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Friday, November 30

            We leap out of bed every other night for something or other. One night there was a huge crash around 11:00 as a car smashed into a parked vehicle, a woman in the moving car screamed, then it disappeared with radiator steaming. Bob said, “Call the police!”  Below our windows we saw Zen students and Peter and Marilyn out investigating, and we joined them, Bob armed with Chris’s umbrella. Peter called the police and we went back to bed.  Later we learned the smashed parked car was Meg and Marc’s.

            Friday morning Meg was late for zazen.  Bob got impatient and left alone.  Then Marc tiptoed out.  Finally Meg stopped for me and we left.  Because we were late we had to sit first period in the hall.  Meg helped me when I got mixed up joining kinhin.

             After soji I returned to our room and Bob was still very tense.  He now said the student who next takes Chris’s room should be me.  I should tell Reb, “I want to become a monk,” the words Reb told us Chris had used when he joined Zen Center. This seemed appealing; it would be a chance to integrate us into Zen Center.

            So I went back over to 300 Page with a list of errands, one of which was to see Reb and tell him this. I spoke with Robert Lytle in the City Center office; he made Reb’s appointments.  Robert was a priest with thick, black brows, a sturdy build and lumbering gait. He was not talkative but had a heavy-jawed smile. We later were told that he was a former Midwestern football player.

            Another assignment from Bob was to find Neil Rubenking, work leader, and talk about Bob wanting to fix a weak lock on the back door of the Guest House; screws were pulled out on one of two locks.  He also wanted to install a burglar alarm. 

            Neil was busy, so I said he could find me in Chris’s room. While I waited I just sat soaking up Chris’s life. When Neil arrived I invited him to sit down on Chris’s futon, and we had a good, friendly talk, not only about burglar alarms but also security in general. Neil’s personality was tense, with rarely a hearty smile or laugh. He had a way of rolling his eyes up and to the side when he was thinking. At soji assignments in the morning, when all the students who had attended service filed by him and he called out sweeping assignments, to me he usually called softly, “Buddha hall.” He was one of the few at Zen Center not too holy to call “hi” down the hall to me once in a while, and I was grateful.

            Neil said there had been a neighborhood meeting about security a few nights before. It was loosely organized and about 20 people showed up, mostly transients and newcomers. Discussed was whether to patrol the streets, but this was knocked down because nobody was trained and a street patrol could attract attacks. Instead people proposed a system of look-outs from buildings, connected by telephone. Some vague steps were being taken toward that idea. The meeting was dominated by one “gay vigilante” who kept urging violence. The Zen Center contingent, representing the most stable and entrenched populations, were six people including Neil, the Black woman named Pamela, and, I was surprised to hear, Marc Alexander.  Before we said good-bye Neil got me some screws for the Guest House lock and the paint brushes Bob wanted for the front steps. 

            I spent some time going through Chris’s belongings looking for some Abhidharma study material he had used that Jill wanted in the library. Among his clothes I found a black sweater and blue knit vest, and I took them to wear. 

            At noon that day, the abbot of Eheiji Monastery in Japan, Hata Zenji, and his entourage were due for tea at the Guest House, and I offered to help Meg.  Suddenly her feelings toward both of us seemed very good again.  She set me on many chores.  Then, just before they arrived she offered to let me watch Okusan serve the guests their tea.  This was a privilege, so of course I accepted.

