Category Archives: Stories
Sarcasm (noun): Witty language used to convey insults or scorn. (Source: NY Times.)
Definition 2: What happens whenever Walter opens his big mouth.
The Locksmith Who Taught Witty Zen
(excerpt from the new ebook, “The Umpire Has No Clothes.”)
“Has he confessed or what?” I asked Lieutenant Drake of the NYPD as he handed me the police report that lay atop the board games Clue, Risk, Candyland, and Yahtzee.
“Yes and no, Mr. Witty,” Drake replied. “As his court appointed lawyer, you’ll have to sort that out on your own. He was caught red-light/green-light, but claims he’s not guilty. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have several more important—-meaning violent—-games of Scrabble to cover.”
I went to the room where Albert Noonan was presented to me as a 20 Questions contestant. A short bald man in his forties, he seemed placid, yet his blue eyes were as alive as a dodge ball player’s. I sat across from him, and opened the folder on the table between us. Then we shook hands. His fingers felt cool, much like the fingers of sociopathic banking professionals who later play Sorry! with fellow inmates at the Marriott correctional facility in Kauai. “I’m Walter Witty, Mr. Noonan,” I said. “I’ll be representing you in court.”
“Yes,” Noonan said.
“Yes,” I repeated his flat, uninflected acknowledgment. “Yes, well, it says here that you are suspected on nine occasions to have placed your own locks on other people’s various doors and gates. On the ninth and last occasion you were caught chaining shut the ticket office to a football stadium just before tickets to a rap concert and Yankees game went on sale. The note in your pocket says RESIST NOTHING EXCEPT THE ILLUSION OF EGO AND ITS EMOTIONS AND OBSESSIONS. Tell me, were you about to copy the man who the press is calling Sargon, or are you really him?”
“Do you really know who you are, or the game you’re playing right now?” Noonan asked me, without a trace of sarcasm, subtle censure of my effrontery, or temerity or even presupposed perspicacity.
“Excuse me?” I said, with exaggerated abstraction or hyperbolical flabbergastivity.
“Names are merely signposts pointing to the reality beneath,” he declared, although his voice remained utterly calm and without big words. “They are constructs of the ever compulsive mind, which can only label things, and then produce in you a fear of your own destruction.”
I evinced a half smile despite myself. “That’s nice, Albert, but we haven’t got time to discuss philosophy, or to kriegspiel around like this.”
“It is not philosophy, it is simple fact. As for time, that is the illusion. Most people live in the past or the future, and yet the past and future do not exist, nor have they ever existed. Indeed, everything that happens, happens in the Now.”
I coughed and looked down at my now empty Pez dispenser. “So. . . do I call you Deepak Chopra, or do you prefer ‘Sargon the Enlightened One’?”
He continued to study me, his sharp blue eyes trying to interpret my drooping eyelashes. “As I said, names are meaningless. It is the ego, the mind which needs to label things. But that egoic tumoresicness within your mind is not you. You are hidden behind this bulbous and protuberant growth. Only the real you can know another person, not your mind. Your mind can only know labels and scores. It labels everything from a flower to a person, but cannot truly know the score of either, no matter what you may claim when channeling quantum mechanical cognizance on informercials for autographed Biblical study guides.”
“Listen . . . Mr. Noonan? I’m about to toss my cookies here. If I’m to defend you, you’ll have to cooperate.”
“If only that were true,” he said, pushing aside the Chinese checkers he’d been playing.
“What do you mean, if only that were true? You don’t think I’m here to help you?”
“What I think is that you think too much. Everyone does. This is what is wrong with the world. The mind plays an endless game with you, and you identify with it. You play along, like it’s a competition and not a delusion. Your mind hates the Now, hates the real world, and so you are never happy or at peace.”
“Please, Al,” I pleaded. “Please just answer my question. Are you this Sargon they talk about in the papers, or just another nut job parcheesi champion?”
