Posts Tagged 'men’s personal growth'

Chapter 54. It Ends?

Chapter 54

It ends?

 

‘To be born again.’

Van Morrison, Astral Weeks.

 

The drive south down Highway 880 past the shit treatment plant, then alongside of the port of Oakland and towards it’s much less than special downtown skyline, past the airport and finally into the always scintillating suburb of San Leandro is not particularly pretty or inspiring.  Neither is the eventual destination.  Doing the drive in a tiny red Alfa Romeo convertible makes it intimidating as well.  This crowded road serves as the main artery south from the port. It is filled with large semis pulling 40 foot containers of imported goods, just getting started on their respective voyages, running late, hyped up on who knows what, driving fast and hard and in a real hurry.  With one mistake any one of those huge trucks could crush my little red sports car in one moment of inattention and turn us into a coke can.  Add the condition of the road, as bumpy as the economy and seemingly with no budget to fix even a pothole, a steady stream of projectiles hurling upwards and you get the picture. It is not pretty. If that isn’t enough, there is the Alfa’s hard, no make that jarring ride, the result of worn shocks and 20 year-old foam in the seats and you have a bracing Tuesday morning road trip. Wearing a bandage that covers my left eye doesn’t help my peripheral vision as I navigate and the sharp residual pain behind my knee felt with every shift shouldn’t help my mood.

 

The view is as inspiring as the condition of the road.  A series of decaying brick buildings line both sides of the interstate in various states of repair along with deserted rail yards and grey concrete BART tracks.  These are vistas that would be common heading south into New Jersey from Manhattan, not here in precious Northern California.  It is a long way from the Golden Gate Bridge and those bright blue vistas of the Pacific Ocean. There are no redwoods or open space to be seen.

 

That is just where I found myself on a brisk cloudy Tuesday morning driving to work once again. Smiling and excited just to be there. I didn’t care how it looked or who was on the road. I was happy as a fucking clam. Which made me wonder, does a clam feel happiness?

 

Anyway the point is this:  All stories come to an end and it was time for this one to do the same. I knew this phase of my life was over as soon as we reached an agreement to start working at the coffee company the week before.  My personal odyssey of manful meditations and mental voyages came to a halt right then.  Just as light bulbs burn out, taut muscles decay, pert breasts and muscular pecs sag southwards as gravity pulls them down, everything ends.  Period.  Moments pass like sand in our personal hourglass until they drain out.  If we are lucky, we get to turn the timepiece over again and start anew.  I got that chance.

 

Change was here. Now. It started today.  I was working again. I was sure that my need for daily manful mediations would fall away gently like a scab that was ready to go and hopefully not one that was picked off too early leaving a scar.  It was all hard to believe but it was over.

 

The manful meditation path I walked over the past 18 months was one of the epic journeys that stitched together form the fabric of my life.  This chapter took much longer than I ever imagined or expected.  All of those days at home that dragged on forever.  So much emptiness to overcome and so little guidance on how to do so.  So many daily challenges and so very few answers.

 

It was a harder and longer trail than any I had climbed before. I was out of energy but not from physical exertion. I had no inner strength left, exhausted by a 10-year stint running a dysfunctional business.  Suffocated by time spent caring for others who couldn’t care for themselves and none left to grow in.

 

Our busy lives leave no time in which to gain perspective.  No time to enjoy the view, much less look at it, from an onrushing express train.  We travel in a blind temporal subway, a tunnel, safe in a concrete tube fine as long as everything works perfectly but not knowing where the train is going with no stops to get off, no cord to pull.  Then I found an emergency stop and the ride ended. Suddenly there was no structure to hide in. No work problems to distract, no one to motivate me. Nowhere to go. Nothing to do.  No emails.  No phone calls. It was totally and utterly incomprehensible.

 

This was a long and often confusing road. The path kept climbing and twisting.  Each turn became sharper as life came back into focus through small victories and major defeats.  Each step more steep and difficult to climb as it revealed new insights.  Each truth less false as it revealed itself slowly over time.

 

Before the summit of change, there are a series of vast plateaus.  When you think that you have reached enlightenment or employment, when you finally walk onto that plain you have been looking at as you climbed upward, it is not there. Instead, there is another steep hill that you did not see. Another climb that you did not anticipate.  There is no choice but to keep going up.  And up.  And then up again.

 

The journey revealed much in my character and opened doors that will not close.  It changed me forever.

 

My love of life increased exponentially, in fact, it became painfully acute. The power of my emotions now overwhelms me.  I find myself crying at sappy scenes in movies where before I had always held back.  Tears flow freely down from the corners of my eyes whenever there is emotional impact, usually during the revelation of a great truth or an act of real kindness.

 

I became a kinder person without sacrificing morals or fortitude.  If anything I became stronger.  Kindness was completely new to me.  I do not recall being taught about kindness growing up. Perhaps I rejected it during the pressure cooker atmosphere of my youth when it was seen as a crack in your defenses that would be immediately exploited by those around you.  Now I live it day-to-day and actually enjoy it.

 

I found a deep inner reserve of strength that I did not know I had. Forced by sheer will alone to climb out of bed on the days when I didn’t want to.  Apply for jobs that I wouldn’t get or want.  Walk long and hard when I would rather have quit.  Made to wander before I emerged from a mental desert.

 

I gained a sense of real spirituality. There is no time for spiritual growth in the life of a Jewish adult male. This was the first time I ever felt anything like this.  Organized religion never offered these kinds of teachings, lost instead in equal parts dogma and ritual.  Now I can’t say that I am a practicing anything these days. I can say that the teachings of Buddhist philosophy resonated with me in a way that my religion never did.  They sunk in right away, permeated my soul and are part of me.

 

I learned to accept and then embrace a good life.  Not what is publicly considered to be a great life, but a really good one. Realized that I don’t have to have the power of Fela or a 180 IQ or a bigger house, car or bank account to achieve happiness.  The sound of my saxophone became that of the sweet notes of Paul Desmond and Stan Getz, away from the overblown power of Julius Hemphill, Anthony Braxton and Coltrane in his later years.  I understood for the first time that great people suffer and often don’t live happy lives.

 

I allowed myself to become vulnerable, something that is both dangerous and exhilarating.

 

I slowed down. By doing so I learned to appreciate simple moments of pleasure that would have passed me by.  Here is one I can’t forget.  A tale of how the lion’s roar of the downshift beats deep in the heart of even the youngest manful man.

A few weeks ago I was waiting for a red light in my neighborhood.  A perfect day to drive that bright red convertible. The car may be underpowered, but it features the classic pinafarina studio sports car nose, shining chrome grill and recessed headlights that say simply sports car.   A very young manful man (probably no more than 8 years old) was crossing with his mother and his younger brother. I waited for them to go by. As he passed in front of the long red hood of the Alfa he looked at it a manner that is usually reserved for the subject of another well known group of manful meditations, women.  I mean he checked it out long, lustful and hard.  Just when he was about to pass by the front of the car, he looked up right at me and said, “Wow Mister that is a really cool car”.

 

I smiled at him and replied, “Thanks. I think it is too.  I hope that when you get older, and if you work at it, you will get the car that you want.”

 

He smiled back. Then he walked away with his towel draped over his shoulder and took his mom’s hand. It made my day. In years past I would have been impatiently waiting for him to get out of the way. I would never have noticed him.

 

I found myself uttering words that I never had before.  One particular five letter word appeared over and over in conversation with friends and family.  That word was happy.  That was new territory in my life.

 

I felt centered.  Calmer.  Stronger.

 

At the same time I lost all patience with those who are close minded, angry and do not listen to anyone or anything except themselves. I discovered that the freedom to walk away from an asshole and not to engage is true liberation. I can’t take them anymore. It hurts to just to listen to their voices.

 

When I look back on the past year and a half it seems like a blur.  I have thought about what happened, maybe too often, trying to gain a better understanding of who I was and who I became.  Some of the moments feel silly or wasted but there is little that I would, or could, have done differently.

 

I don’t know if manful meditation was the cause of these changes.  I do know that they wouldn’t have happened without it.

 

Most of all, I am relieved that the pain inside of me has subsided. I remain aware that it can return at any moment. I worry that fear and resentment will regain an upper hand and wrestle me back down. My anxieties will always be there hanging out behind the scenes waiting for an opening, be it the returning stress of work, the oblivious nature of those around me or too much vino tinto rojo.   They lurk in the background waiting to see if that skeleton key still turns my emotional tumblers, waiting to stroll back into my life like a pimp hooking back up with a whore he has known for years.  A grizzled veteran dealer approaching an old recovering customer who says, “yes man I have what you want…”. It is a fact, my anxieties may be gone for the moment, but they will be back one day and MM will be there to help me to work through them.

 

Above all I hope that I learned how to become a better man. I wonder, when did men decide they were no longer gentlemen? When did they take the gentle part out of the discussion? And why?  When did we decide that it was only important to win with complete disregard to the pain of the other side and the larger question of how you got there?  When did just win at all costs become an acceptable result? Well we men made that decision.  And by doing so we destabilized ourselves. Now when we suffer a loss, which is inevitable, we have no emotional base or historical reference to work from.  Our personal lives are not comparable to great sports franchises like the Yankees or the Lakers.  We don’t lead the lives of LeBron or Kobe or any of these images who are repeatedly shoved into our faces as reference points.  Modern men are not ready or prepared for change or loss just as I wasn’t.  In fact, we are ill prepared, having nothing to fall back on short of trying to win again and no win ever being quite enough.  No one says “just lose baby.”  There is too much black and white, win and loss, and not enough understanding of just how grey it is.

 

It was a time I will never live again. I learned to stretch my mind and my body.  Learned not to fear fear, but to embrace it. To understand that obstacles are fears, nothing more.  Learned to stop daydreaming about life while driving and watch out for that fucking bitch in the white BMW convertible that was about to cut me off and hit the brakes just as she did.  Who did she think she was?

 

Guess the old Zen spirit hasn’t subjugated my LA driving instincts.

 

So there I was, awake again and driving past Hagenberger Road with the top down spring air rushing through the car and warming my soul. Riding to work on a day where the temperature broke 60 for the first time in 3 months.  Even if was only 62 degrees out today it felt warm to me.

 

This was not a typical job either. I was on my way to work in sales for a company that had no marketing materials.  It had no marketing budget either, in theory or reality. No historical data to rely upon.  No computer, I had to bring my own. There was dust coating the desk and half the lights were burnt out in my office. Expired samples and paperwork from the last lost soul that inhabited it littered the room. To make things even better I wasn’t getting paid and didn’t expect to for some time until things got better and sales picked up.

 

In short, it was a perfect opportunity.

 

I drove south. The man-Buddha inside spoke to me one more time as I turned off the freeway and merged onto Marina Boulevard, the exit for work.   I swear that this time I heard a distinct Yiddish accent in his voice as he did, eerily close to that of my father.

 

“Perfect?”(pronounced poifecht), he said to me his voice rising in tone and authority.  “You call this perfect Mr. Big Shot?  Who are you kidding? Now, if the Giants would win the World Series, now that would be perfect.  But this?”