             I stood quietly as the signal came that the guests were arriving, and then Okusan told Meg to stand on the outdoor steps. I waited inside near Okusan, who was fixing tea and never seemed to recognize me. She had a manner that made her appear she was not noticing anything.  (Bob later said, “You bet she recognized you.”)  At the last minute, still without looking, she said, “You go,” so I joined Meg, who was then in a deep gassho.  Up the steps and into the house came the 84-year-old abbot, a dozen sparkly-eyed Japanese monks, and a few I recognized from here:  Reb, Marc Alexander, Murayama.  They were all quietly speaking Japanese. Reb knew a little Japanese, which he had studied, and as I understand it, enough to say some basic and polite things. Marc didn’t know any that I know of. Reb had a better Japanese accent than I. He copied the chanting of Tatsugami closely and other aspects of Suzuki. - DC Inside, there were many requests to be guided to the rest room, which I helped with.  Reb passed me in the hall and gasshoed.  At the moment the special green tea was served, Okusan knelt by the abbot’s chair and poured. She had Meg do the running around. A couple times she assigned me sternly, “Water.  Boiling.”  Chatting softly in Japanese they all drank their tea and very soon got up to leave in a huge black limousine, and we went out to gassho them off. 

            Reb, who did not leave with the Eheiji monks, then caught me by surprise in the Guest House living room, asking me why I had wished to speak with him.  “I want to become a monk,” I said.  His face clouded.  He perceived I had no idea what I asked.  He wasn’t harsh, but I immediately felt foolish.  He asked me several questions we needed to decide: Where would I start studying Zen, in Minneapolis or Green Gulch?  I was frightened by the vast distance between his reality and Bob’s. 

            “We can’t stop you from being a monk,” Reb joked gently.  “But I’ll tell you what I answered Chris, that these things take time.”  I told him that my first priority would always be Bob.  Beyond that, everything was left in the air. 

            That night we attended a boring Hata Zenji dinner benefiting a Sokoji Japanese temple construction in Japantown a new Sokoji, the Soto Zen temple where the SF Zen Center was first housed - DC. We went to the Sheraton in Ed Sattizahn’s car with Ed, Linda Cutts and Marilyn Montgomery.  At the event Reb was wearing Chris’s beads.  Bob thanked him for “being good to Wendy.”  I met his wife, Rusa.  We were seated with Ed, Marilyn, Linda, Marc Alexander and his mother.   The speeches were almost entirely in Japanese, except a brief talk by Reb in English comparing Hata Zenji and Suzuki-roshi.  Feelings were good, and at our table there was lots of talk of ZMM and the film.  We told everyone the proceeds of a ZMM movie would go to Zen Center.  Bob seemed tired and aloof despite all the attention, however.

            After dinner Murayama Shoki took a group photo with Okusan and others from Zen Center.  We were standing behind him and his camera, and watched them all give him beaming smiles.  Then Okusan bowed to us and as we bowed back, Shoki took our picture too.

Saturday, December 1, 1979

            Today Bob saw people he thought were Chris’s killers in the street.  I came in from Saturday lecture (by Steve Weintraub) to find Bob more agitated than ever.  At about 10:00 am he had “psyched” trouble across the street, when two suspicious-looking guys went partway up the front steps of the tan building across Laguna from Zen Center, the northeast corner of the Laguna-Page intersection, so Bob went down to the sidewalk for a better look. The guys had returned and were walking up Page Street. Then, as Bob neared the grocery store, back they came again and were joined by another guy he had seen earlier. Now all three approached, and they had their knives out, big ones like the one supposedly used on Chris, and played with them between their fingers. The one with the biggest blade rubbed it against his face. Bob turned quickly and returned to the Guest House.

            It was like a nightmare. Bob had me call Ed Sattizahn to report the incident, but he was in a meeting on tax laws for non-profit corporations, so we sat in our room watching the street for a few hours. Ed called us back and when he heard the descriptions said they sounded close to those of Chris’s killers.

            But just before dark Peter came by our room, and he said the description of the three guys that morning did not match the killers. He was dirty from working on a car, and had been thinking about ZMM, which he was re-reading. He and Marilyn were having us over to dinner that night, and Bob had been afraid to even walk next door.  But we did. And from that point on, things began to change. Peter suggested making a small independent film of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance that would be directed by his friend John Nathan, who was a film director and author of a book on the Japanese author, Mishima. Bob began to strongly favor a movie production team that would include people with good spiritual understanding.

