Friday, September 29, 2006
When are you going to keep your promise?
You remember our conversation that day, that terrible day, that gray day, when the ground rained towards the sky in blood, glass, dust. You know – that day.
In the evening I noticed the smoke had gone all the way up into your eyes and your eyes were hurting as bad as mine, and you and I were coughing together while I waited to see if Martha was coming home - even though I had a feeling she wasn't.
You sat with me on the balcony overlooking the scene, and I couldn't move. You said: Don't move, it's all right. You sat up with me all night, I dabbed at your eyes with my handkerchief and comforted you, and we became friends that night.
I asked you what hope there could be for us when even you, up there from your vantage point, felt the smoke in your eyes. You said: Ask me later.
Night after night, I returned to the balcony, looked down over hell, looked up to you, and asked. Every time, you said: Ask me later. Every day in the hospital, I wrote to you since I could not see you, and I asked God to ask you on my behalf, and God passed on your answer every single time.
Ask me later.
Ask me later.
You have no answer, and you don't want to admit it. That is fine with me. I am ready to move on to my next question.
Can I miss Martha now?
Thursday, September 28, 2006
But IF you think, don't say it.
If you say it, don't write it down.
If you write it down, don't sign it.
If you sign it - don't be surprised.
This isn't something we are supposed to worry about in the land of the free; and yet, all ideals aside, there was no reason for Ryan Bird to be surprised about the delay he experienced at the airport today.
For a professional newsy account of what happened at the Milwaukee airport today, read this. My own summary is admittedly unobjective and cranky.
First, let me introduce you to Kip Hawley. No, he is not a porn actor! Get that smirk off your face, citizen. He is a very important man, you know. Mr. Hawley - who is that snickering?? - heads the Transportation Security Administration. Read about him and check out his manly photograph here.
Mr. Hawley heads the agency that makes you hop around the airport terminal in your socks while someone waves The Wand of Liberty around you, and decides whether or not you can bring mascara or Evian water on the air-o-plane.
Incidentally, the current policy is that you can bring toiletries - in a see-through plastic bag. This is where Ryan Bird comes in. Let us say Ryan Bird has opinions about airport security. Let us say that Mr. Bird thinks some of these measures exceed in inconvenience what they obtain by way of actual security. In other words, he thinks it's gotten to be a bunch of shit.
I know, forbidden thoughts. Doesn't he know it's still September 11?? Oh come on, don't look at me like that. Come back, don't leave. I'm a cooperative guy. I let these people poke around in my luggage and feel me up and make me dance and whatever else they want to do. I play along and don't bitch about it. They've got a job, and I am not out to give them a hard time.
Me, I view the situation in a manner similar to the late Ann Richards. Go and watch this video of her telling her own airport security story in 2004. She is much funnier and wiser about it than I am. Seriously. Go watch it. She is hilarious and wonderful.
Perhaps Ryan Bird heard this speech and heeded Governor Richards's call. Ryan Bird put his toiletries in the clear plastic bag as TSA commands. And he wrote something on the bag in magic marker.
What did that naughty boy write? He wrote:
Kip Hawley is an Idiot
A screener took note of this and immediately called his supervisor. There are strict rules about making jokes about bombs at the airport; there is no rule about ridiculing the head of the Transportation Security Administration. There are no guidelines on how to handle this.
The screener told him: "You can't write things like that!"
The supervisor came and inspected the bag. They called a sheriff's deputy. The sheriff's deputy ran a check on Bird to see if there were any warrants for his arrest. Bird asked him if he was under arrest now, and was told he was being 'detained.'
The supervisor informed Bird that his toiletries would be confiscated, and Bird said, no they won't. And Bird was right. They inspected the see-through bag of toiletries for 25 minutes in order to rule out a bomb threat. Instead of stealing Bird's property, they photographed it. Exhibit A. Take that straight to Mr. Hawley.
Since no crime had been committed, Mr. Bird and his toiletries both were allowed on the plane. There were, however, some hard feelings. They justified 'detaining' him by suggesting that what he did was akin to joking about a bomb.
I don't know if Kip Hawley is an idiot. Ryan Bird doesn't know that, either. I think of the passengers who had to wait even longer because of Bird's prank. And just as that Soviet-era commonplace goes, he should not have been surprised by the ruckus.
Still, I acquit him. There is enormous social pressure, post 2001, to take some misguided patriotic pride in allowing political appointees and their agencies to fuck around with us any way they want to. In airports, I have been questioned about reading material and my taste in music.
So Ryan Bird resists. He draws a big pointing finger at the silliness of the whole setup, the system gets angry, but it has to let him on the plane because it isn't illegal for our spirit to resist the bullshit.
We could use stealthier methods. Myself, I favor organizing mass outbreaks of people singing "Alice's Restaurant" while going through the check-in process. Like Arlo Guthrie said:
You know, if one person, just one person does it they may think he's
really sick... And three people do it, three, can you imagine, three people
walking in singin a bar of Alice's Restaurant and walking out. They may think
it's an organization. And can you, can you imagine fifty people a day, I
said fifty people a day walking in singin a bar of Alice's Restaurant and walking out. And friends they may thinks it's a movement...
Heck, folks, I am getting on an air-o-plane myself in a week. I think, as I am getting injected, inspected, detected, infected, neglected and selected I may have a little song to sing.
Wednesday, September 27, 2006
Oh, hello there. I am just practicing. Come, watch me rehearse!
What do you think? Was that blood-curdling? Can you feel the cold shaft of a blade in my gut? I am not sure how to research this role. It is up to me and my imagination. Oooh. Wait. What about this?
"Hooaaahh!!! AAAAAAAAHHHH!!! Hhh-eeeeeee-eeeeeehhhhhhh……"
Wow. That gave me chills. What about you?
How about the stagger? Does the stagger look good? I am clutching my chest as if to warm a cold spot that I cannot reach, a chill that has penetrated my heart. With my screams I am conveying the horror of a man who feels the perforated liver hemorrhaging toxins into his body, and the warmth of uncontrollable bleeding.
You see, I got the call today. The kind of call actors long to get. A part! A speaking role in a feature film! Granted, I'm a redshirt. The serial killer at the center of this movie fillets me before I suck up too much screen time.
These teeny roles are especially challenging, you know. I must realize a multi-dimensional and complex character in the brief time I am allowed before I end up as stock-character satay. The character is a Mormon, you know. A door-to-door Mormon who knocks on the wrong door and interrupts a serial killer en flagrante. There are complex issues of status and ideology to explore in this. I am a trained actor, you see.
In my scream, I trust you are picking up on that slight upward inflection, intended as an echo of the Christ saying, "Father, why have You forsaken me?"
"Aaaaauuugghh!! AAUUUUGGGGHHH!!!!!! Baraaaaaaaaaaa?????"
Yes, something like that.
Okay, the fall.
You know, the way a human being falls when they die is very significant. It says a lot about who they are. Class, education. I mean, you know a supreme court judge wouldn't die this way: *THUMP!* And an undocumented worker keeling over from heat exhaustion in Fresno would certainly not succumb in this fashion: *PUH-DUMP.*
Hmmm. Actually. It really is not all that distinct, is it?
*KLUMP.* *THA-BUMP!* *Daaaa-BUMP! Sssllllllllliiiiiiiiide…. THUMP.*
Zen Master Seung Sahn once said there are only two kinds of human beings: "Late go" and "soon go."
But even "late go" and "soon go" die sort of the same.
This is the moment my mother has been waiting for.
