Friday, March 25, 2011

A Mysterious Encounter in the Laundromat

I’ve been reading a book my mother has often recommended, Rapid Relief from Emotional Distress, which is largely a cognitive approach, and I’ve been finding it remarkably helpful, though one must be careful not to use this kind of thing, ditto one’s meditation practice, to try to avoid feelings that need to be felt. So I say to myself, “I accept that the building manager has a party every Thursday night,” and immediately feel a bit of relief, and less anxiety and urgency.

As it happened, there was no party this week, which was great, but it would have been OK if there had been.

RRFED says that once you have accepted things as they are (where have I heard that before?) and understand that if your happiness depends on other people changing, you’ll always be unhappy, you can then decide on your goals and consider your actual choices, which are likely many.

This is basically equanimity practice. I observed to my mother that Dad has a great deal of equanimity; she agreed. I recalled a time when my mother accidentally (did I say this before?) drove a rare brand-new car of my father’s clear across town with the parking brake on. He went into a store to do a quick errand and my mother said to me, “Oh, no. The parking brake was on the whole time.” I wondered if she might simply not mention it, or if she did, whether my father would be quite annoyed.

But when he returned, my mother immediately said, “I drove all the way here with the parking brake on,” and my father said, in his normal tone of voice, “OK,” and that was all there was to that.

He’s also very kind; I know I’ve said that before. My mother has decided to get more exercise, so, to support her, my father is accompanying her on walks and told her he’ll be happy to do so every day—he said that while she might regard it as her exercise program, for him it will be togetherness.

(Thank you, Dad, for taking such good care of my beloved mother, and of all of us.)

This past Sunday I went to Phillip Moffitt’s daylong at Spirit Rock in a City CarShare car. It was a rainy morning, and just as I was getting to San Rafael on 101, there was the most spectacular huge rainbow. The daylong was kind of miserable because I had stayed up too late cooking the night before, and so was sleepy all day, but it was definitely worthwhile. We did several sessions of meditation using a variety of techniques, and Phillip mentioned several times how there’s the experience, and there’s the commentary on the experience, and how as soon as we start commenting (mentally, to ourselves) on our experience, we are no longer available to the actual experience.

This idea of availability has stuck in my mind. Phillip spoke about this explicitly. What is it to be fully available? Perhaps it means not thinking about one thing while doing another, and also not having tense, cramped places in the body. Since the daylong, I’ve been particularly inspired to focus carefully and to try to prolong the spaces between mental comments—two seconds here, five there, ten!

After not having done laundry for a month, I did seven loads yesterday evening—a sign that I have too much underwear and too many pairs of socks—and these events occurred: A slender fellow about six feet tall dressed all in dark baggy clothes came in, bought laundry soap from the machine, put his clothes into two washers, put his large black duffel bag on top of one of his washers, and departed.

Then he returned, picked up the bag, walked over to me, and asked, “Is this your bag?”, at which point I realized it was another fellow entirely, of similar dimensions and sartorial persuasion.

I said, “No, I believe it belongs to the guy whose laundry is in those machines.” This guy had rather intense, borderline menacing energy. He noted my answer with a “Hmm” or a “Huh,” walked away, appeared to be tapping on the box that contains the fire extinguisher, and then departed. I couldn’t figure out what he’d been doing, so I walked over and saw that he had tagged (tagged on?) the fire extinguisher box, just a few characters, the last being “3.” I could still smell the marker fumes in the air. (It was red, if that matters. Oh, maybe it does, come to think of it.)

The first fellow returned, eating from a crinkly bag of crunchy snacks, suggesting he had been to the corner store. I told him what had happened, pointing out that his bag wasn’t where he had left it—the tagger had thrown it down on the other washer—and I showed him the new graffiti and asked, “What does it mean?”

He said firmly, “It doesn’t mean anything.” Then, “It means ‘I am a moron.’” Then, with extreme casualness, “Which way did the guy go?” And then he looked out the window, in a very low-key fashion. A vague unease came upon me at that point and I was kind of glad I was taking the last things out of my last dryer. When I left, he said, “Thank you.”

I went home and reported this to Tom and said, “I think he knew perfectly well what that graffiti meant,” and Tom said, “I think you’re right.”

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Bird Buster Fluster

A few other random occurrences: The last Saturday in February, I took the bus up to Novato and spent the weekend with Carol Joy. We had lunch at Toast and dinner at a Thai place in San Rafael (not Thai Smile) and breakfast the next day at a place in downtown Novato, and we played several hands of Sneaky Pete, and we saw two movies: No Strings Attached and Just Go With It.

