Bird Watching
By R. D. Flavin
        
     Marsha was busy with morning GONGYO when Carl yelled from his study, "I've got you now! I can't believe it was that simple!" More annoyed at the interruption than intrigued, she left out the third and fourth prayers, quickly finished her chanting silently, closed the GOHONZON, and went to see what all the fuss was about. The stench of cigarette smoke was overpowering, and before she said anything to her boyfriend, she opened a window to let in some fresh air. She saw the nudists sunbathing on their porch, but decided not to tell Carl. Their eccentric habit made her uncomfortable, and the fact that Carl often watched them with his binoculars, slowly simmered her anger into a stew of emotions. He was watching a naked woman and it was little different from a 'peeping-Tom' practicing voyeurism through a hole in the wall. Marsha felt he was somehow cheating on her.
     "It's about mathematics!" Carl announced, pushing himself away from his desk and computer. "The ancient Assyro-Babylonians grabbed some basic concepts and it spread west to the Greeks and east to India and China... SAMSARA, or reincarnation, was a Buddhist recognition of discrete magnitudes and, as a metaphor, if one didn't get it right in this life-time, sheer number would compel an acknowledgment that, one day, a person would be born who would think the same things, say the same things, do the same things, only better... It would be a bump along the wheel... It's just math..." He hadn't shaved in days. Marsha took in the overflowing ashtrays, the unusually disheveled desk, and that odd glean in his eyes as he spoke. Her boyfriend was going through another "breakthrough." Yet, at least to her, it sounded like a breakdown.
     "When are you working again?" she asked, turning around and looking out the window.
     "Tomorrow, or the day after... I'll find out this afternoon," Carl answered.
     The nudists' porch was some two hundred feet away and encased in a light-diffusing plastic. Her firm and substantial breasts were visible, but their genitals were fuzzy and difficult to see clearly. Carl thought this a good thing, as the dark-skinned 'Arabian' possessed a considerable weight in his private region, and, conversely, Marsha had no desire to witness the personal trimmed and coiffured styling of his alabaster-skinned partner.
     She caught herself staring at their freedom, their disregard for who might see them, and at once, felt envy and disgust. Sunbathing caused skin-cancer, everyone knew that. "Are we going to do laundry this afternoon?"  Asking Carl about clothes caused a connection with the lack of clothes on the nudists -- though vulgar, she WAS pretty!
     "They're out there again, aren't they?" Carl asked, jumping from his chair.
     "Why do you do this, Carl?" Marsha stood solidly in front of the study-window, blocking Carl's view of the nudists.
     "I've told you," he replied disingenuously, "it's like watching birds and marveling at nature..."
     "Not the naked people, stupid!" Marsha shot back. "Why are you always picking on Buddhism?"
     His hands took her face gently, yet with confidence, and Carl said, "My work with Buddhism has nothing to do with your work with Buddhism."
     "What was that you said last week?" she asked, baiting him.
     "I don't remember...," Carl lied, with downcast eyes.
     "You said that my Buddhism was little more than facing Florida and praying 'I want to go to Disney-Land' three times a day!"
     At moments like this, Carl wished he knew Russian, or at least some phrase in Russian which signified the beginning of the consumption of great quantities of alcohol. He guessed, if any one had such a native tribute, it'd be the Russians. He withdrew his hands from her face, managed a weak smile, and walked into the kitchen.
     "Let's not do this," he called out, selecting a tall, clean pint-glass. "This math-stuff is about Buddhism five hundred years before Christ -- not some sideways version that popped up in Japan a few hundred years ago..."
     "I thought you loved me, Carl," she said from the kitchen doorway.
     "You know I do," he answered, adding ice-cubes to the pint-glass. "But, what you meant to say was that you thought I respected you and your choice to follow a chanting-cult..."
     "Damn-it, it makes me feel happy! What's wrong with that?"
      He poured vodka and filled the glass up two-thirds of the way. The last third would be whatever soda, iced-tea, or Kool-Aid happened to be in the refrigerator at the time. It was lime-flavored Kool-Aid -- Carl took it as a bad sign.
