Friday, August 28, 2015

Five Zen Friday

Zen in Outer Space

Is there zen in outer space?
Or is it just the sound of no hands clapping?

It appears empty out there.
Yet it is fuller than we know.
It is even filled with things we cannot see,
But can only, 
For the time being,
Guess at.

Yes, outer space is beautiful and mysterious.
Just like zen is.
And it patiently awaits our further discovery.
Just like zen does.
But, and here’s the difference,
Unlike outer space,
Zen is everywhere!

There is an endless supply of zen 
In the universe!

Blast off!
That’s my advice.
Leave this planet now and then.
There’s plenty of zen out there,
Beyond the confines of this earth.

Zen on the I-95

“Empty the pond to get to the fish!”

For many years I didn’t know 
What was meant by that remark.
It sounds very zen-like I thought,
And ought to be comprehended.

Then one day it struck me.
It wasn’t while I was fishing.
It wasn’t while I was idling in a canoe on a pond
(Although I’ve done both of those things).
It was while I was driving along the I-95.

I was doing about seventy-five.
When it came to me about the fish and the pond.
Of course, zen being zen,
I realized,
There is no answer.

That’s the beauty of it!

That’s in Florida, by the way.
The I-95.
Not the pond.
I don’t know where that is.

My zen doesn’t bother with details like that.

Trust Your Zen

“Trust yourself,” my zen said to me.

“Everything you need for this life 
Is right inside you,” said my zen.

(I’m a big believer in zen,
You might have noticed.)

“I’d rather trust you,” I answered.

“Same thing, dummy,” replied my zen.

The Bravery of Zen

There was a storm last night.
Buckets of rain.
Bolts of lightning.
And many claps of thunder.
Very many.
Very loud.
The cat hid under the couch,
And wouldn’t come out.

But my zen was there,
Standing right beside me,
Holding my hand.

Me and My Zen Will Be Long Gone 

You don’t have to bury me when I’m dead,
Or cremate me or float me down a river,
(As lovely as that sounds)
Or any ceremony else.
What will I care after I’m dead?

But I hope you’ll wait at least that long
Before disposing of the body.

Ha Ha.
That was a joke to lighten the situation,
Which was getting heavy with Death.

All joking aside,
I must ask again.
No funeral ceremony, please. 
Nothing like that for me when I die, thank you.

Unless you need it
For your own sake.
To help you deal with our friend Death,
Who’s always hanging around.

It’s no problem to me.
With strong zen like mine,
After I’m dead …
I’ll be long gone!

See you on the other side.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Buck and the Hawaiian Maiden

(Auckland, New Zealand, 1970)