He sat back and folded his hands. After a moment he said, “It was around seven hundred BC, in the Assyrian capital of Khorsabad, that King Sargon the Second used a lock to secure the gate to his fortress. His lock was wooden, and utilized a wooden key which had notches on it matching the blocks or ‘wards’ inside the lock. Over twenty four hundred seventy years later, in 1778, Robert Barron—not the priest—invented the first lever tumbler lock, which consisted of a housing containing springs, metal tumblers, and a rotating inner core called a plug. Unlike all prior warded locks, these pin, disk, or lever tumbler locks were difficult to pick because a cam was involved. Now, of course, certain tumbler locks are secured inside housings of tempered magnesium alloy steel. And since we should live in the Now, this is what matters now, does it not?”
“Simon Says I should take that as a yes.”
He just sat there and stared at me.
I sighed like a prisoner of war facing a firing squad’s Trivial Pursuit shot clock. “Let me try again. Are you the perpetrator, alias Sargon the Enlightened, a locksmith from Van Nuys by trade? The proverbial Chairman of the Bored?”
The human jigsaw puzzle looked away. “The past is given as a reference, for your mind, which clings to such things. During your more recent game of kick-the-can I used a special tool steel pin tumbler padlock combined with a nickel alloy hardened steel chain reinforced with molybdenum alloy studs. My chain resisted hacksaw blades, and required nothing less than an argon plasma torch to defeat.”
“Now that this most relevant history is straight,” I said, flourishing a charades pen, “would you mind telling me exactly why you did this thing, Al?”
“Is it not obvious?”
“You mean by the notes left at the scene? What’d you do, anyway, read some Buddhist text, and decide to play ring-around-the-rosie with industrial strength cable?” I paused, and watched his face for reaction. There was none. He was at peace with himself, devoid of hostility or even worry over the consequences, which might have included a life sentence playing Life, or maybe musical electric chairs. “And by the way,” I added, hidden curiosity now stabbing me like a tempered steel Top Chef Masters utensil, “where did the sayings they found come from, again?”
He blinked at the ceiling, or maybe at the window where a Goodyear blimp drifted by, advertising a celebrity foosball tournament hosted by Simon Cowell’s half brother Colon. “They are from the Ten Grave Precepts attributed to Bodhidharma from the book Isshin Kaimon,” he declared, “The Precepts of One Mind.”
“Uh huh.” I turned pages in my file, and read aloud. “Okay, the first precept, as you call it, is I TAKE UP THE WAY OF NOT KILLING. That little gem was not left at an abortion clinic or death house, Al, but at a snack food manufacturer. . . right after you picked and replaced their front door’s mortise lock with a double dead bolt. Ring a bell?”
He gave no reaction, so I continued.
“Next was I TAKE UP THE WAY OF NOT STEALING, a note left at Sterling Health Services, an HMO under investigation by a 60 Minutes crew, after their administration building was chained shut. Then it was I TAKE UP THE WAY OF NOT MISUSING SEX, which was taped on a high school coach’s metal office door, after a titanium padlock was clamped on it. The very next day the note I TAKE UP THE WAY OF NOT SPEAKING FALSELY appeared on the door of Senator Bradley Milton, and I TAKE UP THE WAY OF NOT GIVING OR TAKING DRUGS on the locked door to televangelist and local Teamsters president Winifred Cashdollar. Then Sargon apparently took a week off, because it was a full week later before the note I TAKE UP THE WAY OF NOT DISCUSSING THE HYGIENE OF OTHERS was discovered on the Studio B door of Glenn Beck, who’d been a no show for two days at Studio A because no one thought to look for him, much less bring him some bar soap. And yet all this still didn’t get much press, did it, Al, until I TAKE UP THE WAY OF NOT PRAISING MYSELF WHILE WASTING OTHER PEOPLE’S TIME appeared on the exit doors to the Dorothy Chandler pavilion during a game show awards ceremony. So you went on vacation out to La La Land, Al? How did you accomplish that one without getting caught? I thought those Hollywood awards shows had guards with tasers and light sabers.”
“Even security guards do not always live in the Now, unfortunately for them,” Noonan replied with the cryptic ease of a Hollywood producer green-lighting another comic book movie.
“The force is not with them, is that what you’re saying?”
Al’s smile was barely detectable. “If that explains to you how a person is able to slide five bicycle U-locks into the entrance door bars while passing outside.”
