Friday, October 30, 2015

Product Placement

“Everybody loves romance on a tropical beach under swaying palm trees, don't they?” 
It was my publisher on the phone. 
“You like to travel,” she added. “You were in Hawaii for a month last year, remember?”
“Yeah,” I answered. “I like Hawaii. Who doesn’t?” 
“Exactly!” said my publisher. “Travel! Get it?”
She calls every week reminding me if I’m working to work harder and if I’m not working to get started. Then she reminds me that writing for her is the luckiest break I’ve ever had in my entire life.
Which is true to some extent. She’s a terrific publisher. Half my age but twice as smart.
“Huh?” I said.
(Which ain’t so hard to do, sometimes, be smarter than me.)
“Travel’d be perfect for you!” she went on. “Maybe that’s a subject your readers will enjoy… instead of your usual stuff about the animation business and how many cartoon rabbits you drew way back before computers were invented.” 
“Okay,” I answered, winching in silent pain at her accurate remarks. “Maybe a change will do me some good.”
“Right!” she agreed. “And would it kill you to work-in a little product placement this time? Travel offers us a chance to finally monetize this thing! Just think! Airlines, hotels, restaurants, automobiles. Vodka brands!”
I perked up.
“C’mon Rusty!” she said. “Vodka! Can’t you see the potential?!”
She’s very persuasive, my publisher. That’s probably one of the reasons she’s so successful. 
That, and her great white shark approach to life. With her as the shark, of course. I knew that whatever resistance I managed to put up today, I would be writing a travel blog tomorrow.
And trying to work-in something about General Motors or Apple Computers or Rolex wristwatches without looking like I’d sold out.
Because goddammit Bob Dylan! You wrote Mr. Tambourine Man, man! You gave us Blowin' in the Wind, and Foot of Pride and Mississippi and Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands. And a hundred others, you magnificent bastard! But you broke my heart in 2013 during Super Bowl halftime when you tried to sell me a stinking motorcar!
“You’re a writer, aren’t you?” my publisher reminded me. 
“Yeah,” I answered.
“Well, write!”  
It was that easy, according to her. You just sat down and wrote it.
Just like Bob sat down and wrote Mr. Tambourine Man, I suppose.
“Try it, will ya?” she pleaded. “Travel. For me? Just one.”
“Okay,” I said. “I’ll try.”
“Good! And don’t forget a Ferrari or something! Something cute!”
“Right. Sure. Bye!”
“In Paris maybe,” she added. “Or Bangkok. You know, somewhere nice.”
“Yeah. Well. We’ll see.” 
“In a ritzy hotel! With a casino and a spa and a big pool and …”
“Okay. Will do. Bye!”
“And for god’s sake, no swear words this time. Please?”
“You’re fucking kidding, right?” 
“Travel is a family thing, Rusty. C’mon.”
“How about if I travel to some fantastic brothel in the fucking Arabian Casbah and report on the fellatio, anal, and ménage à trois technique of the local harlots?” I answered. “Would that be family friendly enough for you?”
“Please Rusty!” she said. “No fellatio!”
“Women, men, AND camels!” I added for good measure.
“Not again!” she exclaimed. “Please!”
“Well. Okay then,” I said, being agreeable in my magnanimity. “As long as we’ve got that straight.”
“Yeah, okay,” she said. “No camels, please! Thanks.” 
I laughed to myself to hear the relief in her voice.
(I was relieved too, for on a personal level camels are beasts of things.)
“Talk to you Tuesday,” said my publisher. “Please work on the travel thing. And Rusty, no brothels. Okay?”
“Okay. No brothels. Cross my heart.”
She couldn’t see me not crossing my heart, so what did it matter?
“Well,” I said. “Talk to you later. I’ll send in my expenses. Bye!”
“Your what?”
“Yeah. Great. Shouldn’t be much. Ferrari or two. Gotta go. Bye!”
“Your expenses? We don’t pay …”
“Got a plane to catch!” I interrupted. “First class all the way! I’ll call you from the Ritz! Bye!” 
“Hey! Rusty! You can’t …”
I hung up and started looking for my passport.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Buck and the Big Mosquitoes (Pt II)

