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.
the day after... I'll find out this afternoon," Carl answered.
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!
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
"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..."
makes me feel happy! What's wrong with that?"
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.
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.
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
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.
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!"
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..."
you sober enough to go feed the ducks?" She rubbed his shoulders, encouraging
a positive reply.
corrected. "Yes," he answered, "I'm most capable of an outing, and taking
a stroll with my lovely would be a nice thing..."
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
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.
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
"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.
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!"
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.
at least TRY chanting?" she asked.
help," Carl admitted. "I've been an unbeliever since the age of five..."
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
"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
"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
"What are we
going to do?"
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.
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.
instantly responded. "You're often mean and make rude comments about what's
important to me!"
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.
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.
to Flavin's Fictions