Short Stories & Social Commentary, by Charles Carreon

Identified as a trouble maker by the authorities since childhood, and resolved to live up to the description, Charles Carreon soon discovered that mischief is most effectively fomented through speech. Having mastered the art of flinging verbal pipe-bombs and molotov cocktails at an early age, he refined his skills by writing legal briefs and journalistic exposes, while developing a poetic style that meandered from the lyrical to the political. Journey with him into the dark caves of the human experience, illuminated by the torch of an outraged sense of injustice.

Re: Short Stories, by Charles Carreon

Postby admin » Fri Oct 18, 2013 8:45 am


As I drove out of the filling station, my mind was not on the business before me, but on the changing colors of the leaves. I had been driving for hours since leaving the metropolis behind, and the progress of the scenery, from grimy freeway frontage, to highway, to country road, had gradually decreased my habitual level of tension to a pleasant awareness of my surroundings. I had always enjoyed driving in the country for just this effect.

Although my work is in the city, I have taken pleasure over the years in acquiring and maintaining a number of older houses in the rural areas to the north. As investments go, they have I suppose done reasonably well, but the satisfaction for me has always come in the form of being free to visit and survey my modest domains, and to taste the air of history that infuses them. Employing groundskeepers as my proxies, it provides some comfort, as I sit in the stately removal of an office building pursuing my profession, to recall the serenity of these removed locations.

The house in Susquannee is such a place, an old rooming house with established tenants and seventeen acres of grounds that I rescued from foreclosure and neglect. It had been something of a resort before I acquired it. My groundskeeper cleaned up the ponds, renovated the boathouse and adjacent cottage, and resurrected the gardens from a jumble of overgrowth. I supported his endeavors, approving materials invoices routinely and paying him a monthly stipend. It has always given me satisfaction to sponsor the efforts of simple persons who, unconcerned with whose property is enriched by their efforts, take the largest portion of their compensation in aesthetic satisfaction.

So it was that when I arrived at the property, the scene was one of well- ended simplicity --hedges neatly but not prudishly trimmed, stone walks swept clean, leaves elsewhere left to pile up as they would. The autumn sky was blazing with that radiant cobalt blue that Emily Dickinson chose as her favorite inebriant. The house was quiet, and a policeman was posted at the door.

The roomer on the second floor, a middle-aged teller at the Susquannee Bank, had done himself in two nights before, and this being the largest crime in local history, the town officers had outdone themselves investigating the matter. Mr. Rastick, who hung himself with a stout rope attached to an angle of pipe jutting from the ceiling of his room, had thoughtlessly failed to leave a note explaining the cause of his distress. All possible motives that would occur to the small-town imagination had thus been investigated, including embezzlement and an affair with a hypothetical bank patron. By the time of my arrival, the excitement had played itself out, and my mere signature to a property receipt was enough to procure the departure of the police officer.

Rastick had no known next of kin, so out of a sense of duty, I had resolved to go through his papers to see if he had any assets, and if so, to arrange for their proper disposition. Under the law of our state, an innkeeper of a deceased lodger has the prerogative to assume such duties.

Rastick's room was tidy, as he'd left it, the deputy said, with a few dishes stacked neatly in a drainer in the kitchen area. His bed was made, and I stripped it, remaking it with sheets and blankets I'd brought from home for the purpose, since I intended to stay the night and meet Rastick's employer the next day. Perhaps also, by immediately taking up residence in the room, however briefly, I intended to dispel any superstitious notions that might arise among the other tenants. My personal view was that it would be highly illogical for a suicide's spirit to continue haunting the precincts he had previously been so anxious to escape. Just looking around at the room before departing for a walk, I diagnosed the cause of Rastick's demise to be the final exhaustion of habitually low expectations.

I encountered Lionel down by the big pond, working on one of the old canoes. He was slightly taciturn, then turned somewhat self-pitying as he recounted his lengthy interrogation at the local police station. Apparently Rastic's decision to use a length of rope procured from the boathouse as the instrument of his death had prompted much speculation among the investigators, which was not allayed until they had questioned Lionel extensively. The conduct of the police toward Lionel was disturbing -- hey had not provided him with a lawyer or even advised him of his right to speak with one --and I resolved to take the matter up with the town authorities.

After my talk with Lionel, I spent the afternoon walking about, admiring his work and the splendor of the waning day, which ended with the sun sinking like a smoldering coal amid the hazy hills. I took dinner in a small bistro in the town, enjoying the quiet as a respite from the clamor of restaurants of the city. Indeed, I tarried longer over coffee and brandy than is my habit, and wondered briefly if perhaps I was just the slightest bit reticent about spending the night in Rastick's room. I shrugged off the notion, however, and took myself back to the place, stopping only to fetch a cigar and a copy of the financial daily that I'd missed reading that morning.

