Friday, January 16, 2015

PERDIDO IN SANTA FE—novel excerpt

First 18 pages of my (as yet unpublished) novel PERDIDO IN SANTA FE:


I have no idea what I’m doing with my life after this last fire season, so I’ve headed down to Mexico again, Land of the Lost, taking cheap pollero buses, with nothing but what I can carry in my backpack. No real destination, except maybe to head south where it’s warm, but on the way I’ve ended up in Santa Fe, an old mining town up in the mountains, sitting in a restaurant called La Vaquera, with the most beautiful waitresses in the world, looking through the free weekly English newsletter for expatriates, El Gringo Seminal, where I come across an announcement for a seven day meditation retreat starting tomorrow, Sunday, at a Zen Center there. All of the books on Buddhism I read and left behind back in college and I’d never tried meditation. And, I don’t actually feel like another bus ride having to watch dubbed over Rambo movies. And I'm tired. I need a rest. So, why not?
I ask my waitress where ‘el templo budista’ is but she doesn’t know what I’m talking about. Ditto with ‘El Centro De Zen.’ Fortunately, another customer, a fellow gringo sitting at a nearby table, hears and helps me out. Turns out the Zen Center isn’t that far, north up the canyon in the residential neighborhood. I grab my big backpack and follow the map the guy draws me, the paved roads twisting and turning to dirt, most of the buildings in that area adobe-looking, or maybe faux adobe, with coyote fences ringing the yards.
The road runs midway along one side of the canyon and loops around to the other side farther up, but I don’t get that far. The Center is on the down hill side of the road, towards the arroyo running down the center of the canyon, part of a compound of buildings in an open area, less trees and more buckhorn cactus. One two-story adobe house right near the road actually looks like somebody lives there, then a bigger, wider, one-story adobe ranch house off to the side and down hill a little, and furthest downhill, a bigger more imposing building, with a bell tower on top. Cars in the parking lot going from brand new SUVs to clunkers, most with American plates. I follow some people on a rock path back up to the second building with a long table set outside. A man and woman in black robes sit behind it, stacks of papers laying in front of them. The man’s head is shaved, but the woman’s isn’t, so I’m not sure what she is, a monk or pseudo monk. He seems Mexican, but speaks near perfect English. She’s americana all the way. Both very friendly. I ask about the retreat and whether there’s still time to sign up. The man, his nametag says Roberto, explains that this is more of an intermediate-level retreat. —There won’t be a lot of instruction on basics. Have you meditated before?
I hesitate, then fib. —A little. I think I can handle it. Please? I have money.
He smiles. —It’s not a question of money, but ok.
I give them what little information I have and pay cash in pesos and he shows me an overview map of the building and where I’ll be sleeping.
I walk into the building, into an inner courtyard, open to the sky, with a fountain and tiled floor and benches against each of the four walls, plus a tree growing in one corner that shades the area a little, though its roots seem to be pushing up some of the floor tiles. Doors line every wall of the courtyard, two each to my right and left, but the big one straight ahead goes into the zendo itself, mats and zafu meditation pillows inside. I look inside one of the open doors to my right. Two men, both older than me, one in his forties, the other maybe in his fifties, unpacking their things. The room small and spare, with a bed and three cots set up in a row. The older guy has claimed the bed and the other is putting his stuff out on one of the cots. They both turn when I poked my head in and, without saying anything, stand and bow, placing their palms together, smiling. I bow back and leave and go back outside. I’m not too keen on sharing a sleeping space with three other dudes for that whole time, knowing how that goes from being on a hotshot crew: the whole crew laying in sleeping bags at night in the woods somewhere, exhausted, but kept awake by someone snoring. Seems to defeat the purpose of meditation by cramming that many folks into one space. Beyond the newer building there’s an open field. Or, a fairly open field, with cactii and some brush and long grass. But a good acre down to the arroyo edge. I go back to Roberto and ask if I could possibly just throw up my tent up and sleep out there for the whole session. He looks surprised, considers it, then shrugs and laughs. —Sure, why not? Go ahead!
