30 June 2007

Loving Everyone, Squirrels And A-Holes Included

Posted by Picasa

Scariest book you'll ever read. It's a scary, scary
squirrel world, and we're just living in it.


It's me, Thaddeus. Remember me? I showed up in your house somewhere back in 1962 - June, I believe. The 27th, to be exact. 45 years and three days ago. You thought mom and dad had brought a puppy home from the hospital. Ring a bell?

I'd have to use a calendar to recall how long it has been since I heard from you. And not just any calendar. I mean the Mayan Calendar, because it seems like millennia. I know you have a penchant for holing up inside your tuba with a peanut butter sandwich and a book of Green Stamps, thrift and nut butters being your keenest interests. But you should really poke your chalky-white face outside once in a while and take a look at who's making all the racket. You may find that it's me, the puppy your folks brought home from the hospital, begging you to throw me a bone. Or a word. Whatever.

I've been doing things. Working, for one. Reading, for another. I got a couple of really great books for my birthday. One was "Squirrels of the West" (Tamara Hartson, editor). Squirrels have filled me with a combination of warmth, fascination and horror ever since we had one as a pet when we were kids. Remember Desiree? Our little pet squirrel that we kept in the house who taught herself how to ride the turntable on the stereo? (Squirrels are such smart little bastards! Cross a monkey and a rat, get a squirrel. S'true. It's in every squirrel's creation mythology that they are the descendents of Hanuman and Karni Mata. Just ask one.) And remember how she pooped on, like, everything we owned? Living with a partially-domesticated squirrel is like randomly firing crap-rockets inside your own home. Few except us will ever experience the exhilaration of a chittering, crapping blur whizzing by their oatmeal bowl and caroming off the walls first thing in the morning. Unbelievable that we got away with it. No wonder dad drank so much. Either he let us get away with it because he was anesthetized by a half-rack of Carling most of the time, or he kept himself half-racked as a defense against random crap-rocket attacks. Not too sure which. Anyway, the book lets me feed my fascination with these vituperate, tree-dwelling rodents in the comfort of my own home, where I'm now safe from crap-rocket attacks. That is until I step outside of course.

Perhaps this book will teach me how to harness the power of squirrels for good. This has been one of my goals in life, believe it or not. A friend of mine once wrote a play wherein squirrels were a pervasive and aggregate evil. Hundreds of them would combine to create human forms and then attack the unsuspecting, Trojan Horse style. Not too far from real life, if you ask me. Judging from his personality, my cat could be nothing more than a dozen bilious and phlegmatic squirrels held together by cat-shaped spackle who are just waiting for the opportunity to explode like a seed pod and attack me from every corner of my being. But what if I could harness those squirrels and use their combined power to mow the lawn, replace my toilets, or shoot out the legs of my rivals? (That's a job best left for raccoons. -Ed.) Then I could make some real money. Then I could drive down Broadway in a faux gold trimmed Lincoln with a license frame that read "My Other Car Is A Squirrel".

The other book I got for my birthday was "Best Buddhist Writing 2006" which is more of a hoot than its title would lead you to believe. Usually books on religious matters are all too serious and leave me feeling like I've taken some kind of medicine that does nothing more than make me feel bad for being a schmuck. Not so much with this book, though. Allow me to submit as proof the laugh-out-loud-funny and deeply touching "Hair Braiding Meditation" by Seattle poet Polly Trout that is included in the book.

May I be filled with loving kindness. May I be well. May I be peaceful and at ease. May I be happy.

May my daughter, who wants a billion tiny little braids this morning, be filled with loving kindness. May she be well. May she be peaceful and at ease going to school with a billion tiny little braids.

May her best friend, who got a billion tiny little braids put in her hair at Club Med Ixtapa last week, be filled with loving kindness. Also her mother, may she be peaceful and at ease. And the woman the mother hired to do all that cornrowing, may she be well. May she be happy.

May I be filled with loving kindness as I put in these billion tiny little braids. May I be peaceful and transcend greed. Also, may I go to Club Med Ixtapa next season, when the beach will be even more inspiring due to my newly enlightened and greed-free state. May I be happy.

May my coworkers be filled with loving kindness as they wonder why I am late for work as I make these billion tiny braids. May they be peaceful and at ease.

May my daughter not notice that these braids are not nearly as cute as her friend’s braids that got done professionally in Ixtapa, or if she does notice, may she be peaceful and at ease about that, please for God’s sake.

May my toddler, currently trying to vie for my attention as I make these tiny braids for her big sister, be filled with loving kindness. May she be peaceful and at ease.

