The Man With A Beer Butt

images-5

This may seem a bit ridiculous to you, but for me it has become a serious problem. For many years, I have lived comfortably with my beer butt, but now that I am entering middle age and my metabolism is slowing- my body is becoming disproportionate. I am a tall man. A very tall man. To make things even stranger I am quite skinny, maybe even skinny enough to be used as a toothpick between god’s teeth. Having a large behind is not flattering for a relatively handsome man such as myself. It looks oddly out of balance with the rest of my body and almost makes me look like I stuff crumpled up t-shirts in the butt of my pants. When I am out in public I am starting to receive more questioning or maligned stares from strangers, and the collection of women who once found me moderately attractive, seem to stare at my beer butt and then quickly look away.

I will admit. It is strange to see a tall, skinny man with a rather well proportioned face, with a huge ass. Like a cat that is confused by the strange creature in front of it, people seem confused by what they see when they look at me. They notice that something is off, not quite right- but it appears that they do not know if what they are seeing is a practical joke being played upon them or the hard and often troubling truth of reality. My family seems to have a bit more empathy for my condition but I have noticed that my father refuses to look at me and my sister seems a little disgusted. When I am around my family I feel as if they are thinking, “how could you have let yourself go like this! Once you had so much that you could of achieved with your looks and now you have let it all go.” I do not mind their scorn since I can not expect everyone to love me for who I am- but I will not argue the fact that my beer butt is becoming a bit of a problem.

I started noticing the beer going to my butt about five years ago, around the age of thirty. Prior to that I had been drinking beer regularly without it ever affecting my physique. I always considered myself one of the fortunate few who could drink excessive amounts of beer on a regular basis without any collateral damage to my form. It was a luxury that I took advantage of in a world where people who love beer usually pay for it in the belly. The beer belly is one of the most loved and dreaded physical features in our society, and I was always relieved that I did not have to carry around that bulging symbol of my love for beer. But like my grandpa always used to say, “karma is a bitch, son.” Once I hit thirty I became more self conscious of my belly. To ward of any possible collection of fat I would do obscene amounts of push-ups everyday and after a night of drinking a dozen beers I would fast the following day. I knew that with age comes a breakdown of bodily functions- and I wanted to meet this breakdown with the devotion of a man who is committed to eternal youth.

But the fat followed, despite my attempts to keep it away. My girlfriend at the time was shocked to see my normally non-existent skinny ass grow into a bit of a hump. There was something in the ass of my pants that had not been there before and for a few months I found my self confidence increase as I found myself getting more female attention (a man can not underestimate the power of an ass). All of my pants squeezed my swelling butt into a particular position that made it look more appealing to the eye. This, of course is the optical illusion of tight pants, because when I took off my pants and looked at my butt in the mirror I was concerned to see the collection of what appeared to be two mounds of sagging fat. I was only mildly concerned at first but as I continued to gain my weight in my rear end and not in my stomach- I started to think that something was seriously wrong.

Of course, I never considered quiting beer. Beer for me has always been a form of medication (and meditation) that I am not sure that I can live without. I realize the alcoholic implications of saying that I need to drink beer, but I rationalize my beer drinking by telling myself and others that not only is beer low in alcohol content but I also drink only top quality artisanal ale. However, I am getting to the point where my rationalizations are no longer working for me. My ass has gotten so large that I am constantly in a state of discomfort. Not only do I look ridiculous but I have become an aberration- a freak. I am almost certain that if I continue drinking beer I will end up in one of those Diane Arbus type picture books of oddities. The doctor that I have visited has told me that I have a strange chromosomal “mismatching disorder,” which causes fat to collect in my rear rather than my stomach. I am told that this often happens to women, not men, and the doctor seems to think that I have incorrectly acquired a female chromosome that has caused this ailment to occur. I have indeed always prided myself on being a man who is connected with his feminine side- but this seems to be to extreme of a price to pay.

So, I will make two major New Year’s resolutions for 2009. The first one will be to take up a very serious meditation practice (even though sitting on the meditation cushion with my beer butt has become very uncomfortable for me). I want to really develop the skill to be fully present in my life without any worry, fear, dis-satisfaction and hopelessness. I want to be able to take control of my thoughts rather than having my thoughts control me. I no longer want to judge myself for the man that I have become and I want to be able to accept my butt for exactly what it is- big, strange and a pain in the ass. The second New Year’s resolution that I will make is to significantly cut back on my beer drinking. I have been perpetually escaping from my discomfort by drinking beer for almost twenty five years now. Like every vice will eventually do, my beer drinking habit has caught up with me and literally bit me in the ass. As much as I enjoy the inebriated state, the physical repercussions of my vice out weigh the pleasurable attributes. I am aware that it will not be easy to drastically decrease the amount of beer that I consume, but I believe that fear is the greatest motivator. I am terrified that my butt will get to a weight where I can no longer stand or fit through a door. I am aware that in my youth I always made fun of people who suffered from an obese disposition and now in my middle age, I can not get my grandfathers nagging words out of my head, “karma is a bitch, son.”

Recession Depression

My father has been in bed for ten days now. He is not a man in his prime, but he is not yet old enough to be acting infirm and/or terminal. All of my life, I have never known him to sleep more than six hours a night, and taking naps or staying in his room during the day light hours, was always considered an act of sacrilege. Instead, my father always believed that time was money and the thirty-five years that he spent working as a Podiatrist, earned him enough money to have an abundance of time. Along the course of his economic life, he made some smart investments that allowed me to grow up in a gated community and drive a luxury sports car at the age of sixteen. He was always a strong supporter of capitalism and he lived to make money- and make money is exactly what he did well. Now three houses later and a dwindling expense account that is causing him to struggle to support my mother and their luxurious lifestyle- he has given up. I try to talk to him (to make him feel more fortunate) about the cholera outbreak in Zimbabwe, the conditions that immigrants live in, the struggle for survival that most children currently live through- but he does not want to hear my attempts to help him feel redeemed. Instead, all he can do is think about the thirty three million dollars that he has lost in such a small amount of time.

