Of being alive…
Through the house,
Wet from the shower
The dog chasing and barking…
Figaro! Figaro! Figaro!
Of being alive…
Through the house,
Wet from the shower
The dog chasing and barking…
Figaro! Figaro! Figaro!
“Be neither a conformist nor a rebel, for they are really the same thing. Find your own path, and stay on it.” —Paul Vixie
I awoke at 3am on a Sunday morning and for two hours lay in the dark watching my thoughts tie themselves into knots.
By the dawn’s early light I decided, for no apparent reason, I would drive to a town I had long heard of but had never been to, San Juan Capistrano.
Then, for no apparent reason, I laughed.
(In the interest of brevity, I removed this from the above paragraph: I had first heard of Capistrano when I was a boy watching a Bugs Bunny cartoon in which the animated rabbit was in the shower, wearing a flowery shower cap and using a scrub brush and singing, “Oh, when the swallows a-come-a-baaaaack to Capistrano!”)
It was still early morning when I drove into a parking garage near the train station in San Juan Capistrano. The nearly empty concrete parking structure was, for no apparent reason, reverberating with music so loud it vibrated the windows of my car. But when I drove onto the rooftop level, I discovered the apparent reason. A film crew was taking advantage of the golden sunlight to shoot a music video. I parked and stood by, watching a buxom Latina fronting a nine-piece band complete with horn section. She wore vampire makeup, a purple latex micro-skirt, and vertigo-inducing stiletto heels. She shook her head to make her long straight black hair cover her face. Then shook her head to make her hair fly off her face. All while banging out power chords on an electric guitar suspended below the tsunami wave of her surgically enhanced breasts.
(I deleted this: It happens. In Southern California.)
I walked across the train tracks to the old part of Capistrano, where the narrow lanes were lined with old-growth shade trees and hidden among the trees behind flowering hedges were tiny, sagging wood houses that had been built in the mid 1800s. Some of those houses were still being used as private homes. Others were being used as antique stores, cafés, and restaurants.
(This served no purpose, so I removed it: It was a beautiful morning. Most mornings are. When we are healthy and free to wander around.)
One of the small farmhouses was being used as a petting zoo. Children rode in circles on the backs of toy-size donkeys and ponies. Swarms of calmly quacking ducks followed the feet of children who were scattering packets of feed. Once in a while the ducks would nip the butt of a pigeon who had crashed the free buffet. Just past the petting zoo was a fenced field in which about a hundred people were standing or sitting at picnic tables and in lawn chairs, listening to musicians playing guitars and fiddles and ukuleles, and watching a line of stout women swaying side to side and singing. They sang about feeling grateful for all of Creation, and its anonymous Creator.
(I removed this excess description, hoping the reader would see it or something like it without my having to show it: The women who were undulating their ample hips and waving their hands in a slow-motion hula wore faux grass skirts and flowery blouses.)
My wanderings carried me back across the train tracks to the modern side of Capistrano. In a city park I saw workmen positioning a lectern and microphones in front of a five-foot high wall of amplifiers. A large banner strung between two shade trees informed me this would be a political, not a spiritual, gathering.
(I removed this because it is judgmental, simplistic, and essentially true: The event would be a loud rallying of like-minded citizens deeply angry at their government for trying to provide more of its citizens with health care services.)
Fortunately, my wandering soon took me back to the wrong side the train tracks, back into the sanitized and preserved Mexican California history. I soon came to a pocket park under construction. Stone paths had been laid down but the landscaping had not been started and the brown earth was exposed to the warming sun. The main feature of the new park was a low curving stucco wall that had been embedded with bronze plaques depicting events and people from the town’s past. There was a photoengraving of a dark-haired dark-eyed woman staring straight back at me, and I stopped to read her story.
She had been born almost where I stood, a hundred years ago. Modesta Avilla earned her plaque on this wall because, like Henry David Thoreau (whose face is on lots of engraved plaques in New England where I grew up), she dared to express resistance to civil government.
In 1889 the Santa Fe railroad laid its tracks across Modesta Avilla’s family’s property—without paying them. While Thoreau’s civil disobedience took the form of refusing to pay taxes to support slavery and the war on, coincidentally, Mexico, Modesta Avilla expressed civil disobedience to the state of California, née Mexico, by stringing her clothesline across the railroad tracks on her property. And hanging her family’s laundry on it.
Like Thoreau, Modesta Avila was arrested.
