Wednesday - Sunday, December 5-9, 1979

            Chris is now out of his old room at City Center, and we are finally getting back on track.  Last night Bob and I left in the room yellow roses in Chris’s vase, and his Buddha, and his futon with sheets and pillow.  A new student will be living there soon. As we turned off the lights Bob said, “Good-bye, Chris.”  Then he reconsidered and said to me, gesturing with his arm, “C’mon, Chris!” We have told Ed Sattizahn and Yvonne Rand and Meg and Peter that after the ashes ceremony we are going back to our boat in England.

            Today there was no zazen and we are not scheduled to do anything except catch up from near exhaustion.  I slept about 14 hours last night.  The best thing: our minds are united again.

Except for today, we’ve continued sitting zazen with the rest of the students in the zendo every morning starting at 4:45.

            Roughly, last week went like this:                                                     

            I spent many hours alone in Chris’s room and then walking across the street with loads of his things.  It was like holding my own Zen Center ceremony.  First I began bringing out his books.  Then I spent last Thursday and Friday folding shirts, packing boxes, and carrying load after load across the street to the Guest House.  Bob worked on small repairs around the house, slept and meditated.  And we became closer again.

            Again and again I knocked on the locked door of 300 Page Street and smiled at whoever opened it from the office staff.  That was often Marilyn McCann, or frequently Linda Cutts, Steve Weintraub’s girlfriend and a conservative and intelligent priest with short dark hair who worked in the office.  Or else Darlene Cohen, who used to be Zen Center’s secretary. She was very nice to me.  She had a warm, bright smile, and was dark-eyed, full-lipped, gentle-mannered, with thick, softly curled black hair that was streaked gray though she looked only about 30 or so.  She had a square jaw and reminded me of the comic character Winnie Winkle.

            After passing the office I climbed up the dark stairway past a giant oil painting of Suzuki and past a big ceramic frog on the landing window.  Each time, I gasshoed before Suzuki’s compassionate statue in the little chapel at the top of the second-floor stairs.  Then I flopped in Chris’s sandals down to his room at the corner of the hall. 

            In his room there was always rest.  After I left the sandals outside and felt the click of the latch behind me, the bright daylight flooded through the two tall curtainless windows and reflected on all the white surfaces.  The futon was still covered with rich green L.L. Bean blankets, neatly arranged, and one day I lay down for a long time with my eyes closed.  The room smelled of incense and I was there so much and so intensely that it became very familiar, even though I never lost a kind of reverence toward the place. 

            Nothing was in its original location after Ted and Nancy’s packing.  I looked a long time for the printed material a Zen student needed for the Abidharma, a Buddhist studies class.  They were short on copies of their reading material, and Chris had bought some.  They finally turned up among a half dozen Playboy magazines.  Between that and just generally sorting his belongings for storage, I looked at nearly everything and became intensely fond of him.  It was like the movie of the detective who falls in love with the murder victim. 

            There were no surprises; this was the same Chris I knew.  Just a strengthening of the images: a closet full of shirts, a bureau full of pants; a packet of Minnesota Zen Center mementos including a large black and white snapshot of Katagiri; letters from Bob, Maynard and Ted; postcards he’d bought with us at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts and at Dinner Key in Florida.  There were records and a stereo, tapes and the cassette recorder we once had on the boat, the old green rain hat he wore in Florida, the green down jacket and hood he wore visiting us in Maine, the light blue jacket with the striped collar.

            There was a collection of Chris’s “artistic” slides and black and white photos that struck me for their loneliness and shy view of the world—all leaves and skylines, few faces except for occasional hippie chums.  There were his pictures from his trip to see us last winter in New England.  One of Nancy was in a separate place as though he’d done something special with it.  There was a joke picture of Nancy and Bob satirizing Grant Wood’s “American Gothic,” wearing the saddest faces imaginable as they stood arm in arm.

            There were notes by the hundreds for Chris’s courses at San Francisco State College.  There were about 200 books, mostly on Buddhism and ranging from Henry Miller’s Tropic of Capricorn to the Shobogenzo and a copy of ZMM with his name in it.  There were notebooks filled with disconnected facts, halting and unsure, about zoology and philosophy, equations and pharaohs, grammar and Buddhism.  One paper consisted of a recitation of the Prajna Paramita Sutra, evidently for an eastern philosophy course but on a scripture he was familiar with from Zen Center.   

            There were old lists of expenses; 3 by 3-inch slips evidently used to study for a test on Japanese history; a fantastic collection of pens and notebooks; bits of notes to and from other Zen students about daily matters dealing with the bakery, Tassajara fire patrol and night watches; religious and Japanese treasures like the teapot, teacup, tea, fans, incense and burner, a six-inch white ceramic Kuan Yin statue, a candle, clay and other mysteries; toothpaste, razor kits, English Leather cologne; two sleeping bags; a dozen pairs of shoes, boots and sandals; miscellaneous clothes going back, it seemed, to his days in high school; two high school yearbooks; work clothes and long underwear; a zafu and zabuton for zazen; and his sitting robe and white underrobes, plus ceremonial stockings. 

            As much as these possessions rendered a sense of Chris’s solitude, it was solitude without anguish.  It was as though Chris had solved his sadness, even though sadness remained.

            At this point it seemed we’d be taking everything to Minnesota.  At Bob’s request I wrote a note asking Reb if some friend of Chris’s could be asked to go through his stuff and choose gifts for people.  Reb called back and said, in effect, no, this wouldn’t be appropriate.  He suggested we choose presents ourselves as we got to know people over time.  Suzuki, he noted, left things with Baker and Okusan that still hadn’t been given away. Bob set the sentimental and beautiful things aside and carefully arranged the books on a shelf in our Guest House room, autographing each, “From the library of Christopher Pirsig. RMP.” He began planning to offer them to Katagiri. 

            One day I tried on all the pants because I needed clothes.  I pulled out a number of them to wear, as well as a few other things like white t-shirts for Bob.   The rest of the clothes I put in the Zen Center storehouse behind the Guest House.  Reb suggested they could be given to the poor or sold, after all, at a Zen Center rummage sale.

            Bob left the Buddha statue in Chris’s room, he said, as a way of appeasing his ghost.  The Buddha might or might not be given to Elizabeth Baker for her next birthday in July.  We also left Chris’s futon and his vase with some flowers.  They would be there for Michiko when she came to the room.

            The best time of each day was after zazen, service and soji. As I returned from City Center to the house, where Bob waited, the sun was hitting the hill all the way down Laguna, past the evil projects and Japantown, to the crest of the next hill and its white buildings.  One morning I met Michiko on the street and said, “Bob is very happy you are taking Chris’s room.”  We gasshoed to each other about a dozen times.  She had a chubby nice smile and her eyes closed as she nodded.

            I met Michiko again in the Guest House kitchen the evening after we’d left Chris’s room for the last time.  In her bits of English, she explained that with a couple other Zen students she had gone into his room that night—I think she said it was with “Robert-san” and “Tommy-san.”  There Okusan had offered incense and chanted to Chris’s Buddha.

            Bob was still heavily attentive to symbolism, and on the teak coffee table he arranged things carefully: a Hindu postcard facing his way, the Suzuki book facing my way, no dishes or clutter.

            Peter one night described Tommy Dorsey as the Zen Center person he is most comfortable with.  “He’s not doing all this laid-back stuff you get at Zen Center,” Peter said.  “He and I can move down the sidewalk and his mind moves fast, bup-bup-bup-bup, the way I like to be, where you say only three words but communicate everything.”  And then Peter listed a string of descriptions applying to Tommy, and at one point added, “He’s a strange guy, knows the street inside and out, but he’s like a mother hen.”  I have yet to actually meet him.

            One night there was to be a neighborhood meeting on violent crime.  No one ever told us about it; I saw a flyer.  I asked Meg what to expect and she suggested talking to her husband.  Marc always remained an enigma.  He seemed enlightened and, as they say, “advanced,” and he always smiled, but he avoided us.  Like Meg he had no funny bone.  Though smiling, he was cautious and reluctant when I asked him about neighborhood anti-crime efforts.  He did explain for the first time that after Chris died there had been a meeting of 250 people. Then last week’s small meeting, which Neil told us about, had been called by a gay community member. When I asked if Marc thought we should go to the next one, he said sure.  The one last week was small, and it might have been “difficult” for us, he said, which puzzled me.

            “Do you mean our presence might have been inflammatory?” I asked.

            “Not inflammatory,” he said.  “Just difficult.”

            The night of the next meeting we met him before leaving the Guest House, and asked if he wanted to go with us.  “Go ahead,” he said. “I have to shave.”

             It was held at the little corner community center owned by Zen Center on the southwest corner of Laguna and Page.  Arriving early we sat in front, but eventually 30 or 40 people crowded in.  Scattered around the group were Charlie Cagnon, Tommy Dorsey, Ed Sattizahn, Marc, and one or two other priests.  Two police officers attended.  A pleasant Asian-American man representing a city organization called SAFE addressed the group and urged the formation of a sort of sentry network.  None of the Zen Center people said anything except Marc, who stated that the neighborhood was already quite well organized, a seemingly dismissive comment. 

            The SAFE man was quite sensitive and energetic, but a weak organizer.  Even though the room was brimming with energy in reaction to the murder and other experiences, he spent the whole evening talking about crime prevention gadgets like blow sirens and tools for putting ID numbers on stereos.   He described how to hold your pocketbook in a way to deter purse snatchers.  In between his demonstrations, a few residents told personal horror stories.  Chris was frequently mentioned.  “Let’s prevent future Chris Pirsigs,” someone said.  Another noted that “a pair of eyes on every corner could have saved Chris Pirsig.”  Some testimony revealed resentment of the police; one young woman had only been asked to identify mug shots five days after she was attacked and her memory had faded.  An outspoken gay man told of getting smashed with a bottle while walking with friends near the housing projects.  The whole meeting amounted to little more than a karma-swap.

Wisdom King Dharma Protector statue in the Buddha Hall at City Center, November 1979.

            Finally a female politician identified as Supervisor Hutch, a tough talking, middle aged Black woman, transformed the event.  Crime had “gone far enough,” she said; we’ve “got to get together” and help the police stop it.  The outspoken White gay guy noted that many White, single middle-income gays were moving into this neighborhood traditionally dominated by Black families, and he wanted to raise a question he felt uncomfortable asking but could not avoid: Did the violence have a racial element?

            Supervisor Hutch’s face hardened just slightly, but she was saved by a huge Black man standing in the back of the room.  In an animated, rapidly delivered, five-minute monologue, he said he worked as a caretaker for several buildings here and out of town, he had lived here 26 years, and, he assured us, the violence is not racial because he and his tenants are also victims.  There are too many people who hang around the streets with no purpose except to take dope and get into trouble.  White and Black alike must defend themselves.

            There was so much relief after he spoke that many people applauded, including Bob. Supervisor Hutch said she could not possibly add a thing, and the gay guy thanked the speaker too.  The big Black guy and a beer-bellied White custodian, who said he had taken out a gun permit to protect his tenants and property, were the only older people and only non-transients outside of the Zen Center contingent. 

            After the meeting Bob introduced himself to the Black guy as the father of Chris Pirsig.  He said he was “in your business, caretaking.” He said he wanted to help form a caretakers’ association. The guy was deeply moved and put his arm around him.  As we left the guy called back, “Hey, man, sorry about your boy.”

            Bob’s thoughts then took this shape: We’d propose a conference on the question of whether building managers and watchmen at Zen Center should be armed and trained.  If Baker refused to hold this conference, or if Zen students at the conference rejected arms, we should drop the issue. And of course, Baker would never approve arms.  Zen Center had not enthusiastically received the idea of a machine shop or our ideas for Chris’s room, or for the memorial fund, or the movie, or the managers association.  Baker had never come forward to us, and he hadn’t answered the note about the film that Bob wrote at Peter’s and Yvonne’s suggestion.  Baker didn’t want us here.  That was why Reb was so uptight.  That explained so many things.  We were not wanted, and we should stop pushing.

            Friday there was a 3:00 pm meeting with Ed and Yvonne, called to discuss finances for the film.  Bob opened the meeting by saying we had decided to go back to England after the ashes ceremony.  Ed and Yvonne just nodded, though they acted a little sad and regretful.  Discussing the film, they took notes on Bob’s intentions; they didn’t really engage.  Bob proposed setting up a corporation that would control the film and fund the Chris Memorial Fund.  The fund would be controlled by Bob, Katagiri and Baker, or their representatives.  Yvonne recommended not having a separate fund, in order to reduce paperwork.  Bob was somewhat annoyed at this suggestion.  It was left unresolved.

            Toward the end of the meeting Bob brought up the question of violence and defense.  Zen Center as it was shouldn’t be here, he said.  He said he had thought of getting a gun but after talking to Meg had decided against it.  Yet without arms or at least martial arts, Bob said, there would be more dead Zen students.  You couldn’t bring pacifist Zen up against this violent city culture.  I was relieved to hear Bob being frank with them.  Yvonne seemed to sympathize and nodded when he referred to martial arts.  She said a discussion of martial arts, pros and cons, had taken place.   But that’s as far as that conversation went. 

            Then Ed, with visible discomfort, presented us with a bill for housing the murder witnesses for the past three weeks, for cremation expenses Zen Center had covered, and a tab for our room at the Guest House.  The total was $1500.  As he spoke, he kept directing his words to me while glancing at Bob, who was writing on slips.  We accepted the bill, and Ed finally said, “Well, I’m glad you could stay a while with us, at least.  Maybe you’ll come again.”

            “Oh, we’ll come back again.  Life after life,” said Bob.  We laughed sort of sadly.  At the door Ed hugged me like he did the first night.

            A meeting on burglar alarms was set between Bob and Meg and Neil. I had a periodontist appointment, so caught an electric bus on Market, went through the park tunnel to West Portal Avenue, and there discovered a totally different San Francisco: semi-suburban, semi-affluent.  The periodontist was casual, a ZMM fan and full of condolences.  One tooth was dead so he scheduled $500 worth of root canals, etc.  I brought home some nice salami from a deli.                                                 

            Friday after service Reb announced that whereas Saturday, December 8, was the traditional observance of Shakyamuni Buddha’s enlightenment 2500-odd years ago, extra zazen would be held that evening from 8:30 to 10:00 and a special service on Saturday morning.  We skipped the night meditation, but the Saturday celebration was kind of nice, in our kind of meditation style.  Buddha’s enlightenment was honored by silence, with no bells or junkos during zazen. Instead of service there was an extra zazen period plus a brief service in the zendo.

            Normally a junko was an aid to the sleepy Zen practitioner during zazen. By ancient tradition this priest came by and whacked people on the back with a noisy thick stick flattened on one end if they seemed to need to be kept awake.  You could also request to be swatted by bowing in gassho.  There were two junkos, each covering half the zendo. Thursday I got hit by a junko for the first time.  I didn’t request it; he just saw I was falling asleep.  The first thing I felt was the stick gently tapping my shoulder as warning.  You were supposed to gassho in gratitude but I was too surprised.  Then the junko gave me two brisk slaps.  It definitely worked.            

            Those days I was sleepier than I ever had been in zazen. It was a problem known to most students.  Peter Coyote later told us he once woke up to the loud thud of his own body hurtling into one of the screens, which fortunately were sturdily built.  Bob never got sleepy in zazen because early morning was his natural time of excitement and emotional agitation; he fell asleep later when he got back to the room. I fell asleep a lot in the zendo, but a squeaky floorboard which the junko reached just a few steps before our row usually woke me up in time to avoid getting swatted.  He or she generally stood a while at certain posts, stick held vertical, apparently looking to see who snoozed.  Some days I chomped on my tongue to keep awake while he stood by us.  Then, as his shape moved past my back, my eyes dropped shut once more until the floorboard squeaked again on his next round several minutes later.  Sometimes I nearly fell asleep walking during kinhin

            Some mornings an incredible number of people got hit with the stick.  The whacking noises bothered Bob, he said, but I kind of liked them as an additional aid in keeping awake, especially if they were nearby and powered by a vigorous junko.  If a sleepy student wore a thick sweater, the stick would be muffled like a wet towel hitting a pile of laundry. Other times the sound could be a spine-tingling whip-crack that probably startled people all over the room. 

            Another problem was that I often had a sniffly nose in the morning.  So for zazen I hid tissues in my sweater sleeve.  Standard procedure before any disturbing movement, such as nose blowing, was to gassho as a polite gesture to your neighbors.  Fortunately lots of people blew their noses in addition to me.

            For zazen now I wore Chris’s black mohair sweater and baggy size 38 navy pants every day.  Most people wore robes or dark clothes. I used to wear Chris’s straw sandals with CP on the heel, but they were too big and made a racket, so I’d switched to his Zorries which fit better.  Bob wore his ordinary clothes—sweater and slacks. 

            After deciding to definitely leave Zen Center, we got in touch with Peter and Marilyn and they came over for coffee around 7:00 pm.  Marilyn was knitting some of her scores of homemade Christmas presents.  Bob asked Peter if he’d be willing to “take on the whole project of the film,” i.e. act, screenwrite, direct, produce, all of it.  The conversation was relaxed and flowed on all sides.  Overall, Peter had contributed his insights into the characters as film parts. Most of all he had contributed to our personal normalization here in San Francisco.  The evening was very good; Peter and Marilyn seemed like old friends.

            We went sailing with Stewart Brand, editor of the Whole Earth Catalog and creator of the CoEvolution Quarterly. Peter had told us Stewart was so smart “he reduces me to an infant.”  However, neither behavior seemed operational on our voyage in San Francisco Bay. Marilyn didn’t accompany us that day. Things started tense but Stewart turned out to be our kind of sailor, a non-racer in a mahogany-surfaced fiberglass tub with high freeboard, center cockpit, cutter rig, and red sails.  The wind was gentle, the Golden Gate golden, the Pacific pacific.  Stewart hugged his girlfriend Patty a lot. The most exciting moment of the afternoon was when Stewart and Patty were necking astern, Bob was at the helm, and he and Peter and I were just enjoying a moment of silence when suddenly Stewart pointed out a supertanker bearing down on collision course from the port quarter. “Pretty ominous sight,” Stewart observed.

            “Jesus Christ!” said Bob, and altered course to avert disaster. 

            Throughout the day nobody talked about business, books, Co-Evolution Quarterly, the film, the murder, or Zen Center. Instead there were lots of sailing jokes, salami and cheese and pâté.  We had a plain old great time.  Bob forgave Brand for his articles on metric conversion and nuclear power that Bob disagreed with. He had started reading back issues we had found of the Quarterly.  He raved about an interview on mental health with Brand, Sasz and Jerry Brown.  He cheered when he read Sasz saying things like, “Psychosis is religion.” Brand offered to let us stay on his boat later, and Bob would like to accept. 

            The previous night as we got into bed exhausted, the phone rang and it was Michael, who had sold his apartment so he could go to Europe in January.  I had to tell him about the turnaround.  It was an awful conversation.

            We were getting a clearer image of Richard Baker’s obscurity, which is to say, we no longer wondered if we were being snubbed; we knew we were.  With some good humor we speculated about the nature of the snub.  Baker was after all someone whom Chris knew very little, and his funeral was a huge offering to the family and the community. Likely Baker felt he had done enough. But Bob was still suspicious of Baker’s avoiding the ideas in ZMM.  He had heard somewhere that he refused to read it because he wanted to meet Chris “directly” instead. Allegedly he discouraged students who wanted to introduce Bob’s term Quality into Zen discussions. “Nothing disturbs a bishop quite so much as the presence of a saint in the parish,” Bob said. 

            Perhaps there was a rift between Baker loyalists and skeptics, we wondered, and the snub was to head off an anti-Baker movement.  Maybe Baker would get thrown out some day; he didn’t seem like a strong teacher.  At 43 years old he was probably unfavorably compared to his own teacher, Suzuki.  Bob laughed thinking about a remark Okusan was said to have once made, that “Katagiri is not a roshi.  Baker is not a roshi.  A roshi is an old manliteral meaning of the word - DC.

            We went through such a change in attitude in a week.  Now we could stay; we could leave.  It didn’t matter.

            We went to a Saturday morning Zen class taught by Dan Welch, a lanky, round-eared priest with a smile that reminded me of Chris’s when he really turned it on.  He had welcomed us to join the class the week before when we were at Green Gulch.  It was the last class of the series, and he introduced us as guests; he seemed pleased to see us.  Bob described Dan Welch as one of the “old guard,” an original Suzuki follower. Dan’s entry into ZC as a student was in 1967 to help us get Tassajara going, eight years after SR came to America. But he was considered a senior to those of us who came before him because of his Zen study earlier, especially in Japan. - DC.

            His class was wonderful.  Wearing slacks and a black sitting-jacket, he sat cross-legged on an easy chair in the Zen Center library.  His hair was short and graying; his head was not shaved.  The whole course seemed to have been based on Suzuki’s Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, and “auspiciously,” as he said, he turned to the section on Buddha’s enlightenment being celebrated that day.  Dan briefly and beautifully told the story of Siddhartha.  Then we all read Suzuki-roshi’s words aloud.  Then we continued to the epilogue, this time reading a paragraph each aloud by turns.  The reading aloud apparently was standard for the class.  Bob got the passage about seeing the fish and seeing the water, and as he read his voice choked up. 

            “True mind is watching mind. You cannot say, ‘This is my self, my small mind, or my limited mind, and that is big mind.’  That is limiting yourself, restricting your true mind, objectifying your mind.  Bodhidharma said, ‘In order to see a fish you must watch the water.’  Actually when you see water you see the true fish.  Before you see Buddha nature you watch your mind.   When you see the water there is true nature.  True nature is watching water.  When you say, ‘My zazen is very poor,’ here you have true nature, but foolishly you do not realize it.  You ignore it on purpose.  There is immense importance in the ‘I’ with which you watch your mind.  That I is not the ‘big I’; it is the ‘I’ which is incessantly active, always swimming, always flying through the vast air with wings.  By wings I mean thought and activity.  The vast sky is home, my home.  There is no bird or air.  When the fish swims, water and fish are the fish.  There is nothing but fish.  Do you understand?  You cannot find Buddha nature by vivisection.  Enlightenment cannot be asked for in your ordinary way of thinking.   When you are not involved in this way of thinking, you have some chance of understanding what Zen experience is.”

            Afterward Dan began talking, somehow, about differences between Japanese monastic practice and Zen Center’s. He told highly descriptive, animated anecdotes about his own experience in a Japanese monastery, where among other things he practiced begging meditation with the monks. American Zen has broken with historical Zen by including monks of both genders, married monks, and lay practice plus self-support.  When Suzuki first got to San Francisco he started by begging all alone on Bush Street and the Fillmore, the Black neighborhood. Not at first but early on - this didn’t last long. - DC He had more success in the latter place, Dan added. Both of us thought he was an excellent teacher.

            After class Bob returned to the house, but, tired though I was, I went to that day’s lecture, which was by Reb.  Few advanced students apparently attended these weekend lectures, which seemed geared for the general public and new students.  Many people sat in chairs in back or fidgeted on cushions. 

            Reb’s face was taut and his manner restrained, which made me tense and emotional. As with Katagiri’s lectures, his seemed to secretly package a personal message for Bob and me within his general sermon. His first point was:  In times of trauma, death or great loss, religion doesn’t necessarily make you composed; in fact it often makes religious people look worse than people who avoid religion.

            His second point: When you start practicing at Zen Center, you may announce intentions which, if you fail to fulfill them later, may come to embarrass you or seem to be used against you by those trying to teach you.  Here I gulped, thinking of my embarrassing declaration of wanting to “be a monk” like Chris.  Point three: Announcing your intentions makes you vulnerable but is part of the teaching relationship.  It benefits not just the new student but the teacher too. 

            His fourth point was also a shock: just as Katagiri did on the last day of our Minnesota sesshin in September, Reb proceeded to tell the traditional Zen story of Seppo spilling the rice. The head cook, Seppo, was “very, very enlightened,” Reb recounted, so the master, when Seppo dumped the rice, could not say he was good or bad for doing so.  He said, “Your practice is too strong for me.  Go find another teacher.”  Seppo had not stated his intentions for his master to use as “criteria of falsification,” as Reb put it.  So the master sent him away to someone else “who beat him all the time no matter what he did.”

            Point five: Reb talked about patience in absorbing criticism.  He used the analogy of an ocean’s ability to absorb a boulder’s splash, compared to a lagoon.  Patience enables us to be both ocean and the lagoon, both wide and narrow.

            I came back and told all this to Bob, but neither of us knew quite how to take it. Reb apparently was not against us, but it didn’t feel comfortable with him anymore.

            But we were comfortable with each other.  Our relaxed mess had again taken over the teak coffee table.  One night I sat on the arm of Bob’s chair and hugged him, calling him, “Swami Crazi Bobika Pirsiga,” an old joke of his own.  He laughed and said, “Shh.  Don’t tell anyone.”

            The thousands of sympathy messages from across the country have not materialized.  One day we received mail forwarded from our address on the east coast and there were no letters at all.  The previous week there were two or three but Bob hadn’t answered them yet.  Minneapolis people he used to know didn’t know where to find him.  One old friend in New York found us and sent flowers.  Two of Bob’s aunts sent a note together.  In the afternoon Bob called his father. 

            I called Ted, partly to make sure he had Chris’s tools which had disappeared, and also to see if he was coming to the ashes ceremony. He said he was not coming.  We laughed a lot, and talked about Stewart Brand.  Ted said Chris’s car broke down twice on the way to Seattle.

            Our expectations for the ashes ceremony were now bleak, with both Ted and Nancy staying away.  “I doubt Baker will even come,” said Bob.  “He’ll just give it to Katagiri to do.  Reb will come.  And maybe a few of Chris’s friends at Green Gulch.” 

Monday, December 10, 1979

            For a few days we’ve been going to zazen at 4:45 and getting seats together right in front of Reb.  This morning though, Reb and many of the other priests had gone to Tassajara.  Reb’s being gone postponed our ability to tell him directly that we planned to leave.

            At soji I continued to be usually assigned to the Buddha hall, which I liked.  Chris’s memorial name card was still there and I liked to see the fresh roses over it. 

            There was a little wizened old Japanese priest who chanted at the Enlightenment Service on Saturday.  He seemed ancient and his voice and manner etched on parchment or stone.  This morning he wandered near the broom closet looking for something and, trying to be helpful, I handed him a dustpan and brush.  He wouldn’t look at my face, but he wrinkled up his in a tiny laugh, took the things and turned away.  Later Bob and I laughed wondering if he was really an abbot looking for the men’s room.

            After breakfast Bob took a nap, feeling depressed.  The prospect of planning the film in the coming days with movie producer Philip Barry and our lawyer Ken Anderson didn’t interest him, nor did living in England anymore.  He said maybe we should sail the boat back to Minnesota and go to live with his father.

            We had by now met a few people who identified themselves as Chris’s friends.  Brian Unger, my partner on a cleaning crew sweeping the park two Saturdays ago, said he had been Chris’s roommate.  Then another day a bright-eyed, curly-headed, smiling girl I knew only as Barbara, who helpfully led me to lecture both Saturdays, said she lived next door to Chris’s room.  She asked if she could borrow one of Chris’s books, How to Raise an Ox.  The day he died, they had done laundry together, and later she returned the book, which he had accidentally left behind at the washing machine.  He had said she could borrow it after he read it.  After Barbara asked for the book, I left it at her door that night.

            We got from Nancy a copy of a letter a student wrote in response to her request to get letters from friends.  It was a wonderful letter and it was signed by someone named Barbara.

            Also, another ex-roommate, Robert Anderson (another Anderson!), phoned to ask for his stereo back; the one in Chris’s room was actually his.  He also asked, in a hesitating voice, if he could have a picture of Bob and Chris. 

            One of my bright spots was the dark-haired girl named Darlene who managed the front desk at Zen Center.  A funny thing was that she didn’t realize I was Bob’s wife.  The previous week she referred to him as my dad.  I wrote a check to pay for the Katagiri lecture and used my New Hampshire checking account where the checks were still in my maiden name, and Darlene expressed confusion.

            “You mean you weren’t born a Pirsig?”

            “I became a Pirsig by adoption,” I joked.  Then I said actually it was by marriage, confusing her further.

            “Gee, you look just like a Pirsig,” she exclaimed.

            “Well I become more and more a Pirsig every day.”

            At noon Meg proposed a shopping trip, so I went in her car to an expensive Pacific Heights store and admired the doodads.  On the way back she observed how closely married Bob and I were and asked what the secret was!  I told her there were two secrets: zazen and total submission.  We had a laughing, half-serious discussion of matriarchal-patriarchal values.   

            While I was gone Bob packed up Chris’s relics that had been in the “sacred” cabinet, because we’ll be vacating the front room for Katagiri.  The project softened him and he was in a mood of just missing Chris when I returned. Judging by his things, Chris’s life seemed to have actually been pretty happy and good when he died, said Bob.  Life no longer had him by the throat, and he was “blossoming,” as people observed in their letters to Nancy.  He was looking around at girls.  It’s good that life got better for him before it ended, Bob said.

            At the end of the day at Green Grocer’s, a young, dark-eyed priest named David called out to the last lingering customers who were keeping employees from closing up: “Only 30 more shopping seconds before Christmas!”

            That night movie producer Philip Barry was due to arrive around 4:30 in the afternoon to make a deal on the ZMM film and treat us to dinner.  We had originally fantasized a simple process where money just rolled in, contracts were signed, we named Peter to play the lead, Allen Downs to shoot, Ann Murphy to invest, John Nathan to direct, Zen Center gurus like Reb, Ed and Yvonne to participate in various ways, and Ken Anderson to watch over all these arrangements.  But then we decided we’ll leave San Francisco, Ann Murphy couldn’t be located, and Barry was only staying in town one night and would have left before Ken Anderson arrived on Tuesday.  So the Barry encounter turned into just a feeling-out session. 

            In the fancy Guest House front room, I had brought up glasses and some Guest House Scotch, gin and bourbon, and ran to the Green Grocer for lemons, limes, Seven-Up and Calistoga water.  Barry was the son of playwright Philip Barry who wrote The Philadelphia Story.  Barry Jr. had just finished producing the award-winning movie Friendly Fire.  Bob had met him before.  He had a kind of unimpressive square face, not particularly intelligent looking, and wore a gray beard like Bob’s.  He pizazzed his appearance with things like a gold bracelet and neck chain and references to Broadway and exclusive men’s clubs in Manhattan and London, delivered in the broad nasal tones of old New York. When he learned we didn’t drink he asked for tea and drank endless cups.  He also smoked cigarettes.

            Talk began around Chris and the boat, then moved to Bob’s vision of a film shot with a small crew and made with a spiritually grounded, dynamic cast starring Peter Coyote.  If we signed a six or twelve-month option contract with Barry, we also wanted Peter to get $10,000 to $20,000 to produce a script.  It was not the most relaxed conversation.  Barry wasn’t mean or aggressive, just phony, and he pretended a rapport existed where it didn’t. “Your book meant a tremendous amount to me,” he kept saying.  We refilled the teacups but scarcely touched the pastry, nuts, crackers and cheese.  Barry kept asking who Peter Coyote was.  What were his credentials?  We only knew he headed the California Arts Council.  Finally Bob suggested calling Peter up to come over and meet Barry.  We had told Peter he was coming but hadn’t prepared him for an appearance.   He had been working on the car that afternoon, and when he answered the phone around 5:30 he was puffing from doing bench presses in the apartment.  He had an acting class at 7:30, but he would come over. 

            When Peter appeared, his grimy fingernails, blue jeans, and lack of Hollywood experience fulfilled Barry’s expectations that he was a small timer.  But his presence was vibrant. While he wolfed hors d’oeuvres he parried questions about California politics and how the legislature had just rejected Jane Fonda for some post appointed by Governor Jerry Brown.  He explained how he had massively increased the Arts Council budget to $6 million “in a year the legislature was taking wheelchairs away from cripples,” and he asked many adroit questions about television movie production, Barry’s specialty.  Friendly Fire had a budget of $40 million and a shooting time of 30 days, and was viewed by 60 million people on TV, we learned as Peter got Barry talking.  Peter even recommended good San Francisco restaurants.  He outperformed Barry tenfold.

            After Peter left, however, all talk of a ZMM film and Peter was dropped. 

            Throughout dinner Bob may have hoped that we had won Barry over about our vision for the movie, but basically he had come with a fixed idea that never changed, and as he paid for dinner he said he hoped we would “stay in touch.” 

            We’d been home just a few minutes when Peter called, back from his class and curious about what had happened.  He was pleased we would turn down a big producer and stick with him and our original concept. 

            “You were fantastic,” I said.

            “I was?” said Peter.  He proposed that for the next step he would write a “treatment,” a four- or five-page précis of the film concept.  He joked that he would also “add Philip Barry to the list of people I acknowledge with gratitude when I accept the Emmy.”

Tuesday, December 11

            Katagiri was coming back.  I finished cleaning the big room and we moved out.  Over a couple hours our presence drained away from the square teak table, the gold wallpaper, brick fireplace and chandelier.  The closet was emptied and Chris’s “relics” removed from the wooden cabinet, except for some of his books, which we thought Katagiri might like to see on the three shelves.  We packed away the white porcelain Kuan Yin statue, the Shiva postcard that faced Bob’s favorite chair and the Zen Mind, Beginners Mind facing mine.  Everything went next door to the room that had been Nancy and Ted’s.  It was a little, plain white room with a double and a single bed, one easy chair, a colorful rug and a couple of oriental prints on the wall.  As it was not a “receiving room” for theatrical performances, Bob did not care much how it was arranged.  Once we got used to it, it became a natural place, with a feeling more like our home on the boat.

            Zen Center had assigned Marilyn McCann Coyote to help Meg for the week, and so she came in to clean our room for Katagiri.  I tiptoed in when I saw her and told her it was clean already, and we laughed and started gabbing.  Then she cut it off, because the student assigned to Katagiri as jisha, Steve Allen, arrived a bit ceremoniously with his special roshi Buddha and incense.  Bob and I had joked by privately calling such students “geishas.”

            Bob was annoyed by all this decorum about “Katagiri’s room.”  The furniture was even rearranged; Katagiri liked having tatamis so both American and Japanese visitors could feel at home.  Then we peeked in after Steve Allen left and found one shelf of Chris’s books, which we had spent hours arranging just for Katagiri, switched to the closet.  The other books were left, but Bob got annoyed and removed them all and brought them to our room where they had to be set on the floor.  Poor jisha Allen must have been surprised to return and find three empty shelves.  Meg later explained that Katagiri, when he visited, usually requested shelf space for his own books, so Steve had just been making room, having no idea of course that the other books were Chris’s.

            Meanwhile, while some kind of meeting with Richard Baker was going on downstairs in the living room, suddenly all the second-floor lights blew out.  The one circuit breaker we knew of wasn’t blown, so Bob thought there must have been a short circuit elsewhere.  We spent a couple hours testing wires in the basement with voltmeters and tools and instruments that Bob sent me to get from Neil’s shop in “The Building.”  On my return I met Baker at the door.

            “Oh, hello!” he said, with the same nervous coldness that characterized him at the funeral.

            Then, as I made another trip out to Page Street, a hand was waving from the window of a car pulling up to the Guest House, and suddenly there was Katagiri.  I bounded up and gasshoed when he stepped out. 

            “How are you?  How is Bob?” he asked warmly.  Chattering and bouncing around like a happy dog, I offered to carry his luggage, until we noticed Steve Allen looking nervous and unhappy, and Katagiri grew subdued.  “See you later,” he said.  But once upstairs he came to our room right away. “I thought this would be my room!”

            Bob’s head was in disarray, what with the room change, Baker downstairs, and Katagiri’s arrival. The blackout still wasn’t solved, and that afternoon we were to go view films with Peter and John Nathan.  So we turned the electrical problem over to Neil, who assigned another Zen student named Ernie.  When we returned that evening, the lights were on.  Too many electric heaters had flipped a master circuit breaker located in an outside box, locked, that we never discovered.

            We drove to Berkeley in Peter’s big old blue truck.  On the way, he began framing some hard questions about how the film would be worked on. The source of the questions was John Nathan.  He and Peter wanted us to choose: either Bob and Peter work collaboratively on the film all the way through, or, if we return to England, we have to give Peter full authority on the script and the production package.  There would be no Pirsig veto.  I gulped when I heard this.  Bob stayed calm, and simply replied, happily and excitedly, that in that case we would stay in California after all.  My head whizzed around 180 degrees and I stayed quiet as we drove on to “Berserkeley.”

            Our purpose was to view an Allen Downs film, The Flight of the Teal, to see if we all agreed on asking him to be the cinematographer.  We also were going to view the John Nathan film, Farm Song.  Bob had had me arrange by phone to pick up film at the University of California extension and to reserve an hour and a half of screening time at the Pacific Film Archive. There we met John Nathan, a big, nervous, burly, brainy, scraggy-haired, chain-smoking, crazy-looking guy. Yvonne Rand had praised him highly as a director, and he had recently won prizes at a film festival for Farm Song. He had made a series of Japanese films.  We had heard that he spoke fluent Japanese. He had been a sort of language prodigy at Harvard, as well as a musical prodigy on reed instruments; he wore a little sax pin on his lapel.  He and Peter met about eight months ago, and they became close friends, talked on the phone daily.  Peter said he worked better with Nathan than if he worked alone.  They had begun one project together but Nathan took it over.  He was a very independent sort and had recently turned down a PBS offer because he preferred being completely in charge.

            That afternoon Nathan insisted on one thing: that we viewed his film after seeing the one by Allen Downs. Bob had seen The Flight of the Teal many years ago. It was a documentary about ducks migrating from Minnesota to Mexico. We drank coffee in the screening room, and Nathan twitched in his chair, occasionally commenting “nice shot” or something polite.  He had little to say.  As the film closed with shots of plucked ducks in Mexican markets, Peter humorously remarked, “This was a film about how all them Mexicans eat up our ducks!”

            Then Farm Song came on.  It was very good, with powerful photography, an extraordinarily penetrating portrait of Japanese society.  John stopped fidgeting, and from then on nobody mentioned Allen Downs.  We went to a coffee shop and had more coffee, and now that we’d seen his film John was more relaxed and friendly. 

            Peter surprised us by saying Baker-roshi had wanted to speak to him about the ZMM film project.  Bob said it was because of Baker’s coldness that we were leaving San Francisco.  Peter was rather loyal to Baker, and said an explanation for his reticence could be that he was easily moved and that Chris’s death had him “too shocked.”  Bob countered that a more likely explanation seemed to be that Baker probably wanted to support only projects he could control, and Nathan concurred strongly.  He had apparently had a conflict with him.  “If Dick Baker doesn’t approve something, it doesn’t happen,” said Nathan.

            On the way back, we talked some more about the “preliminary decisions” Peter wanted Bob to make.  Another one was whether to go with 16 mm or 35 mm, the latter being three or four times more expensive.  It would be easier to get backing for the 16 mm, but it would eliminate the possibility of wide distribution.

            Back at the Guest House Bob said he liked Nathan’s work, but noted he had some problems; the fact that he was so aggressive made us worry.  Meanwhile attorney Ken Anderson arrived in San Francisco on business for Bank of America.  We agreed to meet for breakfast.

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