The Smilist

120730150113 I have decided that my form of protest is smiling. I have always wanted to be more of a social activist but have just never been one to involve myself in large causes. I seem to stray away from any kind of cause that can not immediately have an effect on the thing I am trying to change. Maybe this is why I have always enjoyed protest as a solo act. Throughout my life I have done this in many ways- being a vegan, holding a protest sign on the side of a busy road day after day, spending my days reading novels, making art, spending the afternoon walking around when I should be working, turning American flags upside down and now I am smiling.

For the past few years I have been observing other people’s faces. I look at their faces while they walk down the street, sit at bus stops or drive their cars. One phenomenon that I have noticed is that the great majority of people have what look like grimace on their faces. The opposite of smiles. In the past year I have noticed that the sides of people’s lips have begun to droop even further downwards indicating a feeling of defeat and distress. Brows have become chronically furrowed and more and more people have wave-like distress lines on their foreheads. I began to feel that the smile was becoming in danger of extinction. As a result, one morning many weeks ago, I spent hours practicing my smile in my bathroom mirror. I also had unconsciously developed a chronic grimace and it was tiring to keep the sides of my lips and cheeks in an upright position. I had to retrain myself to smile by holding a smile for as long as I could and repeating the mantra “life is good” over and over. After a few days of practice I was able to keep a smile on my face all day long.

Every time that I leave my house I am actively smiling. I smile at whomever I pass by. I smile when I walk, talk and browse in the supermarket. I am making a conscious effort to look strangers in the eye and smile. Some people seem to appreciate this and reflect a shy smile back at me. Most other people seem to be put off by my smile and tell me this by looking the other way. I suppose unhappiness gets really comfortable after awhile and the sight of a person smiling at you may be too much to handle. I am compassionate about this so I do not take other people’s dismissiveness personally. What I do take personally is the people who seem to enjoy trying to wipe the smile right off my face.

There are always those few people who are so unhappy and miserable inside that they want the rest of the world to feel this way also. As a person who is making the conscious effort to save the smile from extinction I try to continue to smile at a person even when they are calling me “gay,” “idiot,” or any other derogatory term I have heard shouted my way. There have been a few men who have tried to physically attack me when I smiled at them- I assume this was because they are insecure in their own sexuality and assumed I was coming on to them. The other day I was run out of a record store because a large man with tattoos was threatening to cut my balls off because I was smiling at him. I admit, maybe I was partially to blame for this. The tattooed man looked so deeply angry that I had to smile at him a little bit longer than I should have.

I have heard it said that smiling is contagious but what I have found to be true is the opposite. Smiling can also be offensive. Maybe it is because we are living in a time where people are so stressed, over worked and worried about money that smiling represents a kind of mockery of the average Americans situation. People in America are really suffering at the moment and smiling as a result is not in fashion. I have found that to fit in you have to frown, or smile just a little bit. The person who decides to walk down a city street with a big smile on their face is considered to either be mentally ill or unstable in some sort of way. When I walk through the town where I live I am continually hearing names hurled at me from passing car windows. What I have heard most often as of late is “there is that smilist again.”

So be it.

Maybe I am the idiot but it is my belief that we create our reality from the inside out. There are things that happen to us that are beyond our control, but we do have control over how we choose to think about these experiences. If a person decides to shout a negative name at me, or be disrespectful towards me because I am smiling it is my choice whether or not I allow myself to get mad or just let it go and keep smiling. As far as I am concerned- if each individual does not take responsibility for his or her own inner well being, then the smile is doomed to become extinct. For now I will keep working to keep the smile alive. I will walk, drive, sleep with a smile on my face despite the danger that this seems to be putting me in. When others try to bring me down I will continue to smile. If they want to shout “smilist” from their car windows at me, then I will smile more. Please, if you can- join me and start smiling. Life is better this way.

Where The Hell Do All The Black Socks Go?

Black+socksOver the months and years I began to notice the gradual decline of black socks. I would often notice that my sock drawer was filled with a dozen pair of nice black socks and as the months went by my collection of black socks dwindled. At a certain point during the year I would notice that I would only have one or two pairs of black socks left and then one day I would wonder silently to myself, where the hell do all the black socks go?