Unlike Thoreau, who spent one night in jail, Avilla was sentenced to three years in jail. She became California’s first felon.
(Trying to make an already sluggish essay flow, I removed this boring statistical aside: America in general and California in particular have evolved greatly since jailing Modesta Avilla for airing her clean laundry in public. By 2009, the United States achieved the highest documented incarceration rate in the world, managing to keep 3.1% of its adult population, (7,225,800 people) under correctional supervision, i.e., probation, parole, jail, or prison.)
(After deleting the above diatribe, I realized I also had to delete this related snippet: Perhaps one way America paid for the expensive feat of jailing so many of its citizens was not helping out the 18.9% of non-elderly Americans (50 million people) who were without health insurance in 2009.)
When I got back into my car on the roof level of the parking garage it was past noon, the golden light had turned into hard white daylight, and the Mexi-Cali rockers were gone. Maybe home to bed.
A few days later I asked the oracle (the www) to tell me more stories about Modesta Avilla. The oracle obliged. I read how an historian, alive now, described Modesta Avilla, dead a century ago, as a “charming dark-eyed beauty.” I reckoned he had seen the photo engraved on the plaque in Capistrano.
The historian also wrote that Avilla depended more on her beauty than her intelligence “to keep food on the table and a roof over her head.” He said she was extremely proud.
(I deleted this, assuming the reader, if willing, could do their own translation of the historian’s code talking: Modesta Avilla was Mexican, a prostitute, and, worse, she was an uppity Mexican prostitute.)
The historian’s narrative told how, despite locals saying Avilla had strung her clothesline across the tracks, the Santa Fe Railroad claimed she had put a railroad tie across their tracks.
(I redacted these ignorant and irrelevant questions: Aren’t railroad ties big and heavy? Did someone help the 22-year-old Mexican whore with such hard labor? Would not that make them an accomplice? )
The railroad claimed that an agent of its employ had, fortunately, removed the tie before a train came down the tracks.
(I cut this: Apparently also before anyone not employed by the railroad saw it.)
The first jury to try Modesta Avilla deadlocked. But the state-railroad partnership was determined, and paid for a second trial. “Rumors circulated,” the historian writes, “That the attractive single woman was pregnant.”
(I deleted: Shocking!)
Modesta Avilla’s attorney appealed and was able to argue before the state Supreme Court that his client was convicted on her reputation, not her deed.
(On the advice of legal counsel, I deleted: She was railroaded!)
Her attorney lost the case. On an unspecified technicality. And during the second year of her three-year sentence in San Quentin prison, 22-year-old Modesta Avilla died.
(I delete this anti-climactic ending: One night not long after my Sunday morning in San Juan Capistrano, I again awoke at 3am and again lay for hours in the dark watching my thoughts tie themselves in knots. By the dawn’s early light, I fell back into sleep. And I dreamed of Modesta Avilla. She was wearing a purple micro-skirt and stiletto heels, tossing her long black hair around while banging on a guitar and belting out Spanglish lyrics, backed by a 9-piece band.)
Most of my life I have managed to be reasonably happy and comfortably poor.
An exception came when I was approaching 40 and living in Portland, Oregon. I broke up with my girlfriend and became unhappy. When I moved out of her house that had the fenced backyard for my golden retriever, Newton, my poverty became uncomfortable.
But Richard and Sarah, an unmarried couple I knew from my job, wanted to leave the basement apartment they were renting, so I took over their lease. The only way I could afford the rent was by having a roommate. So I took the bedroom which was just big enough to fit a floor lamp and a futon bed, both of which I had purchased, along with all my cookware and kitchen utensils, from Richard and Sarah. And I rented the very large bedroom to a Japanese-American woman who had just graduated from Reed College. The only modification she had made when moving in was to bolt into the high ceiling of her bedroom a leather net on a swivel hook.
“What’s that for?” I asked.
“It’s my swing,” she said. Then she made a big slow wink at me. “I’m a swinger. Get it?”
The best roommates are the ones who you never see except when they hand you the rent check. Almost every day after her office job my roommate went to all-night parties hosted by members of Portland’s diverse and hyperactive sadomasochism community. The only guests she brought home were her best friends, a married couple, both of who were over six-feet tall and 240 pounds. The husband was a computer programmer and an undistinguished player. But the wife was a renowned and sought-after professional dominatrix. Only once in a while did my dog and I awake in the wee small hours of the morning to the sounds of a bullwhip cracking and high-pitched whimpering coming from behind my roommate’s bedroom door.
