Posts Tagged 'unemployed men'

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.

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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 39 Appearing Tonight. Direct From A Long Running Engagement In Your Subconscious, Its…

Chapter 39

Appearing Tonight!

Direct From A Long Running Engagement In Your Subconcious!

Its….

After an overly healthy breakfast of non-fat yogurt, bananas and granola followed by a brisk double latte, I made a rather odd discovery. As we age, pills and creams pile up in our drawers and cabinets in ever-increasing numbers.  We acquire a host of maladies and microbial critters that live with us from toe fungus to skin ‘mushrooms’ to cholesterol, each requiring their own unique form of treatment. Throw in some vitamins and natural preventatives (flax seed oil, baby aspirin, saw palmetto etc.) and the sheer number of pills I take daily became overwhelming.  So as embarrassing as it was, I broke down and purchased a blue plastic box that I would dutifully fill each week with the daily doses.

For reasons I still don’t understand when I opened up the pillbox that morning, I found that I had not taken a single pill of any sort for a week.  There they sat, tiny little multicolored circles and oblongs, waiting for release in their cubicles marked SSMTWTF.  I could not think of any reason why I had stopped taking all of medication for a week.  Very odd.

On the other hand this answered an earlier question. The forgotten beta-blockers had failed to work during my panic attack two nights ago for an obvious reason; because I hadn’t taken them. There was no doubt that my accidental failure to medicate contributed to the panic attack that I suffered several nights before.  That was strangely reassuring.

As I downed the pills I wondered.  Just what were these medications doing to me?  Did the medicinal castration of my adrenal response contribute to the power of the explosion that occurred when it was suddenly unleashed?  And more so, what about the overall calming effect the beta-blockers had upon my temper? Is that why I had been feeling more relaxed in the past year?  This put the whole manful meditation process to date under new found scrutiny.  Was it the meditation or the medication that led to my behavioral changes or both?  And in the end run who really cared, it was the positive results that mattered.

Arranging the dishes in the sink, I headed out of the kitchen with a purpose. My meditation that morning would be different.  I went into the mancave with focus and desire.  I wanted to make some progress on this meditation about women.  And not just about women as a general topic, hell that could go on for months.  I decided that the best way to gain a better understanding of how I interacted with women, and life, was to focus on that one woman who sets up a man’s character in the beginning. Who brings you into the world, cleans your bottom and then kisses you goodbye as you leave your childhood home.

That woman is of course your Mom.  Who else?  Who is more important to the formation of a man’s being then his mother?  Who does as much good and can do just as much harm to our psyches?  I wanted to focus the next few days on self-guided meditations about my mom and her life and how it in turn had shaped mine.

I was ready.  I pulled up the cushion and crossed my legs.  Sat still and calmed myself. Started to draw myself inwards.  I followed my usual path into manful meditation by gradually focusing upon the subject I wanted to explore that day without forcing it into my mind so the thoughts would come easily and regularly.

I waited. Nothing happened.  Zero.  Tried harder.  Nada.  Tried and tried to bring mom into focus but couldn’t.  I thought about her voice, her look, her words.  Nothing.  This was really odd because focusing on mom was something I never had trouble doing in real life, she was way to large of a presence to ever ignore. I summoned mom’s energy, her power, our past experiences together.  Nothing came.  I tried harder. That didn’t work either.  Let go and tried again.  Nothing.  No matter what I did I couldn’t bring mom into my thoughts, I kept hitting a wall of fuzz and blurriness.  I couldn’t even sum up the image of her ever-pointing finger.

Eventually I gave up and pulled myself out of meditation, I had a yoga class at 12 anyway.

Next day same thing.  And the next day after that.  Just what the hell was going on?  I decided to give it one more try.  My fourth try was not better.  It was like trying to find a radio station that was being jammed. Then, 20 minutes into the fourth attempt a very disturbing thing happened. I began to smell an aroma in the room and not a good one.  It kept coming back to me in waves, a familiar but unpleasant smell, powerful, acidic and pungent.  At first I thought it was natural gas but that wasn’t correct. Then it went away.  And returned again.  It became much stronger as the meditation continued but I could not place where it came from or what it was.  My eyes began to burn as an image began to appear in my mind’s eye.  As the mental picture formed suddenly it was instantly recognizable. There would be a guest appearance this morning by the only person who could and would gladly steal the spotlight away from mother.

In the corner of an imaginary room stands a man, about 5 feet 8 inches tall, prematurely balding with a very strong stocky build and a protruding stomach.  He is wearing tan pants and a dark brown knit shirt, black shoes.  He has a smile on his face but it is not one of joy.  It is more of a leer.  I see him look at me. He stops.

He is eating something.  Something round.   It is a large whole raw onion.  Then he speaks to me in heavily accented English.  I have not heard this voice in years.  It has not changed.

“So schmuck, is this how you spend your time?”  His voice is full of derision. As he speaks my manful meditation is overwhelmed by the power of the one man who influenced my life the most, both in his presence and his absence, my father.

“Good to see you too,” I think to myself.

He continues on gaining momentum quickly and clearly enjoying himself.  “Is this is what you do all day? Sit on your ass with your eyes closed instead of looking for a job?  This is why you went to college?  To sit on your unemployed tuchas?”

There is no room to reply or any point in it anyway.  This is my horror fantasy.  Having leaked out of my subconscious Dad rumbles and decides that while he is here he should attack my wife.

“Where did you learn this shit anyway? Is this what she taught you to do?  Is this how a man deals with life? A man would…”

I cut him off mid sentence.  Make him go away. Hearing him in meditation is both unpleasant and insanely sad.  So I resist.  I struggle to keep control of the exercise.  I wanted to work on my relations with women but he will have none of that. He tries bulls his was back into my mind just as he did in real life. I struggle on. I have to control the meditation or I will be lost for weeks dealing with his larger than life even in death personality.

Death saves me. As I think about the word death a moment comes alive.  I am instantly transported to his funeral, the moment of his eulogy. It is a hot spring afternoon in the San Fernando Valley.  The room is full of friends, cousins and the few remaining business acquaintances of his that are still alive.

My father’s eulogy was given by a rabbi that had known our family for over 40 years.  This rabbi was a progressive thinker, a radical who came out against the Vietnam War way before it was cool and almost was fired for his beliefs. In short a good guy, a thinking man that I always respected and admired.

All those years later we located him and he agreed to speak at my father’s burial. After we forced Mom to stop working the crowd and finally sat down the rabbi motioned for silence. He looked over the assembly milking the moment for drama.  He paused for a long time, cleared his throat. He began to speak in a calm deep voice.  This is what he said:

“Harry Kragen was a difficult man.”

That was the nicest thing that he could say and that is how my father’s eulogy began. It is also where this meditation began to clear.

I pulled myself away from the shock of hearing Dad’s voice and try to remember the eulogy that I gave that spring morning 10 years ago but I can’t.   Instead, I focus on the eulogy I should have given. To do so I clear my mind and open my heart as this is no easy task. It requires discipline and strength.  It will not be pretty.

My father.  Complicated, brutal, darkly funny and driven to massive excess.  More than once called crazy. How could I begin to understand him and the havoc he caused our family?  Where does one find the inner peace to begin this perilous process; to turn powerful anger into acceptance and then find something good?

I try hard, not sure of what I am doing, but I try.  First I picture his face.  I focus on it for a long long moment. I see his wild eyes, thin hair, the deep lines in his forehead and that incredibly large nose.   I try to imagine his face at different times in my life as we aged together.  I imagine him playing ball with me when I was small, doing the things that fathers do.  There are few moments like that. I think about the times when he was not there and the things he should have done but never did.  How I feel about him.  I let these feelings stay there and linger.  It is a sour taste.

