New Years Eve

(Posted New Year’s Eve, 2017)

Nominally, it’s the last day of another year. Does it really matter which one? Day follows night, season follows season, it’s a perpetual cycle. Only humans manage to number the years in their minds, as if there was some sort of linear progression, the significance of which would confirm their enduring existence, the existence of their story.

Here in the SaveMart parking lot, we like to watch people going in and out of the supermarket. It’s a supermarket, as opposed to an ordinary market, so we know we are parked in the right lot for current purposes. It’s New Years Eve, so of course everyone is gathering celebratory provisions. We needed a sharp cheddar cheese for tomorrow’s soufflé.

Today our little dog is in my arms, avidly enjoying the parade of phenomena with me. She is watching every person as they come and go, each with their own story — there are so many stories! Each story is God having a different experience of itself, so all is sacred. Since all is sacred, then nothing is really sacred. To my little dog, “sacred” is meaningless, and yet she will endure any of my human contrivances because it feels good to just press herself against me, snuggle up in my arms, and feel warm and safe.

We say “God”, but isn’t that just a way of cleverly attributing an identity to this utter chaos, in order to grant it some sense of structure by which we can shop for cheese and celebrate our idea of time, change, and people-watching in the parking lot? What could be more fascinating than just resting as this awareness in which the whole universe goes about its business in incomprehensible delight and confusion, terror and ecstasy, boredom and doubt, joy and sorrow, while we get to both observe and participate?

My little dog shifts in her position, probably to get a better look at the other little dog at the window of the car adjacent to us. They gaze at each other, and although we might imagine we know what kind of data is exchanged, we still do not even understand the experience of staring into another human’s eyes. For a moment, the mind goes blank. That is a holy moment, even though we have already determined that holy is just another construct of the human intellect. Still, it just might be the moment when the whole universe becomes suddenly self-aware. That’s why the mind cannot go there, and so we say that it “goes blank”.

I could say something here about emptiness, but anything said about emptiness is just another mental fabrication, and so has nothing to do with emptiness. That said, emptiness is not separate from these experiences. It is not other than the parking lot stories in which everyone seems engrossed in their moment, experiencing a sense of individuality, and then creatively elaborating on that theme.

Even so, in our hearts, we all want to be home in the safe place, where the divine universe bends down to wrap its big warm arms around us and kiss us and demonstrate how everything is only love, love beyond mental contrivance or narrative theatrics.

And so we drift around with our shopping carts in the dreaming place, the indefinite place where we just might find ourselves parked today, on the eve of yet another new year in timelessness, serenely rotating in an immense and luminous galaxy in the midst of a vast emptiness, with nothing holy in it. Once we pay the cashier for the cheese, we can happily drive away home.