May my mother, who did this for me when I was five, be filled with loving kindness. May she be peaceful and at ease. I wonder why I never thanked her for that.

May I remember this day sitting with my daughter, braiding her hair, late for work again, peaceful and at ease, happy.

There's also the work of Marc Ian Barasch, an apparently very prolific Buddhist writer who I've never had the pleasure of reading before. What I really like about him is that he's a sort of Buddhist Everyman, a Dharma-working shlub who readily exposes his multiple warts and confesses his manifold failings in the face of his Bodhisattva vows. It's kind of like what it would be like if Thich Nhat Hanh did slapstick. My kinda thing, in other words. I highly recommend his essay "Searching for the heart of compassion". Aside from being quite engaging on an intellectual level, it's just plain fun reading. There's something very refreshing about teachers who engage in this sort of reverse pedagogy: "I can't tell you how to do it right, but I can tell you how many times I had good intentions and still completely fucked it up. Maybe you can pick up where I left off."

Which brings me to a point which I consistently get hung up on: how to love the assholes in your life. As Barasch says in his essay, it's pretty easy to love the good people. Our expressions of compassion get winnowed down to the precious few in our lives. But compassion is supposed to be for everybody. And everybody means everybody: you, me, that guy I don't know, that asshole that wants to kill me, squirrels - everybody. The issue that I'd like to addressed exhaustively is how to express compassion for people who hate you. Better still, how to express compassion for people who will turn around and use your compassion to harm you. I mean, c'mon. Everyone has had that happen one time in their lives. There are people in the world who will do whatever they can to capitalize on the best part of your nature and will at some point use whatever you say or do to stab you. One of that species of person is mentioned in the article, but the issue is only dealt with briefly, and that is to say that a line was drawn in the sand. "Letting you use me as a doormat isn't good for either of us, so in the spirit of compassion, I'm telling you in the kindest way possible to fuck off and stay fucked off. Namaste." But there has to be more you can do than that, isn't there? Or is there? Maybe there comes a point when you're dealing with someone who can't help but be abusive that you just have to say "Okay, I'm done" and break that contact permanently. Maybe the only way to make that action compassionate is to not do it in a spirit of anger or retribution, but in a spirit of contributing to mutual well-being.

Or maybe I should just sic some squirrels on 'em.



27 June 2007

It's My 45th Birth - Wait, What Was I Saying Again?

Posted by Picasa

This is the look of old. The ravages of time as recorded by a camera held in my
quaking 45-year-old hand.


Jesus Christ, I'm 45 today. That means that you're...wait, I have to do the math...plus five...carry the twelve...six hundred and seventy eight years old, give or take. I don't know why people get so wanged out about getting older. I really don't feel any different than I did when I was seventeen...other than a little smarter...and not so impulsive...and my propensity for using ellipses has increased....yes it has.

Know what gives away the fact that I'm old? Here's the difference between my 20th birthday and my 45th. On my 20th, all I wanted to do was snort coke and Jim Beam off hookers while jumping the Snake River Canyon on a Yamaha. And for the most part that was how I rolled in back then. Now all I want to do is spend the day in my back yard, sitting in my folding recliner, yelling at my cat to shut up. And that's most likely what I'll be doing. And it'll be ossum. And I'll be happy.

What was I saying again?

Oh yeah. So we filled our ears with coins and swam naked all the way to Boston. And that' s how we me and your uncle Humbert licked the Jerries back in dubyah dubyah ought five. The End.

Oh man! You know what I've got in my back yard? Raspberries! They just ripened up the other day. We only have a few little canes, but they're pumping out a crapload of fruit. We threw some on some Chex the other day. Chex with raspberries in the back yard - now there's a picnic! If only we could've found a way to barbecue it...

Didja see that we (meaning RealNetworks) just released a new version of the RealPlayer that'll let you download videos right off the Web and barbecue 'em on a DVD so you can show 'em on your plasma TV and make your friends blow milkshakes through their noses from laughing at stuff like this right here? (Friends and milkshakes not included.) S'true. I fully endorse its use, however I'm barred from using it for religious reasons as I believe that putting your image on a DVD will trap your soul, then expose it to ridicule by milkshake -snorting troglodytes seated 'round a plasma TV.

Tip For Campers: While I was in Yellowstone, I got some kind of rash on my ankles, most likely from coming into contact with poison ivy or poison oak or poison raspberries or some damn thing while I was running around camp in my sandals. After I got home, I'll be gol-damned if I didn't re-inflame my ankles by putting on my sandals without washing them first. My point is that once an article of clothing has been exposed to poison [insert plant name here], it must be burned, and the earth around it must be salted, and you must turn your back on it and never speak of it again.

