Spring Cleaning for "Empty Nest Neurotic" Exhibition
[Excerpt from my 2002 publication, On Rainy Days the Monk Ryokan Feels Sorry For Himself. A good read to kill the Buddha!]
Spring cleaning on West Seventh Street. So much to do. Just one lifetime to do it in. To the teahouse then, for it’s annual wash and burn. An oily rotten, wreck of an old tool shed I rebuilt for joy to the protests of my family. At first there was an over-populated ant colony eating the wood hollow. A billion ants delivering everything to their queen, herself the size of a well fed mouse. The previous owners, now dead, used the shed to save everything! And everything stunk from the rot the first morning I broke off the door. I knew then that I would preserve Mr. Reynold’s closet workshop at any cost. I would be the one to keep his original, innocent intentions. Certainly he didn’t dream about tools all those long, quiet afternoons in the shed. Whether he knew it or not, he was wondering about life everlasting. My first act of demolition was poisoning the ants. No more sweet air for their tiny little ant lungs to breathe in. Ha! Then I pulled out the rot and restructured the foundation by hammering a steel pole through the floor, eight feet into ground. I laid shingles to cover the hole in the roof that rain water, ants and time made. I built a floor on top of the dirt, and sometimes I sit in the teahouse on summer mornings with my coffee. A tall oak tree hangs its tired massive limbs just enough feet above my chair to crush me during a strong wind. Oswego is known for its strong wind. The wind blows from the west. In the west I built a small reminder of the East I once strove to become. What is the East? I have lived these last few months in the Northern East. Oswego Siberia, where the Laptev Sea meets the frozen tundra. Life became frigid, sad, and agonizingly repetitive. Even the glow from the glorious Northern Lights was dull and depressed me. I kept a fire lit all day and night, and went crazy. A man will howl at the moon if left alone too long. This was not the East I fell in love with as a youth. There wasn’t even a moon to bark at. I decided to make my move to the hot, wet green of Singapore. With my small pack and my wild eyes I left the earth’s natural prison. Oh what misery I suffered in its frozen hell. What self pity! The men were wild. Each did something very bad to end up there. I followed the banks of the Lena to the Aldan, eating only snow and reindeer scat until I reached the mountains and the first human village. There I begged the women for scraps until I regained the strength in my arms to work for my own food again. I lived and worked in the village for several weeks until the morning I saw the spring fox gobble up the chickadee. That day a small sun rose for the first time, and I got a memory of joy. I left the village taking the lumber roads through the Miklav Forest, over conifer hills, and some happier declines all the way to the Sea of Okhotsk. It wasn’t so bad with a sun to rise each morning, a loaf of bread, and traveling men to share their voices with mine. I bought passage on the first freighter heading south to Singapore. That is when my knowledge fell apart. I can’t find Singapore. Even after searching for five minutes on my tiny plastic globe. Guess what? I say Singapore does not exist. My fingernails exist. I pick at them and pull off each one. Sometimes I go too low and pull off some skin. Blood. There’s Singapore! No, that’s Bangkok. And I should laugh at the sound of that. Because it is funny. The seven a.m. sun rises in the east over Hank’s house and I have more snot in my sinus than salt water in the South China Sea. I am a man. “Don’t shoot I am a man.” That was printed on my bright orange hunting license holder strapped across my back. I never shot a Chinese pheasant. The Adirondack Mountains have wild peacocks living too high up for my hope to climb. Peacock makes me laugh. Mindoro, Panay, Sulu Sea. Still no Singapore. I don’t care how many foreign ships dock there with sailors taking pictures. Bandar Seri Begawan. What is that you smart ass? It’s called “playing globe with a black ocean”. It could be a world of men or one with just black cats. Then no twilight cruise through the Spratly Balabac Strait. Instead a “feed us our dinner now, Ron, or we’ll jump on your head and chomp out your eyeballs”. Where are we going? Oh yes, to a Singapore that does not exist. Got it! I was wrong. At the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula, near the equator. Now wonder what every eleven year old boy, born at exactly 3:35 p.m. on February 8th, is doing in the city of Singapore. That’s knowledge. Try the same thing with an eleven year old skunk. Are there even skunks in Singapore? That is knowledge. I’m on a freighter. What’s a freighter? Now build one, from the up to the ground, all by yourself. That is knowledge. I hate knowledge. Knowledge is for men and men are woe faces and rollbellies. I hate wonder because it begins at knowledge, then takes a freighter to the mouth of the Ganges, only to be swallowed by a little Indian girl praying with her mouth open for Rama to get her a toy. I like pretend. Children pretend. I like children because I can trust them to hate knowledge almost as much as I do. I live in a small house in the backyard of my mind. A grown man must kill knowledge. No one knows a thing, and the book we find to know we know, doesn’t know what the lice is dreaming, so it doesn’t know either. I can wonder if the lice is dreaming about a dandruff dinner. But that’s just silly. I can pretend that the lice will wear a pretty dress and go out to the best hair restaurant in the city. Or it can stay home and sing a song about its favorite pore to bore into. What are the Nicobar Islands doing without a king? This morning I dub myself Monsoon King of the Nicobars. Me and my bamboo broom sweep out the dust in the brain. Just before the rains come I get a horrible itch on top of my head. Knowledge is a man promising himself last night to write down all he knows about the East. He wants to give an exotic flare to his writing that is dull, pompous, and dull. The man doesn’t know what he is. He doesn’t know what a daffodil is either. One doesn’t have to sit cross-legged to know the overwhelming no-no of knowing. Oh how lucky I am! Oh, how lucky the Monsoon King of the Nicobars! Sweep out the dust. Welcome the spring. Go get a job.