My mother and I are both struggling to get him to walk. He has been lying supine (on his back) in bed and staring at the ceiling since he resigned himself to his bedroom ten days ago. We keep his legs elevated on two down pillows and my mother keeps the comforter up to his chin (so that he does not catch a cold). He speaks little and when I talk to him about genocide, war or global warming (he was always interested in these subjects) all he seems to say is, “they took my money and built a jail.” He can’t understand how an American self-made multi-millionaire, who has worked hard his whole life and then lost everything in the stock market- could be left to bleed, while the government continues to put hundreds of millions of dollars into building jails. “The government bails out corporations but not those who are and have always been its backbone,” he repeats. I have talked to a therapist about my father’s condition and she feels like he is suffering from a deep feeling of betrayal. “This is a chronic psychological condition that a lot of Americans are suffering through currently,” she told me. He never thought for a moment that his entire fortune would be permitted by the United States government to “go up in smoke,” simply because a few idiots dropped the economic ball. Now, my father curses these negligent men in suits, and he stares at the ceiling, not knowing, what he is going to do or whom he is going to trust.

I go to my parents home every few days (it is close to where I live) and spend a few hours with my dad. I have noticed that the gardener has not been coming as often and there is no longer a live in maid. A refrigerator that was always filled with fresh food is suffering from neglect, and the house is cold because my father will not let my mother run the heat. “What am I going to do son?” he says as he looks at me with clear trepidation in his eyes. “I am a man in jail and I don’t know how to get out.” I try to talk to him about metaphysics and psychology. I tell him that a man is in jail only because he chooses to be. No one can put him there. “We create our jails from the inside out, from the ways in which we choose to think,” I say. “Humans have the remarkable ability to be confined behind bars, living in cardboard boxes or stuck in terrible holocausts and still feel free and happy. It is all in how you choose to focus or think about your life, your environment and your world. This singular ability is what makes human beings unique and durable.” My father has never been one for new age speculation or alchemical realizations. Even though he has seen the film The Secret twice, he looked at me and said “easy to say son when you have not lost everything you have worked your whole life for.”

To take my father’s mind off his current uncertain predicament, I have been reading him Kafka short stories, T.S. Elliot poems and a section from 2666 (a novel I am currently reading). I get the sense that his mind becomes more syncopated, less forlorn, when I read to him. He seems to be lying in front of me in a state of peace, a man not yet dead, but also still unsure if he is willing to remain alive. I try and suggest that we take a walk, but he says, “there is nowhere to go son. Everything is closing in.” I suggest that we have a family dinner at his favorite restaurant, but he replies, “I would rather not go where I can no longer afford to be.” His voice is slow and lugubrious and reminds me of the sound of a man who is recovering from a serious mugging. For some reason, he feels as if losing his treasure chest is akin to losing his life- and I am trying desperately to make him understand, there is life after cash.

Years ago, when I decided to become a writer (or when becoming a writer decided me); I gave up on the pursuit of money. Instead, I resigned myself to being financially idle and made peace with the fact that I would never earn much cash. While the nineties and first few years of the twenty-first century seemed to me to be overly excessive, I was struggling through the worst personal recession of my life. I worked in bagel shops, cafes, shoe stores, mortuaries and restaurants. I refused to take, or ask for money from my parents, who seemed to be always vacationing. They resented me for abandoning the family obsession with achieving high social status, and they thought I was foolish to try and write fiction for a living. As I age (and am yet to see any economic harvest from my fiction) I am realizing that there was some practical truth to their literary disdain. But now, I find myself in an unusual predicament. My inheritance has dissolved before I could get my greedy hands upon it, my father wont get out of bed because he is unwilling to face the fact that he might be poor- and frankly, I am getting fed up with my father’s and every one else’s recession depression. To be so dependent upon your fortune, that when it disappears, you loose all lust for life- is an American mental illness that is wreaking havoc on our entire collective psyche. Life can be just as wonderful, if not more wonderful without the cash, cars, houses and corporations. I am personally insulted that now, as the middle class, the upper class, and the corporate elite are strapped for cash- they seem to be worrying about becoming poor. I have been living as an economically poor man in recession for many years, and frankly, there is not a dam thing that I do not love about it (well, maybe this is not true, but it sounded like a good way to end this paragraph).

It is only a matter of time, before I impose my frustration upon my father. I am going to tell him to get himself together and pull himself out of his self-induced pity party. I will give him a few more days to mourn his loss, and get over his illusory American dream. Then I will get real, serious and specific. I will remind him of his health and his wife’s good health. I will remind him of his beautiful son and daughter. I will remind him of the sound of the swaying and enduring redwood trees, where hopeful birds make their homes, right outside his bedroom window. Somehow, I will find a way to bring him back to the world of the living, which eventually I know will be much more fulfilling than his priority corrupting thirty three million dollars ever was. I am determined to resuscitate my father, to put air back into his wilted soul, and help him to see that this economic crisis is really the greatest gift he has ever received.

Mad At Leaves.

images-1 I dread the fall. I count down the days until its arrival. When I see the trees begin to shed their leaves, I noticed my anxiety levels rising. I develop rashes and a temper. My chest constricts and I start to drink hard alcohol. I drink to pacify my anger and remove the tension that is building up beneath my flesh; to expel the demon that feels as if they have their hands around my throat. You see, I have a strong need for order. Living in a world that has become as chaotic, impulsive and on the brink of collapse as our world is, I need a space in which everything appears to be safe, secure and under control. An island of sanity. This island happens to be my home. I maintain my home like priest would an alter. In fact my home is my alter, my sacred space. Not a hair of dust collects anywhere on property without me cleaning it away, and I am proud to say that everything is in its right place when I come home. Order reigns in my kingdom.

Outside of my home is a different story. I am a victim of the seasons. The spring, summer and winter months are not terribly challenging. My front and back yard can maintain the appearance of order with only a modicum of work (I have a small front and back yard). In the spring and summer I feel the greatest sense of well being because my yard is populated with all kinds of fragrant and alive flowers and plants. Coming home after a long day in the chaotic world is a transcendental experience. My drinking and anger all decrease in the spring and summer months, and I am inhibited by a general sense of equanimity and well being. Various ailments that I suffer from pass away and I return to what my homeopath refers to as a state of homeostasis. It is only in the final weeks of summer, when there is a particular lingering scent in the air, that my dread of the fall starts to come forth.