Part II
The scenery rolled by as I drove the Falcon and listened to Buck in the seat beside me. He paused to take another swallow of rum and then sat silently for a moment, looking out the window. After awhile he turned and saw me scratching absentmindedly at an insect bite on my arm.
“Ten thousand bastards!” he cursed. “The mosquitoes are bad this year! I killed one the other day that was as big as a bleedin albatross!” 
He leaned towards me conspiratorially and uttered, “It’s the female mosquito that bites, you know, lad. And, as I may have mentioned, I’m absolutely irresistible to females! Hahaha!”
May have mentioned? By now Buck had told me a thousand tall tales, many of them with benefit of stimulating and willing females, for he was fond of a good copulation, to hear him tell it. How Buck loved to spin a yarn! It was his favorite thing to do, except perhaps, if one believed his stories, fornication. It was almost as if he believed these stories he was telling, he told them with such gusto and conviction. I was a willing and eager audience, for I like tales of fornication as much as the next bloke and besides, I was young and naive and still couldn’t tell or at least wasn’t insulted when a man was telling the truth or not. 
After all, the lessons of a lifetime cannot be learned in one day.
“Blasted mosquitoes!” said Buck and he good-naturedly cursed mosquitoes in general for five minutes straight. Then he cursed, for another ten minutes, a particular mosquito who had recently attacked him. 
“Talk about persistent, mate!” laughed Buck. “I was weak from loss of blood after her first attack. She had got me in the neck,” he pointed to the spot, “right here! Blood oozed from the wound and this seemed to drive her into a frenzy! I swear she had a look of malignant evil on her horrible, ghastly face, or the thing that we would call a face, matey, if she bleedin had one!” 
Buck paused at this point for another swallow from the bottle. Then he began again, a little breathlessly, with plenty of gesturing. “Just as she came in for the kill I knocked her down with an uppercut to the proboscis. Blast her! She was so tough I had to take off my boot and hit her three times with it to finish her off! Ugh! What a bloody mess.” 
For a moment Buck’s mouth turned down in a frown of remembrance, before he lifted the bottle again and gulped down the dark, sweet rum. 
“Ha! Ha! It was her or me, mate,” he said, “but I survived to tell the tale!”
“Of course,” he continued after a bit, “the biggest, nastiest mosquitoes I ever saw were in Africa. I remember once, crossing the Kalahari, when I saw in the sky, just off the road in the bush a little way, what I took to be giant vultures. 
“They were hovering over the dead carcass of an old bull elephant, the bastards! Getting out of the car, I grabbed my gun and pith hat and sallied forth to see if I could run off those bloody, damned vultures! 
“Because I hate vultures, Rusty Boy, terrible birds of ill omen that they are!” Buck reduced his voice to a whisper. “As I silently approached, my mouth went dry and my hands started sweating. I was fair-dinkum scared mate, for Death is all around you, every minute, in the African jungle.”
Buck took another drink while I thought about death being all around me all the time. Then he solemnly uttered, “I thought to myself, ‘Buck old boy, it’s a good day to die!’” 
I glanced over at Buck. He had that look on his face now, as if it were still a good day to die. 
“I clenched my buttocks,” he continued, “sharpened my eyes, strained my ears and crept forward. Bloody hell! They weren't vultures at all, but horrible monstrous mosquitoes, buzzing and prodding that poor elephant!
“Raising my gun, I took out the biggest one with a double blast, which thankfully scared off the others. Naturally, I wasn't stupid enough to wait around and meet any of her relatives, so I buggered off just as easy as shitting in bed and kicking it out with your foot!”
Buck took another pull from the bottle while I thought about shitting in bed and kicking it out with my foot.
“Too right, mate!” he continued. “I stopped only long enough to assist that old elephant to its feet, with a native trick I learned from an old Zulu witch doctor. 
“That elephant wasn't dead at all but was merely playing possum.”
“Huh?” I said. “What?”
“You didn't know that elephants played possum?” asked Buck, pretending surprise. “Oh yes, and they also, most of them, play the accordion, too.” Buck leaned in closer and whispered, “Although that's a bleedin well kept secret, mate, you have to be an experienced elephant handler or an old Zulu witch doctor to know that one.”
I laughed, but Buck, unconvinced that I was swallowing his tall tale, continued, “You don't believe me? Well, where the blasted hell do you think all that accordion music comes from in the African night when you're trying to sleep out there in the veldt under the stars?”
“I dunno, Buck, I’ve never been to Africa.”
“Bloody hell mate!” laughed Buck. “Use your noggin! An elephant could hardly play the harmonica or the saxophone with that long trunk of his, now could he?”

