Sunday, December 16

            Sunday is our day of rest, the only day we don’t get up to sit zazen at 5:00 am.  We slept twelve hours.  After breakfast, sunlight poured through the little slot between the buildings and flooded our little white room with warmth.  The small room in the back of the Guest House feels really more friendly than the well-decorated front room. Through the coming week we will need to do things like buy a car and see the dentist, so we tried to get as much rest as we could. 

Looking forward from yesterday’s meeting with Baker, it seems there’s nothing further to know after reaching the height of excitement and suspense.  Ahead lies a trip to Minnesota, and beyond that England and a scale-down to our regular life.

            The day’s major event was the ninth annual memorial ceremony for Suzuki-roshi scheduled for 2:00 pm.  For hours Zen Center students held chanting practice and set up the Buddha hall in its special configuration as they had for Chris’s funeral.  Zen Center ceremonies, or anything involving Baker, tended to start late, so on Meg’s recommendation we didn’t leave the Guest House till 2:40.  Then a nice thing happened.  The Buddha hall was filling up as we arrived, with people sitting on zafus and, around the edges, on chairs. Out in the hall chairs were also lined up for overflow and people with noisy children.  There was plenty of space out there, so that’s where Bob decided we should sit.

            Out in the hall we never directly saw the ceremony. Michiko sat with a Japanese friend and two toddlers.  Other Suzuki friends were around.  A guy named Kaz Kazuaki or Kaz Tanahashi - DC sat by himself, and so did a dapper dude named Stanley, an old North Beach veteran with a cane and sideburns, who’d been hanging around with the princess sometimes and was a Suzuki acquaintance.  He was now a chicken farmer near Tassajara and a long-standing member of Zen Center’s loose circle. Stan White, a student of Suzuki’s from about ‘64. I guess that’s when he was living at the Tassajara halfway house in Jamesburg. He was in charge of the chickens there. Vanja Palmers donated the money for that operation to give Stanley something to do there because he wasn’t being very helpful otherwise. - DC

            On the floor in front of us was a slew of sandals from all the people inside the Buddha hall.  Michiko’s friend and her two kids were directly in front of us, wiggling and talking.  Another batch of kids were behind us, and an older girl had her own Buddhist beads.  During the gasshos, the mother showed them how to bow and they liked that. We could also see some of the people in the back of the Buddha hall, including Peter, hair combed and wearing a brown sports jacket, and Marilyn in her sitting robe, hair in a bun.  Also in view was the priest Takunen, in his strange posture, sitting on a bench.

            A special incense was being burned that I first thought was an electrical fire. The service began with a sound we had forgotten but recalled unmistakably, the two-tone bell. bells, each with a different sound. - DC A procession of Baker, Katagiri and priests was led by a priest sounding these two clear, high notes on bowls handbells - DC struck by a stick one at a time at intervals of a few seconds.  It seemed like the most beautiful, melancholy sound in the world, and linked us to the moment we had been in the procession for Chris’s funeral.  (Later in the service the instrument was rung faster, like a roll-down of the two notes, and almost sounded like a telephone.)

            The procession began on the patio, then went up to the second-floor chapel with the Suzuki statue.  Our mimeographed program said a brief ceremony was held there that involved “opening Suzuki-roshi’s eyes, so that he may see what we are doing.”  Down below everyone waited in silence while this was performed.  Then the mournful bell began again, and the priests filed in.   After Baker in his saffron robes came Katagiri, in his usual black robe and dark brown shawl, followed by Yvonne Rand, John Bailes, Reb Anderson, Dan Welch, Marc Alexander, Issan Tommy Dorsey,  Peter van der Sterre, Linda Cutts, Philip Whalen, Neil Rubenking, Okusan, and others. 