     "For someone who only works when he feels like it, lets his girlfriend pay his bills, and drinks like there's always a sale on donor-livers at Wal-Mart, you sure do as you please! It must be nice!" They began their decline into incivility, as always, without noticing.
     "Oh, don't start," Carl heard himself say without conviction.
     "You get yourself so goddamned worked up and start bitching about how I don't have a steady job, how I should do more with my life, and how I shouldn't watch X-FILES so much, 'cause it promotes a seperation of realities." Taking a deep drink from his vodka and Kool-Aid, Carl added, "Next you're probably going to complain about the size of my dick!"
     "No would do, sweety," Marsha lashed out. "I've never complained about the size of your dick! It's only your lack of balls I'm concerned about!"
     Carl was truly torn between rage and giggling. He opted for drinking more, squeezing past Marsha, and wordlessly returning to his desk. Checking out the exact definition of the Greek APEIRON on his computer was infinitely more important than arguing with her. And, ultimately, much more productive.
     "That's it?" she asked, her jaw tight enough to strip copper-wire.
     "That's it, sorry," Carl mumbled. He wasn't sorry he was trying to close this latest rift. Though he did feel a little sadness that she wasn't equally trying to mend matters. But, she never had before, and Carl admitted to himself he had no good reason to expect her to behave any differently now.
     "Well, stay off the internet," Marsha said without emotion.
     "I've got some phone-calls to make..."
     She was gone, it was over, and Carl sat at his desk with his vodka and lime Kool-Aid, thought of World Peace, and if buying 1% milk would really help prevent heart-attacks. Lighting a cigarette, he picked a book on the history of the alphabet, and began reading about vowels. He had a private theory he was developing. And, being only marginally employed and at loggerheads with his girlfriend, reading was the only thing he could do without spending money or starting another fight.
     "Life is good," he said to himself, looking up the chapter on the letter 'A'.

     The vodka was almost gone and Carl had a sour stomach because he hadn't eaten any breakfast or lunch.
     Downloading Sts. Augustine and Aquinas and reading neo-Platonic contradictories hurt his head. Talk about denial. Carl wondered what condiments the pious used (ketchup being a New World-inspired sauce, based on the introduction of the tomato after Columbus), and guessed some foul anchovy-paste picked up from the Romans. He enjoyed being born into the present, rather than the past.
     "Wanna' go feed the ducks?" she asked tenderly from the doorway.
     The large, unruly, and most cute, Canadian geese stop in their annual migration along a series of nearby local lakes. Hand-feeding the geeese was a cross-cultural pastime enjoyed by low-income families, lovers, seniors, and the occasional neo-yuppies -- though, the presence of an accompanying exotic dog usually irrates the geese, resulting in the neo-yuppies seldom succeeding in their attempt. Everyone did it, and as Carl and Marsha were BOTH low-income and lovers, they tended to feed the geese often.
     "Sure," Carl answered. "I should take a break from overhauling reality..."
     "I agree," she laughed, coming behind him and putting her hands on his shoulders. "It's like Jack Kerouac meets Jack Swift! It must be hard work getting all those drunk Lilliputians to think and march jazz, instead of classical!"
     Reaching her hands, he squeezed them gently and said, "Because of my junk-food diet, I just threaten them with mephitis, and they do what I ask..."
     "Whatever! Are you sober enough to go feed the ducks?" She rubbed his shoulders, encouraging a positive reply.
     "Geese," Carl corrected. "Yes," he answered, "I'm most capable of an outing, and taking a stroll with my lovely would be a nice thing..."
     "Your LOVELY...," she chuckled. "Can I come along, or is this JUST going-to-be a walk with you and your ego?"
     A cleansing sigh, the last swallow of the vodka and lime Kool-Aid, a minor readjustment of his pants, and Carl was ready for the geese. "You are my EGO, and in YOU, I am more..."     
     "Oh, we're back to UBER-EGO? I knew that one!"
