May 23, 2010

In Buddhist scripture, in the Anguttara Nikaya, it says somewhere, "I know nothing that brings suffering as much as an untamed, uncontrolled, unattended and unrestrained heart."

At the Point this weekend, a vacation it was supposed to be, unattended or unrestrained hearts were strewn everywhere. Everyone's imagination was on edge. Last night while preparing dinner, one of the three muses ducked out on to a deck for a smoke. It was early dark, a few last echos of light in the Redwoods. Suddenly, she heard a man shouting through what sounded like a bullhorn. But there was no plausible explanation. This is a remote place. You can't see any other properties much less hear neighbors. This is the last place you'd ever hear a bullhorn.

She came inside and returned to the kitchen completely unnerved, and for several moments stood in a corner with the tea pot warmer in her hands. It's the wind, she said. It has something to do with the wind.

"Gins," said one of the other muses. The conversation turned to the ghosts that haunt the Atlas mountains and then the notorious Aejej wind in Morocco, and that brought to mind the Sirocco and what about the Abroholos in Brazil, the Bad-I-Sad-O-Bist-Roz in Afghanistan, the Austru in Romania, the Brisote in Cuba, the Kolawaik in Argentina.

Here, it's the Chinook and the Santa Ana, which ruins the fruit trees. But this wind in the last few days was neither of those, it's been from the north. Very unusual.

The muses fell silent.

There have been several other strange happenings. The muse that heard the shouting fell down the stairs two days ago. The right side of her face is black, as though she'd been burned. She was coming down the stairs with fresh sheets and then something happened. Now, still in great pain, she's trying to find meaning. Which brings to mind Susan Sontag's warning about the danger of metaphor.

"No, I'm not talking about quite the same thing," said the black-eyed muse. "It's not whether I'm being punished. I don't believe that. But what does it portend? What am I falling into, or from? Have I forgotten how to put one foot in front of the other?"

Everyone nodded. We could all see that.

Someone else told the story of how they they'd been involved in a minor car accident and then a week later lost their job. "As soon as that car hit me I knew my job was gone. I've always associated cars with career."

Someone else said that sometimes — so some Buddhists believe — sometimes a small accident absorbs the impact of what might have been a much larger accident, which has now been avoided.

One of the muses told about the time she had a terrible fight with her husband, only the second time in their marriage. She left their bed and slept in the cabin that faces the sea. Out that window you feel as though on a clear day you could see all the way to China. She said it was the worst night of her life. Filled with ghosts and hauntings and nightmares. This was on the night of December 26, 2004. The next day she read about the great earthquakes and tsunamis that had struck the Indian ocean basin and it occurred to her — and she later came to believe — that perhaps some of those 100,000 spirits had flooded through her house.

And still another story, about a man who had a near death experience and said later, "If I'd only known that I had control of my life."

Everyone nodded even if they had no idea what the man meant.

On that note we began dinner.

The next morning the phone rings, there's bad news. A man across the way, in his 40s, killed himself. He lived with his sister. Apparently, she saw it coming, for years or hours, who knows. She called police, told them he was armed, and dangerous to himself at least. The police arrived. Call out on a bullhorn. But it's too late.

Just this man and his sister. Maybe half a mile away as the crow flies. She works down in the bakery. He sold dope. Then lately something happened. Remember that the wind has been blowing for days. And of course things have not been going well financially for anybody. So he's sitting there. It's early dark, just the echos of light in the redwoods. He's got a gun and he's reached that point where alternatives are falling away. His personal fate is moving like water just before it goes over the falls, heavy and unstoppable. And then the gun itself is saying, 'c'mon now kiss me. Kiss me like you mean it.' And maybe he's thinking of those people that go up to Bixby bridge and jump off. But that takes a courage he doesn't have. All he can do is this. All he can do is think a good thought and hope like mad and then do it. And maybe he can be that happy thought firing around the universe.

Carlotta, the local masseuse, has a theory that people who jump off the Bixby bridge need that beauty, the view of the coastal range and the ocean, to help them jump. And it's all part of a natural process and somehow mother nature is helping you work it out, giving you something when you're past needing anything. A kind of sedative.

May 14, 2010

The feeling is vaguely familiar. What is that? Bile, perhaps. Can't catch a breath. A mouthful of dry-rot. What is that? You look outside. It's early afternoon one minute, late afternoon the next. Coastal summer has set in. Pale gray, the color of nothing. It's the day that never ends. The news from Greece is worse by the hour. And then out of one eye you notice your coat won't get out of the chair and hang itself up. What is that? And then suddenly, the bed has taken you in... Time passes and there's no way to file it.