 

I had to laugh.  I mean, who the fuck was HE kidding?  Our World Series dreams ended in 2002 in Anaheim, killed by a rally monkey, dead pitching arms and coaching hubris. A world series win? This would never happen in my lifetime.  Maybe years from now I would watch the Giants play and win a game 7 in heaven. But I would never see it here on earth and with about the same odds of happening as me seeing heaven.

 

The final recipe.   A roast chicken to die for.

 

The technique for making a great roast chicken relies on searing and braising, like so many good stews and chilies.  You need:

 

A good size chicken, 5 pounds plus.

6 carrots.

1 pound mushrooms.

2 lemons.

 

Olive Oil.

Salt, pepper, garlic rosemary, paprika.

A roasting pan with a lid or one you can seal with aluminum foil.

 

Wash the chicken and let it dry.  Rub it with the olive oil, salt, pepper and paprika.  Cut the lemons in quarters and stuff it in the cavity along with the rosemary while you heat the oven to 475.

 

Start with the breast up for 5 to 8 minutes until it browns, no cover.  Bring out the pan and turn the chicken over. Return it to the oven until the other side browns, another 5 to 8 minutes. Lower the heat to 350, add the carrots and cover the pan.  Cook for 1 hour.  Lower the heat to 275, add the mushrooms. Cover again and cook for another 1 hour.  The wing should wiggle freely. If it doesn’t cook in 15 minute increments until it does.  Turn the heat back up to 475 and return uncovered until brown to your desires.  Remove, let sit for 5 minutes.  Carve and serve with lots of sauce and twice baked potatoes.

 

Songs for my funeral.

 

While this is far from an epitaph, I have often thought about what songs I would like played at my funeral.  So here they are.  There only three and if you are there, make sure they get played.  While they are playing please listen.  That is all I ask.

 

Kind of Blue.  Miles Davis.  Words fall short.

Ry Cooder.  Secret Love from Mambo Sinuendo.  A man.  A guitar. Perfection.

Just A Man. Los Lobos. Sums it all up for me.

 

If someone wants another tune play Waltz for Debby by Bill Evans.  Shouldn’t be a dry eye in the house after that.

 

-Some words of thanks.

 

First to my family. She who is Florence. She is there when I need her and is the love of my life.

 

To our two exceptional kidults, Olivia and Mark.  I would not have made it through this adventure without your humor, your power and your passion for living.

 

To my parents, Melanie and Harry, wherever you are for making me smart in every sense of the word.

 

My brothers in arms Mark, Fred, Mitchell, Michael and Ron.  Better than real brothers.

 

My faithful walking buddy, bigfoot white dog Kelly, the walking machine.

 

My friends.

 

My network.  Yes, it is important.  We help each other after all.

 

And to everyone who listened to me during this journey and anyone who ever read these posts.

 

I thank you all.

 

Fin-

April 19, 2010.

 

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Chapter 51. The ManMed Marathon Begins.

Chapter 51.

The Manful Marathon Begins.

The manful meditation marathon began promptly at 9 am the next morning following a ‘power’ breakfast of steel-cut oatmeal topped with blueberries and a double espresso. I was primed to start the process. Training time was over.  This was going to be the big time manmed session to remember.  The launch of the next phase of my life and a celebration of the end of this one.

I was psyched.  Totally.

The days that followed were a blur of thoughts and visions.  Some days I sat for over 4 hours straight, breaking for lunch and then back onto the purple cushun’ for the afternoon.  Other times I passed out cold during a deep meditation, waking up to find big foot white dog sleeping contentedly along side of me.  One afternoon I just got bored and quit when my ass got too sore. By the time Monday evening rolled around, the floor of the mancave was littered with coffee cups, clif bar wrappers and dirty plates that I hadn’t bothered to remove.  I could see the remnants of huevos rancheros and chicken pesto paninis when I finally cleaned up and looked back on the longest sequence of meditation exercises that I had, and likely would, ever engage in.

I had resolved to begin this mental workout Thursday morning with an easy exercise. A warm up for the head to help me stretch the mind.  I didn’t want to analyze my life in too much detail, at least not yet. I wanted to celebrate it instead. But even though my goal was to lighten up you can’t always control what comes into the meditation process.  I had to reject the first subjects that came forward that day out of hand as too complicated and exhausting.  They included such easy happy thoughts about death, anger, violence and failure.  Now any one of those topics would have kept me busy through the weekend, set a difficult tone and exhausted me before I could finish what I had set out to accomplish.   These final meditations had to be fun.  The serious stuff could wait until the end.

As I took control and began to relax I saw what looked like white clouds floating in the inner distance.  They were beautiful ivory snowy peaks soft inviting and warm.  Warm?  Just where was this going?  I looked harder within and realized that they weren’t clouds, not at all. They were giant puffs of shaving cream.  Yes, my first meditation of the day took me inside of a wholly unremarkable yet core man moment where we find in comfort of a really good shave.  What a simple elemental pleasure.  Started with a thick coating of warm lather that I massaged into my face slowly and carefully until an even layer was done.  Saw the even slow strokes of a new razor, moving up and down my cheeks, my chin and then my neck but never across. Splashed hot water across my face and then felt the comforting steaming moisture of a steaming towel that opens the pores.  Ran my hands over the so smooth finish, no nicks or cuts here.  Enjoyed the brace of a biting citrusy after-shave.  Visualized the happy reception I would get from she who hates anything resembling a beard on my face.  Oh, what pleasure there is in woman’s hand as she slowly runs it over your cleanly shaven face looking you right in the eyes! Then I repeated the exercise again.  It was the male equivalent of a warm cookie or a roaring fire, a moment of total comfort and I stayed there in bliss until I was ready to move one.

The following moments surprised me with their radical  shift of direction.  They were primal but I did not resist.  I moved directly into a meditation that focused upon building a fire in the outdoors, a sense that lies deep in the recess of our male sub-being.  I am in a forest.  I see a large pile of wood.  It’s a drizzling very cold day but with a lot of faith, newspaper and kindling we are able to start it together.  I watch the fire as it begins to climb gradually catching hold against the odds.

There is a large fire pit, 10 of us are warming ourselves by the fire at it catches, avoiding the smoke that seems to follow us around the circle.  We talk for hours huddling to stay warm.  About what, I can’t say.  Who was there?  I don’t know them. Strangers brought together on a cold rainy day by the warmth of a fire.  I can’t make out their faces or remember what we said.  At a point the words become a hum that grows progressively louder as the meditation finishes.  We are chanting together under the trees, the rain does not matter.  We are swaying with the rhythm of the branches, we float in the fog like holy men.  The drone goes on and on and on until it slowly gently fades.

This is an easy place to break and I do for a quick lunch of leftover steak over arugula salad.  I am completely relaxed. I linger over each bite and chew carefully, something I never ever do.

After lunch I continue with a meditation on the garden where I stay for a long while and finish the first day.  The garden creates a set of meditations which bring me infinite pleasure.  I start with mowing the lawn. Now I don’t have a lawn anymore but I used to.  I hated it.  To my mind, the lawn is the garden equivalent of a dysfunctional high maintenance relationship.  The only thing I did like about my old lawn was mowing it and that is a pleasure that I won’t forget and focus on. I watch the circling push of the blades cutting across the grass, feel the worn grip of the handles and the resistance it creates as it pushes back against my hands.  Most of all I revel in the smell afterwards, the fresh cut grass smells like nothing else on earth.  In my meditation the lawn is green lush and full.  It’s never brown or full of pesticides. It doesn’t drink water insatiably.

Then without warning the meditation morphs into a moment years and years ago when the kidults were little.  I have gathered the fall leaves from our sycamore. They are brown now with a cedar like smell and crunching underfoot.  I see them both clearly, so small, so happy running up to the pile, launching themselves in and doing it again and again and again.  The meditation ends as they throw leaves at each other until they fall down laughing exhausted.  I watch.  It is as if they are hear with me in the room.

My journey shifts again and I am now cleaning the dog shit in the back yard.  Sure, I don’t want to focus on it too long, but getting rid of the crap feels so good and not having to smell it anymore is its own reward.   It is part of the cycle.  I honor it.

The garden afternoon climaxes in an explosion of plants, vegetables and flowers.  They come in no particular order.  There are the creamy white tulips waving in the first spring breeze, then the deep purple of an iris contrasted by it’s yellow center, now the smell of new blossoms on our Meyer lemon tree the taste of a parsley sprout as I nibble on it.  Explosions of cherry tomatoes bursting with natural sweetness in the height of what little summer we get, the feeling of warm wet compost between my fingers just watching the earthworms undulate.  The rich green color of mache lettuce, the taste of a just picked nectarine, the never ending march of the parsley plants intent on conquering all.

But no release is complete without the subtle sense of loss that follows and that is just what happens to this vision.  The garden starts to change, bright colors becoming grey, full stalks collapsing, green shoots turning brown in my own time lapse vision.  I see countless rows of dead hollow dark brown tomato plants bearing a solitary green fruit shivering in a winter breeze.  I examine the threadlike fingers of the fungus that lives beneath the soil, tear apart the overwhelming root systems that choke off growth everywhere, only to find more and more.  I smell the deep must of decay. Now there are armies of aphids sucking the life out of my onions, leeks and chives and snails eating leaf after leaf after leaf leaving only the naked stems behind.

Then I think hey, maybe it is time to stop for the day.  As I do I am left with one thought, why does a garden fail?  And then I wonder, how do you define failure in a garden.  There is no answer.

Dinner that night is simple, a large green salad with tuna, black beans jack cheese and a lime cilantro dressing.  I don’t have much to say and I am asleep by 8:30, passed out and content.  I sleep soundly barely saying good night to she who is almost always asleep before I am home late from a board meeting.

Friday starts on time and further on point.  I begin with a meditation on another core value of mandom.  Our desire to fix things. Our compelling need to make them tick.  An unrelenting passion to make things work right.  I visualize a bicycle tire that is full and balanced, a door that swings open and true and drawer that opens and closes flush. I follow with a meditation on my favorite tools commencing with a screwdriver that I found in my father’s garage while cleaning it out after he passed so so long ago.  He modified his 8-inch long screwdriver by notching the end so it would work with either regular or Phillips screws.  It is a symbol of his mechanical prowess, something I never understood when I was young.  A parade of tools follows, tiny Phillips screwdrivers for tight places, a perfectly balanced hammer, sharp saws, rubber mallets, awls, wire cutters, socket wrenches and that wonder of wonders, the crescent wrench.

As the garage fades I come to the living room and the fixing continues.  I am now working three different remote controls, trying to find the right buttons and to get the DVD to run. I switch a remote to the HDMI 2 input and finally there is the picture. And I wonder, why do we need so many inputs? I see them now, components, video, audio, optical, left right, empty receptacles waiting only to be plugged in.  They taunt me in their silent confusion.

Feeling strong, I am ready to tackle a real challenge, one that has slain the confidence of many a greater soul than mine:  Building an IKEA dresser.  Anyone who has ever started at the climb up this mountain knows what I am talking about.  You unload the box and here they are, the bizarre tools of this strange craft, wooden pegs, oddly shaped mutations of screwdrivers and allen wrenches, similar but subtly different sets of bolts and screws designed to confuse the unfortunate and uninitiated.  You sort them you pile them and then, feeling strong now, you confront the gate-keeper of this dark world, the building instructions.  Wordless pictorials to guide you through a Tolkein like trek led by mute ghostlike cartoon figures with no faces.  What appear to be simple drawings that turn out more complex than the old testament.