Back at the house, all was quiet, with just the lights in the common areas left burning. I made my way to the room in nearly complete silence, appreciating the sweep of the rustic balustrades. From the first floor, the broad wooden stairs rose to a mid-level landing that was carpeted and furnished with a settee. From there the stairs split and reversed themselves for the remainder of the ascent to the second floor. I recognized in the layout a perfect place for party-goers to gather about the railings and call out smart remarks to others ascending and descending the stairs. I thought idly that perhaps someone different than I would have put the house to such a purpose, removing the tenants and hauling platoons of cosmopolitans out to the country for weekends of intrigue and business as pleasure. Not for me, I thought as I shook my head with a smile and fitted the old skeleton key into the lock of poor Rastick's room.

All was as he'd left it down to the pathetically well washed dishes. Rastick did have a good reading chair, I found, and a properly situated floor lamp, where I accommodated myself and began perusing the paper I'd bought. I'd only been at it for what seemed a short while, when the surprising sound of voices and laughter sounded outside the door. Expecting the sound to vanish momentarily, I redirected my attention to the news of the bond markets, only to be surprised a few moments later by another burst of glittering laughter.

Still in my street clothes, I rose to the door and peered out, expecting perhaps to see a couple engaged in their goodnights. Imagine my surprise when I saw the doors of what had been the old ballroom flung open, and elegantly dressed guests drifting in and out. Suddenly I remembered of course that the old ballroom was rented by a Chinese benevolent society whose rent checks I had been depositing for years. Apparently they had chosen this night to make use of the facility. I was about to shut the door when a slim gentleman caught sight of me and called out my name. Inwardly I sighed, wishing to return to my reading, but realizing what civility demanded under the circumstances, I stepped forward to greet the fellow, who was taking long strides in my direction across the landing.

"Mr. Evans, " he said, extending his hand, "Robert Fang, executive secretary of the (here he gave the name of the association, which I was unable to retain)."

" A pleasure, Mr. Fang, " I responded -- "you have some festivities afoot tonight?"

"Oh yes, Mr. Evans, and, we would be honored if you would join us briefly for a drink, perhaps?"

I would have demurred, at that point, had it not been that a delicate woman swathed in what appeared to be green silk, suddenly called to my speaking partner from her place on the stairs. "Robert," her voice sang out, "who have you found there?"

"This," said Mr. Fang, bridging the space between us with a smile and a sweep of his hand in my direction, "is Mr. Evans, the owner of the estate." Here he turned to me with a pained look, "I assume you've come to clear up the affairs of poor Mr. Rastick?"

"Yes, that's right," I responded.

"Ah," he apologized, "I'm sorry this affair could not be postponed to respect Mr. Rastick's passing, but it has been planned for months, and there was no way to notify all of the invited in time for a cancellation." Turning then to the woman who approached, he introduced her as Miss Nen, the treasurer of the organization.

Between the two of them they wrapped me up in small talk about the city and what shows were playing there and what restaurants I frequented, all the while towing me towards the open doors of the ballroom. They were very good at this, and my most earnest protestations earned me only a brief reprieve to fetch my coat and straighten my tie.

The party turned out to be a charity ball for the Chinese community, which was apparently more numerous than one might have expected. Chief among the attractions was a peculiar gambling game involving a die and small, square chips of polished bamboo. With Miss Nen at my elbow, I hazarded a few bills, and although I could make neither head nor tails of the game, she several times declared me a winner. I gamely donated my winnings to the charity.

The evening drifted on and I did not give a second thought to what I'd left behind in Rastick's room. Dry figures, I thought, lifting a cup and peering over the rim to see the sparkling dark eyes of Miss Nen regarding me with a steady, familiar gaze. She had not left my side since we had met in the hall. A feeling swirled up around me, and in me, strong enough to uproot all sense of the familiar. We rose and danced to elegant music, and in her arms I seemed to move with greater grace, my usual wooden steps smoothed as we glided about the polished floor.

How it happened, I could not recall later, but she bid the last of the merrymakers good night, closed the great ballroom door, and led me to the broad bay window overlooking the front drive. She drew the curtains back full and extinguished the lights, revealing beyond the pane a sky of blazing stars and a radiant, motionless moon. There, what had already seemed a dream became more fantastic, as I partook of her companionship. Then I slept.

The next morning, I awoke chilled, with the first streaks of dawn appearing outside the bay window. The sky was filled with drifting clouds through which a few fading stars were still gleaming. My memories of the night before were clear, and I continued musing pleasantly in wonderment until my eyes adjusted to the dim light. Then I was startled by the condition of the room, which was filled with nothing by the dusty outlines of furniture draped with old linens. I gathered myself up hastily and returned to Rastick's room.

The door was unlocked, the bed was still made, and my newspaper lay folded on the chair. I glanced up involuntarily at the crooked pipe jutting from the ceiling. I adjusted my clothing, which was askew, and fetched my coat from its hook. With a quick look about, I departed for a walk about the grounds.

What had seemed lovely the day before now was sickly and annoying. A flock of ducks flew overhead, leaving a mournful trail of cries behind them in the grey sky. My mind continually strayed back to the tryst of the night before. I was both furtively ashamed and irresistibly fascinated by the intricacy of the fantasy my inner theatre had produced. Enthralled by these thoughts, I wandered back to the ballroom, which I found I had inadvertently locked behind me. Frustrated, I returned to Rastick's room to wait until what I judged a decent hour, when I could ask Lionel to fetch the keys.