The next day you hear this, "Is there a reason you don't want to renew your subscription to the New York Times?" You say, "I'm sorry. What was that?" You have not been listening. You've been taking care, shutting things down, but you haven't been paying attention. Still, everything will be fine, you're thinking. But there it is again. What is that? The last time you felt like this would have been.... Yes, it might have been that last year in Morocco. The super marche in Meknes comes to mind. And why that particular place, I couldn't say. Around New Year's Eve, wasn't it? No, it was later, in February. It was snowing in the middle Atlas. And piling up. Whatever year that was. As though the future was falling off the shelves, along with American cereals and Spanish wines. There were questions about muddling through and how that could be done and for what reason and for how long.
Act 3.

Scene: Late at night in outer Sunset District. You're crossing 47th and Kirkham. You can hear the surf breaking down the street. The neighborhood is dark, dead. Waiters and teachers, TV technicians, the retired, people on disability, half-way house boys, sexual predators on early release, they're all asleep.

Suddenly a car comes careening down 47th Avenue, radio blaring. It's George Noory on Coast to Coast am, talking to a guest about the probability that one country or another is soon going to release public documents detailing communications with aliens. "We all know what's been going on," says the guest. "It's just a matter of time. Russia is the most likely country to open the floodgates."

You've read these stories of Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, the leader of the Buddhist Kalmykia region of Southern Russia, and president of the World Chess Federation, who claims he met with aliens in 1997. They appeared on the balcony of his Moscow apartment. His driver, his aid and a minister saw the whole thing. Then in 2001, Ilyumzhinov was invited to look around a UFO. Invited by who? And under what circumstances? But this is the fear. What if Ilyumzhinov sat down with an alien provocateur and talked? He knows state secrets. Did he say anything about the scalar wave weaponry or the new aircraft carrier. Andrei Levedev, an MP for the nationalist Liberal Democratic Party, has written Medvedev raising fears about what might have been compromised. There have to be procedures for what high-ranking officials can say to these creatures.

“I think this is the start of a new era, I really do,” says the guest on Coast to Coast. But you wonder, what if Hawking is right? What if this time we're the native peoples who will be raped and pillaged?

All this is happens in an instant, and as you reach the curb to avoid being run down, you look over your shoulder to see the car passing and then suddenly a white blinding light inside. Like phosphorus. Then smoke. The smell of burning. The smoke clears. The driver has disappeared. What kind of magic is this? The empty car keeps rolling down the street until it hits a parked truck. George Noory is still talking. Packs of raccoons trundle on. Dogs bark. The dining room light goes on in a blue house.

Act 2.

Scene: An hour earlier. Japanese sushi joint on the corner of Bush and Grant. Across from the Triton Hotel, where the bar looks like Helnwein's Hopper, not much going on. No Bogart, No Monroe. No James Dean. Nothing, save a tall thin blond with a guy. They look restless. Rich but restless. They're outside, they stand up from the table, they're trying to figure something out, she's shaking her head, they leave glasses half full. Across the street, in sushiville, two sushi chefs are having a good laugh at the expense of two customers in their early 30s. Both drunk. These two toast the chefs. The chefs giggle. The drunks want the chefs to share a toast. The chefs look at the two women who run the place. The older one visits every table. "You have everything you need, right." she says, and this is not a question. The younger woman, very tall, very pretty, very sexy, with the top two buttons of her black blouse undone, she brings food. There's a trick going on here somewhere, you can feel it, but what is it? All you know is that this is not what it appears. The movie is out of synch; the dubbing is off. For one, the two drunks are talking too much. They’re investment bankers telling tales out of school, about how they’re still making money hand over fist. "Thank god for the Crash," they say and raise a toast to the crash. "Thank god for derivatives", they say and raise a toast to derivatives. 'Hats off to Larry,' one of them says. Everybody laughs. Everybody's happy. The chefs are running their little 'we-get-you-real-drunk-so-you-buy-more-expensive-saki scam' and the women are running their little 'look-at-Japanese-cleavage-and-leave-me-big-tip scam’. Outside, a bus boy from the Triton is putting the garbage out. At the Grant Street entrance to Chinatown, a hand full of tourists scurry back to the parking garage. The homeless are curling up in the alcoves. The wind is picking up. Street lights seems less bright. The city's eyes keep closing.