“Uh huh. . . And at the same event a note reading I TAKE UP THE WAY OF NOT BEING STINGY was left on the windshield of a Mercedes, right after The Club was locked onto its steering wheel. What was that about?”
“The car belonged to a Mobster’s Wives star who gave her time but not money to charity. The time she gave was for her own aggrandizement, and the charity parties she attended spent ninety three point two percent on flowers, food, and door prizes.”
“Why take the risk on a second lockdown then, though?”
Noonan closed his eyes, and sighed like Yoda instructing Jar-Jar on the sport of luge leapfrog. “Time is an illusion,” he repeated.
I chuckled. “You won’t think so when you’re doing it,” I promised him. “You could get twenty years for this, even if you plead guilty and throw yourself on the mercy of Judge Judy.”
“Have mercy,” he said, “on yourself. Shall I explain why you are so obsessed with guilt that you must return to it constantly?”
“We haven’t got time for that, Al. We have to prepare your defense.”
“Resist nothing,” he instructed me.
“You heard me.” He paused with gratuitous significance. “Your mind is creating a constant dialog, a background noise from which you cannot escape. You need to turn it off, and step out of time’s grip on you in the present. Only then can you know your true self, and become alive instead of just labeling and scoring everything around you. Only then you will know there is no salvation in the future, and no resolution from the past. . . there is only the Now, and it is more than enough.”
“Now, now,” I said.
He leaned forward, looking directly into my bloodshot eyes. “Yes, now is the time to awaken,” he said, “from your false identity.”
“My. . . false identity,” I repeated. The epiphany of it struck me like a thirteen pound ball curving in from the gutter at the last moment to lay waste to ten other of my false identities. And in a sudden Adobe Flash epiphany I realized my own choice, with time running out. The thing I’d have to decide for myself: Was he. . .was I. . . guilty or not guilty?
Some say that Time is an illusion of the mind. Of the ego. Ironically, over time, I’ve since learned that’s true. When my trophy wife left me, taking with her the son she wasn’t sure was mine or hers, she stammered that maybe now I had all the time in the world. Which got me to thinking about that. . . until, in my misery, I gave up thinking altogether. And also lost my job and Porsche 911 Targa in the process.
I don’t know how much time has passed, (I’ve lost my watch too), but the one who is known as Albert Noonan goes on trial soon. I will not be defending him, nor does he require a defense. I can only complete his unfinished work, the tenth precept. And so I will take up the way of not defaming that which reflects true self-nature, in that subtle and mysterious realm of the One which does not hold dualistic concepts of ordinary beings and sages. The teisho of the actual body is the harbor and the weir. This is the most important thing in the world—the letting go of ego and of waiting and even of seeking. In the eternal present, its virtue finds its home in the ocean of essential nature, and it is beyond explanation. So let the court decide what it will about alternate universes, I know that Albert Noonan is not guilty. And when his jury has been sequestered—when they are locked away—they too will see the Truth.
Paulo Coelho’s new book is “Manuscript Found in Accra.” It reads a lot like “The Prophet” by Kahlil Gibran. If Paulo can copy Gibran, why can’t we? (Of course The Matrix that is New York publishing might reject our version…)
Manuscript Found by the NCAA
It was in the Fall that Ired Dustafo, the great and wise seer, was discovered in a floe of ice in the Himalayas by a coach on vacation, and after sufficient time by the fire, was returned to the land of the living in his clothes. Long had been Ired’s years in a state of suspended animation, but soon his meditations and contemplations in the remote spaces of the wilderness resumed. At long last, when his conversations with the spirits of nature and God craved the confirmation of human listeners, he descended from the heights to a village below, and there rented a room for barter of his knowledge and his sweat.
Then the teacher became a pupil of the times which had passed, and indeed he learned what had transpired during his absence through the recollections of those he met. Moreover, Ired discovered the present state of man through the television in his lodging, and so alarmed was he by all he saw and heard that he set sail at once aboard a freighter bound for California, and once arrived there was received as a visiting dignitary at USC, where he spoke and wrote, and was soon considered by the students to be “the coolest dude on campus.”