            They walked past and went into the Buddha hall and performed a ceremony that we in the outside hallway couldn’t see, but followed along with risings, sittings, gasshos and chanting.  So did all the little kids.  Everything was in Japanese.  Our programs said a part of the service represented “light” and another “dark.”  Every so often a priest would dash in or out with incense burners to distribute to various altars throughout the building, spreading the magic to all the corners of Zen Center.  Toward the end there was a recitation of names that lasted about three or four solid minutes, and I began to realize it involved the priest lineage and lots of departed priests were being named.  Among them were Trudy Dixon, Alan Watts and Jeanie Campbell, so I realized that Chris’s name would come along too, but just then a kid next to us squawked so I missed it. Bob said he heard it.  Then there was a recitation of Ji Ho San Shi Ishi Fu, an important chant we used at the daily service, and the procession came back out.  This time Baker was wearing different clothes; evidently the service had involved him donning anew his spangled roshi robe and peaked hat.  He also banged a long staff on the floor with every other step.  When they had gone, the rest of the congregation took turns approaching the altar to offer incense.  Meg and Marilyn each kindly offered to show us how to do it, but we declined. 

            A reception was held in the dining room and patio.  Dan Welch had told us we could sometime leave a Buddha on the patio in Chris’s memory as he had when his sister died.  There were about three of them out there, all unmarked, here and there among the bushes.  We looked at them, but Bob said it was not for us to do.

            Then we went into the dining room and got tea and cookies and sat on the couch, looking at all the figures standing around the tables, many in black robes, many with shaved heads, many with rakusus.   Among them was Blanche Hartman, chief monk head monk, shusho, one time we use the word monk - DC at the last training period at Tassajara.  She had a striking face; baldness on a woman seemed shocking.  Bob commented that robes, shaved heads and rakusus were barriers between these Buddhists and the rest of America, and he muttered about elitism again.

            He also noted how we were fading in importance in the scene here, if indeed we ever had any.  However, one by one a few people started coming around to greet us on the couch. First Reb’s wife Rusa, who saw that we were alone and seemed to feel obliged.  Bob told her it was satisfying to see how the crowd seemed “mended together again” after the shock of Chris’s death.  She agreed, but said Chris “still pops into my mind a lot, at odd times.”  She noted I had been attending all of Katagiri’s lectures, and commented on our plan to stay, and we were surprised Reb hadn’t told her we were leaving.  It was a cool, polite exchange, as though we needed to make her like us somehow and were not succeeding.   She left as soon as others came to speak with us. 

            Just before she left, Baker, who had been making the rounds of the room, came over, and we stood up to shake hands.  He was friendly and said he had enjoyed lunch the day before, and we thanked him for taking so much time with us.  “Well, I’m slow getting around to things but once I do, I like to spend time,” he said. 

            David Chadwick came for a good talk.  I was never entirely sure if David was a real priest or what. Throughout our stay at Zen Center he was often wandering around, but he never seemed to be at morning zazen or service.  Possibly he was assigned to someplace else such as Green Gulch.  He was a bullet-headed, thick-built, dark-eyed and sturdy guy who rolled his own cigarettes and could speak Japanese.  I had the feeling that were he not enlightened he could actually be dangerous.  One night he led a group of Zen students running down the street chasing some neighborhood vandals.  He seemed brusque and rude-mannered, with a loud voice and eyes that rolled, and a face scarred from acne. He also had a funny sense of humor; I sometimes heard him impersonating Donald Duck. 

            Although shaved and wearing a robe, Chadwick that night sat right down on the floor in front of Bob and got us talking about things like sailing.  He was reserved toward me and never smiled warmly, but was very friendly to Bob.  Later he introduced his nice, middle-aged girlfriend. Wonderful Liz, my partner for nine years – 11 years older. - DC

            We talked with Stanley again.  He smoked cigarettes and said he’d been out till 3:00 am the night before, but remarked how the Suzuki ceremony was always moving.  “Makes me feel like climbing a mountain.”  Puffing his cigarette, he recalled how Suzuki always hated cigarette smoke.  Others who came around were Dan Welch, warm and friendly, and Meg.

            The service seemed to mark a turning point for us in San Francisco.  The contact with the Bakers had ended the long suspense and intrigue surrounding him.  We also felt we no longer engendered excitement and interest ourselves.  We had decided to leave, so people were unlikely to pursue friendships with us.  Most significant was that we had abandoned that awful pushing we did at the beginning.

            Chris’s horrible death had faded in people’s minds.  This weekend marked one month.  On the altar his name on the little white card sitting on a stand was still there on Buddha’s right, but moved toward the back.  I liked seeing it and felt sad that it would go someday, though we didn’t know when. 

Main altar in the Buddha Hall, with Gandhara Buddha statue and white cards with Chris's name and that of someone else who had died.