The battles that follow are epic, the pieces you try to fit with the knowledge that they are wrong and will have to be rebuilt, the fear as a key wooden component begins to shatter.  Yet you push on until it is done, hands bleeding fingers bruised hoping against hope that when you finish everything fits.  I emerge from this meditation chaste, clean, pure.

I am totally into this now, the cushun has become part of me, the mediations flow one to the other.  I have to say I have no idea how I get to the next bus stop on this ride but there I am. I find myself thinking about bodily functions.  They create a set of meditations unrivaled in their smell, touch and effect.

I start by imaging the wondrous pleasure of scratching my balls.  A sensation so satisfying as an imaginary itch disappears.  The subtle adjustments afterwards, a sense of newly found space and balance that follows.  Then my thoughts move into a visit to the throne, yes, putting on the crown and taking a major dump.  There is a good magazine article to enjoy along with it and I sit.  It is so satisfying to feel my system in such harmony and wonderfully empty afterwards.

Things start to move quickly now.  I feel the divine ecstasy of a good belch after a really good meal.  Deep, primal, liberating and sometimes painfully dangerous after spicy food. I find the release of blowing your nose when badly congested.  Not a little effort either, a powerful blow where you put your soul into it and feel the pressure change inside of your ears. Now I breathe deeply without restriction filling my lungs and releasing and filling them again.  My breaths are deep.  Full.  Alive. I have cleared the  clotting phlegm from my chest and I am free.

Then there is a successful flossing followed with a good bracing, minty and not to sweet mouthwash.  I run my tongue around newly clean smooth teeth.  And again.  And again.  It’s ecstasy.

I come out of the journey and open my eyes.  I look at the clock and am amazed, it is 4 in the afternoon.  Strange. I have been meditating all day yet I am not hungry.  There is time for a quick walk then a simple meal, a vegetable stir fry over brown rice.  I settle into the couch. There is a ball game.  The Giants look like shit, Zito gets blasted by the Dodgers cadre of young hitters, another long miserable season looms of watching Manny pound our pitching staff.  I barely notice that she comes home late from Yoga and she doesn’t seem to mind asking only if there is something to eat.

It’s fine.  I’m in no mood to talk.  The dog is snoring but I don’t notice it.  I’m asleep by 9.

Chicken Panini Sandwiches.

1 baguette

Left over chicken.  If none, deli slices will do.

2 slices provolone.

5 Sun dried tomatoes.

Pesto

Mustard.

Warm your panini machine or heat a pan. If using a pan add a little oil.

Cut a piece of the baguette that reflects how hungry you are.  Then cut it in half.  Layer the chicken, provolone, sun dried tomatoes and pesto.

Press and grill or if in the pan, heat over medium heat until brown using a heavy object to push the panini down.

I wanted to list a bunch of great sports songs, but alas, there are none that come to mind after We Will Rock You by Queen and the theme from Rocky.  By the time that Na Na Na, Na Na Na, Hey Hey Goodbye comes in, I am done.

Chapter 50. Run Motherf….er. Run.

Chapter 50.

Run Motherfucker. Run.

‘They call the wind Mariah’.

The only way to run a marathon without dying is to train for it.  Then, when you think that you are ready, you train some more until running distance becomes second nature.  Well, I had been training long and hard for my manful mediation marathon and was more than ready for a mental run to far side.  A quick lunch burrito being gone and the dishes put away, big foot white dog would have to wait; there would be no walk today. Meditation was calling. I headed back to the mancave, sat down on the cushun’ and closed my eyes once again psyched to hit the ground running.

The task at hand that afternoon was to uncover a treasure trove of new manful subjects to meditate about so I could get them out of the way before starting to work again next week.  I was down to my last days at home and I knew that I was running out of time to do so. I could feel inside that things would soon be different, for the better I hoped, but different no matter what.  It was time to tie up some loose ends and seek some closure beforehand.

Instead, I plunged into the cool waters of a very calm and relaxed state of peace that seemed to last forever even though only a short time passed, no more than 20 minutes.  It was a classic meditation, the kind I couldn’t have dreamed in the past (what me sit still?).  When it was over I didn’t feel peaceful, I felt frustrated. I had failed. Where were those manful subjects that I wanted to cover in the now anticipated mediation marathon?  That list of great man stuff I wanted to deal with so I could move back into to a working man’s life without feeling guilty about what I hadn’t been able to accomplish while hanging out at home.

So I sat there. Waited some more.  Still nothing came.  Was this some kind of final cosmic joke?  A message on the inner machine that there was nothing left to meditate about, so why not just get on with life and move on.  Was that all there was?  Was MM over?

I sat up straight.  This just couldn’t be. There had to be more ground to cover.  The show couldn’t end here.  So I sat there some more and waited for any kind of inspiration to show up.  As I waited none came.  I began to wonder about the whole mishegas.  For starts, why had I even chosen to meditate in the first place?  I was never exposed to anything resembling Eastern thought growing up, except for that one group of guys in high school who heard you could chant for a new car (they didn’t get one) and the saffron robed Krishna’s dancing dancing down the streets.  I could have cared less about Eastern thoughts, having enough trouble dealing with Jewish ones.

Where had this desire come from? How did this Eastern stuff seep into my life?  Did it begin the first time I heard Coltrane blow India or Africa or a Love Supreme?  When I saw John McLaughlin and Carlos Santana take the stage filled with candles at the Kabuki, all dressed in white. So blissed out and blessed out by Sri Chimnoy as they wailed on their electric guitars. Listening to Miles play Bitches Brew live at the Hollywood Bowl or the opening chords of that weird Beatles song on Revolver? The first smell of jasmine incense?  The first sound of the tabla drum?  And when did the trance become real, that unusual rhythmic beat that had beckoned me for long, how did it become an integral part of my life?

No doubt I became really curious about meditation after witnessing first-hand what it did to see who does not relax except when she is asleep and maybe she isn’t relaxing then either.  I had never seen her calm (remember that quiet is not calm) in the first 15 years of our marriage until she began meditating.  It evoked a huge change in her. There she would sit in our bedroom, headphones on blissed out and so happy when she finished. It looked great.

What held me back from embracing it years ago? Simple.  The complete lack of male energy in her meditation process. By no means is male energy a prerequisite for me to learn a skill. I have no trouble sewing a button on my coat (it needs fixing and waiting for help is hopeless and hapless).  I love gardening, cooking and other allegedly feminine activities.  But the whole meditation scene around her was dominated by pastel colors, roses that contained your inner fears, burnt sage and steeped deeply in the zeitgeist of women’s issues and feminist philosophy.  Let me be clear, I am not criticizing their style.  It just had no appeal to me and it wouldn’t to any regular guy.    And to be perfectly honest, as a result I didn’t trust it.  It was just too foreign to embrace.

Only when a good dose of masculine energy seeped into my quest did these Eastern concepts gain traction in my soul.  I still have trouble believing that a series of events that began as a ruse on my wife to get her off of my back as I sat stuck on my couch unable to overcome the inertia of living without a career set me careening down this road less traveled. That out of nowhere I heard an inner man Buddha speak to me and a journey began that continues to this day down this out of the ordinary path that I came to call manful meditation.

It wasn’t easy to find help or guidance.  There certainly was no map to follow for guys like me. I suffered through poor teachers and bad instructors. When that failed, I figured that there might be some reference on the internet or something to meditating with a male emphasis.  Nothing.  I was on my own and lucky that I found the way over time. I thank the stars for that.

There were other more personal reasons why it was hard. Early on it became clear that while I yearned for a powerful inner peace within, I knew damn well that I couldn’t calm myself down using traditional methods.  I needed help and not just the usual prescription. I needed guidance with male view that spoke to me.

I searched for books about Eastern thought by male authors who might make sense.  They were wonderful writers but completely neutral in tone, virtually asexual in nature and some downright creepy, replacing the power of the rose with the shape of a pine needle.  For a man who grew up with Vin Scully and Chick Hearn as his primary motivators, their mellow approach did not anything to help me overcome the long-standing persistence of my hyperactive Jewish/western mind. Nor were their instructions to practice and practice until it came good enough either. I stood on the other side of this dance floor afraid to step across just looking and looking waiting for an opening that was already there.

Eventually the mediations began to take hold.  I’m the kind of guy that has trouble reading a manual about how to work something and would rather poke at until it does.  Meditation was no different. I just kept at it until it worked. I learned over that first year that the problem with meditation for me and maybe for many others it that it is passive and we aren’t.  As I began to practice Manful meditation regularly, I replaced the traditional emphasis of meditation on emptying your mind with a focused and controlled set of thoughts that were appealing.  It helped me concentrate to pick a specific subject and then to focus on it.  That, in turn, made it easier for me to relax which helped my mind to calm down and over time it trained me to do so easily.  Oh, and it was fun.  That’s right, fun.

My manful meditations started with simple easy subjects that made me happy and held my attention.  Easy things to focus on. Stuff that reflects the glue that binds us, the male html code that builds manfullness.  Good healthy things like beer, baseball, hamburgers and wine.  Hey, I didn’t know what I was doing.  I was just thinking about what seemed to come naturally and easily.

Then over time as my power of concentration increased, the mediations grew in complexity.  As my studies intensified and fall blended into early winter something else happened that was unexpected.  I calmed down and I believe that as a direct result, she who is my wife loved me more than before. I meditated about manful subjects that I could understand and love and focus upon with an open heart and lots of joy. I could spend hours lost in manly bliss and equally powerful marital harmony.  No wonder I was attracted to it.

With equal parts concentration and confidence, I covered some serious issues in my life via mediations. Taught myself to forgive, never my strong suit.  Then forgave my parents.  Learned how not to be as overwhelmed by the complexities of living with someone as complex as someone who would even think of living with me. Learned to embrace the pains and struggles and to let go of what I cannot control. Learned the new mantras that guide me now, how often do I hear the voice within that steers me away from anger, resentment and corrosive thought towards joy, giving and strength.

As I continued down the path of manful meditation I discovered something else. I believe that I learned what Manfullness really is.  A deep understanding of Manfullness that is grounded in the belief that the world that we know as men is truly a holy place.  That every waking moment that is spent in a manful state of harmony can be a blessed one.  A perfectly balanced state of mind and body, something to be revered and celebrated as healthy happy males.*

(* a brief side note: As women have staked out their roles as equals in his world, the concept of manfullness has taken quite a beating in the past 20 years.  And let’s face it; many of our brothers have done a shit job by polluting manfullness with stupidity and abuse.  Do not fall into the trap of blaming women for this. Our goal is to honor being a man by living a better life and that honor extends to respecting those around you.  And a note to those self-righteous women who continue to condemn the mass of men for the sins of those who came before us, do not throw stones in the bedroom when you live.  It pisses us off and makes us want to leave.)

I had embraced the gentle part of the word gentleman, something so many men have forgotten.  It felt good.