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Moonlight Drive

Tonight’s full moon pushed my memory back half a century, back to another mystic full moon November night. I was with two college friends, though we had all recently dropped out of college. It was a wild time, and we were too impatient for the new knowledge, the kind college couldn’t offer us. We’d heard life’s insistent call, and the dusty old programs and conditioning which the antiquated educational system was trying to pawn off on us no longer seemed at all relevant.
We were temporarily rooming together in San Francisco’s Haight Ashbury district, at the height of the legendary Hippie flowering. That night we sat around our table made from a large old electric cable spool. We had snagged it from a local PG & E yard, laboriously sanded it down, and then polyurethane-varnished it with three clear coats, resulting in a lovely center piece for an otherwise traditional crash pad.
Around midnight, it spontaneously occurred to us to drive across the Golden Gate Bridge to a semi-hidden location above Sausalito, where a tunnel which had been drilled through the Marin hills led to an old abandoned military fort (Fort Cronkhite), replete with concrete gun bunkers dotting the cliffs, which were installed facing the Pacific Ocean in anticipation of a World War 2 Japanese invansion.
We often made such serendipitous adventure plans, typically involving long distance drives up and down the West Coast through the night to some exotic destination. Since I was the only one who had a car — a well-used ’62 baby blue Ford Falcon — I was invariably the designated driver. Moreover, I was the one who was usually able to “maintain” under certain influences, and tonight was no different.
As we set out, I realized I was low on gas, but estimated that I would have enough to make the round trip. Nevertheless, I looked for filling stations as we made our way out of town, but all the ones I passed appeared to be closed. This would become an issue later in the story, but for now, I wasn’t too concerned, and soon we found ourselves at the mouth of the cavernous fort tunnel on the other side of the bridge.
Once we made it through to the small parking area on the other side, we got out of the car and hiked for a while along an overgrown path, using our flashlights to navigate. Eventually, we came upon a grouping of the concrete gun bunkers (sans cannons), and decided to explore them in the strong bright moonlight.
The view was utterly spectacular – clear skies, full moon right above us illuminating the ocean, the cliffs and shoreline cast in moonshine, and it seemed we had it all to ourselves, as if this whole scene had been waiting just for us to savor and be transformed by its mysterious beauty! We surveyed it all silently, each of us lost in our own thoughts, or just struck dumb at the majestic sweep of sea and shore.
As I gazed up at the moon, I realized that I had never really appreciated it before tonight, and as I allowed my whole feeling being to be seduced by its charms, I completely lost track of time in my fixed contemplation. Various lines of poetry spontaneously arose in the back of my mind, although I had never experimented with such writing previously. I felt that a momentous secret was about to be revealed, and I was thrilled with anticipation that some sort of enlightenment would break through any minute and answer all of life’s questions.
Eventually, one of my friends was tapping me on the shoulder, waking me from my trance. He mentioned that I had been standing there, gazing at the moon, for nearly two hours, although to me it seemed like mere minutes. They were eager to get going, and so reluctantly I turned back to the path by which we had come, and soon we had made our way back to the car.
When I started the motor, I noticed that the fuel gage was on empty. This was disconcerting, to say the least. I had not seen any open gas stations on the way there, so I considered driving down into Sausalito, where hopefully we would find one open, even at this late of night. I debated whether I should use whatever fumes we still had on a futile trip even further out of our way, but decided finally to take our chance.
For the whole way to that lovely little town, the fuel needle was pressed on empty, but somehow we did managed to make it there, only to discover that there were no open fuel stations to be found. I was utterly surprised that we had even made it that far, but now we faced a long drive back to San Francisco, and we surely had a completely empty gas tank.
Taking a deep breath, I turned the car towards our hopeful destination and set out. I was expecting the car to conk out any minute, but it seems we were being pushed along, strangely enough, by the power of moonlight itself. Miraculously, we did make it back to our apartment just as dawn was breaking. Before going in, I paused for one last glance at the moon, now setting over Golden Gate Park from our vantage point. I swear the face in the moon winked back at me, with a smile I’ll never forget!
Once in our rooms, my two friend turned in, but I was too excited to sleep, and so instead began jotting down some lines, which eventually (after a few rounds of editing) became this poem:
nothing makes a difference.
Blown along cold coasts of reason,
the wordless breeze is winding down now
to a softer part of the feeling, is warm
on the tip of the eye I am keeping
like a lover on this moon.
This moon!
Her naked radiance,
blatant and unashamed,
blasts the billion tiny mirrors
studded diamond-like within my cells,
ablaze with urgent white-light moonshine.
While some wisps of stray grey fog
slyly wrap themselves around us,
we are tempted to the old debate:
“Destiny, or free will?”
Talking breeds its own dilemmas –
streams of concepts chasing mirages –
so we assume no fixed positions, nodding
to each other in that sweet redundancy
ancient loving brings.
We know that anything other than
the most impeccable humor in the face
of delusion merely postpones true serenity.
For no particular reason, or
for every reason there ever could be,
we smile — we’re in no hurry.
That’s true serenity, which is never
anything like the idea of itself.
Neither are you and I, we’re like
nothing conceivable or even perceivable.
We indulge no secret motive to have anything
be other than what it is – a passing phantom
flash of itself, reflected like moonshine
on the shiny black lacquer of itself.
The sheer intensity of this love shines
so strongly our hands open up and something
invisible flies out to blend with infinity!
As I move closer to you (though between us
no distance exists), the subtle movements we make
with our spirit eyes stir visions for beings still waiting
to incarnate, euphorically anticipating our next breath.
We will not disappoint them.
Within the bosom of this fog of forgetfulness,
something seems to persist, impaled by shafts
of intermittent moonshine on the tip of attention.
Grasping at nothing, turning nothing away,
we pause here, poised at the outermost reach
of vision’s lighthouse light beam, transfixed
at the exquisite nexus of darkness and light.
All effort has led us here.
All effort dissolves here.
From this time on, there will be
no landmarks, no buoys.
Somewhere, in the measureless
distance, a fog horn sounds:
I feel you . . .
breathing . . .
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Destined for Limbo

