guess it's taken a long time for us to absorb him.  To treat him as a thinker...   Various aspects of the story still freak us out.  To transfer him onto our little fields of experience is still a crazy blasphemous shocking thing to do.

But maybe we can catch little glimmers of his thinking as we go about our day to day.  What does one see, down at the courthouse, or there trying to deal with a late crowd at the bar, or in the process of going home alone...   If I could put all such thoughts together into a more coherent form...  The Jesuit says we find God in all things, in our wants and desires, following through with them, learning a lesson...

And if that represents some form of a calling, one you've sort of always had, but get distracted from, then maybe that explains how of late I've kinda finally gotten over the subject of the previous book, The Princess...  Though it's still a bit tentative, and replaced by other problems I should have addressed long ago...  That's at least an indication that I'm on the right sort of a track, even if it was a lot of fumbling around...  I guess Jesus really is a source of comfort. The Buddha too.   Letting go, it's still a funny feeling.  Like turning a corner, walking into the light, not on the dark side of the building anymore.  Small, subtle, but still, a difference, where things can happen...   And both Jesus and the Buddha want that, for you to let go.

Or maybe it's just that through some more mature insight you line up what you might have thought was one calling, that of marriage sort of stuff, and seeing it now as a deeper one, of the larger transformation you were working on...  Redefinition.  Seeing the priestly quality of marriage.

I cannot seem to be able to afford this town, given what I do.  Therefore the job too is a problem, a stumbling block.  And I do not know what to do, but recast it, understand it differently.  To change it, and other aspects of my life as well.  I wasn't trying to be stupid...  Is that what the story of Jonah is about?  He has to change the nature of his mission....

But if you put work into something, work at it enough, then it kind of takes a shape, starts to add up to something, for all the pains you put in, for dutifully showing up.  And then I guess you just got to collect it.  Put it all together.  Edit it a bit.  Keep trying to bang it together into some form of shape...

Just get over your nerves.  That's the thing about making something original.  It can be nerve-wracking.

That much of it happens in a barroom, or, sort of one, but a bit atypical, that keeps an element of humor about it, a sly wink, to not take ourselves too seriously.  The continual inclusion of human foible, of that Peter element, as Sancho has a sort of ring to it.  And in a barroom, again, there is the element of the tavern where they meet in Don Quixote, and the element of the road as well, a constant river of people coming in, changing, unpredictable.  And in life there is stress too.  A mix of things.

The book I wrote... I know it's an odd duck (though not, in the history of literature, where anything goes) but is it any good?  Is there not something to be said for it?  It was the book, such as one person wanted to write it.  Yes, there were, are, excesses, in it.  But it's not the worst thing, is it?  I mean, I know, it's not the height of imagination, because it's based on real events, I suppose, of course, but...

"So it depends on the quality of the book I wrote.  If it's good than I'm not crazy.   If it's not any good, I've wasted a lot of time;  therefore I am crazy.

"How are the two related," Doctor said, implying no correlation in her look at me.

I put my hand up on the wall, as if to a logic diagram on the blackboard.  If this, then that.  It seemed logical enough to me.

"So the book could be good, but I could still be crazy, you mean," I said, to add a little humor.

"But what's the connection.  Why are we tying in 'crazy?'"

"Uhm, well...   I go to my job, I try to keep writing on my day off, maybe not with any particular direction, I know I should make more effort as far as literary agents, but it's nice to hear when someone thinks it's good, that they read it."

"But that sounds like a self-image problems, feelings of inadequacy, or insecurity...  Do I look okay in this dress, do I look fat, she keeps asking..."

I guess I hadn't thought of that.  Where to trace that back to?   Did one write out of the initial feelings of insecurity, or is life complicated.  Can I see myself having those issues?

"Well, I don't know how I did it, but I followed the process along, and who knows how books write themselves, but they do somehow.  I did that part of it."

"But there seems to be a roadblock.  To be recognized as a writer you have to put yourself out there.  You have to face criticism.   You have to face a lot of issues.  If you're going to make a living at it..."

Jazz Night was a long shift after that session.  At the end of it, to pay for my dinner, I couldn't find my wallet, though I could have sworn handling it at work, when I changed into work slacks.

At the end of the week, I wake up at the bartender's waking hour past noon.  Will people think of me that I've done nothing but play, nothing but have fun, drink wine, not do anything serious, indeed not even really work, so that the whole thing will catch up with me one day.   Or, as it felt, by all the effort, I have been working, working at something.  Maybe I'm just as serious as anyone else, at least when I sit down to write, which isn't always clear nor easy.  Do feelings of inadequacy make it hard to get up out of bed, when the state of the body offers more rest?

Are said feelings of inadequacy the thing that keeps me going back to the bar to work, to listen and not speak, to deliver a message only in a most timid quiet unnoticed way?    The Teacher...  in sort of a sad state of affairs.

Who knows why we are who we are, the way we are...

Well, you write a book.  And it's hard to get it published, so, to present it, to feel finished with it, you self-publish.  You shared some earlier writings that became part of it with a professor of yours, but his reaction is that it's best left as it is, a private memoir, and that it would anyway be unlikely the prospects of getting it published. 

Friends of yours read it.  Family reads it.  (And you feel increasingly bad for dragging them into it.)   And there are positive reactions, but they are of few words, hard to read.   "Solid effort," a smart guy named Oak who's now a successful financial consultant, went to Vassar, so he gets it, tells you when he returns having read it.

But it's your account, roman a clef, like Kerouac, and its hard to tell how people really feel about it.

Well, the work week comes to a quiet end.  I sit down on the little stoop of the wine room as it looks out into the bar to reflect, to change out my work uniform, shoes, pants.  The heat is on, and the heated air from the vent below rises an animal smell from the piped roots of buildings in cities, and in it just a moment too long and too observant, I get down quick enough to the front door and the silent brick sidewalk for some cold fresh air.   I do a few push-ups, refreshed, and go back in for the last few things, bringing up the mountain bike from the back of the basement, helmet, coat, gear up, sling the courier bag over my shoulder.

The bike ride home.  A glass of wine, limited, and no taste for anything on TV, a song on YouTube, I tune a guitar, put it back in the case, and then, without dallying, to bed.  I don't always sleep well after my shifts.  I'm jittery awake at early light, yet I'm unable to get up.  There are words, but I don't feel up for writing them down yet, and the writer says, I'll remember them, being lazy.

I sit awake now, laptop before me, with the reflection of grey sky and tree branches at the edges of the bright screen, as I sit low on the couch.  It feels good to write.   Like things pent up could be released.  And if you bring them out, in each little piece, the thoughts that go through the mind, it feels like an accomplishment, and something that you will find tangible later on.

But yeah, I don't make any money at this.  Mid-life worries.  Sad feelings sometimes.   I want to do my work, but what is my work?  Is it here before me, somehow?   It takes time.  It is work.  Chipping away, at the block of marble, bit by bit.

The shame of writing, as it feels in the act, is that the feelings of inadequacy and insecurity with the self made manifest?  The acknowledgment of the feeling you're not doing the work you should be doing somehow...  Ah, you're just feeling tired from the week, groping for words, words lost in the rush for things and getting to work and other concerns.

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