Buck and I got stuck-in and cleaned up the offices. 
Me working, him supervising.
With the Auckland Northern Motorway extensions, our depot was growing and we were soon to have our own survey staff. The surveyors were due to start next week, so before that the offices would have to be cleaned up and painted. 
They’d lain unused for years, Buck said. 
I hauled out the junk while Buck rolled and smoked cigarette after cigarette, telling me which junk to put where and what to throw on the bonfire that was always burning in the yard out back by the mounds of gravel and road chip.
I had just been promoted from a laborer digging ditches with the work gangs to a ‘Chainman, Second Class,’ which is a sort of an assistant to the surveyors. 
It was still manual labor, only now, I was promised, with arithmetic.
That ought to make it fun, I thought.
I was sixteen-years-old when I’d started at the depot, where men were men and the work was rough. Buck had taken me under his wing and shown me the ropes. Now, almost a year later, he had become like a profane, kooky old uncle to me.
An uncle always ready with a tall tale. 
We stopped for a smoke and I asked him about a tattoo he had on his forearm. It was a sailor’s tattoo of a hula girl complete with grass skirt and suggestively out-thrust hip, coyly strumming a ukulele which barely hid her magnificent chest. I thought her charming, and a little sexy. The tattoo was faded now, and spotted by little scars and crusts as a man’s arm might accrue over time, but somehow it had not lost its allure. 
“Meet Aolani,” Buck said, glancing down at her. He clenched and unclenched his fist, making her shake and dance.
I settled myself down in anticipation of the coming story.
“I got that tattoo in Honolulu, lad. Before the war. Ever been to Hawaii, Rusty boy?” 
Before I could say yes I had (for the ship that had brought my family to New Zealand from California had docked there) he continued, “Too bad, mate, it’s a beautiful place and the girls are willing!”
Buck removed his glasses and while absentmindedly cleaning them squinted up into the bright summer sky. “I was a sailor on a tramp steamer out of Hong Kong, bound for Suva. Back in thirty-eight. 
“That’s nineteen thirty eight. Blast it all! I’m not that old!” 
I laughed with Buck. He was teased a lot at the depot about his age. Nobody knew how old he really was, but he was older than anyone else at the depot. He’d had an accident many years before that had left him somewhat crippled, so he didn’t go out with the work gangs, but remained behind at the depot making tea for smoko breaks and cleaning up around the place. ‘The tea boy,’ he called himself.
“Anyway,” he continued. “Six days out of Hong Kong, we was shipwrecked. A freak wave from nowhere caught us and over we went! She must’ve been ninety feet tall, that wave!
Buck described the shipwreck, with plenty of exciting details.
“Ever heard the saying about a captain going down with his ship, lad?”
“Sure.” I answered.
“Well, the bloody captain went down with his ship that day, but blast him, he bobbed right back up again!” Buck changed his tone, becoming more reflective. “He was a right bloody bastard, he was. Drunk all the time… We were the most overworked and underfed crew in the East!” 
Buck grimaced in disgust at the memory of the detested captain. 
I hope to god that no one ever grimaces about me like that.
That captain sounded like a real so-and-so, I said.
“Blast it all, lad, watch your blasted language!” replied Buck with a laugh. Buck was secretly delighted with my profanity. Between him and my father-in-law Mick, I was learning a new imprecation or blaspheming insult almost every day.
As the morning wore on, Buck regaled me with Hawaiian tales of love on the beaches and brawls in the bars, complete with grass skirts and the women of loose morals who wore them, a cast of crazy shipwrecked sailors and an older brother out to avenge his sister’s deflowering. 
Buck insisted that the girl in question was vastly experienced and certainly no virgin when he met her, “If she ever bleedin was one!” and painted the brother in extremely comical terms.
“Finally, him and his whole blasted family tracked me down and cornered me! They were going to throw me into a blasted volcano, lad, after first cutting off little Bucky, but I was too quick for ‘em and escaped to tell the tale!” 
I didn’t mind that Buck’s tales were mostly untrue, it was the telling of them I enjoyed.
“Yes mate!” affirmed Buck. “Those island girls had me going like a one-armed paperhanger in a hurricane!” 
After a moment he added, as if to himself;
“Ah, those beautiful brown-skinned island girls.”
“Yeah,” I agreed. My wife Ethne was part Maori, so I understood the allure of a beautiful brown-skinned island girl.
Ending his story, as all fairy tales must, with a moral, Buck finished by saying, “Cut us in half and what do you find, Rusty lad?” 
He paused for effect, then added; 
“We’re all pink inside, mate!”
With that, Buck hobbled off downstairs to start the tea brewing.

Friday, August 21, 2015

The Friendly Lizard

Every morning lately,
When I’ve gone outside to stretch and have a look around,
On the inside of the mosquito screen 
That encloses our patio I find perched,
Silently soaking-in the day’s first sunshine,
A beautiful green lizard. 

I wondered what 
Kind of lizard it was.
So I used my smartphone 
To search the internet.

I learned that this type of lizard is called
A Green Anole.
(An anole is a chameleon.
I learned that too.)
It is Florida’s most common anole,
Said the Audubon guide.

“Anolis carolinensis,” it read.
“Slender, long snout.
Changes color in response to light, temperature, emotions.
Male has pink throat fan.
Toes padded.
Tail long, thin.
Habitat; Trees, shrubs, vines, fences, walls.
Activity; By day.”

Yes, they are common enough in Florida.
One sees them everywhere,
If one knows how to look.
But this one doesn’t seem so common.