Monday, December 17, 1979

            Marc told us that about a week before Chris died, someone pulled a butcher knife on someone as a threat, right on the Guest House steps. Meg and Marc were quite casual about security; four or five times I found the back door or window unlocked.  One night I came in from Katagiri’s lecture and going into the kitchen found the back window open, ready for someone to climb in out of the black night. The longer you lived in a city neighborhood, I realized, the more you relaxed about crime. After we left the room that had a front bedroom window, even I irrationally felt safer in the house, now that we could no longer see and hear the street.

Marc Alexander and Meg Porter
Marc Alexander and Meg Porter in the little park on Page St., beside mural painted on the side of the Guest House. Photo by Wendy Pirsig, December 25, 1979.

            We had a couple good little encounters with people about this time.  One day at Green Grocer, while Bob waited for me to shop, a girl named Susan came up to him and said she was sorry about Chris. 

            On the same shopping trip a little roly-poly older lady named Della Goertz came up to me.  I’d smiled at her before spontaneously on one of our early days there.  Someone told us she was one of two people whose financial contributions kept Zen Center alive in the early days.  In the checkout she suddenly said, “I’m so glad you are going to stay here and practice with us!” 

            Meg told us that Takunen had left.  Without Hal.  She said he wasn’t directly from Japan, as we had thought, but lived with some Californians.  He was not actually a real roshi; Katigiri just used that term as a mark of respect for an older man.  Evidently he drove people crazy, including another Japanese priest he’d been traveling with, who left without him.

            One night I asked Meg what Marc’s exact title was, and she said Director of City Center.  Ed Sattizahn was President of the whole San Francisco Zen Center, the only high-ranking non-priest.  Reb was Chief Monk. He was tanto, in charge of practice under the abbot. The head monk is the shusho for a practice period. It’s the 2nd ordination. The shuso would be well below the tanto. - DC Among Marc’s jobs was to be jisha attendant - DC to Baker-roshi when he was at City Center.  The reason for Marc and Meg’s move to Green Gulch was that he was going to become director there and be replaced at City Center by Issan Dorsey.

            The contact we have had with Meg and Marc in our final days in the Guest House made me decide that his quietness was rooted in personality, not politics.  Meg told us he had joined Zen Center right after college, ten years ago.  Evidently he was several years younger than she.  Bob told her, “Marc has been kind of a mystery to us,” and that he seemed very caught up in Zen formalities.  Meg said he often goofed up ceremonies, actually.  But she said he was kind of a mystery to her, too.  She spoke looking into space with a puffed-up expression the way she often did.

            Meg became more and more drawn to us.  On Monday she came and sat on the end of Bob’s bed in our now comfortably messy, dark, stuffy room, just to shoot the breeze on topics like ceremonialism and Zen orthodoxy.  She asked us to take her and Marc out to Ping’s, so we did.  Marc’s presence strained the discussions; he didn’t like to “ask and discuss” with Bob as Meg did.  We drove in their smashed-in Fiat, playing Mimi and Richard Farina on the tape deck, Marc maneuvering through Christmas rush traffic over-cautiously while Meg gave back seat directions in her soft-powdered voice. Marc had been in Benares, India, Varanasi for a few days visiting Linda Hess, so Bob told stories from his time there in 1950. 

            We got back within minutes of the start of evening lecture.  Marc had to change into robes, was late for Baker’s entrance, and zipped in after Katagiri sat down, just seconds before chanting began.  This was Baker’s first appearance at one of Katagiri’s lectures since we’d been here.  He was back on Tuesday as well.  He wore black robes with no priest shawl shawl-like kesa - DC but with a rakusu.  During the lecture both he and Marc fell asleep.  That was Marc’s last night as City Center jisha; the next night Issan Dorsey accompanied Baker.

            We had a long talk with Meg on Monday afternoon. Basically, Bob talked against Japanese ritualism in American Zen and criticized Zen Center.  She defended it because (1) it kept her from clinging to other, American forms of static patterns, (2) she didn’t see anything bad about it, and (3) sometimes she found rituals satisfying.  The tone of the discussion was friendly, but as usual, because Meg was not laughing or boisterous, the discussion was slow and quiet, with long pauses before she spoke.  I seldom said anything.  I sat on one bed while she sat on Bob’s.  She was so formal that we were surprised, when talking about the mouse problem in the Guest House, that she once referred to “mouse shit.”