This recurring episode happened at least twenty times in my adult life. Ever since I started buying my own socks at the age of thirty-one, I noticed that there would be a gradual decline in the amount of black socks I owned. But I was young and self deprecating so I just assumed that the loss of black socks was my fault. I smoked a good amount of marijuana then, so I thought that I had misplaced my black socks when stoned. I also did my laundry at a laundry mat so it was more than possible that I was accidentally leaving my black socks behind in the dryer.

But as I began making more money, moved into an apartment with its own washer and dryer set and quit smoking marijuana I noticed that there was still this gradual decline in my black sock collection. But still I did not make much of it. I was thirty-four and preoccupied with that one lingering question that plagues most young men- what was I going to be when I grew up? As a result I had little time to worry about disappearing black socks. I would just go to Target, buy a $7.99 four pack of black dress socks and then get on with my life.

As my life became more domesticated and I found myself a married man, I started becoming more perplexed about where the hell all the black socks went. I was not yet at the stage where I was desperately searching for an answer but I was living with this question circulating around in my head. Since I was married and not making much money I was living on a budget. The budget was as tight as my pants had become. There was not enough money left over at the end of the month to go buy more black socks as I had done in the past. Now I had to learn to live with fewer pairs of black socks.

Every time I would sit down and put on my black socks I would wonder about them. Where the hell do you guys go? The mystery became too uncomfortable to carry around in my mind. I had to begin an official investigation. On the day I turned 40 I was getting dressed for my birthday dinner. I went to my sock drawer and noticed that there was only one black sock left. I had known for certain that only a few weeks ago I still had several pairs of black socks left. Now there was just one black sock. What the hell?

Dressed nicely for my birthday dinner I found myself inside of my dryer. A strange place to find oneself at 6:14 pm on their birthday, but I was driven by a irascible desire to solve the mystery. Enough was enough. First I looked inside of the washing machine. Nothing. Then I proceeded to climb into the dryer in search of some kind of explanation for the disappearance of all but one of my black socks. I was determined. As I moved around in the dryer looking for some clue, I accidentally turned the dryer carousel and ended up spinning upside down. I held myself in a manageable position by pressing both hands against the side of the dryer but my head was pressing into the metallic bumps of the carousel. I was in some pain and experienced some acid reflux. I did not know how to get out of this inverted position so I ended up kicking the top of the dryer in an attempt to turn myself right side up. But when I kicked the top of the dryer something broke. For a moment I became afraid that I would fall through some kind of dryer version of the rabbit hole and land in a massive pile of black socks. I envisioned my karma being that of a man forever trapped in a sea of all the worlds lost black socks. I panicked.

Fortunately my wife was able to hear loud thumping sounds coming from the laundry room and was smart enough to check out what was going on. When she found me inverted and stuck in the dryer she immediately began to laugh. What the hell are you doing? she asked me with an amused smile on her face. With her help I managed to stretch one leg over my stomach and head and onto the laundry room floor, turn my body right side up and climb out from the dryer. I did a kind of yoga like stretch that has left me with back pain until this day. I was trying to find out where the hell all my black socks went, I said once I had both feet on the ground, was standing straight and could breathe a sigh of relief.

At my 40th birthday dinner that evening I was wearing my one black sock and a borrowed gray sock from my wife. The sock was so small that I could feel it quietly ripping every time I moved my toes. It was obvious that I was preoccupied with something. People were asking me if anything was wrong. I then asked some of my male friends if they had the same problem with their black socks. I was surprised to find that they all had experienced the phenomena of disappearing black socks. Even the women at the table had noticed the same thing happening in their sock collection. We all tried to figure out where the hell the black socks go. There were so many possible explanations. They get left behind in the dryer, drop on the floor and get lost when we carry our laundry, etc. The only explanation that made any possible sense was that when we wash our clothes the black socks stick to the insides of our clothes and then when we wear those clothes out into the world the black socks fall out all over the place. But still I was not satisfied with this explanation. I mean if they fell out all over the place why would we not see them everywhere?

