RSS

Category Archives: Gainesville

Adam Byrn Tritt and the Story of the 34th St. Wall -Isis Ash

Gainesville’s 34th Street Wall, loss and poetry. Courtesy of WUFT, Gainesville and WJXT, Jacksonville, Florida.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on May 8, 2015 in Culture, Gainesville, Poetry, psychology

 

Tags: , , ,

One Perfect Moment

We’re driving along in our VW bus. The windows are open. The side door is open. We’re all here. Gainesville in spring. We’re headed to the park for a soccer game. Or to the farmers’ market. Or nowhere. Anywhere. I don’t know if anything has ever been better than that.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on April 1, 2014 in Gainesville

 

Judy

Judy is now
In her forties she works a bit
In a shop full of silk from Bali
Bags from a Women’s collective in Southern Mexico,
Incense
Gum carefully liberated from trees
Who, I’m sure, happily gave it up
Knowing just how trendy it would be.

I saw her again after so many years
Said hello, was greeted in a way
That left me feeling emptied,
But I didn’t say anything about that,
I just asked her how she was.

Her voice now cracks, gurgles, croaks
The effect on her of too many cigarettes
But that’s ok, says Judy.

The more we smoke the fewer people
She explains, smoking is a way to eradicate
The plague she calls human beings.
One fewer person, she explains
Is good for the Earth,
Even if that person is her.

And I don’t mention the greater drain
The ill are to the world
Or the damage tobacco crops do
To the land, the waters, and, ultimately
To Judy.

We use to sit, she and I,
Naked in the water,
A lake or a pond,
Sometimes a puddle would do,
Staring up at the reflected blue
Or at a moon whose bright opal
Set our bodies glowing in effusive glory
Against the background of the darker sky.

Long hours we sat,
Planning our next action
In defense of that which could not defend itself.
What would not get built on our watch,
Who sits in the tree this week,
Where the fence was weakest,
How to fight is won
By the compassionate warrior
Fierce and joyous.

We would look at the moon and she would howl
As I stood mute, in thought.
Now, the howl sits bound in her throat,
Unable to escape
Through the dark-matter mass grown of
Her loathing for herself,
The hatred for her species.

 
2 Comments

Posted by on May 31, 2011 in Culture, Gainesville, philosophy, Poetry, Social

 

Tags: , ,

Rememberance

The dates had been set for a trip for Lee and I to New York City. A drive up with the remainder of my daughter’s boxes, sixteen of them in varying sizes and weights, two portfolios, two pictures carefully wrapped in blankets, one tool set and a two by six by eight inch stone signed by fellow students from the inaugural class at The America Hebrew Academy in Greensboro, NC. The dates were changed from later in the month to earlier – her work schedule changed and, always overprotective, she worried about us traipsing around NYC by ourselves. On our end, work became heavy and, heading into summer, we were reticent to tell patients they could not have appointments.

It had been months since we’d seen her. Too long for me. But, in the end, though I missed her enough to bother her by phone nearly every day, it seemed a trip destined for difficulty. I felt we were pushing it somehow – the fast drive up and back, the shuffling of patients, the challenge in accommodations as she had, as yet, no couch or blow-up bed and I was not looking forward to arriving in NYC and immediately dropping a few hundred on a sleeper sofa.

Lee suggested Alek go along instead. We made the plans but, at the last minute, he felt it was a bad idea. Not just for him, but for anyone. In the end, it seemed he was right and we canceled. But I still needed a day or two away and Lee suggested Gainesville.

I had shied away from Gainesville. But, now settled into a home I like, visiting the place I considered my home for so long no longer seemed melancholy and bittersweet. I could go to my favorite gardens, walk the trails, climb the sinkhole, sit downtown, stay up late at my favorite coffeehouse, spend the afternoon at museums. And I can get from here to there well before a single MP3 disk runs out.

I asked Alek if he wanted to go – to get away with me and leave Lee the house to herself for a couple of days. Happily, surprisingly, he said yes.

This might have something to do with my having invited his girlfriend too.

Jessica is a sweet kid. A smart kid. We have made it a point to include her in the household whenever we can. She’ll watch TV with us, have dinner with us, go out with us. We want her to feel welcome and to know that she is. This is no chore – she’s fun to have around.

A week ago, Alek took her to South Florida to visit my father and brother, my in-laws. She learned quite a bit about the family and, yet, she stayed. So why not take her to Gainesville and show her some old haunts and tell her some odd stories. Let her see where Alek was born, where we lived, learn a bit about his parents.

Besides, Alek is quiet, Jessica talks. She and I will sing in the car while he sits. When we go out, he is worried about which one of us will embarrass him more. In short, it’s fun to have her along and it makes Alek happy. So why not?

The day was set. We leave Thursday. An easy trip. One night there. Gardens, sinkholes, museums, flea markets, thrift stores, retro clothing, coffeehouses. Maybe I’ll look up some people I know. Maybe not. I post a status message on Facebook. “Anything musical, festival, artful, eventful, funful or playful going on in Gainesville this Thursday of Friday?” I should have known not to, I did know not to, and I did it anyway.

Wednesday night I got this reply as a message on Facebook. It is from Tori, a friend of fourteen years. Tori thinks it is longer and I don’t tell her any different. The subject was “The Wild Young Zikr, Poetry Jam and Potluck”

I had gotten an invitation to this a month or so back but, since it was in Gainesville and I am in Palm Bay, three hours away, I said no. That and the fact it was a potluck which means there will be food and people which means eating food and talking to people. Actually, that was the only reason I said no.

The entire body of the email was two words. “Come by.”

People who know me, who spend time with me, come to understand that somehow, often somewhat uncomfortably, often somewhat frequently, they are in for new experiences. Tori, later, Victoria, later Murshida, always Tori to me, is like that as well. Having seen the comfort-stretching, learning and experiencing my friends tend to endure when around me, I knew what I had to do.

I had to say no. I had to say it quickly and before it was too late.

Why did I not use the word no? I walked right into it. I said “My dear Dear, It is a party. That means I will be struck with near paralyzing fear, cold with sweat, and wanting to crawl into any hole I can. Then I’ll cling to anyone I actually know and then worry about having done that. How’s THAT for a confession and knowing myself?” I added, “Besides, I won’t have been able to have cooked anything.”