Manful Meditation created an additional benefit that I grasped as another incidental pleasure of the practice. A sweet real treat, a sort of mental biscuit waiting for me at the end the road. Here is one of the most important and liberating lessons of the practice of manful meditation.

No woman, including she would not want to be called ‘my woman’, will ever challenge time spent in a manful meditation practice if you repeat the blessed chant of the meditating manful man to her:

“Honey, I need a few more minutes, I am in here meditating.”

Oh, and toss this one in if you really want to be left alone.  ‘I am really into it.”

Or this one:  “It’s a really tough one.”

She will embrace you.  I guarantee it.

The first time that these words came spilling off my lips they worked so well that I laughed out loud, reveling it their power, it was that good. I used it on her after watching a brutal 49er loss one Sunday afternoon (it was the early game). Not wanting to see a soul afterwards, I retired to the mancave where I went to console myself with several cold ones, a corned beef sandwich and some SCTV videos.  Sometime during the afternoon she knocked on the door and asked how I was doing.  I turned down the volume and told her I was meditating. After my reply she walked away from that door saying not to worry and talk to her as soon as I was ready.  When I emerged later that afternoon she could not have been more sympathetic (and affectionate too!). Do you really think she cared about how pitifully the secondary handled itself that afternoon (please just turn the fuck around and look at the ball) or that she would have reacted as well if she found me on the couch in the living room in the same scenario?

Over the course of my growing meditation practice, I imagined how this teaching could help my brothers in arms out there.  Think about this. Repeat that line about needing time to meditate to yourself a few times and imagine how that would play with your partner.  Go on, imagine the scene.  She has just walked into the room.  You are sitting up on the couch.  You might be thinking about how your favorite ball club gave it up last night in the 9th inning and worse yet, how much money you lost on the game.  You hear her walk in.  Now close your eyes quick. What do you tell her when you look up?  You tell her that you are meditating.  That’s right.  Mediating.  You are bettering yourself.  The result? You are golden.  She loves you. She walks away feeling whole.  The entire scene has changed. Done a 180. But the truth? You could have been falling asleep.  You probably were asleep.  You might have been thinking about a blessed cold one or a slice of pizza. Your mind could be anywhere.  Period.  You could be thinking about anything, anything at all.  You can and it will work.  But I digress.

Manful Mediation taught me lessons that I will always treasure. It brought me joy where there was pain, slack where there was tension.  It acts as the coder pins of a balanced manful experience, the silicon lube that frees the internal rusty mental hinges. Teachings as clear as the power of a strike at the bowling alley.   A journey with the integrity of Sean Connery and the consistency of Tom Brady.

I had found my roadmap, a manual, a guidebook to living life fully and completely in the moment. Free from boundaries and loved by those around you.

How is this even possible?  I just relaxed, released and practiced grasshopper. And please don’t think too much about how Carradine died. Wow that was weird.

As was the case on so many afternoons I started to think about dinner.  Maybe Rack of lamb.  Real Mashed potatoes.  Cumin scented  Carrots.  A dry white for her and a big red for me.  Suddenly I felt excessive, it was only Thursday.  But wasn’t there a rack still in the freezer just waiting to be defrosted?  Time to thaw.  Time to thaw.

Rack of Lamb.  Is there an easier way to show off?  I don’t think so.

Ingredients.

1 Rack of Lamb, about 8 to 10 little chops for 2 persons.

Salt, Pepper, Olive Oil.

Option 1.  Mustard, Bread Crumbs.

Heat your oven to 450.

Put a flat baking sheet in the oven as it heats.

While waiting, toss the rack with salt, pepper and a small amount of olive oil.          If cooking option 1, combine all other ingredients and coat the rack.

When oven reaches cooking temperature, remove the baking sheet.  Place rack fat side down.  Bake for 7 minutes.  Should be brown when you turn over. Bake 7 more minutes. Lamb should be brown but still pink in the middle of the chop.

Real Mashed Potatoes.

For small portion.  3 russet and 3 Yukon potatoes.

Milk/Half and Half.

Parsley.

Salt.

Butter.

Boil the potatoes in salted water.  Cool.  Peel.

Put the potatoes in a large bowl.  If lazy use a hand masher, if pure, a ricer.   Pour in ½ cup of milk or half and half depending upon health vs. pleasure concerns.  Add butter.  Mash.  Add salt to taste.  Add liquid until the texture looks right, you know what they should look like. Chop parley and sprinkle on top.  Place a pat of butter in the middle and let it melt.

Early meditation music before I knew what it was.

John Coltrane, India, Africa and/or A Love Supreme.

Ravi Shankar

The Beatles, Within and Without You, Revolver.

The Kinks, See My Friends, Kinkdom.

Miles Davis, Shhh/Peaceful, In A Silent Way.

Chapter 48. Follow That Bouncing Ball.

 

 

Chapter 48

Follow That Bouncing Ball.

 

On Monday morning I felt much better.  Yes my left eye looked like she had finally lost patience with the bad jokes and sarcastic jibes she puts up with daily and let me have one as richly deserved.  Yes I still hadn’t worked up the guts to look at my poor nose which remained carefully embalmed under layers of gauze and pressure Band-Aids, checking in at an ungodly 3 times its normal size.  Yes I still couldn’t breathe.  But all of that didn’t matter because today the tide had turned.  The pains were gone and I could see that for the first time the swelling wasn’t getting worse.

There were other reasons why I felt this way. On this particular Monday I knew that this week would be different because I was going to back to work.  Soon.  I could feel it.  My sense of confidence about this was deep, not set in unfounded fantasies about what I might be doing at a new job as I had done too many times before.  I could feel change around the corner.  I just had to let it come on in and it would happen.

 

I called John at the coffee company that morning to confirm our Wednesday appointment.  I warned him not to be shocked by my appearance when I walked in the door and explained my recent trip under the knife.  It hardly seemed to matter to him and he wished me well as he hung up.  Although impersonal there was nothing wrong with his response. After all, this was business and there was little else to chat about.

 

With spring in the air and physical recovery on the horizon I felt strong and energized.  With little to do and change coming, I did what any good Jewish man would do at that moment. I opened all of the upstairs windows and then I cleaned.  And cleaned.  And then cleaned some more.  I plotted a blitz attack on my office, clearing piles of bills and don’t forget to do’s, opening drawers that had been shut for months with the Clash and the Who Live At Leeds cranked up so loud that white dog fled the room after barking at the speakers.  I threw away piles of magazines that were more than 2 years old god knows why I kept them.   By the end of the afternoon I had filled several plastic trash bags and spent some quality time with our shredder, stopping short of attacking the closet and settling for a late afternoon margarita instead, my first drink since surgery.  Let me say right here that it felt fantastic.

 

Where a day like this would have bothered me in months passed, now it was easy and light.  The rest of the day ended with burgers on the grill (never too cold to crank it up), most of a bottle of Tempranillo (how can anyone make decent red wine that cheap?) and a scintillating Monday night match up between the Jets and the Titans.  I barely noticed that she came home early and then left almost immediately for meditation.

 

The next day, after a breakfast of steel cut oats, bananas and almonds washed down with a cup of oh so sweet medium roasted Timor, I set out for the mancave. I anticipated a meditation in preparation for my job interview.  I wanted to clear my head of the strange energies that had accumulated over the past 18 months of underemployment.  I was convinced that if I could nail down what this unanticipated period of under-activity had meant to me I could start a new chapter of life much more easily.

 

Well not exactly. When I started in on my ritual manful meditation nothing of the sort happened.  My mind went empty as the blocking schemes of the 49’er offensive line and stayed there.  Instead of panic, my breathing was deep, calm and focused.  I thought of nothing and 20 minutes later I emerged refreshed and centered.  This, I think, was what meditation was supposed to be like, manful or not.

 

In a sense my inner thoughts were ahead of my conscious mind.  They let me know that there was nothing more to meditate about regarding what had happened over the past year and a half.  It was done, gone and over. I had to be let go, to disengage in order to move on.

 

And so I had.

 

After the meditation session ended I didn’t move. I sat peacefully cross legged on the cushun, eyes wide open staring out at the neighbors rooftop and the clear blue East Bay sky once again, noticing that the tree in her back yard had started to shoot forth green leaves as another cycle of life began, an appropriate symbol for what was finally happening to me.  Sitting there, having let go of time, I began to think about what the last 18 months had meant to me.

 

Lots and lots of thoughts emerged about what it all meant.

 

For the first time that I can recall it became OK to do less in my life.  I entered into a mental state that I never before experienced, a time of less.  A time where there were no great moments or accomplishments and eventually I became comfortable with that, not that it was easy or instinctive to do so.           This unstructured time was a kind of mental anti-inflammatory, a period of completely unexpected personal calm that emerged slowly and naturally over time.  As I embraced it, I experienced a profound sense of being in place and at peace with where I was in the cycle of my life. I gained an understanding of what I could do and, in the hardest part for me, a begrudging and then complete  acceptance of what I could not.

 

It was a time to walk the dog for the sake of the walk and not the expectation that she or I ‘needed’ the exercise.  To let dirt crumble between my fingers as I planted bulbs in the fall knowing that there would be tulips and iris in the spring to photograph.  Moments to watch the mozzarella cheese on the pizza bubble to brown perfection and not to burn it in the oven because I was trying to do to many things at once.  Time to rub the back of she who is so stressed she forgets how stressed she is and then rub it again to help her remember how good it feels.  Time to let go of myself my needs, my desires, and let the world come to me as it does not under micromanagement.  Time to be available to my kidults as they passed through the many paths of their own young lives as a mentor, friend and confidante and not have to hang up the phone because I was busy.

 

More importantly this was a time to slow down. How very very strange that felt at first.  It wasn’t that way now.  I had learned to drink time in and savor it.  Honoring that feeling, I sat and then sat some more, taking in the warmth of the afternoon sun lying on the carpet eyes closed when I felt a paw grab my leg and looked up at the crazed expression of a white dog who had come back upstairs and was now fully ready to play.  We did until, as is her nervous femaleish way, she got bored and walked downstairs.

 

What else to do in such a mellow mood then to cook?  The fridge was full of vegetables including several gargantuan organic leeks that I had picked up the weekend before at the farmer’s market. I submit that leeks are more delicate cousin of the onion. They don’t burn your eyes when you chop them and they give that je ne sais quoi to the traditional vegetable soup that I was thinking of.  A round sweetness that the onions, food warriors that they are, just can’t.  A vegetable soup that could warm the heart of any woman, including mine.

 

It was still cold outside that afternoon and the kitchen windows steamed quickly as I sautéed the leeks, celery and carrots along with lots of dill, parsley.  Soon the house smelled ridiculously homey and white dog scored lots of floor goodies as bits and pieces of vegetables found their way to the floor along with several carrot bites which she still had no idea how to catch no matter how soft I tossed them.  I felt that I was standing in some European/Americana moment, linking me back to those grandmothers who had come before us in the soup that cooked slow and long.

 

The soup worked as well on she who came home at about 7 as a dozen roses.  What a smile.

