There is always an entry point to every story. This time it’s on the Green Line, riding up through South Central. I estimate that thirty percent of the people on the train have diagnosed mental health issues. Voices speak out, wanting to be seen, and I see them.
In a way it is my worst nightmare, one of them, to be sleeping right on the highway, the sound of traffic rushing by. My mother always seems to live by a highway, I don’t know why. But anyway tonight I am practicing non-duality. Just be like a Tibetan deity, presiding with many arms over all of it like massive seaweed shifting in the waves.
This strategy works well enough until about 6am, when the cars and trucks rushing past wake me up. I try to sleep longer, not focus on it, but it is impossible to regain a sense of peace amidst the sound of diesel engines shifting gears, amidst so many wheels turning, going places. In this moment it feels like a karmic manifestation, to be here next to this highway. To be a restless refugee in a place that never stops moving. In the reception they give us little boxes of to-go breakfast that includes a bagel wrapped in plastic which I attempt to heat up only to find this turns it into a chewable stone within 15 seconds of leaving the microwave.
Yesterday on the train I met Jade the Fourth. In what will be remembered as one of my favorite Amtrak moments of all time, I gave him a piece of CBD weed only to witness him immediately roll up that Grand Daddy Purp and invite me to smoke it with him in the bathroom. There we were, blowing smoke into the vents of this tiny bathroom, him saying that if they kicked him off the train at least he was close to his stop. I still had another few to go. But somehow we didn’t get caught, and then he was getting off in the middle of a field of brussels sprouts. Jade the Fourth with eyes the color of chrysocolla.
Jade was coming back from a visit to TJ where he met his Mexican granddaughter for the first time. Only found out he had a son a few years ago, apparently fathered him 25 years before that when he was 18 and living in Cabo. It was different back there, no internet. Things just happened on the beach. He returned to America and fathered Jade the Fifth some years later, but maintained the life of a permanent fugitive, driving trucks across America, a lone wolf. When I asked him how he did it, drive all that much, he said he just smoked weed and sang a lot. Told me he’d been working on his vibrato. Apparently one just needs to practice. We were sitting on the left side of the train, watching the hidden ranch coastline fly by. Wave upon wave upon wave, America as it once looked, as it once was, before the epidemic of asphalt took over.
It was a sharp contrast to South Central, to Compton and the Watts Towers. In LA there are just too damn many humans, have been for years, filling in the space with paved and chain-linked lots that over time create an outdoor prison enclosing its inhabitants. It is a surprise that only 30% of the people have mental health problems. Probably even more are dealing with the physical outcomes of living near aging manufacturing structures with trash on every corner. But who knows. Maybe they are happier than I am here, sitting by the window with the highway rushing by.
Jade told me that the first time he met his son down south he fucked up, ended up doing speed with the Mexican cartel and having to depart in a hurry, without his shoes. Went down in his truck with a jar of weed and promptly lost all his money and had to sell his car in order to leave the country. He didn’t really clarify why he lost his shoes, but it seemed to emphasize the circumstances if not his general approach to life. Apparently he is actually a Texan. A Texan come back to Cali without his cowboy boots.
I thanked him for restoring my faith in humanity and he sent me a link to a book about N’Sync. Wasn’t there something else of import that happened, or was it just that? Human connection. Here in this world where it seems every day there is a new piece of plastic between us, I appreciate such things.
This is the time of day when I want to just sit in the window and soak up the sideways light. One of those moments with time to kill, as they say. As some say. Those who like to kill time.
Everything about this day was consistent with what I know to be my mother’s life. The can of flavored sparkling water, the errands. There is ample familiarity as we pursue real connection.
Neither good, nor bad.
59 minutes later the pink Pirhana sunglasses are gone from the poolside and I find ways to recall gratitude in my mind. Gratitude, and then also forgiveness. At least a little bit. At least an aspiration. I made two offerings to the sea today, one perfect round white stone that I skipped into the waves for the healing of all our childhood wounds, for all of us. And then a split mussel shell, almost in two pieces, for the loves that we maintain despite seemingly irreconcilable difference; for their endurance, these things made of pieces, lives made of pieces, a beautiful woman made of broken porcelain shards. Teacups. For all that is in our hearts. All of it.
Neither good, nor bad.
That is the refrain that I can share with you, the eternal and forever you. All that I cna share with you, all that I cannot. Neither good, nor bad. Non-duality of systems. How much truth can you hold in your arms; how much difference? It is a trick not to think of words when we are speaking. For this I close my eyes. Look inside. There are no words in that cave, only sensation. Energy bouncing around, vibrating, humming away. Processing.
It was a big day. I let go of many things I cannot name. Things that don’t exist.
In this living dream my mother becomes my sister again. We have been here before, but now it is different. We have evolved and I watch us as we pull up to Starbucks and the drive-through is backed up for thirty minutes. She gets a scone and feeds part of it to the dog. I can’t help but think about all the plastic and paper cups, lids, from these people, just these people here in this line on one afternoon, and then multiply it to infinity, to every Starbucks in every city all over the whole planet. Just Starbucks cups. This is what is happening to the earth. This is why people are dying. But others keep living. Like Jacqueline. She is turning 101 in a couple weeks and I’m planning to be there for her party. Triple digits is always worthy of a party. And she is worthy of living.
