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Tassajara Stories

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Nihongo
last edit 9-23

 

A stucco cottage just above Cannery Row. There were three old dwellings on the oddly shaped corner lot. To the left was Marilyn and her daughter whom she said was hyperactive. Straight ahead was Ed and his quiet wife. All three of those adults I'd say were in their thirties. I was twenty-four. We had an interesting landlord named Vasquez who was an old character from the area, a restaurateur who said he'd known John Steinbeck back in the day. I thought that was really neat. Ed said he'd talked to Vasquez about his early Cannery Row days and that everything Vasquez said lined up with the Steinbeck character Joseph and Mary who owned a bar, cashed the cannery workers checks, and sent hired thugs to rob them afterwards. Ed asked Vasquez about that. Vasquez walked off at that point saying, "I'll be seein' you later Eddy."

The first night there I went to a party at a friend's nice home with an expansive two story living room. A rock band was playing. Plenty of booze, pot, acid which I wasn't interested in, interesting people. Spent some time talking to Willie, a hip black guy I'd been introduced to by friends I knew from Tassajara John and Beth Veglia. Everybody knew Willie. Walked with him late to another party at a home that had become a crash pad. The cops came and we walked off before they had time to bother us.

Got to my little place late. It was dirty and messy inside so I slept out in a sleeping bag. Spent the next day cleaning it up and slept outside again. In the middle of the night I was awakened when someone tripped over me. I looked up. A guy was looking down at me brushing himself off. He ran off. I went back to sleep.

The next morning I got the word from Marilyn and Ed that a there'd been a robbery and attempted rape of a woman across the street by a prowler who had been hiding in the bushes. The cops came over. I told them about the person who'd stumbled over me. Went downtown and looked through their mug book. Only time I ever did that. "That's him!" I said.

Next thing I heard that Willie had been arrested for robbery and rape and I instantly realized that I'd confused Willie with the guy who'd tripped over me. I'd given my car away so I bought a bicycle for my stay there, raced to the police station, and told them of my confused mistake. They let him go. I ran into Willie at another party - there was something akin to an ongoing party back then in a lot of places. I told him what had happened and how I'd accidentally falsely accused him of robbery and rape. "Sorry," I said. "That's not a nice thing to do to somebody." He brushed it off, was so cool about it. Said he was used to getting hassled by cops. Never held it against me.

 

Japanese class was hard. Four hours a day five days a week. Three hours with Jun Mink, a Japanese woman who was the head of our program. One hour a day with a boring Japanese man. Reading, writing, speaking. First day learn the hiragana syllabary, second day katakana, an alternative syllabary. After that ten kanji, Chinese characters, a day. I loved Mrs. Mink. We hit it off right away. She had married an American after the war. I asked her why she didn't teach at the DLI, the Defense Language Institute up the hill, the largest language school in the world. She taught me the phrase. "Heitai ga daikirai." Greatly hate the army. She'd been a nurse in Tokyo during the American bombing which included dropping gasoline then napalm. American pilots were vomiting from the smell of burning civilian flesh. She didn't like it either.

All day all night nihongo, Japanese language. At night I'd dream it - not like fluent dreaming in a language dreams but like absorbed in chewing on it dreams. Mrs. Mink was pleased but told me not to study on Sunday.

Would be at it till ten pm, sit zazen, sleep, arise at four, sit zazen, start studying. Sat at a small desk. Sat at times on the floor. Had a single tatami. Would eat mainly raw food while studying - like a head of organic lettuce bought at Bud's in Carmel - by itself. Went total pure. No booze, no pot, no cigs, no caffeine. That last one might sound weird but I'd found that you only get so much energy out of your body/mind and stimulants just borrow from the storehouse. I found that no stimulants and natural eats ends up allowing more clean energy in the long run. That and not overeating.

Had a thick slab of oak on the floor used as an altar. Put incense in a crack in it. Came home from school one day and found the place smelling like smoke. The incense had burned down to the wood which smoldered for hours, leaving a charred black pocket in it. Finally went out on its own. Opps.

I'd felt so good and frisky on brown rice, veggies, and some soy like miso or tofu back when I was new to the ZC. Once did three weeks of the Macrobiotic number seven diet - only brown rice. Got so much energy I could hardly contain it. Was working in the post office. First they had me sorting mail. Too slow. So then going around with a trey picking up the sorts. Too slow. Then they transferred me to loading and unloading trucks. I'd do a whole forty foot truck of mail bags by myself and ask for more.

This time raw fruits and veggies, seeds, nuts, occasional yogurt and sprouts I made. Made unyeasted bread I'd eat with muso - a sesame butter and miso mix. Water. No meals that needed preparation - everything ready to eat over a book. My bowel movements were reduced to just a few small hard dark balls that left no residue for toilet paper.

There were maybe sixteen of us in the class. I quickly teamed up with an eighteen year old with a heart condition. She needed twelve hours sleep a night. Her father was an astrophysicist. She was super smart - way beyond me. I'd cycle over to her apartment next to the school in the morning and get there an hour before class. She'd have spent an hour or less on material I'd spent at least four hours on - and then she'd explain it to me.

Here's a song I'd sing while on the way from Pacific Grove into Monterey whose city limit was a few blocks away. The first and second verses where from when I was getting ready to clean up my cottage. Had just bought those clothes the day before. It's called Got on my New Frisco Jeans.