Many years later, I happened through the circumstance of living to find myself under the stars on the African veldt at night, yes and in a tent close by the Kalahari dessert too, just as Buck had described to the boy I used to be. 
I’d been in Africa a few years trying to make my living as an animator. I may have mentioned that being an animator is a rather hit and miss way of making a living. Anyway, I’d run out of animation gigs, so I had come along from Johannesburg to help some archeologist friends find fossils in the petrified mud of southern Botswana. My friends spent every winter there, cataloguing bits of seashell that had turned to stone uncounted centuries ago. 
We’d worked hard in the sun all day, and now after a good dinner with lively conversation, a little dagga and some strong Cape wine, we’d said our goodnights and gone off to our separate tents for sleep. I was laying in my cot, not asleep but not awake, listening to the wind rustling through the endless African grasses (or was that the strains of accordion music I heard wafting on the air?) when it hit me that Buck was right.
It really was a good day to die.
“Keep an eye out for elephants!” I called to Death and the ghosts and the African night, and I heard my friends gently laugh at my shenanigans.
“Goodnight Rusty, you old fool,” they laughed. “Sleep well.”
“Goodnight friends,” I answered. “You too.”

Friday, October 23, 2015

Buck and the Big Mosquitoes (Pt I)

Auckland, 1969
Buck was my best friend at the depot. 
When I’d started working there, fresh and green, he had taken me under his wing and shown me the ropes. Hell! I was only sixteen-years-old and still didn’t know shit from clay, as my new workmates used to constantly remind me. But it was all in good fun, for the men loved a laugh and I was a natural target, being so naive and inexperienced about things. How they’d pull my leg! And I was a foreigner too, a tall, gawky, long-streak-of-piss yank with a “goddamn” accent newly arrived in New Zealand and ignorant of everything, which of course added to the possibilities for hilarity at my expense. 
Because I really didn’t know shit from clay.
Anyway, about Buck. We became good friends. To me he was like some wonderful, profane, kooky old uncle. He didn’t go out with the work gangs, having had an accident years before that left him somewhat crippled, but remained at the depot to make tea for smoko breaks and clean up around the place. 
“The tea boy,” he called himself with a laugh. 
He put on his spectacles and looked up, smiling when he saw me. Today he had his false teeth in, which gave his smile a rather ferocious look. Usually he kept his false teeth in his overalls' pocket, wrapped in a handkerchief, “So as not to wear the bastards out,” as he always said.
“G’day, mate,” he called. “I’ve got a message from Pat. He said for you to take his car and collect the grog, and I should get a lift with you up to the site. Okay?”
Pat was the head foreman, who ruled our depot like a king. The men considered him a good boss, and thought themselves lucky to work for him, for there were plenty of bosses who were worse. With Pat you felt like what you did mattered, even if it was just shoveling shit from the bottom of a wet, muddy ditch. He knew everyone by name and he didn’t muck around, which pleased the men greatly. It also pleased them greatly when every now and then he put on a piss-up at one of the worksites, if we’d had a successful month with no accidents and stayed ahead of schedule. 
It was to one of these piss-ups that Buck and I, at Pat’s behest, were going.
“Any time you say, Buck,” I replied. “A beer or two would go down a treat.”
I was bragging, as Buck well knew. As a drinking man I was a rank amateur who couldn’t hold his beer worth a damn.
“I wouldn’t say no to a snort myself,” laughed Buck. “Who knows, eh lad? I might get the urge and run amuck!” 
Buck running amuck! Ha! Ha! How I hoped to see that!
“Remember, lad,” he said. “When faced with a choice of two evils… pick the one you haven’t tried yet!” 
At the bottle store getting the supplies, Buck watched as the booze was loaded into the Falcon. He leaned his broken body against the Falcon’s fender and had a smoke, counting the crates and bottles to make sure they got it right, until the Falcon could hold no more. 
“Batten down the hatches, mates!” he called. “She’s full up! Let’s shove off.”
After getting into the car Buck put his mangled legs on one of the crates of rum stashed on the floor, and made himself comfortable. Next, he reached down and lifted a bottle from a nearby crate, unscrewed the cap and took a long drink from it. 
He didn’t offer me any. 
“Not while you’re driving, Rusty lad,” he explained. “Dulls the wits, you know.” He took another swallow, then said, “It doesn’t matter about me any more. I’m old and buggered and fond of beer. But you, lad,” gulp gulp gulp and down it went, “I encourage you with the utmost sincerity,” gulp gulp gulp and down went some more, “to lay off the sauce.” 
Gulp, gulp. He took another swallow. 
“Urp!” he belched, adding, “Beginning tomorrow.”
"Okay, Buck,” I laughed. “Beginning tomorrow.”