 

And then boom, our meeting on Wednesday showed up.  It was an extension of our first one, all business and no bullshit.  Then only negative was that I got lost again and showed up 10 minutes late, a personal peeve of mine when on the other side of the table.  The office looked no different, no busier but no worse and we spent the next hour talking about coffee, how to market their products by segment and how to restart their sales effort knowing just how brutally limited the marketing budget would be.

 

From the beginning it felt as if I had already been hired and for good reason.  I had been.  And why not?  There was no risk for either side.  He got a sales manager for virtually nothing and I got an office and plenty of upside.  All I had to give up was time and time was something I had a lot of.  As much as I had loved the time at home there had been too much as of late.  I was more than ready to get out.

 

As we closed the meeting and shook hands John asked what I thought about the opportunity.  I told him that I was excited about getting back into the bean business (true) and that I needed to talk it over with my wife (sort of, I mean you just can’t give it up that easy it looks you are too easy). With that I left and drove back to Berkeley.

 

Something was missing in our interaction and on the drive home listening to some vintage Tom Petty I thought about what that could be.  What was wrong, why did this feel so odd and empty? Try as I hard as I could I just couldn’t put my finger on it.  Eventually I realized why I couldn’t figure out what was missing.  Nothing was missing because there was nothing to miss.  The process had gone so smoothly that it was boring.  It was a business meeting with only one goal, to rebuild their business and thus my career by increasing sales.  Makes sense doesn’t it?  Everything else was in place and ready to roll.  Why worry? But I couldn’t help but wonder to myself, where was that missing tension? The waiting, the upset stomach that accompanied a job in play?  Where was that feeling?

 

MIA with my anxieties and my often dysfunctional career choices.

 

By the time I reached home any doubts about this decision made were completely toast.  Eliminating any leftover sense of bullshit bravado or ego, the choice was an easy one.  There were few healthy alternatives on the horizon.   There had been a couple of vague leads early in the year, some work maybe helping out so and so start up a new business all uncommitted. I knew that I spent way too much time writing food reviews and blogs that didn’t attract traffic or editing photos that I didn’t print.  I had killed enough minutes passing the time when the mediations weren’t working and the walks were dull.   There was no point waiting for imaginary opportunities that would never come.

 

That evening I set the table right, got out the silver candelabra and blue candles. Found the decent plates and good cutlery.  I started the evening with a champagne toast followed by a dinner of leftover vegetable soup and a roast chicken with vegetables (heavy on the roots) all cooked in the pan.  When I raised my glass and looked her in the eyes after we sat down I didn’t have to explain why we were celebrating.  She who often doesn’t know what was going on in my life knew loud and clear when it counted.  She didn’t even need to ask.  It all felt so good.

 

Vegetable soup a la maman.

 

Several large leeks.

4 carrots.

1 head celery.

1 bunch dill

1 bunch parsley

1 potato

2 cups chicken stock (recall the earlier discussion on this subject).

Pinch salt and pepper.

2 tbsp. Cooking oil.

 

Clean and chop vegetables small and keep separate.

In large cast iron pot, add oil until warm.

Start with leeks and the potato.  Then gradually add celery and carrots until wilted.  If you have vegetables like spinach or peppers, add them.

 

Add the stock put the lid on and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes.  Add the chopped parsley and dill and simmer for another 20 or until mush.  Puree with a blender stick or in a food processor.  If clumpy add water or milk to desired consistency.  If you want it more ‘rich’ add a ½ stick of butter before serving.

 

Songs for a vegetable soup:

 

Call Any Vegetable.  Frank Zappa.

Green Onions.  Booker T.

Know Your Onion.  The Shins.

Parsley Sage Rosemary & Thyme.  Simon & Garfunkel.

Salt Peanuts.  Dizzy Gillespie.

Cut the cake.  Average White Band.

Mack The Knife.  Frank “the Chairman” Sinatra.

 

Chapter 47. Pincushion.

Chapter 47

Pin Cushion.

Tuesday afternoon it rained.  Hard.   Looking out our front window, I saw that the car cover had blown off of the Alfa which had been leaking slowly and steadily to the point of worry and mildew and potentially rust that winter.  I needed to get a carton of organic free range free roaming stock that guaranteed the chicken went happily straight to bird heaven don’t worry don’t worry about it from the garage anyway.  After the rain finally stopped, I went outside to get the stock and take the car cover out of the rain gutter and towel off the interior of the Alfa.  I was wearing a pair of old slippers with soles worn smooth over may years and pajamas at 3 in the afternoon.  Bad idea.

After retrieving the happy happy chicken stock out of the garage, on leaving the back yard, I made a quick detour onto the side path that ran through the garden to put the lid back on the compost bin as the top had blown off several days ago.  Another bad idea.  This shouldn’t and wouldn’t have been a big deal if I had been wearing shoes with soles that grip or the paving stones weren’t shiny, wet and green moldy from a winter’s worth of rain.

I don’t fall often and with the yoga and meditation I had been doing for the past year, I believe, even if there is no empirical truth to back this up, that my sense of balance had improved greatly as a result.  Well, none of that mattered a bit at that moment.  This fall happened so fast there was no time to even attempt to balance myself.  One moment I was up taking my first step on the path and then next I was seamlessly down for the count.

As my right foot planted it immediately slid out and my left knee, now bent at a 45 degree angle, rammed into the top of the wooden planter box which bordered the side of the path as my right struck the paving stones.  The pain was immediate and real.  I had one thought, “this is going to hurt a lot more tomorrow.” Sitting on the wet ground and pulling up my pajama pants, I was relieved to see no blood.  There was a long red line that stretched across the knee cap where the collision had occurred.  Nice.

I limped over to the Alfa and finished the job before going back inside. The rest of the day was spent with the well-known post fall regimen of ice, ibuprofen, elevation and arnica.  I was happy to have already started the aforementioned lazy man’s chicken soup and it simmered quietly bringing good smells and vibes into the kitchen.  I ate dinner alone, knee iced, in front of the Daily Show.  Only big foot white dog was happy about any of this, it meant more couch time with company and that is where she sat curled up next to me snoring doing her best to take as much space as doggily possible.

She who seems to always be working late found me later in bed at 8:30, leg propped up, watching the Warriors struggle through Don Nelson led listless loss, eyes closed and fading quickly with the help of a massive mug of chamomile tea.  Not surprisingly she, exhausted from yet another 12 hour work day, did not notice the state of her husband, said a quick hello, gave me a routine peck on the cheek and went right to the bathroom to shower because she was cold.

She did ask in passing if there was dinner and I told her that there was soup waiting in the fridge.  A few minutes later she, swathed in flannel like a newborn, went downstairs and I sat there wondering, just what would it take to get her attention?  Severed limbs?  Piercing screams of pain?  Blood spouting from veins and arteries a la Python or Dan Akroyd’s famous Julia Child imitation?  Now I know that with all fairness and to her credit, there was not much to see except a man lying in a bed with his leg elevated. Maybe that was not as dramatic as I would have thought it to be.  Maybe not.

I decided not to bring up the fall and after complimenting the soup “Nice soup”, she gave a quick good night “Good night dear”, pulled the blankets completely over her head and went to sleep almost instantaneously as I watched, no make that stared at her, in a combination of shock and then not because the same thing had happened so many nights before.

I never got used to this side of she who is otherwise a good wife and neither have many of my friends who get the same treatment from their respective spouses.  For us, it all starts and ends with the attention to detail, or more importantly the lack hereof.  So much just seems to float by our wives and never reach their consciousness.  We don’t know whether to even bother to point these moments out anymore (usually they get pissed off when we do) and that is where I find myself these days, not even bothering, shrugging my shoulders and saying “whatever you want dear.”

The next morning went down the very same path as she who compliments those late night board meetings with very early parents meetings was out the door before I awoke.  I really didn’t know what to do with this behavior, couldn’t tell if she plain out forgot that today was surgery day or not.

After carefully showering the trip downstairs was slow, descending step by step, so as not to aggravate the now swollen knee.  There in the middle of the dining room table was a short note right to the point, “Call me when you come out of surgery and let me know if you are OK.”  And if I wasn’t?   Then what?  In the end run there was no need to dwell on it, that was the extent of the sympathy call and there would be no more.  It never was different and it wasn’t going to change now.   There was no time to deal with my feelings about her feelings, I had a date with a scalpel in the city in an hour and it was time to go. It was toast, coffee and limp out the door.

One hour later I found myself sitting in a tiny nondescript medical office on Sacramento Street with a group of fellow sun damaged voyagers.  They ranged from much older veterans of the cuts, burns and frozen tissue to people more my age. Most read and after they explained the routine, I did too.  Others compared surgeries and deformities like athletes going over game results. I can’t say whether I felt any emotions that morning, I knew why I was there and I just wanted to get on with it and kept within.

As the nurse explained it, the routine was simple. They would go in, remove the bad cells and measure a perimeter of healthy tissue around it.  Then they would lab test the healthy edges of the incision.  If it came out clean, they patched you up.  If it didn’t they went in again.  And if needed, in again until gone.

The removal portion of the story happened fast and just as during the biopsy, the pain was limited to the first few moments when the Novocaine shots went into my left nostril and then burned like hell.  After that I numbed up quickly, that strange swollen feeling spreading into my mouth and lips.  The nurses, pleasant and efficient, asked regularly if I was feeling OK.  I told them that my lips hadn’t felt this numb since the 1980’s.

Youngsters that they are, they didn’t get the joke.

The surgeon, a young, intelligent and totally professional woman, did the first cut quickly and I felt nothing whatsoever. She offered just enough information to keep me posted and set about her work like any other day.  As I sat there under the hot bright lights I wondered, did some part of me feel that pain?  Where does the pain go when you are numb?  Is your nose screaming as it gets sliced?

It was over in minutes and then there was only the waiting.  I was too uncomfortable to read so I sat listening to the inane conversations of the staff with the rest of the cut crew. I tried to make the time go by as quickly as possible by clearing my mind and that seemed to help until old reliable, my stomach took over and thoughts of lunch began.  Being a good San Francisco office crew they knew where to send me, a great Burmese restaurant on Clement that I had been meaning to try for years.

I felt pretty weird limping through the Richmond with the left side of my face fully bandaged like a deranged patriot wearing sweats.  Who knows what people would think had happened to me that morning.  I didn’t care. I wasn’t going to let anything stand in the way of a good meal.  I deliberately walked the 10 blocks to the restaurant with determination and of course missed it twice.  Once there, the host quickly found a seat tucked in a corner, merciful for me and their patrons.  Who would want to look at me over their festive lunch? The service was quick and a few minutes later, with my mouth still half numb, I guided the beautiful green vegetable curry in slowly and carefully.  Carrots, peas, potatoes, tofu, god it all tasted so damn good.  I determined that I needed a straw to drink the green tea that came with it.  I didn’t care how the tea went in, it both revitalized and refreshed.  There was solace and wonder in the complexity of the curry and peace in the warm comforting green tea.  I was ready for round 2.