            But more significant than any particular conversation was the way Peter and Marilyn met us.  At last we began to feel connected. 

            The family’s apartment was adorned with Buddhist art pieces, kerosene lamps, plants and depictions of coyotes, foxes and wolves. The living room had a cream-colored rug, white walls and a high ceiling perhaps 12 feet or so.  Through the bay windows the daylight flooded in, there were window boxes full of geraniums, and birdseed drew droves of wild finches.  The window on the Laguna-Page corner had a sewing machine and a full view right into Zen Center’s Buddha hall. 

            A futon serving as the bed was covered with skins of 18 raccoons that Peter and his father had shot on their Pennsylvania farm. A silkscreen by Mayumi Oda, John Nathan’s wife, depicted a spring goddess in a boat, beautifully framed. Marilyn said it was to inspire fertility.  A big indoor plant box on a low table held bamboo, cacti and a sunken goldfish bowl.  Marilyn had made it for Peter while she studied at Tassajara.  Meg later told us she had been assigned to Tassajara then too and remembered Marilyn making it for Peter and trying to decide whether to stay with him or not.  They got married when the training session ended.

            Instead of Zen robes Peter almost always wore a vest and cowboy boots. Thin and well-featured, he had dark, thick, swept-back hair and typically chewed casually on something like a toothpick or a wooden match. Marilyn, who had been lay ordained and at Zen events appeared in robes and rakusu, otherwise usually wore a baggy dress over baggy pants.  She was talkative and uncomplicated to the point of seeming scatterbrained. Having recently learned to knit she had decided to make Christmas presents for everyone they knew and was knitting constantly. Peter’s school-age daughter, Ariel, was gregarious and animated. With blond, shoulder-length hair, she smiled with a lazy lower lip and winked perfectly like a 35-year-old dragon lady, danced ballet and loved animals, especially horses.

            Peter said in the household he was the one responsible for the “dharma of the plants and animals.”  The plants around the living room were mostly castaways that he had brought to life.  A big dish full of peyote buttons growing in gravel on the coffee table he had found half-dead somewhere.  Bob recognized them right away; the plants are like low, fat, round cacti, each with a number of sections like a tangerine.  Part of Peter’s nurturing, he said, was two tall sticks with feathers at the top that he stuck in the gravel to oversee the peyote.  A few parakeet feathers had been stuck there too.  He tried telling Bob that talking to plants the right way helped them grow.  “I used to have a black thumb until I learned this,” he said. 

            A Buddha altar had been set up on a beautiful old wood trunk.  There was a three-inch white Buddha, an incense burner and a fat purple candle, and there was the head of a real coyote in perfect condition with its jaws open, as well as two coyote skulls, two small sets of Buddhist beads, and a cloth envelope I thought probably contained Marilyn’s rakusu. A framed photo of Richard Baker stared straight out, looking a bit unfriendly with a small, thin mouth pressed shut.  The altar also had some vases of dried flowers and pine branches, and an Indian arrow.

            Nearby, and sort of part of the arrangement, was some sort of Indian medicine stick over six feet tall, forked at the top with big feathers, perhaps from an eagle, with cotton balls on the end of each fork.  It gave the effect of a bird with talons flying over the altar.  Hanging down were more feathers, two of a big raptor’s feet with talons, pieces of fur, and 8 or 10 brass jingle bells.  A foot over the altar, on the wall to the Buddha’s right, was a framed black and white photo portrait of Peter’s father, looking intelligent, overweight, heavy lipped, squinty-eyed, and serious in the Jewish way, which is to say, not completely.  On the wall on the other side was a foot-square weaving in red and other colors that Marilyn had made in Guatemala. 

            Other colorful cloths and shawls were around the apartment here and there, perhaps tokens of Marilyn’s travels in Central America.  They formed a counterpoint to the bones, claws, feathers, skulls and dead birds and fur skins of Peter’s.  In the bedroom a fireplace was blocked and held a small gas heater.  The mantle above was decorated with a life-size replica of a human skull, among other things.  Bob said later it kept making him think of Chris’s death.  There were also the remains of a large skull of an animal, perhaps a horse. 