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Brief Interruption

“Ding dong.”
“There’s the bloody doorbell,”  I muttered to myself. “Hell!”
I tapped command S on the keyboard and got up to see who was at the door.
“Hi,” said a young man when I opened it. “Ah, yeah. Hi. I was admiring your garden. Well, really my wife was admiring it… and she asked me to to ask you…what was that tree over there in the corner? The big pink one?”
“Oh,” I said, stepping outside. I was wearing my usual winter writing attire. Worn-out hoodie, faded T-shirt, flannel pajama bottoms and fuzzy slippers. The slippers were a Christmas gift from my wife, who I still believe loves me in spite of the slippers. They are truly hideous, but they are warm and comfy. I like to be warm and comfy when I write, or at least my feet do. 
I politely looked to where he was pointing, although I knew without looking which tree he meant. “That’s a Tabebuia tree,” I said.
“A what?” he asked. 
“A Tabebuia tree,” I repeated. He doesn’t look like a gardener, I thought to myself. Not that they have a definite look. Anyone can be a gardener. All around the world, anywhere you go, people tend to gardens. From paupers to kings. But he doesn’t seem to fit the mould. He’s in his mid-thirties, wearing a Yankees baseball cap (backwards), closely trimmed beard, sunglasses and sports clothes.
“Let me write it down for you,“ I offered. 
“Thanks,” he said. Over his shoulder I saw an Audi parked at the curb, with a large dog half hanging out the passenger window, its attention unwavering from its master in the Yankees cap. 
“Sure, no problem,” I replied. “Would you like to see the rest of the garden?”
“Uh, no, not really. I’m late for the links. Golf’s my thing, and I’ve got to drop my dog off at the vet first. Dixie’s her name.”
“Dixie’s your dog’s name?” I asked.
“No,” he answered. 
“Dixie’s your vet’s name, then?” I asked.
“No,” he answered.
“Your wife’s?” I wondered.
“Right,” he answered. “She’s into gardening and wondered what that tree was.”
“The vet?” I asked.
“No,” he answered.
“Your dog?” I asked.
“Your wife?” I said.
“Right,” he laughed.
Then I remembered it was Saturday. Probably his day off, and here he was wasting it talking with me. How nice to be a writer, I mused, and work whenever I wanted to, and not work whenever I didn’t want to. 
I hardly realize what day it is anymore. 
Ha! Ha! Some people have been saying that about me for years!
“Yeah,” I agreed. “My wife too. 
“Your wife’s name is Dixie too?” he asked incredulously.
“No!” I laughed. “My wife’s name is Saucy Boy. She’s very proud of her garden and enjoys working in it too, like Dixie does.” 
That was true, her nickname is Saucy Boy and she is an avid gardener. Our garden had even won ‘Yard of the Month’ in the neighborhood more than once, and, like today, complete strangers sometimes knocked on the door to ask what was this plant or that shrub in the front yard.
“Your wife’s name is Saucy Boy?” he asked.
“Uh-huh,” I nodded. “She got that name because she’s saucy, not because she’s a boy.”
Yes, I thought, my wife is saucy. And she loves to work in the garden. It’s one of her favorite things to do. She is curious about life and nature, and takes delight in beauty. I like to work in the garden, too. We have a very nice suburban tropical garden, with many palm trees and some interesting bamboos. The private garden in the back is colorful and cozy and contemplative. 
Over the years my wife and I together have made our garden what it is, achieving more as a team than we ever could as individuals. Sharing the joy of work and the satisfaction of a job well done. And maybe sometimes, as happens when you’re married, disagreeing about what to plant where or when to water it or even why the heck one bothers trying to get along with you in the first place in this blasted Florida heat and humidity!
“Be right back,” I said. I left him there and went to fetch a pencil and paper.
He turned towards the Audi. “Just be a minute girl!” he called to the dog. 
I presume he called to the dog. He’d be pretty stupid if he’d called that out to the car, now wouldn’t he?
“Here ya go,” I said when I returned. I handed him a piece of paper with the name of the tree written on it.
“Well …nice garden,” he said. “Thanks for the info. Dixie’ll love it! See ya.” 
We shook hands, then he turned and walked down the path, pausing to glance at the Tabebuia tree.
His dog was happy at his return, excitedly welcoming him into the car. 
I watched him start his car and drive it to the end of the cul-de-sac, turn around and drive past the house. I like cars and sometimes watching them is a pleasure. As he passed me he waved his thanks. 
I waved back, closed the front door and started towards my office.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Are You Getting Enough Zen?