Sweet. A little path, not really walked on a lot, leads right by a relatively flat clear area big enough for the tent between two small brushy trees. I flip it out and assemble everything, just a little one-person deal, maybe one and a half in a pinch. I put up the rain fly, not so much because it seems like it’s going to rain, but because the nights can get chilly at this elevation and another layer will help hold the heat in. I have no idea what else I’ll need. I have a bunch of clothes, some toiletries, plus a flashlight and a notebook, even though Roberto said we shouldn’t do anything like that, writing or reading books either, when on retreat.
More people have been checking in. I’m not exactly sure where they’re all going to fit, but maybe some of them are friends dropping off friends. The retreat doesn’t start officially until that next morning, early (four-thirty!), and after that, we aren’t supposed to leave, even go to the cars. It’s still late afternoon, and there’s no introductory speech tonight or anything, so after checking with Roberto, I walk back into town, which feels great without my backpack, for one last big Mexican dinner with green chili, resisting the urge to see a movie, knowing I should just get back and try to go to bed early, even though by then I’m actually kind of nervous, which seems odd. Getting nervous about sitting? What could be easier than that?
When I get back to the temple, it’s already dusk. A couple of people talking quietly next to their cars, lights on in all the buildings, a few shadows walking around the grounds. I walk back out to the tent. The air already cool, I’m glad I brought my firefighting hoodie, since I’m going to need it in the morning, plus it makes a good pillow. The stars coming out, the sky dark behind them. From here I can also look south down-canyon at part of the town and houses and car lights. Quiet.
With the rain fly unzipped and the front flap tied off, I’ll still be able to look up at the stars, figuring if the weather really gets cold I can close it again, especially since I’m using my super warm sleeping bag. I just don’t want to mess around and find out in the middle of the night that I don’t have enough covering. Except that, basically I’ll be getting up in the middle of the night anyways. Though, as a wildland firefighter, I’m not unused to getting up early, nor to sleeping in tents. In fact, a tent is a luxury! Many was the time that me and my crew dragged ourselves out to some clear spot near fire camp and crash out in just our sleeping bags. No time for tents, since we’d be packing up the next morning and we never knew if we’d back to the same spot.
Plus I do a lot of camping and backpacking in my free time too. Fire season tends to last about five months, then most of us, the seasonal employees, get laid off “due to lack of work” at which point most guys went directly to other jobs, which has always seemed odd to me. After working basically more than 80 hours weeks, with almost no days off, why would anyone want to keep working? Me, I sign up for unemployment and head off for other adventures—camping, backpacking, and/or travel, to Mexico and/or some other country, though Mexico is the cheapest.
I’ve mostly worked on hotshot crews, twenty-person hand crews that do the heavy grunt work on bigger fires. We’re the ones that dig line in extreme conditions, on big and/or remote fires, ready at a moment’s notice to travel anywhere in the American west, wherever there are fires, from the Sonora desert, to California redwoods, even to the black spruce forests up in Alaska a couple times. I didn’t mean to even work so long at the job, not something I planned on doing. When I graduated from college with a philosophy degree, which is about as useful as basket weaving, less even, I had no idea what I wanted to do, or could do, or should do, which seems to be a recurring theme for me, so I bought a backpack and headed west, ending up in Arizona on a trail crew for a National Forest, where I got the firefighting classes I needed and suddenly I was fighting fires! Crazy! Back in Michigan I didn’t even know this job existed. Firefighters, for me, were those dudes in the big red engines. This was way different: there are still engines, but they’re green, and small enough to access dirt roads in forests and deserts. But hotshots hike into remote fires where some engines can’t go, who ‘digging line’ around fires, cutting out any vegetation with chainsaws and digging tool like pulaskis and chingaderas, sometimes right next to open flames. And once the fires are contained, we’ll stay on to ‘mop up,’ make sure the fires are out.