There. That would be that. Done. Over. Crisis averted. After all, I promised no more forcing myself into social situations. I didn’t need them, didn’t like them, didn’t want them. And I can lie to myself as well as the next guy.

On the occasions I have needed a psychotherapist, and I assure you I have and do, I have not seen one. Why? Pack of idiots. Pulling out their tricks and counting on their common logic. I know their tricks and can out-logic them half asleep. Too smart for my own good, I am told, I have never found them to be effective. In psychotherapy, a good therapist has to get past your mind, past tricks and leave you with no place to go but in the direction of discovery, experience and growth, of finding or leaving. Tori is a psychotherapist. I should have known better. I should have just said no.

Her reply.

It’s not a party– it’s a ceremony– does the invite say party? That was a student’s oversight.

Come at 8:30 to eat and for Zikr– helping clean the dishes as your contribution to the meal will help manage your social anxiety between the eating and the invocation– bring a couple of dark chocolate bars to add to dessert– you can break them up and arrange them on a plate once you get here– another activity to manage social anxiety…did I tell you I was almost paralyzed by this for years… covered it up because I am an actor. It sucks. My heart to you! I love you.

And Zikr… Zikr is… Zikr is…

5,000 years of Dervish Divine Magic. 130,000 prophets in the room, Illumined Teachers in the room, music beyond what is being sung… such beauty.

During the height of the Moorish Empire when our ancestors lived in the Iberian Peninsula enjoying what is sometimes referred to as The Golden Age of the Jews, there were seven generations of Jewish Sufi Sheiks. And you, my dear, area Dervish to the core. So… if you don’t come I won’t be insulted for a moment, but what a thing to pass up… eh?!!! ♥ ♥ ♥

Damn. She did exactly what I would have done. The sidestep. She deflected my issues, piqued my curiosity, spoke to my longing and left me nowhere to go but discovery and experience and growth. She left me nowhere to go but her house on Thursday evening.

Hmm… social interaction and food. Nothing like dropping myself directly into the lion’s den.

But, if it is religious as well, it would probably be interesting to Alek, soooo…

Mind you, my newest poetry is not printed out so all I have is some older things. I mean, I have the new stuff on Internet access and on the computer, but not on paper. So if I read it might be something you have heard before.

Eight-thirty, eh? Dark chocolate, eh?

You know, if I’m on stage, I’m fine. If it is my job, I’m great. But I have even stopped going to contra dances for fear I won’t get asked, or, if I ask, I’ll be turned down. I never am but I know, next time… next time… so I don’t go. I just stopped forcing myself.

So what’s the dress code?

Why was I asking her that? Was I actually going? I asked the kids to see if they might say they’d not want to go. I prodded. I suggested.

“Sounds interesting,” they said. Damn.

Tori’s reply to my queries and misgiving?

Dress code is comfortable. Alek is welcome of course. Lots of young people. Not a place for performing actually. But what comes through comes through… you’ll see. Someone will be holding your hand most of the time and guiding you through… I promise that! lol. ♥ VA ♥

I wrote back. “Guiding me through? I’ll have Alek’s main squeeze with me to. Guiding me through?”

Notice the sidestep here. “Awesome… ,” she answers. “The Path of Love Loves Lovers… yep yep yep ♥”

“Damn, it looks like you are giving me something to write about. CRAP!”

“Yes!”

I have not written much in the last two months. It’s not that I have nothing to write about. I am working on a revision of a book coming back into print, on a novel, on a series of vignettes, on promotional material for the office. I have things I could write about. Maybe too many. A friend joked the other day that my problem was I had so much to write about that I don’t know where to start. I said “I need assignments. Write about this event. Write that story. Even better, maybe someone will give me an adventure. Wouldn’t it be great if there was a something interesting I could go to, less than a day away, that I could write about.” Make sure you really want something before you ask for it.

So Thursday morning we set off.

It is a three hour ride and we arrive in town with plenty of time. I take the kids on a tour, showing Jessica the house we lived in that we bought because of the live oak tree (age three), where the Lubavicher rabbi, one Shabbos eve, got Alek drunk on vodka and he spit up all over the rabbi in return (age four), where I died in my orange VW bus after a head-on collision with a blue truck, laying across Alek keeping him safe (also age four for him), his elementary school, Littlewood (ages five to nine), the old cooperative school we started out in the woods (ages who knows), Civic Media Center, where I got my start reading poetry at a clothing optional event (age who knows again), the bookstore we owned (age seven to nine) which now sells cigarettes and beer, and the house he was born in (not age four).

We pass the houses of people we know and decide to not stop in. Many we have made attempts to keep up with and most of the friendships fell apart from disuse as the distance and time grew. Some I email and some I call and from none do I get replies. That evening, I clean out my phonebook.

We explore downtown a bit and stop in at Flashbacks, a retro consignment shop. We buy a dress for Jessica and some cool whacked-out multi-coloured skater shoes for me (women’s size ten) and a great, magnificent find – a plaidish wool fedora. Neither appear to have been worn at all. Ever. Divesting myself of fewer than twenty-five dollars and feeling well on the upper-side of the bargain, we set off for lunch.

El Indio. It is not hard to find it and we have a great lunch of Mexican food under the trees on Gainesville’s main street, which is not Main Street, but 13th Street, US Highway 441. From there we walk a block to Mother Earth and buy three bars of dark chocolate. Green & Black’s Organic 85% Cocoa Dark Chocolate.

There is a whole lot of tired going on. We head back to the West Side, near Archer Road, and look for a hotel. Classes let out for the summer a week ago and rooms are plentiful and inexpensive. We settle in, me in one room and Alek and Jessica in another. We will rest and, in an hour and a half, at quarter ‘til seven, leave for Tori’s.

Out Hawthorn Road, in the Southeast region of the town, down towards the lakes, in a hidden area of small to medium, iconoclastic adobe, A-frame, tin-roof, shack, balcony, geodesic houses, each more improbably different than the next, we wind around dirt roads until we find Tori’s home as described, notice the many people sitting, standing on the wide front porch. I had hoped we’d arrive before most of the people and I feel my heart rise in my throat.

