“Be careful that what you
might ingest is not taken
in proverbial jest
“Take your pick.”
“I’m really not much of a numbers person…”
“You’ve no choice. It’s crowded here, because everybody’s doing it. Come to San Francisco, lose your limitations, find your limitless self—the latest rage.”
That said, Regina Tzu rose with a flourish, headed for the kitchen once more. Funny, everywhere silver, yet it was either finger food or these slippery wooden sticks. I repositioned them clumsily in my left hand, cradling them between thumb and index knuckles, where they proceeded to collapse on me at first stab, brown rice and chickpeas flying like popping corn over bowl’s rim.
I glanced fitfully away, hoping she was preoccupied with a teapot that was steeping out loud. Instead, she returned, nudging a side dish of bean curd my way, noting that she had ground in a little mugwort and tarragon to zip it some. I could but nod and feebly poke about. That’s when I noticed the crack worn, leather covered book further down table. Anything to stray off topic.
“Sooo, what are you reading there?”
“Meditations of Lao Tzu, if you must know,” she said, nibbling at a goat’s cheese cube with her puffy, pouty lips as she flowed about the dining room, lighting candles, stopping with the paint can-sized mortar beneath her shrine. Flames set, she lowered the light dimmer and poured two cups from a steeping silver teapot. “It’s quite spiritual. Spiritualism’s my life. I also practice dynameditation, mantras in motion.”
“I thought silver was your life…”
“Silver’s my other life,” she said, offering me one of two blue and yellow enameled cups. “We all have multiple lives, do we not? How about you?”
“Me? One’s plenty, believe me…”
“I see. Well, I feel Lao Tzu has a sensual quality, as well. But don’t go getting any iniquitous ideas.”
“Amen. Not to worry about that…”
“Understood then. So finish up there, if you can,” she replied, setting aside the tea tray. “I also have some nice kheer and raita chilling for dessert.”
“That involve these chopsticks? Or can I take a rain check on that?”
Eyes rolling, Regina reached over to my right, picking up her book. What I at first dismissed as an aggravated mole or freckle turned out to be her tiny amethyst nose stud ignited in the candle glow. This alone snatched my attention away from any more chopstick jujitsu. Then she commenced reading aloud from Lao Tzu:
‘One who knows man is intelligent;
one who knows herself has insight.
One who conquers men is strong.
One who conquers herself has steadfastness.’
Why she did so, I could not decipher, simply nodding and setting the sticks neatly aside. “Amen,” I said awkwardly. “That was, uh…”
The truth of Tzu, of course,” she said devoutly, closing, plopping her book on the table, a bit too near my forearm for existential comfort. “Now, time for divine dessert. But first, we must hug.”
“Must what?” I shifted in the chair, jaw dropping into my Mattar Paneer. There she stood beside me, smiling tightly, bejeweled hands outstretched. “Uh, I don’t think…”
“Come,” she insisted, between bursts of throaty, tongue-on-palate chanting and solmizing, cheekbones aglow. “We understand, temporal not, iniquity not…it is spiritual, and it is written.”
“Uh, nothing personal,” I muttered, nervously folding my napkin, otherwise sitting stony pat. “It’s just that things are a little confusing now as it is, got me kinda sorting it out. You know, a friend of a friend of a friend deal. And experience tells me…”
“Friends’ friends, huh? Sounds awfully profane to me,” she continued beckoning. But now, now—you don’t have any experiences that don’t have you in them. Lao teaches us whoever you actually are is the source of your experiences.”
“Begging your pardon, but I really better not.” Begging off being the better part of chivalry, not wanting her within sniffing distance of my road aroma, much less getting jabbed by all her angles and barbs.
“Really?! You’re not looking at reality at all. You’re looking at a picture in your unsanctified brain…just a reflection of an untrue real that you blindly choose to actualize.”
“Say what?” I pushed my chair back, rising slowly from the table, chopsticks flying like a splintered ball bat, yet another surreality setting in. “Maybe I should hit Denise’s room and clean up…”
“What is it, then, my cuisine? My vestly aura?” She glared at me, flushed redder than the candlelight, rings and wrist and bracelets flashing like roadside detour signs.
