Friday, May 22, 2015

Guttersnipe Bookshelf; Samuel Beckett

Samuel Beckett, Malone Dies
translated by the author
published in French, 1951
published in English, 1958
published by John Calder, 1958, and by Penguin in 1962

It is always a relief to read a book like this one and be reminded that life seems this way to someone else, and not just to me.  Otherwise I start to think that other people feel, I dunno, like people in beer commercials, pretty much chipper all the time.  This is a bleak and hilarious book.  I was on board the moment the narrator announced, in the first section, “For starters, I forgive nobody.”

Of Beckett’s three short novels, Molloy has the reputation of being the most important.  My personal belief is that that’s because most people buy the 3 novels in an omnibus edition and only get as far as the first one.  To me, Malone Dies is every bit as interesting and readable -- and even more funny.  That or my sense of humor is becoming more bleak as I age.  Which is certainly possible.

It is a wicked book, such a true one and funny in the blackest way.  It is the sort of book that would be perfect to read if you were dying in hospice from cancer and your life had not gone particularly well, to read aloud to your roommate, also dying, also not such a great life, and together you would laugh helplessly until someone had to push the ‘nurse call’ button.  But seriously, don’t wait that long to read Malone Dies.  It’s a great book.  And you don’t have to wait until your life is worse to enjoy this book.  Your life is already bad enough.

Addendum: Advice on reading Malone Dies.

I understand that many people coming to this book will be academics, for whom it will be only one infinitesimal step in their accreditation and career path.  But for the sake of other people who are, like me, reading in hopes of pleasure and truth, and who don’t have academic training in literary theory and whatnot, I’ve found a way of reading this and other apparently “dense” texts that really helps me.

With my notebook and too much caffeine, I sit and read ten pages.  I read with attention, but without trying too hard.  After the first ten pages I say, “Yeah, whatever!” and go back to the beginning and reread.  I read approximately 20 pages.  After that, I take a break.  A little later, or perhaps the next day, I read another 20 pages -- starting not where I left off but 10 pages back.

Thus, by the time I’ve read a book, I’ve actually read it twice.  But this doesn’t feel laborious.  In fact it’s much easier.  Rereading gives me a chance to read with something like ease, with appreciation, and with questions in my head besides, “What the hell is happening now?”  This gives me confidence and when I finish a book I’m more likely to feel that I actually READ it and didn’t just, you know, look at all the words.  I apologize if this is obvious and dull-headed.  I hazard it here just in case it might prove useful.

Small Stories from My Enormously Spiritual Life

3rd series 

This exercise-book is my life, this big child’s exercise book, it has taken me a long time to resign myself to that.  And yet I shall not throw it away.  For I want to put down in it, for the last time, those that I have called to my help, but ill, so that they did not understand, so that they may cease with me.  Now rest.

-- Samuel Beckett, Malone Dies (p. 127)

Too Near the Street

My favorite dog is gone.  White, brown, black, and smart, she was the #1 dog at Only Coffee.  Every morning she met me a block away and escorted me to the coffee man, whom I often greeted with praise, “Best coffee!  Best dog!”  In this town of begging dogs, the #1 dog refused to acknowledge biscuits and sought only tenderness, most especially for her neck to be scratched, which she requested with the gentlest nudge, careful never to bump the hand that held the steel cup brimming with hot coffee.  Every day without fail she was here -- but now she has been gone three days.  Tomorrow I will have to ask.    

The #3 dog, whom the other dogs usually do not allow near, was bouncing off me this morning, clumsily rejoicing in attention.  The #2 dog, usually so cordial, appears nearly catatonic and barely lifts her head from where she lies in the corner.  I think the #1 dog is almost certainly gone.  Tomorrow I will have to ask the coffee man, “Best dog gone?”  No emotion, please.  So close to a street like this one, it would be self-indulgent to express surprise or upset when an animal is crushed beneath a tire.  It happens.  Yesterday, when I locked my door and realized I’d left the fan running, my first thought was, “If I get killed crossing the street the fan might stay on for days.” 

The last thing you must do before you exit the ashram gates is eradicate any hazy wisp of dreamy peace that may linger in your dazzled mind because now you must contend with the street and people really do die this way, mashed right in front of the ashram gates, yes recently, yes foreigners, yes Ms. Curie completely dead.

Along with the towering roaring lorries, the buses with blaring horns, there are of course the beeping cars, the speeding vans, the puttering erratic rickshaws -- all in a hurry, all swerving -- but the greater difficulty is to dodge the motorbikes and bicycles coming in every direction, plenty without lights and all without helmets.  One favorite strategy is to travel on the very edge of the road, against traffic, so that every road, however narrow, is actually a 4 lane highway.  Reliably, too, there are the pricks who, because this is a difficult stretch of road, like to speed up, lay on the horn, and blast through terrifying everyone out of the way.  Classic Indian traffic in other words, but keep in mind that traffic’s much heavier nowadays and most people are talking on their flip-phone while they drive and texting on their smart phone with their other hand.  The actual driving is done with one’s elbows, and only God is watching.

Thus it would be ideal to cross the street with one’s full attention, intent on the task at hand, but unfortunately this is not possible because the rickshaw men, seeing you poised on the brink, assume you want a lift and putter along blocking your line of vision, which is anyway already blocked by the buses swapping passengers and a vanload of pilgrims who thought it was a good idea to stop right here and purchase melon.  The beggars need money -- a hand, palm up, poked right in your chest -- and the holy men figure you could buy them at least a coffee.  The dogs come by too and, although most of the cows that amble alongside the road are good-natured, others will abruptly swing their horns or even kick and you can’t really blame them can you, along a street like this one?  Overall, it appears to be a conspiracy to distract you just long enough to reduce you to mash.  Meanwhile there is a shrine every five feet, with worshipers clustered like flies, because the invisible world is evidently as crowded as this one, and because urgent work is available for as many gods as will hazard a visit to this world reeking of sandalwood, cowshit, jasmine and monoxide.   

Spiritual Terms Defined: Circumambulation

My husband, from whom I am estranged, maintains that circumambulation is my favorite word.  Indeed, on this matter there is no reason to doubt him.  Few things please me more, or as reliably, as walking devotionally clockwise.  For me, the best circumambulatory path is the one that circles the hill around the home and temple of the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala.  A dozen years ago, in celebration of one of His Holiness’s birthdays, the hill was planted with hundreds of trees and is now a young forest, full of light and green, where grazing cows and devotees amble along a path lined with mounds of carved prayer stones.  The custom is to circumambulate the hill -- a walk of perhaps 20 minutes -- before entering the temple, but I love the path so much I often circle, arrive at the temple gate and decide, “Not yet.  Around again.”

