sit like a cat
and wait for the door
I neglected to post something yesterday about Veterans Day, thinking I didn’t have anything fresh to say, and finding the outpouring of social-media thank-yous to the military slightly irksome. I never served, but if I had, I expect I might not enjoy being pandered to any better than I would being ignored.
Like Charles P. Pierce, when I was a squirt I didn’t know anyone whose father was not a veteran. Since the old man was career Air Force, we mostly knew the kids of Blue Zoomies, but in the course of affairs we would meet others; sons and daughters of soldiers, sailors, Marines.
We’d hear the tales secondhand (none of the dads I knew bragged to kids about his service, so the kids bragged for them). This one was at Omaha Beach, that one at the Battle of the Bulge; this one got shot down in a B-29 after bombing Tokyo, that one flew unarmed Gooney Birds out of New Guinea.
It all sounded really cool, especially while consuming a steady diet of war movies at the base theater, like “The Longest Day,” “The Dirty Dozen,” or “PT 109.” And then we got a little older, and a little smarter, and we came to realize that going to war involved a strong probability of getting one’s arse shot off.
We realized that we never got to hear kids tell about their dads who didn’t make it back, because those kids died unborn with their would-be fathers, figments of an unrealized imagination. And we didn’t get to hear about the men who returned from war damaged in body, mind or spirit, or meet them; not until our own war, Vietnam, came along.
Books like “All Quiet on the Western Front” took on new meaning. And there were others, like “Dispatches,” by Michael Herr; “A Rumor of War,” by Philip Caputo; and “Everything We Had,” by Al Santoli.
In “Narrow Road to the Interior,” Japanese poet Matsuo Bashō (1644-94), following a visit to the ruins of Yasushira — and riffing off a line from the Chinese master Tu Fu about how war had left “the whole country devastated,” a place where “only mountains and rivers remain” — wrote:
all that remains of great soldiers’
In “The Poetry of Zen,” co-author Sam Hamill calls this poem “a brilliant indictment of the stupidity and cruelty of war,” one that reminds us how little we have learned over the millennia. How does one say “Thank you for your service” to the grass?
By seeing to it that subsequent generations get to spend as much time as is humanly possible enjoying the sunny side of it, I suppose.
Peace to those to served, and especially to those who never came home.
I’ve been reading a little poetry of an evening, much of it from the collection “The Poetry of Zen,” compiled by J.P. Seaton and Sam Hamill, and recently stumbled across a couple works that, alas, confirm my suspicions that the assholistic Reign of the Morons Charles P. Pierce has been following so assiduously is nothing new.
The first is “Bad Government,” from T’ang dynasty poet and painter Kuan Hsiu (832-912):
Sleet and rain, as if the pot were boiling.
Winds whack like the crack of an axe.
An old man, an old old man,
at sunset, crept into my hut.
He sighed. He sighed as if to himself,
“These rulers, so cruel. Why, tell me
why they must steal till we starve,
then slice the skin from our bones?
For a song from some beauty,
they’ll go back on sworn words;
for a song from some tart,
they’ll tear down our huts;
for a sweet song or two,
they’ll slaughter ten thousand like me,
like you. Weep as you will,
let your hair turn white,
let your whole clan go hungry . . .
no good wind will blow,
no gentle breeze
Lord Locust Plague and Baron Bandit Bug,
one east, one west, one north, one south.
The second is an untitled piece from the mythical Han Shan, an eighth-century Chinese construct I first heard of via Jack Kerouac in “The Dharma Bums”:
I stand here and watch the people of this world:
all against one and one against all,
angry, arguing, plotting and scheming.
Then one day, suddenly, they die.
And each gets one plot of ground:
four feet wide, six feet long.
If you can scheme your way out of that plot,
I’ll set the stone that immortalizes your name.
Jesus, I knew all it took to get on TV was a near-fatal case of the dumb-ass (insert your favorite stupid TV show here), but this Pentacostal pinhead from gator country has lowered the bar so far that Beelzebub can do chin-ups from it.
I’m not going to link to any of the stories about him, because he burned through his 15 minutes faster than a snowboarder does a bong hit and I’m not granting any extensions.
However, I expect the mainstream media will — the NYT is already going through an extended breast-beating session headlined “When a Fringe Figure Becomes News” in its “Room for Debate” discussion group. My news judgment! O my ducats! Choices, choices. I’m not linking to that bullshit, either.
The Rev. Billy Bob Goebbels reportedly has called off his Koran-burning, perhaps so he can spend more time negotiating for his own prime-time program (a cooking show? What kind of barbecue sauce goes with wood-fired sacred text?).