I like the physicalness of the job, working with my hands, the complete opposite of what I did in college, which was to sit and think, or pretend I was thinking. Plus, travel: I’d never left Michigan. From Arizona, I got on a California crew for a couple seasons, then a crew from Montana, then back down to Arizona. I jumped around because, however much I like travel and work and being on fires, I generally can not stand the people in charge. Fire knowledge does not transfer over to people skills, and since there are so many redneck type guys, and so few permanent positions on these crews, competition is fierce, and uppity college boys are not welcome. On each crew there have always a few good guys, whose company I enjoy, but they never last, generally getting out of fire and going on to other jobs where their skills were better appreciated, which is maybe what I should have done, but I like having my winters off too much. I just kept saying, well, one more year then maybe I’ll decide what to do with my life and grow up or something. Six years later, I found myself with a lot of experience, but not very far up the food chain. I never expected to have firefighting as a career, and, as I got older, taking orders from incompetent people became harder and harder, especially when it involved safety. I started to have too many incidents where I was being put in dangerous situations, with the crew half dead from fatigue, but refusing to admit they might not be up to the job. That plus having coworkers, and supervisors, embarrass themselves, and me, and our crew, with drunken binges on our off hours. Living 24/7 with people I didn’t even respect began to get tiring. Plus, the woman factor. As in, not a lot of them. Some crews had none at all, though a couple had one or two, which is where I met Maya last summer. Leaving me where? In my thirties, with a philosophy degree and no real marketable skills. I could talk about Existentialism or dig dirt. Not that I want to work in an office, but neither do I just want to go into landscaping.

I don't sleep well. New place, new sounds, new wind and coyote howls and occasional cars driving by on either side of the canyon. I dream I’m sleeping in the desert and being woken up by a bell and when I realize there really is a bell tinging, and that I’m awake in a strange place in the dark and I panic, wondering how long it’s been going. Am I late?! I throw on my hoodie and jeans and unzip the tent. Cold air rushes in and I twist around and stick my feet out, slipping on my moccasins and standing up. Cold cold cold! A dim light off to the east on the horizon, or maybe it’s my imagination, but still basically dark, so I grab my little Mag-Lite and make my way up to the temple, walking fast, still kind of groggy, hoping I don’t run into a cactus.
The grounds quiet except for the bell, now ringing frantically, which I hope isn’t just for my benefit. Roberto is the ringer, standing outside the main doors into the ranch house. In one hand he holds a metal ‘stick’ which he hits the bell with. His other hand, his left, he keeps raised and flat, palm to the right, in the prayer position, except without the other hand. Maybe to clap with? He sees me and stops ringing abruptly and bows, face expressionless. I put my hands together and bow back as I walk by, though I can’t help smiling and have to resist the urge to tell him buenos días.
I pass through the main door and hallway, through the courtyard, and through the open doors of the actual temple area. Everyone, the other meditator folks, are already inside, sitting on the zafus. Eep! I kick off my moccasins and go inside, completely forgetting, or at that point not even really knowing, to bow, though I stand a second, looking around trying to find an open pillow and mat. The room dark, the electric lights off, but with some candles on the altar the far side of the room lit. Incense fills the air and I almost sneeze.
People sit against the wall running around the L shaped room, going up to either side of an altar on the far side, with a huge metal statue on in, though it doesn’t seem to be the Buddha: It? She? Are those breasts? She’s certainly not fat, no Buddha belly there. I see an open zafu and force myself to walk slowly over to it and sit down. Once again I blow proper etiquette by not bowing to it, nor to the rest of the room, which I soon learn from some people who come in after me. Oops. Well, at least I wasn’t last!
Roberto comes in preceding a person who has to be the ‘roshi.’ She is also wearing a black robe, with a shaved head and glasses, holding her hands flat together in front of her face, elbows sticking up and straight out to the side. Roberto closes the door behind her, and follows her straight through the room to the altar, where they both kneel and bow and make three what I guess one would call prostrations: Kneeling, bowing, placing their foreheads on the floor then back up again. They stand and walk to the side of the altar to two empty spaces and first both bow to their spaces, turn, and then bow to the room. Everyone, and me a second later, bows back. They sit down cross-legged, and the roshi takes off her glasses and lays them next to her right knee on the mat. She opens her eyes and stares right at me and I realize I should have had my eyes closed by then, so I do, trying to adjust myself on my zafu without making too much noise, which is basically impossible since there is no other noise at that point. I’m making a terrible first impression.