            She said the majority of Zen students had Jewish or Catholic backgrounds.  She had been Presbyterian, and noted Protestant Midwesterners would naturally be less comfortable with ritual.  She argued that all the Japaneseness made it easier for people of different religious backgrounds to practice together without reference to any Judeo-Christian traditions.

            She finally talked about the night Chris died: “We all were out on the street with him about an hour. And it was strange how you’d look around and it seemed all the faces of the Zen students were like one face.  Then we went inside to the Buddha hall and began a service of chanting.  Now, I’ve never been real big on chanting before.  But that night, I don’t know, there was something in our chanting that expressed something I felt that could be expressed in no other way.  And the chanting has been very meaningful to me ever since, in a way I never knew.”

            I asked if she was familiar with Chris’s meticulousness; she replied that, actually, she had never known Chris very well.

            Issan (Tommy) Dorsey, City Center’s incoming director replacing Marc Alexander, resembled a stereotypical Irish Catholic “Father Murphy” with a ruddy Bing Crosby-type face and a hearing aid.  He hardly related to us at all.  He seemed in his late 30s or 40s. He was 46. - DC  He had a smooth, almost graceful walk, not exactly effeminate, yet leaning backward just slightly.

Tuesday, December 18, 1979 

            My face is swollen and blue from the dentist.  Peter and Marilyn left on a trip so we moved to their apartment.  It is a joy to be out of the Guest House, and Bob immersed himself in hi-fi records.  I inhabited the kitchen and the realm of their parakeets and finches.  Two baby finches emerged from the nest. 

            Summary of Tuesday, Dec. 18:  The main event was seeing the Coyotes off for their Christmas travels.  I skipped zazen but Bob went.  Then he came back and got back into bed, and we overslept 15 minutes past our appointment to meet them at 8:00 and hear about the dharma of the animals (i.e., how to take care of their pets while they were gone and we stayed in their apartment).  Fortunately Peter had typed instructions on 3 x 5 cards.  We joined them for tea and muffins though, and Ariel and Peter loved opening a gift we gave her, a kite.  Peter played the guitar for us. 

            Then John Nathan arrived to take them to the airport.  They all climbed into their warm coats; Peter wore a Tibetan fur hat and Marilyn a castaway mink coat from Goodwill Industries.  They had tons of knapsacks.  Feelings were extremely good.  Bob offered to pay 10 days’ worth of rent.  As they left John said he might call us to talk about the film.

            Then Bob moved all Chris’s books out of the Guest House and up the long flight to Peter’s, while I did laundry and cleaned up our Guest House room for Princess Gabrielle of Lichtenstein. Bob started reading Hara by Durkheim, who, by the way, was a teacher of the princess.  Bob was also reading John Nathan’s book on Mishima.  Bob also liked some pictures by Nathan’s wife Mayumi that were here and there in the apartment as well as one at Greens.  There were fat oriental nymphs with round, nippled breasts.  I kind of liked them myself.

            Peter told us that Jane Fonda had visited here. They worked together for the California Arts Council, and appeared together in a picture in the paper. There was talk of him appearing in a Fonda movie.  He liked her.  “She’s very sophisticated, takes her politics very seriously, almost too seriously,” he said.  “Sometimes she makes you want to say to her, ‘Hey, Jane.  Relax.  Loosen up.’”  He also described her as “unambiguous about her sexuality.” He meant it as a compliment.

            In Peter’s apartment I spent the most time in the living room, while Bob sat in Peter’s office reading.  We ate Zen Bakery dill bread, soft jack cheese and coffee, before Katagiri’s lecture, 7:24 pm.  I went to his lecture every night.  I was sitting half lotus, much easier.

            Found among some of our things when we got to Peter’s was a set of Katagiri’s lecture notes.  The day we had coffee with him at the Guest House, Bob had needed some paper, and Katagiri had offered the back of a package of 20 or so sheets of scrap paper. Later Bob accidentally walked out with it and packed it with our things.  He discovered pages covered with lecture notes in neat English, the handwriting resembling a tidy high school girl’s.  On the backs of the pages was mimeographed text, apparently from the Minnesota Zen Center organization.