All these moments of this day. The highway, in and out of the car again and again and the American grocery store and the pharmacy and these suburban parking lots that recall my childhood and it all feels like a kind of theatrical backdrop that could be pulled right up in a second. But it is actually the fabric of peoples’ lives. People who want or need to live comfortable lives. Perhaps people with trauma. Life is contained, predictable. Yes I can have compassion for your North American anxiety. But it moves to detachment pretty quickly. That is your life to live, if you choose it. Where there is always a plan, where we keep things on leashes at all times.
The wildness of life, that is what is missing.
Tissues in my body vibrate with all these daily truths, searching for resonance, release. What if our life was a television series with a set number of seasons, where we know what is inevitably going to happen at the end? Would we live it differently? This going through the motions thing, the grind. As if life were a machine, a hamster wheel on a highway.
Yes in the end we die, and we love in the middle, all along the way.
Another thing you would know about me if you knew me is that I set up my morning tea and/or coffee the night before not only because it is a lovely gift to myself when I am half awake stumbling around but more importantly because I am prone in that state to knock things over, break them, and be unable to do even the simplest tasks like opening up packets of instant coffee or tea bags. It’s as if life itself has a childproof safety lock around it in this state and I am not an adult until I have at least one hot beverage in my system. I am also not a morning talker. Not to you, not to the random dude in the hotel reception. Smile and nod, wave, gesture.
Over lunch I finally heard the story about the famous swim coach, the one that reunited my mother with her boyfriend that she went to prom with at the age of 16 and then didn’t see again for 50 years. They had both attended a fundraiser in honor of their high school swim coach in their hometown and met anew after a few marriages and divorce on either end. It is a sweet story. But who is this swim coach, I always wondered, with the capacity to call in his team half a century later?
Well it turns out he was the kind of adult a kid needed to know, the best kind. That person who treated teenagers like fellow humans and saw people for who they were. A person who had your back. An athlete and an artist who lived into his 90s still inspiring others. That’s who this guy was. And they were just kids from the valley, growing up on raisin farms.
The new old boyfriend is from an Armenian family, one of many that populated the Central Valley, brought out by land grants from Oklahoma and the motherland before that. Said his grandmother had stories about when the Turks invaded Armenia and threw up babies onto spikes and decided then that it was time to go to a new land. And so they did, and so on. All the families from the same village in Armenia ended up having picnics together in the Central Valley.
We continue to speak of renunciation, of being visitors to this life. That nothing is ever meant to stay.
Accepting the family that is not, swimming in cold green water, drinking beers in the dog park.
At the end of the night I smoke Jade’s cloves out the window of my highway hotel room, already waiting for the morning coffee.
I find it is not so easy to sleep in highway hotels. Most corporate hotels, really. Too many automated noises and generators and air conditioners. Makes me feel at times like I am in the belly of some strange robotic animal. All my normal strategies fail and I am left with thoughts.
Turns out the family rifts are deeper and wider than I thought. All these moments of having the possibility to decide that we are in the same tribe denied and instead we are blocked in one form or another. Removed. Blown away like dust that does not matter. That is my offensive.
Breathe in, breathe out, don’t give a fuck.
The whole thing with meditation is we learn how to be with ourselves, and in so doing have the privilege of seeing how our minds work, thus preventing or disabling the tendencies most under-evolved humans have of projecting their accumulated drama traumas on other beings. In the meantime we watch as egos and insecurities inflate like balloons until they finally lift off and I don’t even both to see if they have a string. They are meant to float away.
For all that I have tried to escape suburbia in my life, it keeps coming back to haunt me. More plastic bottles filled with things, more parking lots. More errands. And then a place to leave on a Saturday morning.
What was I to tell you of this day? Of the Armenian yogurt culture brought over 100 years ago on a boat? The story where the father doesn’t walk the daughter down the aisle because he hasn’t earned it? Or else the one about the Mexican landscape artist named Jorge from Guanajuato, who has been here for 40 years, still being paid in cash. Probably rather none of the above right now. They are just stories, after all.
In the meantime I protect myself with pearls and roses, black cashmere. Overdoses of brownie. All the best insomnia has to buy in the middle of the night. And also a dose of a thing called humor. Remember that joke you once told about my brother, about his girlfriend who may or may not be a dog? I think I figured it out, she’s a doodle. Not a laberdoodle, more like a pit doodle. Busy biting the heads off of everyone when she isn’t madly in love with them. I’m sure he’ll have fun with that.
Perhaps what has struck me most in this time is the food and drinks we share. After this whole mask thing, now just open and even ostentatious sharing. The decision of it. Walking around in the pharmacy without a mask. Following the rules. Mask on, mask off.
Mask on, mask off.
(I go to bed holding my head the way he did, because it makes me feel safe.)