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Zen and the Art of Nose Maintenance 

Wednesday, Jul 8 2009

I've recently been reading a lot about Zen Buddhism, a subject I'd avoided for most of my life. Asian religious thought seemed like such a Berkeley thing to research; those of us who reject organized religion but want to think of ourselves as spiritual usually end up with The Tao of Pooh in one hand and a yoga mat in the other.

I realize I should've dived headfirst into Buddhism after a more typical series of events. I went through my Led Zeppelin period, which was closely followed by the obligatory hipster Charles Bukowski epoch, which of course leads to Jack Kerouac and eventually to his Dharma Bums, after which Zen would've naturally followed. I come to everything late, though. I refused to listen to the Cure during its heyday because everyone liked the band so much. I had to come to the music much later, once the dust settled. I didn't own OK Computer until at least three years after its release. Currently, I maintain that I hate The Wire and will not watch it, but give me a few years.

But the tenets of Buddhism would maintain that my stupid parceling of what I like or don't like is a symptom of how lost I am. I am supposed to understand that things just are, and our opinions are of no consequence. The DVDs of The Wire are the same today as they will be in a few years, and it will only be my mind that has broken free of the impediments that kept me from enjoying the series right now. Got that?

I'm not sure I do either.

I was sitting at the counter at Tangerine, on 16th and Sanchez streets, trying to stay in the moment. This is exceedingly hard for me. I fill every single waking hour of my life with "input." Books, movies, radio, music, cleaning, planning, working, writing. Heck, I even bring my crosswords with me everywhere just in case, heaven forbid, there is nothing around to interact with to keep my mind working.

Over by the window, one dude sat eating all by himself. He was bald and had a Fu Manchu mustache. He'd ordered some noodle thing and was looking quite content. I was with my friend Trena, who has been introducing me to Buddhism. It was us three, plus the staff, at Tangerine. This was very strange, because it was the last Sunday in June, the biggest day in gay pride, and toward the end of the afternoon. The edge of the Castro should've been overrun with people. But no, the place was oddly barren.

Tangerine is an Asian-inspired fusion-type place, with a bar that serves rice-wine–based mixed drinks. I had a Bloody Mary and my friend had a kiwi freeze thingie. The room has that mod, smooth cleanness so many lounges and eateries in S.F. have acquired. It seems most designers go for the spare, "lone lotus blossom in the pond" route when given an Asian palette to work with, instead of aiming for a Ming Dynasty bordello. I say we should bring back lush opulence, fire-breathing dragons, and, yes, big fat statues of the Buddha with pennies in his lap. By trying to look different, these places end up all looking the same.

But that's me: I'm opinionated and judgmental. My Zen teacher tells me that I shouldn't beat myself up too much, that self -improvement means we should look at all our faults but also embrace them with calm acceptance as parts of ourselves. This was good to hear, because I didn't have much money and was already trying to figure out how to get her to pay for our drinks. Morally, I should always try to take care of my own bill. But I cannot ignore the yang to my yin, which compels me to mooch from another. I humbly accept it.

Okay, back to being in the moment. Like most people last week, I had a Michael Jackson song in my head all day — "Billie Jean," which was a sight better than "Man in the Mirror," which had somehow gotten lodged there the previous afternoon. So there I sat, singing to myself. In the moment. Nothing else to concern me.

Not to point fingers, because that is not very Zen, but boy howdy, was Michael Jackson karmically fucked up. His whole life was spent going against his nature. When he was a kid, he wasn't allowed to be a kid; when he was black, he wanted to be white; when he developed a fascination with children, he ran up against the law; when he had a wide nose that was freely capable of breathing in copious amounts of oxygen, he instead wanted a thin nose that was prone to falling off in chunks. ... Okay, too much thinking. Back to being the moment. "So we danced, on the floor, in the round ..."

My teacher promises me that if I figure out my own shit and live as I am meant to, I will in turn be giving back to the world as a whole by being less of a fuckup. You hear that, world? Something to look forward to.

With this in mind, the bill came, and I paid for both of us. We wandered out onto the street and up toward Market.

Hey, you know who isn't karmically fucked up? Out gay people. They have given in to their true natures. I was reminded of this when a guy in silver lamé short-shorts and a Carmen Miranda hat strutted past. Every moment in his life had probably led up to this perfect day. Actually, he had panty lines, so perhaps a more perfect day would come after he discovered thongs. I am not judging, mind you, merely observing, like a crane that has alit upon a fencepost in a meadow.


All I had was that one moment, then. And now, this moment, now. And more moments that are coming, momentarily. But first, a crossword puzzle.

About The Author

Katy St. Clair

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