My eyes shoot open and I look up front. Roberto has taken a stick and hit a huge metal bowl sitting next to him, which I’d thought was only decorative. It continues to vibrate, the vibrations feeling like they’re in my bones and skull. I try to close my eyes again but then BONG! he hits it again, vibrating my head.
Quiet. Or, faint breathing. Faint rustling of clothing. A muffled cough. A yawn. I sit on the zafu, just my butt on it, legs crossed in front of me, right knee and most of my left on the mat, making kind of a three point contact, though the left knee isn’t as easy: I don’t know where to put my right foot, so kind of tuck it under my left leg, which later gets uncomfortable. If I were a badass, I would pull my feet up onto the opposite thigh in a super full lotus cross-legged position, but I’m not feeling like a human pretzel. I’m sure everyone else is probably lotusing up, and silently sneering at my pathetic attempt. The shame!
And we sit.
And we sit.
I’m starting to get an inkling of what I’ve gotten myself into. Wow. I’m squirming already, trying to stay comfortable, my butt getting sore. More than once I find myself slouching, straightening my back, then a minute later back to slouching. I don’t know what to do with my hands. Putting them on my knees seems kind of pretentious somehow, not sure why. Just too Indian guru-ish maybe, so I keep them in my lap, one on top of the other, which I see others have done. Yes, I sneak looks. I can’t keep my eyes closed! I feel the room getting lighter, so kind of raise my eyelids slightly to check out the windows, and then can’t help checking out the other people, which actually makes me feel a little better, since I can see that no, nobody is in full lotus, maybe not even Roberto and the roshi, though it’s hard to tell since their big baggy robes. Also, there are other slouchers, and other sneakers of looks, we make eye contact quickly.
Ding! Roberto holds a small bell, tapping it with a small stick. Everyone raises their hands together, bows, and starts to get up. I follow, one step behind everybody. Once standing, we turn and bend over, wiping the mats. Of what I’m not sure, since mine is spotless, almost new I think. We turn back around, facing out to the room, hands in prayer position at our chests. Roberto takes out two flat sticks and slaps them together. Tack! He brings them together. We turn to our left, facing the person now in front of us. Tack! Nothing seems to happen. I sneak a look around. What’s going on? Oh: The person in front of me takes a very slooooowww step, seeming to almost stop after she has extended her foot. I imitate her and take a slow step of my own. She slooowwwly takes another one. I sloooowwwly follow.
Gradually, we circumnavigate the whole room. Which feels good actually. A good break for my butt and tail bone. I flex my leg muscles as I go, giving them as much exercise as possible, though I’m not sure if that’s legal. Feels like forever, but can’t be more than ten minutes. Time is flowing weird. Or, that is, I have no idea how fast time is flowing. Light coming bright through the windows, but that could make it seven, or eight, or noon. Speaking of that, my stomach grumbles, and I’m not the only one.
Everyone speeds up, hauling Zen ass back to our zafus, and I’m glad the woman I was following recognizes hers, I might’ve walked right by, they all look the same. We stop, turn and face the room. Roberto dings the small bell. We bow, and turn and sit back down, adjusting our legs and butts.
Ding! Ding! Ding!
We sit.
And we sit.
For how relatively still my body is, my mind is racing, from wondering what’s going on in the room, to wondering if I’ve made a bad impression, to thinking about Fire, about ex-girlfriends, about Maya, about whether I’d remembered to zip up my tent before I left and if some buggy critters will get in, and if we are ever going to fucking eat, and what kind of food it will be (please God not oatmeal! Make it something of substance, not gruel!) and I try to calm myself down, to breathe slow, but that doesn’t seem to stop the thoughts at all, just gives me one more thing to think about.
Ding! Time to get up, stand up, and turn to the left for another walkabout, and at the balls out section, I almost run into the poor woman in front of me when we get back to our spots. Jesus, what time is it? Is it lunch time yet? I’m fucking thirsty too!
We sit back down, and sit some more. Holy Mother of God do we sit. And this is the first day! The first morning!