I purchase rakes, blowers, lawn mowers and tree nets- anything to stop the downpour of leaves onto my property. But by mid-fall my attempts at mitigating the amount of leaves drifting into my yard seems futile. There are large collections of yellow, red and orange leaves everywhere. They fill my rain gutters and cover my lawn. They blow onto my windows and stick there as if they were trying to tease me. My one man battle against the leaves is a war that can not be won- so I take to the bottle. When I return home from work in the chaotic world, coming home is no longer the transcendental experience that I need it to be. Instead, I feel a fury constricting my chest as I notice the pile and piles of dead leaves strewn all across my front yard and dangling from the edges of the house. My initial reaction is to immediately grab a rake and start to clean my yard of the leaves, but the wind always blows more leaves over from my neighbors yard, and all I can do is get really mad at the leaves.

I kick them. I curse them. I wrestles them and I take them in my hands and slowly destroy them. I stick them in my mouth and crunch them up into little pieces and then spit them out in the street. I dump them in garbage cans and then climb in and enjoyably crush them like grapes. I dance around in the garbage can like a man who has been victorious in battle. But then, as I dance, the wind always blows more leaves into my yard. My momentary expressions of anger seem to do little to alleviate the disorder that collects on my property. Sure, I feel good for a moment, feeling like I am getting revenge, but this does not last long. I throw the rake down, go into my home, where I cover all the windows so that I do not have to see outside, and I start to drink and clean. Raking, working, drinking and cleaning. This is my life in the fall.

There is a support group that I go to once a week for men who are mad at leaves. All the men in the group are home owners, except for me (I rent). They all have worked hard their entire life, making great sacrifices, so that they could own a home. The majority of men in my group say that the reason why they worked so hard to own a home, is so that they could feel in charge, in control over their piece of property. Men seem to face the threat of daily dis-empowerment in our chaotic and technological world and owning a home allows a man to feel like a king. The men in my group spend their off time working on their homes. Their home is their passion and temple. They receive a general sense of well being from the order they can create in their homes, from achieving man over nature. However, in the fall we come together and express our anger towards the leaves, which are robing us of our achievements. Risdin, who is the facilitator of the group, suggests to us that all of our insecurities are being brought out by the leaves. “Our homes are our attempts to create a semblance of control in a world that is chaotic and out of control. Our homes are how we try to not be helpless victims of divine or universal law, in which we are all victims of chance. The leaves are making us aware of just how little control we have, and we do not like how this feels,” Risdin says. Some of the men seem to be uncomfortable with this new age speculation, they just want to come to the group and vent their fury. However, the group is a productive way for me to expel and learn how to deal with my deep, resentful anger towards the leaves.

We do all kinds of projects in the group. We bring leaves from our property and play pin the leaf on the mad man. This may seem silly at first but it helps all of us to laugh at the object of our hate. We also have been doing art projects with the leaves. We make collages and paintings using the leaves from our yards. The idea is to create beauty from hate since Risdin believes that hate is a seed for love. “As you paint with the leaves I want you to see into the heart of things, the truth of things…really see, like seeing into metal and making it melt. See that these leaves have a deeper structure, which is there to teach you something about yourself. If you can interact with the leaves in a more positive way, you can change your behavior towards your environment,” Risdin says. So we make art with leaves, we play games with leaves, we meditate with leaves, we even talk to the leaves and we go to each others homes, where we sit and talk to one another in a pile of leaves. As ridiculous as this all may seem- I am actually noticing that it is helping.

When I return home from my men’s group I am less angered at the collection of leaves on my lawn and in my driveway. I remember what Risdin constantly tells us, “We create our own experience by controlling the thoughts in our head.” I try to think positive thoughts rather than the standard thought process that I normally have: these fucking leaves are fucking up my whole life, ruining my life! Why the fuck wont these leaves go away!! They are making my house look so ugly and destroying my temple!!! I hate these fucking leaves!!!! I am going to rake them up and destroy them!!!!! Crumple them into a million little pieces and then dump them in the garbage where they belong!!!!!! Dam these fucking leaves!!!!!!! Why wont they just leave me alone? Instead, I am learning to control my thoughts, and say to myself as I pull into my driveway: I am home and I am so fortunate to have a home. Look at all the beautiful leaves on my lawn and in my driveway. So nice to see nature playing itself out where I live. I am so fortunate to be able to witness the cycles of nature and to be apart of them. These leaves are collecting now on this land just like they have for thousands of years. Like all things that exist, the wind will eventually blow them all away.

Jumping Into Buddhism

2 I’ve got to be quick because I do not have much patience for writing at the moment. I would rather be standing on my head, or sitting silently in the lotus posture. I have piles of laundry that need to get done, and six novels that are all partially unread. Writing is only an inconvenience at the moment, but when the muse taps me on the head with his or her lancet filled with a plethora of ideas- I have no choice but to sit down and write. However, today I am writing about no big idea. My subject matter does not come from the magical wave of a muse’s wand. Rather, it comes from my own stupidity and desperation, my own inability to cope with being inside of my own body and mind. Let me explain.

Lately, I have noticed that I have been carrying around a lot of tension. I feel as if everyone is nagging me whenever they talk to me. If they are not nagging me, then I am almost certain that they want something from me. Under my breath I am finding that I am mumbling Sartre’s dictum that “hell, is other people.” I do not like that I am thinking this sentiment, because I desperately want to love and accept all people, including myself. But most of the time, this is an incredibly difficult objective to obtain. Instead, every word that someone else says causes an organ in my body to do strange contortions. When I spend more than five minutes of my time with anyone else, I am constrained by a constriction in my chest so tight that I am concerned that my oxygen might be cut off. I grow anxious and panicky and I either have to run and grab a beer, or excuse myself, and go away into a corner where I can take slow and deep breaths and pray for some sort of relief.

I do what I can to remedy my condition. I drink, and I see acupuncturists and a certain over-charging therapist who does guided meditations with me. I read books about modalities for spiritual transformation and the cultivation of love. I have purchased numerous forms of massage devices to rid my body of all the pent up tension. I have also started to take baths before going to bed. I stand on my head and do walking meditations. I try to walk on the earth with no shoes and tap into the healing energy of the earth. My mind tells me that I am behaving like a new age freak, but I am willing to experiment with whatever modality I can, in order to find a brief moment of calm. However, the calm is temporary because the moment I go back out into public, my mind begins to race and my body tightens.

