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Lions Roar : March 2007
SHAMBHALA SUN MARCH 2007 76 probably shouldn’t have gone to the Golden State, but I had prom- ised I would and felt obligated. My partner was living in the heart of Silicon Valley, running a small software start-up she and her friend from Sun Microsystems had created. Until then the com- puter world had passed me by—I’d put off e-mail until my early fifties. But in Minnesota I was lost—stripped of what I thought I wanted—and one place seemed as good as another. I stopped home in New Mexico for the Christmas holidays, where I came down with a whopping flu that would not go away, and drove across Arizona with my nose stuffed, eyes watery, and a chest that felt like I was transporting the weight of the queen’s jewels. In Palo Alto we lived in a tiny three-room apartment for $2,400 a month. Yes, it was that expensive. A Meyer lemon tree was out back. I made sure to use the fruit—I made gallons of lemonade, lemon pie, lemon soup. Long’s Drugs on University Avenue was the only whiff I had that this place had once been a locale of some simple dignity, drenched in sun with orchards nearby. Why Long’s? Because the lettering on the outside was in an old script and the aisles were lazy and sloppy and not pro- pelled by a strong commerce. A week into the cramped living arrangements, I took a slow walk one early morning, still sick, thinking that maybe we could find a junky fixer-upper near- by. Surely, for the rent we were paying we could own a little house. And behold! How could the stars be so kind! Down the block I espied a yel- low stucco with a For Sale sign. With its twisted wires jutting out of sockets over the sidewalk and its torn-down awnings, this sad, modest fel- low must be aching for love. I jotted down the realtor’s phone number. “I’m asking about that rat’s nest on Cowp- er,” I breathed thickly into the phone. My nose was still bountifully stuffed. “Yes, that property is three million,” she popped back. The receiver dangled from my hand. I could hear the snap of her cell phone closing. She isn’t ashamed to tell me that? I knew I was in strange territory. No complicated Zen koan could contrive this. STANDING IN OUR narrow bedroom, staring blankly ahead, I was jarred by a whirring sound out on the street. I tried to ignore it, and when finally I couldn’t, I went out to look. A young man was holding the handle to a vibrating motor connected to an extended nozzle pointed at the sidewalk, the nose of which was chasing a single red leaf. What was going on here? What didn’t make sense was very loud. I marched over and motioned vigorously for the man to switch it off. I bent down and grabbed the leaf, that seeming culprit, cer- emoniously walked it to the curb, and dropped it in the street. “Use a rake. It’s a fine tool.” I motioned how to use one. “You are wasting precious oil reserves.” The man was confused. He didn’t understand. “No más,” I declared, and crossed my arms. Then wanting to make sure the point was made, I did the arrogant thing unilin- gual Americans do. I repeated myself, slowly, enunciating my words about the rake. Surely, everyone must know English, if spoken clearly. He turned his back on me, blasted his machine again, and chased another solitary leaf. I whipped around and stomped back into my scrawny apartment. I heard the blowers starting up all down the block. What happened to the monk in the mist raking the monastery garden? At night when my partner returned, I asked her how it was going. Did the engi- neers come up with a saleable product? She shrugged her shoulders.“Who knows. I barely see them. They arrive at three in the afternoon and eat doughnuts, preferably with pink icing. They work till the early morning hours, gone in cyberspace.” I thought of Max, whom I’d met in Cam- bridge three years earlier. I’d seen him writ- ing intently in a notebook at the next table in a restaurant. “I write too,” I said, never too shy not to interrupt concentration. “Journaling?” I asked. He looked over. “In a sense. I keep a math notebook. I think mathematically.” My eyes narrowed. “You mean like I might write, ‘Today I am grouchy,’ you would write, ‘Two plus two is equivalent to eight.’” “Sort of.” I couldn’t leave this alone. I bent over and whispered across his table, “Eight minus three is five.” I wiggled my eyebrows, hey, hey, hey. Dharma transmission was another way for me to try to secure myself, to make myself solid in this transitory world. Now here I was with young computer programmers who ate pink icing, and my future was dependent on them. Natalie’s mother