The roshi leaves as the rest of us return to sitting. She rings a bell in another room, I think next to this one. Someone bows, gets up, and leaves the zendo. Silence for a few minutes. I kind of forget until the bell rings again, and another person bows and stands, leaving as the first comes back in. This repeats throughout the session, and it’s actually not as distracting as I first think. The bell kind of serving as a signal to return and focus, drawing me back from my wandering thoughts.
More thinking. There’s just nothing else to do. About Santa Fe, and green chilies on a huge veggie burrito, about work again, and doubting myself: Maybe I shouldn’t quit? But no, yes, I should. Enough. Argh, don’t want to think about work again, but it won’t stop. Because in addition to work, there’s Maya, girlfriend and friend on my last hotshot crew, someone to talk to, vent to, have sex with. Someone who I thought might have wanted to transition into real life with me, maybe both of us leave Fire behind and try living together, until I found out she’d been sleeping with Eight Ball, her squad boss, all summer too. Found out. Meaning, walked into her trailer after the whole crew had gone out drinking, and found the two of them spooned together in her bed. So, yeah.
Or running, I haven’t run in a few days. A whole week’s going to be rough. Or my sore butt. Or Michigan, must be getting cold back there by now. Snow? Not yet? Why am I doing this? I have nothing to prove. I could leave. I could take off, just pick up my tent and go get a taco.
Creeeeaaaak, the door opens. I look up. Or, I open my eyes. I’m basically facing it, and there were people standing there, holding bowls of food. Could it be? The breaking of fast?
We put our hands up in prayer position and together and bow, and stand. Yes! With a clack of the sticks, we turn to the left and walk out to the courtyard single file, going into a side room where bundles, bowls wrapped in cloth, line a table, with our names on a piece of paper in front of them. We each grab ours on the way by, cupping the bundle in both hands and holding it chest high, circling back out another door into the courtyard and back into the meditation hall. A ring of the small bell and we sit. I watch my neighbors: We untie the cloth, spreading it out in a big rectangle. Three bowls, in three sizes, lined up, big so small, left to right, on the cloth. In front we place, carefully and amazingly precisely, a pair of chopsticks, a wooden spoon, and a small plastic spatula. Another smaller cloth goes on our laps, as a napkin.
When everyone has their bowls lined up, the roshi recites some words about the importance of the food, kind of a call and response, with us meditators saying some words back. I try to mumble along as best I can. The people sitting next to the two groups of food dishes serve themselves, scooping out portions with a ladle. One with granola, one with some strawberries, and jugs of milk and apple juice. Anything would be good by now, but this is definitely good, the strawberries especially. And fortunately I don’t have to demonstrate how much I don’t know how to use chopsticks—we eat everything with the spoon. Well, actually, some hardcore show offs, eat the granola with the spoon, then carefully place it down and eat the strawberries with the chopsticks.
As we finish, the servers come around with a big pot of hot water and ladle some into our biggest bowl which, I soon see, is to clean the bowls before returning them, swirling the water around one bowl, then pouring it into the two others. The weird part is, to get rid of the water, we’re supposed to drink down the dregs. Ok, well, I’ve drank worse on the fireline I suppose, so down the hatch. I’m sure that the bowls will get a proper washing anyways. I mean, I hope so. I don’t do a very good job though, I think, not that I know what a good job is, but seems hopeless to make them perfectly clean, so what’s the point? Still, I didn’t want to be a slob. No, the only problem with the food is there isn’t enough. After I scarf it all down, I’m like, that’s it? Is there seconds? And I can see the leftovers sitting there in dishes at the end of each row. Right there. In a flash of Dickens Zen, I want to go up to the roshi and say, in a pathetic young British accent, —Please Ma’am, may I have some more?
And she’d turn to everyone and say, —He wants some more!
And then everyone would laugh.
But, we stack the bowls and tie them up in the cloth. There’s some trick to it, some positioning of the hand, to make it look like a lotus flower or something, but I can’t figure it out, so my bowls just looks like the way those old cartoon characters look when they have a toothache.