Are You Getting Enough Zen?

Excuse me.
I hate to interrupt.
I see you’re busy.
Living life sometimes takes all we’ve got, doesn’t it?

Looks like that’s the case with you right now.
You seem to be coping well.
And that’s all we can hope to do.
Cope well.

But I have a question.
Because I love you.
(Although I know that gives me no special privileges,
This love of mine.)

My question is this:
Are you getting enough zen?

Because zen is important.
I could lend you some if you’re short.
I’ve been doing well lately 
And currently I’ve got plenty.

Not bragging.
Just saying.

Wouldn’t want to piss my zen off by bragging.
You see, my zen does all the work
And I take all the credit.

Remember as you cope 
That zen works that way for you too.
For me and you both.
That’s the beauty of it!

Zen and the Big Bang

My zen rushes out,
Like everything else,
From the big bang when they say things began.

Rushing out into the universe.
A universe that is ever expanding
And has no end.

Big stuff!

My zen was there at the beginning.
And it will be there in the …
Oh, that’s right.
There is no end.
But my zen will still be there,
(Wherever that is)
Nourishing me.

For the essence of me will still exist and require nourishing.
No matter how far the universe expands.

In the meantime
It’s hard to know where I fit
Into all this rushing vastness.
I feel so small and inconsequential.

So what!

As long as I’m along for the ride,
Rushing into infinity with my zen, 
What should I care?

Arthur’s Zen

When I was a lad.
It seems a thousand centuries ago,
But really it was 1969.
(Although with zen as strong as mine,
I’m not denying the possibility that it could have been a thousand centuries ago
And still be 1969.)

Anyway, when I was a lad
I began my working life
At the bottom of a road construction ditch.
I shoveled the shit that had accumulated there,
From the bottom of the ditch to the top.

Our gang boss was named Arthur.
He was feared by all,
For he could be a violent man
When he wanted something
Or thought he had been wronged.
Which seemed to be often.

It was only years later,
When the concept of zen became more clear to me,
That I realized what a great zen master Arthur was.

He was indifferent to everything.
Hot or cold didn’t matter.
Good or bad didn’t matter.
You or me didn’t matter.
Nothing mattered.

As long as he got his way.

Of course Arthur didn’t realize he was instructing me.
Giving me, for my pains,
Of which he himself caused a few
With a cuff to the ear at the bottom of a shitty ditch
All those years ago,
A lesson in life.
Yes, he didn’t realize he was giving me
An insight into the way things are.

Which is what zen is after all.

He’s been dead a long time,
Arthur has.
I wonder where he is now?
I probably never said thank you
For all the knowledge he gave me.

So from the year 2015,
Wherever you are, 
I thank you!

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Buck Two, Motorcycles Zero!