By the way, the reason having to buy a mattress was a psychological burden was that I just did it not that long ago, and it took forever, and I ended up with something that now needs replacing (I think). Per the Internet, quite a large percentage of people end up being unhappy with whatever they buy.

I’m now sleeping on the new mattress and the old one is sheathed in aluminum foil (I guess it’s been a while since it was tin foil), but I have the strong feeling that one of these days I’ll be asking Tom to come down and help me swap them so I can retest the old bed. Just to be sure.

An ominous note appeared in the lobby of my apartment building several weeks ago saying that “Bird Busters” was coming to deal with the pigeons on the fire escape. I hastened to their website, where practically the first thing it says is that they are bird friendly. Whew! On the appointed day, I thought I’d take a last look at my little friends and, to my dismay, saw there was a baby in the nest. I called my landlord and asked if she could ask Bird Busters to come some other day.

She didn’t warm to my suggestion, but, fortunately, when the Bird Buster fellow arrived, he said that if there was a baby in the nest, he’d come back another day. He climbed up to take a peek and reported that there were actually two babies in the nest and that he thought they’d be gone in two weeks. By then, I’d called Animal Care and Control and sent an email to the pigeon people at Cornell and so forth. That you can send an email to a pigeon expert and get an authoritative answer in a couple of hours is one of the aspects of our civilization that is working best.

I started checking the birds regularly and after several days, one of them was gone—but the other wasn’t, which I had to go out onto the fire escape to see. While I was out there, I also offered some encouraging remarks.

The adult birds didn’t seem to be around much and I began to wonder if this youngster had been abandoned. I re-read my emails from Cornell and fretted a bit. Finally, just a few days before the bird people were coming back, I stepped onto the fire escape and saw the nest was empty, which was a relief.

I suppose I could have just let my building manager know that the date needed to be changed again, but the fewer doings there, the better.

Speaking of whom, she has evidently decided that Thursday night is a great night to throw a party, judging from the past seven weeks out of eight. They don’t play music, but there are several people talking at the top of their lungs in the room right underneath me. Last week’s party ended at 2:35 a.m.

It’s slightly tricky because it’s the building manager doing it (!) and because she and I get along poorly. Some of her guests are smokers, and, despite stepping out front to smoke, manage to fill the hallways completely with foul-smelling fumes, which then seep into the various apartments. It was bothering Tom, too, and he announced I was going to have to send an email of complaint. You might think it might be Tom’s turn to send an email of complaint, but you could wait forever for that, whereas I’m well practiced in this area, so I went ahead and sent a note saying there seemed to be a good deal of smoke in the building, and could the building manager please post a notice reminding tenants it is a non-smoking building? I didn’t allude to her or her guests at all, but I knew she’d take my meaning, so I was terrified to look at my email afterward.

In fact, I decided just not to check my email for a week to avoid the unpleasant experience of reading her enraged reply, but then I realized that if I read it right away, a week later the experience would be seven days in the past and somewhat less acute, so I opened her email and was astonished to see that she was entirely civil and reasonable. She said she had a houseguest who was smoking out front, and that he’d be gone soon, and that she’d ask him to make sure the front door is securely closed. I thanked her warmly, and was pleased.

However, I didn’t conclude from that that she would welcome a note objecting to the Thursday night soirees. I think it was a fluke, or that she felt guilty about all the smoke. I think she probably thinks she’s bending over backward by refraining from playing music, which I do in fact appreciate.

I’ve been just using earplugs on Thursday nights, which works fine until I roll onto one side or the other. Then the earplug gets forced into my ear, which is somewhat painful. I ended up having to remove the earplugs last week—which is how I know the party ended at 2:35 a.m.—and was grumbling about the whole thing to Emily later that day at work. She recommended another type of earplug, which I will try.

Monday, March 21, 2011

No Returns, No Exchanges

Sorry for long delay. I've been dithering about this and that. To get rolling again, I considered listing the vast number of movies I’ve seen, but decided to skip it, since my movie reviews are very minimal, anyway. I guess I do recommend seeing A Solitary Man, Fish Tank, and Cyrus. And Lorna’s Silence. And Hideaway. And Heartbreaker. In the latter, you can see Johnny Depp’s wife (or longtime partner), Vanessa Paradis. She is seriously darling, which means they are, without any reasonable competition whatsoever, the best-looking couple on earth.

I recently bought a quite inexpensive mattress after a period of putting some portion of my social life on hold while I grappled with the heavy psychological weight of knowing I had to do this. I’m not letting go of the old one until I’m positive the new one is good, however, so the old one is completely covered with tin foil (in hopes of repelling Hammett; it sort of works) and leaning against the wall in my one room, along with the box spring: my least-favorite piece of furniture by far.