People talk to me and I do not hear. My wife asks me if I am okay and I shake my head saying “fine, fine, no problem.” Meanwhile, inside of me I am being tortured alive. My thoughts are condemning me for the failure that I am. I am wishing that I had more money, a nicer place to live, less fears and a better sex life. My thoughts pick me apart like a wild animal chewing flesh off the bones of a fresh kill. I am a helpless victim of my thoughts. Everything that someone says to me triggers a new thought that sends my mind racing out of control. Money, health, status, job, family- my mind picks apart every failed and unhappy element of my life. The only thing that I have found that quiets my rancorous mind is the medicinal properties of beer.

And then there was today. I do not know if I will ever recover from the fool I made of myself. I certainly will never again be able to set foot into the bookstore. There really is no logical explanation for what happened other than my wife’s explanation that I “lost my mind and freaked out.” You see, I was with my wife shopping for various gifts for the holidays. Half way through the day, I found myself becoming stressed out by the amount of money I was spending. I started to worry about money. Then I felt as if my wife was nagging me when I wanted to put on the breaks and stop purchasing gifts. We had lunch and after lunch I felt as if my chest was beginning to tighten. Air became a scarce resource. My hands and feet were tingling and I thought that I might pass out. I tried to keep my suffering to myself but my wife kept asking me what was wrong. “I am all right,” I lied as my mind tortured me alive: You are 37 years old and you can not even afford the rent on a $ 1,400 a month apartment, you are angry, you live in a freezing cold house in the ghetto, you are childless, you hate your job, you do not know what you are going to do with your life, you are mean to your wife, you read depressing books that you never finish, you are still dependent on your parents for money, your health sucks and so does your sex life, you are a pervert and poor, you are not famous and never will be, you have not been successful at anything, you will never publish a thing, what are you going to do!!!!

I suggested that we go into a bookstore and look for gifts (I really just wanted to have an excuse to look at books, which usually takes my mind off of my own suffering). We browsed through various art, cooking, architecture and literature books but my wife was not finding anything that she wanted to give for a gift. Then, we found ourselves in the Buddhism section. At that point I was having difficulties breathing, my chest was tight, my heart was palpitating and my thoughts were tormenting. I thought I was close to my end. I looked at the various titles that said “The Nirvana of Joyful Living,” “Quieting The Mind,” “How To Be Happy And Enlightened,” “Tree of Peace.” The master’s faces that decorated the book covers looked so peaceful, refined and relaxed. Words like nirvana and enlightenment became like food that I was desperate to eat.  I started to salivate. I wanted in. Desperately, I wanted what Buddhists had. My wife said she was ready to go. But I was not. I wanted peace and joy so badly that all I could do was throw my entire body into the book rack as if I was jumping in to a deep pool. I yelled “I want it!!!!,” as I let my body go- and the last thing I remember hearing before I landed on the ground covered in Buddhist books, was my wife screaming……”oh my God.”

The Hairbrush And The Thief

I have been in need of a good quality hairbrush for some time. My hair likes to gather together in lumps and locks which refuse to let go of one another. I am at times subjected to the most excruciating pain when combing my hair. Often I avoid this task, letting my hair have the freedom to form whatever shape it wishes. I was told that if I purchased a better quality hairbrush, the pain would not be so great when brushing my hair.

My parents invited me to go with them to view a possible home that they were considering for purchase. It was a large home, still decorated by the current owners modern furniture. There were sputnik lights all over the ceilings and Andy Warhol rugs covering the heated hardwood floors. There were all kinds of bookcases and credenzas filled with books on art and artists along with numerous antique objects. Whom ever the owners of the home were, they obviously had not only much more money than myself but also a collection of culture that very few people could compete with.

The home was a celebration of modernism and the rewards of financial success. It was designed by the innovative architect Alvar Aalto– and was a complete reaction to the dull aesthetic of box homes built for form and function. This home had winding staircases, spiraling hallways and domed ceilings. The real estate agent led us from room to room describing the home with his refined English accent and educated explanations. I could smell the rank scent of alcohol on his breath when he laughed.

My father and mother were pensive. The real estate agent did what he could to paint a picture of the home that no man/woman could resist. I became bored with his pragmatic descriptions and asked which bathroom I could use. Down this hall, around that corner and through some door I traveled until I reached a bathroom that was surrounded with mirrors and heated by radiant heat. The sinks were made of gold and the toilet was marble and had an electronic device that flushed the toilet and activated a fan with a cedar scent. It was at that moment that I realized my parents pensiveness was the result of a realization that there was no way they could afford the house.

I pulled up my pants and proceeded to wash my hands. By chance I opened one of the bathroom doors for no reason at all and inside I found a large black hairbrush. The bristles were made of sheep’s tail and the rest of the brush was made out of ivory. On the handle of the brush was an engraving which said Holmes Hairbrushes For Men, London, Since 1886. When I brushed my hair with it, there was a tingly, almost ecstatic feeling on my scalp. This was the nicest brush I had ever come across. I had to have it.

Fortunately I was wearing a thick coat and had little guilt about stealing from rich people. I stuck the brush in the inside pocket of my coat, washed my hands again and made my way back out to where my parents and the agent were gathered.

“How did you like the bathroom?” the agent gregariously said to me expecting a fascinated response. “Quit an experience,” I replied with a slight cynical smile. My mother then told me that they were just talking about the owner of the home. “Yes, he invented teeth whitening,” the agent said with a contrived look of pride in his eyes. My parents were impressed but all I could do was think “oh, well that explains all the ostentatious wealth.” I then heard my father release gas when the agent said “I talked to the owner today who said that they would be willing to sell the home for $3.4 million.”

I had lunch with my parents afterwards. My father kept bemoaning the self declared fact that he had worked hard all his life and that he deserved to live in whatever kind of home he wanted. My mother tried to be sensible and tell him that he could live in whatever home he wanted as long as it was less expensive. “You guys are too old to go into debt,” was all I could add. “Son, I have enough money to afford that home if I wanted to,” my father said with a hint of frustration in his voice. It was like he was trying to convince himself of something that he knew to be untrue.” Okay dad, you can have your dream home, fill it with all the debt you want,” I remember thinking to myself.

At home, I stood in my freezing cold bathroom (my house is without heat) and brushed my hair for at least an hour. Every frustrated lock in my hair came undone. My scalp was tingling with such joy that I can swear that my hair grew an inch. I rubbed the bristles of the brush against my face and under my chin. I basically took a head bath in that wonderful brush. I then spent a few hours reading One Hundred Years Of Solitude until my wife came home from her night shift. She noticed the beautiful hairbrush on the counter in our bathroom. She asked about it and I could not tell a lie. I may be a thief but I am not a liar.