Auckland, New Zealand, 1970
One day Buck was regaling Derek and I with tales of motorcycling glory. 
Buck loved to tell a story, the bigger the better, and when he was in the mood these stories often entailed the destruction of a vehicle of some kind. He must have destroyed hundreds of cars and trucks and motorcycles in his lifetime, to hear him tell it.
I was very young when I started working at the depot, where men were men, the work was dangerous and the language was foul. I was a navvy in a work gang, digging ditches, mixing concrete or cleaning up with shovels after the big earthmoving machines had rumbled past. 
Buck, who was too old to go out with the work gangs, had taken me under his wing and shown me the ropes. 
He was like a kooky, blaspheming old uncle to me.
Derek was a surveyor whom I sometimes assisted when he needed some manual labor. I liked working with the surveyors. The work was easier and they were mostly good guys.
None of them however, they being educated types, could curse worth a shit.
Derek had roared up to the depot that morning on a motorcycle, and that’s what had got Buck to reminiscing. 
In this case, it was a story about the time he had raced a motorcycle at the Isle of Man Tourist Trophy Race back in 1948. “Or was it forty-nine, Rusty lad?” he asked me.
Like I should know.
“I was lying in second place, lads,” continued Buck, “behind Les Graham on his AJS Porcupine. By thunder, that Les, could he handle a motorbike! And that AJS he rode, could she haul it! The Porcupine was a beautiful machine, too, a great roaring twin with horizontal cylinders. They used to cook your shins, those hulking great cylinders that stuck out to here, with all the heat they put out. 
“How he screamed along!”
Buck paused a moment to admire another rider’s skills, before continuing.
“But a true champion knows to never give up, so I rode that Norton as fast as I dared. 
“It had rained in the morning and the road was still damp in the shadows of the trees. It was one of those English summer days, you know, so I was as cold as a witch’s tit inside my leathers as I hunkered down against the petrol tank, looking for extra speed and a chance to get out of the wind. 
“Somewhere around mile marker thirty-four I rounded a corner and must have hit a patch of oil because that Norton just slid right out from under me!
“What?” I gasped.
“I fell on my back and threw out my arms, hoping to slide rather than tumble or roll. You don’t want to tumble if you can help it, lads. That’s a bloody fact!” 
He paused to light a smoke.
“Well, boys, it was a slide I wanted and a slide I got!
“I was sliding along the bleedin road when out of the corner of my eye I noticed that Norton was sliding right along with me! Crikey-Dick!! She was on her side grinding along in a shower of sparks, spewing her guts out everywhere! 
“I could feel the terrible Black Hand of Fate clutching at my bowels and I said to myself, ‘Buck old boy, you’re a goner this time for sure!’”
Buck broke off to take a deep drag on his cigarette.
“Well mates, I collided with the bike just as she caught fire! Covered in fuel, I caught fire too, and for a while we slid along together, that Norton and me, united like lovers in perdition, until the bleedin bike exploded and I was thrown clear! 
“Luckily, the force of the blast put out my flames.”
“Eh?” said Derek.
“But it could’ve been worse,” said Buck. “It was being run over by a back marker that really did the damage!” 
“What?” asked Derek. “You were run over?”
“Yep! Carlo Ubbiaci on his MV Agusta came round the bloody corner and hit me square on as I was trying to stand up! 
“He told me later he was doing a hundred and twenty when he hit me!”
After another deep drag on the cigarette, Buck grimaced and added, “Lying bastard. Those MV’s couldn’t do more than a hundred and ten.”
(Funny, isn’t it, how a liar scorns another liar’s lie?)  
“I was facing the other way and didn’t see it coming, mate. Bloody hell, what a noise it made when she hit! They say you could hear my bones shattering from the finish line, four miles away!
“Ubbiaci walked away without a scratch,” said Buck with a shrug. “A whim of the gods. I’ve still got his tire tracks up me backside to this day!”
Fearing he would down his trousers there and then and actually show us the tire tracks, I encouraged Buck to continue. 
“What happened next, Buck?” I asked. 
“Yessir, Rusty boy, that MV bounced off me, lad! She was a total write-off too, a crumpled heap of useless metal after tangling with me! Making the score for that day Buck two, motorcycles zero!”
“What happened after that?” asked Derek with a touch of suspicion. Derek was older than me, and through lack of exercise his suspension of disbelief was weaker than mine.
“Well lads,” continued Buck. “To be honest with you, I don’t remember much more of that day. Thankfully, the human mind rejects some memories as too unpleasant, so that we might live on unaware. Forgetfulness, it’s another gift of the gods. I woke up two days later in hospital, I do remember that!
“You know,” said Buck philosophically, “Ubbiaci came to visit me while I was in hospital. They were good guys back in the old days. Good enough to show up and visit you in hospital after running you over, anyway.
“‘Buck,’ he says to me, ‘Buck, old boy, you are the luckiest bastard I’ve ever run over. I’d like to shake your hand, if it wasn’t so bandaged up.’
“Of course,” Buck reminded us, “he said it with an Italian accent, him being Italian. 
“‘It’s obvious you’re not as dumb as you look,’ he says to me.
“‘Yeah?’ says I. ‘That’s one advantage I’ve got over you, mate!’”   
Buck unhooked his glasses from behind his ear and squinted off into the distance. Quietly, almost imperceptibly, to himself he added, “Ah, lads, those were the days.”
He replaced his glasses.
As Buck had apparently finished his tale, I knew a moral couldn’t be far away. 
He liked to finish with a moral, as any good fairy tale should.
“Remember,” he said, all serious now and looking from my face to Derek’s, searching with his little eyes as if seeing into each of our souls. 
I swear he found my soul, down wherever it abides. 
Found it and made it laugh with delight!
Buck leaned in, glancing around to be sure no one could overhear, and uttered solemnly, “Some things aren’t meant to be known, lads… only believed.”