I assume that we’re to go back to sitting, but after standing and carrying the bowls back to the table in the other room, we stop and circle up around Roberto in the courtyard. He has a list of all our names, and with as little talking as possible, he assigns chores to do around the temple for an hour, as what he calls ‘work practice.’ For example, some help wash dishes in the kitchen, some clean bathrooms, and some people even get to go down to the new building to help get it ready. Since I was last to sign up, I’m last to get an assignment. Without saying anything, Roberto walks over to a utility closet, grabs an old broom, and hands it to me, pointing in a circle to the whole courtyard. Ok, I get it. I walk to one corner and start sweeping. And sweeping. But I don’t mind. I’m on my feet and somewhat active, and actually sweeping can be kind of meditative too.
After an hour or so, we meet back in a circle, bow to each other, and go back to sitting. By now I know I’m not alone: Some other folks are squirming around and experimenting with alternative sitting positions, like kneeling with no pillow, which I try, and like, especially when both my knees crack. But after a while of that, the circulation in my calves and feet start to go, so I try slipping the zafu under me sideways, essentially staying in kneeling position, but lifting my butt and body off my legs, which also feels good, until the zafu starts to feel like it’s jammed way up my crotch. Poor zafu: it’s going to get a workout with me. But, once I get over my guilt at actually moving and readjusting during quiet mediation time, I figure I can just keep rotating through these positions. Some people have even brought special wooden ‘kneeling seats,’ with wood panels raising the body off the legs. I hope I can try one of those out.
Meanwhile there are these human statues who just sit, cross-legged, perfectly still, not even twitching, not even a nose scratch, like the roshi, and Roberto, and a few others around the room. Not once do they slouch, not once do they even open their eyes. I imagine all the firefighting guys I’ve known, the really macho ones, who could cut fireline all night and hike miles and miles and I wonder how long they could sit perfectly still like that, if they could actually have been talked into trying it, which would be impossible. I particularly liked picturing these macho dudes sitting on a zafu in full lotus position.
And we sit.
My brother Sean. Basically he and I were feral even before my parents divorced. Neither of them was home much, and if they were, my father was glued to the television and my mother was either grading papers or writing one of her own papers. In our early teens, Sean and I would come home after school and actually break into our own house. We didn’t even have our own keys. We’d already figured out that we could take off screen off one of the front windows and push open one of the large sliding windows. As the youngest and smallest, I would hop in and go around to open the front door while Sean put the screen back on. And, because we never had homework, or if we did we didn’t do it, we’d either immediately start watching cartoons, or playing video games, or, and these were the best, we’d go for walks out back of our house with our dog Sammy, in the forest, and pretend we were commandoes.
As we got older, Sean started to keep busy with sports after school, something that interested me less. He’d sometimes come home even after our parents, and ironically, have to do homework in order to stay on school teams, so that his grades actually went up, whereas mine stayed at the B/C range, even though I was reading all kinds of books. He didn’t even like to read comics.
When my parents did divorce, that pattern didn’t change, we just continued it in two places instead of one. My mom would usually bring home pizza for dinner, and when Sean and I went to our dad’s, he’d ritually buy us pizza, then we’d go back this apartment and watch tv. Every other weekend we’d do that same thing. Sean didn’t mind this as much, since we usually watched sports. The only excitement I had visiting my dad was when I discovered his Penthouse magazine collection, which I never told Sean about, though surely he must have found them too. How hilarious: three males all secretly looking at the same porno mag collection.
My mom decided to earn her PhD back at her old college, the University of Florida, requiring her (or that’s what she told us) to spend large chunks of time down there, including two summers, and then a whole year. When she did this, my dad, strangely, moved back into our house to look after us. I say strangely, yet at the time I, and I think Sean too, took this all as normal. We had nothing to compare to. This must have been what all families did, right?
So by the time college rolled around, I was ready to go. I took the easiest school I could get into, Eastern Michigan, in Ypsilanti about an hour from Jackson, on the east side of Ann Arbor, and I never went back much. I just took summer classes and stayed there. Sean didn’t get any athletic scholarships, which I think devastated him, and went to Michigan State and had, as far as I can tell, a horrible time, though he never went back home much either, because as soon as he was gone, my mom sold the house and moved down to Florida for a teaching job at a community college.