I became preoccupied with trying to figure out where all the black socks went. I did a lot of research on Google, but found no answers other than some Russian sock collector who offered a mystical explanation for disappearing black socks. I stopped purchasing black socks because I could no longer afford to lose them. My sock drawer became filled with red, brown and blue socks and over the months I noticed that none of them disappeared.

Then just yesterday I was on a walk. I often walk with my head down to avoid eye contact with passers-by. I also like to look at the ground moving under my feet. As I was walking I came upon a single black sock lying on the dirty sidewalk. I did not think much of it until a few minutes later when I happened upon another single black sock lying on the sidewalk. I was perplexed but I wrongly assumed that these black socks belonged to homeless people.

I continued to walk on and began noticing black sock after black sock after black sock lying on the sidewalk. What was going on? I lifted my head up and said out loud, what the hell? Where had all these black socks come from? I had walked this route at least three times a week and never noticed all these blacks socks before. Suddenly there were black socks EVERYWHERE. All over the sidewalks and in the streets. I stopped walking and looked  around. Cars were driving over the black socks and people walked past them as if they were not there. No one except myself seemed to notice all the discarded black socks all over the place. I let out a little giggle because finally I was seeing something that no one else saw. And then like all smart and logical married men on a budget, I proceeded to put aside my pride, bend over and start picking up and putting as many black socks as I could fit into my pockets.

A $50.00 Cup of Coffee

I posted this story many years ago during one of the more difficult economic times in my life. After reading it I have learned that there is a life after economic oppression, mental meltdowns and a strange meter maid that I am not sure ever existed. I thought I would re-post it here for your reading pleasure.

 

The rain has been pouring down for three days straight. I am wondering if melancholy is starting to kick in. I awoke at around 10:30 this morning but would have stayed in bed if I did not have to drive my girlfriend to work. So like the responsible partner and man that I try to be, I climbed out from under the warm blankets and dressed.

When we opened the front door to leave, our cat came running in wet as a used mop and whining at the top of his lungs. He was obviously feeling neglected and angry because we had forgotten to let him in the night before. To be honest the past few days my cat has been perturbing me, so I did not really forget to let him in, I just hoped my girlfriend would not remember. It was reciprocity for all the scratches on my arm and the flees in my bed.

I dropped my girlfriend off and then began driving back home. The inside of the car was warm from the high heat and I was uncertain if I wanted to return to my cold and over one hundred year old wobbly home. So I decided to drive for a bit. I listened to the radio and watched the world go by in the warmth of the car. There is something very enjoyable about watching the world go by from a car window.

I decided to stop and grab a small coffee. I rarely drink coffee- if ever. It makes my body shake unpleasantly and my heart race. So I try to stay away from the acidic liquid. However, this morning I was feeling the need to have the bitter taste of coffee in my dry mouth and the aromatic smells in my nose.

There was no parking to be found on the busy street- besides a yellow zone which sat empty right in front of the coffee shop. I decided that I would quickly park in the yellow zone, run in and out- no problem. I could not of been more incorrect.

I tipped the somnolent looking woman who served me my coffee a dollar and then put half and half with a bit of sugar in it. The aromatic smell was already awakening me to the pleasures of breathing. I took a brief sip of my coffee and walked back outside.

There where two UPS trucks blocking me in. Behind my car was a police car with its lights flashing and behind the police car was a small meter maids truck. I rushed to my car pretending as if I was not the subject of this mass gathering. Once out of the rain I decided to wait patiently for the UPS trucks to move so that I could leave. I kept my mind focused on the scent of coffee.

Then an ugly man with nose hairs, covered in a black rain coat knocked on my window. It was a police officer. I opened my door frustrated by all this commotion. “What is wrong officer?” I asked stupidly revealing that I may have done something wrong. “Can I see your drivers license and registration?” he said with a seriousness that indicated that he may not be human but rather a clone. “What have I done?” I said with the innocence of a child. “We have a report that this car may be stolen.” “What?”