“No, hey,” I finished my tea. “It’s been terrific—I’m just a little…”
“You come into my home, partake of my bread,” she shouted, chandelearrings fanning, nose jewel on fire. “I meant a purely innocent embrace, a universal expression of gratitude. Are you a non-believer? You’re a spiritual Pyrrhonist, that’s what you really are.”
“Whoa, believe me, I believe.” I jumped up, edging toward the hallway, toppling a smaller baby Buddha on the backslide. “You’ve got me all wrong…”
“No I haven’t, you’ve been staring through me from the moment you came in here. I feel positively violated,” she screamed, silver jewelry clanging like an early warning campanile. “You’re porcine, infemous, just like all the rest! ”
“No way, I didn’t mean to…” Infemous? I froze in place, feeling innocent as charged, with no suitable line of defense.
“Lao says the door of the Mysterious Female is the root of heaven and earth,” she recited, over the ringing of the parlor phone. She glared once more, spinning with Versace runway poise to answer the call, albeit with a deep parting shot. “It lingers in whisps, use it without haste, you philistine, you plebian…twit!! I’m Bryn Mawr honors, I’ll have you know…”
I knew not what to make of that, the radical spiritual turn, the inflammatory condemnation: I just wasn’t at all prepared for such a pivot. Was she talking classless or classlessness? Was it my persuasion, or was it just me? I was caught flat-footed in rank stocking feet, by a host who was holding me to some standard higher than I’d been beholden to before. It was a harmless, hospitable hug, after all—something to do with your hands. I reached dazedly for the chopsticks, tapping them against the tabletop like Charlie Watts at his drum kit —keeping a shaky snare and trap beat, a top hat solo on the rice bowl while trying to visualize her rear flat configuration—until the chantress came tolling back in.
“Seems it’s for you, one of your friends of friends,” she said coldly, pointing me toward the rear hallway. “I’d prefer you took it in Denise’s room.”
“Sure, no problem,” I said, somewhat relieved, yet feeling somehow hung-up over this disorienting little encounter, hoping she wouldn’t hang up at her end before I found my way to the extension phone. I set aside the chopsticks and pocketed Denise’s note as Regina kinetically Omed her way around the dining table to re-lid and remove her tureen and rice bowls, raising the rheostat to full amber lighting.
There I left her, shuffling down the worn hall runner past the bathroom, thick with incense and Airwick, a mix of musk and myrrh—with racked Vishnu towel sets and shiva nosegays, scatterings of Co-Evolution Quarterlies and hardbound SriT’s, lots of herbal balms, balsams, lotions and moisturizers, and a curious number of kinky, tightly curled black hairs about the sink basin. I passed on that, zeroing in on a calligraphed poster, ‘Function of the Non-Existent’ from the ‘Canon of Reason and Virtue’, framed upon the hallway wall—across from one named the ‘Path of Kalachakra Initiation’—just this side of Regina’s bedroom.
A quick peek in there revealed a round futon covered in Tibetan comforters and a scattering of ruffled madras skirts, crocheted sweaters and brocade muslin blouses. A dressing console was awash with biorganic crèmes and polishes, gem-set silver bands, brooches, chaplets and chatelaines, enameled nickeline boxes, its mirror draped in red silk scarves, lame floral sashes and yellow boas.
Her drawn window curtains seemed almost Kabul style—red, blue, green, with gold embroidery and little dime-sized mirrors. Pillows and pouches of myriad fabrics and South Asian origins were scattered like pre-teen teddy bears all over the namda carpeted floor. Sorting out all that Hindu-Buddhism stuff carried me one door down into Denise’s rearmost month-to-month sublet bedroom, for better or worse.
“You can pick up any time back there,” Regina called out impatiently down the hall. “Phone’s on her nightstand…”
“Yeah, got it,” I replied, entering Denise’s space all the more advisedly, almost as if singlehandledly approaching a petty crime scene, cold and empty handed.
“And no going on so long this time!”
“I hear you.” Closing the bedroom door behind me, I met with early evening darkness. But a flip of the overhead light switch, and Denise’s room afforded fallback breathing space beyond the call. Hers was essentially Regina’s room minus the Hindu bangles and swag, her decor leaving old cabinetry, woodwork and cinderblocks to their own devices, with a simple foam pad instead of a foot-high futon. Except for her digital clock radio atop a rickety dresser, she looked to have left the rest of her space to the imagination—save for a framed photo signed by that guy named Warren I overturned, lying as it was face down.
