Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Short Back and Sides and Rusty

In 1967 I was an orphaned American boy who was sent to live with his maternal aunt Rose and her husband Jack in rural New Zealand.
Having arrived in New Zealand, I had to register for school, which required that I take an intelligence test. The results of this test confirmed what many people had long suspected… 
That sometimes I could be too smart for my own good.  
The results surprised everybody, even me, but they especially surprised Mr Hamilton, the assistant Headmaster of Avonmore College, the school I was to attend. 
“Hmmm,” Mr Hamilton said, unable to hide the difficulty he had believing it. “You’ve done very well, considering.” 
Mr Hamilton sat behind his desk, my intelligence test in his hands. I sat across the desk on a hard little chair, having waited while he graded my paper. 
“Hmmm,” he repeated, checking the results again.
Mr Hamilton’s appearance was notable for two things, it seemed to me, he was very clean and he was very bald. His skin was almost translucent, it was so clean, and truthfully, he didn’t have a single hair upon his head, other than a tiny close-cut patch above each ear.
“Poor penmanship though,”  he added.
“I’ve never used a fountain pen before, sir,” I said.
“Yes,” he repeated, as if thinking to himself. “You’ve done very well.”
He looked up from the test in his hands, into my face.
“You’ve never taken this examination before?” he asked. He seemed incredulous.
“What?” I said. “Teen masturbation on the floor?” Now I was incredulous. 
“I beg your pardon?” commanded Mr Hamilton, more incredulous still.
“Huh? Oh! Nothing, sir,” I answered, realizing my mistake. Please remember I’d only been in New Zealand a few days and sometimes I had trouble understanding what was being said to me.
And by sometimes, I mean all the time.
Mr Hamilton ignored my misunderstanding. He wanted to solve the mystery. It was obvious to him that I was a moron, why had I done so well on the intelligence test?
“Have you taken this test before?” Mr Hamilton repeated. 
“No, sir. How could I? I just got here!”
“Steady, boy,” he warned, speaking firmly.
“Yes, sir,” I said.
“You’re sure?”
“Yes, sir.”
“Very well,” he said, and trailed off.
He scrutinized my face, looking for a clue. 
I had him there, though, because as usual I was completely clueless. I stared back at him, fighting a feeling of guilt, although why I should feel guilty I didn’t know. I hadn’t done anything wrong. All I’d done was confound his expectations and succeed at something. 
He continued to peer straight at me. I could imagine him wondering; was I intelligent, or a cheat? It must have been impossible to tell, for after a minute Mr Hamilton stopped his scrutiny and simply said, “You may go.”
“Thank you, sir.” I said, preparing to leave. 
“Yes. Well. And don’t forget to have your hair cut.”
“Short back and sides.”
“Excuse me?” 
“Regulation length,” he said curtly. “Short back and sides.”  
Now, my hair wasn’t long or untidy, but it was a little eccentric. It was styled in a pompadour something like Elvis Presley used to wear, back in the 1950s. It was a sort of baby Viva Las Vegas, if I could explain it that way, except very blond and, me being only thirteen-years-old, without the sideburns.
My mom had liked it that way. She’d loved Elvis.
She’d taken me to get my last haircut…
My mom… her and my dad had only been dead three weeks… they’d gone to the movies and never come back… and now here I was in far off New Zealand, being told by some headmaster guy to get my hair cut.
It sure is a crazy world.
“Huh?” I repeated. “Short what and what?” 
I didn’t like the sound of that.
“All students,” Mr Hamilton intoned, “without exception, will comply with the regulations regarding hair length. The regulation, young man, is short back and sides."
He looked down at his work and waved me away, saying, “This discussion is ended. Report to me before assembly Monday morning. Be gone, boy.”