But fuck ’im, I went out and bought a Koran anyway. My copy is “The Koran Interpreted” by A.J. Arberry. I scored the fall issue of Tricycle magazine too ’cause it had The Dude on the cover. Him I will link to. Is that some kind of Eastern thing, man?
With 90s in the forecast and a long shift in the Velo-barrel tomorrow I decided to get out early for another of my patented weirdo cyclo-cross rides, a two-hour blend of asphalt, concrete, pulverized-granite paths and moderately technical, powdery single-track that took me into Palmer Park, where the cacti and Indian paintbrush are in bloom.
I love riding a ’cross bike in this park, especially when it’s windy, because you can hide from the breeze in its miniature canyons, where the trails are well screened with foliage this time of year. This is both a blessing and a curse, as it dramatically shortens your line of sight, and the park is popular with a wide variety of outdoorsy types — runners, joggers, dog-walkers, equestrians, bird-watchers, stoners, boners and mountain bikers.
So I’m not exactly rippin’ the trails on my Nobilette, is what I’m saying. Life is already plenty short enough, and if I merely get laid up instead of laid out, well, free-lancers don’t get sick days. “A day of no work is a day of no eating,” said Huai-hai. And as you know, I dearly love to eat.
Still, I did manage to clean one section of trail that has had stymied me for the better part of quite some time. And I almost got a second bit, a rock garden that has defied me for as long as I can remember. I had it dicked but spazzed out just at the end, nearly T-boning a trailside tree.
“Damn it!” I barked, just as a couple grinning mountain bikers appeared, headed in the opposite direction. “Don’t mind me, I’m just trying to kill myself here,” I explained, and off they went, effortlessly navigating the rockpile that tried to feed me to a tree.
I participated in small-d “democracy” yesterday, having been summoned to jury service in El Paso County’s Fourth Judicial District.
Now, I ain’t lyin’ to anyone here. I spoke very many bad words — and loudly, too — when I got the summons. I repeated them, albeit in different order, when I rang up the court Wednesday night and found out that yes, I was required to appear at 8:30 a.m. Thursday.
I walked downtown instead of cycling (you don’t have to lock up a pair of Sauconys, wear a helmet or carry a pump and spare tube). En route I saw a cat perched on a rooftop, a bathtub full of flowers and a bottle of Arrogant Bastard Ale perched upside down on a brick wall. When I walked into the jury room “There Must Be Some Misunderstanding” was playing. All omens, no doubt. Of what, I had no idea.
Three judges had cases on the white board, so I read a little Zen while cooling my heels (“A day of no work is a day of no eating,” said Huai-hai, first to establish a Zen monastery in China). A clerk erased first one case, then a second, and I was thinking I might get sprung in time to enjoy a nice long bike ride.
Nope. The third case was the charm, and our jury questionnaires went upstairs. After a bit half of us were cut loose and the rest of us paraded upstairs for a grilling by the judge, the prosecution and the defense.
We numbered 14 and the case (driving under restraint) only needed six jurors, so I figured my chances of liberation were still pretty good, seeing as I am a journalist of dubious repute and a renowned scofflaw with a long, well-documented history of traffic violations, all of which I cheerfully confessed.
Nope. Selected. Balls, I thought. The way this is going I’ll wind up foreman on the sonofabitch.
While some last-minute legal maneuvering took place, the six of us chatted in the jury room. Besides me, we had a Spanish teacher, two construction types (one unemployed and recovering from a workplace injury), a telephone-company retiree and a mortgage-loan person, our lone female). We discussed our jobs and the lack thereof, injury and recovery, TV shows, kids, spouses and pets, bicycling.
And then the judge popped in, doffed his robes and told us we were free to go. Seems the trooper who cited the defendant had made an audio recording of the traffic stop and neglected to mention it to the DA’s office. Judge, prosecution and defense all listened to it, the defense said it couldn’t proceed, and shazam: Continuance. Off you go.
Six hours after I walked into the courthouse I was walking home in 90-degree heat, thinking about what the judge had said. He told us that it’s easy to feel cynical about the state of the nation, to be discouraged at the incessant mudslinging that has replaced political action, to wonder when you vote whether it really makes any difference.
When you serve on a jury, he said — even if you don’t actually get to hear the case — you are participating in an act of patriotism, small-d democracy in its purest form, the sort envisioned by the Greeks. A group of strangers convenes on behalf of the common good, listens, decides and disperses. There is no question that your vote makes a difference, your voice is heard.
True, the process was cumbersome. A couple dozen folks had their schedules upended for an hour or two — or six — and driving under restraint is not exactly the stuff of a “Law and Order” episode. The defendant looked vaguely disreputable, the way I did not so long ago; ponytail, beard, sunglasses.