In the holy town where I live now, I circumambulate the shrine of the saint and the saint’s mother so endlessly I fear that I resemble one of those tremendously serious foreign devotees who are quite literally loopy.  To tell the truth, I just love to circumambulate.  And I will circumambulate anything.  Buddhist, Jain, or Hindu shrines, even churches.  Tapas bars, intimidating bakeries where only French is spoken, luxury shopping malls, gay saunas in foreign cities.

When I was in first grade, I spent every recess following the yellow painted lines on the edge of the asphalt portion of the playground at Matthew Thornton Elementary.  I remember I found it absorbingly interesting that the yellow line went everywhere, but ended up in the same place.

Eventually a letter was sent home to my mother.  I remember her reading it solemnly, then asking, “Is it hard for you to make friends?”  Both of us were figuring out that I was a somewhat peculiar child and we were both surprised.  I can see now that I was just getting my bearings, studying the perimeter of a strange and exotic place before entering.  It didn’t mean that I didn’t like school, that I didn’t want friends.  It is the pattern of my devotion. 

After the Writer

If I could call back from the beyond every page I’ve ever written, there would be hundreds of pages I wrote before I ever wanted to be a writer.  Then there would be thousands and thousands of pages I wrote when I wanted to be a writer, when my teacher said that I could be and I believed her.  Then would come this page, which seems to me the first page of afterwards, when that wish had become too painful and too cumbersome to sustain, and yet I continued to write without stopping.  This both is and is not an admission of defeat.  I had to give up the dream of ever becoming a writer.  It got in the way of writing.

Spiritual Terms Defined: Awakening

Visitors to India, having already created the idea of enlightenment, also created a junior grade known as awakening. Awakening means you’ve had a very big and special spiritual experience, and you belong to a very special, elevated strata of humanity, but you don’t quite have all your shit together yet.  As one of the awakened explained to me, “I already had the big one.  The cord’s been cut.  Now I’m just consolidating the experience.”

The mantra of the awakened is: I’m not a seeker, I’m a finder!  In fact, all that appears to have happened to most of these people is that a very special glaze has been added to their personality: a smugness, like plexiglass, encases them.  

It is effortless to make fun of the awakened, but it is easy, too, to see how they ache.  Someone told them once, many years ago, that they were tremendously special and, although it has not solved their problems, they cling to it, like a struggling, aging actress who won an Oscar in her youth.  Is it not glorious to win an Oscar?  Is it not gruelling, the way life goes on and on, so generous with its pains and insults?  When my envy passes, I can feel pity for the awakened.  It’s obvious that it gets lonely in there, beneath the clear glaze which, contrary to appearances, is every bit as hard as stone. 

In Defense of Terribly Spiritual People

A gentleman here at the Shanti Cafe has just ordered “One baguette, toasted, sliced French style, not end to end!  Six slices please.  No, cancel that!  Eight slices.”

Obviously it is time for me to be going.  Because I do not want to be here if the waitress comes back with seven.  But this is how it is with spiritual people -- we suffer from precision.  Do you understand how this happens?  In the meditation hall you struggle to be aware and note every sensation, every thought.  Pretty soon, god help you, you care how your baguette is sliced.

Yesterday, in this same cafe, it was a holy German lady, in white, with multiple scarves.  Her toast was not toasted enough.  She kept sending it back, but it didn’t seem to get any more toasted.  Finally she sighed tragically and announced, “No!  No, it is NOT all right!  But it will HAVE TO DO!”  I could hear that her world was under siege and, there she was, with nothing but fluttery scarves and bread that was practically raw.

Personally, when I feel this upset about toast I go to my room and lie down for a long time, but I do understand where she’s coming from.  In a way it is completely astonishing that people are coming here from all over the world to be quiet and open and sensitive.  It’s as if you went out for a walk and, when you got to the part of the path wh ere the stones are most sharp, you announced, “OK, this is where I take off my shoes.”

Ramananagar, the part of town in vicinity to the ashram, was tranquil once.  It’s not anymore.  Along the main road there are seldom breaks in the noise and filth; all the time you’ve got to keep dodging blaring traffic and pushy beggars, cows and cowshit, dogs and dogshit.  There are often people sprawled in the dirt at the side of the road and sometimes they are actually dead.  (If you’re not sure, you can check by the presence of flies.  The flies always know.)

This is where we, the aspiring devout, have come to be open and aware, vulnerable and present.  That seems to me exactly right.  Because what skill could possibly be more needed now than the capacity to keep one’s heart open in a madhouse?

Just the same, I ought to have more patience with the terribly spiritual people and not always roll my eyes at them, at us.  There are many times when I arrive at day’s end and feel totally astonished that today, again, no one is handing me a Valium and a stiff gin and tonic with which to wash it down.  Surely today was sufficiently traumatic to merit liquor?!  But no.   I am left with only the feeling itself, unmitigated, the habit of paying attention, and the knowledge that there is very little under my control.

Real World

When I write to friends in America or Japan, I feel the need to explain to them that I am on another planet.  You know, on the off chance they haven’t already noticed.  

But I am NOT going to be one of those insufferable people who insist that their planet is REAL and everyone else’s is just made-up.  I don’t know anything about that.  Where oh where is the real world, about which we have heard so much?  I don’t know the answer.  But, if I had to put money on it, I’m guessing that it’s none of those that we see here, neither yours nor mine.

a/c restaurant

If you, too, have spent the hot season in a tropical country with only enough money for a very small room in which you sweat more or sweat less, but never quite stop sweating, then you will understand how the discovery of an a/c restaurant, tucked in the back of an over-priced hotel, may feel like a surprise gift or secret ability, like the discovery of a henceforth unrecognized supernatural power.

You will understand, too, how the restaurant’s total lack of atmosphere is perceived by the sweat-soaked wanderer as total luxury.  Beige walls, blocked windows, fake wood tables with dowdy woven placemats, bulbous copper coated water glasses only ever filled halfway.  In a place where holiness, filth, chaos, and color abound, this place resembles nothing so much as the 24 hour restaurant of an international airport.  It is nowhere.

What a relief it is to be nowhere.  How lovely it is to visit nowhere, to spend an hour or two nowhere, now and then.