I call him The Friendly Lizard.

You see, most lizards run away
When you try to get too close.
Even if your intentions are harmless.
(Just like humans run away 
From good intentions sometimes.)

But this little guy,
Being only ten or twelve inches long
Including his delicate tail,
Sits there unafraid!

Not camera shy at all!
With a tilt of his head 
He watched as I approached 
With my smartphone extended.

I got as close as I dared
To the brave little lizard
And took a photo or two.

Then, without anticipation he slowly turned 
And began to walk up the screen.
Walk, mind you. 
Not run.

He paused at head height,
So that he could look me in the eye as it were,
And just to let me know he wasn’t afraid,
He offered to fight me!

Fight or fornicate, one or the other!
Because, me having no throat fan,
How could he be sure
What sex I was?

He nodded his little head 
A couple of times to attract my attention,
And then proudly displayed his beautiful 
Orangey-pink throat fan.

What impertinence!
What braggadocio!
What bravery!

Watching this miracle, 
I could feel the poem I was to write 
Begin to form within me.
I even foresaw its title,
The Friendly Lizard.

I turned off my smartphone,
Lowered my arms, 
And looked at the lizard.
Eyeball to eyeball.
Mano e reptile!
With no camera between us.
Just me and him.

And as I looked at the lizard
I experienced a zen moment.

How wonderful life is! I thought.
It’s all in how you see it!
To live in wonder!
That’s the zen of it!

To live with some kind of inner peace
In a constantly changing world
That we cannot control …
… but must not fear!

And to let ourselves 
Enjoy the moments,
And therefore the years,
That make up our lives!

And in this zen moment I also thought;
Thank You!
And Thank You again
My beautiful zen garden!

For giving me beauty. 
And sometimes even enlightenment and yes!
The most wondrous of all gifts,
The ability to Love.

As I thought these 
Wonderful thoughts,
The Friendly Lizard took one last look,
Nodded his head a couple of times,
And slowly crawled away.

“See you tomorrow!” I whispered.
And the day after maybe.
And who knows? 
Maybe even the day after that.

For nobody can be sure
That he will still be here tomorrow.
Or three days from tomorrow.
But I'd be happy to meet you here in the morning,
Little Friendly Lizard,
Unless zen and circumstance
Cause either you or I …

… To take another path.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

The Zen of Charles Chaplin

In the last scene of the Chaplin cinema masterpiece
The Great Dictator,
(Released in 1940 before the United States' entry into WWII)
The hero, a simple barber who is mistaken for a European fascist dictator,
Is led to the podium to speak to his adoring nation.

He is introduced as the next World Emperor!

His background audience of bootlickers 
And Nazi-style military men lean in,
Eagerly expecting to hear 
The usual bigoted warmongering nonsense.

We the audience know 
That he is not Hynkel, the fascist dictator,
But is in fact a Jewish peasant barber
Who happens to resemble the so-called great dictator.

Zen and circumstance have put the barber where he is.

Onscreen we see, 
Through Chaplin’s masterful acting,
The barber experience a zen moment. 
(And so, even decades later as I write this,
We who view it are able
To experience a zen moment.)
You can see enlightenment 
Come to the barber as he thinks;
Eons of karma, 
Trillions of years of human DNA,
The entire universe
Rushing outward into infinity!
Everything that ever was
Or ever will be,
All that has ever gone before…
Has led to this moment!

He is at one with the moment.
(Both as participant and as observer,
As we should endeavor to be.)
He knows it is time.

Time to speak truth to the mighty!
And attempt to inform
The uninformed
(Without being a jerk about it).
To offer hope to the doubting and downtrodden,
And to speak out against tyranny and evil,
By speaking to the human goodness 
Within us all.

An almost unimaginable opportunity for zen!

Standing in front of the microphones,
He is nervous but determined.

This is what he speaks.
(The Great Dictator © Roy Export SAS. All rights reserved. Used with permission.)

