Friday, August 28, 2015

26. Enthusiasm is infectious, stimulating and attractive to others. People will love you for it.

Of course there was  a company pecking order and the dock-workers were on the heavily pecked end of that  spectrum. Shit rolls down hill.

It started somewhere up in corporate, rolled down to management, who passed it off to the foreman, (Jim, an American Indian, who loved acid back in the day), who delivered fair but firm expectations to the amphetamine driven truck drivers, who gave no respect whatsoever to the dock-workers, who did the heavy lifting and pranked Al, the janitor/ hostler-in-training, to recover some self-worth. Al had dreams of becoming a driver, but for now he served as low man.

Ben was broke, fresh out of the military, new to the crew and glad to be employed. The other dock workers went easy on him, feeling him out, occasionally sending him off to the foreman's office for a can of skid mark remover. He mostly played along, kept quiet, had a sense of humor, worked hard, seemed at least half crazy - so he got along pretty well.

Months passed breaking freight - loading and unloading trailers with an occasional tipped load, forklift accident, bad lift and strained back or blown stack.  It paid pretty well for unskilled, non-union labor, and the company paid for your CDL if you stuck around long enough. Ben felt stuck, but he was paying bills. He drove a six hundred dollar van which he often slept in. He never really planned to make it past twenty-two, and now he really didn't know what the hell he was going to do. So much for live fast , die young.

It was the routine that made him feel stuck - drudgery. It was the same thing day in and day out -crude, predictable jokes; sports talk; theories on who's banging the secretary - the only female in the building; baseless claims of banging the secretary; and non-stop sporting humiliation of each other.  He'd race with Salvatore now and again, to see who could break their respective trailer out faster or try to find a reason to get into the office to catch a glimpse of Brianna. That was it. Life on the dock.

"Keep scribbling, Hemingway", that's what his squad leader said to him the day he got out. He wanted to be a writer. He was in a required basic writing class at the community college, worked two jobs, slept in the van for an hour or two between shifts, and sold plasma for gas money. He frequently thought Sgt, Evans was right, and there really was no place for him out here in the civilian world. He wasn't writing anything now. There was nothing to write about. Southern California - a soft, hazy grind;  a pleasant nothingness; apartment complex court yards; huevos rancheros at I-Hop if there's enough left after bills. He was just trying to keep everything floating, and it was doing its best to pull him down.

One night in the break room, Alvin and Sal were taking verbal shots at each other back and forth, back and forth. It was escalating. The other dock workers fanned the flames. The two men wore smiles, but their faces were reddening, Soon they were on their feet, anger was rising. Ben had had one too many cups of coffee. He stood up on a bench.

"This is exactly what they want us to do!"  Ben yelled,  "You're doing their dirty work for them".

The men looked toward him in surprise.

"It's not enough for you to get shit on every day by management and drivers? You have to come in here every goddamn night and tear each other down during the few minutes of rest and peace we get? In fact, we're worse to each other than they are to us! This, my friends is bullshit!"

There was laughter.
Salvatore said, "Right on!"
George, out of curiosity and with sarcasm asked, "What then should we do, Ben"?

"Say something positive!"
They all laughed.

"I'm serious. The kind of shit you say causes damage. We've got enough damage to deal with. Say something good to each other instead of something bad, build each other up not tear each other down. We've got to organize. If we don't, THEY win".

"YEAH!" someone yelled.
"That's gay"
"You're a crazy Jarhead", said another
"He's on to something", Wendell- the quiet one - said.

"Show us what you mean, Ben" George said, still curious and mildly sarcastic.
Break was almost over, they were getting up up from the tables, Wendell was putting on his back brace.

"Well... alright, it's like this",  Ben looked George in the eye and said, "George, You're a hell of a freight-breaker, and I'm proud to know you".

They all laughed and started moving out to the dock.

"Damn, that felt pretty good", said George, " I see what you're saying.  Then I say something back like - Ben, you're one HELL of a man, right?"

"That's all I'm trying to say", Ben answered.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

25. Curiosity kills boredom. Nothing can kill curiosity.

But curiosity can damn sure kill you.

Learning to be still when sleep won't come. The crickets, the humidity, the night. Summer's ending, and I joke that I haven't made my plans for last summer yet. The bills keep rolling in. I guess that gives me a place to put it, something to struggle against, purpose. You know yourself there was just too much anxiety, too much dread, and it only got worse the higher you flew. But I can't tell you how badly I wanted to keep it, even knowing what I know.