There are three painting of glaciers, all under blue skies, that almost decorate the restaurant, but somehow fail to do so.  They could be photos of downy baby ducklings held up with thumbtacks for all the decoration they succeed in providing.  They do, however, succeed in communicating the primary message of the restaurant: only the a/c matters.

Staff members are numerous, but they come in only two categories.  There are overbearing 40-somethings with pinkish shirts, beer bellies and spectacles.  Their bellies are accentuated by a tendency to walk around with their hands clasped behind their backs.  

There are also delicate young men in white shirts who move very quickly, smile often and nervously, and who appear scarcely older than 14.  In spite of their extreme youth and lack of ability in English, these boys are vastly more helpful and pleasant than their overseers, whose only function is to collect money and to tell you what is this evening not available. 

The restaurant has only one soundtrack and only one song, a refrain of Hari Om Tat Sat that plays in a loop of nine and a half minutes, breaks off abruptly, and starts again.  It is a fairly soothing sound and only irritating if you pay attention.  Actually I’m sorry I mentioned it.

On each table is a small white vase containing a red rose.  The management is not aware that the fact the rose is almost always dead is highly discouraging, at least to those prone to discouragement, or that adding water to the vases could well prove pivotal.  It is not appreciated when the customer attempts to add water to the vase himself.

I can recommend the Dingri Dolma, though the button mushrooms are sparse.  The nan are flaccid and over-priced -- you’re better off with rice.  The lunch thali (130 rupees) comes in a dozen copper dishes but none of them contain vegetables other than potato or cabbage.  (For a proper thali, you must go to Seshadri ashram, where they will scoop fresh pumpkin or beet curries, as well as spinach or green eggplant, onto your banana leaf for just  ₹55.)

The veg biryani with onion raita is a safe choice.  Although the quantity of raita is insufficient, more can be requested at no cost.  It is true, too, that, although the biryani at dinner is satisfactory, at lunch it is far tastier.  It is not known if the cause of this is a different cook, the same cook becoming tired and discouraged in the course of the day, or some other factor.

As it is part of the best hotel near the ashram, the restaurant collects the wealthiest of the devout, the most sensitive, the most elderly, those often heard to admit with a sigh, I need my comforts.  A number of the these people refer to themselves in the third person: “this one”, “this person”, “this Janet”, “this so-called Janet”.  It is rude to eavesdrop on the conversations of strangers.  Also if you don’t listen it is much easier to eat.  

Among foreigners, the number one topic of conversation is energy.  There are those who believe in manifestation and those who do not believe in manifestation.  The latter may be heard declaring to the a/c restaurant, “What need have I for manifestation?  There is nothing I need!  Nothing in the entire universe.  Nothing!”

However, the primary clientele of the restaurant is not foreigners but upper-class Indians on pilgrimage.  These Indians are not certain that their vast wealth is due to the gods but, just in case the gods are responsible, they intend to keep those prayers and pujas coming.  They drag behind them luxury-brand children so fixated on electronic devices that they may or may not look up at some point and express astonishment that they are no longer in Mumbai.

The restaurant has beautiful dishes, heavy cutlery, and steel coffee mugs, as well as the copper water cups mentioned previously.  However, the tiny spoons for stirring one’s coffee are only clear plastic and even appear likely to melt.  I suppose the proper small spoons had a tendency to be stolen.  There is something oddly appealing about very small spoons.  I admit to having stolen at least three in my life, though never from expensive places and never from friends.  One I stole from an airplane lunch.  I would never steal a spoon now of course.  I am practicing to be holy.

In the same vein, the boys -- young men -- who work here are all handsome, with very tight pants, very dark skin, and astonishing teeth.  They are all very handsome, which is not to say they are attractive, not sexually, not to me, certainly not.  In 2 to 4 years, precisely on their 18th birthday, they will become attractive and not a single day sooner, or else I would be someone else, someone awful, and someone quite different from who I am quite certain I am.

On the other hand, is there some reason why every waiter appears to be more or less the same age, the same height and adorable in the same way?  The soles of their shoes are smooth.  They like to sprint toward the kitchen, then slide through the swinging double doors.  

In a holy town like this one, one seeks to learn to pray without ceasing.  Thus: may the managers always be distracted as the beautiful waiters slip tips into their pockets.  And may the waiters always be nimble enough to dart away from sudden obstacles.  

To me it seems a very peculiar variety of magic, the way an a/c restaurant in a holy town, over-priced and devoid of atmosphere, may nonetheless be found, at the height of the hot season, to be the setting for a succession of surprises and discoveries, as well as a distraction and a solace through the endless blazing Tamil afternoons. 

Spiritual Terms Defined: Pranayama

During the evening chanting, a man sits leaning against a stone pillar near the Mother’s shrine and practices pranayama, the breathing exercises believed to aid in the development of concentration and the purification of energy.  

These exercises often require closing one or the other of the nostrils.  Thus, every time I see one of these yogis, one hand splayed across their face, I always hear the same helpless nervous voice.  My nose fell off!  It just fell right off.  SO embarrassing!  But it’s no problem.  I got special glue and glued it back on.  It’s going to be fine!  Now I just have to sit like this for the next hour, holding my nose on. . . 

The Chambakka, or Rose Water Apple

for Jeffrey

In the library of the ashram is a brown and brittle copy of Summer Rain by Marguerite Duras, which I read every day between 10 and 11.  I’d read a number of her short novels, but never this one, which seems to me the loveliest of them all.  Today as I read, a workman came to wash the windows.  Above the tattered brown edge of my book, I spied the dense black hair on his dark legs and glanced up to see his short broad-shouldered frame, his lungi tucked up for work, and his shirt the color of red dirt, but with shiny bits sewn in to outline a shape like the petals of a giant flower, and I felt longing burst through my body, the way an old house catches fire all at once.

The workman came and sat on the bench beside the window nearest me, not five feet away, and, though he was washing the window and I was reading Duras, it didn’t seem that either of us were doing much besides sneaking looks at each other.  From the casual way that he sat, one furry leg tucked beneath him, I could see his delectable regions clad in dark blue briefs.  A tent rose in my holy pants, which I sort of pretended to hide, but didn’t.  He stared into my eyes, then reached down to tug on his big toe, and I was absolutely certain that he was sending me a message.  