When I returned to the office that afternoon results had come in from the lab.  They hadn’t got it all and would be going in again.  For the first time I felt uncertainty in the process. Up until then I had been nonchalant and matter of fact.  I began to worry about how long I would be there and whether this procedure was going to work.   I thought about how big the hole was going to be in my nose and whether it would ever heal.  As I did, a thought welled up from inside:  It was my man buddha. He spoke to me quietly. Calmly.  You are here and lucky to get such care. You are in the hands of capable people who are going to get this thing out of your body.  It is not fatal.  It is local and this is the worst of it. Relax and let the moments happen.  And my anxieties disappeared like a candle that had just been blown out.

This voice was still foreign.  Yet it lived within me now, a calming influence that I had never experienced.  And each time that I felt this way it became more natural and less odd.  So I relaxed and they called my name and I went into the surgery room again.

Well, that one got it and another hour later they gave me the good news from the lab and the repair process began.  That was the surprise. The reconstruction took 5 times as long as the cuts did and were 10 times as brutal.  It was a physical attack on my face.  A new round of numbing shots, the dull sense of pounding as she cut flaps of skin and moved them over the wound (all patiently explained) and the needlework reconstruction.  “Think of these as hundreds of small stitches that will dissolve over the next 6 months”, she said.  Then to top it off there came the sick smell of yourself burning during the closing sets of cauterization.  When it was over they asked how I felt.  I told them that I felt like I had been assaulted.

I managed to drive home, let her a voice mail to let her know that I was fine, and passed out in bed after eating some chicken soup and taking a Vicodin, the feeling having now returned to the left side of my face with a dull and steady march of gradually elevating pain.  I am not much on painkillers and try to avoid them where possible, but this was not a time to put ego over suffering.  I slept soundly and did not hear a thing when she came home.

The next few days are difficult to remember and that is not just because of the pain pills.  I have seen pictures of patients emerging from plastic surgery and that is what I looked like.  My left eye, especially the eyelid, was swollen shut and my right was not far behind.  My face seemed to have doubled in size.  It could have been featured in an ad for a midnight horror show at a downtown movie theatre that was already going out of business.  Surgery, small or large, knocks you on your ass.

The damage didn’t heal quickly and I stayed inside, not wishing to deal with the world feeling like a freak. At least the enforced rest helped my knee to heal. She who became concerned at the scope of my swelling was as supportive as she could be, bringing me milk shakes and oatmeal, all that I could eat for the first few days.  Mostly I just sat in bed, listened to music through my headphones (classical and trance/chant) and thought.  My left eye was still way to closed to read or write.

I thought that I could meditate lying prone but quickly found that meditating in bed was not going to work.  My brain would wander all over the place, the monkey was in control, and then I would fall asleep.  So despite the condition of my body, 2 days later I headed back to the mancave and the cushun.  The routine of Manful Mediation was what I craved and there I returned to peace again.

In my meditations that spring something kept coming back to me. It was a new concept that had been haunting me in small pieces while it emerged.  A feeling that was not a part of my being, an idea that I could never ever have felt earlier in my life for a host of reasons, many of which had been explored in these manful meditations.

It was this:  Gratitude.

Gratitude was an entirely novel feeling for me. One that could only emerge with the passage of a huge chunk of free time and the sense of renewed perspective that this phase of my life had gradually worn into me moment by quiet moment.

I had no idea that so much could change in my life.  No idea that so much internal satisfaction existed outside of work.   No idea that I could alter the way that I looked at the world every day.

With gratitude came the realization that I was lucky.  Not lucky in the stupid sense, but in the way that my chance had brought real opportunity to do something different with my life. Lucky that my efforts went into something and not to waste.

Lucky to have exited an impossible work situation one month before the country shot full speed into a recession with dollars in my pocket instead of a worthless IOU or a lawsuit.  Lucky to spend my days with she who works hard, looks good and brings home the lardons.   Fortunate to have 2 kidults who bought into the work ethic we taught them and talk to me with humor, love and respect that is mutual.  To have the support of friends who were there during those dark days when nothing good was happening and I just needed to talk and talk. And most of all grateful to have my health back (blood pressure was 130/70 this morning thank you very much!).

Lucky to have stumbled into manful meditation like a drunk coming home from a long night who finds his way home and feels his key going into the lock and the door opening.  Happy to have a dog that could walk and walk and when that was done walk some more and howl at you when you were too lazy to go out until you did.

Thankful to live in a neighborhood that was safe and beautiful.  Thankful for the sight of clouds flowing over the golden gate bridge into the bay.  Thankful for the clean ionized post rain air.

Thankful that my past was now a past and not a present.   Somehow I had managed to put a lot of baggage behind me and locked the door to that basement tight.  These meditations had helped me to close many of those doors and to find peace in subjects that had tortured me for year (my youth and my family for example.).

My gratitude meditations continued through to Friday morning.   That morning the recovery started as the pain began to diminish and the swelling didn’t look worse for the first time.  And I was so grateful that when my personal order of cancer came up in the cosmic kitchen it wasn’t the kind that spread.

Finishing my gratitude meditation, I felt that familiar urge returning, the desire to get out a cookbook to celebrate the scars that would heal.  I settled on something traditional but somewhat time consuming.  After not liking duck for as long as I could remember, I had picked up a taste for those super dark rich meaty dense quackers in the past year starting in a small café in Lille.  Their intense flavor suddenly attracted me and I was going to make some French comfort food.  A cassoulet.

Well kind of. Why kind of?  Because I don’t know how to make the duck confit part, that’s why.  So I cheat with a package of duck breast confit.  The dish still works.

Faux Cassoulet:

1 package Duck Brest Confit.

2 cups of white canelli beans. Cooking white beans is child’s play.  Soak them over night.  Rinse.  Cook slowly with 4:1 water until they fall apart.  So much better than the can.

1 onion diced.

6 heads garlic.  Diced.

4 sausages.

1 cup chicken stock.

Bread crumbs.

Optional but SO GOOD:  Duck fat.

In a heavy pan sauté onions and garlic at low heat until translucent.

While sautéing, cut the sausages into 1 inch pieces or if feeling aggressive, remove the meat from the casings and crumble.  You choose the sausage, it’s a flavor thing and personal.  I like duck sausage in this dish, others will only use pork.

Heat the oven to 345.

In a ceramic baking dish combine the sausage/onion/garlic mixture with the white beans that you have drained into a layer that covers the bottom of the baking pan along with enough stock to moisten.  Place the duck breasts over the mixture.  Cover the dish with bread crumbs and spoon duck fat over the breasts and the bean mixture.  Bake for an hour or until mixture has deep brown golden color and has begun to bubble.

Find a Rhone or a Chateau Neuf De Pape and an aggressive white for she who does not drink red wine and make sure she isn’t too late that evening.

While you are cooking, here are some songs of gratitude and happiness.

You Make Me So Very Happy.  Blood Sweat and Tears.

Happy Jack.  The Who.

Sea of Joy.  Blind Faith.

The Best Thing That Never Happened.  Paul Westerberg.

Joy.  Shakti.

Pride and Joy.  Albert King and Stevie Ray Vaughn.

Oh, and what her first words through the door that night?

“It smells good in here.  You must be feeling better.”

I was.

Hey, what was that in her hand?  Were those roses?

Things were looking up.

Chapter 46. Light? Tunnel. Light? Tunnel.

Chapter 46

Light?  Tunnel?  Light?  Tunnel?

 

When I returned home from that highly disconcerting and disturbing visit to the skin doctor that afternoon, I found an unexpected greeting from opportunity on that old-fashioned messenger, the answering machine.  Expecting to find a voice mail from my doctor’s office confirming the date for cancer surgery, instead I had one from John saying that he had my resume, thought we should talk, and would I be available for a meeting next Monday.

 

Would I?  I don’t know, let me think about that for a moment.  I mean, how could I find time to go to a job interview, even though we hadn’t said the word job, I guess that it was.  What, between walking white dog, cooking for she who is too busy and would just eat another egg, hiking in the hills, watching SCTV reruns and meditating, I was overwhelmed with stuff to do. Could I find the time?  Fuck yeah!

 

I found the phone (couldn’t anyone ever put them back in their chargers? Ever?) called him back and he wasn’t there.  In my most it’s cool whatever don’t show that you are too interested be friendly job voice, I left a return message that Monday morning was good and to please call or email back with a time.  Then I hung up and yelled loud.  It felt good. Sure enough, an email came in an hour later while I was cooking dinner confirming Monday at 11 with an address and directions.

 

All of my manful meditation training and a healthy natural sense of paranoia of anything that sounded remotely like a job possibility put my expectations into full lockdown mode.  This insured that any excitement I felt stayed as dull as a 20 year-old butter knife.  But as I kept my self-imposed sense of cool, I had a good feeling about where this could go, knowing full well that my good feelings had been wrong before.

 

I broke the news on both developments that evening over dinner. She who remains gainfully employed reassured me that no matter what the outcome, it would be good for me to at least have an interview.  Good?  Was she kidding?  Like an air hose that appears to a drowning man out of nowhere good.  It had been over 18 months since this period of underemployment began.  YES, it would be a good thing to get out of the house.  YES it would be a good thing to work again.  I just smiled and yes deared.

 

Yet on the subject of the C that had taken up housekeeping in my nose, she was stoic, surprisingly so.  Once she got the facts, i.e. that it was not likely to spread and likely not fatal, she closed the subject down quick.  Her reaction was not dismissive but not emotional either, very matter of fact and we’ll get through it together.  If I was looking for a shoulder to cry on, it wasn’t being offered so I dropped the subject, holding it in reserve for later when I would need it.

 

March 2009 was ending and it had been a rainy one.  28 out of 30 days found the skies gray cloudy and moist.  The next weekend featured those two days that it did not.  They were glorious days, temperatures in the low 60’s, skies washed bright azure blue and buds everywhere in full smell and bloom.  Between the beginning of spring and newly found vague hope for a job, optimism began a long slow ascent from the depths of my soul.  It felt weird, somewhat out of place and dangerous, like looking at a woman with her blouse just a bit too undone for comfort but looking nonetheless.

 

On Monday morning at 8am I received confirmation that surgery would be on Wednesday unless the biopsy was negative.  They would let me for sure know on Tuesday.  It all seemed a bit fast but on the other hand, well, why wait?  I knew it was a long shot, but I hoped the biopsy would be negative.

 

Further instructions came by email the next morning. The biopsy showed the type of aggressive cancer they thought it was.  The instructions were not unusual, just show up at 9am and block out the day.  Surgery would be done under local anesthetic, but if I needed a pill to relax, someone would have to drive me home.  If I had question they encouraged me to call.  I couldn’t see any reason to do so.

 

Later that morning I headed out for my ‘interview’. On the drive down 880 to Oakland, where the coffee roasting plant was located, I felt detached.  Happy yet clearly keeping my distance. Prepared for any outcome, expecting only the worst and not allowing unreality to come creeping in.  After getting lost three times, I realized why I couldn’t find the place.  There was no address posted on the door of the factory.  No sign either.  Just a no solicitors warning and the smell of roasting coffee beans that led me to a bare metal front door.  No door bell either.  So I knocked.  Waited.  Knocked again.  A jet black dyed hair woman in her 50’s opened the door.  Yes?  (Yes, what happened to hello?)

 

I peered in. “Hi, my name is Jules and I have an appointment at 11 with John”.