            There was also a little decorative whatchamacallit that seemed to have been made by Ariel, a square foot of blue cloth with two big stars, one over the other.  Stars seemed to be Ariel’s symbol.  She shyly showed me her room, and was pleased I liked it.  A queen-sized bed stood on tall legs so she could play underneath.  “My father made this,” she said.  Dozens of stuffed animals sat in neat rows.  A kind of wild, bright canopy was draped down from the ceiling over the pillows.  There were a few small low bookshelves.  The biggest thing was a cage for Ariel’s rat, Dodger.  It stood about 4 by 3 by 3 feet and was full of boxes and other containers to hide in. Ariel had decorated it with mouse pictures facing inward for Dodger to look at.  On top of his cage was a huge homemade dollhouse with four furnished rooms, inhabited by well-dressed toy mice.  Outside her bedroom the hall contained some poems and art things with stars, next to two big color photos of Ariel outdoors in the sunshine.  Stars also appeared in a drawing done at a younger age and entitled, “For My Daddy.”

            The apartment held two more cages containing seven parakeets and finches, perched on dried eucalyptus branches.  Peter explained that the leaves and berries stayed put indefinitely and made excellent permanent natural foliage.  The finch cage was so large the birds could actually fly a little.  The living room got quite noisy, especially when they got inspired by human conversation.  Bob’s voice, especially, got them going, and it got funny a couple times.

            Peter had an office with sliding doors.  “The most exciting thing in there is my picture,” said Marilyn.  She joked, but indeed it was the most striking thing, a 12 by 18-inch black and white recent view of her with long flowing locks, wholesome and glamorous. Peter’s study also contained bookshelves and file cabinets, an assortment of coyotes painted, drawn and photographed, running, sniffing and howling.   A beautiful Indian tambourine or drum, about 18 inches in diameter, hung over the desk.  It had a few tiny line figures around the edge—a deer, a tree, a bird, a man—and a smudged black spot just off center, perhaps where it was struck, and a feather and a bird’s foot dangling down.  Under the tambourine was an old photo about 5 x 7 inches of a full figure in Indian dress.  There was a collection of recorded music and players, and a small antique chronometer, and a large astronomy poster depicting galaxies.  Lots of books on Buddhism, and a Suzuki-roshi quote saying if the Buddha comes you will welcome him, if the devil comes you will welcome him. That’s an exact quote from Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind.

            Back at the Guest House that night after dinner, Bob was awake at 1:00 am, worrying about the street.  He said that the next day I should go to Peter and borrow his gun.

Sunday, December 2

            Bob woke me up, and after eggs and coffee he wanted me to get Peter to drive to Minneapolis with us to get his tools. He still wanted to borrow the gun and sent me off to knock on Peter’s door. We discussed guns and neighborhood crime.  I said of Bob: “He thinks a lot of you. He calls you his double.  He says you are a medicine man.”  Peter proposed we all take a day trip to Green Gulch on the spot.

There we were barraged with good vibes. Ariel was with us. We took a long walk to the ocean and wound up at some kind of an English pub. We had tea with Yvonne Rand. We met David Chadwick, who was one of those who looked out for Chris when he had first come to California.  He was  maître d’ of Greens, Zen Center’s gourmet restaurant. We met a Zen student named John Klein, a machinist who lived near City Center and was in Peter’s acting class. Bob spoke of starting a machine shop to train Zen students, and for a ZMM movie starring Peter. Klein was small and thin with a humorous, bearded face, and Bob began thinking of having him play DeWeese in the film.

            Walking back up to Green Gulch from the beach behind Ariel and Peter, Bob was reminded of himself with Chris and there were a few tears again.  He imagined Ariel playing Chris in the film.