Yet despite his popularity among the co-eds, the professors quickly came to dismiss his ruminations on the follies of man, particularly tenure, the tax code, and March Madness. Still, the Master persisted, such was his resolve, and prior to being ejected from campus by campus police, he, Ired the wise, gave one final audience in front of the campus library. Here, as he bid adieu to the exhilarating impertinence of youth, agents closed in…
And a new student asked, “Are you against belonging to a house like TTT, oh great one?”
And the Master said, “Do you mean Theta Theta Theta or Testosterone, Testosterone, Testosterone? Your traditions are good, Trojans, but see that they be not mocked. I know not of the house you speak, but no matter what Greek letters emblazon the portals of your fraternity row, no house should, ere the rising sun, become a school for Greek love and toga parties. Or if they are, then should the whereabouts of those prior brothers or sisters be tracked to see which old members still flip patties and attend AA meetings. And do you know what AA means?”
Then a junior without a major said: “What about partying, pop?”
And the Master said: “I have seen you prize action, and to disdain those who would spend their time at study. But I say to you, where is this action? You talk of tweets and posts, of music, and cavorting in pleasure and drunkenness. Is this what you mean? But is not the sparrow who builds a nest in a tree more active? Or the nerd at study? I think you mean a dulling of spirit. I think you mean to put out of thought all worries and fears, and your own insecurities. And I say to you, rather embrace them. Let them be your soul’s fuel and your body’s challenge. You are young, yes, but do not be foolish. Invite those nerds to your party, and gather around them to learn from them. Heed their words, and laugh not. For thoughts are the beginnings of actions. And ideas that change the world can get you hired by Google.”
Then a music major asked, “What do you think about today’s lyrics?”
And the Master replied, “It is a mystery. Certain song phrases seem to have meaning, but when they are linked into stanzas they lose all relation to sanity and reason. The philosophy expressed appears at first to be one of prizing anarchy and dissolution, but upon repetition it becomes clearer and clearer that the true motivation is a hedonistic nihilism propelled by lazy cliches, and a vapidity which cannot break even the surface tension of wisdom…much like pond scum. Yet if the words are mumbled, slurred, or otherwise covered sufficiently, I like it.”
And a senior asked, “Is love for real?”
And the Master responded, “The major problem with love is that because of your high divorce rates, you have come to realize that you can probably fall in love with just about anything and anybody. So now it has become harder to fall in love, even over a candlelight dinner. Unless, of course, it’s too dark to see what’s going on.”
And an English Lit major asked: “What do I do about the neighbors above me? They have parties even on weeknights, and play their Halestorm CDs until three in the morning. I can’t sleep or study. My grades are even suffering. Don’t tell me to call the police, either, ‘cause the girl next to me does that and they always manage to cut their stereo off just in time.”
And the Master smiled and said, “Would that you had a stereo of your own, with Boze speakers and a two hundred amp powerplant. Then you could play some nice classical music for them in the morning. I think, after sunrise, you would not violate any laws, would you? I would suggest a Beethoven Symphony, followed by Chopin’s Funeral March…and then maybe some polkas, a couple Swedish yodeling medleys, and a rendition of ‘Una Paloma Blanca’ by Slim Whitman. When the police come to your door you can make a contribution to the Policeman’s Benevolent Fund.”
And a freshman asked, “Why is it I can’t concentrate in class?”
And the Master replied, “You are unique because you have developed extremely short attention spans. Only a hummingbird’s is shorter. You will find that this is a direct result of the advent of the 30 second TV commercial. Searching the fossil records, you will also discover that prehistoric man may have taken as long as three months on a single cave drawing. Yet today you pride yourselves on how many subway cars you can vandalize in three minutes. Indeed, without the aid of music videos and special effects you become bored in exactly 64 seconds. I understand that last year it was 67 seconds. So I predict that when the countdown reaches zero someone will launch their missiles the moment their iPod battery dies. Luckily, that only happens about once a year, I’m told, with heavy use.”
Then a psychology student asked: “How will we find jobs?”
