Sunday, March 30, 2014

To Hear,

cookie fortunes I carried in my wallet

Orientation lady at my prior job as a night stocking clerk at a supermarket, "Remember guys, we are all a big family here at Giant Eagle. And you are all LEADERS. Don't think of yourself as just an unimportant employee, YOU are a leader! If you see something wrong, take initiative, LEAD!"

Not even four weeks later, this unrealized supermarket leader has been unceremoniously canned (note the bitter pun, reader) from his Giant Eagle family for not stocking cat food fast enough among other transgressions.

The cat cans fade out into black and become another vague chapter in my life. They are history now. Little cat faces glaring unto me from their one dollar cans. Another blurry memory drowning in a warm swamp of life.


An assortment of former citizens of the Soviet Union are smoking outside. Moldovans, Uzbeks, Ukrainians, rusty Russians, portly Georgians in track suits; all standing outside at the end of their shifts sucking their American cigarettes, talking shit.

Encircled by Russian speech, I momentarily forget that I am at a dingy parking lot in Ohio and not a taxi depot in some provincial town in the motherland. The only giant eagle here is the two-headed one of the Romanov dynasty, an odd bird that periodically morphs into a hammer and sickle and sometimes stays in a strange limbo with a hammer on one end and a befuddled eagle head on the other, its avian eyes looking for another conquest to give it meaning.

Crimea... oh precious Crimea, can you hear me?

I walk inside the unremarkable office building and enter a small room with three cluttered desks, three Russian-speakers behind the desks and no pictures on the wall. I approach one of the Soviet-born.

My boss glances at his new employee at the conclusion of his first day, "How was it?"

Ivan: "I liked it."

Russian boss -mildly confused-, "What is there to like?"


A working man once more. A driver this time.

Driving folks to doctors and such.

My new work has forced me to wake up in the same early morning hours when the unemployed Ivan would only start to contemplate the notion of going to bed and sleeping through another day.

This new routine unhinged me since I was loath to surrender my vampire hours to the utility of adequate sleep.

That whole week I would go to sleep at around one or two am only to hear my crusty phone chirp out a nagging melody of alarm at 5:40 am. Now the day is for driving old people, not hiding from life. The rising sun greets her prodigal son, his tall frame squeezed into a reclined seat of a small car.


It's now Friday evening. At the end of my first week as a driver, I sit at at a table at an overcrowded Chinese Buffet with my best friend Boris (not his real name).

I am dizzy and disoriented on account of my sleep deprivation.

"Wow," I say to Boris, "I feel really strange. Everything is blurry, unreal. I feel like I'm floating. I didn't eat today and thought I would really stuff my face now but I don't even want to go for another plate."

Boris glances at me without any emotion, he shrugs his shoulders, "Well, I'm glad you're not driving."

"I wish I could have a stoke and die right now," I say without any sadness.

Boris perks up. A sly grin creeps across his face, "the funny thing is that you're serious."

My friend is right, I am serious. Don't get me wrong, I don't want to give up in a big way. I want to give up in a small way and have it become big. A big nothing is what I want. A real nothing. Emptiness. Nonexistence.

"Well," I say to amend my sentiment, "if this is it then - yes, but if there is reincarnation I don't want to go."

"You believe in reincarnation?" asks Boris with mild disdain.

He knows that I am a nominal Buddhist but he likes to play the social troll.

On account of my reduced brain function I decide to give him a little Dharma talk.
"I just want you to realize that reincarnation is not a ridiculous idea. In Buddhism there is no self that reincarnates. There is no Ivan the dog. You are a continuous flow of ever-changing energy. Like the fire that burns down a tree and then a house taking, assuming the shape of different forms that it burns up. The fire is not a tree or a house, it is energy..."

"Oh fuuuck," Boris moans in annoyance.

"It's like in science," I continue, "when you are a fetus. You don't think, 'I am Boris the fetus; I am Boris the embryo' that is all you are, that is all you know. Its part of you physical continuum. In the same way that if you are a mosquito..."

"Please, shut the fuck up," he interjects.

"A mosquito is just a part of the ever-changing continuum of your mind that takes different forms according to its karma." I conclude.

Buddhahood is when a being realizes emptiness and the clinging to self is extinguished. So when one body expires there is nothing to cling your mind to the next one; instead of being confined to another cycle of suffering your mind merges with everything. You are blissful, unattached. You no longer exist. Actually you never existed to begin with yet you thought you did and that thought opened you to a world of pain. Its not something you can put into words adequately.