I think about his life. I look at his strengths. His weaknesses. His accomplishments and his numerous failures.  The things he wanted to do but couldn’t as World War II swept him along in a tsunami of horror that landed him in Siberia and then postwar Europe.  The dogged determination of an entrepreneur as he built a business.   His excessive behaviors.  The deep dark black sense of humor.  The malignancy of his silences.

I examine his emotions. They did not come easily to him. They were painful and slow like a drip from a leaking faucet that would lead to complete and total system failure when corrosion wins out and his anger exploded into violence and derision of those around him.

Could he express his love to me?  Not that I recall. Neither verbally or otherwise.  In fact it was quite the opposite. At that moment I can’t go any further. I take a break and come out of my meditation.  I was exhausted, my body covered in a damp sweat despite the cold day.

Over a tuna melt that I share with the white dog I reflect on the pain that I felt during the meditation.  I resolve to take the rest of the meditations to embrace his reality.  To get through the pain, be a man and dig into it.

A dad meal.

Boiled meat.

Take meat.  Boil into submission.  Salt liberally.  Serve.

Boiled Vegetables.

Empty bag of frozen vegetables into water.  Boil.  Drain. Serve.

Simple Kasha.

½ package of noodles

oil

1 cup Kasha (buckwheat groats)

2 cups water

1 egg

Salt

1 onion chopped.

Bring water to boil and cook noodles.  Drain and place in boil.  Add oil and toss.

In pan, heat oil and brown onion.  Place in bowl.  Clean pan.

Put Kasha in bowl.  Add egg.  Stir.

Brown kasha in pan with a little oil.

Add cooked onions and water and cover.  Simmer at low heat for 10 minutes.  You can substitute chicken stock.

Add noodles and serve.

Music for my father to enjoy in the beyond:

John Hiatt, Bring the Family.  One of the greatest father lines, the old man comes ghost comes back as creamed chipped beef on toast.  Except that we were Kosher.

Naguila.  Sephardic Chants.  I always suspected there was some Sephardic or Spanish blood in Dad, too dark for your typical Pole.  As I hear the voice I see my father at services, suddenly quiet and devotional, praying and chanting.

The Doors.  The End.  You can fill in this blank.

Cream.  Disraeli Gears.  How he hated this record and how I just turned it up louder and louder.

Chapter 37 Hey Mom, Is That You?

Chapter 37

Hey Mom, Is That You?

3 AM.  The king sized bed isn’t clammy and she who sleeps on the other side is crunched up against the far southern edge.  The cotton sheets are cool and I am not sweating.  My recently once again unreliable stomach is not upset and I don’t have a sequence of ringing whining bass tones rippling through my eardrums.  All of my late night favorite friends aren’t coming to play this early morning.  There is something completely different going on, a new visitor whose presence is as disturbing as the smell of an electrical fire in an adjacent room.

As I wake up I have one thought and one thought only that seems to dominate my once again conscious mind.  I can’t breathe.

No biggie, I think.  Ain’t no big thing.  Shit, I ask myself, how many evenings have I woken up in the middle of the night?  (Answer: too many.) How many times have I been congested just like this one, felt the swollen reaction of the sinuses to a variety of allergens and tannins and worked through it.  Hundreds? Thousands? No big deal. I have more than my share of experience reading the clock and trying like hell to fall back asleep.  This is no big deal, just roll over on my side to clear a nasal passage empty the brain and that should do it in a few minutes.

So I, like a big fido, I heed my command and roll over on my left side like I always do.

As soon as I do this feeling gets worse.  It seems that I am getting less air less oxygen less less and then even less of less each time I breathe.  I push back again and work to convince myself that this still is nothing.  Let’s try another position.  I roll over and onto my right side.  This move seems to hold serve for a moment and the unsettling feeling does not get worse.  See, I tell myself, no problem.  Then this thing shows some real unexpected mettle.  It adapts, mutates, refines the new and unexpected malware attachment to my being.  The message in my head changes. I feel it happen.  Now, I know that I can breathe but when I do, I can’t get enough air.  I start to think that I am suffocating even though I am breathing because I can’t get enough air into my lungs.

This thought both startles and alarms me.  I roll onto my back and sit up straight looking out at the windows across from bed and prop myself up on a pillow and try to take charge. Whoa captain, what is going on!  Just get ahold of yourself and snap out of it. That should do it shouldn’t it.  Right?  Sadly not.  Wrong.

And for those who are wonder if I am alone, I am not, she who is soundly asleep every night is soundly asleep and she will remain so throughout this night time adventure in personal hell.

The internal debate that will become a mental marathon has begun in earnest.  “This is stupid”, I tell myself as I try to take control.  Of course I can breathe, just breathe deeper try harder this whole thing is plain foolish.  Embarrassing.  Dumb. Of course I can breathe you idiot, get a hold of yourself.  Of course I can breathe stupid, if you could not breathe you would be dead and you are breathing I keep tell myself.  But the dark thoughts won’t go away, they gradually become even more powerful more dominant and begin to incrementally take control of my mind.  I fight back seeking to put the thought away to get the, out of me but they don’t and it won’t.

The battle between the rational and the physical assault is on.  Brain formulates another move on this chessboard of survival heading down a path it does not know.  On the other side of the table my opponent is dealing mega doses of lethal and poisonous adrenaline to my body real cheap. It is already 5 moves ahead of me on this board and the needles are free.

Brain moves again.  OK, remember you are breathing things are going to be just fine.  Just focus on your breathing, like you have done this in meditation or in yoga, draw the breath in, feel your lungs fill them and exhale fully.  Dutifully I pull the breaths in, I inhale then exhale.  Inhale then exhale.  Deeper.  Stronger.  I haven’t found relief but I am holding my own.  If I could just breathe deeper maybe I could get enough air in me I could beat this back.  But each breath is never sufficient and as one ends I struggle to make the next one as deep as the one before.  The pressure in my chest is becoming overwhelming I can’t push the air through it no matter how hard I try. My nails struggle to hold onto the mental cliff.  There are the first signs of weakness.  Fear is massing at the gates of my mind like the armies of Mordor mounted on adrenaline fed stallions waiting for a signal to attack.  They don’t have to wait long.

The mental hacker’s code mutates again, adeptly changing its message as it probes my inner mental defenses, finding a new opening and then exploiting it rushing through a newly found hole like a halfback shooting through the line gaining speed as it senses the growing strength of the assault.  My mind struggles to keep things rational but the malware has all the right moves.

I still can’t get enough air and it seems to be getting worse.  I try breathing deeper stronger more powerfully and yes for that very second when my lungs are so full at the peak of the inhale it feel that maybe it is ok but as I start to exhale I already know that it is not enough not enough not enough.  Each breath is getting harder. It is gaining control.  I am off balance.

A new message is posted in this bizarre chat room as my opponent screams a serve by my ear for an ace. As each breath becomes progressively more difficult, I now struggle to make the next one. I conclude that I have lost the automatic ability to take the next breath.  I am on manual control now.  My feet grow heavy, my arms weak, I can’t lift my racket.

Fear is gaining the upper hand.  Each breath becomes the embodiment of fear.  Fear that I won’t be able to get enough air.  Fear that I can’t fill my lungs. Fear that my body has lost the ability to breathe on it’s own. Each breath rises in the intensity of this macabre dance as I desperately search my breath for any signs of progress.  Any sign that this thing is not getting worse.  None comes.

I look over at the clock.  It is 3:20.  Only 20 minutes have gone by, it seems like it has been hours.