“You stole this!! What kind of man of integrity are you!!! You want me to have your children!!!! Just last evening you were talking about the virtues of honesty and respect. How could you violate another’s property, no matter how rich they may be? You are 36 years old and do not need to steal other men’s hairbrushes. Get a job and buy your own!!!!” She went on and on until I started to feel a tightness in my chest. Had my small act of theft compromised my integrity? We both have been struggling to make ends meet and the last thing I could afford to loose was my integrity. “Beside,” my wife said, “don’t you know that using another man’s hairbrush could make your hair fall out?” I then looked down at the book I had been reading and noticed a smile pile of hair that had collected upon the page. “You have to return that brush,” my wife said.

My wife packed the brush in a brown paper lunch bag. On the outside of the bag in black pen I wrote I borrowed your hairbrush for a few hours. I did not leave my name. Instead I just wrote the hairbrush and the thief. I drove my car up into the hills where million dollar homes lined the sky line. After a long search I found the Teeth Whitener’s home illuminated with blue and white lights. I pulled up beside the mailbox, rolled my squeaky window down and reluctantly placed the package inside. I could smell the cold midnight air. The air always seems cleaner to me in the neighborhoods where rich people live. It’s almost as if the abundance of money filters out all the pollutants. I took a few deep breaths and looked at the panoramic view of the Bay Bridge, the Golden Gate Bridge and San Fransisco all lit up in the full moon night. As I put my car into second gear and began my descent back to the lower income neighborhood in which I reside, I noticed that my scalp was beginning to itch.

The Sniffling Whore

As I grow older my memory seems to constantly be letting me down.  Just today I had an experience which I am already starting to forget. Strange how this happens- all while we are awake. Slowly time just seems to disappear. I guess this is why I write. To remember. I want to have stories to tell my children when they are salivating in their cribs. If I don’t write it will all vanish like a cloud of dust.

Again this morning, I decided to take the day off work. I just received a moderate paycheck so I had a few bucks to blow. I went and studied with my meditation teacher for an hour or so and then went to the bookstore where I purchased Roberto Bolano’s epic novel, 2666. As I was driving my car which runs like an old man with one leg, I saw out of the corner of my eye a very attractive prostitute walking down the street. I was not feeling particularly horny, but something deep in my gut told me that I should pull over and see if she was in her hour of need. On my radio I was listening to Some Kind Of Blue. The cold rain was coming down in puddles and I thought that being a helpful fellow human was the least that I could do to compensate for all my sins.

I did quick u-turn and drove past her at a slow pace. I waved and directed with my aging hand to meet me around the corner. I was still a distance away from her, but from what I could see she looked untethered by the tempestual hard life of a whore. She was wearing a short black skirt and a tight t-shirt that said Oakland, California on it. I guessed that she felt a sense of pride wearing the cities name on her breasts.

I pulled my car into a tight spot on a small tree lined street. I unlocked my passenger side door so she could climb in. The moment she did so- I noticed her nose was bright red and her nostrils were inflamed. I know that being sick and phlegmy is all part of being human- but for some reason I was instantly turned off . “How are you doin baby?” she said with a glib look upon her face and used tissues in the palm of her hands. Her voice sounded like chirping birds and I could smell the cinnamon in her mouth. “I am fine,” I said looking at her legs which displayed restraint when it came to eating lots of fatty foods. “What you looking for,” she said leaving out the are. For a moment I considered maybe asking for a quick look at a breast, but my degeneracy was not showing up. Instead I felt strangely empathetic. She kept sniffling and blowing her nose, and frankly all the sound affects were taking the erotic out of prostitution. She looked at me with a guilty face and said, “I know, I am a sniffling whore.”

I could not help but let out a deep laugh. I appreciated her self deprecating humor and felt relieved that she was intelligent enough to satirize herself. She laughed as well and then asked me if she could smoke in my car. We both understood that nothing kinky was going to take place at that point. “Can I give you a ride somewhere?” I asked. “It’s freezing cold outside you know?” she said while lighting her cigarette. “I do,” I replied. “Well if you would not mind giving me a ride downtown to the bus station, I would appreciate that.” The bus station was only a few miles away and I asked her if she was leaving town. “No,” she said, “it is just a place I can sit and get warm and let the sniffling in my nose dry out. You know having a sniffling nose ain’t good for my business.” I laughed again and told her that I thought its got to be rough having a cold and being a whore. “It could be worse,” she said. I asked her if I could bum a cigarette and I turned the heat up for her. We drove toward the bus station and on the way she said “you sure I can’t give you a blow job while you drive?” I was sure.

This is why I write. It is moments like these that I never want to forget. I want to tell these stories to my children and have them fresh in my mind when I am stuck in a bed or confined to a jail cell. Even though my memory seems to be fading away with each passing day, the experiences of my life can be preserved through the immortality of words. The one thing that time can not defy or colonize- the power words.

The Man Who Will (somehow) Save The World.

randallbrushing
I teach at a high school that is so poor that students have to use plastic zip-lock bags filled with their sandwiches to play football at lunch. There are ants on the classroom floor and the achievement level of students is so low because they feel rejected from a world of wealth and good fortune. Instead they eat the same lunch everyday (Chinese food loaded with sodium and msg) and are as hopeless as a writer with carpal tunnel syndrome. By lunchtime I am exhausted and filled up with a tension so thick that all I can do to release my distress is think about fine food, wine, women and massage parlors. Unfortunately, I do not have the money to indulge myself in any of these recreational pleasures- so I spend my afternoons feeling my discomfort, focusing on my breath and wondering when the day will come were I will write the great novel that will finally set me free. The irony of my daydream is- I lack the discipline to write anything long winded and I am better at dreaming than I am at doing. So, I try to sit in the lotus position for twenty minutes a day and except my fate “as it is, in the present moment.”

But this is not easy for a guy who cannot stop thinking that he has become THAT guy who thinks “why am I not in this other position? Why am I not that other guy? Why am I me?” I do agree with certain mystics and New Agers who suggest that the situations that we find ourselves in are predetermined by our past karma and the only way that circumstances will change- is if we change our karma. But this is hard when you are unaware of what you karma may be. If I could just understand my feelings and needs than maybe I could tell a lot about my karma. Maybe my karma has something to do with going from a childhood of privilege and opportunity to a mid-life filled with frustration, procrastination and inability to know what it is that I want to be when I grow up? Every day I look at the help wanted section on Craigslist because I am not certain that I want to be a high school teacher any longer. The mental and physical exhaust that the job entails- is not what I was looking for when I decided to set out and save the world.