Not thirty seconds had passed.  Already I was all the way porno.  What a terrifying person, I thought.  Sex addict.  So far gone that in less than a minute he’s ready to attack the guy washing windows in the library!  I fastened my eyes on the pages of Summer Rain and didn’t look up once.  I don’t believe in casual reading.  I always take notes.  Only on page 105 does Duras supply names for all the children -- and by then they don’t need names.

I am someone who is really far gone, I noted with both horror and wonder. Hardly different from a drug addict really.  And in an ashram library!  Certainly this was not the first time I had learned that holy flowing pants require more constrictive underwear.  

I felt a gentle tap on my shoulder.  It was the workman.  He looked into my eyes and held out a pale green fruit.  An unripe rose water apple, or chambakka.  More or less the shape of a pear, but smaller.  They grow wild everywhere here.

The man was my age, his gray hair cropped short around his skull, and every part of him looked as rugged and as solid as the sacred hill itself.  What about the Sanskrit aisle? I wondered.  No one would catch us there.

I gnawed at the small green fruit.  It had almost no taste -- like a teaspoon of lemon in a cool glass of water -- and still it was juicy and pleasant to eat.  When I had eaten all that I could I held the core and stem in my hand and went on diligently reading.  I didn’t want to be someone terrible, someone out of control.  A bony pious foreigner had come to share my table.  He stood and read silently from the Srimad Bhagavatam.  There was little question but that he had long since transcended random boners.  Meanwhile, in Summer Rain, the teenaged brother and sister had fallen passionately in love and no one seemed concerned about it, not even their parents.

Another tap on my shoulder.  The workman wanted to take the remains of the fruit from my hand.  The window was open.  I gestured as if I would throw them out myself.  He didn’t want me to do that.  I felt his calloused fingers brush my palm, rough and moist, like the tongue of a cat.

He moved on then to wash other windows.  I went on reading Duras, while also attempting, in a corner of my mind, to calculate the degree and intensity of my delusion and madness.  I had been so entirely certain we were about to have sex.  And now it seemed to me that we had. 

Spiritual Terms Defined: Realization

The peacock is trying to cross the road.  3 times now he’s charged into the street, lost his nerve, turned around and run back.  I do the same thing.  The people who say I’ll get killed this way are probably right.  I hate to watch the peacock, but I can’t look away.  Every attempt seems certain to be a gruesome tragedy, albeit one gaily decorated with fresh blood and peacock feathers.  

After 3 mad dashes and 3 terrified retreats amid blaring horns and swerving cars, after scaring the crap out of himself, assorted motorists and myself, I see a lightbulb turn on above the peacock’s head and he’s like, oh yeah, I can fly.

What's Not Lost

When I walked up to Only Coffee this morning the #3 dog ran laps around me and the #2 dog came up to be petted.  I was glad to see them and sad just the same, so I dragged a plastic chair out to sit in the dirt by the road, drank my steaming coffee from its steel cup, and tried to explain to myself, again, that this was just the way it works: we lose everything.  

(Actually, it appears there is something we do not lose, which we cannot lose, but this is scandalous, as well as highly controversial and I am still looking into it.)  

I was sitting there, thinking these things, and petting the head of the #2 dog, when my elbow was bumped -- thankfully not the arm holding the coffee -- and at my side appeared the #1 dog: white, brown, black and smart.  She ducked under my left leg and presented her neck to be scratched.  

I set my cup down on the ground and patted her with both hands.  Then, because of a lifelong intolerance to sudden good news, which is not how I was raised, and with which I have never learned to cope, I knew that in another ten seconds I would be dripping with tears, which is just not something one does streetside in Tamil Nadu.

I contrived a quick fix.  Gazing across the mad street and past the sacred banyan, I gazed devoutly upon the sacred hill, Arunachala, as if I were absorbed in contemplation of the very highest matters, as if I’d been struck down by some of those super-big-deal extra-fancy revelations that so often come, in this very holy town, to terribly spiritual foreigners, insights so profound that I had no choice but to weep.

Friday, May 08, 2015

Small Stories from My Enormously Spiritual Life

In every event the entire universe is reflected.
-- Nisargadatta Maharaj

New Small Stories from India, 2015


from Small Stories from My Enormously Spiritual Life

Why do I write?  I write because the spiritual people here at the Shanti cafe are currently attempting to reach a consensus about whether or not to turn on the fan.  One individual explains that she suffers from “a wind imbalance” and might thus be maimed by a breeze.  Her friend suspects that she suffers from a wind imbalance too, but she’s not totally sure.  Other people point out that it is May here in Tamil Nadu, nearly 40 degrees Celsius, and that the sensation of sweat dripping ceaselessly from one’s skin is highly unpleasant, regardless of whether the underlying sense of unease they are experiencing is, in fact, a case of sunstroke.

I write because if I just started screaming obscenities it might mean that I am turning into my father.  The sweat rolling off of my hand is causing the paper to buckle.  Although I am praying that they turn on the fan, I am not willing to speak up.  I am worried that my voice might sound agitated -- or much, much too calm.

I have also informed God that I will donate 75 American dollars to charity if a biker walks into the Shanti cafe right now and lights up a big fat cigar.


from Small Stories from My Enormously Spiritual Life

It’s the time in late afternoon when the light softens at last and, in the courtyard of the ashram, pilgrims admire the peacocks and share biscuits with the monkeys.  I’m perched with my book on the steps just outside the office of the cashier, watching people come and go with donations and requests.  A small monkey -- a juvenile, male, rather scrawny -- peers into the office doorway and almost enters but then doesn’t.  The monkeys at the ashram are much too tame -- they steal food and scare children.  You’d be wise to give them a wide berth.  Indeed, even as I sit here the guard has come with his stick to ward off the monkeys that lurk by the temple door and tug on the hems of the ladies’ fluttering silks.  This particular monkey goes on lurking beside the door and peering in.  He makes an odd cooing noise.  The cashier, familiar with the antics of monkeys, turns from his computer now and then to keep an eye on him.  People with business come and go.  The monkey dodges their feet.  I expect someone to shoo him away, but nobody bothers, and he just goes on waiting, just outside the door, making the same small, sad, dejected noise, like he needs his mother to be paged on the intercom.  Finally a time comes when there are neither donors nor petitioners.  The cashier stretches, rests his eyes.  He turns to look at the monkey, shakes his head, and sighs.  He opens the second drawer of his desk and extracts a banana.  The monkey enters the cashier’s office, receives the banana and departs.