I stumbled across a maroon area rug covering the hardwood floor, headed for the bedside phone. Denise had left neatly stacked clean bedding and Dharma throw pillows, likely borrowed from Regina Tzu. Moon said her childhood friend had sublet the room, after finishing a Women’s Studies program at Old Blue. But from all appearances, she never quite took full physical possession, which left me to wonder whether anybody in this town slept in a regular bed. Then again, I could just picture Regina declaring that if I wanted regular beds, I should go to Vacaville or Vallejo.
A flash skim of Denise’s note found her apologizing for the sudden departure, otherwise welcoming me to San Francisco, with her intuitive vision that I would synergize instantly, and that Melissa would join me just as fast. Oh, and that her roommate could be spiritually demonstrative, and seriously sensitive about it.
As I braced to pick up the phone, I could but wonder why Moon had steered me toward this arrangement exactly—had so easily let me talk her into deep sixing Boulder, for that matter—second thoughts, cognitive dissonance creeping in and out. Such reflection was no more comforting than my road tarred image in that closet door mirror once I sat down on the pad, but at least this wasn’t a platinum Princess phone. “Hello?”
“Where are you?”
“Uh, in town, out on the Avenues,” I said, stuffing Denise’s note in my flannel shirt pocket, waiting for an extension phone click that was slow to come as a security deposit refund check. “At a really good friend of a friend of Moon’s…” CLICK.
“What was that,” asked Sydney Mendel. “And what are you doing here, Kenneth, in the Richmond, of all places. And who is that person answering the phone?!”
“Moon’s friend, Denise’s roommate,” I said warily, unclear whether that click was legit. “Point is, I’m here to take my shot, like we talked. With Josh Gravanek’s package no less, plus I’ve a gift for you from Boulder. I think its one of Moon’s hand-glazed mugs. I called to drop them off before, but Edie said your whereabouts were unknown…”
“Oh, great,” she spouted. “But what did you expect? This isn’t cow town Colorado, Kenneth. Don’t misread me, it’s amayyyzing that you’re back and all. But you can’t spring on a person like good neighbor Sam. See, I’m coming off a Passover Seder at my cousin’s dome up by Sebastopol. Then I had an earlier engagement, and I’m off again in five minutes or so. Timing is everything here.”
“Nothing, I didn’t expect anything, just a little welcome wagon maybe,” I probed, glancing at Denise’s wall hangings: unframed, bearing images less of spiritualism than soul. Tacked loosely, mostly off plumb, were concert posters of the O’Jays, Village People, Earth, Wind & Fire smiling down upon me in this hour of social strife. “Just seems you had time before…”
“How’s that again?”
“The letter, you sure had time to write the letter in you studio…” Crap, why the hell did I say something stupid like—trying to grab it, pull it back in. Little wonder I sought solace in the foxy Ohio Players pin-up with that naked chick bathed in bee manna. Always better to use honey than vinegar.
“Just a thank-you note—for Moon and you, that’s all—yeesh,” she groaned, rallying some. “Call me in the morning…5 AM, okay? We’ll go to sunrise service, then have brunch, it’ll be fantabulous.”
“Sunrise? Uh, I was sort of hoping not to be stuck out here with Ms. Mystical here all evening.” I turned Warren back over and clicked on Denise’s clock radio to check for time settings, catching a news report: …There are signs of movement in settling some SFPD discrimination suit, amid insider tittering that a pretty young activist ‘sister’ had been spotted more than once around the mayor’s chambers, and was she party to the negotiations? Supervisor White has voice his and the POA’s counter concerns, rumors swirling that he was still chafed over his deal-breaking Youth Camp defeat after supporting Harvey Milk’s gay rights ordinance. Stay tuned, details at 11.
“Sorry, early morning’s the best I can do…”
“But 5 AM? I dunno, Syd, didn’t come out here figuring you’d be laying a predawner on me…”
“Kenneth, you called me, remember?” CLICK. CLICK.
Care for more?
Chapter 28. An early wake-up call
augurs an entirely different spiritual
awakening, and deliverence to
some hollowed-out ground…