            Bob sent me back to the Guest House to knock on Katagiri’s door and return the papers.  He was working on a low table, rearranged to where our desk used to be.  Seated on a tatami, he turned to face me when I went in, but didn’t rise.  He was not unfriendly, not friendly, smiling with some surprise when I gave him the notes and not indicating he’d even known they were gone.  Lots of nods and thanks.  I told him we were moving out of the Guest House, and he gave me some searching looks, apparently wondering if this meant some new development with us and Zen Center.  I tried to assure him it was just a convenient housing arrangement.  Later, on his way out somewhere with Steve, he stopped at the door of the room where we were still hauling boxes and dusting.  I think he wanted to just see our faces and make sure things were OK.

            Our mail was finally forwarded from England, and in it was a letter from Chris.  Such sadness as we heard him looking ahead to his 23rd birthday, which he said he thought he would never reach, and imagining his whole life ahead of him.  There was an interesting tone to the letter; he talked all about his wish to study science, which we never knew he excelled in.  He said his future was completely undecided, and he made no reference to the priesthood at all.

            Last weekend, on Bob’s request, I retired my old watch, the Timex Bob got free from a bank, and started wearing a super-duper electric watch that Chris had ordered by mail. It was hard for Bob to read without his glasses and the alarm made a sound out of his hearing range.

            He said he still had a lot of pain in the morning, but during the day now there were times he fully accepted Chris being gone.  He reminded himself he was “better off not having to worry about him anymore.”

            Stewart Brand wrote a letter a few days ago saying he was on his way to Spain for Christmas, and included the combination to the boat if we wanted to use it while he was gone.  He offered to publish a chapter of Lila in his magazine. He could only pay $275 and circulation was just 50,000, but Bob was inclined to consider it just because Stewart was one of so few people who were genuinely enthusiastic and kind.

            Today I made some phone calls we needed related to Chris’s checking account, death certificate, etc.  I delivered to Ed’s mailbox an envelope with our check to Zen Center.

            We have now met Philip Whalen.  Up till now he had been at Tassajara, but Bob spotted him at the tea Sunday, a jolly, red-faced 60-ish priest.   I remembered him having written last spring for the publication ZERO.   I encountered him stuffing eggs and popcorn into the Guest House refrigerator.  He stayed at the main building, I guess, but said to me, “I can’t stand eating vegetarian cooking all the time.”  I introduced myself and asked, “Are you Philip Whalen?”  He was a little shy, but friendly and professorish.

            This journal will not include summaries on Katagiri’s lectures as they were recorded. Every night Steve Allen placed a mike and little tensor lamp nearby and a little lectern, along with Katagiri’s lecture notebook folded in brown cloth. 

            Sometimes, while he was speaking, Katagiri wondered how to pronounce a certain word, and he would say it and then look around to people to see if it was right— “culmination” vs. “culumination,” for instance.  Sometimes he looked at me for this, which was fun.  I watched him all through lecture.  Some people lowered their eyes.  I wondered which was proper.

            Baker looked asleep a lot, but occasionally he took a note.  He wore gold-rimmed glasses for lecture.  Tonight he had his brown priest shawl on.  I was struck again by his physical agility; after an hour and a half lecture in lotus position he could go straight into stretch-leg in a few seconds, then to haunches, to full stand-up, all the while displaying no pain in his legs or feet.

            Nice experience after lecture:  Reb asked me in the hall to ask Bob if he wanted the calligraphy I carried at the funeral, which had been Katagiri’s gift to Chris.  I said I was sure he did.  So Reb unlocked the office and we went in to get it.  He said Katagiri would like a copy.  I asked if there was any significance to the fact that the white paper was tilted in the frame; Reb said he thought it was just loose.  I smiled.  Our meeting had been tense at first.  We hadn’t spoken for a couple weeks, not since the time I asked him if he wanted to be involved in the movie, and things were still very tense with us.  Now he realized everything was OK.  We went out to the street and I thought that would be all, but Reb asked how we liked our new quarters at Peter’s and I was enthusiastic.  Reb knew of Bob’s attachment to the front room at the Guest House.  I said we were enjoying all the stuff in the apartment, including all the skulls decorating it, and I asked Reb if he had ever been up.  “I used to live there,” he said.  We raved about the view.  Then Ed Sattizahn came along and there was a nice sort of three-way smile exchange.  I decided to ask Reb the significance of the brown beads Chris had given me long ago. 