Act 1

Scene: Half an hour earlier. A focus group at 250 Sutter. Second floor. Six people around a conference table. All ages. Three men, three women. Plus the facilitator. Plus somebody behind the two way glass. General Foods? General Mills? General Petreus? Who knows. The facilitator has flown in from Chicago. She has long straight red hair. She's an anthropologist. She likes everybody's collage and the diary that each person kept for a week recording their 'celebrations.' In the instruction manual it said, "We want you to have fun. Tell us the moments when you celebrated something? Tell us the props and brands you used? What made it special? Tell us the food and beverages you consumed. Tell us about the moments when you weren't celebrating. When you were dreaming, or even barely alive. When you were lying in your bed dying, when you got back from Falluja without your head? What was the non celebration like? You know what I’m talking about —that seam moment between celebration and non." So after all that — "and don't forget to add the music you listen to and send photos so we can feel your celebration" — the facilitator turns serious. She combs her hair with her fingers. As though she is going to say, 'I don't know how I'm going to ask you this, but you just have to bear with me.' She shakes her head. "I want everybody to take a deep breath," she says. "Okay, last question, and I want to thank you all for being here tonight. But now tell me this, how do we feel about chips? Do we think chips are passe? I mean seriously, do we not care about chips anymore?" People look up at the ceiling. They cup their chins. They shift in their seats. Brows furrow. Lips pucker. A woman takes off her shoe. "Oh and I forgot to add," the facilitator goes on. "Do we all understand that I'm talking about potato chips?"

May 8, 2010

I've been ill lately and have reverted to mumbling to myself. The two of us always have a conversation when I'm down and out. Just before I go to sleep it's particularly intense. I'll keep shouting out loud, "no, no, no. I don't. Go away." Or, "I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'm so sorry." We used to go on like that for hours.

"Go to sleep," says my wife impatiently. If I don't stop, she kicks me. I don't kick back and I don't reply. What is there to say? I can't escape my demons. When I'm sick they all come out, one after another.

It's always starts like this. I'm walking down the beach at low tide with my alter ego, a little sub-human, a scab-faced, blonde-haired 'Lepre-con. Imagine a pig-sized Glen Beck. He's pulling after him his blackboard, which endlessly falls over in the wet sand. He gets it back upright but I don't help or wait for him. Of course, sooner or later he catches up and, huffing and puffing, and looking up at me with these awful, bloodshot eyes. His cheeks are scabbed and dotted with little bloody bits of toilet paper where he's cut himself shaving.

I know what he wants. I pick him up and hold him in one arm, the way you might if you were teaching an obese child you didn't like to swim.

"Here you go, you flying pigo," I'll say, squeezing him until I hope he can't stand it any more. But he can take a lot of pain and he'll calmly reach out to the blackboard and write something like this:

"O = E"

"Obama Equals Enlightenment," he'll say in his pleading little voice. "That's what you statists all think. But he doesn't." Then he'll draw a line through the equal sign. "He doesn't equal enlightenment. He equals delusion and utter stupidity. He's a moron. There, I've said it. The president is a moron and worse."

Then he'll draw a line through the O so that it looks like the 'null set'.

"Obama equals nothing?" I'll say. "You equal nothing. You equal less than nothing. You're the moron. In fact, you look up to morons."

"Statists always sound the same," he'll say turning to look into an imaginary camera. "Is this the new civility we keep hearing about? Tell it to the 'teabaggers'? Your Obama called us 'teabaggers'. What kind of civility is that?"

I tell el-pigo I'll drown him if he doesn't go away.

"But you love me," he'll say. "In some way you do."

"No, I don't. No. Go away. You gopher-creton."

"Am I?" he'll say and then his face with come up to me like an icon magnified in the dock. "I know who you are."

"You don't know anything, you're just the horrible part of myself I can't escape."

"Ah yes, speaking of which," he'll say and his voice is so proud. "Speaking of which, I want to show you some of your finer moments lately. Shall we have a little review?" And he'll turn as though to the producer: "Clip No. 45. Go."

Sure enough it'll be some horrible thing I've done. Maybe it was even years ago. Some horrible thing I said to someone. He'll keep playing it over and over. Finally, I'm yelling, "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry."

This when my wife begins to kick me.

"Okay you cheap little trick what is it you want?" I say to the pig.

"Tell me that as much as you hate me you really love me. Why? Because I'm one of your 'founders' if I might say. I was there at the beginning and you need me."

And that's when I just throw up my hands and walk right into the sea, and I just keep going until I have to start swimming and even if there's a rip tide I'll keep swimming. I don't care. I don't care if I make it or not. And he'll be on the shore jumping up and down, throwing one of his tantrums, or else writing on the blackboard, and I can just barely see it: "Stay out there, you statist moron."