What's In It For You

from Small Stories from My Enormously Spiritual Life

I thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for taking a moment’s respite from the management of your own micro-celebrity to read this paragraph.  I promise it won’t be a waste!  At the end of this paragraph you are going to be demonstrably more impressive.  Now: if we can just quickly come to the agreement that this is literature.  Why should you decide that, you ask?  Why should you do me that favor?  I’ll tell you: because then you become (instantly!) a person who reads literature.  A sophisticate -- and with hardly any eye strain.  Then you need only select one writer you totally adore: Calvino’s a safe choice, so’s Beckett.  (If you want a woman, it has to be Alice Munro or Elizabeth Bishop.)  Then you choose one writer who is totally overrated: Murakami is a safe bet there.  He has to be overrated, doesn’t he, since he’s so entirely pleasant to read?  There: that was easy wasn’t it?  See how we’ve helped each other out?  Isn’t this a beautiful reason to ardently click ‘like’?  We are now literary people, you and I.  All the more reason to drink and have affairs.  OK, that’s it, we’re done here.  You may now resume dressing for brunch.  You are welcome, too, to photograph yourself reading this paragraph, in a highly sophisticated pose. 


from Small Stories from My Enormously Spiritual Life

“I never met anyone who came here earlier than I did,” he says.  “When I first came to the ashram, I was the only foreigner.”  He tells me stories of the saints, one of whom he knew when he was a solitary beggar on the street.  I ask him questions until the dal and veg are cold on his banana leaf.  “You must feel like the universe has shown a particular interest in you,” I tell him.  It sounds fatuous, I know, but I meant it.  Imagine knowing the saints before they were statues, when you could hang around and talk together on street corners.  

“My life has had a few perfect moments,” he says.  “One more story.”  He takes a few bites, clears his throat.  I wait for more news of great souls.

“Perfect moments exist.  They show up now and then.  Like when I was in 6th grade music class.  Awful class.  Taught by a sour old spinster who always made the boys sing stuff like, “I’m stuck on you.”  And what little boy wants to sing that?  Our job was to listen to the record, then try to sound the same.  She was that kind of teacher.  But I guess “I’m stuck on you” was getting old, because that day the needle jumped and the record played I’m stuck -- I’m stuck -- I’m stuck -- I’m stuck -- I’m stuck.

“Seriously, what are the chances of that?  Blew my mind.  I was 12 years old and I thought it was the most amazing thing that had ever happened.  Of course the music teacher had no clue what was so funny, so special.  She had absolutely no sense of anything.”

Soda Waters of Tamil Nadu, In Review

from Small Stories from My Enormously Spiritual Life

In a town as holy as this one, some sins are hard to come by.  No meat, no liquor.  Eggs, too, are a sin -- though I know a couple places you can get one.  The truth is, it doesn’t bother me when multiple venues for sin and distraction have been closed off.  I’m versatile.  I can always find something else about which to obsess.  

Soda water, for example.  In the extreme heat of May, with alcohol prohibited, juice questionable, and sugary sodas nauseating, plain soda water is the best chance for a fleeting sensation of cool.  I sometimes walk, amid the sweltering heat of noon, five blocks along the mad swerving blaring street just for a bottle of soda.

Of the four brands of soda water available here in town, I find that each is entirely different, though it is difficult to say exactly how.  Nonetheless, an attempt has been made.  It is my fondly-held wish that the following will prove useful to other drinkers of soda water, both in Tamil Nadu and beyond. 

Kali’s Club Soda, product of Kalimark (Sipcot, Pallipati)
Small, sharpish bubbles.  A tendency both drying and pebbly.  An unmistakeable though lemon-less sourness.  Highly transient.  Brings to mind a one-night stand with someone who looks good, but with whom you have nothing in common.  Though it really seems like it ought to work, halfway through it is already flat.

Lehar Evervess Club Soda, product of Pepsico (Palakkad, Kerala)
Evenly-spaced bubbles, like small amenable thorns.  Brings to mind delicate blue-green glass beads and the hour of noon.  You can really taste the water!  A sense of reliability one does not generally expect from bubbles.  If this soda water was a tanned teenaged boy, you wouldn’t hesitate to entrust your lawn to him.

Kinley Soda, product of CocaCola (Vellavedu, Tiruvallur)
Insistent bubbles, but with a hint of inconstancy.  Milky and tongue-heavy.  Sustained bitterness, even to the point of gourd-ishness.  Brings to mind a decent man, but with almost no chin, or a sensible person useless in emergencies.

Bisleri Soda, product of Bisleri Intl. (Bangalore, Karnataka)
A net fine enough to catch the smallest fish.  Sandpaper too smooth for the task at hand.  Miniscule bubbles spaced too far apart.  Vegetal notes.  Brings to mind a reputable college and the boy you are supposed to like.  Contains too much water.

Spiritual Terms Defined: Prasad

from Small Stories from My Enormously Spiritual Life

This morning an old woman in the temple offered me prasad. Three Starburst: two lemon and one strawberry.  I accepted them reverently, as though she had offered me an orchid.  Prasad means God’s holy leftovers.  Years ago I stayed in an ashram where the holy mother had told horror stories of bad things happening to people who refused prasad.

“I offered him prasad.  He said, No.  I urged him to take.  He said that it was troublesome to carry bananas on his journey home.  He said he had perfectly good papaya at home.  He resolutely refused!  Not halfway to Chennai he discovered -- all his luggage was stolen!  Billfold also!

The gentleman’s business later failed.  He developed rheumatism.  One son turned out to be slow.  It is not known if these disasters are related to his refusal of prasad, but it’s certainly possible.

Thus I always line up for whatever prasad is available -- a tiny spoonful of buttermilk, a laddu, a lump of upma, a fresh fig.  Skeptics will say that no one has ever seen me turn down food anyway.


from Small Stories from My Enormously Spiritual Life

If I were a photographer, I would try to make pictures that looked exactly like the Polaroids people took of birthday parties in the Seventies. Yes, I would work very hard to create images that were completely ordinary. I would always prefer what is flawed. The kind of pictures that might only interest you if maybe you loved somebody. Those are the pictures I would take, pictures most people would think didn’t matter much. No doubt I would still be hurt and indignant that people didn’t realize I was doing something really tremendously special.

My Complaints

from Small Stories from My Enormously Spiritual Life

Why don’t I simplify my life by considering my complaints to be devoid of substance and invalid?  My muesli and yogurt (waiting now while I take note of it) is topped with grapes, almonds, cashews, and glistening red pomegranate seeds.  Yesterday, while I was waiting for the swamis to re-open the holy cave after lunch, a langur came to perch on the nearest tree and supervise my reading of I Am That.  Who is interested in listening to the complaints of such a person?  Not me!  