            “Can I ask a trivial question?” I began.

            “No,” said Reb, twinkling.

            “Well, it is really deep underneath.”  We laughed.  Then I went on in a spooky-deep voice: “This question is for Reb!  What is the significance of the brown beads a lot of students wear, and which Chris had?”

            “They originally were used to keep track of chanting progress,” said Reb.

            “Like Catholic rosary beads?”


            “And do students wearing them now use them for chanting, or mainly for ornamentation?”

            “Well, a lot of people wear them not for ornamentation, but as a kind of identification.  To set themselves apart as weirdoes.”  We laughed.

            I asked if the little sets of beads some Japanese people carried at Sunday’s ceremony were for the same purpose, and Reb said yes.

            “Well, that was the trivial question.”

            “Actually, it was quite deep.”  And we all smiled.  It was a warm scene.  We chatted about the weather, and about an apartment across the street where the interior walls and ceiling glowed with bright flashes, apparently from a roaring fireplace.  Occasionally a spark rose out the chimney at the top of that house, a Zen Center property.  I’d noticed the apartment before because  it had a huge map of the United States on the window, facing out. 

            Then Richard Baker came by and without saying hello started talking about the apartment fireplace.  The guy who lived there apparently was a troublemaker.  Ed explained the chimneys had just been cleaned and inspected so it probably was safe.  However, there had been another incident where that tenant had ignored fire safety rules.

            “Shall we evict him?” Baker wondered.  The discussion was inconclusive, with Reb and Ed making jokes about how spooky the room looked flickering like that.  I said it resembled strobe candles in the 60s. Baker cut my comments off without hearing them, and began moving up the hill toward home.  Ed turned with him, and then Reb, and suddenly I was standing alone on the dark street with my zafu and Chris’s framed calligraphy. Reb noticed, turned back and smiled.  I waved to him silently.

            “Good night!” he called out.  Baker and Ed heard him and said good night.  I called good night back.

Wednesday and Thursday, December 19-20, 1979

            For the first time since Chris’s death we were lazy and relaxed.  I slept most of the morning.  Bob read Nathan’s biography of Mishima.  We should have been buying a car but kept loafing.  I finally made Chris’s dad some miso soup, as Chris had recommended about a year ago.

            “One thing about all this is that now we are really rooted in each other solidly,” Bob said.  “You even rode out all my hallucinations.  Well, not hallucinations.  Projections, chess strategies.   We needed those ideas to plan our chess game and they were valuable.  They might have gone into action, if the game hadn’t been stalemated.”

            Bob wanted Katagiri to have the calligraphy. He wasn’t at zazen today, then showed up at service looking sleepy.  Baker wasn’t there at all.  Many students were away on vacation, only 35 or 40 people at service. 

            The famous gardener Alan Chadwick arrived at Green Gulch to stay at its guest quarters, the Wheelwright Center.  We’d been told he was one of the originators of the organic gardening craze in America. I asked Meg when she and Marc would assume their new hosting duties at Wheelwright Center, and she said all visits had been cancelled because Chadwick “sort of takes over the Wheelwright Center for an indefinite period” when he’s at Green Gulch.  It seemed he had terminal cancer.

            No Katagiri lecture one night.  A sign appeared on Zen Center: Baker-roshi will give a lecture “for practicing students.”  I asked John Bailes whether I could go, but he said no decision had yet been made on whether to admit “guest students.”  I called over at 6:00 wondering whether to drink coffee or get sleepy.  I was told no guest students were invited.

            Fudo the cat, one of Peter and Marilyn’s pets we are caring for, is missing.  He went out at 5 am one day when we left for zazen, and I fear that’s the end of him.  Bob said, “That’s the way it is with cats.  They come and they go.”  Meanwhile, Dodger the rat’s eyes are bleeding.  Peter had left medicine but his instructions were ambiguous. “If Dodger gets the sniffles, squirt some of this in his mouth,” he said, dropping the bottle on the shelf.  No written instructions.  Today I looked at what seemed to be the same bottle, but it was external ointment for ear infections.  We are unsure what to do.  I called some doctor’s numbers on Peter’s and Marilyn’s wall; they all had the same answering service, and the person got ornery about my rat questions. None of the doctors were vets.