 

At that point John emerged as the door swung open.  He looked to be in his early 40’s with a crew cut, about 5 feet 5.  “You must be Jules,” then he shook my hand vigorously, “Come on in, let’s go to the conference room. Do you want a cup of coffee?”

 

I did. We sat down and launched in.  Our meeting began, as most do when two people who are in the same industry, with an exchange of histories, who you know and what you know followed by coffee philosophy and a chat about quality.  The corporate equivalent of a dog pissing on a tree and then waiting for the other to smell it before he did the same.

 

Our discussion then turned to business. A family operation, he had recently fired his sales manager and was looking for someone to bring clarity to his brand, help reformulate his coffees, create new marketing material, design a sales plan and hit the field with their coffees. Just another typical entrepreneurial position.  Then he dropped a big one. “Oh, and yes, I hope this isn’t a deal breaker, but if you interested in pursuing discussions, you should know that we can’t afford to pay you until the sales turn around because we are losing money and have been funding the business out of our pockets this year.”

 

Nice.

 

There was only one reply for me. “Well would there be a commission?”

 

He smiled.  “Sorry, I should have mentioned that.  Yes, absolutely, and a good one, and we can cover your expenses.”

 

Just like I would have said it if I was on the other side of the desk.  He would have nothing to lose if I said yes.

 

“Would you like to see the building?”

 

“Sure.”  And why not?

 

The tour was short, it looked like no one had been working in the sales managers office for more than a few months.  It had the feel of a crypt in a tropical above ground cemetery. It smelled of dust and disappointment.   Samples from ancient sales efforts littered the desk like shattered sarcophagi. 6 of the 8 fluorescent bulbs in the ceiling fixtures were burnt out and spider webs filled the corners of the room.   No computer to be seen.

 

Nice.

 

Perhaps sensing my reaction John chimed in that they would get the place cleaned up.  Not a bad idea.

 

The rest of the tour was pretty much coffee ABC’s, bags of green coffee (not a whole but enough), a one-bag roaster (seemed like a bit much in terms of capacity) a commercial grinder and a few packaging machines.  What was most disconcerting was the lack of activity. So far I had just met two people.

 

Not want to lose momentum when we finished the walkabout and sat in John’s office I asked if we could have a follow up meeting next week to get into more details. Sure, he replied, and he pulled out a notebook.  How about Wednesday?  Without saying why, I replied that I was busy and how about a week from today?

 

“OK, same time”.

 

And we chatted a bit more about this and that (it became clear that he didn’t care about sports so that was out so we kept the discussion on family) and when that was done we shook hands and I left.

 

Everything about this situation should have been strange, but it wasn’t.  The office was quiet, even dead, but that didn’t bother me.  What I did like about it was that except for the tomb of the now departed sales manager, the plant was clean, the coffee was good and most importantly, John seemed honest.  If I had that this part right that alone would be a very big and refreshing change.  Maybe I would finally get to implement my decision not to work with creeps ever again.

 

As I pulled up to the house half an hour later and killed the engine on the Alfa I just sat for a moment and thought.  What had just happened?  Why should I even think about working for a company that is losing money?  They had no unusual products, no branding, no marketing.  Nothing except a really good cup of coffee.

Then the mediation training kicked in just as it should.  There was nothing I could do until next week.  No point in creating stress in myself over what I could not change until then.  I needed to get ready for surgery the next day not to worry about what might happen in the future.

 

I walked into the living room.  Big foot white dog could be seen leaving the room after barking hello and headed to the back yard.  Why she ran away whenever we came home remained a mystery.  Standing there with the usual junk mail, I decided that this was a good time to open up a calm one and start an MM session.

 

I entered the mancave for the who knows how manyeth time and looked around thinking about all of the time that I had spent there in the past year and a half.  How many changes had occurred in how I viewed life.  But the cave felt different somehow.  I couldn’t put my finger on why, but something was amiss.

 

Sitting down and closing my eyes, I felt as if I was in the presence of an old friend.  My breathing calmed and my mind opened to the clarity of a pure mediation moment.  It came to me easily.  In the simple pattern of repletion, the MM exercises had become familiar and so much easier.  For a long long time I glided along, feeling nothing but the purity of breaths in breaths out.  Thoughts moved easily in and out of my open mind as one merged into another and I floated in a relaxed dreamy state.  I laughed to myself, I never believed that this sort of relaxation could be achieved without the use of a drink or a smoke and now I could turn it on when I wanted and more importantly, feel better afterwards.

 

Eventually my thoughts turned back to today and work. I dug deep into my working life and the experiences that I had enjoyed over the years.  The intellectual challenges as well as the personal ones.  The eye opening experience of extensive international travel contrasted by the day-to-day ugliness of working in what could only described as a ghetto.  I saw faces and places of the past 20 years, people I had not thought about suddenly appeared and just a quickly faded.

 

In the end it came back to one subject.  The bosses, the jeffes, the patrons.  Oh the people I had worked for, what a rogues gallery they had been.  Ex –FBI Jesuit priests, con-artists that were going to rebuild the city of Rome before fleeing with the proceeds, iconoclasts, Pied Pipers and risk takers, I had always been attracted to them and they to me.   I wondered, why I had always managed to work in such unconventional settings?

 

Several answers emerged in the meditation.  I didn’t want to work in a typical business setting.  That I had accomplished.  The other reason was more subtle but the key.  Have you ever taken a personality assessment test and been surprised at how accurate the results were?  Mine had pegged me as a person who can be trusted and one who spans the creative and business sides of an enterprise.   Those traits made my career. They allowed me to work with people who were otherwise impossible even crazy, taking their visions, making them real and building them.  I had worked for them long enough.

 

At the end of the meditation I thought about today’s meeting and I wondered about how I got there.  Was it fate or networking?  Did it matter?  Can we ever truly understand the fates that guide us?  The moment you look up from the wheel and instead of hitting that car ahead of you, you have just enough time to hit the brakes?  Chance?  Fate? Hitting these imponderables I began the process of emerging back into the room.

 

Something was still amiss.  Rising from the cushun I saw and now smelled what had gone wrong.  Big foot white dog had left a big brown runny shit in the corner of the mancave.  No more salmon skin treats for her.

After cleaning up her mess and taking the trash out I hit the kitchen.  And I stood and stood there and then waited some more. Just what is a dinner for these transitional moments?  Nothing came to mind, so I went back to a tried and true favorite.  This was a time for comfort and stability, not one to cut new ground.

 

Yes mom, you were talking to me but I took some liberty with your favorite cure all.

 

Updated chicken soup in a hurry.

 

All soups are about the stock.  You can make it three ways, from scratch, from an aseptic box or from a bouillon cube.  Today was not a scratch day.  I am not a complete fan of the box, so I like to add some water and a bouillon cube, the combination seems to work.

 

In a large cast iron pot sauté an onion until translucent in olive oil.

Add 1 box of chicken stock, 1 cup water and one bouillon cube.  Stir.

Cook for 10 minutes.

Add ½ cup cooked rice and any other vegetables you think might work (they need to be already cooked).

Simmer and pretend you worked on it all day.

Garnish with parsley.

 

Songs for the working men (and women).

 

Big Boss Man, Jimmy Reed

Summertime Blues, Mose Allison or the Who.

Working In A Coal Mine.  Lee Dorsey.

I’ve Got Work To Do.  Isely Brothers.

Julie’s Been Working For the Drug Squad.  The Clash.

Working on Chain Gang.  Sam Cooke.

Mr. President, Have Pity on The Working Man.  Randy Newman.

 

Chapter 45. Rest Is Not Peace.

Chapter 45

Rest is not peace.

 

The following day I decided that I would take a break from the study of manful mediation.  I am not sure why, it just felt like one was in order as I had been spending more and more time every day at this practice for almost 9 months now.  Maybe I thought that I had peaked and didn’t know how to top those last few MM subjects.  Maybe I didn’t know what to meditate about after those visual explosions of boobs and tushes.  Maybe I did know what subjects come next and didn’t want to go there. Perhaps I was trying to prove I could get by without the internal work. Who knows, the truth might be that I still know why I went cold turkey.  But I do know that as soon I tried to enforce a self-imposed ban on further meditation sessions the results were disappointing right out of the gate.

 

Mornings seemed a whole lot emptier. I would finish the usual daily solo breakfasts, it seemed that they were much larger ones now, without pleasure.  These were really big breakfasts, good size plates of 3 egg huevos rancheros with lots of crema and jack cheese.  A spinach omelet with fresh mozzarella cheese and cherry tomatoes with dark brown fried potatoes. I would drink two maybe three coffees along with some whole-wheat toast with a little butter (a brief nod to the healthier life I sometimes pursue). Then I put my white gym sock clad feet up on the dining room table because she who would not like this behavior not one bit can’t see what I am doing when she ain’t here. I read the Comicle and the NYT cover to cover and when they are done I am too. As I carry the dirty dishes back into the kitchen, I furtively take a look at the illuminated coke clock that lights the back of our home.  I am not happy with the result, it is only 9 a.m.  The house is watching and waiting for something to happen and so am I.  The dog is sound asleep and so is my life outside of these decorator yellow walls.

 

Loading the dishwasher with our morning residue, I wonder about where this is all going, always a mistake. When does this powerful low-pressure zone break down and the fog I am living in come to a stop?  When will I become busy again?  As BB King sang, I am like a one eyed cat peeking in a sea-food store.  I have been living on the inside looking out for too long not even knowing just what to look at anymore.

 

Yesterday was just plain awful in its nothingness. I spent most of it going through old files and shredding documents, a project that seemed necessary. Some of the work that I had done in the past was actually intellectually interesting and fun to read. But mostly, I wound up just feeling depressed that so much water had passed under my personal bridges as I threw out box after box of filled with leftovers from my former careers.

 

Not one to suffer for too long, I finished the afternoon in front of an early Giants spring training game after browning a few pounds of short ribs which now sat braising on the oven in the every trusty cast iron Le Creuset. I was accompanied by a freshly opened big fruit big alcohol glass of zinfandel resting firmly in my hand effectively blocking out the winter gloom and taking the truth out of the room.  Big foot white dog was happy for the company and curled herself up along side keeping both of us warm and a fire burned quietly in the wood stove.  The fire took the remaining sting out of the day and it made she who loves to come home to a warm home and meal on a cold winter afternoon happy even if there was no way she who does not eat that much could ever consume even 10% of that portion of ribs.

 

The Zin was wonderful and I finished it that night but it gave me a hangover the next day to add to my dark grey morning mood.  I took the upset stomach and fuzzy head as a rallying cry. After a Thursday breakfast featuring a massive plate of perfectly crisp matzo brie topped with sour cream and blueberries (frozen at this time of year) I decided that it is time for a change!  Yes sir, time for action.  That’s right Action with a capital A.  Make something happen, call some contacts, see what is up in the job market get on the phone.  Yeah, that’s right you can do it, that is the ticket daddy.  But those thoughts fizzled out as fast as the flame on a nickel sparkler. Action?  Action?  Sure big guy.  I wish there was.  If only there was something to do.  There wasn’t and I knew it.