I often talk to my students about the year 2012. They all seem to have rather fatalistic attitudes about this year as representing the end of life on earth. I try to tell them that it is not the end, that they should focus on thinking about new beginnings. I try to suggest ways that they and I could make small transformations in our lives- that may just save the world from annihilation. But they can’t hear me. The school is falling apart, rats often run across their shoes, the backyard of the school is a toxic freeway and on the other block sits a Chevron refinery that pumps out smoke stacks of chemical pollution that corrupts the air that we all breath. My students parents are loosing their homes and jobs, their brothers and sisters are being shot, their school looks like third world dormitories- why should they believe that hope is something that they could have? After all, they hear everyday, someplace or from someone, that America is the greatest country in the world, but when they look around them this is not at all what they see. As far as they are concerned- the end of the world is already here. They are just chilling out in limbo.

So I have started to look for another job. I thought that by this point in my life my novels would be selling well enough that saving the world would no longer be a hard thing for me to do. Now that I am married and with little money in my bank account I have to find more efficient ways to make a living than to rely upon my deluded dreams. Being a writer will one day pay, I still believe this, but for now there is a world that seems to be cracking apart- and I need to put aside all of my personal ambitions and get to work. So I consider myself lucky that I was hired to teach at a high school in the hood. I thought that this was a good place to start doing what I could to help humanity avoid the crash course it is on. Teaching the disenfranchised seemed like a good way to get back at all the franchised who are “living it up” while indiscriminately disregarding all the rest. But ten-hour days and hours of hopelessness and disregard are wearing me down. I am looking for some place else to go.

I dream now of no longer being that guy who says “why me?” I no longer want to hear myself think why the fame, fortune and deep belief in what I do for a living has not come my way. Instead, when these thoughts come into my head I make myself stop and look up at the sky or feel the breath come into my lungs. I attempt to convince myself that these thoughts are nothing but the workings of my conditioned ego that wants to assert itself in this tempestual world. Three years ago I was fortunate enough to ask the Dali Lama a question that had been in my mind for most of my life. “What does one do when they no longer no what to do?” I asked. He looked at me in a state that expressed deep consideration for my question and then said- ”In what ever way you can, go through the entry level and do what you can to work hard to save the world.” So I took his advice and took a job teaching while putting my authorial ambitions aside. Tonight, is Friday night and after a long week at work one would think that I would return home from school and rest and relax. But instead- I have been searching for jobs on-line, for ways to make this world continue to work. I realize that no matter what I do my authorial talents will not be immediately recognized and I will have to start at the entry level. It is probably simplistic to think that what I write is worth a buck, but I cannot deny the fact that our world is falling apart and that somehow, someway- I may just be the man who will save this troubled world.

Living In An Ice Box

It is cold in my house. So cold, that I have not been able to write. My fingers are not quite frozen but they are stiff enough to not be as limber as I am used to them being. When I am cold all of my brain activity slows down and it seems as if my creative sensibilities are packed in ice. I say little and to be terribly honest I have little to say because my brain feels like it is freezing. It is as if my imagination has gone into some kind of cerebral hibernation. Once I get the heater going ideas seems to fluidly flow but since I am currently living through a rather bitter economic recession- I only use the heater in small doses so as not to accrue a terribly expensive bill. This winter is going to be all about minimizing expenses while trying to figure out effective ways to stay warm. It is my feeling that staying warm is going to be much more of a challenge than living through the forth coming economic depression.

“This is the sacrifice I make for living the bohemian existence…living as an artist,” is what I reassuringly say to myself as I fight away the cold in my home. My wife has been struggling against the on set of pneumonia and yesterday morning we woke up and one of our birds was frozen stiff- supine on the bird cage floor. Using electricity to keep the refrigerator cold is a futile act since it is warmer inside the refrigerator than it is in my kitchen- so I unplugged the refrigerator. I often find myself filled with envy as I imagine all those with money who have the luxury to have radiant heat and heated floorboards as I walk across my hard wood floors that are as frozen as ice (I could ice skate on them). Today the temperature inside my house was colder than the temperature outside- so I decided to go and read and do some work in my car. I often wonder why am I withstanding another freezing cold winter in this hundred year old house without insulation? Why not move? The honest answer is because I love it here.

Love often comes with the price of pain. Physical and emotional. As good as love feels it also hurts that much. I know of no love that has been easy to bare. This is the yin and yang of love- it is hard to have love without its opposite. So, I tell myself this as I spend my nights shivering beneath my blankets. I tell myself this as I try to homeopathicly alleviate my wife’s chronic cough. I tell myself this as I scoop up my frozen parakeet. It is all the price of love. I have loaded up on warm clothes for the winter and even as I type this I am wearing gloves and am bundled up in two scarves and a long black wool jacket. I bought my wife the warmest gloves I could find and I even purchased a sweater for my cat. I am ready to go, ready for a survival match against the cold in my house- but what often fills me with a lugubrious feeling of despair is a thought that I have been having all week- “man…..it is not even winter yet.”

The Spain Diary, 11-12

randall11. The Train Station.

Bells, smoke, fresh squeezed orange juice, men in suits, sirens, more bells, bustling espresso machines heating and steaming, silverware on glass, bags rolling, men and women hustling and a few smiles staring while bodies sniff through the train station. I sit here in my corner watching people chasing Euros like a man viewing some kind of business or commerce circus. All around me people on the go go go and men in suits smoke cigarettes, laughing loud (which exposes their inner pain) and drinking beer while I sip fresh squeezed orange juice- waiting for Jen to buy her tampons and for the train to depart.

I am impressed by how different I am from all these souls that surround me but how similar we all really are. We are all the same- in that we are all run by our fears, same in that we all have a difficult time just sitting still like a Taoist master (instead we are always on the go, why?), same in that we all want, we all desire and we all have unfulfilled dreams. What makes us different from one another may be the language that we speak, the beliefs we claim to own or the paths that we choose to take in order to achieve that one common human goal- happiness; but these differences are simply illusions. Illusions created by our various forms of social conditioning that we are all a product of- in one form or another.