            One night, looking in a storeroom for wire to hook up the tape recorder to Peter’s record player and copy some music, Bob came across bullets and an old revolver box but the revolver had been removed.  “Looks like Peter didn’t want me to go shooting anybody,” Bob laughed. 


            Though clear it was still a gloomy day with dental work.  My jaw got black and blue from earlier appointments, and then a Novocain needle burst a blood vessel.

            We should have been doing lots of things: dealing with Chris’s motorcycle, buying a car.  We might rent a truck for $600.  We lay around reading, waiting for—what?  The ashes ceremony, and for Peter and Marilyn to come back. I am sure Fudo is dead or stolen.

One tall cage is for the pair of parakeets, Saxophone and Neon. An even larger cage, 2 x 3 x 4 feet or so, held a pair of red-billed finches named Parker and Lorraine, their one-footed red son Peg Leg, who looked like Parker, and a small white cocoon-like nest on one wall.  The morning the Coyotes left, the nest produced two additional gray, almost-adult-size offspring who must have hatched some time before.  They both went back to the nest when it got dark. 

            The kitchen was cluttered and full of organic and vegetarian oddities like walnut oil.  The Coyotes seemed to mostly eat pasta.  The refrigerator/freezer needed so much defrosting we couldn’t get our pint of ice cream in it.

            We put all our gear and Chris’s books and “relics” in a room that seemed to be Marilyn’s.  The floor was covered with tatamis.  A 5 x 7 glamour portrait of Peter produced the same embarrassment in me that the picture of Marilyn did.  There was also a picture of Peter in his hippie days in long hair, the street Peter, pre-Zen, not quite on.  There was also a good snapshot of Peter and Marilyn sitting together, looking like they do now.  I’d like to remember them that way.

            We looked through Peter’s and Marilyn’s photo albums.  Marilyn was quite a pretty teenager, possibly the only teenager I ever saw who never looked off-guard in a photograph.  A string of pictures showed her with various miserable pimply Ohio boys in formal attire in front of her parents’ fireplace or Christmas tree, enroute to proms. The fact that she got into Zen seemed amazing.

            We both nearly cried over an album of Peter’s.  It was a careful selection of pictures widely spaced on black paper, the kind of album his mother might have prepared when he was first married.  It began with pictures of his parents before he was born and ended when he was about 18.  A clipping, perhaps from the Times, announced his father’s appointment as president of a New York railway company.  A “candid” shot of his parents about age 50 showed his father on the arm of his mother’s chair, both looking in separate directions, both looking posey and over-dramatic.  There were a series of baby photos, with his mother a slim blonde, beautiful and theatrical, his father patriarchal and awkward with the baby.  In one Peter is being tenderly held by a dark-skinned woman; he had told us he was raised by Black servants.  Then a new, younger baby sister and three-year-old Peter looking uncomfortably excited in the arms of a fat grandfather.  Through the school years, increasingly chubby and awkward Peters, none looking happy, riding a soapbox car, driving a tractor on the estate, playing with his charming sister, playing the piano.  He “looked Jewish,” loud, clumsy, overly clever, over-motivated and under-loved, the kind of kid who would scheme about poisons and bombs.  It was incredible relating those photos to the centered Peter Coyote we knew.  But they explained him.

            There was also a published book called Ringolerio by Emmet Grogan, an old sidekick of Peter, in which Peter appears during his hippie street days with a cast of characters including counterculture icon Abbie Hoffman, as well as Danny the Riff, who was connected with the Grateful Dead.  We got a sense that Marilyn had been with Danny when they visited Peter’s hippie farm, and that’s how she and Peter met.

            (When Peter and Marilyn came back from their trip we told them about snooping through their albums.  They were mostly Marilyn’s and she seemed pleased.  As for Ringolerio,  Peter laughed and said, “That is pure fiction.  Grogan used it to settle scores.  Actually, I came out looking pretty good, because he owed me a few things.”  He also added, “What he said about Abbie Hoffman was pretty true.”)

            We concluded once more that Peter would have no trouble relating to a part playing Robert Pirsig in a movie.  Around the apartment we also read things that he had written.  His writing style, very different from him in person, was thick and over-loaded with contradictions and poetic manifestations of ideas. 

            “I think in images,” he once said, and it was true—too true.