Then I dig deep and rally. My mind is not going to go down this easy.  Dazed and weary it mounts a furious counterattack.  Get a hold of yourself.  Get out of bed.  Move.  Get out of this constricting circle. Moving turns out to be difficult but not impossible.  I slowly get out of bed, each step feels ethereal, light. I glide across the carpet and into the bathroom.  I fear to turn on the light and can’t look in the mirror.  I leave the room dark.  There is no sound.  Water, maybe that will help, so I splash cold water on my face.  I barely feel it yet my breathing seems a little better and most importantly for a moment I have stopped thinking about it.

In a strange flourish I drop to the cold tile floor and begin a sequence of downward dogs hoping that the upward stretch will clear my nose as it does many mornings.  Amazingly it seems to and hoping for the best I go back to bed feeling that maybe the tide is beginning to turn.

In soccer, or any team sport on a field for that matter, a strong attack leaves the offensive team vulnerable as it brings the offense and defense forward, new gaps appear in the field as it opens and the spacing grows. This game is no different. Having drawn me into a moment of false confidence it is at that moment that my opponent begins its move into check.

As I get back into bed and take the first breath I can barely complete it.  It feels shallow and I lack the power to finish.  I am growing tired of forcing the pump downward and losing strength.  I struggle to begin the next one as a new thought enters my now clouded toxic mind. For the first time I start to fear that I am going to die before I see the morning.

To be honest, I am not sure what happened after that.  I recall a sequence of disjointed memories of the next hour and I passed in, through and eventually out of conciousness.  I remember trying to meditate through it all and failing miserably.  I remember desperately looking at the clock as if it were some kind of anchor to reality. Sometimes 5 minutes passed between looks.  Sometimes 1.  Sometimes 30 but I couldn’t tell the difference. I recall thinking that I should wake she who is next to me up and get help yet I could not move.  As much as I wanted to do so I could not make the move.

Then there is the weird part.  At some point my mind left my body.  Yep.  At the zenith of the battle, the epic moment of struggle, I was floating above my physical self and looking down at me in the bed.  Absolutely fucking bizarre but that is what I remember.

Was I tripping?  Sure.  Was it real?  What was I on? Who knows?

Then it got weirder.   I started to float away from the bed, gradually rising towards the vaulted ceiling, when I saw it.  A long bony finger wearing an oversized costume jewelry ring, full of age spots, half bent from arthritis and pointing right at me.  That finger could belong to only one person and I recognized her immediately.  I tried to speak but I couldn’t in this spirit state.  I wanted to say this.  “Hi Mom. What are you doing here?”

She heard what I said anyway.  “I am your mother.  That is what I am doing here.”

I tried to change the subject. “So how are you?  How are things?”

“How would you know?  You never call.”

“Mom, you are dead.  There is no area code for heaven and you didn’t exactly leave a phone number.”

“Who say’s I am in heaven?”

I really wasn’t sure where to take that one.  Just what was she inferring?  True to her character, I didn’t have to wait for an explanation.  She, just in the style of her life, wasn’t waiting for the next question to give you the answer.

“Don’t ask me where I am.  I don’t understand it either.  But I am fine, I am me and I haven’t seen your father so I know I am not in hell.”

This was all a bit much for a 4:25 am interlude with the subconscious.

I went back to a safe line of questions.

“Is grandma there?”

I think that she told me that she was but it was somewhere around that moment that relief came as the adrenaline assault mercifully began to ease. That first moment of relief was so exquisite.  The knowledge that the turner had been turned, it would end, it would stop.  And as I felt that relief I drank it in like a well decanted Haut Brion and then I let go.  As soon as I did I passed out from exhaustion.

As per the every day regime when I awoke the next morning she who wakes up early every day was long gone.   As I lay in bed I thought long and hard about what had happened.  I was very shaken but equally resolved to find out just what had happened?  I was also famished and that meant that I was back in the land of the living.

Considering the struggle I had been through the night before I didn’t feel bad at all as I whipped up a particularly good plate of my personal comfort breakfast, Matzo Brie.  In fact I felt strangely energized and happy just to be there that morning, grey skies or not as I watched the egg soaked crackers become crispy and brown in the frying pan.  Covered it with loads of sour cream (hope this shit wasn’t heart related) and sour black cherry jam.  Ate every morsel and washed breakfast down with a stiff cup of Ethiopia Djimmah (thank you for the old coffee connections).  Then I went upstairs to hit the net and find the license plate on that truck that tore through my bed last night.

As I began my search I had a feeling about what it was and that turned out to be right.  It was not only easy to diagnose but also to understand.  So many things pointed to the result.  Anger over another still born job followed by my attempt to shut it down by ignoring those feelings.  An over arching fear of not working again.  The continuous and corrosive pressure of underemployment.

Plug the symptoms in and there it was in bold letters ranked 1st on google.  There was the diagnosis.  Panic attack.  What else could you call this sack of emotional shit?

I must say that I love a good diagnosis and this one felt particularly good this morning.  A good diagnosis brings rationality back into the irrational world of disease, gives us a sense of what the odds are what hope you have and how you can actually make a difference in treatment.  After the unexpected attack on my soul, these explanations were salve on my wounds.  They gave me the power to move through and forward by understanding.

As I looked up from the computer big foot white dog had rolled over onto her back begging for a belly scratch with a particularly crazed expression on her doggie face.  Who has I to say no?  As I scratched her stomach I thought about how I was having more physical contact with her than with my wife in recent weeks.

But that too is another story and not one I wanted to think about that day.  Sometimes it is best just to step away from the pie.

How to make Matzo Brie.

3 or 4 matzo crackers.

Hot water.

2 eggs.

Sour Cream

Jam of choice

Cooking oil

Crumble the matzo crackers by hand into a bowl while water is coming to a boil.   The add the boiling water to the matzo and soak for 1 to 2 minutes.  In the meantime beat the eggs.  Drain the matzo of water and add the egg mixture and stir.

Heat pan add cooking oil and just before smoking add the matzo.  Cook until crisp on the outside and just cooked in side.  Break up just a few time leaving large pieces intact.  Serve with sour cream and jam.

Oy!

Music to recover by the next morning, chosen by me, not the Ipod.

Dvorak.  Piano Trio.  Trio Fontenay.  Listen to lots of it as you calm the soul.

Heaven help us all.  Stevie Wonder.  So true.

Heart to Hang Onto.  Pete Townsend and Ronnie Lane from Rough Mix.

Hold On.  Los Lobos from The Town and City.  (“Hold on to every breath.  If I make it to sunrise, do it all over again…’)

Coulibaly.  Amadou et Miriam.  Nothing like a rising African guitar to start you up again.

Somebody got Murdered.  The Clash.  Are you awake now?  If not no need to send in another payment, you won’t be renewing this subscription again.

Chapter 35 Are We Not Men? We Are Betamax!

Author’s note:  MHO is a fictional work although it sometimes feels more real than the real one to me.

At 3 am, just about an hour later, I woke up in a clammy night sweat, emerging suddenly and brutally from a dream that in which I was gradually tearing the nail off of my big toe just as it began to bleed (but that too is another story).  I was extremely thirsty, had to piss like no tomorrow and my mouth was cotton dry.  After stumbling into the bathroom I easily missed the toilet in the dark (not the seat dear, the toilet and yes, I wiped up the mess).  Then I crawled back into bed and tried to find a comfortable position to pass back out in.  She who does not wake up once asleep did not move from underneath the covers where she lay entombed in white.  Just how did she breathe in there I often wondered…

I closed my eyes and as I did so I knew immediately I was fucked, I wouldn’t be falling asleep any time soon.  My next hour was an epic struggle, shifting from uncomfortable position to even worse ones trying to understand just why I picked a fight with she who lives here too earlier that evening.