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Reading To Grandpa

Grandpa Tom was my maternal grandfather. He was a steely eyed, quarter-blood-Cherokee who’d worked for the Wichita Falls daily newspaper all his life. 
I don’t remember grandpa Tom much before I was six-years-old, when we visited Texas for the summer. He had a favorite chair by the window where he would sit for hours. He had been ill, we children were told, so please be quiet around your grandpa. 
Every morning, mom used to hand me the newspaper and tell me to go over and read to my grandpa. “Show your grandpa how good you can read,” she’d urge. 
“The whole thing?” I’d complain. At first I was a little afraid of grandpa Tom, him being ill and so quiet and stern looking. He used to stare off into space and work his jaws as if he were eating. His fingernails were stained from the printer’s ink, too, which somehow I found upsetting. 
“No, honey,” my mom would reply sweetly, “just read to him until he falls asleep.” 
He fell asleep in his chair all the time. Later I learned that grandpa Tom had been recovering from the first of his many strokes at the time. While we stayed there that summer, I read to him every day, sitting on the leather ottoman at his feet, as he listened quietly and stroked an orange cat who slept in his lap. 
Eventually I forgot my fear and we became friends, grandpa and I. He’d smile crookedly with anticipation in the morning when I came to him with the newspaper.
Later, with great solemnity, he gave me an old, ivory-handled pen knife. “For you,” he sputtered, placing it in my hand. His words were terribly slurred from the stroke. “Don-don-don’t forget… to clean it.”
One day, I put the newspaper down when I thought he was asleep and I started reading to him from one of the books I’d brought with me from California. (Not sure if I could get books in Texas, I’d stuffed my suitcase full of them. “Whataya got in here?” my dad asked as he packed the car for the trip. “Rocks?”) 
What I read to grandpa that day wasn’t a rock. It was James and the Giant Peach, by Roald Dahl. 
“Good!” grandpa said, startling me. I didn’t know he was awake. “More, please,” he added.
All that summer we laughed together at the adventures and misadventures of young James, while we hated and feared the cruel aunts Spiker and Sponge. When Spiker and Sponge deliciously got what they deserved and were crushed by the giant peach, grandpa laughed so hard he upset the cat, tumbling it to the floor with a squealing meow. Grandpa found the story very funny, laughed all the time, which surprised me somehow, and my mother thought was suspicious.
“What are you guys doing in there? Rusty? Dad?” she called. 
“Just reading,” we’d call back, laughing, but it was more than that. 
We were in another world together.  

   “And James Henry Trotter, who once, if you remember, had been the saddest and loneliest boy that you could find, now had all the friends and playmates in the world.”

Ah, Dahl, you magnificent bastard!

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

“For A Minute There I Was Worried”

I found some zen in my garden today.
But that’s no trick.
I find some every time
I enter my garden.

It’s a beautiful place filled with love.

Summer or winter.
Dawn or dusk.
Empty and quiet,
Or loud and full of life!
My garden is loaded with good zen!

After all, 
Zen and love
Are the same thing.
Or perhaps two sides of the same thing.

So I use it extravagantly while I’m there,
Blowing it all on the good life!
Wasting it like it was money
Or something equally valueless.

And I take all I want
In a huge doggy bag 
When I leave, too.

Ha! Ha!
It’s like I was
A zen-dog millionaire!

Now I’m worried.
Is this a sustainable practice? 
Should I be conserving my zen?
Am I possibly using too much?
How much is there?
Will it last?
Will there be enough zen to keep me
And comfort me in my old age?

At the rate I’m going, 
(Extravagant fool  
That I am!)
There won’t be enough 
To last me more than,
Let’s see… multiply by eight, carry the two,
About four trillion years!

Give or take a few hundred millions.

For a minute there
(A very un-zen-like moment!)
I was worried.

But I’m okay now.

Four trillion years.
A four followed by twelve zeros.
Four thousand thousand thousand thousand.
4X10 to the power of 12.

Anyway one looks at it,
That’s a lot of time.
More time (by far) 
Than the universe has existed,
So they believe.

But just to make sure,
The way time flies around here
And the way I go through the stuff,
I’d better get to my zen garden again pretty soon.

And stock up now for later.

Now, where did I
Put that
Doggy bag?

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

“It Don’t Pay to Eat Too Much on an Empty Stomach”

“It Don’t Pay to Eat Too Much on an Empty Stomach”

It don’t pay to eat too much 
On an empty stomach.
No, nor to slumber too long 
When you’ve been without sleep.