     "I meant, together, WE are increased," Carl said seriously.
     "You're the one putting on weight in this relationship, not me!" Marsha: 2 Carl: 1/2 of a credit for staying in the conversation.
     "Stop now," he said, kissing her. A genuine lip-lock with no pretended gracefulness and dragged out lingering.  Their lips pressed firmly, honestly, and their eyes stayed fixed on each other when they stood apart -- still lovers.  Carl took her hand and guided Marsha to the living room, where he turned on the stereo and played the title-track of Louis Armstrong's "WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD" [1968, ABC Records, LP ABCS-650].
     The few moments were special for Marsha, dancing with her boyfriend. When he let go of her, stumbled to the bedroom, and passed out on the bed, she decided feeding the geese weren't that important anyway. Other families would feed them today.
     He was thinking of a Gyro sandwich with extra sauce. And, as a side-thought, how cucumbers figured into North African Gnostic-Christian heresy. The pillow-case smelled of Marsha's hairspray, and with a worshipful deep breath, Carl was unconscious.
     Wasting paradise, he sprawled, taking up the entire bed. Somewhere, lurking and ready, a thought waited, reminding him that most people slept at night, and not in the middle of the day. Of course, most people didn't drink large glasses of vodka and have to put up with Marsha. Life, practicing the art of 'relationship', and sleep, was good.

     He awoke, she was there with a cup of coffee, and they talked about sharing the birth of a daughter. Carl went macho somewhere between "da" and "ugh". By "ter", he was fully a GUY, awake, and ready for war.
     "DON'T CALL ME, ...DAUGHTER," Carl tried to sing. Eddy Vetter is an easy impression -- NOT, actually, hard to copy. And, since Neil Young had recorded with Pearl Jam, even such senior-youths as Carl and Marsha were hip to the now passť grunge scene.
     Marsha clapped. "Can you do any showtunes?" she requested.
     "If you'll agree to pose in sexy, Freemasonic/Mormon underwear, I'll perform selections from JOSEPH AND THE AMAZING TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT..."
     "We could have the beginnings of a deal," she suggested, kissing Carl on the lips.
     Beyond the bedroom window carl saw the summer sky was streaked with orange and gray--8:15 or 8:30ish, he guessed. He hadn't heard about working tomorrow and, of course, it was too late for the geese. Once before, some months back, Carl and Marsha went to feed the geese at dusk. Gathered in a shallow end of the pond, the geese and ducks slept standing, or took naps floating next to each other. They'd tried to get the attention of the wild fowl with quiet whistles and tosses of bread chunks and old Tortilla chips, but to no avail. The bum-birds were in for the night, well fed from a day's generous hand-outs. It was a slow walk back from the pond, and Carl remembered Marsha's hand being exceptionally warm that evening.
     "I do drink a bit much...," Carl admitted.
     "Yup," Marsha agreed. "Saving the universe is hard work..."
     "I can only image the complexities of dressing according to different dimensions!"
     "I've found the donning of a cape in various realities gets the best chicks. Though, evenly enough, matching boots and gloves really score points!"
     "You grew up with lead-paint, didn't you?" she asked, pulling him out of bed and into a standing hug.
     "Wanna' do a walk with the holding hands and all that?" Carl asked in the squeezed voice of Don Adams from GET SMART. "I promise not to talk in my shoe," he pledged, holding a sneaker to his ear.
     She clapped again. "Cool!" Marsha praised. "A normal-people function, at last!"
     Pointing across the bedroom, Carl asked, "Could you hand me my other shoe there, the battery's low on this one..."