 

Again trying to rally, I figured that maybe exercise would help.  So by 11 am I had walked white dog and finished ½ an hour of downward and upward dog sun salutes A and B posing and stretching.   Even with the exercise I felt tense and very restless and I knew why.  I was hooked. I needed my MM fix.

 

I have never been one to give myself over to anything easily.  I had good self-control, just walked away from pot when I was 40 and could go weeks without a drink or wanting one.  Yet here I was pining for a meditation session.  Who would have thought it?  So why was I resisting?  Pride?  Showing that I could go without.  The question pounded me: why resist?  The answer was simple: I had no reason to. Given the choice between battling continued anger and depression over situations that I can not change and time spent on a comfy cushun where I could explore thoughts that made me happy, I decided that maybe a break from MM is not what I needed right now.  This might even be time to step up the work.

 

I headed to the mancave, no literally bounded down the stairs, and set out the cushun again feeling relieved to be in the company of an old friend. I was so ready to meditate to pass the time away and feel like I was accomplishing something good. Meditating to stay away from the bitterness and frustration that wait around the mental corner under a street lamp of pain suggesting we go for a joyless ride together.   Yes yes yes, what would make my happy today?

 

It didn’t work out that way and that was the lesson learned. Right after sitting still, regaining control over my breath and beginning to calm and then meditate, I was immediately overwhelmed by these same thoughts and they weren’t good or happy. They were completely scattered and downright negative. Whether sitting or not, I was plenty pissed off with this ongoing predicament and couldn’t control those feelings.

 

You can’t call your meditation subject every time and make it a good one when you need a personal pick-me-up.  In fact, the lesson learned is the opposite. The frustrations of life get in your head and when they do, the teachers tell us not to fight.  Instead we need to embrace our difficulties and learn from them.  So I gave the personal shit I was going through a big hug and plunged in to embrace them yet again until they were done.

 

What I found in this focused meditation wasn’t easy. It just doesn’t add up for us grown up men in so very many ways these days. If you let your frustrations get to you, whether it is under or unemployment, your empty nest and busy not there and not her fault for that wife but not there anyway (have you seen the statistics, you are not unique), dissatisfaction will drive you one hundred percent bat shit hiding under the bed with the dust balls and tissue wads crazy.  The whole picture is wrong. Not out of focus.  Not blurry or underexposed.  Just plain wrong. These should be some of the best of years of our lives, shouldn’t they?  We spend years in college, then those of us that ‘succeed’ rise up through the work-force taking on greater and greater responsibilities learning more and more, becoming very competent, absorbing information as you become a professional, a continuing education filling up our mental hard drives with bits and bits of useful information.  On top of this effort we bust our asses to become better parents than ours were and for the most part we believe that we are.  Oh, and we are good at what we do too.

 

We are there for our kids, supportive, understanding, friendly and for our spouses. We become wiser, experienced and then we peak.   The input begins to slow down and then slowly slowly comes to a stop.   Our personal software becomes outdated, there is no update to download, our internal technology is obsolete and there we sit, whirring wheels of information suddenly skipping and making popping noises, doing fuck all except spin like a corrupted hard drive having gazed for too long into the famous MS blue screen of death without understanding DOS and not knowing what to do next or where to find the manual.  If this isn’t enough our testosterone levels are falling off a cliff.

 

To make this phase even more poignant, for the first time in forever you have time to think about things.  You look around and take personal inventory and what do you see?  You realize that the core values that defined the past twenty five years of your life, your traditional working career and parenting are gone and most likely they aren’t coming back. Maybe ever.

 

Does that mean that the world should come to an end?  Should you let the remainder of the experience be treated as if it has no future?  Is it, dare I even think this, strike 3 game over you are out?

 

What is the next move?  There is no guide to this de-structured life. We are on our own to create a new map to navigate middle age, to learn to make the most of it without a teacher and not willing to be taught even if we find one.  These thoughts bothered me. I had spent too much time there already.  They played in my head like an old copy of Workingman’s Dead that we listened to way too often and way too high and scratched to oblivion till it skipped and skipped.  I felt like that needle in the groove, trapped and unable to move on unless someone came in and lifted up the tone arm.  And then I did.

 

At that moment, five words burst into my mind in 64 point Arial type set against a large white screen that came out of absolutely knowwhere.  I honestly can’t imagine where they came from but here they are just as they appeared to me that day:

 

Awareness.

Justice.

Charity.

Healing.

Righteous Living.

 

I stopped cold and stared straight ahead without moving or thinking.  It was as if the words of the bible itself were speaking to me in person and that is not an everyday occurrence by any means.

 

So there I sat staring to smile again, pulling a bitch about life and the lack of a guide to rely on when one appeared from within without warning.

 

What to do next? Each of these concepts was worthy of a meditation on its own.  But analytic to the core I tried to judge how well I had done with each subject one by one.  Let’s see how I thought that I did.

 

Awareness.  B.  Making real progress doing a much better job of living life in the moment and learning how to stop judging everything.

Justice.  D. Not working on causes, too involved in my own foibles to expand this strike zone.  Needs work.

Charity.  C.  An easy one to improve.  Have to get on that board that I was invited to sit on last month.

Healing.  B.  While I didn’t dwell on it day to day, I realized that a great benefit of being around was simply to support she who has no time to take care of herself, daughter who needs it and son who doesn’t very often but does when he does.

Righteous living.  This seemed to be an average of the first 4.  So give me a B-.

 

When I finished my focus on these 5 concepts I felt renewed.  The darkness had gone out of my mind and it came to a gradual peaceful halt.  I hung in a graceful state of nothing for an unknown time and at some point gradually rose to the surface without effort. The session ended happily with a great feeling of satisfaction.  This had been another breakthrough, a sense of new depth in the MM world.

 

As I reentered the morning I realized I hadn’t showered in two days because I didn’t smell that great.  So I hit the bathroom for a delayed and much enjoyed hot morning shower where I sang Kinks songs (Vicoria, Waterloo Sunset and Lola).  This was totally out of character but I didn’t care.  Afterwards I shaved and washed my face.  During the wash that little red bump on my nose began bleeding.  Unfortunately this was the fourth day in a row that it had done so, a bad sign and a reminder that I couldn’t ignore it anymore, that it was no zit like any I have ever known. All of the home remedies had failed to cure it from skin cream to masks, it was time for real treatment.

 

I was happy, if that is the word, that I could set a dermatologists appointment the next week to see what the thing was.  Maybe it was some kind of cyst or something they can drain or burn off or freeze or whatever.   It was so small, how much trouble could it be?

 

The next Monday I drove into San Francisco to see my dermatologist.  He is a realist.  He says little burns and freezes well and doesn’t waste time.  His rates seem normal and while I can’t say I enjoy visiting his office, its fast and easy.   So what happened when I saw him that day was a surprise and not the kind that you enjoy unwrapping.

 

After the usual drop your drawers identify the discoloration and mark the ones that he doesn’t like with his pen for freezing he got to the main course.  He lifts up his specs and looks at me.

 

So, is there anything else you want me to look at?

 

“Yes, I want you to check out this bump on my nose.”

 

He lowers the specs and move closer.  I can see his dandruff on his collar.

 

He speaks quietly. “How long have you had this?”

 

“I don’t know, four five months.”

 

“It’s a good thing you came in.”

 

This is not what I want to hear.  I ask for details but he is already moving towards his sink getting some tools which I later learn will punch a neat circular hole from the bump for the biopsy.

 

“Well, tell me. Just what is it?”

 

“I am sure its cancer, and a basal, but I need to send it out to the lab just to confirm the type.  We need to get this out as soon as possible.  This is an aggressive one.

 

That is two for two. It’s not good news when your doctor tells you were right to come in.  It’s not good either when he tells me that he doesn’t need the biopsy to tell you that this is an aggressive form of cancer that needs to be taken out as soon as possible. Skin cancer is a wake up call from the beyond when it doesn’t metastasize.  If it does, then it becomes a calling card.

 

He gives me a rubber ball.  Tells me to hold it.  “This is going to hurt.”  He is right and it does, but only for the few searing seconds when the needle comes in until the novacain starts to do its job on my nose.  Soon I don’t feel a thing. The cut is done quickly. As he works, he wants me to set an appointment with a surgeon that he works with.    I ask him if we can’t burn this one off or freeze it. He tells me to think of this as a plant laying down roots.  We need to get it all out and that is the only way. He puts a small bandage on the neat hole the he has cut and walks out.

 

A few minutes later he returns, there is an opening next week. I can’t tell what to think, I feel as numb as my lips.  There is very little I can do now except move through it, the die, such as it is, has been cast.  He sends me home.  At least he explains that this type of cancer doesn’t spread beyond to the rest of your body in most cases.  I feel a little better.

 

A few minutes later, as I drive through the city I am stuck in traffic on the approach to the Bay Bride for the millionth time. I feel like an old car that is growing rusty.  While I sit killing time, I pass the moments shuffling through my Ipod looking for tunes about noses.  I can’t come up with any outside of Parliament’s Sir Nose Devoid of Funk. So I broaden the play list to faces.  I decide that Small Faces don’t count.

 

As the traffic began to move again I wondered about what it all meant.  And I thought for the first time in so long about death.  It seemed appropriate, didn’t it? I knew that it wasn’t likely but what if this was the moment where the inevitable march towards lights out campers begins.

 

I realized that I had avoided a death meditation or for that matter a whole lot of other serious subjects.  Well, I wasn’t meditating but it was front and center now. I do know this.  No matter how you look at the game, I had started the fourth quarter of my life. No matter how well I play, even if I score that miracle touchdown with less than a minute to go and hit the 2 point conversion, the other side is going to march down the field and kick that winning field goal with no time left.  I won’t be blocking that last kick no matter how hard I want to.  I wondered if I would ever be at peace with this whole damn thing.  Then I was cut off by a black Yukon getting on the bridge and the world came roaring back in flash as I hit the brakes and cursed at the bitch behind the wheel.  Not every part of me mellowed yet.

 

Here are the face songs that I found while idling.

 

You Are My Face.  Wilco.

Angels With Dirty Faces.  Los Lobos

No Good With Faces.  Jack Johnson.

Smiling Faces.  Blood Sweat and Tears.

Smiling Faces Sometimes Tell Lies.  The Undisputed Truth.

 

Matzo Brie for breakfast.

 

I first had this dish as a child during the long days of Passover when we couldn’t eat bread.  Now I enjoy it all the time.  This is a recipe for 2 servings.

 

6 pieces of matzo.

3 eggs.

Blueberries.

Sour Cream.

Salt, Pepper, Cinnamon.

Oil for pan.

 

Crumble matzo into large bite sized pieces in a bowl.  Boil water and pour over matzo.  Let soak for no more than it takes to moisten it.  Use a spatula to drain out the water.  Beat the eggs with salt, pepper and cinnamon to taste.  Add the egg mixture and soak while heating pan with oil.  Don’t let the oil smoke but get it hot

 

Add the matzo, don’t break up the pancake that it forms.  Let it brown then flip it.  Brown again, then break it up to be sure that the inside is cooked.

 

Serve topped with blueberries and sour cream.

 

Delish.

 

 


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