Friday, October 9, 2015

How Much Zen Is There in a Raindrop?

How Much Zen Is There in a Raindrop?

How much zen is there in a raindrop?
Asked one of my students.
(For I’ve collected a few
From time to time
As I’ve gone along.)

Well? he insisted.
How much?

He’s an insistent little so-and-so,
I’ll say that much for him.
But his zen is pure.
He avoids pornography and doesn’t drink to excess.
He has other good qualities too, of course.
Those just happened to come to mind.

“Hmmm,” I answered.
“Let me think about it.”

So I thought about it.

Every day the insistent student would come round 
And ask about the raindrop.
Come back tomorrow, I always said.
Rain or shine, every day he came.

After a few months he stopped coming every day.
Instead he came every couple of days,
Asking about the raindrop.

Then once a week came he.
Once a fortnight.
Once a month.
His visits became irregular and widely spaced in time.

Then he stopped coming altogether.

He sent me a letter.
(He’d moved out of state.)
How much raindrop zen is there?
Asked he in this letter.

I answered asking for more time to consider.
And so we exchanged letters.
We corresponded thus for a few years.
Exchanging news, sharing our lives.
He got married, started a family, bought a Prius.

Finally, the insistent student, 
After nearly five years of waiting for my answer,
Has given up.
He isn’t so insistent anymore.

His most recent letter did not mention the raindrop.
It spoke of his love for his family and his goals for the future.
How his twin daughters are growing up so quickly!
The family dog had had an operation, too.
But Fido was doing fine now.

It was a good letter,
Written from the heart,
And filled with zen.
Everything is good, he wrote, 
Adding in his final paragraph,
I can’t complain.

Aha, I thought, 
There’s the zen of it!

He was a good student, but
Boy, did he have to learn the hard way!

Live as Your Zen Commands

Life is painful.
On that we all agree
No one made it that way on purpose.
That’s just the way it is.
Full of pain and frustration.

One of the reasons it is painful
Is because we desire too much.
And our desires being unfulfilled we feel pain.

You see?
You want it.
You cannot have it.
You are disappointed.
Disappointment hurts.

That’s the zen of it!

So give up your desires!
Don’t be a slave to your longings!
Quit wanting stuff!

We’re destroying our planet with our Narcissistic materialism anyway
And, let’s face it, our greed.
For how much crap does one person need?
When others are doing without?
Or going hungry?

I have an idea.
Maybe we could try living as our zen commands.
Living the way we know to be right.
With kindness towards ourselves and others.
And a calm understanding that sees us through.

Let’s remember that life is crazy!
So don’t worry too much about it.
Laugh at it!
Laugh good and hard. 
And try living with less consumerism.
Because it’s destroying our humanity and our environment. 

Finally, cope as best as you can
With the vicissitudes of this life.
For it won’t last forever.

I didn’t say it would be easy.
It’s not an easy thing to be a zen man.
Or a zen woman.
Millions and millions of us are attempting it.
But believe me.
It’s worth it.
When you now and then succeed.