It is difficult to find a place to park and we squeeze past the cars on the narrow lane, turn around at the end, at the bank of Calf Pond, and squeeze past them again to park by the top of the street, unblocked and unblockable by any car obeying even the rudiments of the spirits of logic and the traffic laws. I have planned my escape.

The kids exit the passenger side. I left not quite enough room for me to get out and I step into the vines and loam, smoothing my way against the side, compressing myself over the hood. Down the road, up the short path, two steps up to the porch.

“Adam!” She rushes toward me, slams into me, hugs me. It takes me a moment to process the voice, now buried in my shoulder. Kat. Katey. “Katey!”

In her mid-twenties, tall and thin, other than a sporadic picture on-line, I have not seen her for nearly ten years. Long among my daughter’s best friends, even when distant. For years we saw her nearly every day.

I introduce the kids. Alek, of course, she knows though he has changed much since his age was in the single digits.

She takes my hand and brings me, around the people, inside. A small house. An adorable house. Different coloured walls, arches, stucco, sashes and prayer flags over doorways, devotional items on the walls, a fireplace to the left on the front outside wall as soon as one enters, and a table at the far end covered with food. A floor. The floor looks like people. Pillows and people. A sea of people between the front door and the table. A sea of people wearing shorts, t-shirts, sarongs, tank tops, less, more. I step around, over, through.

Really, it is not that crowded, but I don’t look down. There are many people but I don’t look down as that is where they are, sitting. Katey tells me her mother is busy talking with someone and points to a door through which I assume Tori is. And she must go as well. “Wait a moment.” I reach into my backpack and hand her three large bars of the 85% cacao chocolate. “For the desert table.”

We stand. It must be a few minutes or maybe a few seconds. I look at Alek and say softly, “I’m going to go outside where I’ll be less conspicuous.” I am not thinking about the fact that I am dressed in a button-down, albeit flowered, forest green shirt and dungarees which is as comfortable as I get when I don’t know the people. No, I am thinking about my mere presence and palpable, I am sure to everyone, discomfort.

And from some part of the room I hear, “be less conspicuous?” And so confirmed becomes my belief, my self-fulfilling prophecy, that people notice me, laugh at me, talk about me. I walk out the door again. Across the porch, down the steps, to the road and walk to the left, the right, one end, the other.

Out comes Tori. Tall, bright, nearly buzzed white hair, dressed in white, flowing inside and out, she hugs me. And I do so adore her. Always have. And miss her. Always do. She senses the discomfort even as I melt. She tells me how good it is to see me. She takes my hand, leads me around, introduces me to people, tells them she knows me much longer than she does. I don’t argue. “Want to take a walk to the pond? We have a dock that goes out into it.”

We walk down the road, onto the narrow, single file, wooden dock. In the water baby gators swim by.

“I swim in there,” Tori tells me and a few other people who have followed us, met on the way, or were already there. “I just listen to my instincts.”

It’s time to go back to the house. Time to eat. Back up the lane, inside. Tori walks to the table, gathers people around, points to the dishes and tells us what is what, what’s in it, who brought it. Time for a blessing and we all gather in a large circle squashed by the walls. Someone is missing. Tori’s mom. I’ll get her, says someone and leaves the room. A few moments later, her mom, thin and white, sitting in a chair, is slid into the room, chair legs across the tile floor.

The last time I saw her mom she spoke. The last time I saw her mom, she walked. Last time I saw her mom… I want to go over and say hello. She smiles. People talk to her. I can’t. My lack. It has not been long since my mother died and it feels like that. Far too much like that. Far too soon. And immediately I feel badly for my inability to communicate with her, my desire to distance, the feeling, if I walk over, I will begin to cry and see my mother, again, cold, dry, dead. My last image of her and I can’t do that now.

It is my lack. But I choose to be kind to myself. As kind as I can be while still dishing self-reproach.

The blessing begins. Tori leads it, blessing the food, our gathering, that we have come together to share this meal, this love, this precious time together and our reaching out to one another in union, in expansiveness, in joy. That we all move toward the one and the one moves within us all, each a ripple or wave in a single expansive sea.

And we eat. I wait, as always, not wanting to be seen eating, that someone might say, “he’s fat but he’s eating?” knowing, as I do, I am the only one who begrudges me food. But I wait, regardless, until the line is down, ’til seconds have been had, ’til cleanup has commenced, ’til most are busy talking, or laughing, or walking in the warm night.

I grab a plate and find the food is gone. This was my hope, of course. My son tried to get me to eat. I told him I would. But if the food is gone, what’s to be done?

There is half a slice of bread left, made by Tori, spelt and seeds and dense and delicious. There is a handful of cucumbers and a few fork-fulls of salad. I eat. Beside me is a conversation about massage therapy and sore legs. One woman has shin pain and wants to know how to stretch to alleviate it. It is a chance to help and I apologize, ask if I might make a suggestion, and, with leave, do. She is a massage therapist, not a student as I thought, and I think they might believe me to be egoistic. But it is information she did not have and seems happy for it. And I back out off the conversation before I have worn thin my welcome.

I bring my plate into the kitchen and, among three other people, wash my dish. Then other dishes on the counter, then gather other things to wash, happy to have a chore – doing something that allows me to face away from others and with no expectation of socializing. When there are no more dishes to wash, I walk outside. The kids are sitting on a set of steps.

Jessica is feeling uncomfortable. Her stomach hurts. She feels somewhat nauseous. Part of me wants her to want to leave and I will, of course, concede. part of me wants her to come in. We’ve come this far, why not go all the way? Tori comes over, crouches, speaks with her, assures her no one will ask her to do anything she feels unable to. She agrees to come in and give it a try. I am heartened. I am undone. My mind, my will, divided, opposed to itself, gets what it does and does not want.