It seems as if some of us are luckier than others. In my own case, I was born into a Catholic family, and as I was later informed, only baptized Catholics are able to get into heaven. Was it a mere accident of birth, or was I destined for heaven? I didn’t know the answer to that, but I was told that I had been baptized, and even though I could not remember the exact event, I did have a baptismal name to prove it.

Now all I had to do for the rest of my life was avoid falling out of the state of sanctifying grace (the prerequisite to enter heaven) by committing a mortal sin, such as murder, or masturbation, and that was it — I would be guaranteed a place in heaven forever after. That seemed easy enough — there was nobody I wanted to kill at the time, and the other thing, well, I had years to go before puberty, so no sweat!

At first I didn’t give the matter much further thought. Knowing I was safe was initially enough. Nor did the idea of spending eternity surrounded by other Catholics trouble me much at the time, because Catholics were all I knew. I went to a Catholic school, played in a Catholic playground, attended Catholic Church, and wasn’t even aware of how many non-Catholics there were in the world until I heard that there was a public school about a mile away, where all sorts of non-Catholic children went.

To my surprise, I learned that there were actually hundreds of them. Nobody talked about it at the time, but it seems that we were all part of the “Baby Boom” generation, and non-Catholics were avidly reproducing too, bringing lots of children into the world who would, alas, never be able to enter the gates of heaven. What a sorry state of affairs!

The more I thought about it, the more I began to pity these hopeless people. It just didn’t seem right that they were excluded from heaven, just because their parents didn’t belong to the one true religion. Finally, I asked my second-grade nun where the non-Catholics went after they died. She informed me that they either went to hell or else to limbo, if they were really good, like doctors or presidents for example.

Limbo, it was explained to me, was essentially a big waiting room that you could never leave. I imagined people sitting around, reading the same magazines over and over. Maybe they had a Coke machine, and soft piped-in music, like at the dentist office. Well, better than burning in the fires of hell, I figured, but look what they’re missing, what a shame!

When I finally met some non-Catholic kids at a baseball game, I was careful not to bring up the subject of their unfortunate destiny. Some of my Catholic friends tended to brag about it, but I figured, why rub it in? It was bad enough that they had to live a whole life, only to end up in a perpetual waiting room at best.

I thought about writing to their school, sending a lot of anonymous letters explaining the situation, in hopes that some would read and convert to the true religion. When I mentioned the idea to my parents, however, they advised against it. They suggested I wait until I was a bit older, and had a better handle on the intricacies of theological discourse.

Little did I realize at the time, but this one issue was to become a wedge in my childhood belief structure that would eventually culminate in my renunciation of the whole package. If one pillar of faith began to weaken, a total collapse was inevitable, because for me, it was a matter of all or nothing. The more I began to question the tenets of the system, the more I recognized the partial truths, ambiguities, or outright lies.

As time went on, I was to exchange one belief system for another, until I began to question the value of beliefs altogether, including the secular belief that my country was a bastion of liberty, and a force for truth and justice in the world. That’s all for another story, however. For now, let’s just say that I won’t be hanging around in a Catholic heaven once this life has run its course.

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My First Encounter with a Fascist

As I recall, I was generally a quiet and well-behaved child. I kept to myself, since I did not find the world of humans particularly appealing, and would often spend hours at a time in my backyard, looking at clouds and enjoying the subtle changes of light. Moreover, I had taught myself to read, thanks to a wonderful book series with which a family friend had graced us. It was called “My Book House”, edited by Olive Beaupre Miller, and that, combined with a set of Encyclopedias my parents had purchased, provided me with all the information I needed to get a sense of the world around me, as well as embark on frequent flights of fantasy via the legends of yore contained in the Book House series.