Despite my small job, small bank account, and a room so small there was no place for my dog to sleep but on the futon with me, I had a big dream. It was a dream that had been buried somewhere between the lower mantel and outer core of my memory since I was 17. For an unknown reason that made perfect sense, the dream chose this unhappy and uncomfortable time to erupt.
I wanted to ride a bicycle across America
There was a question repeating in my mind day and night. “If not now, when?”
I was no longer on great terms with my former girlfriend, but my dog was. So when I asked, she readily agreed to take care of Newton for an indefinite time. I began, without really paying attention to what I was doing, buying or borrowing bicycling gear and camping equipment. I randomly chose a date five months away on which I would quit my job, give up my apartment, and sell the futon I had bought from Richard and Sarah, along with whatever else I owned that could not be carried on a bicycle. And, on the nights that I awoke to the call-and-response of the bullwhip and whimpering, I would lie in bed vividly imagining myself dipping the back wheel of my bicycle in the Pacific Ocean. Then dipping the front wheel of my bicycle in the Atlantic Ocean. I cleverly chose to not imagine the weeks of grueling sun-scorched rain-soaked sleeping on rocky ground between those two baptisms.
Three weeks before I was to hit the delete key on my unhappy life and open a new, blank document on which to draft a better one, I blew out my back. That is, as the first chiropractor I had ever consulted informed me, “Your L4-L5 disc has succumbed to age, and to a series of assaults.”
“Assaults? What assaults?”
He quoted from the three-page history I had provided. “Tackle football, bicycle crashes, slipping on those ice-covered stairs Thanksgiving morning. Not to mention falling off the horse onto that rock while on your honeymoon in England.”
“Your back,” the chiropractor said, “Records and remembers every insult and injury.
“Oh. Like my mother.”
Until then, I had never been seriously injured, never had an arm in a sling or a leg in a cast, never taken pain-killing pharmaceuticals, and had given but never received blood. Now I could not sit down or walk without pain. The pain was transmitted along a high-intensity electric cable strung from the toes of my left foot up into my lower back. And there was no off-switch. I was shocked to find I had become a member in good standing of the one group any person—regardless of race, creed, sexual orientation, health or wealth—can suddenly become a member of. The disabled.
I asked the chiropractor, “Can I still ride my bike across the continent.”
“Absolutely,” he said.
My spirits soared.
“Maybe a year from now. If you’re lucky.”
Now, three weeks before the date I had resolved to declare my life a Do Over, a new question began repeating in my mind day and night. “What the fuck am I going to do now?”
The answer came in a rapid succession of seemingly unrelated events over which I had no control other than how I responded to each. In a word, Life.
My employer announced a layoff. I volunteered. Having worked at a job of one kind or another since I was 15, which is a reliable method for being comfortably poor, being suddenly unemployed was a shock, disorienting, and liberating.
Richard and Sarah decided to get married. For some reason the preparations required them to buy a new car and to sell Richard’s battered 20-year-old Toyota pickup he had been driving since high school. I bought Richard’s truck for $200.
I had lived ten years in Manhattan followed by three years in San Francisco, two cities where happily comfortably poor people do not need to own a car. Then I had lived seven years in Portland, where my preference and my poverty determined I would use only my feet or my bicycle to take me anywhere I wanted to go, day or night, light rain or heavy rain. Suddenly owning a motorized vehicle was a shock, disorienting, and liberating. Although just getting into and out of the truck or sitting and driving was painful, I could now travel 50 miles in an hour instead of half a day. And I didn’t have to shower when done.
Within two weeks I had completed a two-step dance with the truth. The first step was to accept that my dream of bicycling across the continent would not become real. The second step was to understand that, even without that dramatic catalyst, I still desperately needed to change.
However, lacking the courage and discipline to change the root cause of my unhappiness—me—I instead chose to radically change everything but. I decided to move to a city I had never been to and where I knew no one. I chose San Diego for the sole reason that its weather was warm and dry and sunny; the inverse of Portland’s.
When I told the clerk at the unemployment center that I was thinking of moving out of state she woke from her sleep to enthusiastically explain how easy it would be for me to become California’s problem instead of Oregon’s. I sold or returned the camping gear I had bought or borrowed. But I kept the bicycle I could not ride. I gave my roommate notice to vacate. She moved in with her married friends. I took a cash advance at a usurious, poverty-insuring interest rate and purchased an old Volvo that could tow a small U-Haul trailer to San Diego. I found a company that would tow away Richard’s decrepit truck and even give me $25.00 for its title.