            Still, our feeling that Peter was the right actor only deepened.  “He doesn’t have to write a script,” Bob observed.  “Nathan can do that.  But Peter has the flashes.”

Friday, December 21, 1979 

            At the dentist again.  Root canal today.  Bob was depressed and lethargic this morning. Last night we used Peter’s equipment to tape some of Chris’s LPs such as Taj Majal and Jefferson Airplane on cassette so we can play them on the boat.

            Katagiri’s lecture was beautiful.  It included the interweaving of basic zazen instruction with deep understandings of life and how to live.  “Nobody knows when death will come,” he said.  “Look at Chris Pirsig.”  At the end he took some questions about violence and death and replied, “You learn to die the way you live, and live the way you die.   There is no difference.” 

            Baker was at the lecture, appearing to snooze as usual behind the gold rimmed glasses.  Sometimes he’d pick up his watch, which lay beside him, and look at it.  Katagiri never looked in his direction in lecture.  At one point he came to a part where he said you must keep your eyes open in zazen, that closing your eyes was being “egoistic,” shutting yourself up in your world of delusion.  At that point Baker seemed to be sawing wood, eyes shut.  Toward the end of the lecture, though, he for some reason woke up and from then on smiled often at Katagiri.

            Katagiri spoke for a while about being at one with zazen and being at one with your work.  Don’t think about your wages while you work, he said.  Of Zen Center jobs he said, “You work at the restaurant, or the bakery and you hate it.”  Everyone laughed.  “But never mind. Just do it. Just work.”  Baker really liked this part and smiled his prim little upturned smile. Katagiri closed his talk by simply giving basic instructions on how to sit on a cushion.

            After lecture on my way to the apartment I met Steve Allen on the corner as he returned from walking Katagiri home.  I asked him if he had gotten a note I’d sent two days before asking for an appointment with Katagiri.  He apologized and I smiled and then he said there would be no problem, he’d let me know.  I said I only wanted a couple minutes, and, “We have something to give him.”  Then a small smile broke across Steve’s face, as he automatically approved when someone wanted to give his friend something, not take something.  I imagined it would have been the way Chris had felt about Katagiri too.

            More on Peter Coyote’s background.  In the apartment was a booklet consisting of a series of articles by Alfred J. Aronowitz in the New York Post.  They were headlined, “Emmet, Mac and Peter Coyote.”  Emmet Grogan was an “underground” thug, pre-Yippee, and a member of the Diggers, who used to steal and give to the poor.  Mac Rebennack was also the “Creole-delic” musician Dr. John the Night Tripper.  Peter was a west coast actor, Aronowitz said, very good and with a voice like Franklin Delano Roosevelt.  He had friends in the Hell’s Angels and at the time of the article lived in a truck with his family—then wife Eileen, stepdaughter Colleen, age ten, and baby Ariel—and had just driven across the country to connect with his old East Coast friends and give Mac a present “because he will understand it.”  The present was the mummified hand of a Black woman; no further explanation given. 

            The Post series about their get-together in New York filled in some of Peter’s obscure past as a musician.  Peter was always referred to as “Peter Coyote,” even when others were called by their first names.  Mac sang in a jam session, accompanied by Peter on the guitar, and one line of a song was “My sister sniffs cocaine,” which Peter identified as “a line from a Jack Dupree tune called Junko Partner.”  Bob was amazed, because this was an old special song he thought nobody else remembered.  Maybe he also picked up on the way Peter involved his children in his quests.  Aronowitz told how Peter worried about double-parking his truck in Manhattan and getting a ticket, and Bob noted that he was the only halfway responsible and decent person in the story.  Everyone else displayed careless, smug attitudes as they went about playing music all night while getting drunk and stoned.  Mostly Bob was disgusted with the whole rock and roll scene, in which musicians tried to pass themselves off as medicine men.  We looked at photos of Dr. John and played an album Peter had, and it all seemed wrong.

             We found a cassette of Peter playing his own songs—blues, drug songs, quasi-political message songs, love songs. He was a skillful singer and guitarist.  We both listened with fascination, thinking, “Gee, this is Peter.”

            Then we found a cassette of a soundtrack of a children’s musical play called “Almond and the Magic Wheel,” in which Peter had narrated.  The music was great.  Bob declared once more that “He’ll be perfect in the film of ZMM.  Such a warm voice for a father.”

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