I’m sorry, but I don’t want to be an emperor. That’s not my business. I don’t want to rule or conquer anyone. I should like to help everyone - if possible - Jew, Gentile - black man - white. We all want to help one another. Human beings are like that. We want to live by each other’s happiness - not by each other’s misery. We don’t want to hate and despise one another. In this world there is room for everyone. And the good earth is rich and can provide for everyone. The way of life can be free and beautiful, but we have lost the way.
Greed has poisoned men’s souls, has barricaded the world with hate, has goose-stepped us into misery and bloodshed. We have developed speed, but we have shut ourselves in. Machinery that gives abundance has left us in want. Our knowledge has made us cynical. Our cleverness, hard and unkind. We think too much and feel too little. More than machinery we need humanity. More than cleverness we need kindness and gentleness. Without these qualities, life will be violent and all will be lost…. The aeroplane and the radio have brought us closer together. The very nature of these inventions cries out for the goodness in men - cries out for universal brotherhood - for the unity of us all. Even now my voice is reaching millions throughout the world - millions of despairing men, women, and little children - victims of a system that makes men torture and imprison innocent people.
To those who can hear me, I say - do not despair. The misery that is now upon us is but the passing of greed - the bitterness of men who fear the way of human progress. The hate of men will pass, and dictators die, and the power they took from the people will return to the people. And so long as men die, liberty will never perish. .....
Soldiers! don’t give yourselves to brutes - men who despise you - enslave you - who regiment your lives - tell you what to do - what to think and what to feel! Who drill you - diet you - treat you like cattle, use you as cannon fodder. Don’t give yourselves to these unnatural men - machine men with machine minds and machine hearts! You are not machines! You are not cattle! You are men! You have the love of humanity in your hearts! You don’t hate! Only the unloved hate - the unloved and the unnatural! Soldiers! Don’t fight for slavery! Fight for liberty!
In the 17th Chapter of St Luke it is written: “the Kingdom of God is within man” - not one man nor a group of men, but in all men! In you! You, the people have the power - the power to create machines. The power to create happiness! You, the people, have the power to make this life free and beautiful, to make this life a wonderful adventure.
Then - in the name of democracy - let us use that power - let us all unite. Let us fight for a new world - a decent world that will give men a chance to work - that will give youth a future and old age a security. By the promise of these things, brutes have risen to power. But they lie! They do not fulfil that promise. They never will!
Dictators free themselves but they enslave the people! Now let us fight to fulfil that promise! Let us fight to free the world - to do away with national barriers - to do away with greed, with hate and intolerance. Let us fight for a world of reason, a world where science and progress will lead to all men’s happiness. Soldiers! in the name of democracy, let us all unite!

Charles Chaplin was an artistic genius!
On that we can all agree.
He changed cinema forever
With his inventive storytelling
And appealing characterizations.
He was world famous in the 1920s
In a way that is impossible to conceive of today.
His beloved character,
Known simply as The Little Tramp,
Did not utter a single word onscreen,
Yet enchanted millions upon millions of moviegoers.

Ah, but when he finally did speak
It was a whopper!
Wasn’t it?

Thank you Charlie!
I couldn’t begin to count
All the laughs, 
The thrills and spills and pathos,
As good as the best Greek tragedy
Or Shakespearian comedy,
That you so gracefully handed,
Possibly while wearing roller-skates
And twirling a cane,
Me and my zen.

And thank you Charlie,
For that incredible speech!

I hope to meet you,
Cosmically speaking,
Very soon.

If you'd care to see it, here is a link.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Excellent Nachos

Thank You!
Good Evening!
I’m Rusty Pliers.

If you could please hold your tumultuous ovation until the end…
…I’d appreciate it.
Thank you.

Clear throat.
Big breath. Be Rusty.)

Television Really Pisses My Zen Off!

I hear some of you in the audience asking…
“Rusty, you’re a zen man. 
So tell me.
How much zen is there
In broadcast television?”

That’s a good question!
I’m glad you asked me that,
Because it segues nicely into a poem I wrote,
And by a strange coincidence
Happen to have with me here tonight.

But seriously,
I understand your reason for asking.
Especially with all the crap that’s on TV these days.