While waiting for the tow truck to arrive I searched through the cab to be sure I had not left any personal items inside. From under the driver’s seat I pulled out an empty orange package of Zig Zag rolling papers, a sand-encrusted red lollipop, and $1.67 in coins.
And I found Richard’s diary.
It was one of those mottled black and white composition books. Two-thirds of its widely spaced blue-lined pages were filled with angular block-lettered handwriting in different colored inks and pencil. I knew at a glance that it was a journal, a diary, and a secret private emotional one, by the way the writing slanted left, then slanted right, then was rigidly erect, all in one paragraph.
After the briefest hesitation, I did what I always do when finding a book. I opened it to a random page and began reading.
The Richard I knew, just past 30-years-old, was tall, pale, and thin but lumpy, the way a kid who hates to exercise and was always on a computer would grow up to be. He had taught himself the internet and music, and he was a gifted mimic and actor who had never been on a stage. He could make anyone laugh. Anyone.
Richard and Sarah had been a couple since high school. Which is why, despite their young age, theirs was the solid, warm and constant kind of love that only couples who have sailed through many years of calm and storm and calm ever reach.
The Richard in this lost diary was someone I had never met.
He had roiling doubts about Sarah’s love for him. And his love for her. She got on his nerves, irritated him. For three pages he eloquently raged against being held back from the pursuit of some unnamed happiness. In the pages of the diary, I met Richard’s father, an affable English teacher in the same New Mexico high school where Richard was an underachieving student and slouching member of the slacker-geek clique. Everyone in the school, students, teachers and administrators, liked Richard’s father. And mocked him. He was an active, happy, natural alcoholic who would not or could not wear any of the disguising masks society held out to him.
The 30-something Richard writing the diary filled page after page with detailed memories of the repressed frustration and anguish he had endured as a boy and a teenager. His father—would not would not would not—just—stop—drinking. In the journal I saw Richard as a boy of 14, riding inside the very truck I had bought from him while his father drove fast and wavering on empty sun-baked New Mexico roads. I could hear his father performing a rambling monologue to his passenger son. He spoke of great scientists as if they lived next door, of science fiction he argued was great literature, of colonies on Mars or planets in other solar systems, while quizzing his son on the periodic table and the mind-bending rules of quantum physics. And all through the talk he gulped down can after can of cheap beer, tossing the empties into the truck bed to bounce and bang around as he swerved into the oncoming lane while coaxing his reluctant son to grab another can from the two cases on the floor and pass it to him.
The tow truck arrived. Five minutes later I had a check for $25 in one hand, and Richard’s journal in the other. I pocketed the check then crossed the street to the alley behind my apartment building. I opened the black cover of the big green dumpster and dropped the diary into a crevasse in the mound of trash. I pulled a soggy leaking paper bag of garbage on top of it.
On the pre-dawn morning I left Portland, I walked my dog one last time in the rain. Then we got into the old Volvo with the U-Haul trailer attached and drove away. Inside the trailer was the bicycle I could not ride; a used Nordic Track I had purchased because it was the only form of exercise I could do without being incapacitated by pain; the floor lamp and kitchen utensils and futon bed I had bought from Richard and Sarah and that, after all, I needed to keep.
A Zen Story from Pema Chodron
April 24, 2013
THE EMPTY BOAT
There’s a Zen story in which a man is enjoying himself on a river at dusk. He sees another boat coming down the river toward him. At first it seems so nice to him that someone else is also enjoying the river on a nice summer evening. Then he realizes that the boat is coming right toward him, faster and faster. He begins to yell, “Hey, hey, watch out! For Pete’s sake, turn aside!” But the boat just comes right at him, faster and faster. By this time he’s standing up in his boat, screaming and shaking his fist, and then the boat smashes right into him. He sees that it’s an empty boat.
This is the classic story of our whole life situation. There are a lot of empty boats out there. We’re always screaming and shaking our fists at them. Instead, we could let them stop our minds. Even if they only stop our mind for 1.1 seconds, we can rest in that little gap. When the story line starts, we can do the tonglen practice of exchanging ourselves for others. In this way everything we meet has the potential to help us cultivate compassion and reconnect with the spacious, open quality of our minds.