I kept going over the short but nasty argument we had earlier in my head again and again.  As often as I did I could not make sense of it.  Why did I react so bitterly?  Yes I was drunk, yes I was upset but what I really wanted to do was to talk about the day and how miserable I felt about it.  Why did I get so angry when she made that mild comment about dinner not being ready?  She wasn’t angry at me and she might have been trying to be funny.  Well maybe not funny, that would be a stretch but none of that mattered in the big picture. My outburst uncalled for, my behavior counterproductive and sadly out of sorts.

So what was going on? I couldn’t shut my mind off as the noiseless red digits silently continued their march (not that I missed the ticking of the alarm clock) and the minutes of time passed.  As they did my adrenaline subsided, the thought process gradually cleared and the truth about what was bothering me came slowly into focus.

One thing was crystal clear. I was extremely resentful of being stuck at home.  Tired of being there and exhausted by doing home improvement projects to pass the time.  Worse yet, when I finally escaped this personal pleasant penitentiary I was immediately captured standing on the border of work and shipped back.  (“Have a nice show the guard asked in German as I stood in line.  Why did I answer back in the mother tongue).

This was some sick kind of spatial boomerang to be stuck on.

There was something else bothered me a lot more. A  simple yet perplexing question. Where was my wife? A much deeper and heavier subject that I couldn’t talk about with she who works harder than I do because that particular conversation had no upside.  There is no blame that you can reasonably hope to attach to your hard working spouse.  At the same time, there an unexplainable sense that something has been lost remains, akin to the feeling of a tooth you used to have that has been pulled.  It was there and you can feel where it used to be and you can’t stop running your tongue over the now empty space.  In the case of our relationship, the something that was missing was the person on the other side of the bed, that was empty space that I was dealing with.

I will freely admit that I have been steeped deeply in the tea of equality a little too long.  Just as with an over brewed cup of tea, it is a reality that sometimes tastes bitter.

I remain is solidarity with the belief that women were right to leave the house and explore their inner working dreams and visions.  At the same time, this separate but necessary path left a negative effect upon her family and the husbands that were left behind.

To make things worse, lots of professional women adopted the very same scorned male habits  (you know what they are) that they denigrated us for without the humility to admit it.  Look in the mirror.  You stayed late at work and missed their ball games and weren’t there to see the tennis matches and drama performances or to have dinner with us before 8 pm just like our dads did.

Do I sound bitter?  Perhaps, but those moments don’t come back around again, that is for sure. Of course these are generalizations so why stop now?  When confronted with these issues, many women routinely lay blame at the feet of the historical dominance of the male.  Look, there is no question about how good men had it in the generations before us.  Hell yes we did.  The guys in the 60’s had their personal secretary, 3 martini lunch season ticket king of the roost perfectly cooked and generously sliced prime rib world.  They did.  I can tell you with equal certainty that those images do not remotely resemble not our modern male lives.  No, no, no and no not one bit bit bit.   It just isn’t so. We bought into equality and got in there with our wives and held our ground as equals.

I say unequivocally to those women who are in successful healthy relationships with men and continue to blame our tribe for all that ails the world to get over it.  Get over it because we need you.  Yes men can do better.  Yes we continue to evolve and to grow.  We all will grow stronger if we learn from each other’s strengths as we all become better people.  We do better with you there working with us side by side.

Here is the disconnect that I wrestle with.  We showed up at Lamaze class and tried to understand (it was way too weird for me and I am sorry to say this but I was relieved when she went into preterm labor and we didn’t have to go back again).  We changed the diapers, shared the dishes and did the wash.  We were there when our kids broke their wrist and our daughters lost soccer matches and cried all the way home.

That is ok.  In fact, that is not the issue at all.  The problem I have is that I have met very few women willing to take on the dirtier tasks of mandom that we are still counted on to do. Am I exaggerating?  I don’t think so.  How many women will set a trap for that rat that has been hanging out in the garage and be willing to throw away the kill?   And if I am wrong and you are the woman who will get out there and help frame a window then god bless you, you look good with a hammer in your hands a pair of Betty Lou tight cut off jeans and a halter top.

Things are just out of balance.

And to impale myself on the cross here, this is not to mention that slack we should get just for having to be there during that 20% of the month (that is 30 divided by 6) when you are out of your collective minds in hormonal upheaval.  This isn’t blame it is a fact.  We can’t leave the house during that 20% of the time when you go code red.  Or take a 6-year sabbatical from our relationship when the roller coaster hormonal dance becomes even crazier in menopause.  No, modern men punched our ticket for the ride with you and it is a lot wilder then women take responsibility for.

Let me phrase it differently. I am not searching for enlightened women or men, I am searching to become a more enlightened person and for me that route can be found by being in a fully realized couple.

I am also searching for well-deserved slack when the 49er game goes into OT.

At some point I ran out of energy and my inner rant ended, who knows when. When I woke up at 7:30 the next day ready to tell she who is not there about all of this she was already gone.  No perfume on the pillow, no smile to greet me, no hug, just the fold in the quilt, her  wrinkled flannel pajamas and the remains of a cup of coffee to let me know she had been there sometime during the night and morning.
Hi honey.  Good morning dear.  And how did you sleep?

Still, I did not feel bad considering except for the ritual burning in my stomach and dry eyes.  My long meditation about men and women and life had cleared my mind.  Cooked a massive batch of huevos rancheros and fixed a double latte. Got out the sporting green.  Settled in to read about the Warriors latest injury rash when it hit me like a two by four to the center of my forehead, as if I had run smack dab into the middle of a cement wall.  I had no idea what I was going to do for the rest of this January winter day or for the rest of the month for that matter.   Adrift again without a plan or even the scent of one.

This is where it happens in the every day boredom of transitional life and too much time.  When you make the call. Where the personal aspect of transition has to begin.  Where you hope that the inner work pays tangible dividends and all that time spent dragging yourself to yoga or meditation and reading philosophy starts to pay off.  Where there is an exit that you can take from the otherwise predictable results of a day such as this.  A place where you won’t be watching the rerun of Superbowl XXIII again.

There wasn’t much more to think about.  Throw the dishes in the sink and hit the mancave.  Put on the yoga practice CD and sweat out the anger and booze from last night.  Get a big coat, take big foot out for a walk again.  Come home, back in the mancave hit the cushion and meditate.   Not as pretty as a Montana spiral but much more real.

This particular meditation began just before lunch.  I submit it had a lot to do with the eventual subject matter.  It came to me quickly in a flash, a swirling vortex of imagery that cleared slowly, energy I could not control. There were leaping baguettes and yellow splashes of mustard, thinly sliced columns of twirling meats, geysers of salads and juggling tomatoes. I was lost in the glory simply known as sandwich.

Why is the sandwich such a unique experience?  Is it the variety of infinite possibilities that are presented in its structure?  The fact that so many combinations exist with one thing in common: that they are surrounded by bread with a geometric variety of choices inside.

It all starts with bread. That is where my mediation deepened.  So basic to life, so deeply woven into our history and many to think about! From Pita to wonder, whole wheat to Kaiser roll, challah to brioche to lavash.  As the breads danced in and out of my imagination they guided to me to imagine the sandwiches that quickly followed.

I visualize the moment of truth.  The bread is on the cutting board.  I need a good sharp knife, something with some serration please.  The bread is fresh, no need to toast.  No need to be shy here, I let my manful meditation fly into a variety of condiments, the mental grocery store is open for business. I think salsas, pesto, chimichuri, moufelatta and pickled onions. The salt pepper vinegars (red or white) and olive oils stand at the ready.

My mind slowly engages the meats and cheeses that but holds tight sway as this subject alone could carry me away for the rest of the day.  Just how am I feeling?  Conservative?  Fresh roast turkey or ham.  More aggressive?  Procsuitto, copa salami.  Middle of the road? Roast beef.