Then, we are called back into the living-room and asked to take seats upon the floor. There are pillows. I refuse one, knowing, within ten minutes, my legs will be asleep. People push in, Tori askes we get closer. “Smush. Smush.” My son to my right, Jessica beside him. To my left, a young lady who’s name I do not know. I do not know anyone’s name save my son, Jessica, Kat and Tori. She wears a green dress and sits on a pillow. Everyone has a pillow and she leans forward and grabs one of the few remaining, piled in the middle of the room, and insists I take it. She has a Spanish accent, South American. Argentina, I am nearly sure. I refuse the pillow. I refuse the kindness.

“Smush Smush.” We do, I am pressed against Alek and he sits tightly. I try not to impose on his space. Ms. Argentina is pressed against me and I try to move to give her room, but there is no where to go. She sits cross legged and lets her legs fall to the sides, her right leg resting on my lap. I thank her for the excellent suggestion of the pillow, taking it from behind her and popping it under me. Newly elevated as I am, her leg still drapes over mine, resting on my thigh. I have no choice but to melt and breath.

Tori lays a sheepskin down in front of the fireplace and sits. “This (drawing a large circle in the air) is Islam. This (drawing a large circle slightly intersecting the other) is Sufism. This little space where they come together is Islamic Sufism but the rest of this circle is Sufism too. A long time ago, Mohamed welcomed the mystics, persecuted elsewhere, into his protection. Everyone was welcomed. Muslims, Jews, all the mystics. And they sat on sheepskins, or ‘sufs.’ So they were called Sufis.”

Zikr. It means to remember, to praise, to celebrate, to devote. It is movement and a spiritual state. It is to occupy ones body and mind, simultaneously, with the act of devotion so there is no space, no thing within that is not involved in devotion, not filled with celebration, not engaged in remembering, not suffused with love. The entire being becomes a celebration of all that is within and without and, soon, cannot tell one from the other. All things are divine and nothing is not the ground of creation. Zikr. Dhikr. Daven. Sway, rock, recite, repeat, praise, sing, move, move move.

She speaks about recognizing each other. Sufi’s, those on the path, mystics, though not all alike, recognize each other, as she recognizes us tonight.

There is further, but brief, explanation. Some chants will be in Aramaic, some in other languages, but all will be translated and all are here to bring us toward the one, toward unity, to ecstasy, out of our bodies and out of our minds to expansion past our skin-encapsulated egos, and into the ocean of being. We will be soaked, drenched in the one. We shall be drowned, encompassed without, filled within, by the love of all that is.

“Allah hu. Hu Allah.” A name of the one and the universal sound, a breath. We chant. I was taught a similar chant by Rabbi Isenberg, now the Chairman of the Department of Religion at the University of Florida. We would breath, chanting fast, bowing our heads. ” Sh’ma Yis’ra’eil / Adonai Eloheinu / Adonai echad.” Three bows each time, one for each part. Fast, faster, breathless. Ten minutes, twenty minutes, half an hour. Shaya would gather the Jews of a mystical bent and the Muslims of a mystical bent and have evenings he called “Jufi Dancing” to prayers and songs and chants. The Dances of Universal Peace. On Sundays, often, we’d play soccer, the Jews against the Muslims, no one keeping score. A name for oneness is a name for oneness.

Yet, I have trouble as the chant takes hold around the circle. First I sing not at all, then quietly, barely moving my lips. Then, as time passes, the chant starts singing itself and I feel no choice.

Words have meaning, rhythm and sound. Their power comes from the vibration of these three. But we don’t need to understand the words. Sometimes the words are lost. Sometimes we can’t pronounce them. The rhythm and sound are all that is needed as these impart their own meaning.

A rabbi taught me , if I don’t know the words, hum. There is power in the tune, in the rhythm and sound. Some chants come and go. Some, though, have power in their tunes, power in their sounds. They last. “Allah Hu.”

So I sing. And Tori begins to twirl. She spins and spins and spins in the little space there is within the circle. She bends down and grabs someone’s hands and they spin together. She lets go and that person grabs someone’s hand and they spin. We chant, we breath, they spin. With each choosing of a new partner, I wish simultaneously to be chosen and overlooked. We sing we sing we sing, they whirl, they whirl, they whirl. Faster and faster and then, as though by cue, we slow and breath and slow and slow and stop.

We had all pulled our legs in, to make more room, to not get our feet spun upon, and Ms. Argentina and I are now rather nestled into each other. And it is time for the next chant.

We count off into ones and two. Hold hands. Ones turn to the left first, then right. Twos to the opposite. Say “I don’t exist.” Turn. “You exist.” Turn. “I don’t exist.” Turn. “You exist.” Again. Again. Look in the eyes. Repeat. Again and again Ms. Argentina and I look into each others’ eyes, tell each other “I don’t exist.” Alek and Jessica are doing the same. Alternately, I turn to Alek, tell him “You exist.” Back to Ms. Argentina. “I don’t exist.” People are snickering, some laughing, some looking down, some follow through, more and more, look around, smile, radiate, expand, glow.

We rise and learn a song. Umbay alahay alahay alaho / Umbay alahay alahay alaho / (Rise an octave.) Umbay alahay alahay alaho / (Drop and octave.) Umbay alahay alaho. We sing. We sing. The circle breaks and the beginning of the line moves, sways, walks, dances. We become a snake, moving, swaying walking, around the house, into the kitchen, out the back door, into the yard, singing, walking, spiraling, singing, singing, faster, slower, louder, softer, tight, loose, drawn, compressed, expanded, pulling, pushing, singing singing singing. Passing eyes, looking, gazing, singing, the line doubles on itself, we face each other, it spirals again, we face away, it folds, circles, folds. We coil, coil, sound in our ears, singing all around and after an unknown time, we are all spiraled into a singing coil, tight, tight against each other, side by side, front and back, singing, pressing, pressing. Warmth and sound and naught else.

There is nothing to do but sing and melt. I cannot tell where I end and the next person begins. How long have I been holding Ms. Argentina’s hand? Alek’s hand? I am pressed between them, against the person in front of me, the person behind me. Briefly, ever so, I take inventory. What is there? Sound. But so much is missing. Anxiety. Worry. Boundaries. Me.

We quiet. Sing in a whisper. Slowly uncoil. Sit on the warm Earth. Come back inside. Sit again.