If you have to buy a mattress and/or box spring, I highly recommend Bedroom & More on Market St., which gets rave reviews on Yelp. On my first visit, I inquired into their returns and exchanges policy and the fellow said, “It’s simple: no returns, no exchanges.” “That is simple,” I agreed. He explained that while you can readily return anything you buy from Sleep Train, that also accounts for their higher prices: They are assuming there will be two failed transactions for every completed one. Also, he told me Sleep Train christens every mattress with a unique moniker to thwart comparison shopping. If you go into another store wanting to try the “Tuscany,” or whatever, they won’t have such a thing, and Sleep Train won’t have told you it’s a Simmons Beautyrest Classic Extra Firm.

I went to the yearly membership dinner at the Zen Center and it was really very nice. There was a beautiful, delicious vegetarian buffet, a somewhat romantic ambience due to dim lighting and tablecloths, and a couple of exercises that involved meeting and speaking with a partner, then a chance to share thoughts and discoveries with the larger group. I was pleased to hear the class that led me to Zen Center, Establishing the Path of Practice, mentioned several times as someone’s entrée to Zen Center, or as evidence of a more welcoming spirit. EPP really is a great thing.

The morning after the membership dinner, I was back for Rosalie Curtis’s lecture, which I thought was particularly well organized and pithy, and which resulted in not one but two sudden flashes of insight, which I don’t think has happened before in my 20 years of hearing dharma talks.

I was thinking my 20-year meditation anniversary was coming later this year, but I checked my journal and found the exact evening I first went to Howie’s sitting group, and it was 20 years ago last summer. I've gone to Howie’s every week in the past month or two or three, and to the monthly social gathering beforehand.

After Rosalie's talk, I would have liked to stay for Q&A and lunch, but had to roll on to Rainbow and get groceries, including a hunk of Sartori Bellavitano cheese to take with me on the train to Sacramento later that day, the occasion being Chris’s birthday party, which was attended by a gaggle of Chris’s friends, Eva, Paul, Steve, Dan, Jim, Melinda, Abbie, Abbie’s friend Riley (sp?), Tom, Dave C., me, Tom’s girlfriend and Tom’s girlfriend’s son.

I spent the night on Steve and Julie’s guest bed and (shh, don't tell them) peeled back one side of the fitted sheet to see if I could glean any helpful details about the mattress; this was prior to my purchase.

The next day, Steve and I went to visit Ann and Mac; Tom had gone skiing. Ann let me play her piano a little, which was a treat, and then she drove me and Mac to Berkeley for lunch at the Bistro Liaison and then they treated me to Mike Daisey’s show The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs at the Berkeley Rep. I was under the vague impression that this might be a comedy in which Mike Daisey plays Steve Jobs, and, since I don’t believe in getting a program (in order to maximize any surprises there may happen to be), it took me a while to figure out that this fellow, Mike Daisey, had personally schlepped to China, done an investigation on labor practices there, including some undercover work, crafted a two-hour (no intermission) monologue about it, and was at that very moment performing the same with tremendous skill: a true triple threat. I left the theater in tears, vowing to buy no electronic device that I don’t truly need, though there is no such thing as living a life that does not include increasing the misery of a thirteen-year-old Chinese girl. It cannot be done.

Late-ish in February, on a Friday night, I had dinner with Elea, whom I met long ago at San Francisco State University, in the creative writing program. I couldn’t have told you what year we met, but she recalls not only the year and month, but the day of the week: Wednesday. I was flabbergasted. She said, “Sure, because it would have been the first meeting of our Wednesday night class.” How can she remember that we took a Wednesday night class 26 years ago, or however many years it was? (Despite having had my memory refreshed very recently, I’m still not sure, but it was right around 26.)

Our dinner was at Café Altano, and then we met up with her husband, whom I’d never met before. Until recently, they were living in the Pacific Northwest. I liked him very much right away.

They gave me a ride home and we detoured here and there to show Elea’s husband some nice views. Elea mentioned that she had lived in a certain spot with an earlier husband, whom I will call Dave. I said, “I’m afraid I can’t remember that.” She said, “Well, I wouldn’t expect you to remember every place I lived.” “No,” I said, “I can’t remember that you were married to someone named Dave.” “Oh!” she said.

The next day I took BART over to Berkeley and took Lisa M. to see the other Mike Daisey show for her birthday. This one is called The Last Cargo Cult, and is also is about a trip to a faraway place, and also left me teary. We walked up Shattuck and had dinner at a Thai place and then gelato at a spot right near the round entrance to BART.

Even later in February my co-worker Emily and I had dinner at Ananda Fuara. It was nice to see her. This was our third time getting together outside work.