My father and I used to watch "Creature Double Feature" on Channel 56 every Sunday when I was a kid. One of them would always be some Godzilla flick, and one of them would be the classic 1930's fare: Dracula, Frankenstein, or Boris Karloff's mummy. Later, dad and I graduated to gorier things. You know, those movies with partially nude teens getting offed by big guys in hockey masks. We would eat sour cream & onion potato chips and watch the slaughter together, commenting on how good the monster looked and picking out people in small roles who later became well-known.
Now dad can eat those potato chips and watch his own son get dispatched by someone with a large, sharp implement. "Gaaaaaaahhhhhh!!!! This one's for you, dad!" *SLUMP.*
"Ladies and gentlemen, the Motion Picture Academy does not often hand out special achievement awards, and more rarely still do we honor artistic achievements in the common horror film, but once in a generation there comes a performance in a small role that cannot be ignored. And so, we confer this Special Achievement By A Newcomer award, for a man who wowed Hollywood and America with his nuanced performance as The Dead Mormon – ladies and gentlemen, we give you – Algernon. Algernon! Put that ukulele down and come get your Oscar!"
Now I worry about being type-cast. Will I be so identified with The Dead Mormon that I shall never break free? I play the living! I play atheists, Catholics, all kinds of people! I play people who don't die!! Am I going to be stuck on Jay Leno, begging to talk about my newest project, yet having to answer questions about the goddamned Dead Mormon I played back in 2006???
Ahem. We will just have to cross that bridge when we come to it.
"Aaaaaahhh!!! Graaaaaaaaauuhhhhh!!!! NO!!! Eccckkkkkk…… aaaaaaaaah."
Come to think of it, I was wrong.
I do not play people who don't die.
Tuesday, September 26, 2006
Blogger makes posting photos a bit of a trial, and since it is a heavily illustrated blog, I will simply provide you with a link.
Please visit and enjoy.
Sunday, September 24, 2006
Today I had a business meeting on Venice Beach. (Why there? Because this is L.A. and you can.) Jennifer and I were working over our ideas and questions about the Theatre Dojo project and her own teaching work, combining yoga and theatrical acting. She said, "I just need to act - that will clear some of this up." I agreed: we will figure out how to combine our spiritual disciplines with theatre teaching by, duh, practicing theatre (and also by jumping in and teaching even if we don't feel ready).
So stay tuned! Here are just a few things coming to a space near you. Well, near me...
October 22: Private reading of a draft of Algernon's first radio play, working title Do You Hear What I Hear?, which is an entry in the National Audio Theatre Festivals annual competition.
Sometime around Halloween: Yours truly will teach an open workshop for actors that will be movement based rather than text based, and rooted in meditation. From stillness, we will take our awareness for a walk and let it dance us around and create characters for us. This will be for personal enrichment as well as professional, fostering greater self-awareness and addressing blocks in our creativity and expressiveness. You gotta be there. Dress comfortably because this is a "meditation class" that will make you sweat.
November 13 & 15: Attack Of The 50-Foot Woman (written by the very lovely David Rabinow) is one of three short works that will be performed at the McCadden Place Theatre in Los Angeles. The two-person piece (in which an angry liberal 50-foot woman encounters a 50-foot Dick Cheney among other things) is in rehearsal and will be performed by Jennifer Swain and me.
Come November we expect to be hearing much about the Theatre Dojo, a studio for actors to explore meditation, yoga, and tai chi integrated into acting to create a comprehensive theatre discipline. We believe acting is a martial art that can bring much more to your life than a job, and we want to practice with you.
Oh, and I haven't even told you about the "Writer In The Window" project! That will keep for now, but boy is it neat, folks. Stick around. We are going to have fun.
Saturday, September 23, 2006
Two weeks later, Master Rose glowered impassively as we reviewed my homework. He still wore his lei of skulls and brandished his fierce-looking Kamaka ukulele. We sat seiza on black mats in the Ukulele Dojo upstairs at McCabe's. Koa wood incense burned, and the silence of the room made me feel the more conspicuous as I awkwardly strummed through "Let's Misbehave."
A long impenetrable silence followed. I have gotten used to these.
Finally, Master Rose said, "Give me your instrument."
Ukie gulped and squirmed in my hands. I stroked his neck and blew on him to calm him down, then handed him to Master Rose.
The master took Ukie in his enormous hands, flipped him around, and began a fandango of strumming, turning keys, fine-tuning the instrument. His voice seemed to eminate from the floor itself as he spoke of tempering the instrument, the importance of tuning the strings to one another. His face wore a quizzical expression as he strummed and tuned, strummed and tuned, strummed and tuned. Finally, he lay the instrument on the floor between us and we both sat in silence, our gazes falling to the floor.
An hour passed.
Then he said, "This is a cheap instrument."
Ukie gazed up at me with a desperate expression. It was an expression you might see on a pet. It is an expression that can be translated something like, "Please don't take me to the pound." I wanted to smile and tell Ukie everything would be okay, but I had to attend to the Master.
"This is a Mahalo. It is. Imprecise." His index finger slid along Ukie's neck, and with its elongated nail he tugged at the whiny C-string. "Your instrument cannot tune to itself. Its intonation. Is weak."
Ukie shuddered. We all sat in silence.
Another hour passed as we sat in zazen. Then an attendant brought us tea. In a quiet that seemed to wrap the room up in wool, our shlurping was the only sound.
Friday, September 22, 2006
AMONG PEERS IN PURGATORY
You have come up two times since I arrived here. For such a crowded place, there is very little conversation. Since you have returned, I may as well write to you.
In the two days I have sat here waiting to renew my car's registration, I have gone hungry and subsisted on very little sleep. I have made idle small talk with any number of strangers, my peers here in purgatory. I have admired wallet-size photographs of grandchildren. I have been offered one last shot at redemption before the rapture – several times.
On my first day here, I asked a lady for her phone number. Now that seems like a bygone time, a youthful memory, a lighter era. By the way, she said no, and then they called her number for the written test.
"Now serving A-10,953."
I think I have about a day and a half to go.
Coincidentally, the cramps I am feeling are identical to the ones I get on long road trips, with nine hours per day of driving. Appropriate, isn't it?
My body and my mind have been taxed to their limit. The mind turns to certain questions when the body is exhausted and no relief is in sight. You might imagine these questions turn on God or the meaning of life. Certainly, that's what I imagined. But no. The question on my mind is simply this:
Do the rich and the famous have to go to the DMV, ever? How do they get out of it? Take that Paris Hilton, for instance. Does she have a driver's license? Where does she take her eye exam? Does she hate her license picture, like the rest of us? Or Donald Trump. I don't see Donald Trump sitting in one of these chairs holding a little ticket with a number printed on it, fanning himself with his proof of insurance and expired registration. Maybe he can do stuff on the internet or by mail, but eventually the DMV calls everyone in. Someday, you have to go the DMV in person. It is inevitable as death. For this reason, I've always thought of the DMV as a legitimate town square, an egalitarian detention center, an agency to whom rich and poor alike are accountable.
Am I wrong about this, too? Do Paris Hilton and Donald Trump have attorneys who stand in line and take their eye tests for them?
Take your time with the reply, my Man In The Moon. I'm going to be here for a while...
Thursday, September 21, 2006
My playmates love everything I do with them. Just listen:
* * *
"Aren't we the luckiest two beings in the whole universe?"
"Yes, I surely think you are right."
"Aren't his hands fantastic?"
"They certainly are."
"Really strong hands, but so caring."
"He rubs me in all the right places."
"Mmm-hmmm. Deep where it needs to be deep, light where it needs to ease up."
"He knows every curve of how I'm feeling."
"Yes. He has hands that listen."
"I'm getting all shimmery waiting for him."
"Hee hee. I know."
"Does he use his fingernails on you…?"
"Oh wow. It leaves me senseless!"
"Just sort of grazing you right – there?"
"Eeek! Ha ha ha ha! Don't get me started up!"