     Strolling on the sidewalk, they paralled the ponds. Her thoughts were of tomorrow, jobs, money, medical insurance, and next month's telephone bill, as recently Carl didn't work for several days and managed to find an excuse to phone a couple of continents, several states, and a #900 number for nude psychics. She loved him, but often felt she was living with a young (and much better looking version of) Charles Bukowski. Only Carl wasn't much for poetry. He'd the cheap booze down pat, though. In college, that Waldon Pond of transcendental relationships, she'd dated actors, artists, and writers. Ever the practical one, Marsha accepted Carl's lack of respectable employment -- a shirt, tie, and a twenty-year plan didn't exactly fit her lifestyle either. He worked the predictable temporary jobs in restaurants, typing-pools, and moved furniture, and he did so on a fairly steady basis. But they were always broke, and could never afford the movies, concerts, or trendy best-sellers, like their friends and family. The suffering and struggling is sometimes fun when a couple is in their twenties, but as their thirties arrive and get ready to go into the forties, it begins to be a     most unfashionable and frustrating way to live. And, she had to admit to herself, it was as much her fault, as it was his.
     "Couldn't you at least TRY chanting?" she asked.
     "It wouldn't help," Carl admitted. "I've been an unbeliever since the age of five..."
     Marsha siezed one of Carl's hands and guided him to a bench overlooking the pond. "You were taught to be an atheist in kindergarten? I find that difficult to buy!"
     "It was a few weeks before Christmas," Carl explained, "and I opened our downstairs broom-closet for something or another, and discovered a half-dozen wrapped presents. It suddenly occured to me that the whole Santa Claus bit was a scam, that parents bought the presents, and merely PRETENDED to have been vistited by a fat, jolly home-invader. I ran upstairs where my older brother Rob was playing soldiers in our room, he was almost ten years old at the time, and told him the truth. Hours later, when our parents got home, Rob was still crying. Boy, did I get in trouble!"
     "So, the lack of twelve tiny reindeer sent you over the edge?"
     "At five, I was a bit precocious -- when company was over, my parents would have me field questions from the TV GUIDE. They would specify a day of the week and an hour, and I'd describe their choices on the three networks. Maybe, it was because I grew up with comic-books in the house -- I was always reading and early on I knew the difference between REALITY and MAKE-BELIEVE. After the Christmas present incident, the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny, and God seemed to on the same page as Spiderman and The Hulk. Fictions all!"
     "You don't believe in any HIGHER POWER whatsoever?" she asked, her voice expressing just a hint of incredulity.
     "I believe in the love of a good woman and the smile of a child..." he kissed her lightly on the cheek, but she pulled away slightly, and most of the kiss went to empty space.
     "You accept the DESIGN, but not the DESIGNER? That's not clear reasoning!"
     "I believe all matter, whether it's sentient, a pond frond, a rock, or just a couple of floating atoms, all contain DIVINITY. I believe that DIVINITY spoke with the Big Bang and has been silent since. If someone says they have a message or words from the DIVINITY, the concept might be beautiful and helpful, but the source is little different from what writers and artists do with comic-books every month... Try to teach some new twist to 'The Golden Rule'. It's that simple..."
     "I can't accept that..."
     "I know..."
     "What are we going to do?"
     "Nothing," Carl replied. "Absolutely nothing, but lead a happy life!"
     One of the geese sleep-floating in the pond must of had a bad dream about being sucked into the engine of a large jet or something, because wings and cries went up, and spread to the dozens of other geese who were trying to sleep. They all complained for a minute and then quickly went back to sleep.
     "Let's start walking back," Martha suggested. She stood, stretched, and helped Carl up from the bench.
     "I'll never be mean when it comes to your chanting," Carl promised.
     "Crap!" Marsha instantly responded. "You're often mean and make rude comments about what's important to me!"
     "Okay," Carl confessed, "occasionally I do say some off-color things. How about I promise NEVER to think or say anything REALLY mean?"
     The sound of splashes in the pond caught their attention -- a few more geese had joined the slumber party.  Maybe they were strays, or maybe they'd been out partying late. Wings, cries, and some minor reshuffling of positions, and all was peaceful once more.
     Together, with hands squeezed tight and steps even and sure, they walked home. As they reached the  front-door, Carl made a wise-crack about feminist vegetarianism, and it was over an hour before they, like the geese at the pond, floated and slept, and dreamed of a sunny tomorrow with lots of snacks.

The End.

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