We are quiet. It is time for a story. Tori starts it. We each add a bit then pass it on. I am two thirds of the way around and it falls in and out of continuity, the story of a lonely woman of the distant past. A woman who lives in the desert and wishes to see the ocean. My turn comes and I do my best to return the story to the realm from which it came, to address the original question, get the woman to the ocean and away from caves and talking cats and speeding cars and back to her home and time and desert and to help her find her ocean.

The person before Tori has his turn. “I don’t have to finish it, do I?”

“No,” she says, “I wouldn’t do that to anyone.”

He takes his turn. So does Tori. But the story is undone.

“Adam,” She asks. “Would you finish the story?”

I guess I’m not anyone. I am surprised. It is a compliment, I know. And I take it gladly, finishing the story with the breath of the divine lifting the woman and her carpet to the clouds, to the sea. Everyone blows. Everyone blows. Our breath together is the divine breath. Our wish together is the divine wish. And together her wish is fulfilled. Together, may all our wishes be fulfilled.

Tori looks across the room, smiles, puts her hands together in front of her heart, shakes her head yes, says “I love that man.”

And, yes, I believe it’s true. And, right now, so do I.

 

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

The Harmony of Broken Glass

A million years ago, I used to own a bookstore. The community had asked for it and even put up much of the money. In return, they’d receive a return on their investments when the store turned a profit and would have a local store that carried the things they wanted. All Lee and I did was to quit our jobs, invest our time and money and pour our hearts and souls into it. They gave us a list of the sorts of things they wanted, we stocked them and they pointed their browsers at Amazon to buy the books and drove to Wal-Mart to buy the candles and soon we were out of business and they could not quite figure out why.

We were in Gainesville, Florida, at the end of Sixth Street, where it met 441 at an acute angle just past the north-side of town. Our building was an old gas station built in 1906. It had the original brick foundation holding up the original cedar beams holding up the original pine tongue and groove floors holding up the original pine tongue and groove walls in which were held the original windows. Nearly one hundred years old the entire building was and it creaked and groaned and loved every step made inside.

The building had two main rooms. The front, the salesroom, was twenty by twenty and windows all around except for the front door on the south wall perpendicular to the street, and the door leading to the second room, right in the middle of the west wall with a large pane of glass, door to wall, on either side. The second room, twenty by forty, was solid wall on the north and east. Separated by glass from the front room and, on the south side, made of century old wood, plaster and glass. Mostly glass.

The windows were high and wide with broad sills. In the second room, three of them stretched from the front to the back. As one looked to the lower edges of any of the windows, as one looked to the grass below through the bottom of the pane, the world stretched, became bulbous, swirly. If you put your hand on the glass, you could feel it thicken as one got closer to the sill. Thin at top and thick at the bottom. Old poured glass windows – a super viscous liquid that slowly, over nearly one hundred years, poured towards its own bottom. Kids would love to sit there and stare though the bottom and watch the world wiggle, fatten, and wave. So did I.

This was the room we used for classes and workshops. Around its perimeter, it held rugs and t-shirts, dresses and scarves as well as other textiles, folded on tables, hung from frames, and tacked to the walls. So large, it was, we never had to move anything much for a workshop or fair.

We had bands too, and we’d serve coffee. We’d be open until eleven and many of the coffee drinkers would not purchase anything, so we figured the coffee would pay for the electric that evening, at the least. The coffee was in the small kitchen area off the large room and it was self serve as we were neither set up nor licensed for food service.

At first it was by donation. When we found the donation can with little money but filling fast with empty sugar packets and gum wrappers, we decided the honor system wasn’t working and charged a dollar for the cup. Not the coffee. Just the cup. All our mugs went behind the front counter. Folks could ask for one, pay their buck and drink all night if they wanted. On an average night we should have made thirty to fifty bucks from the folks who, otherwise, would not have spent a cent. Folks who came in and bought books and such, we’d happily hand a cup to. Everyone gets to do their share.

It wasn’t long before I started seeing people walking around with coffee in vessels I had never seen before. Little ones. Big ones, Even stainless steel thermoses and double-size travel cups. I’d ask for the buck for the night’s coffee and they’d show me their one quart mason jar, telling me they had brought it from home so no need to hand any cash over to me. I suggested, along with the cup, next time they should bring their own coffee, too. Late nights at the bookstore ended soon after that.

But the workshops continued. Authors, therapists, artists. Booktalks, dances, songfests. I taught a few myself, on occasion.

I had, over the few years prior, been doing a workshop on chants from the Kabala. I had been doing them, recently, at the local Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, at churches as far away as Greensboro, North Carolina, in the forests of Ohio and even in a hot tubs. So why not do one at my own store?

The night was set and we had a very nice turnout of over thirty people. Someone volunteered to watch the register and I set to work. Three rules only. These rules, along with the chants themselves, were taught to me by Rabbi Shelly Isenberg who was the Chair of the University of Florida Department of Religion. They seemed to work for him and they work for me.

Three rules. Everyone stands who is able to stand. I’m tired is not a reason for not standing. We always lose a few at this one. People walk out in a huff because they aren’t going to be able to sit and chant. No full breaths from a full body while sitting curled in a chair. Everyone singing. No gawkers. We always lose a few more at that. When I tell them we’ll be chanting for an hour or so, still more leave. I tell them it won’t feel like an hour. That they will wonder where the time went but people want fast, instant results and they want them easy. They want to slouch in a chair and attain enlightenment from watching other people sing for five minutes. Good luck.

The last rule is everyone comes to the center. I set up four chairs in the middle of what will be our circle and, at some point, each person comes to the center to sit and have the rest of us sing around them, letting them feel the sound, the vibration, the harmony. I often have a person help me make sure everyone gets their chance. I joke that I call her my shill. I tell them, at some point, I’ll be going to the center as well and, please, please, they should not stop chanting just because I have. Always people laugh at this. The twenty or so people who remained did exactly that – laughed. The group had been culled and we were ready to start.

The chants are short and simple. We learned the first one by listening to me say it once, then the group repeating after me. Then saying it with me. Then I sing it on my own and we sing it once together. That’s it. No lengthy process. Nothing written on paper until the end of the workshop. The first time I taught this I passed out the chants, with their translations, on paper before we started. Then, with the chants written down, people read them over and over instead of singing, looking at the paper the entire time.