I Am That has to be one of the most repetitive books in human history.  Maharaj says the same thing over and over and over.  “Just keep in mind the feeling ‘I am’, merge in it, till your mind and feeling become one.”  But have I gotten it yet?  Nope.  Not a chance.

Meanwhile, there’s this person.  He feels badly because he never achieved any success.  Aside from, you know, being gifted with muesli and langurs.  Oh, and he doesn’t much like being 42.  Oh boo fucking hoo.


from Small Stories from My Enormously Spiritual Life

Today’s pilgrimage, by auto-rickshaw: a circuit of the 8 holy lingams that surround the holy hill in the company of a professorial gentleman with whom I last evening had remarkably bad sex.  By chance, the lingam is a perfect metaphor for the way the man kissed: his tongue thrust out, hard and immobile from the center of his mouth, like a post.  He stank of onions.  The pic he’d sent in advance of our meeting was not from this century.  In what I resentfully perceive to be the intimate style of rich men, he just lay there immobile with his unwashed hard-on and seemed to think he was doing me a tremendous favor.

Thank god I used to be a whore, I thought.  At least I know how to get through this.  How often has my unwillingness to hurt anyone’s feelings led to actions that were grotesque?  He, too, was conspicuously underwhelmed.  “Your body is basically good,” he said.

Then this morning we had to go and be holy together.  It had all been pre-arranged.  On our holy tour, he maintained an instructional tone, describing each of the lingams in turn.  I admit that lingams have always seemed pretty much the same to me -- there are little ones and then there are big ones -- but it turns out the meaning of each can be entirely different, and especially if they are part of a circuit.  There is one lingam for the sun, one for the air, the stars, the bowels of the earth.  One lingam cures stomach ailments, another prevents childlessness. Others brings fortune, or status, or peace of mind.

As well as detailing the lingams, the rich man revealed his opinion that pradakshina, or circumambulation, was in fact an a prehistoric fitness strategy and that the use of narrow tunnels inspired ancient people to stay slim.  Even as we rode together in the back of the rickshaw, we took care that our knees never touched.  The whole time I felt haunted.  All my life I have loved older men, but now I fear they are too old.

Some people can’t stop washing their hands.  I can’t stop saying thank you, thank you, thank you.  “No need to thank,” the gentleman said.  “It was written on your destiny that today you would do pradakshina.  I am only the tool.”  As if to say that, no, he would never have chosen this trip either. 

On the other hand, I had good reason to be grateful.  I would never have found Indra lingam, buried in the city center.  Esanya lingam, last on the circuit, I had also somehow always missed.  This lingam is in the cemetery and to reach it you must climb down into the Earth.  The man said it symbolized the difficulties attendant to aging and death. 

Among all the lingams, Shiva’s trident is seen only here.  The gentleman made sure I saw the trident, tucked off to the side.  The first time he pointed to it, I pretended I saw, but he kept pointing, again and again, until I saw it for real.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Small Stories from My Enormously Spiritual Life

It is not the theory that matters, but the way it is being tested.  Nisargadatta Maharaj

new small stories from India, 2015

2nd series

Two Containers

from Small Stories from My Enormously Spiritual Life

Last night, in the a/c supermarket at the foot of the holy mountain, I happened to buy two plastic containers.  And I am still hearing about it.  The containers are small, clear, and rectangular, with colored lids.  The smaller one (blue lid) cost 18 rupees and the other, slightly larger, (green lid), cost 30 rupees.  That’s a total of 89.83 Japanese yen or exactly 75 American cents.  After studying the containers, I decided that the smaller one could hold milk powder and the larger, crystallized chunks of palm sugar, or arenga sugar, as it is also known.  I was concerned the blue-lidded container might not hold all the milk powder, but thankfully it did.

Actually I had already finished my shopping and was packing my purchases into a small cloth bag when I noticed the plastic containers with colorful lids stacked just outside the door of the supermarket.  And I coveted them.  But I didn’t just covet them, I also needed them, at least two.  I have ants.  My ants are very, very small, but there are many of them.

Please don’t think that I am someone who takes the purchase of plastic containers lightly.  I am haunted by visions of the Indian Ocean Gyre, one of five major gyres worldwide, and by the likelihood that my plastic containers will one day float there, estranged from their lids, gradually dissolving, lodging plasticine molecules into the bodies of single-celled organisms.  I will try to delay this.  I will keep my containers as long as I can. 

The lids of the containers are durable but the bodies are perhaps flimsy.  I will be careful.  Also the blue-lidded container fits inside the green-lidded container, which is a boon when traveling.  And I am not just telling you this for my own literary purposes.  I checked.

The lids are very snug.  I have confidence in them.  I think that they will prevent any problem with ants.  The ants are on the floor.  They have not yet discovered the shelves, the milk powder, or the chunks of palm sugar.  But no doubt the ants will discover them in time.  After all, the ants are thinking of nothing else.

Overall, I am satisfied with my plastic containers.  The blue-lidded one rests nicely on top of the green-lidded one on the shelf beside my metal cup and spoon, my electric kettle and glass jar of Sunrise instant coffee with chicory.  I have very few possessions.  Everything I own fits into a single suitcase.  These objects are important not because they are mine, but because almost all of them will last longer than I will, longer than this body which is not an airtight container, which does not close tightly, which is flimsy.

I would like to give the future small stories.  Instead I am giving the future small plastic containers.  Plastic lasts longer than stories.  So far nothing has evolved which can digest it.  I live simply, so as to give the future as little indigestible stuff as possible.  Also, living simply is said to be an aid for establishing a quiet and serene mind, which I reckon to be true in general, but not always.

Dog Biscuits

from Small Stories from My Enormously Spiritual Life

Like most foreigners in this holy town, I carry a small cloth shoulder bag I purchased at the ashram which identifies me, officially, as a serious spiritual aspirant.  In my spiritual bag, I carry dog biscuits.  They are chicken-flavored, even though I am a vegetarian and this is a pure-veg town.  Honestly I tried vegetarian dog biscuits, but every one of the Tamil street dogs to whom I offered one sniffed at it, then looked at me in a way which I interpreted to mean:

“Even though times are tough right now, they are still not tough enough for me contemplate choking down one of those.  Don’t forget that I still have the option of garbage.”