In August I moved to a new town and by December I was sorely in need of a haircut. I found the place to get my hair cut by first finding an Irish pub. That I found by first finding a new trail, and hiking on it until sunset. Which had given me a thirst that needed quenching. Life is complicated. But living is simple. One thing leads to another.
The early evening was cold enough so that when I entered the Irish pub its warmth fogged my eyeglasses. I navigated through the fog, past two musicians playing guitar and mandolin, and past tables where old men and women sat, weeping. Why did they weep? Because the musicians were singing about angry young Belfast men throwing Molotov cocktails at scared young British soldiers armed with machine guns. Which led to everyone becoming dead.
After rehydrating with pints of Guinness, I floated out to the sidewalk and walked off my happy buzz exploring this new part of my new town. I enjoyed looking in the windows of restaurants and watching people eat and drink and talk and laugh. I was amazed and delighted with the mechanical contraptions displayed in the window of a store that sold vacuum cleaners. I was equally amazed and delighted with the mechanical contraptions displayed in the window of a small shop that sold sex toys, not to horny lonely men, but to women and couples. Which, apparently, had led to the store now having a Going Out of Business Sale.
Half a block away I saw, like a lighthouse on the sidewalk, a red white and blue swirled pole. Reaching that beacon, I peered through the dark windows behind it. I saw walls cluttered with road signs, car license plates, faded photographs of athletes, and 99 bottles (empty) of beer. I had found Andy’s Barbershop.
In the coming week one thing led to another and early Saturday morning I was inside Andy’s Barbershop, with a guy actually named Andy cutting my hair.
After paying Andy for my excellent new haircut, I foraged. That is, I drove down random streets looking for a place I could get breakfast. Waiting at a stoplight, I watched a man on the far corner walking on the sidewalk in a small circle. He wore four layers of dirty ragged clothes and he yelled at the air while chopping it with both hands. Passersby pretended he was not there, but at the same time granted him as much of the sidewalk as he needed to perform his monologue.
“Homeless,” I thought.
Which led me to wonder why we call such people homeless. For all I knew that man lived in a mansion on a hill. Or in a decrepit aluminum trailer atop cinder blocks on a quarter-acre of rocky dirt in an unincorporated part of town with no sewer system and with propane tanks to fuel the apparatus he used to manufacture methamphetamine.
My socio-economic musings evaporated when, simultaneously, the traffic light turned green, and I read the green letters on the side of a building behind the shouting, air-chopping man: Starbucks.
The barista was maybe 21, maybe of Mexican heritage, maybe weighed over 300 pounds, maybe was five feet and three inches tall, maybe had a mustache, and maybe was a man or maybe was a woman. In a castrato’s voice, he or she greeted me with a question, “What can I get started for you?”
Outwardly, I gave my order. While inwardly, I filed this question in my memory, just in case one thing led to another and I found myself single again and alone in a bar and in need of a provocative conversational gambit to break the ice with the attractive woman seated beside me. I could ask her, “What can I get started for you?”
I sat at a tiny round table just big enough to fit my laptop, a 20-ounce cup of cooperatively-farmed shade-grown fairly-traded Peruvian coffee, a toasted spinach, feta and egg-white wrap, and seven sun motes. Seated at the tiny round table to my right was a guy dressed in sharp-toed boots, tight jeans, and a heavily starched and ironed checked shirt that had swirls of fancy stitching around the buttons and over the shoulders. His left leg was bouncing straight up and down as constant and steady as a piston in the engine of an idling pickup truck. He folded the sports page of a newspaper into a small square, using his gnarled, tobacco stained fingers to pinch the edges into sharp creases. He then held it at arm’s length and stared at it so intensely I thought the newspaper might catch fire.
Looking back at my computer screen I, like 1.2 billion other people would that day, went to Google. Recently something had happened in Connecticut, the state where I was born and raised, and I intended to read about it, even though I did not really want to read about it. As I clicked on a link, I also noted in my peripheral vision that the person at the tiny round table to my left, a thin teenager with shaggy dyed-black hair, was staring straight at me.
I read the news story on my laptop.
A 20-year-old man used his mother’s Bushmaster XM15-E2S rifle to shoot her dead as she slept in bed. He then drove to an elementary school where she had been a teacher and shot his way through a locked glass door. The school principal and psychologist were in a staff meeting and when they heard the shots they rushed to the source of the sounds. The man shot and killed both women.
“I dee-jay at the ice rink.”