            Back in the city I talked with Meg in the Guest House kitchen and learned she was not leaving the Guest House because of us.  She was enthusiastic about Peter being in a ZMM film, and about working with Bob and Neil on burglar alarms and security. 

            She said that as a result of Bob’s call to Ed about the knife-wielders the previous day, everyone was on watch at Zen Center last night, especially eyeing that corner building. At 4:00 am the next morning a Zen student awoke hearing someone breaking into Ed’s car. The police arrived in just one minute and made arrests.

            Meg also said Bob’s condolence letter he sent to Baker-roshi from England was now posted, and that people have said they were moved by it.

Monday and Tuesday, December 3-4, 1979

            Monday night there were special services for Suzuki in the little second floor chapel.  Suzuki-roshi died eight years previously, and this occasion would be marked by an extra sitting of zazen the next morning. He died during the first zazen of a sesshin, Dec. 4. So early morning. At the Monday night service, everyone stepped forward, gasshoed to his statue, and stood on the stairs.  Okusan stood by.  These services were held every month on the night of the 3rd and the morning of the 4th, but the December one was special.  Even Bob attended, out of respect for Okusan. 

  Suzuki statue

            Then, right after that, there was also a ceremony commemorating the City Center’s tenth anniversary.  This consisted of brief incense-burning on the patio under the full moon, a moment of “mindfulness” about the past decade, and then three trips around the building, with everybody chanting a sutra in a long line, through the Buddha hall, the main hall, and the dining room.  I was wearing Chris’s sandals and black sweater.  Reb wore Chris’s beads, as he seemed to all the time.  If everything wasn’t so unhappy, it would have been a very happy night for us.

            At dinner Reb asked us to sit with him and Rusa and their daughter, Thea, who was crabby. There were white tablecloths, someone had baked a cake facsimile of City Center, and the food was good. Yvonne joined us, and at the far end of the table were Okusan, a student friend named Michiko and a Japanese priest, and it could have been a fine night perhaps.  But Bob was very silent, wanting to talk only about things like Chris’s beads and the movie benefiting Zen Center.  The machine shop project never got discussed.  There also seemed to be tensions among Reb, Yvonne and Rusa, and Thea kept crying.  Reb asked if we were interested in a visit to Green Gulch, but Bob said no.  The next morning Bob worried that the invitation meant that Reb was trying to throw us out of the Guest House room. 

            I began feeling glad Katagiri would be coming on the 10th.  I kept thinking he would solve everything, somehow.

            Here’s what had happened during the day on Monday: 

            — Peter checked in on us in the morning, the day after we had visited Green Gulch, and invited us over any time. 

            — Phoned our Minneapolis attorney, Ken Anderson, and told him to cancel Lewis John Carlino.

            — Phoned Yvonne to get things rolling on a film with Peter Coyote as a San Francisco Zen Center benefit.  Tied her into conferences coming up with our Minneapolis attorney, Ken Anderson, and, we hoped, a film backer he knew.   Yvonne suggested tying Ed into the initial stages. 

            — Peter and Yvonne had both urged Bob to send a note to Baker-roshi, who had already made to Peter a smiling quick reference to a ZMM film.  Bob was reluctant but finally drafted a note. He said the proceeds from the film would benefit Zen Center.  He invited Baker to “meddle.”

            — Meg came in for a long talk about topics like coordinating Guest House space for meetings on the film.  We were now on excellent terms with her, even Bob agreed.  The conversation was so comfortable that Bob asked why she was leaving the house.  Without ever referring to Marc, she said that she hoped following an uncluttered Zen practice would be easier at the more monastic Green Gulch.  We urged her to stay and she smiled, saying, “That’s a new one!” as though she would reconsider.  We discussed painting the Guest House as a “painted lady.” It’s too expensive for Zen Center right now, she said.

            Meg asked why we wouldn’t go to Green Gulch ourselves, and Bob gave a lengthy explanation on why Chris’s room and the chest with his relics were the “center” and “dharma.”  She seemed to follow this reasoning, but gently made references to such other concepts as “hollow flexibility” and “non-clinging,” something Zen Center fosters in its rotating work assignments.