Still, it was a reminder that the the least of us can go toe to toe with The Man if he has the balls for it, and that the State is not infallible. Call it a six-hour civics refresher. I even got a diploma. They misspelled my name.
Faux News dingbat Brit Hume has tromped in the Dharma with his big ol’ Bible-beatin’ feet, saying that the errant Tiger Woods should abandon Buddhism and come to Jesus, sparking fits of enraged zazen at sanghas worldwide.
Like Steve Benen at Political Animal, I couldn’t care less about Brit Hume, Tiger Woods, golf and industrial Christianity as promoted by a fake “news” network that is less interested in reality than is The Onion.
But I take a very un-Buddhist glee in watching loudmouthed nitwits step on their own dicks, as long as they aren’t me. But of course, they are.
Image lifted from CafePress.
We haven’t even sat down to Thanksgiving Day dinner and the pulpiteers at Focus on the Fambly are already trotting out their annual Christmas In Peril fantasy. Focus Action spokescreature Carrie Gordon Earll breaks it down for us in Palinesque style (and I’m not talking Michael here):
“The eradication of Christmas is a politically correct idea that we can’t have sacred ideas in our culture.”
Uh huh. Can someone please ask Spock to pop round with his Universal Translator? I assume it handles Cretinese.
The more I see of industrial Christianity, Bibleburg style, the more I like Zen. You never see a mob from the local sangha berating the manager of a Best Buy because he won’t hang banners inscribed with the Four Noble Truths on Shakyamuni’s birthday. George Carlin had this crowd nailed, you should pardon the expression.
Meanwhile, thanks for all the music recommendations. I’d forgotten how much I like some of your suggestions, especially The Band’s “The Last Waltz.” Wouldn’t you know the sumbitch isn’t available on iTunes? Yo, Carrie, forget about that eradication-of-Christmas bullshit — we got a real problem right here.
While I was mired in a weather-related funk I missed an interesting NPR “Morning Edition” story right in my own back yard. It’s about the Buddhist chapel at the U.S. Air Force Academy.
Sarah Bender, who leads the AFA’s Buddhist program, is also the resident teacher with Springs Mountain Sangha, the local Zen outfit. Buddhism and Death From Above might seem incompatible to some, but Bender says no: “People in the military come up — for real — against questions that most of us just consider abstractly. The questions of Buddhism are the questions of life and death. So, where else would you want Buddhism than right there where those questions are most vivid?”
Martha Rose Shulman has offered a couple of interesting dishes recently in her “Recipes for Health” column in The New York Times. I whipped up her stir-fried tofu and peppers night before last, and it was a hit; it’s an easy bit of cookery, based on a Chinese dish called rainbow beef, and reminds me slightly of an old favorite, kung pao beef, from (of all things) a tattered Betty Crocker cookbook I bought on impulse at some grocery checkout years ago.
Tonight I’m going to tackle her stir-fried pork and greens with noodles, which is just a little more elaborate but packs more punch, including as it does a half-pound of swine instead of soybean curd (Shulman says the vegetarians among you may substitute tofu for the pork).
While we’re discussing mindful cookery, you might enjoy this article from Tricycle, the Buddhist quarterly. Author Laura Fraser rattles the pots and pans with Dale and Melissa Kent, who spent seven years at Tassajara Zen Mountain Center in California’s Ventana Wilderness. Dale did a two-year stint as tenzo, head of the kitchen; Melissa was ino, or head of the meditation hall.
Zen priest and cook Edward Brown tells Fraser that mindfulness in cooking “is much more about receiving your experience than dictating it. Most people’s habits of mind and activity, when it comes to cooking, are about making it come out the way it’s supposed to, rather than receiving and appreciating it the way it is.”
With that in mind (pun intended), I set about making breakfast this morning. It’s a meal that has been haphazard here lately, generally a fruit smoothie, some oatmeal, occasionally just a container of yogurt and some juice. Herself had mentioned a hankering for scrambled eggs with green chile, but was otherwise unspecific, so I winged it. Improvisation. A couple bars of jazz in the kitchen.
Locating some roasted Hatch mild chile in the bottom of the ’fridge, I peeled and diced a large one, then sautéed it in butter and olive oil for a few minutes, adding a small minced glove of garlic about 20 seconds before pouring the eggs — whipped with sea salt, freshly ground pepper and a dash of green chile powder from the Santa Fe School of Cooking — into the skillet.
Then, with one eye on the cooking eggs I assembled two basic side salads — just a few leaves of lettuce and some sliced tomatoes drizzled with olive oil — and toasted some fresh bread from a local bakery. Then I shoveled the eggs onto the plates and served ’em up.
Simple stuff, I know. But it sure did taste good.