I looked at the young man at my left. I said, “Ice rink?”
“Yeah the ice rink.” He pointed out the windows. “You know the ice rink.”
“I’m new in—
“It’s just one of my gigs.” He scratched his shaggy hair vigorously. “I dee-jay other stuff, too.”
“Like parties and wed— ”
“Check this out.”
He thrust the black rectangle of a phone into the space between us.
“I’m streaming video on my phone right now.”
Maybe it was this sudden change of topic that led me to make a snap judgment. I decided this shaggy teenager was playing the game of Life with an incomplete deck of cards. In spite of his having a short deck, he was choosing to play, not to sit the game out. He had, after all, struck up a conversation with a stranger in a café.
The video playing on his phone appeared to be of a heavy-metal band on a smoke-filled stage. But the image was small and the connection jerky and there was no sound. Watching the stuttering video was like watching a flip-card animation.
“The connection’s a bit slow,” I said.
“No way this is a 4G phone.”
I nodded down at the phone. “The video’s stopped.”
He pulled the phone away and stared down at it in his hands, mystified that it was not doing what he had expected it to do. He began massaging the phone with both his thumbs.
It seemed that the school psychologist, before being shot to death, managed to turn on the school’s intercom, trying to alert others in the building. A nine-year-old student would tell how he heard over the intercom the shooter say: “Put your hands up!” and someone else say “Don’t shoot!” and people yelling and many gunshots as he, his classmates, and teacher ran to hide in a closet in the gymnasium.
In the meeting room that the principal and psychologist had run from, a teacher pressed her body against the door to keep it closed. The man with the gun shot her through the door. In a first-grade classroom, a substitute teacher was shot in the face and killed. Fifteen of the sixteen students in her class were killed. The sole survivor, a six-year-old girl, lay on the floor among the bodies and feigned she was dead. When the building grew quiet, she ran from the school, covered in blood, the first child to escape the building. She would tell her mother, “Mommy, I’m okay, but all my friends are dead.” She described the shooter as a very angry man.
“Look at this.”
I turned to the young man beside me.
“Look at the video.”
He held the phone up in my face but at the same time leaned away from me as if I was threatening or had offensive body odor.
“There’s no video,” I said.
His eyebrows raised and the corners of his mouth turned down. He pressed both thumbs on the surface of the phone. “Wait.”
The young man with the gun went to a first-grade classroom where the teacher had hidden several children in a closet and cupboards.
I remembered how, when I was a six-year-old boy in Connecticut the wood cupboards in school seemed a good place to hide. Not that I ever did. Not that I ever had to. I just liked the quiet scent of the things stored inside; the books and crayons and sculpting clay and blank white paper ruled with faint blue lines and golden pencils waiting to be sharpened to perfect points.
The teacher told the man with the gun that the children were in the auditorium. But several of the children came out of their hiding places and tried to run away. The teacher put herself between her students and the shooter. A six-year-old boy in that class later told how he and some of his classmates had escaped through the classroom door while the man with the gun was busy shooting their teacher and the other children.
“Watch this.” The young man was pressing on his phone while explaining to me, like a salesman, that the phone could video-conference with other people, but only if they had a phone as capable as his, and no one he knew did.
The homeless man I had seen on the sidewalk entered the café. He was not yelling now, only mumbling softly and walking in a tight circle near the counter. His hands were safely in the pockets of his sagging pants, not slicing and dicing the air. Everyone pretended he was not there, yet gave him the room he needed to walk in his circle.
The 300-pound barista came out from behind the counter carrying a white paper bag and used it like a carrot before a horse to lead the homeless man back outside. I watched through the windows as the barista took a cup of coffee and a sandwich from the bag and put them into the man’s hands. And his hands, for the first time I had observed him, stopped. The barista was talking to the man but I didn’t know if the man heard him, because his own lips never stopped moving.
As I drove home I thought about my girlfriend, whom I love deeply, and who is a third grade teacher in my new town.
I spent the evening with my girlfriend doing something I had not done in many years, Christmas shopping in a mall. It was odd how the longest lines were for soft pretzels, and for giant barbecue tongs and spatulas that had the names of National Football League teams burned into their genuine hardwood handles.
We went to a restaurant, one link in a corporate chain, where a sign on the wall in the crowded waiting area said, Maximum Occupancy 348 Persons. Rather than wait one hour and twenty minutes for a table, we walked down the 50-foot long bar and just as two people got up from their stools to leave, we sat in their places.