People worried about losing the words. They always do. Don’t worry, I tell them. There is power in the tune itself. Hum, tone, sing dai de dai like we have all heard rabbis do. The tunes have lasted a thousand years. Two thousand years. There is power in the sound. Never worry about the words.

We sang our first chant, all in our circle, four times. It was practice, it was invocation, it was lovely.

Hineyni / osah (oseh) et atzmi / Merkavah l’Sh’kinah / Merkavah l’Sh’kinah

Hineni is “here I am.” Oseh (Osah for the guys in the group) et atzmi is “I make myself become.” Sh’kinah is, literally, the Presence, but a distinctly feminine manifestation of the divine presence, so “Goddess” is a good translation. But not a particular Goddess and definitely not, however, the word for small-g goddesses. That’s what Craig R. Smith told me, at least. And I believe him.

Here’s how Shelly translated it: Here I am! / I make myself / A chariot for the Goddess. I like that. That’s how I translated it then. That’s how I translate it now.

We learned the next chant.

Ana / El na’/ R’fa na lah. That simple. I sing it once through before telling them what it means. Please / Strong One, Oh Please / Heal The World (all)(Nature) Please.

Here is what Craig R. Smith says about it.

Ana and na’ both mean “please,” loosely. It’s somewhere between begging and pleading and a demand, so it’s closer to “oh please, NOW!” El means strong one. It’s the same root as other strong words. For example, the word “ayil” is a ram (strong one of the flock), “ayal” is a stag (strong one of the forest) and “eyal” is strength. R’fa is heal. Tradition teaches prayer need not be lengthy or elaborate. This is the earliest known Jewish prayer for healing, uttered by Moses as a petition on behalf of his sister, Miriam: “El na, refa na lah, God, please heal her, please.” ‘Lah’ is ‘her’ and the Kabalists say this is to be expanded to all nature.

*****

It is done four times, steady, rising, steady, falling, then starts over again, again, again, again, again. Ten minutes, twenty minutes. An hour. Voices rise and fall. Voices high and low. Melding, separating, harmonizing, combining into overtones no single voice creates. A circle of sound as, one by one, two by two, people come to the center, sit, vibrate throughout, breathe, heal. And all the while, a sound around it all, a tone at once over the overtone and under the lowest voice. It permeates and surrounds and whence it comes we’ve no idea.

An hour. An hour and a quarter. An hour and a half and the chant slows, quiets, takes longer breaths, then ends all at once as if by a cue, unheard and unseen. Silence.

What did you experience? I saw the colour blue everywhere. I could not stop singing. It was not my voice. I felt waves. I was connected. My body sang as I stood. I felt calm. Calm. No time passed.

Water passes around. Some sit, some pace. Some wonder what the sound was, that sound over the sound, that sound under the sound.

I walk to the far window, the window toward the back, for some space. To look out, to look down and see the grass wave through the thick glass and notice something new. Powder. Flakes. Chips on the wood sill. The caulking around the window is loose. The window, vibrating in the frame has loosed the old glazing. The window, vibrating in the frame, sang.

We gather again to say goodbye. A short chant only, easy to learn and in English. We make two lines facing each other, close to each other, holding hands with the person to my right, holding hands with the person to my left, close enough to hug the person I am facing, each line joining hands at each end. We are a circle pressed to a double line. We look into each other’s eyes and chant, then move to the right, look into another set of eyes, sing, move to the right.

Come let us light up our hearts.
Come let us light up our homes.
Breathe in,
And breath out
Making circles of love.
Oh, come, let us light up the world.

Move to the right, look into those eyes, sing, move, look, sing. Her eyes, his eyes, my eyes.

Full circle. No one ends. We go round again. All is quiet. All is done.

*****

The next day we came to the store a little before nine in the morning to discover the phone wasn’t working. In the very back of the building was a large room, concrete floored, with a separate entrance. It appeared to be a machine shop from the old gas station days and one could not get to it from the inside. I walked there now, through the front room, through the large workshop area, past the small office in the back we rented to a fledgling acupuncturist, out the back door and around to the right. I knocked on the door. This was the landlord’s office.

Michael Rose owned the building and the house next door. Actually, it was one property with two buildings. He also owned a new age store not far from us. On top of these ventures, he was the U.S. importer for Blue Pearl Incense. When he was in town he was a good landlord and a more than decent person. Usually, however, he was out of town. Often at an ashram in Sarasota or India or who knows. Today was unusual and he was in his office. But his phone was not working either. Together we walked around the building to look at the lines.

It was a calm summer. There was no storm the night before. And so we were quite surprised to see, before we ever got to the phone lines, a thick black wire hanging from the tall utility pole a few feet from our building lying slack from the roof.

The wires were intact leading to the house on the property, parallel to our store, so Michael knocked on the door to use their phone. The line from their roof was still attached to the poll. It was not long before a gentleman from the phone company arrived.

It didn’t take him long to fix it though he had to run a new, longer line. That seemed a bit strange. Why not just attach the old one? Would making it longer keep it from breaking?

When I asked, with Michael looking up at the new line, the repairman just shook his head. He said the building had shifted nearly two inches and that had put enough strain on the line to pull it off. How it shifted, he’d no idea. He’d seen this after floods or, more rarely, large storms. Our area is not known for tremors and, if there had been one, certainly there’d been more lines pulled off than just ours.

He left. Michael shook his head. Tall, heavyset, usually smiling, he stared concerned up at the roof. I told him I thought I might know what happened and asked if he would come inside and look at a window.

I lead him to it and he immediately saw the flaked glazing and the powder on the sill.

“We had a chant workshop last night. We wondered what the buzzing was.”

He breathed in heavily and out again, aiming at the window sill and blowing the powder into the air. He was more than familiar with chanting, with sound and with vibration. He also had been invited to participate. But, still I had not expected him to actually be happy.

But happy he was. His eyes squinted and his smile grew wide and he laughed.

“Fantastic. I wonder what other damage you guys did. Other than moving the building. Can you break it?” Can you break the window?”

“I have no idea. Why would I?”