In the meantime one of the UPS drivers came up behind the police officer and said to me “hey man!! This spot is for commercial loading not for the convenience of people to get their coffee!! You need to never park her again. You have blocked up traffic because I have had to park in the street!!” I looked behind him and noticed that traffic was blocked up for as far as my eyes could see. People were honking their horns and trying to get around the UPS truck. “See what you have done!! Jerk!!!” And then he was gone.

Meanwhile I handed the officer the requested information and told him that I have owned this car for years. “We will see,” he said with a tone in his voice that suggested that I was already guilty. “Wait here, while I check out your information.” “Where am I going to go?” I said with a sarcastic tone in my voice. I remember thinking to myself with indignation, “the police are everywhere, they even watch you when you sleep. they are like phantoms!!”

There was another knock on my window, but this time it was a black meter maid who looked rather swollen in her cheeks. She wore a yellow rain coat with the hood over her head and handed me a green ticket which was already wet from the rain. “What is this for?” I asked with a hint of anger in my voice. “For parking in a NO PARKING spot.” “But I was loading some boxes into the coffee shop, I am the owner!!” I decided to lie. “Then why don’t you get commercial plates!” she said walking away and leaving me helpless. I am not normally prone to anger or disrespect but I lost control of myself in my moment of helplessness and yelled “bitch!!!”

It was bad timing, because as I yelled out the police officer was approaching my car. He looked startled and unsure of how to respond. “What did you call me??” he asked. I took a deep breath and said “I did not call you anything, I was talking to the ticket lady.” “What ticket lady?” he asked. “The one that just gave me this ticket,” and I held up the green ticket to show him what I was talking about. “Sir, that was placed on your window while you were inside getting coffee,” he said suspicious of what was going on. “What the hell are you talking about… she just gave me this ticket!!” I was frantic and did not know what to do. Was this officer of the law accusing me of being crazy, of seeing things? “Sir I suggest that you try to calm yourself down and sign this citation.”

“What citation?” “It is a fix it ticket.” “I thought I was being accused of possessing a stolen car?” “No we had the wrong vehicle, but your back left brake light is not working and you have thirty days to fix it,” he said with a hurried sound in his voice. I assumed he wanted to get out of the rain so I took my time. I read over the pink citation and noticed that I would not be charged any money if I proceeded to go through all these various steps to absolve the citation. “Sir you will be given a list of everything you need to know,” he said impatiently. I then signed on the dotted line and returned the clip board to him. I took another deep breath and could feel the residual anger and frustration in my chest. “You are lucky that I do not site you for your conduct towards an officer of the law,” he said staring me straight in the face. I decided to stay quiet. He ripped of a portion of the citation handed it back to me and said “I know you slandered me sir, happens all the time.” And then he returned to his bat mobile.

I sat in my car for a moment trying to register everything that had just happened. My coffee was cold and I felt like I was just the subject of a terrible prank. I waited for something to happen like someone who was suffering from post-traumatic stress. I listened to the rain pitter-paterring on the roof of my car. I then heard a loud honk and looked out the drivers side widow. There was the same meter maid driving down the other side of the street!! She looked at me waved and I could barley make out her lips saying “have a nice day, sir” with a malevolent smile on her face. I felt like I was going to be sick. I tried to yell out “wait!!” but it was a futile attempt. I looked down at the green parking ticket which said in black ink hand writing “your fifty dollar cup of coffee, sir!!”

Now I am back in my cold wobbly home. I am confused and forlorn. Once I am finished spell checking this post, I will get back in bed and try to sleep. Then maybe I will wake up and things will make sense.

SuperBuddha for the Over Thinking Mind

super-buddhaI don’t know about you, but I think too much. Way too much. I am always stuck someplace in my head. Sometimes when I am at work or having a conversation I am actually driving my car alone or doing dishes. I notice that I get transported by my thinking. I get so caught up and tangled within the pentetrailias of my brain, that I experience out-of-body sensations when I think too much. For example, I will notice when I am walking that I have been thinking so much that I was totally unaware of what street I was on or how I got to the location where I was now standing. When doing dishes it is a common occurrence that I break dishes because I am off some place in the past or future instead of being present at the kitchen sink. I will spend my days lost in thought. I look like I am going through the daily motions but really I am caught up in the transitory and fragmented sentences and images that are continually looping around in my brain. Hamsters on a hamster wheel and myself have a lot more in common than I would like to admit.