Six-Hundred Channels of What?
Electronic babel of the lowest order,
Interrupted every four minutes
With a word from our sponsor,
A soulless multinational corporation
Which would like you to buy its product.
A motorcar.
A pizza.

TV Reality Shows?
I hope not.
For what kind of reality do they offer?
Greed and narcissism!
We’ve got plenty of that already.

TV Sporting Events?
Where money is god!
Rigged or played 
By drugged-up cheaters and wife beaters,
With their under or overinflated balls.

The Six O’Clock News?
Where insincere anchormen
(For they are hardly ever women)
Adopt a crocodile look of mock concern
Over the destruction wrought by a typhoon in China
That is projected on the screen behind him…

…Before they turn to the camera,
Unctuously smile their million-dollar smiles,
And make a little quip about 
Grandma’s cat being rescued from a tree,
By a true American Hero.

Oh, brother!
After just five minutes of this baloney,
I didn’t need an anchorman to tell me
That with TV…
No news is good news.

Nature Documentaries?
Where moralizing filmmakers 
Constantly preach that I am singlehandedly
Endangering the habitat of some poor creature
Or noble primitive tribe. 
(Like I was a Nazi or something
Because I own an automobile!)

Meanwhile these same filmmakers
Crisscross the globe in air-polluting corporate jets,
To land from above and make deals 
With local warlords or corrupt officials,
That they might film a rare bat or an endangered frog
In its pristine natural surroundings.

Thus spreading a different kind of pollution,
Called greed and cash and graft,
Before they fly away home,
And to hell with 
All the bats and shit,
Pristine or otherwise,
They leave behind!

They’ll sleep well on the jet tonight,
Up there in First Class,
As they wing their way back to NYC
And its all-night discotheques,
Knowing they’ve created a beautiful, hi-def slo-mo video
About bats or something it’s not important to them,
Which is sure to garner
Yet more Prestige, Money, and Fame!

…As well as remind me, 
One more time, 
How I’m the one on this planet… 
We could all do without.

Its bright light and tremendous power 
Attracts every kind of pestilent Vampire and Pirate!
And I don’t mean the kind of vampire you see on TV,
With harmless fake fangs and ketchup for blood,
Young and beautiful and yearning for love 
Like Romeo and Juliet…
But REAL Vampires and Pirates,
Without human feeling in their deathless hearts!
Who stride this earth as if they owned it!
And who would sell your child 
If it could be done for a profit.

So To Protect Myself From All This Crap…
I’m going to turn off 
My TV.

But it won’t be easy. It’ll hurt.
It’ll be like putting down my favorite dog.
Like in Old Yeller…
Which ironically I first saw on TV.

So Long, TV!!!
Goodbye old friend!
I cannot begin to count
All the hours we’ve spent together.

Farewell, Faithful Companion!
Adieu, (electronic) light of my life!
With all you have to offer,
I’m sure you’ll find someone 
To replace me very soon.

In the meantime…
I’ll let you know how it’s going,
You who read 
Or hear of this.
Living without television I mean.

I’ll let you know how it’s going
When I come round to your place
From time to time
To raid the refrigerator

… And watch Monday Night Football.

Thank You!
I’m Rusty Pliers.
Good Night!

I read this at Stardust Cafe 
In Orlando, Florida, on Wednesday night.
Just as it’s written here.
These are the actual notes I used.
(Except I printed them larger, 
So I could read them 
As I stood on the stage 
Wearing my eye patch.)

It was one of my best readings, I think.
It really felt like I nailed it!
I reached deep inside myself
To strip my artist’s soul bare!

“You really engaged with your audience, man,”
Said Trooper, my Creative Director.
(He’d come down to video me reading.)
“That was your best yet, Rusty!” he added.

Hmmmm, I thought.
Two weeks to write, 
Three days to tighten and polish,
Another day to memorize, 
Four terrifying minutes to recite…
… And no one even looked up from their nachos.

Ah! The writer’s life!

If you'd care to see Rusty reading this, go here;
Rusty Reading Excellent Nachos