"Mmmmm. And that oil."
"Whaaaaaaaaa….. I'm squirming now."
"And almond, too, I swear. So very yummilicious."
"When he's through with me I feel completely worked over, but I'm ready to get up and carry him around!"
"Ha ha ha! I know what you mean. Just clean and vibrant all over. I could sleep or run a marathon, no diff. It is all good."
"Do you think he likes either one of us better?"
"Oh, don't go there."
"No, I'm serious. Does he spend more time on you than he does on me?"
"I never think about it."
"Don't make me kick you."
"He really loves us both. I know that."
"To bits. We are spoiled little piggies."
"Ha ha ha ha ha!"
"Ssssh. Hear that?"
"Oooooooh. That's the bottle!!"
"PEPPERMINT FOOT LOTION!!!!"
"No, baby, me first...!!"
Wednesday, September 20, 2006
The message said: "Child molester lives here." Arrows pointed to the house beside the message.
Later in the summer, returning to Gary's house, I noticed the sidewalk had been resurfaced (it is greyer and cleaner where the message once was). The house is for sale.
* * *
The house-sit comes with a neighbor. The neighbor is the Mayor of Genessee Avenue. The Mayor likes you to know he is omniscient, that he can be anywhere at any time. He does this by sneaking up on you and giving you a startle. Then he laughs because he wants you to think he's mischievious. He isn't: there is no humor in his laugh. He is playing status with you.
I pull into the driveway and as I get out of the car, he has taken his position out of my view. He has waited there patiently while I arranged things in my bag and placed my wallet in my jacket pocket.
He lunges as I emerge from the vehicle by shouting: "YOU WENT AWAY FOR SEVERAL DAYS."
I stare at him. He grins and reveals rubber bands - the Mayor of Genessee Avenue has braces.
"I do that to everybody," he says gleefully.
"I have no doubt about that," I say. I think of telling him that last year I was mugged only five blocks away from this place. I want to ask him if he thinks this sort of thing is a good idea in Los Angeles - sneaking up and startling people you don't know. Instead, I engage his accusation.
"I wish I could go away for a few days, but sadly no. I have been here."
"You haven't been picking up the papers."
He is referring to the advertising packages that are delivered just like newspapers. The distributors walk down the streets tossing them into your yard, rolled up like fatties. They land in bushes, driveways, and perhaps your fountain. You can call them and ask them to stop delivering your house but they never do.
"I haven't found any of those all week."
"Well, I've been collecting them," he says.
We look at each other for a moment.
At this point, it is not about junk mail anymore and we know it. Still, out of politeness, I finish the dance by saying, "If you would permit me the opportunity, since I am in care of Gary's house, I am happy to collect those things myself."
He leaves with his mission accomplished. I know he is watching. Actually, I knew that anyway.
* * *
Inside the house there is a much friendlier atmosphere. Oddly, I find no comfort in the living room and never spend time there. Same with the dining room. I'll eat at the little kitchen table where Gary and his wife sip coffee and eat a light breakfast, or on my meditation cushion on the floor with a bowl of food on my leg, in the rear lounge.
There are photos of Gary and Tamara everywhere. Their childhoods and their marriage are well documented and I spend a surprising amount of time studying the pictures. Their marriage has the feel of a warm house itself, a good sturdy place with plenty of hospitality on offer.
* * *
In the backyard, near Tamara's studio (she paints), I blundered into a web and came face to face with a very large spider: its body was the size of my knuckle. Clearly a well-fed beast. Standing there and regarding the creature, I said, "Well, sir, I seem to be in your web. What are you going to do now? You can't eat all of me at once. Do you have a freezer?"
The spider didn't move. I imagine that if it could talk it might say:
"This is L.A. Do you think it's a good idea to startle someone like that?"
Monday, September 18, 2006
Then I noticed a cut on my left ankle, owing to a tendency to kick myself with the other foot. Soon the right hand was hitting my arm more often, with more force. At this point I became concerned and went to see my doctor.
The medical community was divided. A battery of tests failed to determine any disorder, and the specialists soon began to quarrel with one another even as the right hand escalated its assaults and began pulling my hair, and that right foot began to launch itself up to kick me in the ass.
The orthopedic surgeons tended to see things from the hand’s point of view and soon began to badger the cosmeticians, and the podiatrists assumed that my ass must be quietly provoking my feet. It became clear that nobody trusted the brain whatsoever, with rumors of factions from the lower right temporal lobe providing covert support for the ass-kicking. Hand and foot found some common ground and formed an axis, and soon my hand was punching me in the head while the foot persisted in hopping around to make my travel as difficult as possible.
There’s a friend of mine who works in some kind of international relations capacity, his name is Kofi Annan, and since he seemed like an even-keeled guy I asked him what he thought I should do. Annan said, in a very quiet tone of voice, “Limbs! You must all stop what you are doing right now!”
Whereupon my right hand flew out and caught him on the jaw. That did not go over well. Annan, still splayed out on the ground, produced a whistle that hung around his neck. He blew it, but I could hear no sound. Still, two guys in fatigues and blue helmets appeared. Annan said, “Arrest this man, he deliberately targeted me!”
Some other guy in an expensive suit appeared with a briefcase stuffed with papers – stray bits of paper flew about his sweaty, red, bald head. “Not so fast! You don’t know that!”
Annan said, “I stand corrected.” Then he noticed that he was still on the ground, and got to his feet. “NOW I stand corrected. Arrest this man, he apparently deliberately targeted me!”
My new portly friend, straining at the seams of his bulged-out suit, said, “Not so fast, internationalist collectivist appeaser-monkey!! This is not a member of the world community – THIS is an AMERICAN!”
Unfortunately, at that moment my troublesome foot heaved into the air and hit his briefcase with a thud. Shocked, he took several steps back. He pointed a fat, calloused finger at me. “On second thought,” he yelled, “Take this evildoer to The Salt Pit! Wake up the dogs and get the black hood ready!”
While this was going on, I tried to apologize and explain what was going on with my limbs, but my hand kept punching me in the mouth and preventing me from getting out more than a couple of words.
“If you are interested in resolving this problem,” said one of the blue helmets, “Why won’t you speak?”
At that moment, I punched myself in the mouth at the same moment that my foot jerked violently and for a moment I flew into the air. At this Annan blew his whistle and said, “This is not a safe place – we must withdraw! Come!” And he and his friends in the blue helmets ran off.
At this point, my hand pulled my hair so hard that I took myself down the ground where my self-beating continued. Somehow, I could hear my neighbors making remarks about the scene through the windows of their houses.
“Isn’t that awful?”
“If he would come to Jesus, I expect he’d leave himself alone.”
“You know, maybe that’s why he’s beating on himself in the first place! Satan’s in him trying to keep him from Jesus!”
“Isn’t there anything we can do to save his soul?”
“Well, if he won’t come around, we could cut off his arms and give him an opportunity to embrace the Lord.”
“Well hold on there, Jim, he can’t embrace the Lord if we cut his arms off.”
“Don’t take me so literalistically. I’m using an alimony.”
“Maybe we should leave him be.”
“Well, I suppose you’re right, this is America and all, but I can’t have someone lying there on the street in our neighborhood rejecting Jesus like that. My kids will see him. Then I’ve got to explain he’s an infidel, and you know who infidels follow, don’t you? Here’s your clue: in-fidel. Fidel? Fidel, that communist! You want proof that atheists are commies, well there it is in black and white.”
“There ya go, Ed, when it comes to logic, there’s no mouse going to change your cat’s pajamas!”
“Let’s drag him out of the neighborhood and leave him somewhere!”
“It’s too hot. Call the police.”
“I’ve been trying to call 9-1-1 but they say it’s disconnected. Didn’t pay their phone bill, I guess.”