I looked out over what seemed a half-acre filled with 348-plus living breathing talking laughing angry sad buzzed happy people eating and drinking at tables and in booths and coming and going and leaning over to shout at the person across from them who was pretending to understand whatever they had said. There were dozens of large and larger television screens on the walls and suspended from the ceiling and there were small screens tucked in nooks and corners. Unlike Orwell’s 1984, the dozens of screens were not all showing the same program. I felt grateful that my new town was not one of the places on this planet where such a vast and confined crowd of people would have attracted angry suicidal bombers wearing homemade explosive vests.
I shouted our drink orders to one of the four bartenders as she leaned close to hear me. While waiting for our drinks, I looked at the seven-foot high by 15-foot long blue-lighted freezer in which dozens of bottles of vodkas imported from all over the world were displayed. High on the wall behind the bar were four television screens, each five-feet long, arranged in a giant rectangle. The vivid clarity of the brilliant screens was stunning. And each screen was flashing a different program or commercial. I tried hard to look at only one screen. But I could not. Against my will, my eyes jumped from screen to screen, distracted by the constant motion and choppy camera cuts, hopelessly trying to catch something that was always just getting away from me, like a dumb mark certain he could win at Three-card Monte.
Sitting at that bar and being bludgeoned by the chaos of noise, smells, sights and sensations, I ran away. That is, I retreated far down inside me to a quiet place. The day I had lived through passed in a silent montage. The battered man walking in circles on a sidewalk and shouting syllables at the air, the urban cowboy with some inexhaustible nervous energy making his leg pump like a piston, and the shaggy teenager fixated on the workings of a phone with his pale face at once blank, and startled. Like a camera, my imagination followed a scrawny young man moving through the halls and classrooms of an elementary school shooting bullets that ripped apart the bodies of small children and their teachers, and turned Life into agony for those who loved them.
I wondered, are we born with, or into, this madness.
The indifference of the cosmos seems absolute.
Nothing cares, one way or the other, individually or in whole, if or how we live and die.
That’s for us to work out.
I enjoyed this reading because I appreciate Mr Boyne’s type of writing and humor. I am sitting in my( it’s mine every four weeks) infusion chair receiving chemo at the moment and need a laugh- I’ll laugh out loud when I get in my car.
David Boyne’s “X Marks the Spot: We’re All Going to Die! So… What’s for Lunch?” was a great read! The dedication at the beginning as a tad unusual, which piqued my interest. Check this out:
“This ebook is dedicated to planet Earth and to everyone and everything who lives here now or has ever lived here. Even the velociraptors. I know I complain a lot, and I’m always looking for some place better. But in my heart, there’s no place like home.”
I had a smile on my face immediately. All in all, the ebook was hilarious with a great observational humor. Very intelligent as well. Recommended? For sure!
5.0 out of 5 stars
Humorous, Thought-provoking, and thoroughly enjoyable December 12, 2012
Format:Kindle Edition|Amazon Verified Purchase
Postcards From the Doghouse is a collection of short essays on a variety of topics from driving to Kindles. The author uses his insight to tie everything together, and you will be entertained from beginning to end.
David Boyne is a talented writer. He has just the right balance between poetry and description. His descriptive writing tells the story, and his prose draws you in. This book is a very spiritual and philosophical work.
This is a short book, but I guarantee you will not breeze through it. Each chapter opens with a meaningful quote, and the writing itself is very thought provoking. His musings are about ordinary events, but Boyne’s unique perspective really makes you think.
The author knows how to inject humor at just the right moments. He is able to write deeply about every day thoughts and events without sounding silly. Boyne’s writing style is very unique, and once you get into the book, I guarantee you will find him enjoyable.
My favorite moment:
I smacked into a metaphorical wall: “Hold on! Is everything I write nothing but my opinion?” A voice, perhaps God’s answered, “Like, duh!”
It is very hard to sum up David Boyne’s work. You will laugh out loud while reading Postcards From the Dog House, and it will really make you think, too. There is just the right blend of wisdom and humor. Reading this book is definitely an experience. The author really makes you feel as if you are there with him as he relates his experiences and observations. You will be drawn in and not want to put this book down.
Postcards From the Dog House is an enjoyable read, and I would recommend this book to anyone.
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db: Well, I suppose it’s nice we can agree that T Mobile is screwing me. Thanks for your help, Bernadette. Adios!