Thus I feed chicken-enhanced biscuits to all my favorite dogs -- the two charismatic pups at Only Coffee, the pack of mutts that roam Post Office road, as well as any I find lying in the dust alongside the murderous main street.  Cats will also eat the biscuits, if you can get close enough to one.  Monkeys, cows and peacocks will at least consider them and not think less of you for offering.

Along with all these animals, so effortless to love, I also feed my number one least favorite dog: a nasty hound, bleached with age and meanness, who snarls and barks at me like he’s going to take my leg off as I stroll past on my way to score some muesli fruit curd at the green and leafy Shanti Cafe.  He appears to be the oldest dog in town, but he must brush and floss every day because he has the whitest pointiest dog teeth in town.  Like bleached shark’s teeth.

Needless to say, I don’t get too close when I feed him.  From across the quiet narrow lane I lock eyes with him as he barks.  Then I bend down and pour a handful of biscuits onto a stone step and slowly walk away.  

The very first time I did this, the dog stopped barking abruptly, as if he’d forgotten what he was going to say.  Now, every day when I walk past, he still barks at me, but his bark is different than before.

It pleases me very much that his bark is now very audibly confused.

What Do I Tell Them?

from Small Stories from My Enormously Spiritual Life

Circumambulating the shrine of the saint, I contemplate the one great matter. My eyes are open just a crack, enough to walk, enough to catch a glimpse of my old friend Hannah -- we flash surreptitious grins and signal. Chai? Ten minutes? Whenever. Three minutes later we’re across the street on folding chairs with cups of chai, surrounded by a small audience of beggars we’ve also known for ten or twenty years. Turns out I’m very lucky to get to see Hannah. In 3 days she will return to Switzerland, her native place, to which she has rarely returned since coming to India in 1980. Her mother is very elderly now and she worries dementia may be setting in. “Every night after dinner she watches a movie, that is fine. But my sister says that for the last month it has been the same movie every night and she does not seem to notice.” “How does it feel to go back?” I ask. “It will be difficult,” Hannah says. “It is Spring. It will be beauty-full. The city is grand and clean. But then there are people, and they ask questions, and what do I tell them?” She gestures around us at the temple and the roaring street, at the beggars and sadhus and peacocks and cows, at the street dogs and dour-faced foreign devotees, at India. “People want to know what I do,” she says. “What do I tell them? Do I say that I walk clockwise around statues, temples and hills? Do I say that I practice simply being, or that I just try to be quiet?” She shrugs. “Usually I tell them I work at the animal shelter. I haven’t worked at the animal shelter in years, but you have to tell them something.” We imagine explaining to a roomful of Swiss professionals, “Every time my mind wanders, I ask myself, To whom does this thought occur? To me. And who am I?” We end up giggling, but the truth is it’s hard to go back. It shouldn’t matter what other people think, but it does. We agree that people respond in one of two ways. There are people who feel envy, because they somehow imagine that I have my life and their life too. Like I am on an extended vacation and I will one day return to a magical home where I have all the things that they do: house, spouse, career, truck, dog, garden, phone, benefits, TV, stereo, fishing gear, power tools, storage unit, time share, photo albums, memorabilia, old friends calling out as they walk in carrying beers. People don’t understand that the price of this life was that one. The second category of people assume that I am pathetic, self-indulgent, or mad. On my bad days I team up against myself with those people, the noxious clan that lives primarily but not entirely within one’s own mind, a parasitic psychic worm one might as well call the Inner Facebook. “But we cannot judge anyone those people either,” Hannah reminds me. “The ones who stay in the West. Because their lives seem freak-ish to us too, isn’t it?” “In the United States of America, many people sacrifice everything in the hope that they will one day be elderly in Arizona.” We shake our heads in bewilderment. The American faith is a strange one. “It doesn’t matter if I feel like a freak in Switzerland,” Hannah says. “I must help my mother. She was a good mother. She helped me to stay in India.” By now we’ve given up and bought chai for several of the beggars standing around us. Because they really are going to stand there, hand out, for as long as it takes. Several ashrams provide meals, but everyone needs tea. I fall into my usual complaints about America, like the way every conversation starts What do you do? Hannah interrupts me. “Yes, it’s irri-tating. But look at it this way. In a way it makes sense, the way people talk. What are we doing here? We have 80 or 90 years, perhaps much less. What do you do? What do you do? What do I do? Could someone please tell me what do I do? “Yes, maybe they want to feel they made the right choice, that we are freak-ish to fly away to India but -- in fact we are all just trying to figure it out. What do you do? What do I do? What does anyone do?”


from Small Stories from My Enormously Spiritual Life

for Marco

A thunderstorm so strong -- I’d rather just stay here on the floor, thank you.  I had been doing crunches on the bed, then the bicycle, my feet kicking the air, beside the open window with its metal frame, as the rain poured and the lightning flashed, when I had a vision of my death so embarrassing that I chose to retreat down to the cool pink faux marble tiles.

These heavy rains are not seasonal.  But then, I suppose seasonal is fast becoming a useless word.  Climate change will render it archaic.  The adverb unseasonably will be used only by tired and disapproving traditionalists -- the same bitter queens who claim that promiscuity is now passé because they are no longer invited to orgies.

As I watch the downpour -- and flinch with every flash of light -- a gecko dashes through a gap in the corner of my window and darts down to the floor, where we occupy opposite corners.  Then another flash, another gekko.  The storm continues this way, yielding a parade of geckoes.

Welcome geckoes, we are in full agreement.  Help yourselves to ants, there’s plenty.  It never occurred to me that geckoes might be afraid of storms.  There are now approximately ten geckos in my room.  I am happy they are here.  They help me to feel safe somehow.  Also, I am not so embarrassed to be here on the floor because, if the geckoes are doing it, then surely it is a good idea?

Monday, March 23, 2015

Guttersnipe Bookshelf: Aldous Huxley, Island

Aldous Huxley, Island
Harper & Row, 1962

As I read ‘Island’ I thought, “Wow, this is just the book for the world as it is right now” -- and I assume that readers have felt that way for all of the fifty-plus years this book has been in print.

‘Island’ is a tribute to the care and attention that is possible even now, as Big Oil, Wanton Destruction, Fake Spirituality and Sheer Nonsense roll in with their final victory, their FINAL final victory, bigger even than yesterday’s final victory.  Appreciation and real care remain not just possible but inescapable -- at least for those who are paying attention.