“Damn government. Never there for us.”
“Well, we are at war.”
“Forgot about that.”
"Shall we stand? I think we should stand."
The sun was glaring harshly, but soon I was beyond worrying about that because I had dug out one of my own eyeballs while my besieged foot decided enough was enough and my feet were now engaged in an all-out kicking frenzy. I heard a different pair of feet approach me. A young voice said, “Why do you hate America?” and then ran away.
Still, lying there as I was, now half blind with bloodied and swollen lips and broken ankles, I remembered the words I heard through one of the windows: that’s why he’s beating himself. And as my limbs kept fighting, I thought, That’s true, isn’t it? These aren’t just a bunch of limbs fighting with each other. I am beating on myself. Why? And come to think of it – what am I anyway?
I had been thinking so hard I hadn’t heard the feet. My hand had also ripped one of my ears off and had tried to stuff it into my mouth, so it was a bit difficult to hear – but I felt a warm, friendly touch on my head.
“You are asking the right question,” said a soft voice with a slight accent I could not determine.
“What am I? You are fighting yourself because you do not know what you are.”
I responded as best I could: “Can you (SMACK!) please (BIFF!) teach me (POW!)?”
“Yes, but I’ll have to ask you to pay quarterly dues for a membership and attend three of my weekend retreats, and you are going to have to buy a uniform and some yoga mats and cushions and some surgical tubing - oh yes, and a dance belt - and you must read all six of my books – how is your Sanskrit by the way? – and before your first retreat, there is a cleansing workshop you have to go through and you have to raise your fee for that workshop by asking your friends for money and bringing five new people to an introductory workshop…”
Both my hands went for him and he danced away, chanting.
So I lay there. And the beating continued.
Sunday, September 17, 2006
Besides the injuns, there were troubadors, comedians, jugglers, magicians, Shakespearean orators, conjurers, psychics, animal acts, sometimes human oddities, and much more, traveling all over the United States making a meager living entertaining other people who made a meager living.
Eventually, vaudeville shows began to include "moving pictures" and soon enough, a night at the movies replaced a night at the theatre. The film industry drained much of vaudeville's greatest talent: the Marx Brothers, Buster Keaton, Abbot & Costello, Judy Garland, and many more leapt from the circuit to the studios.
Now with the middle class itself rapidly disappearing, a curious nostalgia for vaudeville has led to occasional revivals. In fact, I performed in one ten years ago: a British-style music hall revival that played to great success in Providence, Rhode Island.
Miss Sarah accompanied me, and more who were invited did not come. Andrew, for instance, was preparing to reclaim his lost youth by downing 100 ounces of beer in as many minutes during a Sunday football match. Having no obligations like that on which to attend, Miss Sarah and I shared a delicious Peruvian dinner before finding, to our surprise, that the Alex was packed with patrons young and old. Some people came in vintage costumes - we even saw a young woman wearing pewterish facial makeup with shocking red lipstick, and a black veil trailing from her wide-brimmed hat. A family had costumed their children in home-made flapper gear, resplendent in fringed dresses and headbands.
We were probably there mostly because of the main musical act: Janet Klein and her amiable parlor boys played delightful songs and were charming in every way. They went so far as to lead a sing-along and somehow they managed to get all but the grumpiest handful of us on our feet to simulate climbing up, up, up a mountain and going down, down, down, down the hill.
The evening also featured an Abbot & Costello cover band, a duo named Davis & Faversham who conjured Bud and Lou for a few rollicking minutes. Amazing how well "Who's On First?" holds up in 2006.
We got into the spirit of things, whistling and cheering for the mute girl in the lacy costume who announced each act by displaying placards and doing a little flirty dance. We stayed with juggler Beejay Joyer as he made five attempts at a particularly difficult trick, even after he insulted an "obnoxious family" in the audience. We were dazzled by Michael Greiner's glass harmonica, rubbing out "Jesu Of Man's Desiring" and "Ode To Joy" on his water glasses. We were genuinely amazed by the physically impossible costume changes (about a dozen of them) by the slight-of-hand guru couple from Bulgaria. And we even did that "up, up, up, up the mountain" thing.
Well, most of us.
After an intermission, enjoying the night air in the theatre's impressive courtyard (while not enjoying the coffee: colored water, courtesy of Nescafe!), we got to the "moving pictures."
One A.M. is a Charles Chaplin short dated 1916, in which he plays a very different character than his tramp: a wealthy playboy returning home from a night of partying. This short is mostly a solo act, with Chaplin's character attempting to go to bed while every object in the house thwarts his progress.
This was followed by a 1940 talking film starring Buster Keaton as a clumsy cub reporter stuck on a train between a dangerous mobster and his estranged wife, Pardon My Berth Marks.
There was nothing "nostalgic" about the joy we found in the entire evening. While it cost more than an 1880 nickel, we had two and a half hours of solid entertainment for the admission price and everyone left the theatre feeling tired.
No, our joy was not a dusty museum exhibit, and neither is vaudeville. There is no need for an announcer to prep us with the conceit that we are "going back in time" to revive some defunct ritual of entertainment. The artists and the audience are very much alive, and we all like to get out of the house and see something happen right in front of us. We don't even mind sitting with our fellow Americans to enjoy it as a community.
In fact, at the beginning of the program we stood and sang the national anthem, just like they do at sporting events.
Friday, September 15, 2006
In another space, I have occasionally blogged about the progress. To summarize briefly with links: as early as October, a new kind of acting studio wants to make its debut in Hollywood, drawing on various disciplines to create a unique approach to the actor's work. There are three of us who have been professionals in the theatre and are also practicing teachers of yoga, meditation, and tai chi.
Mr. Nelson (still re-entering our dream world after a week home), Ms. Swain and I convened at a house in Topanga Canyon last night for a "curricular meeting." That is to say, we had a play date. We did a yogic warmup, sat Zen together, and practiced Chris's form of tai chi.
The more we do this together, the more parallels we find among the approaches and how they relate to the actor's work: the use and misuse of the body, including the use and misuse of the intellect; the use of self as if it were a wall dividing us from our world and other beings; the use and misuse of muscular control; the karma or behavioral conditioning or other thinking that writes itself into our body language and controls our perceptions of self and environment.
All of this to consider and then: telling a story, embodying a character, and communicating deeply with scene partners and spectators.
We want to teach acting as a martial art and an awakening practice; and I think we see theatre as a vehicle for making awakening, and creativity, contagious.
Nice little twist on Artaud's plague, that. He believed that if you ripped off the painted eyelids of "civilization" and "reality" you would reveal the true ugliness of humankind. Some of us think the ugliness is just another illusion, one more idea that can be used or not. Our true nature makes use of all these masks. Our creativity is making everything. Everything.
But for what? What shall we do with this beautiful contagion? Where does the riverbed lead? That riverbed is our discipline. Our vow is to follow it.
With work done and the hour getting late, we ate delicious burritos and guacamole, and then made our way outside to the hot tub. Now this, THIS is the way to have a business meeting: sitting in the hot tub under the night sky with the lightest hint of rain sprinkling us from above.
Thursday, September 14, 2006
"In Indonesia they spread it on the bed on their wedding night."
She burrowed her nose deeper into the space between his jawbone and his ear, taking another deep inhale. "What's it called? Dang-a-lang?"
Deep, deep sniff. "It's heavenly." She didn't go for colognes at all, and even natural oils made her wrinkle her nose. Too many oils went overboard on the sweetness. An excess of sweetstink always gave her brain-freeze. This stuff had a sweet bouquet, but in wine terms the scent also had a deep body. When she inhaled the scene she could feel her chest relax and open up. "You know, it also mixes very well with your own, you know, your scent. That's probably why they think of it as an aphrodisiac."