Sometimes I will sit by the side of a highway and watch the cars race by. Mental tin cans with bobbing heads inside. But they are not just bobbing heads. Each of these persons passing by at high speeds are unique human beings (even the ones flying American flags from their American made vehicles) who are dearly loved by someone. As each of these persons races by in their vehicles I can not help but wonder how many of them are actually aware at that moment that they are driving in a metal vehicle at high speeds. I would bet that most of these loved human beings are lost in some thought, somewhere. Their instincts or learned habitual behavior is what is driving the car, while they are reliving some conversation, obsessing over some thing that they have to get done in the future or something wrong they did in the past or just having dozens of thoughts that end nowhere, go nowhere and mean nothing more than an obsessive thought pattern that the person has been stuck in since childhood. As I sit and watch the cars race by, I notice that I have a slight shiver of fright when I think that all these people may be totally unaware of the fact that they are driving a car.

I think this could be true for most Americans these days. Whether it is driving a car, doing dishes, working out, hanging Christmas lights, taking a shower or doing any number of activities- most Americans are not aware of what they are doing in the moment. They are caught up in some kind of thought process instead. How could this not be true? We live in a culture that fills our social, physical and psychological airwaves with a continual stream of fragmented messages- thoughts. We are completely submerged in a sea of over thinking brought to us by CBS, ABC, Time Warner or any one of the multitudinous amounts of media and/or corporate agencies all competing for our thoughts. There are as many thoughts floating around us as there are atoms. The troubling thing is that thoughts are smaller than atoms and cannot be seen by the naked eye. They cannot even be witnessed under the most high-powered microscopes created by human kind. In fact thoughts cannot be seen at all and this is what makes them so fucking powerful. My guess is that if you were indeed suddenly able to perceive thoughts you would notice that you were sitting in the middle of a fishbowl filled with them. Like water, there are thoughts everywhere. We are swimming in them.

So it is no surprise that most people are completely disembodied (including myself at times). What I mean by disembodied is that the person is so stuck in their thoughts that they are not aware of what their body is doing. They are as unaware of the feeling of their feet on the ground as they are the massive amount of thoughts following them around. Instead they are like heads without bodies, spending the majority of their time lost somewhere above the neck. So is it any wonder why there are so many broken dishes, so many car accidents, so many dysfunctional relationships, so much violence and so many wayward souls? We are all thinking way too much. At least I know I am.

So what does Buddhism have to do with any of this? I am not sure yet. I know that the practice of Buddhism can be summed up in one sentence: do not cling to any notion of “I” or “mine.” When we think too much we are caught in the web of “I” and “mine” and Buddhism becomes like a superhero that can swoop down and free us from the tangled web of too much thinking. I have read numerous Buddhist texts. I have gone to retreats, I have spent hours in meditation- all in the hopes of putting some space between my itinerant thoughts and myself. But for all the work that I have done, for all the “Buddhistic” proselytizing that I have engaged in, SuperBuddha is yet to set me free. I still break dishes. I still scare myself with fatalistic obsessive thinking. I still think one thing and say another and then say one thing and think another. I am still as emerged in my thinking as any driver on an American highway.

Never have Americans needed a superhero more than they need a Superbuddha. We are all so assaulted by thoughts that it threatens are very survival. We have been literally consumed alive by thoughts to the point where we are no longer able to distinguish between what thought is authentically ours and what thought is invading from some outside source. As a culture we have been hit hard by the parasitical army of too much thinking and I am not sure that even a SuperBuddha would be capable of setting us free from malevolent web of over thinking. But I am trying to listen to my wife and be somewhat of an optimist. May all these Buddhist books that I have lying around my house can help. Maybe my meditation cushion, which is collecting dust, can be a powerful weapon against the mental flooding that continually seems to suck me under. I will not give up just yet. At least I don’t think so.