Whether I am in Spain or San Francisco people seem to think that happiness is found outside the self. The great myth of our time is that happiness is materialistic, something that we can buy and own. How often have we bought that beautiful rug that fills our heart with joy for about a week, until we start to desire a newer rug? Maybe it is because of our social conditioning that we fail to stop the madness and take pro-active steps (such as introspection, meditation, mindfulness) towards achieving authentic happiness that lasts. Instead, we buy into this misguided notion of happiness that has made human beings into profit makers and over workers- all desiring the dream of fame and fortune. Specialists in things that are irrelevant to the souls desire for freedom and happiness. Instead we are confused by the messages that we are given and this confusion (because at an instinctual level we know that we are going against our soul’s desire) is a bacterial breeding ground for ulcerated emotions like anger, fear, frustration, hostility, arrogance and depression. These have all become the symptoms of a disease that I believe is destroying this beautiful world.

The inherent irony in our modern time is that technology makes life better, easier- more organized. However, I am afraid that the reality is the opposite of this packaged marketing scheme. Technology has manifested out from a disease and has made human beings more isolated from one another, less imaginative and less powerful. Technology enslaves, engulfs, weakens and takes away what is beautiful in life or nature. It cuts down the self reliant trees of the mind and replaces them with computer chips of conformity and dependence. Technology is the opposite of freedom. Technology is an illusive freedom that an individual believes that they have- but it is not really there. What they believe to be their freedom is really only an institution. This institution promotes ideas of autonomy and personal freedom but this is the inherent irony of technology (ever try to fix your own computer of cell phone?)- these ideas are false beliefs.

I have traveled half way across the world but I am astounded by the fact that here people look the same as they do in California, dress the same, have the same laptops, business suits, yellow anti-cancer bracelets, haircuts and cars. I suppose this is a rather ambiguous display of globalization- and I am not so sure that I am terribly comfortable with it. Standing in a Starbucks Café in Madrid that looks just like the Starbucks in Oakland, California is not my idea of personal freedom or imagination. It hybridizes the human mind to think just like everyone else and it evaporates autonomy and imagination. Zap!! Just like that.

My solution is one that reeks of new age simpatico. It is a philosophy built upon the edifice of self reliance, love and authentic freedom. What this solution looks like at a practical level- I am still uncertain, because I myself am enslaved by the current logic. I buy, spend and work- all to have things which I hope will bring me happiness. I have been branded a consumer as well- sitting here with my laptop on a cafeteria table top. I am equally dependent. This is the brilliance of the current technocracy- it makes hypocrites of us all!!!

I have written long enough about this. I am rambling, I know- but these are the thoughts that fill my head this afternoon. I am in Spain and should not be so heavy but I am constantly reminded that:

Humankind has lost its way.
Humankind has gone astray.
Humankind has forgotten what it means to play.
Because Humankind has fallen into a debt,
So deep, that Humankind has lost its ability to weep.
So we buy.

Here comes Jen with a shopping bag filled with things that she bought in the store. We needed new toothbrushes, deodorant and a few other articles of good hygiene. I am writing and watching her move towards me through the sea of hustle and bustle. I hope she is not run over bye a suitcase because she is the most beautiful thing in this place.

12. Seville, Spain.

We have made it to Seville. Quite a long train ride. Half the time it was foggy and I could not see out the window. We are staying in a very bizarre hostel with blue and yellow tiles all over the walls and dead bugs on the tiled floor. There are wooden shutters on the wall that do not open onto a window- but rather a white spackled wall. I assume we could not afford the room with windows. The room had such a morbid smell that I had to go out and buy scented candles. DO NOT COME TO SEVILLE. I wanted to leave the moment I arrived. It is a loud, overcrowded and dirty city that is not only unfriendly- but mad. The city has an inferno quality to it (not unlike Madrid) and I am told that out of this pathos came the art form known as Flamenco. It is 7:30 p.m and Jen and I are going to leave our sordid cell and go out in search of food, wine and Flamenco.

(shrunken dogs barking in narrow streets as the sun falls down.)

Warning: Lead Poisoning or The Man Who Chewed Plastic.

2 I have always been curious why my mind and body have had such a difficult time getting along. The other week I was over at my parent’s house. My mother noticed that I was chewing on a white Bic plastic pen and she said, “You always have loved chewing on plastic.”  I thought nothing of it and continued to masticate my pen. Then, yesterday I heard a report on the radio that was talking about the massive amounts of lead that are in children’s toys made of plastic. I added two and two together in my obsessive compulsive mind and decided to research whether or not there is lead in plastic Bic pens. Of course what I found out horrified me. I decided to call my mother and ask her for how long I have been interested in sticking plastic objects into my mouth. “You had a plastic pacifier and were always sticking your plastic toys in your mouth. When I or your father would take them away- you would go into terrible convulsions of tears,” she replied. I became very concerned that I have been chewing on plastic for my entire life (I am perpetually chewing on Bic pens and have done so since I quit smoking ten years ago) and decided to do research on the health effects of chewing on plastic.

Lead poisoning is the leading health risk associated with chewing on plastic. There are major crusades right now waged by various health and environmental organizations to get lead out of the plastic that manufactures are using to make children’s toys. The health symptoms of lead poisoning for children are:

Various neurological and behavioral problems.
Organ damage
Blood toxicity

This was not good news for me. I researched more trying to investigate what the ramifications could be for an adult who has been chewing on plastic for years. I searched all over the Internet coming up with various symptoms of lead poisoning- but I wanted to know what the health effects on a grown man who chewed on plastic his entire life could be. Then after a few days of searching I found just the information I was looking for.

The information is “A Homeopaths Guide To Detecting And Treating Disease.” I managed to find this book on accident while perusing the health section of a bookstore. In the book there is a page devoted to describing the long-term health effects of chewing on plastic made with lead. The symptoms of lead poisoning from long term exposure to chewing on plastic are:

Neurological disorders: morbid proclivities, perpetual thoughts of impending doom, depression and panic disorder.

Behavioral problems: ADD, Autism, Obsessive Compulsive disorder, Agoraphobia, Addictive Personality Disorder.

Physiological Symptoms: respiratory infections and lung disease, heart ailments, kidney flatulence, liver turpitude and poor circulation (to name a few).