"Yeah, you're probably right about that."
"Does it have that effect on you, wearing it? Does it make you horny?"
He did that bashful half-a-laugh of his and said, "It makes me feel better in my body. Brings my mood up. It works in that sense, I guess."
"Never thought about that. I guess if an aphrodisiac did work, that would be why."
She did not believe in aphrodisiacs. The thought of a substance that could magically induce horniness sounded too much like a porn writer's contrivance or an adolescent boy fantasy to her. The aphrodisiac cocktails she had tried tasted like cough syrup. Sometimes the names of the drinks were more of a turn-on then the concoctions themselves.
Now she could smell it in the air, this doorang-doorang or whatever. It was airborne and the room smelled like him. Whatever this stuff was, however it worked, she felt like all of her senses were convening in her skin and exchanging information. The shapes of the room were sensations she could feel on her back and across her belly. This polymorphous sensual response – yes, that's how an aphrodisiac would work.
His mind was working on the same idea, even though he was supposed to leave in a few minutes. He took a gulp of his coffee, trying to finish it before he had to go.
"Makes sense," he was saying. "Sensuality lives in your body and smell has a way of opening up all the gates: seeing, tasting, touching. Stimulates the mind, too."
"I can feel it all over my skin," she said. "I actually feel more alert – and it's kinda fun being alert right now."
"Where do you feel the smell?"
She stood and walked across the room away from him, inhaling.
"Bottom of my belly." Another deep breath. "My knees – weird." One more. "My scalp." She suddenly felt itchy and set down her coffee mug in order to reach her fingers into her fair and give herself a scritch.
"What about your arms?"
"Yeah." He was regarding her with a curious smile, with his brows upright and his face bright. "They've been crossed for most of this conversation and you just crossed them again."
She had indeed. "So what?"
"Come here." Still smiling. Finger pointing to the space on the couch next to him. This gesture was a command. She returned to him and sat down, and put her "whaddya want?" face on him. He extended his palm. "Arm, please."
"You're going to be late."
"Aren't you leaving?"
"This is science. Arm. Now."
"All right already."
She presented him with her arm, which he took gently in his hands. As if examining a specimen, he brushed up and down her arm lightly with his hands, and gently rolled up her sleeve all the way to her shoulder.
"Were you concealing an erogenous zone?"
"On my arm?"
"I don't know what you're talking about."
"Surely you jest."
Tenderly, he turned arm upward and held it in both hands. He lowered his face toward it, breathed deeply through his nose, and said, "Well what about this?" Then he lowered his lips to the pit of her elbow.
Immediately, oxygen itself turned color and began to taste like steak marinated in wine. She managed to say, "You've got to be kidding—" before he began to French kiss the spot, alternating suction with teasing motions of his tongue. Her brain began to turn itself inside out. She squirmed. Her legs kicked. Speech was impossible.
Now he drew upward and warmed the spot with his breath. It was like being wrapped up in a blanket of raw silk. From behind. Oh mercy, she was panting. How embarrassing. It simply could not be this easy. Her other arm was hitting the back of the couch and she grabbed and raked the sofa cushion with her free hand. The feet were still kicking. He had to stop this immediately. She hoped he wouldn't.
But he is a bastard, and stop he did. Very abruptly. "You're right," he said, and set her arm down by her side. "Nothing there. Hey, I've got to go."
"Oh no you don't."
"I have to go."
"You're missing your appointment."
"Really. I'm afraid something has come up." She knocked him to the floor.
And that's just where she took him: there on the floor with the smell of his damned oil weaving their scents together in the air.
Wednesday, September 13, 2006
Dear Man In The Moon,
It makes more sense to write to you than the Tooth Fairy or Santa Claus, neither of whom I have ever seen; I have never addressed myself to God, come to think of it, and as far as I can tell He hasn't addressed me. You, on the other hand, are visible to me every evening.
Sir, if that is the proper way to address you, I am concerned about my teeth.
Oddly enough, Mr. Moon, I have made it past my 21st birthday without ever losing my baby teeth. I went through my entire childhood and teen years with a smile almost as striking as yours. Today, there is a gap in that smile.
At breakfast this morning, the tooth was wiggly, and mum said not to worry about it. At about four o'clock this evening, I felt something in my mouth and when I pulled it out, that's when I discovered it was my tooth. Dad suggested I put it under my pillow, and maybe the tooth fairy would leave something for me.
At the moment he said that, something passed between him and mum. For a moment, no one said anything, but they looked at one another for a moment and it felt like something was going on over my head.
Now I'm lying in bed and I cannot sleep. The tooth is here on my writing desk by my water glass. Tomorrow I have another job interview. So far, these have not gone well for me and this interview is one that my dad set up so I could finally start going to work like normal people. Now I've got this hole in my smile – that can't help my chances.
What now? I figure this tooth fairy thing is a great big joke, but for some reason I'm stuck. I can't bring myself to put the tooth under the pillow, and I can't just dismiss the whole business either. Is that crazy? Would my dad actually come up here and put something under my pillow in the middle of the night? Does he really think he could do that without me waking up?
There is a feeling in my body that's kind of like the feeling I get when I go on a flight with mum and dad, as the plane is just about to lift off, in the pit of my stomach. I don't feel sick so much as alarmed. Are all my teeth going to fall out at once? Will I get normal looking teeth, ever?
Can I just get this job tomorrow? That's all I ask this year. Next year, we could maybe have another conversation about a girlfriend. Do you have any connections up there? A friend of a friend, someone who can help me out? I get the feeling there's a move I'm supposed to make here, but I'm stumped.
Hey Moon, I just heard a sound. I think it's dad, creeping up to the door wondering if I'm asleep.
Tuesday, September 12, 2006
Several minutes had gone by and I wondered what the woman in the Crown Vic ahead of me was waiting for. My own car idled behind hers as she waited and waited. Several long gaps in the traffic came and went like a flickering candle, yet the Vic stood there.
My impatience was beginning to flirt with despair when the sound of a siren distracted me. As it drew closer, I could hear there was more than one. Several, in fact. Louder and louder, closer and closer.
Into the intersection, a motorcade arrived. Six highway patrol motorcycles escorted a limousine to the corner, then fanned out and closed off the intersection. Officers kicked their bikes onto stands and raised their arms to halt traffic. What was going on here?
The door to the limo opened, and out came the mayor. Crowds were quickly forming on the sidewalks, and flash bulbs were going off. As the mayor emerged, he smiled his best Kennedy smile and waved. The crowd roared with adoration.
To my astonishment, the mayor made his way to the Crown Vic in front of me, his smile unrelenting. The driver's side window pulled down with an automated hum, and the woman – bespectacled and behatted – stared up at him. The mayor held his hands in the air to quiet the throng.
"Mrs. Ethel Stoat of 34 Roxbury Drive?"
"Ladies and gentlemen!!" cried the mayor. "I present to you – Mrs. Ethel Stoat of 34 Roxbury Drive!"
The crowd applauded warmly. The mayor continued: "Mrs. Stoat, I am here to welcome you to the intersection! Please, I prithee, feel free to make your left-hand turn and be on your way!"
Somehow, without my noticing, a marching band from the local high school had assembled, and they began playing something rousing by John Philip Souza. The crowd began to applaud for extra encouragement.
And slowly, surely, Mrs. Stoat's car rolled forward and, with six officers from the highway patrol holding up the oncoming traffic, the mayor waving her on, the marching band pounding away, the car tentatively completed the turn. As the the Vic accelerated out of the turn, a burst of fireworks exploded in the air.
The crowd was in a frenzy. Confetti flew everywhere as the mayor flashed a 'victory' sign and climbed back into the limo.