And the Master replied, “I do not know. But all work is sacred if you do your best…even flipping hydrogenated fifty cow patties. So do not disparage whatever is given for you to do. And while you continue to seek employment in your realm of excellence, never assume a job is beneath you. For work is not a right but a sacrament. It is not a drudgery but a duty to God and to your fellow man. Do you job, I say, exceeding that which is expected, and your strength will rise to meet your dream. Then your dream, like the eagle, will beat its wings in a freedom song, and will carry you all the way from McDonalds…to Dennys.”
And a PH-D candidate said, “I’m trying to come up with a PH D thesis. Any advice?”
And the Master responded, “How about explaining why some people circle your mall’s parking lot looking for the closest space to park while others are already inside and making their purchases?”
And a criminal justice student asked: “What about violence on the streets?”
And the Master said, “What of the rules for the street gangs, and the sport they play? Is not everything a game to them too? My children, think of it like this: if you walk around a corner and you confronted by a punk with a gun, and he asks why he should not kill you, what do you say? Do you say Because I’m a good person? Yet what is good? Do you know? …Or maybe you would say Because it’s wrong. But again, what is that? Who are you to determine what is right or wrong for anyone, especially if your parents never even taught you phonics? …Because God condemns it? What God? Science? Science is just numbers. A billion billion dying suns in an infinite universe of incredible cold and distance. I predict you will all be faced soon by that kid—maybe even the same kid—and he will want to know how to live his life, and you will not be able to give him the answers I did! The gun will be pointing at your belly very soon, but you do not believe me because you are too busy thinking Who are you to judge me? Here is the dilemma, for although saying something is wrong will offend those who are doing that wrong, not to say it is the same thing as saying nothing is right. …Right?”
And a science major asked: “What do you think about the future?”
And the Master answered, saying: “The future is only a dream which will never exist. Though it terrorize, confound, or distract you, it holds no power other than that which you give it. He who would be consumed by fears of the future is like the traveler who peers through a glass and so stumbles on the rocks at his feet. But I say, be consumed with now, for the present moment is all you will ever have. And if you use your every moment to its fullest, then will your future moments be all the more pleasant…as you remember the good old days.”
And a janitor asked, “How can I get outta here?”
And the Master, taking pity, said, “Projecting yourself from your body is very difficult to achieve, as you may have suspected, especially if your name is Madonna. While many people hate their bodies, they have yet to master this skill. Simply loathing what you look like will not work in most instances. You have to be able to do it with your eyes closed. Once you learn to do this, however, all that remains is really despising where you are.”
And a Humanities student asked, “Master, tell us of life’s meaning.”
And the Master smiled and said, “The actual meaning I cannot tell you in words, else you go mad, shave your head, and attack the Pope.”
And a physics student asked, “Have you ever heard of the Twins Paradox?”
And the Master nodded, saying, “If two sets of identical twins are dating and one of them has amnesia, then not only won’t he know which twin he’s dating…he won’t know which twin he is.”
And a librarian on break asked, “When Kim Jong-un finally launches a missile toward us, will we still be able to get sports scores on the evening news?”
And the Master nodded, saying, “If it happens in March, for sure. Or on Superbowl Sunday.”
When I graduated from college, I was, like, a very confused person. They told me that since I was, like, educated in the Humanities now, I had ‘the broad picture of life.’ Their theory was that, among all those practical, near-sighted automatons who’d, like, opted to attend technical school, I alone possessed ‘sufficient vision’ to, like, define the true parameters of man’s social, moral, and ecological condition. And I can still recall, like, vividly the commencement ceremonies when the dean waxed eloquent on the great, like, challenges which faced us as we went out into the world with our parchments and our purple cardboard hats. It was like the same night they found Edgar Fishbein, a credit-laden senior, curled up in his dorm closet with one thumb in his mouth and, like, a blue Bullwinkle blanket wrapped tightly around his neck.