My maternal grandmother had gradually become something of an invalid, due to a frail heart, and lived with us for much of my early years. Besides my mother, she had another daughter in Seattle, and a son who served in Germany during World War 2, and who had remained in Austria after the occupation. He had married a woman who reputedly had been a secretary to Hitler in the Reichstag. Her first husband had been a German fighter pilot who had been killed shortly after they were married, and she apparently found in my uncle a sense of security after the Nazi dream collapsed.

When I was about 5 years of age, my uncle and his wife visited us in San Francisco. Her english was still rather tentative, and I had a difficult time understanding her. Nevertheless, both my parents were working, and so when Aunt Elfreda indicated that she wanted to go downtown shopping, it was suggested that she take me along for the trip (perhaps to give my grandmother a break from baby-sitting). In any case, it was to be one of the strangest adventures of my young life. As soon as we were on the bus, for example, I was rudely grasped by the neck and forced down into a seat, as if I couldn’t figure out the bus protocols by myself.

As we traveled downtown, she didn’t speak a word to me, which gave me time to look out the window and take in the various city scenes, which was enjoyable enough, but when we finally arrived at our destination, I was to learn more than I needed to know about my aunt’s child-management style. At the front of the store was a long heavy metal chain that was used to lock up the shopping carts in the evening. My aunt immediately took the chain and tied me up, wrapping it around my neck, chest, and mid-section. She then gave me a hard look, told me not to move, and then wandered off to do her shopping.

I stood there for quite some time, until a store employee found me and removed the shackles. They asked me who had done this, and I replied that Aunt Elfie was responsible. They then made a call over the public address system, and Elfie eventually made her way to the booth at the front of the store where I was waiting. She exchanged loud but unintelligible words with the employee, then grabbed me by the neck again and stormed out of the store.

On the bus home, I could feel the rage simmering in my Aunt, and wisely said nothing. Once home however, I reported the whole incident to my parents. I am not sure what transpired later between Aunt Elfie and my folks, but within a few days my Aunt and Uncle had departed, and no mention of them was made for quite some time to come.

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The Judge and the Gypsy

(A true story)

The road into this town is worse now than the last time I passed through here. My wagon hitched behind me bounces over the rocks and pits, and I’ll be lucky if I don’t break an axle. It’s 1534 in the year of our Lord, and I’m a traveling judge, making my rounds within this district, holding court in village after village, dispensing justice according to the laws of the land.

As I near the town, I notice a young gypsy women staring at me from the doorway of her hut. Something about her catches my eye, a kind of familiar quality that stirs something within me. Perhaps I recognize her from the last time I came through here. No matter, I have work to do, and I proceed on.

Once in town, I meet with the local authorities to discuss the cases I will be hearing. There are the usual collection of domestic disputes, thievery, drunkenness, and one murder over property. One by one I hear the cases and pass judgment as best as I am able, and after a week of work I am paid my fee — in this case bread, cheese, dried meats, wine, flour, salt, sugar, and a few gold coins. There is little wealth in this town, and I accept the meager compensation, visit the blacksmith to have my wagon checked, and then depart for the next town.

A few miles out of town, I hear a girlish giggle coming from my wagon. I turn around, only to find that young gypsy woman hiding under some blankets in the back. She is poking her head out now and laughing lightly, amused at my surprised expression. I stop the wagon, but as I am about to order her out, she speaks up in that strangely familiar way that stops me in the act. “Don’t you recognize me?” she asks. “Perhaps” I reply, “but from when?” “This is not our first life together, my Love!”

I was struck by the intimacy of her response, “my Love”. My mind was in a tumble, I suddenly couldn’t think straight. Who was this woman? I came around to face her directly. She climbed out of the wagon to face me. “Don’t you remember now?” As I gazed into her mesmerizing eyes, my mind sped backward to another time, not this life at all, but I was gypsy wanderer who came upon a camp. There I fell in love with a beautiful women, and soon we could not be pulled apart.