The crowd began to disperse, with some lingering to buy hot dogs from the food carts that had quietly arrived during the hubbub. The marching band broke ranks. The limo and the motorbikes pulled away, without ceremony.
And the traffic healed itself right up.
Now I sit here waiting to make a left-hand turn.
Sunday, September 10, 2006
Without missing a beat, her teacher said: "Because of you."
Earlier today, something very terrible took place in our republic. It had never happened here before, but it had been happening and has been happening ever since, around the world. The rage and violence penetrated our defenses and brought down our illusion of safety from the madness. No longer could anyone feel like they weren't involved.
This sense of security reminds me of the wall that once surrounded a prince named Siddhartha. He grew up and lived in a huge palace compound, a remote fortress within a land that knew much suffering and injustice. When this prince was born, there had been a prophecy suggesting the boy might become a spiritual seeker instead of a king. Papa wanted none of that and kept his son a virtual prisoner of luxury and wealth, for fear that seeing what life was like outside the palace would change his son's consciousness and drive him to religious life.
Indeed, seeing what was beyond the walls hit the prince's mind like a bolt of lightning. When he scaled the walls out of sheer curiosity, he saw a land where rich and poor lived separate existences, where humans languished in desperate conditions, a land of violence, disease, poverty, old age, sickness - and death, the appointment everyone has and no one misses. Death comes no matter how good you are, rich you are, righteous you are, or healthy you are.
The human suffering touched the prince as deeply as anything could: there was no separation, no sense of insulation from human life. Time, he saw, is limited. He was involved. Involved with all of it. All of it.
Getting past the walls and seeing life as it truly is, a prince's mind is transformed by an enormous question. What is this? And the great awakening begins.
This is NOT the story of a person who lived a long time ago and became known as the Buddha. Forget it.
This is our prophecy. Yours and mine. Yep, you and me. It's our story.
Another way to handle our question is to build taller walls, to instill a better sense of security. Walls look like they should do that for us, so we build lots of them. We build gates and fences around our houses, we take our religions literally, and we bask in the cold shade of nationalism. We try to build bigger and bigger walls keeping us uninvolved with the rest of the world - the enemy. We speak of "our way of life," we believe we are right, and we see no need to look critically at our lives or our history - and least of all, our consciousness itself. Oh no. As best we can, we must prevent our consciousness from being changed.
Just as many Americans have consented to believe that dissent is tantamount to treason, we also have come to feel there is no role for compassion or non-violence at all in confronting terrorism, fanaticism, violent crime, oppression and viciousness. We turn to familiar refuges - martial law, militarism, nationalism. Those who make decisions on our behalf promise bigger, better walls. They can be forgiven for this. Walls are their business and walls have uses. It is the walls we don't see clearly that need to be climbed.
Hammers do what we do with them. A hammer cannot wake up, only the person wielding it. I am convinced there is no sane response to September 11 except to wake up. Nothing will make sense from this point on until there is a shift in consciousness.
There is no "post-September 11" world, there is only this moment and our sanctuary has been compromised. The walls stand for us to scale. Our assumptions stand for us to look at in the light and question. What is a human being? What are desire, anger, and ignorance? The choice is to accept our utter involvement in the wholeness of all life.
It is as if the air we breathe is on fire and we are pissing gasoline, wondering why we feel so hot.
Generation after generation, we kill one another because we don't understand what we are. From the beginning, we have embraced the suffering that afflicts us and denied every opportunity to wake up and try a different way. Those who have argued for a different approach are ignored. Those who will not be ignored are dispensed with. The walls stand.
The best we could possibly make of September 11 is to treat it like a temple bell in the center of the earth that tolls so loudly we wake up. Then we climb the walls and explore the territory of good, evil, and everything else we have made.
We are all princes and it is time for the bad news: we made the walls, we made the country, and we made the suffering. We even made us. (And I am not your friend, because I am making things right and left.) We made the whole painful thing. If we don't understand our involvement, we don't understand anything.
There is good news, though.
This is not intended as poetry. It will remain September 11 until we climb the wall. Nothing else will work.
* * *
If you have made it this far, I thank you sincerely for reading. Let us practice together. Let us look into the sources of evil - we can begin with the greed, anger, and delusion and seriously consider "Who's asking?" We are involved. Let us wake up.
We best honor our dead by making a vow to wake up and, from wherever we stand, stop believing insane things. A small cup of water will extinguish a wall of fire, whereas no amount of fire ever will.
I am a youngster and cannot teach you anything; but I will gladly hold hands and walk with you. One step. One step at a time.
At the moment I am a little bit fried working out my plot. (This is something I did not inherit from my father. He's good at plotting. I do the zany madcap satire stuff.) So let me come and tell you of my Friday evening.
On Friday, after a strange day at the office, I reported to the historic McCabe's Guitar Shop in Santa Monica to meet my ukulele teacher for the first time.
After checking in, I was sent upstairs into a dark hallway lined with photographs of famous musicians who have played at McCabe's. The air reeked of incense. The stillness was so intense it gave me a shiver. As directed, I sat in the seiza position and waited for sensei to hit a gong within his room.
I sat in the uncomfortable position for half an hour. This was a way of testing my mettle. It's known as a mettle-nettle, because a lot of nettling has a way of meddling with your mettle. So I sat on my feet and endured the mettle-nettle until, from within the master's chamber, I heard a small gong being struck three times.
Painfully, I regained my feet and stepped gingerly into the room, being sure to turn to the left and bow first to the altar dedicated to Ohta-san. There were also figures of Daniel Ho and his father, and there was Iz, as large and full of aloha as Hotei the laughing buddha.
The master, Steve Rose, regarded me coolly from the pillow on which he sat. He wore a lei of tiny skulls and his ukulele looked like it could put a serious dent in a lazy student's head.
I knew not to speak until spoken to. Eventually, sensei broke the silence with a command.
"Play an E-major."
Cripes! One of the most miserable chords to play on a uke! Keeping my face as neutral as possible, I willed my fingers to twist themselves to fret an 'E.' I strummed, and a weak, tinny 'E' rose from my Ukie.
The master's brow clouded ever so slightly, but he said, "Passable."
He motioned for me to sit down. I sat, again in seiza, with the ukulele laying down in front of me, parallel to his. The master asked me another question:
"What do you think of Jake Shimabukuro's cover of 'While My Guitar Gently Weeps' on the ukulele?"
He was referring to an astonishing performance that has been heard all over the world thanks to YouTube. I knew I had to choose my words carefully, and I studied his poker face as I spoke.
"He is of course an enormously skillful player. The arrangement is clever, yet perhaps a little showy. All that rock and roll flash. The ukulele has a personality all its own - it is not a rock guitar. Speaking as an unworthy beginning student, I wonder if this performance amounts to little more than a stunt. Yet perhaps it will attract 10,000 students more worthy than myself to explore the ukulele and discover its true character."
The master left several minutes of silence. I wondered if he would kick me out of the room.
Finally he said, "I agree. You may study with me."
I had passed the master's barrier gate! To celebrate, we sipped iced green tea - with little umbrellas adorning our cups - and then we began.
Ukie and I have a long way to go.
Saturday, September 09, 2006
For a little while I have been doing some work for a large pro-Israeli lobbying organization. You see, back in 2003 I really needed a job and I was also very charmed by the local chapter's leader, this man:
...a former L.A. police commissioner, a well-liked intermediary, a lover-not-a-fighter, a man committed to dialogue and making Los Angeles a better place. I have had to come and go from Los Angeles a few times, and he has always welcomed me back and found things for me to do.
Now it is he who has gone away, and there are bumpy times in his absence. When Los Angeles County issued an award honoring the work of this man...