Understandably even more distressed by the prospect of the competitive unknown, I soon became, like, sullen, morose, and saddened to learn that my Alma Mater had, like, betrayed me by not telling us about the injustice which allowed someone who could recite Shakespeare, Byron, and Yeats to lose out to some, like, YUTZ who happened to know his way around certain bathroom plumbing fixtures. Here was I, able to grasp the really juicy essentials of, like, stellar fusion, transactional analysis, and gastro-intestinal malfunction, reduced to, like, trudging the city in search of beer cans, taking in laundry, and investing my hard-earned assets in a diversified portfolio of, like, lottery tickets and food coupons. Would I MAKE it? I wondered anxiously. Would I be forced to take up residence in a dumpster and start eating refried beans? Would the student loan officers from my Alma Mater, like, attend my funeral and hold a pocket mirror to my nose? In the throes of my disillusionment, it all seemed, like, highly probable.
Luckily, that was when I, like, got lost while searching for a restroom at the US Tennis Open. Evoking some bizarre set of circumstances, then, I was immediately mistaken for a tennis player due to my, like, resemblance to a man ranked 97th on the ATP computer. Evidently the man hadn’t shown and was, like, presumed withdrawn. The official I addressed in the hallway as “Bud–hey, like, Bud!” responded before I could complete my question by laughing and, like, wringing my hand. The upshot is that he ushered me into this room where the pros were, like, sitting around sipping Gatorade and discussing their investments. Now, not only did I have a job, but, like, one or two friends as well.
I wouldn’t say it was, like, sheer LUCK which enabled me to reach the second round. Even though my opponent made more unforced errors than, like, GM has commercials, I WAS pretty high on adrenalin. For instance, we were already, like, three games into the match before I realized that, like, the warmups were over. And then some of my service returns had this, like, knack for hitting the tape and rolling over on his side like a prophetic yo-yo too. Toward the end there’d be, like, sparks spurting up all over the forecourt as he tried to scoop the dead balls back. The topper, though, was, like, when I mis-hit match point into a lob which caught, like, the back of the baseline and placed my luckless opponent within, like, slapping radius of our resigning chair umpire.
Back in the locker room afterward, I was, like, accosted by several autograph-seekers of the racket-manufacturing ilk. They wanted to know why I’d changed playing hands in mid-career, and, like, if this meant I’d be changing rackets too. Muttering something under my breath about my, like, new go-for-broke strategy, I managed to con several commentators into spouting one-liners about my revolutionary style eventually, like, “doing to Federer what McEnroe’s serve-and-volley once did to Borg.” This was, like, pretty satisfying in that before then I wouldn’t have been able to, like, get a passing shot past a ball machine.
Here was, like, poetic justice at last, I reasoned. Too bad the outcome of my second round established the record as being the only, like, love MATCH in history when I was ousted by the 98th seed–a defrocked ex-priest who nonetheless kneeled in supplication before, like, serving four consecutive aces. I think it was at the 6–0, 5–0 point that I, like, began to suspect that my opponent had the psychological edge, much like Freud had over Skinner. When the linesmen and ballgirls began heckling me, I was, like, sure of it. Regretfully, there’d been little time for me to, like, brush up on the paperback I’d found in my locker room, INTERMEDIATE TENNIS: RELIEF FOR THE FRUSTRATED BEGINNER. Now I’d either have to, like, fill out an application as a bagboy at the nearest Piggly Wiggly, or try entering the Papua New Guinea Open, hoping I’d, like, get into the finals because no one else, like, knew how to get there. Since I had no money for, like, plane fare, I decided on the former.
It wasn’t long before I began to, like, realize that although being a jack-of-all-trades has its perks (one can always brag about, like, being a ‘master-of-none’), I was somehow, like, missing out on obtaining fulfilling employment and its subsequent burnout, and that if only I’d, like, majored in Engineering or International Trade, I wouldn’t be sitting around evenings watching reruns of congressional Budget Debates with, like, Pan Pizza on my breath. Instead I’d be, like, talking private condos in Big Sur, and maybe going on monthly junkets to the Caymans to launder my petty cash, kinda like Lloyd Blankfein or Jay-Z.
To make a long story short, I eventually began attending night school, taking, like, Entrepreneurial Stratagems, and before long I was, like, feeling much better about my future. That is, until several dishwashers told me about another course at the school titled Poetic Devices And Their Application In Government And Industry. The course instructor was Dr. Percy Snodgrass, former English teacher at my, like, Alma Mater.