 

Got on my new Frisco Jeans
Got on my new Frisco Jeans
The finest duds you ever seen.
Got on my new Frisco Jeans

Got on my new White Duck Shirt
Got on my new White Duck Shirt
Pretty soon be full of grime and grease and dirt
Got on my new White Duck Shirt

Ridin' on my new blue Peugeot bike
Ridin' on my new blue Peugeot bike
Wet Monterey Bay air blowin' by my side
Ridin on my new blue Peugeot bike

Song page for Got on my New Frisco Jeans at Defuser Music dot com

 

My neighbor Ed had a PHD in one of the sciences. He'd had a job with a professor in the Midwest who had spent a decade with his students counting something really small but still visible. Ed built a counting contraption that utilized computer and photo technology that showed that the professor's method of counting was so far off that it invalidated his ten years of research. So Ed got fired. He was depressed and bored and smoked pot all day. He'd always offer me some but I declined. Marilyn's grubby, alcohol-reeking ex hubby would come over to bug her and she'd kick him out and he'd go smoke pot with Ed and fall asleep.

Dot Luce had been coming from Carmel into Tassajara to join us for zazen and work since the first year. If I couldn't get to Jean's for zazen she'd come pick me up. Saturdays we'd go to San Francisco to hear Suzuki's talk. My biggest disappointment that summer was not going to Trudy Dixon's memorial at Sokoji. It was on a Friday and I just didn't think I could afford to miss class. I could barely keep up. Always regretted that. But waves of Suzuki's emotional and powerful elegy for Trudy are still echoing in through our collective consciousness. Read or listen.

In July 1969 just after the historic moon landing, Suzuki gave a lecture in which he pooh-poohed the whole thing and said, "I'm not interested in anyone who's interested in going to the moon." I thought about that statement as Dot and I drove back.

Ed, Marilyn, and I had watched the moon landing on a cheap, small, flashing black and white set. It was most exciting. But of course, Suzuki had a point, it was just more phenomena.

Ed had a scale model of the moon landing rocket that he'd put together and explained to me. It was about two and a half feet tall. I asked him if I could borrow it and he generously complied. The next weekend Dot and I drove back up to San Francisco for the Saturday morning practice and lecture at Sokoji. After the lecture I asked Suzuki if I could see him. I brought the rocket model into his office and showed it to him, pulling the first stage off, then the second, then the moon landing vehicle, explaining what I knew about the flight, landing, and return. He was genuinely interested, playful in response, curious - not a shred of negativity. I put the rocket back together, said goodbye and Dot and I drove back to PG, me occasionally laughing.

 

Every once in a while something would happen to add a dash of variety to my weekday scholastic toil. I took a break and joined a theater full of students of Russian language from the DLI to see the Russian made Dr. Zhivago. I heard there were five buildings for Russian alone up there. I kept hearing that Russian and Vietnamese, both languages of critical importance to the government, were also the most difficult. I'd also hear that graduates from this costly government school would consistently be assigned to countries with languages they hadn't studied. When Dr. Zhivago started I was perplexed why there was laughing and booing from the audience. Then I realized. It was because it was dubbed.

 

A knock at the door. A young man older than I wanted to give me a bunch of magazine subscriptions for practically nothing. I asked him what would I do with twenty magazines, told him I don't have time to do anything but study Japanese. It sounded too good to be... oh oh. I invited him in. Gave him some orange juice. Carefully studied the deal he offered. Read the small print out load.

I recalled how Ward and I in high school had been lured by a friend who was making fantastic money as a door to door cooking ware salesmen. We got the prep talk in the office from his boss which included a good deal on how to sucker customers into spending more than they can afford, to buy more than they need. High quality stainless steel, copper bottom frying pans, pots small and large. Went with our friend to watch him do a sale. It was all based on frightening young housewives and wanna be housewives into thinking that if they don't buy the whole set plus implements, that they'd either loose their husbands through clogged arteries or not get one. Preyed on their insecurity and innocence. Ward and I didn't return.

Then I laid into the salesman telling him I knew he'd be making most his money off of poor young housewives who felt ignorant and were being promised that just having these magazines around would make them and their families or families to be smart. And the seeming pennies the magazines cost would eventually add up to a sizeable chunk every month, taking a costly bite out of their meager budget, and be locked in a contract that took effort to get out of. Probably targeting Fort Ord army base and low cost housing areas. I ranted at my trapped conman about the immorality of what he was doing.

One of the magazines he was offering was Look. I happened to have spent time at Tassajara with the West Coast Editor of Look, George Leonard. Got hold of him in his office. He said he wished he could control such things but it was beyond his reach. He suggested to tell the salesman to practice Aikido to find the balance of body, mind, and spirit and that compassionate moral conduct would follow. The guy broke down crying and said he had to make money too and this was the only job he could find. I pulled out a basic Buddhist book, maybe What the Buddha Taught, and read him a section on right livelihood. He told me he'd look right away for another job. I gave him my number and said to use me as a reference.

 

The police were back. This time they wanted to know if I'd let them use my place to watch out for Marilyn's ex. She'd gotten a restraining order against him but he still kept coming. So I'd sit on the floor and let the police sit in the two chairs at the little desk by the window. They were no trouble. I enjoyed the new experience of studying in the middle of a stakeout. They only did that for two days. On the third her grubby ex was back again, staggering around in front of her house cursing. He broke into her house. She came home, found him, called the police from my phone. Ed, Marilyn, and I entered her place cautiously. Ex was totally zonked out on her couch. The police came in. Two of them and the three of us stood looking down on the snoring intruder. A policeman nudged him till he awoke. He looked up at us, slowly surveying each person and rubbing his eyes. He jerked back some when he realized there were police there, raised his right arm, shakingly pointed it at Ed, and gutturally uttered, "Marijuana!" He looked at the policemen with a scowl shaking his head in disapproval. The police were not diverted, cuffed, and removed him.

Back to the nihongo.

 


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