Somewhere, remembering, you drift off - 4:30 or 5:00 am. She finds her way in, undoes your defenses, and you wake for work an hour later in a puddle of your own blood with a hole in you at center mass. You never gets used to that sinking-in-your-chest feeling.

It takes time, you say.

Now the West is burning, as are your immediate surroundings, and you are looking for some way out of the smoke and flames. You wanted to feel alive again, didn't you? Well, your prayer was heard and answered. Now you burn.

She calls. Talks about you in the past tense. Maybe this weekend, she says later in the conversation. Hope and Despair rise to standing at the same time. They don't even bother to grapple, just stand wearily in front of each other looking at the floor.

A friend told you recently she thought the world was crumbling. So busy fretting about yours, you'd forgotten. You looked around. Of course it was, and there was solace in that.

Nine Eastern Blue Birds appeared in a sub-zero February blizzard right outside your bedroom slider. They sang until you looked out. Neither of you had ever seen this kind of bird before, and they seemed impossible in conditions such as these. You felt her delight, watched her marvel, and knew then that you would never recover.

Nine Blue Birds. Angels of your death.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

24. Faith is knowing there is an ocean when you can only see the stream.

"Just wait until your life starts going backwards".

Some things people say stay with you.

Maybe for me the ocean was where I embarked upon this walk. Starting along the edge of a bay, up the bank of a mighty river, climb the falls and cascading mountain streams, find myself later in the high desert sniffing for any trace of water in a dry creek bed. Another day of this and the ocean in my mind transforms from a memory - a certainty - to a question. One day more in this heat without water, and it's a myth. Beyond that, if I survive, the ocean becomes a cruel lie that never was.

A trace of it now at 2:30 in the morning. The smell of ocean. Cool water. How happy I was walking with her in New York City. What a sport she was at the concert, not used to having to stand to see a show, a foot shorter than the fans in front of her, wearing the wrong shoes for standing or city walking, never once complaining. I was as high as I could be with her, smiling from everywhere.

Parched again now, surveying this landscape. Here and now. The memory of water is pain, delight, tragedy- reason enough to go on or to quit.

Irish whiskey in a coffee cup calling you a superhero - the cup, not the whiskey. You look away.

Crickets. Humidity. Silence.

She's passed through now. Gone. You'll say it was worthwhile when you can. I am sure of it.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

23. The man who has no imagination has no wings.

Ain't it the truth though?

Wings of feather or wings of fire - imagination transports alright, but you may not get to pick the destination.

What if you could get back all the time your imagination made you serve in hell? The Buddha, or someone writing in his name, said something like, "the mind is a wonderful servant and a terrible master".

"Wrong perceptions" the Buddha says calmly.

"Or maybe more right than you want to understand" it whispers.

You starved it, poisoned it, blunted it; hated, humiliated and disowned it; ran it down and beat it back routinely. You deprived its senses, nearly drowned it. clapped it into black-site-solitary-confinement. But it continues there. Its whisper persists.

Sometimes it's a howling tornado of demons, a Yakuza tattoo. It's a pair of wings commanded by its own will. You will go where it takes you, and you will not be able to close your eyes or stop your ears. What it shows you will ravage you, what it tells you will shred your sanity into cole slaw.

Then there are other times, there, just on the other side of sleep - all that activity. It shows you a glimpse of another world in full swing, a world you cannot hold or remain in long enough to comprehend. There's a trick to it, you know that, but you haven't mastered it yet. That world is happening right now.

And at other times it brings sweetness. Like slowly waking  to a warm soft voice, gentle kisses. It's as as though your very self is blossoming into love. And then you are on this side again, awake, and it slips slowly out of  reach, then out of sight,  and the memory of the feeling is vivid enough to make you ache for days after.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

22. The best are not only the happiest, but the happiest are usually the best.

That's rubbing it in.

I guess it's a sign of diminished expectations, but I don't use either of those words very often.

Thich writes about watering the seeds of suffering and watering the seeds of happiness. I don't have to do much self-assessing there.

I don't care what you believe or what you call yourself, it's what you do. I'm cranky today thinking about "Christians".

"Mess with the best, die like the rest."

"Best" and "Happy" are children's words, aren't they? They cause a lot of problems for adults too. I can tell you that I see signs of petty aggression and disregard for others on the turnpike every day, and most of them seem to be initiated by people in Audis, BMWs and Mercedes. I'm quite sure they believe in Happy and Best, and you'd better not get between them and it.

Trump and the fanfare around him. Circus performer, ring master, fully-formed Narcissist.  We, the audience. Winners and losers.