I read these symptoms in disbelief. I could see my hands shivering. It was as if I had just figured out the riddle that had confused my entire life. Each day, always wondering about what is wrong with me has driven me to the brink of insanity and now- I had the answer to all of my health “challenges,” a code by which to understand what is wrong with me. I bought the book and returned home to read and re-read the section on lead poisoning. I did some more research on the Internet and found more information about my condition. Adults who chew on plastic made with lead are also susceptible to ulcers, low ambition, delusions, hysteria and paranoia. It is I; all these symptoms are describing me!!

I am uncertain about what I am going to do to get rid of the lead poisoning that has turned my life into torment. I have a few ideas. For now, just knowing what I am being affected or infecting by is providing me with relief. The book that I bought has provided me with certain herbs that I can take that will help rid my system of some of the lead that is within me- but for the most part the after affects of lead poisoning are chronic and difficult to recover from. I am accepting myself as I am.

I have however gotten more active in joining campaigns to stop manufacturers from making toys and plastic pens with lead. There are numerous other sustainable materials that could be used to save a young child from ending up like a demented and paranoid person such as myself. One of the greatest joys of childhood is sticking plastic toys into your mouth and I would hate to see childhoods greatest pleasure remain its greatest risk. So today I have contributed a small amount of money to assist an environmental campaign in fighting their anti-lead crusade. I hope that my attempts to safeguard the youth of tomorrow will be good enough karma to change the destiny of man who has been chewing on plastic all his life .

What I Do Not Like About Facebook, Part 1

photoEver since I joined facebook my past has been creeping up on me. For so many years I had done a good job of keeping my past behind me, compressed and folded away into the back of my closet. Now it seems to have returned with a vengeance- and for this I have only myself to blame. For months my wife has been urging me to join facebook. “It’s a great way to stay in touch with friends and acquaintances and it is also a good way for you to re-connect with people from your past,” she would always tell me. “I have few friends that I need to remain pre-occupied with and why would I want to revisit a past that I always got seriously wrong?” I would reply. Besides- I saw facebook as another shackle to the on-line brave new world that I have witnessed slowly swallowing many people alive. I try to keep my on-line commitments and activities to a minimum so as not to become a mere digital reflection of the flesh and blood that I really am.

I am a man of contradictions. For as long as I can remember my thoughts and beliefs have rarely lined up with my actions. One day I may swear allegiance to one thing and the next day- despise it. Ralph Waldo Emerson once said that a man of contradictions was a sign of a brilliant mind- but in my case I think it is nothing more than a  sign of my confusion about who I really am. So not to make a long story short- not too long ago, I joined facebook and nothing has been quite the same since.

I first began with the hesitancy of a cat crossing a busy street. I posted one or two pictures of myself and made no more than five friends. But as the weeks passed my mailbox filled with requests for friendships- which I granted. Soon after this I was receiving greetings from people I had not heard from in quite some time. I felt mildly excited about this new way to connect with people I had thought I had lost touch with. I returned their greetings with affirmations and interest. Like most others, I was having fun stirring up old friendships on facebook without having to leave the sanctity of my house. My wife and I also began to communicate over facebook more than we communicated over the dinner table- and for a few weeks I thought that facebook was the greatest invention since sliced bread.

But like all good things, something went seriously wrong. I felt agitated by the numerous requests I was receiving that asked me to give gifts, accept gifts, join organizations and get involved in causes. I am a simple man and like many aspiring Taoists, I believed (and still believe) that happiness is to be found by being in the world but not of the world. I try to maintain a simple life but facebook seemed to be making my life much more complex. I was becoming jealous about the fact that some of my new found friends seemed to be happy and “success filled” while I still struggled to maintain my monthly rent payments and was terribly uncertain about what happiness meant. On the other hand, those of my friends who were still struggling to survive and “down-in-the-dumps” made me feel an uncomfortable relief that some people were doing worse than I.

My past started to encroach upon my present when long lost girlfriends and old photos of me from centuries ago- found me on facebook. The photos filled my mind with not only a younger self that I have been trying hard to forget but also an awareness of the relentless passing of time that has cleared away years of my life in the blink of an eye. I made contact with my x-girlfriends and began struggling through weeks of insomnia that I am convinced was induced by old memories. I would lye in bed and be dumbfounded by the question- “where did all the time go?” I would recall may teenage years with the vividness of a movie screen right behind my eyes. The young faces of my x-lovers would follow me around all day and the only thing I could do to mitigate my strange emotional reactions was to return to facebook and read more.

“Randall is attending an art show in his head,” “Randall is happily flying with the birds,” “Randall just awoke from a nap and is going back to sleep-“ I would find myself spending hours of time contemplating what kind of clever entry I would make- that would allow my 56 friends to know how clever Randall was at that moment. When I had a break from my job I would run to the computer and make entries and check up on what friends were up to. I reached a point where I was making entries into facebook at least 5 times a day. My wife and I would make comments over each others entries and we were actually having more fun together on facebook than in our real life!! Even though I was enjoying this newly found fun with my wife and friends- I could not get away from the thought that something was seriously wrong.

After a conversation with my therapist- we both thought that it would be best if I took some time off from facebook. My past was haunting me like a bad dream and my relationship with my wife was becoming dysfunctional, in person. I was constantly checking my face and pulse for signs of aging- since I had becoming overtly conscious of time’s passing since joining facebook. I was spending more time on facebook than I was in my life and I think it would not be unfair to say that I started to confuse the two. Facebook became a social gathering for me (and I am a guy who is not very social and considers himself a self declared introvert). My withdrawal from facebook was hard and lonely but once I got back into the swing of living my life in the present and off-line, I found that I forgot about my on-line community of friends and began my life again where I once left off. I was no longer plagued by the burden of my past and the perpetual responsibility of maintaining 56 friendships.

After a month of abstaining from facebook I have gone back to it with a more moderate approach. I know that I do not like what facebook can do to me, so I have to use it with caution. I keep my friends down to a manageable number and I only allow myself to make an entry every other day. My wife and I have agreed to not communicate on each others facebook but rather try and communicate over the dinner table. I realize that I am susceptible to falling back into the digital jaws of facebook (I feel the urge now and then)- but with weekly meetings with my therapist, a supportive wife and the ability to choose only certain x-girlfriends that I am willing to communicate with- I have been able, so far, to maintain my distance from the things that I do not like about facebook…….