And how about the one that advises
Not drinking too much 
When you’ve been without water for a while
And you’re really thirsty?

Old wives’ tales?
Or good advice?

With zen,
Where with most things 
Moderation is the gentle goal,

Less is more.

So it’s probably good advice.

By the way.
If it don’t pay to eat too much 
On an empty stomach,
Does it pay to think too much

With an empty mind?

“Evil Zen?”

See no evil,
Hear no evil,
Speak no evil.

Wonderful idea!

But wait a minute…

If that’s how you are,
With no evil to speak, see, or hear,
(And let us not forget our other senses,
For the touching and smelling and tasting of evil),

Then you must be dead.

Because evil, 
Which in this imperfect world
We call suffering,
Is all around us all the time,
And cannot be avoided
At any cost.

From the tiniest ant to the mighty elephant,
And every other living thing as well,
(Including and especially humans),
We all must suffer.

Thank goodness for zen!
A way to find a way
To begin to understand 
The true state of things,
And with this understanding
Make adjustments
To your thinking
In order to live 
A happier life.

Another wonderful idea!

After all,
Doesn’t Happiness
Destroy Evil?
Or at least make it wish
That it hadn’t gotten
Out of bed that morning?

So don’t worry about evil.
Who cares what it smells like?
Or anything else about it!
Get over it.
You’ve got bigger fish to fry.

Learn to unattach yourself 
From the things around you,
And then when you’ve learned that,
Unattach yourself 
From yourself.

Remember there is an unlimited 
Amount of zen in the universe!
Enough for the Happiness
Of everybody!

Take all you need.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

“The Zen of Elvis”

“The Zen of Elvis”

You have to draw the line somewhere.

That’s a common saying where I come from.
Maybe you too.
I wonder if it’s true?

Many things 
Accepted as fact in this world,
Are not.

And believing does not always make it so.
(Although it certainly helps.)

Elvis Presley believed it.
You can do anything you want, he sang,
But baby,
Don’t step on my blue suede shoes.

Elvis drew the line
At stepping upon his shoes.
Or maybe at stepping upon
A particular pair of shoes.
I’m not sure.

Who cares?
My zen doesn’t give a crap about such things!

Sorry Elvis.
Yet my zen wouldn’t tread upon your shoes,
Or harm you in any way,
Or hinder you or otherwise impede your life,
(Or, in your case, your death)
Unless it was ultimately, cosmically, good for you.

Of that I am certain.

You or me or Elvis or anybody.
Our essences will travel through time
Unharmed by the vicissitudes that may befall,
Because they are immortal.

That’s a reassuring thought.

So go ahead!
Draw a few lines if you must.
If it makes you feel any better.
But please remember that ultimately
You are wasting your time.
Because sooner or later,
Things will change,
Giving the line you drew 
No meaning whatsoever.

And Elvis,
If you’re reading this,
Say hi to everybody for me.
See you,
In the cosmic scheme of things, 
Very soon.

“My Zen Loves a Laugh, Part 2”

My zen’s got a great sense of humor.
It loves a laugh!

I’m glad of that,
Because after all, who enjoys 
Being around a sourpuss?

Yes, my zen loves a laugh.
Especially at my expense.

But I don’t mind,
I can afford it
Because, apart from a little humility,
It doesn’t cost me a thing.

My zen is laughing at me all the time.
Laughing at me to remind me
How senseless it is
In this crazy world
To take things too seriously!

Ha! Ha! Ha!

So go ahead!
Why don’t you 
And your zen
Join me and my zen
In a good belly-laugh?

Ha! Ha! Ha!
Ha! Ha!

Yes! Let’s all laugh together!
To remind ourselves that 
Life is ridiculous! 

Ha! Ha! Ha!
Ha! Ha!
Ha! Ha! Ha!

Have you ever noticed 
How contagious 
Laughter is?

Ha! Ha! Ha!
Ha! Ha!

And how difficult 
It is to stop laughing,
Once you’ve begun?

Ha! Ha! Ha!
Ha! Ha!
Oh boy! Woo! 
Ha Ha Ha!
Ha! Ha! Ha! 

I think I just peed myself.