Now I think back over the sandwiches that I have loved over the years and let them come back to me to a whirl of delights.

The Panini.  Here the sum of the whole is so much greater than its parts, the flat crisp bread, the cheese that melts as it all fits so well together.

Lox and Bagel.  Of course this is a sandwich! Cold smoked salmon, wild caught please.  Slice thin red onion. Rich cream cheese (no non fat needed in a manful meditation).  Fresh chewy bagels (sorry to the bagel wimps, it must have density and it must not be steamed to be manful).  Chives, capers, lemon, dressed to my heart’s content.

Bao.  Now hold on, there are the traditionalists that might say that a donut like ball of steamed white flour stuffed with bbq pork or steamed chicken thigh meat is not a sandwich because it isn’t assembled.  To you I say this is my meditation.

Hummus in Pita.  Anyone who has traveled in the mid east knows the love of fresh pita stuffed with creamy olive oil tinged hummus, pickled vegetables, salad maybe some chopped tomatoes.

Grilled cheese and its second cousin the tuna melt.

A dripping BLT.  Corned Beef  and Pastrami with cole slaw and Russian dressing from Cantors or Juniors.  Even the self-effacing choice of PB&J on white has a moment of glory.

Then meat disappears and roast portabella mushrooms, eggplants, red bell peppers take their place.  These are not time, the garlic and balsamic vinegar makes the thickly cut grilled vegetables rich and forward.  Feta and ciabatta await.

As the pace finally slows the thoughts deepen. I search for the balance between the ingredients and bread. The bread must envelop but not overwhelm them, they must dominate but the structure must maintain its integrity.  Too much liquid and it falls apart.

I am done. I cut the sandwich in half and put the beauty on a plate.  Get some chips and some cole slaw and sit down someplace comfortable. Take the first bite.  Savor the juxtaposition of the core flavors, the bread and the seasonings.  See how they blend and compliment.  Take my time and enjoy each bite and then work the second half.  Then I repeat this core visualization five times.

I open my eyes.  Once again famished.  Ah, but the fridge is full.    Yet just as I finished I felt a tingle, a sense, a cold breeze that moved through the mancave that I could not recognize.  Did I see a finger pointing at me?

After lunch (roast turkey on wheat mustard cheddar tomato romaine dull and effective sorry) it was back to the computer for a session of job search and networking.  I sent she who is always at work an email telling her that it was important to me that she be home for dinner on time, that I needed to talk to her.

She called within 5 minutes wanting to know what was wrong.  I told her that nothing was wrong but that we hadn’t seen each other for days and that I needed to talk to her.  She promised to be there by 7.

There are lots of forks in the road and regretfully I have to say that how you look at things is ridiculously important to their turnout.  I could have been pissed off and would have been on so many days that she didn’t even notice that I was at the house that day and not at the Fancy Food Show.  I had to decide:  even if she was oblivious to my day-to-day plans, what good would I accomplish by hitting her over the head with that fact.

Is it really that easy?         Of course not.   No one wants to be a cheerleader all of the time, to feel like they are the one in the relationship that cares about it getting better, that they have to always be asking for what they want.  This gets out of balance easily and I know that all too well.

In any case, this evening was not the time to bring that up.  I needed someone to talk to and that someone was her. If only life was as pretty as the harmonies of the Flames behind James Brown at the Apollo when he sang Try Me.  It isn’t.  It’s a day-to-day grind where balance comes not from a single event but from managing expectations and enjoying what is all around.

Today’s soundtrack on the shuffleski.

DeLaSoul.  Let, Let me in.  Just let me in.   Sure looking fine and straddling all of the styles.

BB King.  I’m a blues man.  I am a good man.

The Beatles Please Please Me.   Oh yeah.

Eres, Café Tacuba.

Tangled Up In Blue, Bob Dylan

One By One All Day, The Shins

Mr. Brightside (duke dance mix).  The Killers.

Isis, Dylan again.

Ain’t no lockin’ up now, is there?

Chapter 33 Looking Downfield. He Is Still Looking Downfield.

Chapter 33

Looking Downfield. He Is  Still Looking Downfield.

There is no shame whatsoever in admitting that I was utterly stoked on my drive up to Napa that Monday morning.   Turning off of 80 East and heading north up 37 towards Napa (damn that new intersection was nice) I found the home base of pickle empire easily in a nondescript tilt up located near the airport in an equally non interesting business park.  I located the address that I had copied into Mapquest (for once) without problem but there was no name on the office number that he had given me.  No bell either.  So I knocked. And again.  Nothing.  No windows.  No sign.  No information.  Not even a no solicitors sign.

A sign?

I got back in the car and scrolled through the phone and found his call from Sunday.  He picked right up.  No hello.  “Who is this?

Jules.

Who?

Jules.”

He seemed to wake up.

“Oh, Jules, is it 10 already? Shit.  Where are you?” He sounded groggy.

“At the office.”

“Shit. And no one is there?”

“No.”

“Shit.  Listen.  I can’t make it for ½ an hour or so, there is a coffee shop ½ a mile up 37, go ahead and wait there for me, it is on the right going north named Sols.

Get yourself a latte.”

And then he was gone.

45 minutes and a lousy latte later a late-model 7 series BMW, ok it was clean and in good shape, pulled up and a balding middle aged man with a large stomach got out dressed in a way too tight athletic shirt that hung over the beginning signs of an equally middle aged stomach and way too tight designer jeans and cowboy boots.  He was yelling on his phone as he slammed the driver door closed.

One of the rules that I had set for myself when I went out into the non-employed zone was that I was going to stop working for crazy people.  This was the least that I could do for myself, I had a shitty track record, going back to one of my earliest jobs.  When I was 15 I worked for a lunatic who had persuaded the City of Rome that he was going to rebuild it (how?) and kept us employed shipping Iron Man and Hulk posters to kids around the country who filled in their comic book ads and sent us their dimes and quarters.  Don made sure we kept away from him by parading his Doberman Pincher, named Roma (what else?) around the office.  One day after he hadn’t paid us for a month (my bookkeeper is working on it) we showed up to work to find the doors locked and nothing left inside including the scale model of Rome.  He was never found.

Most of the rest of my bosses were just as nuts and believe me, I often wondered what it was about my character that attracted me to them and vice versa.  And while I knew that this character would likely never be my boss I could see a lot of danger signs before he even entered the café.

So what does the underemployed me that wants to get the hell out of the house do at that moment?  I did what most people who are underemployed would do at that moment. You stay you wait you listen you hope for the best.

So he bursts into the room breathing hard doesn’t make eye contact and begins explaining why he is running late, that he called his office manager, she is home sick declines to get coffee and says we need to get to the office follow me there.

And then once again he is gone and you hope for the best pay your bill and meet him there.  There is equally as strange.  First of all there is no one at the office.  There is a warehouse full of finished product neatly packed into cases of 6 and palletized.  The are some deserted cubicles, a receptionists desk and three offices.  Jesse, who is playing with his phone motions for me to sit in the office next to him.

It is the office of his former sales manager.  She apparently didn’t clean out her stuff when she quit last week.   Her photos (classically U.S. blonde cute in her 30’s married with one kid and suitably athletic husband) are still on her desk.

Should I have noticed that there was a skull and crossbones flying on the flagpole?  The in basket decorated with the stencil of a rat?  Or maybe the receptionist desk that was covered in strange white powder.

Or maybe I show up do my thing get out of the house and….hope for the best.  Which of course is what I did.

He handed me a bunch of notes next.  “These are the calls from the pissed off customers that she left hanging.  I think she kept files, find them, call these people and fix them.  We need to get this organic line off of the ground or I am fucked.”

And the once again he was long gone.  This time he left the building.  There was no one there to help me with questions and if someone called I would have no idea what to say.  How do you react to all of this?  We are professionals, we do our best, so I began sorting the notes by oldest first, they seemed to be straightforward group of callers, grocery stores, organic certifying agency, trade show representatives, food brokers.  Some went back several weeks, maybe she had been gone a while after all.

Working through her files I armed myself with enough information not to sound too stupid when I begin to call later that day.  I find price lists, announcements of the new organic pickled vegetable line and all of the trappings that a neat sales and marketing person would have.  Nothing to point towards a rift.

10 minutes later Jesse bursts back into the building but this time he is a completely different person.  He is much calmer and begins explaining that his sales manager had a breakup with her husband and quit, left the area and asks me to put her stuff in a box.  Then he asks to see the notes he gave me earlier and he gives me fairly cogent instructions on what to say to whom.    Then once again he is gone.

I work through the list and find most of the people forgiving.  As I do so I find her computer is unlocked and fire it up.  It is simple to locate her contact list, she has lots of notes and I get to work soothing nerves and assuring everyone that Jesse will be at the show.  This lasts until 12 when someone actually does show up who comes into the office and introduces herself as the office manager.  Ellen has no idea who I am or why I am there and when I explain it she just shrugs her soldier and says, “well, if that is what Jesse wants lets get some value out of you”.  For the next ½ hour she regales me with the history of the company, meteoric growth followed by a crash and now with everything invested and on the line.  If the show is not a good one Jesse has declared that he will take the tax write off and close it for once and for all.  She is funny, straightforward and good natured and tells me where I can get lunch.

And that is how it begins again.  Not with a bang or even a disturbance in the force.  I am at a desk faking it until I know what I am doing and no one seems to care and that is how it continues during the week.  Jesse never shows up again until Friday.  At that point while I am enjoying myself greatly and have found the local taqueria but at the same time we haven’t even discussed money yet or a contract and I have called him 4 times without reply.  This is the first subject on my agenda and Jesse without missing a beat smooth into slick as snot mode and replies.
“Oh yeah man, I completely understand, you know we all have to pay the bills, right?” He sort of half laughs this comment.  And did I miss something or does he have a new gold cap on one of his front teeth..!  He continues without hesitation or spacing in his sentences, “So here is what I can do.    I am sure that Ellen has filled you on our financial situation.  I need to have a good show to survive, I am way to far out on inventory on this organic line and I have to move it soon, what a short shelf life this shit has.  I know that you cant’ take all the risk, so I will pay you 50 bucks a day for your work and 5% of what you sell at the show to new accounts.”

Even though this is paper route money at this stage it doesn’t sound too bad, after all I haven’t paid in 9 months, so I say yes and then once again, he is gone.

That next week I bring an old lap top to work. I start going through my virtual rolodex and lining up a lot of my old contacts to see what I can do to increase sales.  Most take my call and by mid week I have lined upon a couple of fairly strong appointments with some brokers and stores that don’t carry the line.  Most are excited about a quality organic product and it feels fucking great to be back in the swing of things.  I also have eaten enough pickles to last several lives and it is a damn good product.   That always makes it easier.  I also am sure to send Jesse an email confirming our financial arrangement.  He, of course, does not reply.

Friday night comes and I am in a great mood.  The show starts Monday morning and I will have to be in later on Sunday to set up the booth.  She who has been supportive throughout this ordeal and I go out to an excellent meal at Rivoli, our favorite neighborhood haunt and fall asleep watching the 10 o’clock news after big food white dog makes another furtive but futile attempt to join us in the king bed.

On Saturday morning I realize that I haven’t meditated in days and my whole being seems to cry out for some quiet time in the old mancave.  As I settle in to the deep rhythmic breathing I think about how wonderful it feels to be part of the team again, even if it is a strange one without bearing.  As I think of sports and teams I have a strange meditation, unlike those that I have had before.  My thoughts are more focused, more driven and less based on what has happened to me in the past.  I face the future and think of how it would feel to do something that I have never done.  A person that I have never been.

A quarterback.

I honestly can’t say where this even comes from.  I have 0 quarterback genes or instinct in me.  My family forefathers was busy throwing Molotov’s at Nazi tanks not spirals across grassy fall lawns.  Yet there my mind was with a number forming in it.  The number was seven.  Perfect centered number of touchdown.  I would be throw the tight spiral.

I began with a mental image of myself on a football field.  Where it is doesn’t matter.  I am throwing a football across a field on an autumn day.  I know this is a fantasy.  I will never throw a perfect spiral, I know this because I sure the hell can’t no matter how I try.  And I love this meditation because now I can.

I am standing on the field that is what matters.  It could be a stadium full of cheering spectators.  I may be standing alone on a crisp autumn day.  I smell the air, feel the sun in front of me.  I imagine myself behind the stacked bodies of the 0-line as the ball is hiked firmly into my hand and I drop back.   I am a 12-year old realizing his talent for the first time and then Brett Favre at any point in his career (except his last season with the Jets, don’t go there it will only lead to pain).   I have set the mental stage.

I see the football in my hand. I hold it up and bring it to my chest as I bend my elbows.  Now, I look at the laces, place and place my fingers across them.  I grip the ball comfortably, it fits perfectly in my hand.

Now I look up and then downfield.  I locate my target. Eyes are clear and focused.  Hips and shoulders face the sideline.  I am ready to begin the throw.

My elbow begins to rise as I step forward; transferring the weight from my back foot to front, feeling the energy rising through the motion of my arm now moving rapidly yet gracefully forward.  At the peak of the arc of the arm motion I let go and release the ball, the nose of the dimpled brown pigskin pointing up and forward as it sails away in a perfect spinning spiral.  I step back and admire the sight, brown football against blue sky as the ball heads towards the target.   There is no pain in my arm, the motion is fluid the release perfect as my wrist falls gently to your side.

I stand there and watch target receive the throw and sprint away.  There is no late hit.  No penalty flag.  No offensive interference call.  Just 7.

The receiver catches the ball to score to the cheers of the crowd. There is the smile of my son or daughter instead or it an image of the perfect cheerleader that I lusted for but never had.  I finish the meditation in the way I like, choosing a particularly dark fate for that cheerleader that is not for sharing.   That is the freedom of manful meditation.

As I end the meditation I am hungry again.  I return to thoughts of dinner.  Is it warm enough to grill?

Hell yes.  This is sports.  I am hungry.

Pounded Chicken Breast a la Sweets (for 2 persons)

2 large chicken breasts.

Olive Oil

Lemon Juice

Rosemary

Pepper

Salt

1/3 stick butter

Capers

Place a single chicken breast in a plastic bag and place that over a cutting board.  Use a kitchen mallet or something else that is heavy to pound those suckers until they are less than ½ inch thick.

Cover with a bit of olive oil, pepper and rosemary sprigs.

Heat the grill to 450.  Place breasts on the grill and rosemary on top.  Cook for 4 minutes.  Turn ¼ of the way to cross mark.  Cook 2 more minutes.  Discard rosemary and flip.  Cook 4 minutes or to firm touch.

While the back side is cooking melt butter in a saucepan.  Whisk in lemon juice, add capers and a bit of the rosemary.  Keep warm.

Plate the chicken and add sauce.  Goes well with grilled asparagus and twice baked potatoes (then again what doesn’t?).

As I pound the chicken breasts to bits my mental music shuffle turns to great songs about chickens.

The list is short but fun.

Crow Back Chicken.  Ry Cooder.  I like chicken pie too.

Dixie chicken.  Little Feet.  And I will be your Tennessee lamb indeed.

Chicken Wire.  Ron Wood & Ronnie Lane.  Just an instrumental diddy.

Do the Funky Chicken.  Rufus Thomas.

And last but not least

Ain’t Nobody Here But Us Chickens, Louie Jordan.

I cluck there.

Chapter 25 Home Again. (And again.)

Chapter 25

Home Again.

(And again.)

Do you want it well done?

The next day I returned home to the every, every and give it to me one more time, every day routine.  It didn’t take more than another long dull morning with no set plans to reduce my newly found confidence to that of a third grader who has lost his milk money.

It is amazing how corrosive having nothing to do is to my well-being and to my confidence. And that is the point isn’t it?  Doing nothing or even doing less is seen as a defeat both by society and by myself.

Men, and certainly those of us that have a burning drive to succeed, are taught over and over to go for the gusto, the gold, the big prize.  To win what’s behind the third door. Anything less is a considered to be failure. There are no awards for those who came in 10th out of 10,000 runners even though they are in the top .01% of whatever they are doing.

Yes, us guys aren’t trained, or perhaps just not aware enough to enjoy the simple day-to-day victories in our lives. The place where real satisfaction is  found. Worse yet, we are not rewarded for accomplishing them.   So we keep trying to hit the ball out of the park.

Men tend to run in packs.  As such, it is not surprising that our behavior patterns have turned out this way. Look at the messages we receive in the ads we watch. Have you ever seen a beer ad (remember that beer is one of the big rewards guys are presumed to look forward to in order to enjoy themselves) that features a solitary man dealing with the broken drive belt on a washing machine, a leaking faucet or a faulty gas valve on the backyard bbq?  You don’t see him finding that missing password on the email account or fixing the router that is down before he gets a cold one.   Yet these are the everyday tasks of the modern man.  While this is the realm where we do most of our work we receive no rewards for these tasks except our own personal satisfaction. Unfortunately, we believe that this alone is never enough.

How many of us spend our days driving through the wide-open countryside, working on large construction projects with concrete and mud in the beds of our sweetly tuned pick up trucks?  Not as many as the ad companies would have us believe I suspect.

We are more likely to be painting a wall then building a new one (or hiring someone to do both).

Why is it that the daily work that men do is simply expected of us?  Is it because we are taught not to ask for praise or a thank you?  Have our spouses and partners become immune or oblivious?

Maybe there is another reason.

Men are expected to hit the shot, the target, the bulls- eye.  When we succeed, it is assumed instead of appreciated. Women, on the other hand, do a much better job of letting us know when they want to be recognized for success. And when they don’t succeed, they are more accepting of their failures.  We just get ‘er done and if we don’t, say fuck it, if we say anything at all.

And that isn’t all.  To make matters more complicated the she’s have left for work permanently and once that door swung upon it stayed that way. Our wives (and/or partners) aren’t coming home to polish the floors and many of them are out-earning their husbands and boyfriends.  (As a quick aside, if you can’t handle that fact, check your pride at the door and grow up. You are a couple. Period.)  The rules of engagement have changed.

The downside of their mass departure from the casa is that now you can add a crying child that refuses to be calmed, a sink full of dishes and, in my case, a sweetie pie that doesn’t want or care to cook to the male taskbar.

Now in all fairness that last aspect of the current state of affairs is just fine with me.  I am not sure how I would have handled a competitive voice in the kitchen.  Frankly, I don’t think it would have been easy for me to have a collaborator jousting for position on the cutting board.

I bring this up to illustrate that the list of required guy tasks has broadened beyond firing the back yard grill on Sundays.  It now includes cooking a mean beef stew (if not a boeuf bourginon), knowing which red to serve with it and how to make a passable dessert. Ah but once again thoughts of food overwhelm me and I immediately digress from the moment at hand.

It is a complicated set of tasks that we all face.  These feelings come  home when we don’t have careers to rely upon and the days are no longer structured.

But hold the phone there was good news on the line that particular morning.  Instead of wandering back into the double-edged sword of wandering the Internet as I did so often, I chose another route. I took action.  The day witnessed a change in behavior.  The morning would turn out different.  I had a battle plan and now it was time to launch it, an alternative to the continuous mild discomfort and excess down time of the unemployed male. No more talk about starting my meditation plan or outlining what to do.  It was time to start-up the mental engines.

So I fired up the 6-pound Dell and threw my little meditation plan on a flash-drive. I quickly transferred it to the Mac.  Then I opened Ical and created a new calendar group titled  ‘Manful Meditation’.  Ignoring for the moment how blank the week was, I blocked out 30 minutes every morning to walk and thus exercise big foot white dog and myself, 30 minutes for yoga and 15 minutes for manful meditation.  Every day, 3 blocks of time to focus on and provide a structure to the day.

Yet, looking at those isolated bright blue squares spread out across the days of week, I felt kind of sad.  Did I really need to do this?  Putting order to my life had as much appeal to me as the taste of castor oil to a 7-year-old, or at least how I imagine that taste to be. We never had it in the house.  On the other hand, we had other flavor tortures way back then like tongue and bone marrow, now both hip but that is another story completely.

The screen was doubly depressing as there were no other entries for the entire week. But I had to try to get some discipline into this process or nothing would ever change.  And this was that moment.

It was early enough in the day put my plan into action. To hear the white dog cry out with happiness when the magic world ‘walk’ was uttered and head up the hill together for a strenuous hike before the rains started later that early winter afternoon.

I threw on some old sweats and left the house with the ipod blaring. The music kept my pace strong as my furry companion pulled me up the path to Indian Rock and onwards. It was a cold but clear day and the bay shimmered out in the distance as I climbed the North Berkeley hills. As I did, the ipod shuffle program uncannily scored a 10 of 10, tossing out a variety of music and styles that made me smile.  Here is what it played:

Today’s real life shuffle 10 (courtesy of the ipod)

-Bumpin on Sunset. Wes Montgomery.  Just as funky 50(could it be?) years later. A guitar sound of his own.

-Gone Baby Gone. Violent Femmes.  Filthy.  Depraved.  Love your dress.

-Angel Eyes Ella Fitzgerald w/ Frank Sinatra (live).  Two masters.

-Should I Stay Or Should I Go?  The Clash (live).  No comment needed.

-Secrets. Eliane Elias.  Smooth as a 25 year old Flor De Cana Nicaraguan rum.

-What I See (Family guy) Randy Newman.  Very funny. Where did this come from?

-Breakdown (bootleg live) Tom Petty.  Yes, everyone sings along with Tom in California.

-Blame It on Yourself. Ivy.  This breathy French girl is just such a bitch? Yet he still can’t help himself from wanting her.

-Superlungs.  Donavan.  The ultimate hippy singing a b–track. about a 14 year old pot smoking girl.

-Rahde Krishna. DJ Chebb I Sabbah.  Om meets hip in trancelike grooves.

A set no radio station will ever approach.  What a game changing device it is.

The walk flew by and I picked up some fresh Kaiser rolls.   After returning home and putting my stuff away, I threw down the yoga mat and began a light work out with the traditional Ashtanga sun salute poses, stretching and calming.  A little tree, a little spine stretching.  It felt good. Then I walked downstairs and found the cushion, white dog wisely staying upstairs to absorb the last of the morning sun on the beige wool carpet.  After shutting the door to the mancave (why I thought, no one is here…)I sat down, moved into a lotus (without thinking about pain or worrying!), closed my eyes and began to breathe.  Time to implement the burger meditations. So I started looking for them. Nothing happened. Where were they? When would they come?  What was going to happen? My brain flooded with doubt.

Would this work I began to wonder?  Was my theory of self-directed male oriented meditation just plain vanilla bullshit? Was I kidding myself trying to find an excuse not to follow the rules where none was truly needed?

Why couldn’t I just settle for thousands of years of proven relaxation techniques?  Not good enough for the big man?  Why did I have to rebel against these well-known and successful schools of thought?

Perhaps it was the effect of growing up in the 60’s and 70’s where we rebelled against everything and tore so much down, always believing that there would be something better around the corner, that we could improve on whatever was out there no matter what we started with. Or maybe it was my early exposures to mediation. In high school I met people who were chanting Nam Myoho Renge Kyo for a new car, a television or a million dollars.  What material nonsense. Other practitioners appeared to be lobotomized, the Hare Krishna dancing blissfully and mindlessly down the street.  Still other forms of meditation focused on a phrase, a mantra, to be repeated over and over.  All of that sounded horrible and contributed to my instinctive distrust of those practices and thus Eastern thought.

Now I hoped that I had a much better route to finding some kind of peace.  I had to know if I could make it by thinking and meditating about those things that make me happy. So I closed my eyes again and this time I let go of all thought.  Without further effort the second hamburger meditation commenced after a few minutes of emptiness.  And what a beauty it turned out to be.

At first the meditation resembled that of the previous day in the airplane.  That part was great.  I thought about the burger itself, a humble yet exalted create  food  capable of infinite variety.   I continued my personal search for a perfect burger, exploring the relative virtues of cooking temperatures and the results, rare vs. medium, well done to steak tartare.  I visualized charcoal and gas, frying pan and oven broiler.  Everything was going great but as the meditation continued on without warning the burgers began to change and not in a good way.

It stared innocently enough.  I started to think about ground meat.  Why when you purchased it at the store why was the meat in the package red on the outside and grey on the inside.?  Well that was the mental banana peel to a host of horrors.

I saw visions of frozen meat packed into cardboard boxes marked not fit for human consumption.  The boxes contained countless pre-formed 3-ounce patties made from beef blended with ammonia processed fat remnants that could barely be called meat.  Burgers full of saturated fat and sodium.  Others laced with e-coli that I couldn’t see but felt. Frisbees made of fat and slat that destroyed societal health in the name of providing cheap food at unrealistically inexpensive prices subsidized by government.

Things got darker and darker. I pulled myself out the meditation when the maggots started to appear a bit shaken by the power of the visual imagery. All this in the image of burger.  Yes yes yes and more.

I looked at the clock in the mancave. 30 minutes had gone by.  Despite the negative ending, I felt strangely calm and rested and some of the anxiety of the early morning was gone.

The rest of the day passed easily with a quick lunch of Teriyaki chicken with udon and mixed vegetables and some overdue work in the garden.  I was peaceful throughout.

I continued this pattern for the rest the week.   A walk in the morning followed by yoga and then a focused burger mediation.  I wanted to see if I could spend a week on one subject.

The third meditation of the burger sequence on Wednesday was really sweet. It began with a reflection on the many different kinds. Ground turkey started it off followed by chicken and then lamb.  The lamb took me briefly into a sort of Greek theme and my mind watched a shimmering ground meat shwarma spit turning and turning in front of a fire for what seemed like a very very long time.

Thursday’s fourth burger meditation started innocently enough before I went all Sinclair on it.  I spend a lot of time looking at the structure of the burger itself. Some were so simple and elegant focused on the quality of the meat, the way it should crumble in your mouth.  Others  were huge productions with a host of additional ingredients from onion rings to blue cheese to half sour pickles.

But most of the meditation looked at the role of the bun. It is the foundation of this house. It must be thick enough to support the mean but thin enough not to get in the way of the main feature. Yet as the burger is eaten it becomes something new, part of the evolution of the meal itself.  The juices drip into the structure of the bread creating something akin to a miniature Yorkshire pudding or a French toast with gravy as the lubricant.

If only the dark side of my brain would have left well enough alone.  At some point I got lost on the meat itself again and this time that led right back to Bessie.   Oh you can guess where it went from there.  Do not pass go, head directly to holocaust like images of slaughterhouses and feeding pens full of terrorized bovines.  Suddenly I smelled the awful stench of the feeding pens on I-5 driving from SF to LA.  It was all spinning out of mental control when I heard the voice (of all damn people) of Anthony Bourdain and his speech about animals and why even though we don’t enjoy it, we love to eat them too much to stop.

To quote:

“Vegetarians, and their Hezbollah-like splinter faction, the vegans, are a persistent irritant to any chef worth a damn. To me, life without veal stock, pork fat, sausage, organ meat, demi-glace, or even stinky cheese is a life not worth living. Vegetarians are the enemy of everything good and decent in the human spirit, and an affront to all I stand for, the pure enjoyment of food. The body, these waterheads imagine, is a temple that should not be polluted by animal protein. It’s healthier, they insist, though every vegetarian waiter I’ve worked with is brought down by any rumor of a cold.”

Truth that.

Eventually I calmed down.  I finished the meditation in a field of fat well-fed beer drinking Kobe cows grazing the hills of Japan with an imaginary Mt. Fuji looming in the background.

As the end of the week was upon me it was time for the fifth burger and final burger meditation.  This time I had a goal, I decided to think about my favorite burgers over the years.  Eyes closed, breathing normally and deeply and comfortable on the cushion indeed, I went right into this historical jaunt.  The first dish to come to mind was from my childhood.  We never had burgers at home so I spent time in an image of my mom’s meat loaf, always served in the same oval blue baking pan and covered with a sauce that a later learned was ketchup that she applied during the last minutes of cooking.  For our house, a gastronomic event.

I moved from there to days spent with a junior high friend at a long gone burger stand that his parents owned on Crenshaw Blvd. south of Santa Barbara (now King) in LA.  There, in a burger stand owned by Jews no less, w we broke the Kosher rules with their boring but passable cheeseburgers and fries. From there to a chili size (a burger in chili covered with cheese and reheated in the oven) at the Hamburger Hamlet on Sepulveda Blvd. on the west side that we loved in high school and where I saw my first leather booth.  I can’t forget the first taste of an In and Out burger on Arrow Highway, our escape from the dorm food at Claremont Men’s College.   Then on to Clown Alley and Grubstake and 3 in the morning when I first moved to the City and what about Barney’s with the kids.

Then the era of fancy pants burgers arrived and they suddenly appeared at fine restaurants throughout the city, somewhat out-of-place at dinner, the country bumpkin invited to a fancy dinner with fine china and real silverware.  But they held their own and now I can enjoy a good burger just about everywhere.

As my mediation ended and eyes opened I realized how burgers had followed me throughout life.  They were always there. whether I was rich or poor. What amazing dishes whether eaten simple or complicated, true food chameleons in our lives.

All this in a burger indeed.

Only the noodle has more variations. Noodles…hmmm,, maybe that would be the them for next week.

I had to leave the mancave at that point.  We had company coming over for dinner that night, sweets was working late (surprise that), the house was a mess and the shopping wasn’t done.

I handled the tasks easily that day and enjoyed them. The resentment I so often felt about my life situation was missing for a change.  I hope it enjoyed the vacation from my life. I was curiously calm.

The weather was actually pretty nice that evening, so much so that I uncovered the bbq.  I grilled swordfish.

Chili Size

Grilled hamburger patties

Chili.  Any recipe is fine.

Cheddar Cheese shredded.

Chopped fine raw onions.

Portions to taste and to size of crowd

Grill your burgers to medium rare.  Have your chili ready and hot.  In a baking dish arrange the patties.  Cover with chili and top with grated cheddar cheese.  Cook in hot oven until cheese has melted and is bubbling.  Top with chopped raw onions.

Buns are completely optional, historically served open-faced.


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