            — Bob had me call Nancy to get the phone number of filmmaker Allen Downs.  He was a neighbor from Minneapolis, and Bob thought we might recruit him for the ZMM production.  She didn’t have the number.  She still sounded shot.  She said she wouldn’t be coming to the ashes ceremony.

            Most of our meals have been coming from Zen Center’s store called the Green Gulch Green Grocer. There were no other supermarkets without crossing rough neighborhoods.  So we subsist mainly on cheese Danishes, macaroons and bread baked at the Tassajara Bakery, where Chris used to work, as well as granola, cheese, milk, ice cream, and crazy nut assortments such as a nut-date-chocolate chip combination.  I cook spaghetti, lasagna and vegetable curry for us in the Guest House kitchen.  We also eat loads of fruit, especially oval brown hairy kiwis the size of lemons that Bob craves with milk and sugar. 

            One backdrop for all San Francisco since we’d been here had been the mayoral election held the first week of December.  The incumbent was a woman named Diane Feinstein, whose slogan was “Our mayor.” An opponent, Quentin Kopp, also had his signs everywhere.  Signs also touted local ballot questions: “Vote No on Prop. 0,” “Vote yes...” and “Tax the corporations.” And buses had signs inviting people to rallies.  We didn’t know any of the issues.  Then, one day the headlines said Feinstein won.

            On the corner of Page and Market someone had written “Death” on the Page Street sign.  Lots of graffiti names were also written here and there, and an occasional remark like “I Love Boys” and “Gays Suck Dick.”  A few references were to Iran, such as “Death to the Shah.”  Down the street a butcher’s window advertised:  Fresh Pigs Heads.

            A mural on Fillmore summed up the atmosphere when we saw it from the bus.  It covered the side of a Victorian apartment building. Against a background of blue was a collage of faces of Black people.  One dominated the mural: the torso of a guy raising his fists, one on each side of his head, like he was having a tantrum.  Below him was a full-face image of a woman looking ugly and mean.  The colors were garish, the body poses and expressions arrogant.  One portion of the collage consisted of a street sign saying: “Fillmore.”

            On Tuesday, December 4, following the Zen Center anniversary ceremonies the night before, there were three periods of zazen starting at 4:00 am. We got up at 3:30 for zazen at 4:10. The alarm went off early and Bob had us leave right away to get good seats.  It was hard not to doze off during the next three and a half hours.

            Afterward we finished breakfast and then Bob took a shower and went back to bed.  We were up a lot last night, and who knows how many hours he was awake.  Once we heard a shout and we both flew to the window.  For a while we thought we saw a prowler across the street, but it turned out to be a gay guy ringing the doorbell for his date. 

            Things were still painful and rough.  We began to move forward on the film though, and Bob thought about buying a house in the neighborhood.  At breakfast in the Guest House kitchen one day Meg had mentioned that next door a beautiful, multi-colored painted Victorian cost $300,000.

            In that same conversation, Meg said Okusan would like her friend Michiko to have Chris’s room at City Center.  This was perfect, and suddenly the “hold” the room had on Bob relaxed.  Incense would be burned for Chris there, Meg said, and Bob decided to leave Chris’s Buddha there. 

            Another time during the night Bob was shaking with laughter and I asked why.  It was about a story we’d heard about Suzuki and his rock.  Before he died, Bob said, Suzuki requested a stone monument. It turned out to require schlepping a six-ton boulder up the hill to Tassajara. Reb had explained that Suzuki’s own ashes ceremony took place a year and a half after he died, because it took so long for the monks to move the darn rock. For several days this was the only thing Bob laughed about.  Last night he was thinking of an even huger boulder way the hell up the Montana mountain he had climbed with Chris on the 1968 motorcycle trip.  He’d like that for a monument.

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