...the organization I work for was very unhappy. They consider this man to be a Muslim extremist. They issued a press release saying the award should be taken back. Some other people considered this a bit harsh, including many of L.A.'s top religious leaders, and they organized a press conference to rebut the statements made by this organization I work for.
Most of the organization's professional staff is far away on a staff retreat. Yet they felt they had to have someone there.
Someone decided, "Let's send the Buddhist."
So they sent me to the press conference, asking me to write down as much as I could: who was there, what was said, what press was there, etc., etc. I was to be their mole.
Arriving, I was immediately greeted by this man:
This man leads the Muslim Public Affairs Council. He had lots of questions to ask me. Why wouldn't AJC meet with him? Why were "we" issuing press releases without making any direct contact? Why were we arguing in the media instead of person-to-person? Why were we saying bad things about
And what was I doing there?
Speaking as the Executive Director of Me, and not any organization, I said: "I am here to listen, if you will permit me. I will listen to anything anybody wants to say to me, and I will share all of it with the organization's leadership."
He visibly relaxed and welcomed me. Then it got really interesting. You see, some time ago I served as Abbot of a local Zen Center.
Some of the work I did was with an interfaith political group with whom I made public appearances and even a few speeches, one of which was broadcast on C-Span. Among the people I worked with was a constitutional lawyer and former ACLU leader, a man whose speeches stirred me up with patriotic feelings.
Well. Guess who was there participating in the press conference - the press conference denouncing the organization I was representing?
There I sat, the least popular person in the room, regarded with astonished stares by former colleagues.
And yet, I was there to do what I have always done, what has always been my job: to pay attention, wherever I am, especially when suffering is present, and ask how I can help. I'm not on anybody's team and have no dog in any fight. My dog is Kwan Seum Bosal, the bodhisattva Avalokitesvara,
she embodies what I hope to represent.
So people thought whatever they thought (none of my business) and I listened.
A reporter, having learned who I was, smelled a story and tried to get into me for info about the organization I work for. I think he smelled my sympathies, because he asked me about dissent within the organization.
I follow politics - and I can deflect press questions as deftly as the professionals. I became
and he gave up on me.
As far as I am concerned, this man:
owes me a beer.
Thursday, September 07, 2006
Time passed, and so did MacDonald. The lad grew up, loving words every step of the way. Then, once upon a time, he had a brief, fun fling with somebody who showed him how much fun rolling around in the words could be.
On their third date, they were lounging in her apartment eating some food, drinking beer, and staying cool as best they could. The television was on, with the sound off, and the lad's eye was caught by a strange-looking commercial. "Check this out," he said, and the lady laughed with him. The commercial featured images of ladies with their midriffs exposed, and close-ups of lovely bellies with advertising messages written on them in greasepaint.
"At least it's not the one with the talking belly buttons," she said. "That one really disturbs me."
"You know what job I'd like?" said the lad, eyes on the tv screen and all its belly-billboards.
"No. What job would you like?"
"I would like to be the guy on the set of this commercial who knelt down and wrote on the ladies' bellies."
This intrigued her. She arched an eyebrow in mock hilarity and said, "Really now?"
"Totally hot," he confirmed.
The lady thought this over, stood up, and went into the other room. She returned and handed him a personal item. She said, "You're hired."
It was a lipstick.
She raised her shirt to expose her belly. "Go on. What, do you have writer's block?"
"Uh, no! No! Just catching my breath."
He uncapped the lipstick and rotated the ruby red point upward. He leaned in very close and wrote the first message that came to mind. He wrote the words slowly, enjoying the way her skin quivered and sensing her pulse rising. He wrote: Ask me what I'm thinking.
She looked down and read the message upside down. "Okay, what am I thinking?"
This time he wrote slowly, with teasing motions of his lipstick pen - in the space beneath her navel: This is hot.
"Hmmm," she spoke barely above a whisper, "While I don't disagree, the statement is a bit vague. You will need to elaborate."
And elaborate they did, slowly revealing more and more space to be filled with words, ruby red words that teased and provoked until, beaded with moisture and bent in the heat, the words began to run and wear off on skin and clothing and sheets, as the pair took to rolling around and getting altogether slicked up in words.
And they agreed that what they received was much more gratifying than any literary award. No doubt, John MacDonald would agree.
* * *
You blow like a clear chord on a bamboo rod, full of sweet and sour lonesome like a scripture on a foggy day yet you are fragrant as incense and the laughter of a wise old woman.
Maybe you know what it’s like, when you open your fingers and take a breath and the song comes, or when you put the nib of your pen on paper and the ink spills out leaving lyric everywhere.
That feeling of landing where you belong and breathing pure inspiration - this is everyone’s birthright. The empty backdrop of our mind is all possibility. Form emerges from possibility and returns, coming from zero and then back again, back where the tune goes when you stop singing. Every line rhymes with silence. Then we look at you, Uncle Moon, and you seem to confirm all of this; you remind us of what we are, so we presume on your presence and call you “muse.”
Let me blow some chords here in tribute to you. Words are just so many fingers dancing on the neck of my bass. Let’s take a trip together and reunite music and ear. We’ll make everybody’s head nod with the pulse, and inwardly they may hope we never come back from the moon, yet you know and I know:
You’re always around.
Wednesday, September 06, 2006
As always again, they filled the cup plenty full anyway, and I was obliged to do something I hate: pouring off a little bit of coffee into the trash. Oh, I hate that. That little O-shaped opening in the counter with the sugar packets and the napkins and wooden coffee stirrers, the pitchers of milk and half-and-half, clearly meant for paper trash only yet inevitably customers pour out their coffee into the trash.
Making a face and silently apologizing to whatever employee would have to take out the trash, I poured just a bit of hot coffee into the trash, then set the cup down and reached for a sugar packet.
This voice stopped my arm dead in its tracks if a reaching arm were to leave tracks, that is.
The voice came from the O-shaped opening. From the trash. It was distinctly a voice. A slightly pettish voice. It had said, "Ow."
To test this, not thinking very clearly, I slowly positioned my cup in the air and dribbled a little more hot coffee into the trash.
That was confirmation.
Losing my reflexive timidity, I leaned down and looked into the trash. At first all I saw were napkins and empty sugar packets and tons of little stirring sticks. Then the trash seemed to arrange itself roughly into the features of a jowly face with sunken eyes. Could this be?
"Yes, thats right, I spoke." The trash spoke with a mouth animated by discarded napkins. For someone who was just learning that he was insane, I felt rather calm.
There was no reply to that. Feeling somehow a bit embarrassed - it was my first time being reprimanded by trash - I mixed sugar into my coffee and stirred. Just as I was about to drop my stirring stick into the trash, I hesitated.
It spoke right up. "Go ahead, I'm ready." I dropped the stick in. "Please forgive me," said the trash. "I usually don't complain. Today I'm just in a bad mood."
"Not at all," I assured it. "If you don't mind my saying, you sound remarkably cultured are you from around here?"
"Lots of places," said the trash. "Consider where these napkins are printed. Between the coffee cups and the lids and the napkins and the sticks alone, you have several states represented here. You couldn't guess the variety of items customers drop in. You could say I come from everywhere."
I couldn't help but ask the next question. Somehow it seemed particularly relevant when trash was talking. "Where does your 'I' come from?" I asked.
"This is why I don't pipe up often," said the trash with a weary tone augmented by the rattling of plastic lids at the bottom of the can. "People hear trash talk to them and they jump right up into their minds, trying to figure it out.
"You use your mind to look at things. If you don't use your mind to look at things, that's awareness."
Somehow I could not dispute what the trash said. The only problem I had with the situation was in my mind. Part of my mind was telling itself that what it was observing wasnt true. The trash didn't have a problem; I had a problem.