And I didn't try. I didn't utter any of this to him anyway. It was just there on the shelf, like the cat food cans in Giant Eagle that I didn't stock fast enough. He didn't want to hear it. And that's okay. Let the motherfucker reincarnate a few more thousand times before he starts to pay attention.

All I want now is nothing. A real nothing. Emptiness. Nonexistence.

"Do you think this waitress would sleep with me?" asks Boris.

I look at my plate. I have to finish the food but I don't want to. There is an assortment of meat on my plate. We have reincarnated so many times in this dimension and others, that every living being has been our mother in a previous life. So when I look down I see cooked bits and pieces of my mothers.

My mind is checked out, my hunger is gone. But I need to chew the food. I -the decedent of starving peasants- suffer from an abundance of cooked flesh.

I look at a coconut shrimp on my plate and contemplate throwing it at Boris. No food fights at the Buffet I decide. So I settle on a dirty napkin, crumple it into a light ball and send it at Boris. It hits him and rests on the table.

"Do you think all these Asian waitresses are Chinese?" he wonders.

"I guess so," I say, "though they look Vietnamese to me."

"That's what I was thinking." he replies.

I ask for the check.

It arrived with the fortune cookies. Boris is reaching toward one but a voice inside convinces me that it is really meant for me. I grab it.

"To hear, you must listen with your ears and not your eyes."

Normally I hate my fortune cookies to include bits of wisdom, I want them to make wild optimistic predictions so I can stuff them in my wallet where a compartment holds other fortune cookie predictions that momentarily graced me with a superstitious jolt.

But this one is good. I am happy with it. In my state of mind this tiny piece of paper begins to assume metaphysical meaning. A credo for the rest of my life was just handed to me by a cute waitress.

Eyes want. Eyes lust. Eyes annex Crimea.

I need to hear before wanting. I need to hear before thinking. I need to listen.

I haven't been listening. I listened with my eyes and I didn't like it.

For the rest of my life I will hear with my ears.

When home, I take all the cookie fortunes out of my wallet and put them in a drawer.

I was wrong to want nonexistence.

A burden lifted.


Old pond, 
frog jumps in
- splash 


  1. What is the personal significance of Crimea for you? For me, it's a side event, not germane to me personally. But it seems to have consumed you. Why is that?

  2. Well in this post it was sort of there for comedic relief.

    But yes it has consumed me.

    After the fall of Constantinople Russia saw itself as the 3rd Rome. Basically the true Church kept falling, first becoming Papist is Rome then the Orthodox Constantinople was taken over by the Turks. So now Russia -in her eyes- became a bastion of the true Orthodox church.

    In a sense Russia became a spiritual land in opposition to the West and a to a lesser degree an alternative to the ways of the world.

    I'm too tired to write a really long reply but Crimea awoke those historical ghosts where Russia stood more or less alone (though all the cold war rhetoric aside the stakes were small). In some nationalists eyes Russia was always outside of the consensus, Orthodox where as the west is protestant and catholic. Communist in the a capitalist world. And now nationalist and socially conservative where as the west is liberal and nationalism is submerged under the EU idea.

    Crimea was a historic place for which the Russian heart ached and now it took the opportunity to claim it again and it became a flash-point. Where some dormant dislike of Russia surfaced in the west and Russian disliked of the west thrived in Russia. I don't know it was a strange place to be as an immigrant with your being divided between these two realms.

    Crimea sent me into the third dimension and I am lost and found at the same time.

  3. I'm with you on the history (sort of). However, I don't see how this affects you *personally*. Why has this been a flash-point for you, as opposed to Crimea?

  4. Its like watching a Batman movie and pulling for the villain.

    One the rational level I get annoyed that Russian interests (expressed in a drastic way by Putin) are dismissed as something akin to the rise of the 3rd Reich. I undermtand why people disagree with Russian policy but I am tired for the alarmist, hyperbole and easy self righteousness that goes along with it. Again I am not anti American, yet I do find it ridiculous for Obama to say that the west wants Ukrainians to decide their own future when everyone in the west openly supported the protesters and have openly tried to pull Ukraine into its sphere of influence. I find it ridiculous that international law is brought up as if it is a huge concern when Washington makes foreign policy (Iraq, drones, wiretapping, enhanced interrogation techniques) . I guess all of this makes me excited and prone to writing and debates.

    One a more personal level there is a part of me that is happy to see a defiant Russia, which calls in question my self identification as a Western liberal. Basically this international confrontation has awaken my own internal conflict whether I am myself more east or west. A Russian with a western glaze. I don't think that's what I am but... I dunno I'm just too tired from work and sleep deprived to express myself as well as I should but I think I have conveyed the gist of it.

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