This book is intensely full: so many ideas, griefs, hopes, plans, theories, varieties of mischief.  It’s easy to imagine Huxley, terminally ill by this time, saying, “What the hell!  I’m putting it all in.”  Thus it’s natural that ‘Island’ succeeds far better as a mass of ideas, passions and energy than as a traditional plotted novel.  Seamlessness and efficiency are not the point.

I enjoyed this book a lot, was glad I read it, and this is despite loathing the first chapter, disliking the second, and thinking, “Oh, no.  Oh, God.  He must have been fond of D.H. Lawrence.”  (Yep, I guessed right...)  When, in the midst of the drama, we are treated to 35 pages on Huxley’s educational theories, I wanted to say, “Aldous!  Dude!  Reconsider!”

I ended up cheering the book because Huxley is so daring and so determined to include everything -- death, disease, loss, fury, grief, as well as five dozen theories, and the nature of ultimate reality -- you know, in case you had any lingering doubts about the nature of ultimate reality.  A dying man, he clearly used this book to instruct himself how to die.  To me, that’s stunning.

One more thing: nowadays it often seems that Huxley is the private property of New Age spiritual types -- after all, Eckhart Tolle refers to this book.  Thus, I was surprised to discover that there is nothing Huxley is better at than exposing the delusions, self-aggrandizement and sheer madness of self-proclaimed spiritual people.  Chapter 5, with its scary and hilarious portrait of the Rani, is the crown jewel of this novel.  I assume that Huxley meant to lampoon Theosophical types, as well as the devout ladies who clustered around the Vedanta Society in the mid-20th century.  I was chagrined to discover that the Rani seemed exactly like many of today’s New Agers and Neo-Advaitins.  (Like Huxley, I attempt to navigate contemporary Buddhist and Hindu traditions without becoming either nuts or a jerk.  It ain’t easy.)  To judge from Huxley’s portrait of the Rani, it appears that self-delusion has not needed to learn any new tricks -- the old tricks still work just fine.


The little sum of life forbids the raveling of lengthy hopes.
-- Horace 

But though I know beauty, I can’t express it until I’ve undressed.Have so much undressing to do.         
-- Joe Brainard, aged 19 


from 77 Irish Love Stories

We are good people, mostly.  We are a nice couple.  It’s just that we enjoy torturing the man who lives downstairs.  The man downstairs looked at us, right from the beginning, like a cockroach he’d caught in a napkin.  The man downstairs is closeted.  Not so closeted.  He’s on gaydar, grindr and scruff.  He is discreet, that venomous word.  He is the right kind of gay, the tasteful version now lauded all over the world, the good gays, who hate themselves and love to shop.  That is the real meaning of the word discreet.  He will have nothing to do with us, the queers upstairs. And his bedroom is right, directly, below ours.  Don’t you, too, feel that sex is much more fun if you are making noise?  Sometimes we just can’t help ourselves.  And, considering that men have been taught they shouldn’t really like to take it up the ass, there’s something really liberating about growling fuck me, which, if we’re getting going, if poppers are involved, may easily become fuckmefuckmefuckme.  No doubt this is irritating to the man attempting to sleep, discreetly, downstairs.  This is impolite, it’s rude, I agree, but the thing that is really unkind is our tendency, while chipperly thumping away, to call out his name.  That’s not right.  We are clearly the wrong kind of homosexuals.  Queers.  The nasty horny disruptive variety, which were supposedly being phased out.  It must surely be difficult to relax, discreetly, when two guys are fucking upstairs and even more difficult when they are calling out your name.  Come on.  Come out, Brendan.  At least come upstairs.


from 77 Love Stories

It is the fashion, among his co-workers, to throw intensely horrible parties.  Sure enough, the party is tonight and the hostess just called to say what she’s not sharing.  The hostess bought a very expensive bottle of vodka, to drink by herself, because, if we only bring cider and beer, that’s not very fair, is it?  Also there’s not going to be any food.  We might order pizza so have money ready.  I continue to try to understand why we have to go to this party.  Like how car crashes seem to happen in slow-motion and yet you can do nothing to stop them.  But this is nothing, he says.  I should have been around for the fish party.  The guests had to share the price of the fish.  And the water, electricity and coal.  And the grill.  Or the barbecue party he didn’t know was bring your own meat.  And cook it yourself.  He had to around with his beers begging someone to trade a sausage with him.  I think his co-workers must secretly hate parties.  Certainly they don’t understand the spirit of them.  We’re going, he says.  Do not try to weasel.  Why is it you never want to have fun?


from 77 Irish Love Stories

His rendition of literary culture:
Oh!  I really adored your ‘come down my throat’ poem.  What’s it about?  LIFE.  So intense!!!


from 77 Irish Love Stories

He explains to me, lovingly, that my small stories will never succeed.  I will never be respected and I will die having wasted my entire life.  The problem, he explains, is that my stories are much too easy to understand.  No one’s going to feel special for getting it and that’s fatal, he says.  He strokes my hair and explains that I should lace my stories with arcane tidbits of Hindu cosmogony.  “Like talk about secret temples created by falling chunks of Lord Ganesh’s organs.  Then you could at least get a job as an adjunct.”  “You mean the devi shrines?” I ask.  But he says, “Wait -- who was Ganesh’s consort anyway?  And why wasn’t that news?”  I have to admit I’ve never heard anything about Lord Ganapati’s love life.  And you have to reckon he was popular: charisma, stenography, elephant parts and all.  The truth is I cannot help myself.  There are stories that are not being told.


from 77 Irish Love Stories

Note toward a catalog of states.  About the best state, which is not the highest, and if it is the lynchpin of delusion, it is also that which renders all else meaningful.  My being has composed itself into a single silent luminous circle, a sphere of receptivity and peace.  It is entirely clear what I have to do.  That’s all there is, just a subtle hum in the background.  It may not look like much, that little hum, but somehow it takes care of everything.

New Rules

from 77 Irish Love Stories

I am in support of a totally different system of retribution, so that married men who shelled out to get fucked by a scintillating tranny whore might wake up the next morning, disease-free, with a ten inch uncut thunder dong -- try explaining that one, buck-o!  I would also seek to close various loopholes, such as the tendency of pious well-to-do white people to get away with ANYTHING, which is a complaint with a long historical pedigree.  If duly elected to the office of karma, as a wholly impersonal force, with the well-being of my constituents always foremost in my mind, I propose an alternate system of karma, in which at least some of the dumb things we did to get love -- would get us love.