Then I saw other lives in which we had been together, going back in time further than I could say. Once I was a hermit in the land of reindeer, and I found her in the snows one fateful day. I was a skilled magician then, and I taught her everything that I knew. Now she was touching a place between my eyes with her finger, and the present swam back into view.

I staggered on my feet, and she handed me a cup of wine. I drank it down in one swift gulp, then took her in my arms as she laughed joyously. We traveled together back to my small castle, where we later had two mischievous children, and we all lived long lives together in great happiness, and eventually grew rather fat.

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Piano Bear

We walked into a lounge in dreamland. At the piano was a bear, dressed in a tuxedo and top hat. He was grinning as he sang one of the old songs. He looked right at us but kept his paws on the piano. “Play us a song, you’re the piano bear!” I heard those lyrics in my head, but wisely I refrained.

I looked over to you. You were enchanted by the scene. You said, “Look, it’s a bear. Look at the bear!” I turned back, and now people had gathered around the piano, and the bear was the center of attention. He looked quite dapper, as if wearing a tuxedo and top hat came naturally to him.

We joined in the song, everyone singing along enthusiastically, as if nothing else really mattered, not the politics, not the disasters, not our past or what may come — just fully present with the bear, the piano, and the song. I didn’t care that it was a dream, I didn’t care that bears don’t play in piano lounges, it was enough to just sing along

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First Day of Kindergarten

Today was 5 year old Ryder’s first day of Kindergarten, and she was definitely looking forward to it with happy anticipation. I was reminded of my own first day, which turned out to be something of a catastrophe. For starters, both of my parents had gone to work early that day, and so left the task of delivering me to school to my Grandmother, who was living with us then. Apparently, she was not clear about the starting time, and so when she finally got me to the Catholic School at the top of the hill, the schoolyard was empty, and all the students were already inside at their respective classes.

There was a chain link fence (about 5 feet tall) which separated the kindergarten play area from the rest of the schoolyard, and now its gate was locked. After pondering the situation for a moment, my grandmother hoisted me up over the fence, and dropped me down on the other side. There was a big stairway leading up to a door, so she told me to climb the stairs and open the door. I complied, unsure of what to expect on the other side.

When I opened it, I saw a classroom with about 40 children sitting silently at desks, and a large nun dressed in black robes, with a black and white helmet-like contraption on her head, at the front of the room. I had never seen such a being, and I froze on the spot. Then I looked back at my grandmother, but she was already walking away. “So, this is how it’s going to be . . .” I thought to myself.

Suddenly I had to pee, but I knew this was not a good time, so I held it. Immediately the frightening nun swooped down on me, grabbed me roughly by the hand, pulled me to an empty desk near the back of the room, and scolded me for my late arrival. Then she demanded I say my name. I did so, and she repeated it loudly for the whole classroom to hear. Next she placed a piece of paper in front of me. It was a picture of Jesus, I was informed, and I was supposed to color it in with the crayons provided me at the desk. I stared at the picture for a moment, trying to decide what colors would look the best. I chose green, because it looked fresh, like the foliage over in near-by Golden Gate Park, where I liked to play.

As the nun made her way up and down the rows of desks, examining the various portraits the other children had composed, she eventually stopped in front of my desk and, snatching up my painting in disgust, held it before the class and exclaimed, “Who would be stupid enough to paint Jesus green?” The other children stared at me, some with smirks, some in horror, and some with looks of pity.

I did not know any of these people, I did not know what the woman in the costume was supposed to represent, but I sensed immediately that this was not for me — the whole scenario. Consequently, for the next several years, I dutifully attended classes, but my attention was elsewhere. I taught myself to read and learn about the world with the Encyclopedia set my parents had acquired, I played the games with the others out in the schoolyard, but I had turned off the various teachers, and instead spent my class time gazing out the windows, waiting for the bell to sound which announced the end of class for that day. Little did I realize it at the time, but this experience was to set the tone for the rest of my life in regard to my relationship with “authority”, whom I have barely tolerated for the most part.


First day of Kindergarten

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