“Do it. Break the window next time. I’ll replace it. It’ll be worth it if you can do it. I want to see.”

And so the next workshop was set but this time we called everyone we knew who would be the slightest bit interested. When they hesitated, I’d tell them the goal.

No, no charge. Just show up. Show up and sing.

Never underestimate the power of promised destruction. People came just for the opportunity to sing a window broken. People brought people. Small folk and thin folk with voices high and piercing. Big folk and squat folk with voices booming and deep.

More than forty people were there, in that room. We were not crowded and had space between us as we stood in one large oval. Four chairs were set in the middle. We were going to do this right.

Dusk came. Held in the air, a red thread could not be told from a blue one and so it was deemed night and we sang our invocation. It was livelier than usual but the invocation quieted the spirits and settled the energy.

Then, on to the chant. Many had been to the last workshop and knew the chant but we taught it from scratch. Why not? It doesn’t take long and I wanted everyone to get as much out of this workshop as possible. If we didn’t break a window, we should still all leave with something we learned and a story to tell.

Ana / El na’/ R’fa na lah. Ana / El na’/ R’fa na lah. Ana / El na’/ R’fa na lah. Ana / El na’/ R’fa na lah. Down low. Ascending. Up high. Descending. Down low. Ascending. Up high. Descending. Voices mixed, changed, created other voices. Forty felt like fifty, like eighty, sounded like a hundred. The space felt vast, the room felt small, people walked to the center, vibrated visibly, found harmonies. The pictures on the walls clattered. The hum was evident. Obvious. It was loud and came in waves, different this time. Higher, oscillating, changing. Was it one of the windows? Was it one of the two large panes of glass separating the rooms? Was it something else? No matter, we continued and continued and the sound gloried in its being sung.

Time past unnoticed, the ineffable cue was felt and we slowed, quieted, stopped. We sang our last chant, each looking into the eyes of the person across in a double serpentine bent at the walls. Again, it was quiet.

So quiet. We just stood there. No one wanting to talk. I asked no one to tell what they saw, felt, heard. I asked no one to share their experience. The silence told the story.

No one rushed to the windows.

But after a while I walked to the front window to look out and see the moon rising. I looked up to see it over the trees, bright and beautiful. I stood, staring through the window.

And what was this? In the high left corner, small small, a crack. Visible if one looked but nothing terribly noticeable. Still, a crack. We had done it. We broke the window. Not shattered, not busted, but broken nonetheless. In the end, I’m glad it was small. The perfect result in all ways. We did what we set out to do but the window could stay, as it had, for nearly a century. We could still see the grass wave, convoluted, from the thickened bottom. The glass, as originally placed, would continue on. Of that, too, I was glad.

Because, if you get very close, if you listen very carefully and very near, on a quiet quiet day, you can hear the recorded hundred years – the rumbling cars and trucks, shoes on raised wood floors, thunder and pelting rain, laughter, the harmony in the broken glass.

 
9 Comments

Posted by on November 20, 2009 in Gainesville, philosophy, Religion

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Fugue State: Double Food Stamp Day

Normally, my day would start at eight in the morning. I would often arrive early just so I could get some filing done, have some time to play on the computer, take a short walk and, for the most part, get nearly all of my work for the day done well prior to the first client showing up for their eight o’clock appointment. In this way my days were relatively easy and taken up with writing, listening to books on tape and bouncing a solid rubber ball incessantly against the wall. The only difficult part was actually seeing the clients (some of them were joys, really but, some were anything but) and dealing with the other workers and administration (never, ever a joy).

Today, however, I wanted to get there extra early. I started my day at home, in my small closet-office, sitting in front of my hobbled and cobbled computer with Publisher opened. Once I had finished my work with Publisher I got out my Exacto knife, cutting mat, straight edge and whiteout and went to work to further doctor the reason I was so much looking forward to getting to the office early on this one particular day. Today was going to be double foodstamp day.

My backpack on me, me on my black 86′ Honda Elite 250 and all of us on the road for the 5 miles to the office. The sun was not up, but the mist was, rising to obscure the road and cover my visor as I rode through the early October predawn.

Parking my bike in front of building D, I entered. Seldom was the building so silent. Wending down the hallway to my own personal 3×5, I dropped my backpack on the desk, unzipped it and pulled out a manila file folder and headed to the copy machine. Placing my creation on the glass, I made one copy. One copy only. If I did this right, one copy would be enough.

I placed the original Publisher/cut and paste model back in the folder, returned the folder to my backpack, took a thumbtack from my desk and headed back outside. Out of the front door, to the left, around the side of the building to where, in the next twenty minutes, lines would start to form. It was Tuesday and this was the first foodstamp pickup day of the month. I fully expected this day would not go as smoothly as they anticipated.

The door was locked and, while, when I arrived, my bike was the only vehicle in the lot, there were now more than a few cars, and all there was for me to do was to act as naturally and obviously as possible as I went to a locked door in an area I never visit earlier than I normally arrive while holding a sheet of paper and a tack.

Asimov, in the first Foundation book, in the character of Salvor Hardin, stated “obviousness is the best mode of concealment.” I took my thumbtack and did my best approximation of Martin Luther. With sweeping, quick and sure movements, I tacked at eye-level a sign stating today was double foodstamp day. All you have to do, the sign instructed, was to look at your cashier and say, “double double my food stamps please.”

The folks inside the foodstamp office would never know it was there. The door was always unlocked from the inside after the books of stamps were counted. In fifteen minutes clients would start to arrive for pickup and ask for double food stamps. It was 7:15. Time to head inside, roll up my sleeves and look busy.

Back in my office I checked the day’s appointments, printed out the schedule, threw away the memos I had grabbed as I passed my mailbox, put the few files together which I had not yet properly compiled, turned on my radio and put my feet up on the desk. My first appointment had not yet arrived and I had nothing to do.

7:32 came and I received a call that my eight o’clock was early. Excellent. I gathered the few papers I would need, placed them in order on my desk, and went out to get her. While in the lobby I saw there was a bit of a commotion. BeeBee, the building supervisor, the head of the Foodstamp, AFDC and Medicaid program for our area, was talking to a few clients. I called my client and headed back to my office to start the interview.