And if it seems like my dad was a ghost through all this, he was, though he stayed in Jackson and even re-married, to Janet, a nice, if extremely catholic woman, with two children from a previous marriage. Yes, extremely catholic and extremely divorced. She actually got him to start going to church, something I never thought possible. Not that that was a good thing. To my dad’s credit, he 1) paid most of our tuition, and 2) always kept one room open for us if and when we did ever come back to Jackson for a visit, though when we did, one of the last things Sean and I talked and agreed about was that staying there felt like being a house guest.

And el luncho! Whew. Same procedure as breakfast, but this time with rice and fried veggies, and some kind of sweet dumpling things for dessert. Now my un-knowledge of chopstick use comes to the fore. Instead, I just hold my bowl up to my mouth and shovel it in, like I’ve seen in Chinese and Japanese movies. Fortunately I’m not the only one, but I am the only one who doesn’t seem to like broccoli. Yuck. And then a dilemma: what to do with the leftovers? Fortunately, one of the servers saves me, holding out a shallow bowl/plate when he comes around with the hot water. Whew. Still embarrassing, but better than the utter shame I could have felt.
Thankfully, after lunch we have a tea break. We must be doing some British form of Zen meditation. But, we get a half hour break to stand out in the still sunny courtyard with cups of hot green tea, which tastes, and feels, wonderful since, though sunny, the air is cool. Holding the warm cup in my hands, each little sip warming my stomach. We still can’t talk, which is fine, but we can wander around and a few of us kind of do laps around the fountain.
And more sitting. Getting a goddamn Beatles tune in my head. I don’t know why you say goodbye I say hello over and over again. Please God or Buddha, let me think of something else. I’d like a shower. I must stink. Good thing I’m wearing a hoodie. This room is going to reek after a week of us not showering. Surely we’ll get to shower? How come I didn’t ask? Argh. I wonder where I’ll go after this? South? Or back to the States? Oh, I wonder where Maya is right now. Still working? Her black panties. Her ass. Her sexy smile in the half-dark. God I want to have sex. There are a couple attractive women here. Are they thinking about sex? No, probably not. They’re probably thinking about good Buddhist things like how to be compassionate and relieve others’ suffering. I’m a sucky Buddhist.
We all bow and get up, turning back around to clean our mats and fluff the zafus. I feel like I’ve just been cutting fireline with a chainsaw all day, like I’m about to have uncontrollable back spasms and start flopping around on the floor like a fish. Are we finally done? Is it finally la hora a cenar?
We shuffle outside, through the courtyard to, yes!, a kitchen, where we scoop out big bowls of chunky lentil soup from a big pot and grab some good bread and either eat at two small communal tables there inside, or we can go outside in the courtyard, which I do, to listen to the fountain, which has been going the whole time though I’ve never really registered the sound of water. I sit on one of the old wooden benches against the walls, joined shortly by another guy, I think one of my almost roommates, who bows. I bow back. We all bow. No words spoken by anybody. A bow is a question. A bow is an answer. A bow is a, Hello, mind if I eat with you out here? A bow is a, Not at all, dude.
And the lentil soup so so good. Slighty spicy, and rich. God, whoever is cooking this stuff knows what they’re doing! And good grainy bread to sop it up with. Wonderful.
The sun still out, though in the courtyard we’re already in the shadows. Great idea. If I ever buy a house out west, or anywhere really, I want a courtyard with a fountain and tree. But, the light looks like it’s fading, must be getting down behind the mountains to the west. I’m beat, the soup acting like a drug. My belly filled to bursting, to Buddha belly capacity, though if there were more I’d eat it just to have that spicy taste in my mouth.
People drifting back to rooms, looking as weary as I feel, and I see some of them heading to where the showers must be, so that question is answered, except I’m too beat and don’t want to go to sleep with wet hair, so I put off bathing for a while, though not sure when else would be a good time. I return my bowl to the kitchen and bow to the bowl bearers, because a bow also means thank you that was amazing, and I head out the front door.

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