Don't I have a job? Shouldn't I be at work right now? Yes, I probably should be. Too bad for them

I'm going to go eat cake for breakfast because I'm a grown-up and I can do that.

Know what I really want for my birthday? The Field Guide to Squirrels. I know it exists, even though I can't find it on the InterWebs. I saw it in a bookstore just last Saturday. I plucked it from the shelf and gazed upon its pages with a mixture of awe and terror. Teresa axed me why on earth I would want that book for my birthday. I answered her with one simple phrase: Know thine enemy.

Time to go wring out the dog.



24 June 2007

A Tale Of Two Toilets

Posted by Picasa
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair. My toilets offended me so I cast
them out...all by myself, even!


Have you ever used a toilet? It's that big porcelain thing full of water in that "closet" in the house that has other stuff that water comes out of. Looks kinda like something that would be produced if the "comedy" mask mated with the Elephant Man. Yeah, that thing. If you find one in your house, give it a wide berth and approach it with caution. If my experience is any indication, it could capriciously explode at any moment.

I only ask because I know you're the practical sort and as such may have eschewed the use of such sophisticated and pernicious plumbing accoutrements in favor of a large yard, some wide-leafed shrubs and a sturdy spade. Hey, I'm with you. If it's good enough for the cat... Unfortunately my wife does not share this purview, and demanded that I replace the toilets.

Wait, I'm ahead of myself.

I have two toilets in the house, one upstairs and one in the apartment downstairs. The downstairs toilet had been a cauldron of filth since the day we moved in. From the looks of it, the former tenants attempted to flush toxic waste and dead prostitutes with little success. To make matters worse, the owner of the house left the apartment unheated when it wasn't occupied, thus creating a cave-like atmosphere which in turn caused the toilet to grow a rather stout green beard 'round about the seat. It more closely resembled a troll than anything else. To our credit, we did give it a very thorough cleaning. This removed the beard, but not toxic waste or prostitute residue. It was functional nonetheless, so we (meaning I) took occasion to make it feel useful from time to time. It returned my kindness by failing. To wit, the wall spigot went to hell and then the inflow valve went on vacation. And one of the bolts that secures it to the shitter cap snapped off. As you can surmise, using this toilet was like the combined thrill of riding a mechanical bull while hoping against hope for a payoff from a slot machine. It had to go.

On the upside, even if the downstairs toilet was ferkochte, we still had the upstairs toilet. But then that one decided - apropos of nothing - to fracture its tank and send wee little tsunami rumbling through the bathroom...at 9PM...on a school night. I mean no one was even sitting on the goddamn thing when it busted! I say if you're going to crack and flood my bathroom, at least let it be because I beat you with a Crescent wrench. (How frequently do you say that and to whom? The authorities would like to know. -Ed.)

So there we were, a household without Toilet One, having to clench our bowels through the dark night, into the next day, and down the street to the Starbucks. When morning came, I called the first number of the first plumber on the first piece of junk mail I could find. (By the way, I found out that your mortgage company pimps out your personal information to every Tom, Dick and Plumber in thirty states the minute your loan funds.) Luckily, these guys were the shit (pun intended). They showed up on time (which just about made me faint dead away), took an educated and meaningful look at my situation, and showed me the rate sheet. They told me that what I could do for ten bucks worth of parts, they couldn't do for $400 in labor. They told me the parts I needed, and bid me adieu with no charge whatsoever for the call. I am their customer for life.

In the process of replacing the parts, I got the overwhelming "fuckitden" urge. If we were just going to replace the toilet when we refurbished the bathroom, just fuckitden. Might as well rip the freakin' things out and install a new one. Which is precisely what I did. I tore out two toilets and purchased and installed a new one. Now at least we have one functioning toilet. We also have one hole in the floor downstream from it that roars and gurgles every time you flush. I'm thinking of jamming a big-ass funnel in there and using it just the same (pun not intended), long as I can keep it secret from the wife.

But here's the important thing, not only was my standing as a man increased by doing all of this*, my admiration for our brother John's vocation as a plumber is now boundless. Now I know that he has to deal with The Most Noisome And Disgusting Object Known To Man on a daily basis - the wax ring that seals the toilet to the sewer pipe and keeps the evil locked within. I'd go into more detail, but you no doubt have a peanut butter sandwich in your hand at this very moment and will chunder directly into your tuba if I say any more.

Which reminds me of something I heard the Dalai Lama said once regarding attachment: "Even a delicious piece of chocolate cake eventually becomes something that no one likes."

Namaste on that, my brother!



...not to mention the angle that I stand at, considering that deadlifting and carrying two toilets fucked up my back Grand Royal.