Under the sign above my door quoting John Ciardi from his poem, “In Place of a Curse” we passed. “Beware the calculations of the meek, who gambled nothing,/gave nothing, and could never receive enough.” I sat in my desk and placed her beside me. All the other workers sat their clients across from them separated by their desk. I took the more egalitarian position which allowed them to see the computer as we input their data and also allowed them to see the sign above it, a quote from Baruch De Spinoza. “In the receipt of benefits and in returning thanks, care altogether must be taken.” Above that a sign stating “Bad planning on your part does not necessarily constitute an automatic emergency on my part.” Lamont Cranston, The Shadow, stood on my computer. When I knew a client was lying, perhaps about a father supposedly not in the house or about a job supposedly not had, I would squeeze a bulb under my desk and The Shadow would raise his cape over his eyes. “Lamont says you are lying. Would you care to rethink what you just said?” Behind them a framed portrait of Daffy Duck, God of Frustration. From the ceiling hung a large rubber chicken.

A few minutes into the interview I heard sirens. I wouldn’t normally get up to see what the sirens were about and I did not get up then, just continued the interview. A few minutes later a worker came into my office to tell me there was apparently a riot at the pickup door and clients jamming the waiting room insisting they speak with supervisors. The police were there and handing out food stamps had been suspended. They were not sure what the problem was, but people seemed to be demanding double their food stamps and no one could quite figure out why.

It was barely 8 o’clock. Sometimes it’s just worth it to come into work a little early to get something done.

 
2 Comments

Posted by on March 8, 2009 in Culture, Fugue State, Gainesville, Social

 

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Sledge-O-Matic

I once entered a contest for Gallagher tickets. It was a lark, really. Just for fun. I didn’t put much thought into it. Really, I didn’t care if I won or not. I just wanted to see things get clobbered with a huge sledge hammer.

The contest was for the best smashable item and this would be tested, by some fellow from a local radio station, in the parking lot of a local music store (corner of 34th street and Archer Road in Gainesville, Florida), with a sledge-o-matic.

I had to work that day because it was a day, you see, that fell between Sunday and Saturday. And I would barely get there in time, across town, to wait in line to have my property hit with a twelve-pound block of wood on a stick. I was hopeful it was the sledge-o-matic with the hole in the center so I could see the contents of my still not-chosen choice squeezed skyward through the center of the block.

I needed to stop at the grocery store. I had nothing at home to smash. Our food budget was small. Smaller than small. We went to the farmer’s market on weekends and spent twenty-five bucks on vegetables and some fruit. We then spent about five on rice and beans at Wards. In between we’d pick pears (I knew some sandpear trees no one else seemed to know about) and forage for lambsquarters, rapini and mushrooms. But this was special. This was recreation. So I headed to Food Lion by way of home as, late in the day, my sweetie decided to come along.

As I raced into the house to put my stuff down and usher her into the car, she grabbed a small item off a shelf. I hadn’t the chance to see what it was as it dropped into her cavernous shoulderbag. I didn’t ask as my mind moved back immediately to the pressing time.

At Food Lion. What to buy? A banana. Not bad. Someone must have thought of that. Grab it anyway. A bar of chocolate. No, not a good one. Cheap stuff. Grab it. Wine is messy. And red. Grab it. Glass? No. A box. A box of wine. Yes. A box of wine and I’ll need some suntan lotion. Smelly stuff. Cheap and smelly. Do we have a basket in the car? I think we do. Excellent. Twelve dollars and change? Honey, have two dollars? Cool. Let’s go. Car trunk. Junky basket. Everything in. Five blocks down the street. Where is the crowd?

It was quarter to five. It ended at five. We were it. Us, a manager/handler/media person, a fellow from a local radio station and a basket of cheap crap. One of them looked like he’d been in an all-night food fight.

“Where are the people?”

“It was over at four-thirty.”

“Over? Crap! Listen, I just got off work. Please don’t let someone win just because he is unemployed and I’m not.”

He smiled. “Good point. What do you have there?”

“A redneck picnic on the beach.”

“Holy crap.” He looked, surprised, at the selection. “Do people come that redneck?”

“As a social worker, I can confirm, yes, they do.”

“Let’s take them out of the basket though. Is that a box of wine? Not a giant juice box?”

“Box-O-Wine for sledge-o-matic. And a banana, crappy chocolate and cheap suntan lotion.”

He put them on the pavement, box of wine first, on its broad side, the chocolate on the box of wine, the banana on the bar of chocolate. Lotion next to it on the box.

He made a constipated face. Raised the block-topped pole, dropped it with enthusiasm and I had definitely not stepped back far enough. I was covered with a mash of colour nondescript, fouled winey-rotten-grapy-banana cocoa-butter alcohol-breath and any car speeding by would have caught a whiff big enough have sworn it had been spewed back in an alcoholic spasm after a night of binge drinking and munchies. The chocolate chunks were a bonus.

He shook his head. “Holy shit. I wouldn’t have thought it’d smell that bad.” He was covered afresh with tropical drunken upchuck..

“Man, that was awesome. But it wasn’t the best we had so far. Close. The smelliest. Maybe the most creative but not the best smash.”

My wife walked up. Opened her purse. Took out a small crystal clock. Solid crystal with a clock movement. She put it down in the epicenter of the tropical miasma.

“What’s that?”

“That,” I told him, “is a clock given to me by my mother-in-law.”

“What am I supposed to do with that?” I can’t hit that with this.” He pointed down to the clock with one hand and held his sledge aloft with the other.

“Why not?”

“But why?”

“Did I mention it came from my mother-in-law? This is the woman who offered to pay for our wedding if I stayed home. Did I mention her pet name for me is artificial meat?”

He stared at me. “There will be glass everywhere. Everywhere. I just can’t.” He paused. “Here.”

He reached into a pocket and pulled out four tickets. Two weeks thence at the U of F Theatre for the Performing Arts. Four tickets.

I have no idea where that clock is. Garage sale maybe. Long gone.

 
7 Comments

Posted by on January 7, 2009 in Family, Gainesville, Social

 

Tags: , , ,

 
%d bloggers like this: