Wednesday, December 12

            After zazen and service (Katagiri attended the latter but not Baker) we took a streetcar to Union Square, where Ken Anderson had picked out a breakfast diner.  He instantly took charge of the meeting.  A tall, gray, utterly solid Norwegian-Minnesotan, he had been a student of Maynard’s and had known the family for years.  He had represented Bob since the publication of ZMM, and his attitude was fatherly and protective.  He asked for a three-sentence summary of our Philip Barry encounter.  Then he said we should just go back to England and finish Lila.  A film about Chris should wait “until a time when his death won’t loom up so large.”  He observed, “Any film script about Chris written in the next 12 months I think won’t be a very good script.”

            When Bob heard this his eyes filled with tears for a second, and a huge wave of relief seemed to pass over the table. Though Ken spoke with a simple, businesslike manner, we felt it as the personal compassion we had yet to see from anyone in California except Peter.  Ken asked what I thought.  I stayed non-committal but pointed out how much we had been vacillating.  Ken used this to affirm his position.  He did agree to briefly meet Peter with us at his home in the afternoon, which we had wanted, before he left San Francisco.

            We went out to dinner with Peter and Marilyn, and then Peter and I attended Katagiri’s lecture.  It was packed.  At the end, after asking for questions, he introduced Takunen-roshi, and I was surprised to realize he was the old monk I had given a dustpan to.  He was a roshi!  Katagiri said, “Takunen-roshi asked me to announce that if anyone has a question upon which he would risk his life, they may ask him now.”

            To my amazement, a student actually stood, a young man in his twenties wearing lay clothes who had been seated in the front row.  He gasshoed fiercely.  “How can I become a Buddha for all eternity?” he asked. 

            Takunen-roshi had been sitting on a bench in the back, but he now got up and walked in his strange, chicken-like fashion to the front, where Katagiri translated.  Then, peering intensely at the young man (Peter later said Takunen rolled his eyes back into his head), he replied in a strange, other-wordly, high-pitched chant I had heard him use at the Buddha enlightenment service.  Katagiri translated: “I have been studying this question 50 years.  If you would like to pursue it, come to my room.”  There was more gasshoing, rolling of eyes, and chanting noises.  “Since all your legs must be very sore in the audience,” Katagiri translated, “I won’t say anything else.”  Having been sitting full lotus position for an hour and three quarters I was in pain and glad for the service and communal chanting. Katagiri departed with Steve Allen, but then I noticed Takunen going to the boy and brusquely motioning him to follow.  “Shivers went down my spine!” said Peter.

            When I got back to the Guest House and went to our room, three pairs of sandals were outside Katagiri’s door.  That’s where Takunen was talking with the boy, in our old room!  For half an hour I could hear loud, strange, ancient tones coming through the walls.

            That night I dreamed some kind of Zen ceremony was going on, and Bob suddenly began throwing darts at a dart board. I was amazed to see every one hit the bull’s-eye.

Thursday, December 13

            I had just arrived in the room with a tray of eggs and coffee for Bob and me when we heard a knock and it was Katagiri inviting us for coffee.  Bob was sitting on the floor to eat at our little low table.  We asked if Katagiri would share our eggs, but he declined; at soji earlier I had noticed him eating in the dining room at 300 Page.  Instead we gobbled our food and then happily joined him in his room, for the most positive and joyous conversation since our arrival in California.

            Katagiri was dressed in a dark blue robe and little dark leather bedroom slippers.  His only wrinkles were three lines extending from the corner of each eye—many fewer than Bob has even though they are the same age.

            The meeting began by Katagiri asking how we were and Bob replying, “very well.” 

            Katagiri asked, “Is there anything you need from Zen Center?  If you need something, I will ask.”

            Bob said no.  He said Chris’s things were now ready to be transported to Minnesota “to his grandfather’s house.”  He described our satisfaction with Michiko taking Chris’s room, and said that I had left flowers and Okusan had chanted and burned incense.  We asked if Katagiri knew the origin of Chris’s little Buddha, but he didn’t.   We offered him all of Chris’s books.  Bob told how I had “spent a lot of time sitting in Chris’s room,” which for some reason made Katagiri laugh, and that I was wearing his black sweater.  Comfortably and pleasantly Bob said the film idea was alive (Katagiri did not know Peter), and that we had decided to go back to England. Katagiri became serious and extremely attentive, but did not comment.

            About this time, Steve arrived with a pot of coffee.  Background on Steve: We first thought he was a Zen snob, but lately we decided he was just nervous and actually a good guy.  He and I now often met in the Guest House kitchen as we made coffee trays for our masters!  The day before he also helped me retrieve our passports, credit cards and other personal papers that we’d forgotten in the desk drawer of the front room.  Now, as he knelt to pour coffee at the teak table, much as I had done for the family before the funeral, Katagiri introduced us and said, “Steve was the first one to find Chris the night he died.  He was dead when Steve arrived.” 

            We were so surprised, and for a moment could only say, “Oh!”  Then Bob asked if Steve lived near Haight and Octavia and he said no.  For the first time we heard a description of what happened that Saturday night.  Steve explained that he’d been at Zen Center when a phone call came in saying there had been “an accident to one of your students.”

            “I got there just as the ambulance arrived.”

            “And Chris was already dead?”

            “Yes.”  Steve was a thin, fragile looking young man in his 20s, very quiet, with a shy, hesitant smile and gold-rimmed glasses.  I saw that he already related closely to Katagiri and watched him a lot.  He wore robes, and though his head wasn’t shaved, his dark hair was very short. 

            Katagiri continued by saying that the night Chris had died, just before that call came, Steve had gotten another call from his father asking him to fly to Virginia immediately because his sick mother was near death.  So it had been a very traumatic time.  He had gone, and afterwards she recovered a little, but it wasn’t very hopeful.  We instantly felt close to Steve and very good about him.

            Steve also said that the student who met last night with Takunen wanted to see Katagiri later in the morning.  Katagiri explained that the boy, whose name was Hal, had been “a bit confused” by the power of what had happened.

            “When he was upstairs last night, he said, ‘Oh, I make big mistake!’”  We all laughed.

            Steve left us, and then I said to Katagiri we had had no idea who had found Chris.  “Students have been very shy to talk about their relations with Chris,” I said, hoping to develop some explanations about the way we had been received.  But Katagiri abruptly changed the subject.  He asked about the weather in England, and Bob drew some maps of Cornwall and Atlantic weather patterns.  For the duration of one cup of coffee, we also covered several points raised by Bob:

            Ashes:  He told Katagiri that Reb had suggested half of Chris’s ashes be scattered in Lake Calhoun near Minnesota Zen Meditation Center in Minneapolis.  Katagiri was unexpectedly reserved about this.  I sensed the reservation had something to do with Reb.  Bob said, “Reb and I have become very close,” but Katagiri seemed to look doubtful.  He asked if there wasn’t some family cemetery we could take the ashes to instead.  Bob started talking about Two Harbors on Lake Superior, where his mother had lived as a child.  Chris had been close to his grandmother, and was the only one who could say, when she talked too much, “Gramma, shut up!”  Katagiri rocked with laughter at this. Katagiri said Minnesota Zen Center’s current president, Tim Burkett, is from Two Harbors.  He smiled a lot as though wishing to link Bob with Tim.

            Ted:  Bob told about the family argument in Chris’s room, describing it in some detail, including the presence of Murayama Shoki.  The favorable way Bob mentioned Shoki seemed to surprise Katagiri.  He explained how Chris used to beat up Ted when they were little, and this seemed to come as a new idea to Katagiri.   Ted studied karate partly in response to getting clobbered by Chris, Bob explained, and eventually overwhelmed him in size and skill; Katagiri laughed.  Fortunately they had reconciled in September, Bob noted, and Katagiri too had seen Chris and Ted taking a long walk around the lake. Bob repeated the story of Ted’s vigil at Chris’s body, saying his death had somehow “freed” Ted.  He recounted how Chris last January had told the story of Ananda’s enlightenment and how his subconscious gestures designated Bob as Siddhartha and Ted as Ananda, and Katagiri roared with laughter.

            We said Ted planned to be a guest student at San Francisco Zen Center for a month in February.  Bob talked about his progress in Zen, and the fact that Chris in a way had prevented Ted from studying it because of their rivalry, but now we might expect good things of Ted.  Then Katagiri said, “Ted is stronger than Chris.”  It was an ambiguous statement and may have referred to his physical strength, but I felt it was meant to apply to his whole life.  He said Ted planned to sit sesshin in Minneapolis in March. 

            Murayama:  Bob noted that Reb and Murayama went jogging together and assured Katagiri they had become “very close, very close.”  When Bob spoke enthusiastically of Murayama, Katagiri gave a doubtful, slightly negative, expression.  We had heard he was returning to the U. S. in the spring, and Bob predicted he would play an important role in American Zen for many years, could unify people.  Katagiri shrugged; problems in America are more complex than one person could solve, he said.  Besides, Shoki would have to return ultimately to Japan, “to take over his father’s temple in Tokyo.”

            We finished our cups and I thought this would be it, but Katagiri began pouring us more, as though we had not yet come to the subject he wanted.  Eventually Bob edged up to the topic of why we were leaving San Francisco.  We’d been talking about different American views toward Zen, and Bob said he had noticed currents of dissatisfaction at Zen Center.  Katagiri said, yes, divisions existed; one of his roles in coming to San Francisco was always to try to settle people down.  Laughing, he made a “calm down” gesture with the palms of his hands.  I think it was then Bob moved into the subject of our leaving. “I have decided that Baker-roshi has enough trouble without my adding to it,” is something like what he said.  I think he used the word “clash.”  In any case, he made it clear that were it not for feeling a “clash” with Baker and his form of management, we would have stayed and joined Zen Center.

            To our relief and happiness, Katagiri began to laugh and laugh.  Of course, he knew from experience with Bob the kind of “clash” we were sparing Baker. 

            “He is a very successful businessman,” Bob said, “but I think this takes away from his role as spiritual leader.”

            Katagiri nodded. “He is a very successful businessman.  Very sharp.”  He said a few things in Baker’s defense. “The second roshi has the hard job,” he said, referring to Baker’s having succeeded the founding teacher, Suzuki.  He compared San Francisco Zen Center’s history to that of Eheiji, the Japanese monastery where he and Suzuki had trained, where the third regime was the hardest. 

            Bob said he had observed that some students’ practice here was “very strong” and was indeed carrying the organization’s important spiritual mission.  He mentioned those we had met who seemed to be contributing enormously:  Reb—Katagiri gave a simple nod, perhaps with some reservation.  Yvonne—nod and smile.  “And of course Okusan”—nod and laugh. 

            The discussion moved to the general challenge of religious organizations in a democratic society.  Bob said he had talked about this with Chris.  He reminded Katagiri that in the early days of Minnesota Zen Center, as Katagiri was being invited, Bob had posed the question, “What do you do to get rid of a roshi once you have one?” and there was no answer.  Katagiri listened attentively and did not reject Bob’s ideas.  It was as though for the first time the substance of all the things Bob had against him was being laid on the table, and Katagiri appreciated his frankness.

            Then came the most wonderful part of the whole meeting. Bob had me go find the letters he and Chris had exchanged between Maine and San Francisco on the subject of elitism and ritualism, while Chris was preparing to sew his rakusu.  While I was finding the letters Bob talked about the origins of religious egalitarianism in America, beginning with the Puritans.

            “This notion of equality has anchored the country’s entire history, and is sewn right into each American’s heart,” he said.  Zen would never succeed in America unless it worked with this vital tradition.

            He began reading the letter he sent Chris from Maine, and introduced it by saying, with a twinkle, “I used to try to tell Chris certain things, so that he’d have them already in mind when someday he became a great Zen master!”  Katagiri looked at me and laughed.  Meanwhile my own heart was brimming, watching Bob’s face and Katagiri’s.  In the letter Bob had told Chris that when Katagiri came out to San Francisco and lectured to a select group of advanced priests, this was wrong, and other criticisms. With each critical reference to himself, Katagiri laughed and laughed.  Then he listened as Bob read Chris’s response defending Katagiri.  He became very still and sat like a statue as Bob read the loyal words of his dead disciple.  Bob offered to share copies of these letters.

            Katagiri listened with interest to the ideas about equality and Zen but said, “Buddhism contributes a new way of looking at equality, which America never had before.”

            We moved on to the issue of the neighborhood and crime, and told Katagiri a bit of what we had seen here, like the guys with the knives, and how we heard the police seemed afraid to pursue criminals into the housing projects.  Katagiri told us another story we hadn’t heard, that just before Chris died, there had been a butcher knife threat.  Bob suggested that martial arts should be considered in defense here at City Center, and Katagiri nodded.  Bob proposed that pacifist students be assigned to Green Gulch, and militant ones stay and defend themselves.  More students would be killed otherwise.

            “Martial arts are not contrary to Zen and are closely involved with Zen history,” said Bob.  “Weren’t there dangerous times in Japanese history when monks were armed?” 

            Katagiri nodded and said, “Period of chaos.”  We laughed; he had managed to answer without agreeing or disagreeing.  His general response to the idea that Zennies fight back against crime was an attitude of interest. 

            “One problem of Zen Center,” he said, “is that it does not have good ability to act with compassion.  Many people are compassionate individually, but the whole institution has trouble responding to human problems.  This is a difficulty for Zen Center.”

            Our conversation was still going on when Steve returned saying Hal was waiting downstairs for an audience, and we offered to leave.  Also, Steve announced, Takunen-roshi had arrived too, separately, and also wanted to come up to see him.  Katagiri winced at the predicament, and we laughed.  I jokingly offered that I could go ask Takunen a question to occupy him, “but I am too scared!”  Katagiri thought this was funny.  Bob and I laughed and gasshoed our way out in a wave of friendly joy.

            Bob immediately proposed a long walk downtown, to work off the energy produced by this very interesting conversation.  We felt jubilant as we walked down Market Street’s brick sidewalk, shady at 9:30 am in December.  We cashed a traveler’s check and wandered through the financial district to Chinatown.

            We found the store with the Chinese mask postcards.  A “closed” sign was posted but a nice-faced Chinese American woman was still there.  She said we could have the whole series of 100 cards for $13, and we took it.  She said hers was the only store in town selling them.

            We took them to Ping’s and had a great $7.50 feed while looking over every card as the waiter eyed them with interest.  For a while it seemed the spirit of the Theater of Persuasion had returned.  Bob started saying things like, “This isn’t over.   We may stay here yet.”  But looking at the cards tempered the mood. For one thing, they weren’t all that frightening; the most “persuasive” was the one I’d bought two weeks ago.  The other masks were more peaceful, and the lead card in the series was actually a bland looking “Buddha.”  Gradually we calmed down and walked into the Market Street sunlight toward Zen Center.

            We napped from 2 to 4, and then Meg knocked saying Michael was on the phone, so I went down to answer it, as our new room had no phone.  He was right there at the Green Grocer, so he came over and I hugged him at the door and took him up to our room without even warning Bob, who was lying in the dark among piles of Chris’s books and apples and bananas.  It was quite a contrast from our former splendor.  The first thing Bob said was, “Oh, Michael, I’m sorry.”

            He stayed four or five hours, until I departed for Katagiri’s evening lecture.  On the way out he said, “So you’re almost 100 percent sure you’re going back to the boat?”

            “About 90 percent,” I said.  “We’ll go unless somebody changes his mind and begs us to stay.”

Friday, December 14

            Thursday I helped Meg by doing loads of sheets in the basement.   Bob and I took naps, and at night I went to Katagiri’s evening lecture.

            Meg was still very friendly.  She’d been busy with many luncheons and receptions at the Guest House, but on Friday she asked me how we had been doing, Bob in particular.  She had seen Baker, who was back living in San Francisco because the sesshin and practice session at Tassajara had ended. She said she had told him we had been upset that he had neither spoken to us or answered Bob’s letter.  She thought Baker was now going to call us.

            “He tends to respond only to those things boiling over on the front burner,” she said. “He often spends too long on one matter and is thus late getting to the next, and then spends more time to compensate.”  She described his attitude toward us as “uncomplicated.”  He was simply a very, very busy man.

            Then 74-year-old Princess Gabriella of Lichtenstein arrived at the Guest House.  Katagiri and we now had the two largest rooms, so she got stuck in the smallest with her three suitcases.  She had spent three months at Tassajara and had been practicing zazen for years with a master in Europe.  Monastic training didn’t prevent her from leaving makeup cases all over the communal bathroom, or asking us bluntly when we were going to depart so she could have our larger room.  She complained that hers had no mirror, and she was sure there was a mouse.  She attended Katagiri’s lectures in a Japanese sitting robe.  She didn’t sit zazen in the morning.  Her first mission on Friday was to make “my first hair appointment in three months.”  The princess had an aristocratic profile and grandeur of demeanor, a German accent and bright eyes.  She wasn’t unfriendly, either, just seemed spoiled and materialistic.  In some ways it was a relief from all the quiet Zen ambiguity. 

            “I think Katagiri-roshi’s lecture last night was better than tonight’s, don’t you think?” she chattered to Marc as he walked us home. “Tonight his humor wasn’t as good.”

Saturday, December 15

            Saturday morning we were given a phone message that had come in after we went to bed the night before: “Can you meet Baker-roshi at noon?”

            At morning zazen, Baker appeared in the zendo for the first time since we had been there. Just after the drums and bells I glimpsed his special brown robe and tall, unfamiliar figure from the corner of my eye when he circled the room behind us as we faced the wall.  After zazen he led service upstairs in the Buddha hall, in what I had thought of as “Reb’s place.”

            After breakfast I went to the Guest House kitchen to help Meg with her morning work preparing luncheon.  An intellectual-looking girl in her late 20s or early 30s appeared in the kitchen, still wearing robes from zazen and wanting to speak to us.  Her name was Linda Hess and she was not a priest.  She said she had some questions for Bob.  Since we had no place to meet with her, I went and got him to come down and we talked in the kitchen.  She didn’t want me there. “I’ll have to tell myself not to mind who hears this,” she said, hinting.  But I was supposed to work in the kitchen that morning, and I knew Bob always wanted me around, so I stayed, wiping dishes.

            The conversation wound up being pretty good.  Linda began by saying she had dreamed of Bob two nights before and so then went and bought the book and read 150 pages.  She moved her chair close.  Her first question was, when did Bob first start practicing Zen?  Bob said it was when he was born, and he explained about small self vs. large self Zen.  He said his orientation toward mysticism had roots in his time as a student in India as well as his time in the mental hospital.  His “way up the mountain” had been more difficult than the way of Zen practice, he said.  He spoke well.  She kept asking about dates and chronology and the reasons he had done things.  He said he didn’t start formally sitting zazen till after writing ZMM, and that he started sitting “for Chris.”

            Linda turned out to be a scholar, writer and Hindi translator who had studied in Benares.  She complained about Zen Center’s insistence that students put aside the work one cares about in order to do menial tasks like work in their garden.  She hoped to find the same sentiment in Bob.  And I knew he agreed, but he reminded Linda that one must be as non-attached to writing as to gardening if one is to write well.  He did express much empathy with her though, comparing the pencil-chewing of writer’s block to zazen.  He described our work schedule on the boat and how we balance hours of writing with hours of maintenance tasks.   

            After Linda left Bob went back upstairs and I had a good time making soup and washing lettuce for Guest House lunch guests with Meg and a woman named Barbara Horn.

            Nervous as we were about meeting Baker, we went to his home in our usual clothes:  Bob in slacks and turtleneck sweater, me in blouse and green jacket and Chris’s tan corduroys. The Bakers lived in the top floor of a Victorian two-decker next to Zen Center.  As at the Coyotes’ apartment, the tall carpeted dark staircase was lined with shoes, and we found empty places for our plastic sandals.  We could hear Iva up at the top announcing that Robert Pirsig had arrived, and then Baker appeared over us, leaning over the rail with a white head, black triangular clown eyebrows, and tense mouth. Instead of the robes Katagiri always wore, he just had a short black Japanese jacket. In the Zen Center style, I immediately gasshoed in greeting.  He did not gassho back.

            The house was homely and decorated with sundry items.  Rumpled bathroom towels were in view from the hall, and Elizabeth toddled about half dressed.  Bob smiled and Baker shook our hands and said hello, and he led us into the living room to see Peter, whom we hadn’t expected, as he’d planned to spend the weekend with Gary Snyder. 

            Baker talked constantly. There was none of Katagiri’s inner quietness or warmth, no listening.  His eyes darted and his movements were rapid and uncomfortable, making us uncomfortable.  His laugh was a closed-mouth whinny.  The forced casualness continued.  Often he would suddenly think of something in a book or magazine on the coffee table between us, and recommend we read this or that.  He took Elizabeth up, fat and tranquil, and held her silently for a while, as she looked around and we admired her, but it was a silence of awkwardness, not of rest.   He lay down on the floor and tossed her on his feet.  He told us that American fathers have been found to spend an average of 98 seconds a day with their children. “I’m going to spend more than 98 seconds with you, Elizabeth,” he said. He asked Iva to bring matcha tea, which she did, and then she took Elizabeth away.

            Chris was mentioned a couple of times.  Bob brought him up but then there was a polite silence and a change of subject.  We got down to business.  Baker, who seemed to have a lot of physical agility, took a cross-legged position on an easy chair, poking his long knees through the arms.  While out at Tassajara these weeks, he had heard various rumors “about you, Robert,” he said.  “Rumors of a machine shop, of a film on the book, of buying a building, and of going back to England.”  I smiled thinking of how we’d planted each of these ideas in different people, and they’d all reached him.  He said nothing of any rumors of guns or martial arts, though, or even generally of crime prevention.

            “Well, the rumors are all true,” Bob said.  But then he explained that the one that had stuck was the decision to go back to England.  We had been advised by our family attorney that work on a film be put off. Bob’s manner was rosy and warm and benign, his usual “public” face, kind of flushed and alert and engaging.  We had been tremendously impressed with the vitality here at Zen Center, he said; that’s what inspired us to stay on. 

            “Really?  I don’t think of this place as anything special,” Baker said.  “We just go bumbling along.”  For most people Zen Center is a “last resort,” he said.  “They have no place else to go.”

            Fortified perhaps with the assurance we were definitely leaving, he then invited us to return any time and “develop a relationship with Zen Center.”  He said there would be no need to define this relationship in advance, that there were plenty of precedents for unique relationships. 

            “Harry Roberts was here a year and a half before we worked out his role here.  There’s also a gardener who comes around—who’s going to arrive again this week in fact—and he’s really difficult!”  This turned out to be Alan Chadwick.  “We could work things out, arrange some sort of housing situation, and would not expect you to keep a schedule,” said Baker.

            “Well, we sit zazen every day,” said Bob.

            “Yes, well, great.  I’m just saying, if you were 20 years old we’d expect you to keep our schedule, but this is not the situation.”  He said Zen Center’s involvement in a film could be as much or little as Bob liked.  If we knew of things Zen Center could do to help, they would do it.  “I also know people in Hollywood who might be able to help with money or skills.”

            At that point I began to cry.  It was partly from being short of sleep.  Baker’s manner was not kind, but at least his words were, and even if the terms weren’t quite what Bob wanted, at least it was, finally, a sort of welcome and acknowledgement of the status Bob felt we deserved.  At last we had a promise of refuge if some day we should need it, and I felt very relieved.  At the same time I concealed my emotion, because this was a cool meeting, not at all candid.  Baker didn’t seem to look at me, although Peter may have.  But most of the fire was going between Baker and Bob.

            Then he invited us all to lunch at Greens. Bob agreed, and that was the end of any substantive talk for our entire four hours with Baker.  Peter got on the phone to Marilyn.  “Meet us in five minutes.  No, not roshi time, real time.”  Peter’s jokes, so funny and kind, were the safety valve of the afternoon.  Most of the conversation took place between him and Baker.  Everything Bob had been thinking about since we arrived in San Francisco, he withheld.

            Ginny Baker and Marilyn McCann joined us. Baker’s car was parked in a garage, and first off Bob spotted a green Honda motorcycle and tried Chris’s key and it fit.  We’d never gotten around to finding it before.  Peter and Bob and I looked at it, that is; Baker wasn’t interested and went on.

            His car was a new white four-door compact that had snazzy, innovative automatic devices unheard of in most cars, such as one that automatically locked or unlocked all doors simultaneously from the driver’s side.  Bob and Ginny and I sat in back, Marilyn sat on Peter’s lap in front and “Roshi” drove.  There was a little place to store objects in between the front bucket seats, and I saw a set of white beads carved into thumbnail sized skulls.

            The feeling in the car was that this was a dream.  Bob and Ginny admired painted lady architecture as we entered Pacific Heights.  It was one of those wild and wonderful San Francisco drives where you suddenly drop over to the bay side and it’s so steep the cars park sideways. The ride was so unreal, it felt like Jesus Christ had suddenly walked up to your door and rung the doorbell, and all he had to say was, “Can I borrow a cup of sugar?  Nice dress, by the way.  And what do you think of the Iranian situation?”  Conversation was light.  Ginny fished the Coyotes’ Christmas card out of a stack she was about to mail and gave it to them.  The design was a bunch of cute animals and a tree, drawn by 17-year-old Sally Baker, whom we hadn’t met.  She was in Peter’s acting class. 

            As we approached the Ft. Mason complex Baker spoke to Peter about a proposal to start a Zen Center theater company.  Peter was enthusiastic but he said he would only do it if it counted as a “Zen Center job” and was paid work for all involved.  Baker then said the theater company could happen “when the film has been done.”

            Peter later explained that this wasn’t the first time Baker had mentioned the theater idea. If Baker got behind something, it happened, Peter said.  The Zen Center Council had unanimously opposed Green Gulch, yet Baker changed their minds and the farm was founded.  They opposed the creation of Greens, yet now here we were driving to the restaurant. Baker always got his way. In the case of Tassajara, at one point during the development of the monastery, the Zennies just wanted a modest field instead of the huge acreage they finally got, and they had only $2000 to invest; Baker risked it all on a fundraising letter.  This happened when Suzuki was visiting Japan and Baker was in charge. The Tassajara details above aren’t right. Suzuki and students wanted a place for more intensive practice. Suzuki had looked at a number of possibilities through the years with various people. As soon as he saw Tassajara with Baker in spring ‘66 he wanted it, but it was too much, and so the idea was to get the undeveloped Horse Pasture first and Tassajara later. This was all agreed on before Baker went to Japan. A fundraising letter for the Horse Pasture finally went out in the fall. In December Baker told Suzuki and the board that the owner, Beck, and he had come to an agreement to put the 20K down payment for the Horse Pasture toward the purchase of Tassajara. Almost everyone including Suzuki was overjoyed and excited. - DC

            “They did one version of the solicitation letter and something came out wrong,” Peter said the story went. “So he made them do it all over again so it would be perfect, and sent it, and the money poured in.  And they bought Tassajara.”

            Katagiri had remarked about Baker’s fundraising ability when we talked with him the other day.  “After Tassajara had the fire they sent out a letter, and you know what they raised?  $100,000.  You know what we get in Minnesota when we ask for funds?  $800.”  That was Richard Baker’s powerful effect on Zen Center.

            We arrived among an unimpressive ramble of old fort buildings by the bay, found one with a small sign saying “Greens,” and parked in a small lot among dumpsters and a sign saying “authorized personnel only.” 

            Peter indicated Baker’s beads with the skulls and offered to put them in the glove compartment so they wouldn’t be stolen.  Baker said no, they are out on purpose to discourage a car break.

            “Kind of a hex power?” Peter asked.

            “Well, no,” said Baker.  “More like, a thief would ask himself, ‘What kind of a guy puts this in his car?  Nobody I want to mess around with.’”

            Entering the restaurant things became even more dreamlike as we encountered familiar faces we knew from the zendo and Buddha hall.  Now they were waiters and dishwashers.  Later Bob said it felt like a play in which the actors play two roles.  There was David Chadwick, dressed in a waiter’s apron. I was the maître d’. I was never a waiter. I don’t remember wearing an apron, but if I did, it was just to help with some mess for a minute like a large table that had to be cleared in a jiff to make room for you guys. We were all busy, moving fast almost all the time. The place was always full or close to it at the end. - DC  Michiko was washing the dishes.  Dan Welch was there and Brian Unger was cooking.  Renée des Tombe, a close friend of the Bakers, was in the manager’s office.  Dining at one of the tables was the princess.

            Baker first took the two of us on a tour.  The place was less grand than Chris and everyone had led me to expect, but it was still very nice. As we entered there was a stunning bouquet of long-stemmed red roses and pine boughs in a huge round glass vase. There was a ring of small tables each carved from a cross section of a giant redwood.  There was a view of the marina and bay through a sunny window.  On the big wall there were three large, interesting and rather surrealistic paintings with pastel hues.  There was a high open cathedral ceiling that rose to the gable roof.  Girders painted a sort of dark plum contrasted with the white ceiling and walls.

            Nearly every table was taken but there was no waiting line, unusual for a Saturday noon, because a fair at the other end of Fort Mason was restricting traffic. Normally Greens would be jammed beyond capacity, and the cushioned benches near the entrance would be lined with waiting customers admiring the most spectacular part of the redwood ring, a giant knob of rich, beautiful gnarled wood about 15 feet or so, decorated with red berry strands for Christmas.

            “Can’t we call someone about that?” Baker asked the Zen student working as maître d’ when she explained about the traffic tie-up. If someone seated you other than me, they were just helping out. Maybe Karin, co-manager with Renée. She might have wanted to seat you. I might have asked her to help, so we could get everything ready and done. - DC  His attitude was push-push-push, and an expectation that Zennies would do the same. 

            It was the standard VIP tour by the boss. I refrained from wisecracks, and Bob just kept beaming and saying things like “wow” and “very nice, very impressive.”  Everyone working noticed us and said hello to “Roshi.”   They observed his “Dick Baker” mode; there was no reverence, absolutely no gasshos.  I didn’t see anyone especially glad to see him; clearly these tours happened commonly. 

            We got introduced all over the place.  Michiko grinned and Dan Welch held his hand out warmly.  Chadwick apologized brusquely for waking us up the other night with friends going by our room in the Guest House loudly laughing on their way to see Katagiri.

            By the ladies’ room Baker asked me to open the door so we could admire lavish pastel décor that Ginny had masterminded.  Then we trooped to the men’s room which some male designer had done in stunning black tile. Artist Edward Avidesian, who did the brightly colored paintings on the back wall. - DC  Baker made sure we saw the urinals standing like garbage pail sized cylinders separate from the wall.  One of the stall toilets was just a hole in the floor you squatted over. It was a porcelain Japanese squat toilet mounted on the floor. - DC  Beside it was a small sink that drained into the flushing system, a water conservation feature.

            “We wanted to do something interesting,” Baker explained, “so that when men and women go to the bathroom they have something interesting to talk about when they go back to the table.  Someday for fun, we may change the signs and make the men’s room the ladies’ room for a while.” Baker would just make things up as he went, and you’re sure right that it was hard to get him to pay attention. Especially back then – unless he saw you as a high status person. - DC

            We went up to meet staff in their recessed second story office overlooking the dining area.  In one cubicle an unusual Korean hat decorated one wall; it was an open-weave horsehair hat with a short stovepipe and a wide brim.  Bob was familiar with those from his time in Korea and began explaining it to the guy who worked there.  Rather than stop to listen Baker moved on to the next room. 

            We then stepped out among the girders onto a platform, actually the kitchen roof, and surveyed the whole restaurant below.  At the far end Baker pointed out a small, intimate room, where the words “Wittgenstein’s Fly Bottle” had been painted on an arch over the door.

            “That can be a philosophical discussion room for small groups,” Baker explained.  “We’re even going to have a realistic fly, huge size, painted in there.”

            “Oh, really,” said Bob.  “Very nice.”

            “Just like the drawing in Suzuki-roshi’s book,” I noted.

            “These paintings over here were done by an artist named Dixon,” Baker went on, not listening.  “His wife, Trudy Dixon, edited the Suzuki-roshi lectures that became Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, and he will paint the fly in the Wittgenstein Room.  Do you remember the fly in Suzuki-roshi’s book?”

            We finally joined our table, and Baker and Bob sat at opposite ends, Baker with his back to the view of the sailboats.  Peter and I sat on one side, with Peter next to Baker, and Marilyn and Ginny sat across from Peter and me, with Ginny at our end.  Frequently during lunch Peter and Baker talked, and Bob and Ginny and I talked, and Marilyn floated in between. 

            Ginny seemed like a typical Minnesota girl, Bob said later.  Her thick, speckled, dark hair was in a loose, untidy page boy; her face was friendly with a full-lipped warm smile.  She wore orange-tinted glasses.  She said she grew up on Lake Minnetonka, and her family founded one of the huge old cemeteries in Minneapolis.  She seemed like a minister’s daughter, friendly to both of us but especially to Bob, and they talked throughout lunch while I nodded and my mind glazed over.  At one point they were discussing John Nathan.  She raved about his films and his penetration of Japanese culture.  “He makes people feel he is so interested in them!” she said.  “He can look at you real close like this, and say ‘How do you feel?’” She planted her elbows on the table, leaning toward Bob and putting her face right in his, causing him to laugh.

            Ginny had one laugh at her husband’s expense.  She was talking about Minnetonka and iceboating, sailing and water-skiing.  She described how her brother, an expert water skier, would come skidding in with a giant spray of water as he went past, and how one day he drenched his new brother-in-law standing innocently on the dock. Baker heard her tell this story and he laughed too. Her brother Lenny told that story in his podcast. It was his first hello to Dick, and he said that it went over well. - DC

            Peter then told a water-skiing story, about how once, as he grabbed on the rope and was propelled from the dock, “a nail removed a 16-inch length of skin from my thigh, caught hold of my bathing trunks, and threw me toward shore instead of the water.  I wound up stark naked, and bleeding, with water skis imbedded in the mud.”

            Baker told a story about riding a bus and seeing a gay guy walking down the street with a branch, plucking leaves and scattering them daintily on the sidewalk.  The bus driver looked around as if to say, “Get a load of him!” but then he took one look at Baker, bald as an eagle, and turned away with a “Sheesh!” shaking his head.  Baker parodied all this and we laughed.

            Among our topics of conversation was the Princess of Lichtenstein. Peter asked how she had fared at Tassajara for three months.  Baker said for a 74-year-old she did well.  None of us was very respectful.  Baker said when she arrived she was asked whether she would like to be addressed as, “Princess.” 

            “We can start out that way!” the princess answered.

            I told the story about the princess and the Guest House mouse but it wasn’t very funny.  After that I took Bob’s cue and restricted my remarks to “Wow” and “Very good.”

            There were then some anecdotes about the old Japanese monk, Takunen.  Peter told what had happened after lecture the other night.  Baker acted like he hadn’t heard the story, yet somehow I felt he had.  Bob told the part about Hal coming up the stairs at the Guest House whispering to Katagiri, “I’ve made a big mistake!”  Everyone laughed except Baker, who looked stern and solemn for a second.  “That young man has had a few problems.”  There was a moment of throat clearing as we all realized how far this had exceeded the bounds of discretion; the topic was dropped.

            For a while Baker and Peter got onto an intellectual plane.  Baker asserted that for Christians or white Protestants, “beauty” is the highest value, whereas for Jews it is “intelligence.”  The large number of Jews at Zen Center was discussed.  Baker said one current student was the first male in three generations not to become a rabbi.  I glanced at Bob.  This was a favorite topic, but he stayed mum.

            Marriage outside religion was discussed, and Baker recalled a Catholic family in Maine who once had a funeral when their daughter married a Protestant.  Marilyn said her Protestant family had brought her up the same way against Catholics.  “My father always said, ‘Better to marry a Jew than a Catholic.’”  We all looked at Peter, who had been raised Jewish, and laughed.

            At no time did Baker show interest in what Bob thought of anything.  An observer would have said Bob seemed a compliant, friendly buffoon.  We didn’t drink though everyone else ordered wine.  At one point Baker furtively poured some of his into Peter’s glass when he wasn’t looking. 

            His manner was that of a politician; half his mind always seemed to be on events away from the table. Throughout the meal many stopped by the table to chat with him, and when dessert came he declined and went around to see other people.  We ordered seconds on coffee and they were served as Baker returned; he became impatient when he saw them.  Perhaps Ginny could find us rides with someone else, he said to her; he had to leave.  Then he reconsidered and ordered an espresso. 

            In the end, we ended up waiting for him.  At the doorway a couple arrived who embraced the Bakers as they came in.  She turned out to be Susan Sward, the reporter who had written up Chris’s murder.  Peter introduced us as “Chris’s parents,” and a pang crossed Susan’s face, struck and shy.  She was light-haired and in her 30s, with tense, expressive features.  Baker said the story was good and had “shaped the way it was covered all over the country, like in the New York Times.”  He then became engaged with the man for five or ten minutes. Marilyn said Susan’s escort was the “second most powerful man in California.” Tony Klein was in Governor Brown’s cabinet over legal stuff. - DC Marilyn had some connection with him too, had been with him in Geneva some years ago.

            Finally we all got in the car, and talked about Susan Sward and her shyness.  Baker leaned back and looked at Bob and said, “Well, some people are very shy in person, and simply prefer to write their lives.”  Then he laughed and said, “That sounded like I was directing the comment to you, Robert.  I didn’t necessarily mean it that way.”

            Then, for the first time, Baker finally talked about Chris. “You know, Robert,” he said, “I haven’t said anything about Chris, but not because I don’t think of him.  In fact out at Tassajara there were many times, even after all these weeks, that I’d stop and say to myself:  Is it really true what happened?  So, I want you to know I’d do anything I could to bring him back, if that were possible.”

            Now the car was totally silent, going up and down the San Francisco hills.  Then I think Bob answered something.  Then Baker went on.  “Everyone had a very clear awareness of Chris and how he was progressing at Zen Center.  He wasn’t someone who faded in here without being noticed... He was a fine boy, or rather a fine young man.  I feel as though he died well...  I believe he died without a lot of pain, sort of like a soldier.”

            Peter was the only person who broke into this monologue.  He said, of Chris’s violent death: “The way people die is something I think a lot about.  It relates to why I always keep skulls around my house and everything.  And in Chris’s case I couldn’t help thinking, yes, he did die well.   Within a few moments after he died, there were all these people standing by him, like an honor guard.  We stood out there for about an hour, and wherever Chris was at that moment, for that hour we stood out there. I’m sure it was a very good sort of death to have.”

            Bob then recalled our passing the cemetery at the Presidio and seeing all the tombstones.  He said, “Think of all the families who have lost boys his age in wartime.”  Then he added, “I believe and hope that Chris’s death will make criminals less likely to try violence again.”

            “Well, certainly it has made people at Zen Center more aware of the danger, and more cautious in the neighborhood,” Baker replied.  Then he added, “I sure hope the guys who did it get caught!”  He didn’t elaborate.

            Baker did elaborate on how Chris had been opening up as a person, relaxing, coming into himself.  Bob said he had observed the change since Chris had been in San Francisco.  Baker said when Chris first arrived he was super-strict about Zen rituals such as the precise manner of approaching the roshi for a personal conference during sesshin.  “Coming into dokusan, he’d enter like this, then turn like this,” Baker said, moving his hand in strict square corners, “then like this.  And I’d say, ‘Hey, Chris, loosen up.  Zen isn’t that rigid.’”

            There was a pause and then Baker asked about Ted.  I think he said, “And how is your other son?”

            Bob replied enthusiastically. He alluded to Ted’s experience during the vigil over Chris’s body, and said we thought he would be coming to San Francisco Zen Center for the month of February. 

            For the first and only time all day, Baker seemed interested in what Bob was saying and not defensive.  He asked where Ted lived now and what he did.  Bob said he had a welding job in Seattle, was making good money and thinking about college. He continued: Ted was closer to Nancy, as Chris was closer to their father; as a beaten-up younger brother he learned karate; he tended to choose different paths than Chris.  Encouraged by Katagiri’s statement, Bob said, “Ted’s practice is becoming very strong.  If he comes, you’ll find him quite different from Chris.  In the center of Chris was energy and anxiety.  In the center of Ted is tranquility...  He is even more stubborn than Chris, if that’s possible.”  This was met with an abrupt laugh from the group.

            At about this time, the car began traveling along Fillmore, the once-Jewish, now Black neighborhood where Dan Welch had told about Suzuki going begging when he first came to America. It was just down the street from Sokoji. - DC  The street had then been lined with Victorian houses and shops.  In the 60s they were flattened during Urban Renewal and rebuilt with housing projects, including the ones we presumed housed Chris’s killers.  The stores never came back, and many trashy empty lots remained.

            Everyone started talking about urban planning.  The general consensus among our fellow passengers was that architecture caused crime, not culture and poverty.  If only the poor people of Fillmore could have pretty Victorian houses instead of concrete modern apartments, life would be beautiful.  That theory had replaced the one we used to hear, that life would be beautiful if only the poor had modern apartments.

            When we got to the parking garage, Baker spotted a Zen Center yard sale going on across the street and moved off, and that’s all we saw of him that day. 

            All afternoon afterward Bob and I lay around our room. When I went down to make supper, Meg was itching to know what had happened with Baker.  I said all was well; we were still leaving, but Baker had invited us to come back any time.  She hugged me.

            “He’s not a roshi; he is a fundraiser,” was Bob’s assessment. “His spiritual powers are weak because he is always draining them. Jerry Brown and Hollywood and all the people he meets are always giving him karma dumps and he has to throw them away.”

            A few days later a notice appeared on the bulletin board in Zen Center reminding people to chip in for the “statue fund.”  One of the gold statues in the Buddha hall was still unpaid for.  About $2000 had been collected, and a total of $12,000 was needed.

Gandhara Buddha
Gandhara Buddha in the Buddha Hall at City Center, 1979.
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