One doesn't engage trash in public conversation. It is considered strange. Still, I lingered. This trash seemed to understand a thing or two about the Way but I wanted to see. So I asked it one more question.
"Bodhidharma said Buddha has three bodies. He called them the transformation body, the reward body, and the real body. I wonder, which of these bodies are you?"
Like a shot, with the popping sound of a tiny explosion, a plastic fork shot from the trash and caught me right in the forehead. I rubbed the spot while laughing. The trash, on the other hand, was having none of my nonsense.
"Bodhidharma said something else, you know." The trash did not pause for me to respond. "He said that someone who hears the teaching of a sage IS a sage, and someone who hears the teaching of a mortal is a mortal. Do you know what that makes you?"
"Excuse me, sir."
I turned and there was an employee, Starbucks smock and hat, ready to take out the trash. I was moved to protest, yet something kept me from interfering. She rolled the counter out, and within seconds, she had the bag of trash out and was tying it shut. My new teacher-friend kept talking, albeit the voice was muffled through the sealed bag.
"Don't lose your time, little man! True sages are not in faraway places!"
Now we were outside. I followed the employee towards the dumpster while the trash kept speaking, its face gazing at me intently through the opaque plastic. "Appearances are not appearances, dipshit! Stop seeking your prize within time and space! That way madness lies!"
And there ended his teaching, for the employee had hoisted him over her shoulder and flung him into the dumpster. She gave me a polite smile as she turned and made her way back to the store.
"Excuse me," I said to her. She looked at me as she might look if Lee Harvey Oswald had shown up to order a chai latte. "What did you think of all that? Were you listening?"
She blinked at me several times and said, "I don't know what you mean. I didn't hear a thing."
That was it. She walked back into Starbucks and I decided not to gild the lily. I sipped my coffee, patted my ukulele, and walked towards the car.
Last weekend my ukulele endured its first trip to the vet. I was worried how it would go. One might not think of ukuleles as being temperamental creatures, for they sound so affable and easygoing, but you never know.
On Sunday it was time. The rainbow-colored strings that came with the instrument were old and whiny even when they were in tune. It was time to make a trip to the Folk Music Center and get new strings, maybe pick up another songbook.
Gathering up the uke's carrying case, I spoke soothingly to the instrument so as not to arouse its suspicions. As I slid it into the carrying case, it could tell something was up. In the car, ukulele was intensely curious. Ukuleles travel well, in general, and this one is no exception.
The Folk Music Center is where I adopted this critter, and upon entering the store the uke seemed to recognize the place and feel happy. Soon we got the business and this was where I worried.
Fortunately, my ukulele is not highly strung.
Unzipping the carrying case, there was an initial hiss and a bit of a growl, but once we got to the business it cooperated. Laying there as we took off its strings it may have whimpered a bit, yet this was barely audible. He kept a brave face. The Center let me do the stringing myself, and I think this helped Ukie feel more at ease.
They asked me if I let the ukulele go outside. Generally, no, and never alone. That spared us a few of the shots. A general inspection suggested that Ukie is doing quite well indeed. A cheerful and sprightly instrument.
Our companionship is just over two months old. Next week, a nice fella by the name of Steve Rose over at McCabe's Guitar Shop in Santa Monica, will start working with us. We are already making beautiful music together but Steve is gonna help us take it to a new level, I know it.
Already I am wondering whether Ukie needs a friend. Besides me, of course. Another instrument, a playmate for when I'm not around to play with him. Right now, I can't handle another one, but maybe in the future. We'll see how things go with Ukie.
Recently, on that famous social-networking website, I got tagged with a silly blog assignment: choose several words beginning with the letter G and blog about them.
As sometimes happens, the words took over and what appeared was an amusing and provocative little story in which every single word starts with the letter G.
Not exactly what I was asked to do, but I hope you enjoy. Oh, and this story is NOT G-rated.
* * *
Grover Gatsby greases golden gewgaws. Genie grows. Grover gasps! Gewgaws gestate genies!
Genie goes, "Got gripes?"
Grover goes, "Golly!" Girds Grover's guts - getting guts grossly great, good gosh! Grover goes, "Got gams?"
Genie goes, "Grover gay?"
Grover goes, "Guys? Gross!! Got girls??"
Genie goes, "Geisha? Gymnast?"
Grover goes, "Glamour gal!"
Genie gestures: gal grows. Groovy gait, gossamer gericurls, glamorous gloves.
Genie goes, "Got game?"
Grover gasps. Grover goggles. Girl giggles.
Genie gestures. Game grows. Grover gussies, gauges girl. Girl gone gloomy. Grover grabs genie. "Gad!! Girl gloomy! Got gin?"
Genie gesticulates, gets gin. Girl grins. Grover grins. Girl gyrates. Grover guesses, "Gal gotten?" Grover-Girl gibber-jabber goes, goes, goes. Grover glows. Girl gleams. Guy-girl gladness glows. Great golly!
Grover gropes, girl grinds, Grover-girl grunt grunt grunt. G-spot grazed, glans glad-handed. Go! Go! Go! Grover gasps! Girl gasps! Grover-girl gloopy goo glistens.
Girl glad, Grover glad, Genie goes. Gimcrack guardian goes, gewgaw gestation grows.
They are a wonderful couple who have been together some time already, know some of the territory, and are off to a very good start. Their happiness is not a giddy thing; their joy does not contain air bubbles waiting to burst and poison their hopes. They know what they are doing. They have a lot of support and love around them. They even wrote a vow about how they will raise children. They understand they have embarked on a big job, they have discussed it, and they are up to it.
There has been so much talk in our public life lately about who should get married and who should not. Maybe this is a useful conversation for us. It won't be meaningful, if you ask me, unless we start with why we get married. It strikes me as very curious that those who speak of "protecting" marriage usually are not talking about the high divorce rate. They are concerned about preventing Bruce and Steve from getting married, yet they exhibit no curiosity as to why so many "proper" marriages fail.
If marriage is a vehicle, where does it lead? What is it for? Beyond the legal rights and obligations, what does marriage provide for a community? If we aren't clear about this, what are we doing getting married? Do we choose it freely or are we pressured to enter a bargain we do not understand or desire?
Maybe our country should have that conversation first. Then we can talk about who is suitable for the task.
At any rate, these two people are ready for it. After chanting an homage to the three jewels (Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha), I explained to the gathering that they were the officiants and I was there to assist them: they, the family and friends to whom the couple have turned throughout their lives, would be marrying this couple.
Being for the most part non-Buddhists, they weren't familiar with the three jewels. Buddha, I defined as complete attention; Dharma, the teachings and life experience that had brought each of them to this place; and Sangha, their family, community, colleagues, their neighborhood, their country. (And I snuck something in there about all sentient beings.) Now these young people, while they continue to mature, will become a resource for others. Their home and their family will provide fruit and shade for their ancestors and those who have not arrived yet.
Then, while I looked on, the gathering ordained these two people as Married Persons - a lifelong vocation in which they will immerse themselves completely. They each took turns making promises and receiving promises from another, letting each other know that they accept the other's promise.
At their request, the signing of the marriage certificate was part of the ceremony. So we witnessed the moment of their legal marriage, too. Two weeping moms witnessed the certificate. A few more words, a kiss, and jubilant applause.
As people moved along to photographs and the chicken dinners that would soon be served, the officiant in grey Zen robes looked around and indulged himself alone:
walking barefoot in the rose petals.
Aaah. This is how I feel in my heart and my mind when two people swear their love and I believe them.
Barefoot in rose petals-
Leading me to the fence and a beautiful horsey that was grazing. Out loud, I asked the horse: "Can I be useful here?" The horse looked at me, gently butted my hand with his head, and stepped sideways so I could pat him on the side.
Thank you, friend.