He was making coffee when I arrived --an early riser thank heavens. I tried to downplay the oddness of my request by affecting an interest in the beauty of the morning and a desire to conduct a full inspection of the premises, including all unoccupied rooms in the main house. Lionel gave me the keys and did not object when I declined his offer of company while I made my rounds. Nonchalantly, I thought, I asked "Now which one of these keys is to the second-floor ballroom?" At this he perceptibly froze, as if suddenly divining my purpose. He seemed about to say something, but apparently thought better of it, and simply indicated the appropriate key on the ring.

The large room was more clearly illuminated than before, but no different --the furniture, draped and layered with dust, the chandeliers, strung with cobwebs, the great window, curtains drawn to reveal the chilly sky. Looking about, hoping to find some trace of physical evidence to lend substance to my fantasy, I found nothing. No gaming table, no cocktail glasses, nothing. Combing through my memory as I stood there, dragging my fingers through my hair, I realized that the ballroom had never been rented to any benevolent society since I had owned the house. I caught myself short then, realizing the pathetic nature of my obsession. Leaving the ballroom, I left the door ajar.

Back in Rastick's room, I shaved, changed clothes, and packed my clothing. I determined that closing up Rastick's accounts was clearly a waste of my time, and hastily drafted a note to his former employer, requesting that the bank' s trust department assume the task. They would like that, I thought, as I signed the letter and folded it for Lionel to deliver to the bank.

As I walked down the stairs with my single suitcase, Lionel came walking up. "Leaving, sir?" he asked.

"Yes, Lionel, please clean up the ballroom, and air it out --it's musty. And run this letter down to the President at Susquannee Bank, would you?"

Lionel looked up at me, his eyes squinting as we both stood poised on the stairs. Then, in a single movement, he looked down and reached out to take the letter, a gesture that bespoke nothing so much as respect for another man's privacy. Fine fellow, Lionel.

Driving south out of town, I used the car phone to cancel my appointment with the bank president. While state law permits innkeepers to act as the de facto executors of a deceased lodger's estate, it does not require it. Rastick's affairs, I realized, were simply not worth the trouble.

Copyright 1994, Charles Carreon
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Re: Short Stories, by Charles Carreon

Postby admin » Fri Oct 18, 2013 8:47 am

THE LUNCH DATE, by Charles Carreon

Joe added the last touches to the halo of sunset behind the hills, highlighting the silhouettes with a subdued yellow backlight. His eyes squinted; his brush flicked lightly, smoothing, blending tones. He looked over the canvas at the wall clock. Ten after eleven. He tipped his head, regarded the picture momentarily, then removed it from the easel, leaning it against the wall beside another picture, an unfinished seascape with dark, hulking rocks, crashing waves and wheeling gulls.

Joe stood up and pulled a desert scene from the rack. He smiled ruefully as he set it into place on the easel and began adding the heavier pigments over the oil wash. On these desert pictures it was his job to do the sky, the mountains, and all the foreground rocks and saguaro cacti. The rest: highlights, shadows, clouds, delicate cacti like ocotillo and joshua trees, and in this case, the small figure of a crusty prospector leading his mule toward the distant cliffs, were not part of his work. He left them for other artists to complete, and at the end of the process, someone would add the final touch--a fictitious signature.

Was he learning or destroying art? 'The question asked itself as he daubed on the uniform purple-grey of a familiar cliff. Did it matter? In theory and in practice, the people who bought these works scrutinized them no more closely than they would the background detail in a snapshot. As Brent was fond of saying: "They wouldn't like 'The Man In the Golden Helmet' any better. These people deserve art, and this is the art they deserve." True, thought Joe, shrugging inwardly--they would never notice that their lagoon was a mere spoonful of unmodulated blue, that their trees were only collections of skewed lines spattered with green or orange, depending on the season depicted, or that their cliffs were just purple shapes with suggestive vertical shadows--and yet, something in him balked at selling people short in this way--after all, they'd never even seen the lovely gleaming curve of that golden helmet. When he looked at what he was working on, the comparison chilled him. Paintings like this gave new meaning to the word "original."

Peering over the top of the canvas, he could see Brent perched on his stool, cigarette smoke curling up next to him, hunched toward his work, shirt-tail showing. The first thing Brent had said to him when they were introduced, with Jack, the owner of Syndicated Artists not even out of hearing range, was this--"you can't smoke pot on this job. You just can't. Colors have got to be mixed right--it's the most important thing, and you can't do it consistently if you're stoned."

Joe had tried to laugh at first, but finally settled on a shaky "Sure--I don't smoke much anyway, really."

Brent didn't bother with a response, went on talking about colors. "Uniformity is basic, like in this seascape here." He pointed to a painting above the water fountain. What we're shooting for is this steely charcoal sky, with just faint streaks of misty white. Check the waves. We use light blue with a touch of pthalo. A creamy white spatter takes care of the crests. It dries and we lay it all over with linseed oil and a few drops of sienna. It's quick, duplicatable, and has a bit of class. Come on into the work area."

In a large room with a concrete floor , a number of people were working on canvases in various degrees of completion. The air was rich with the smell of linseed oil and turpentine. Work-spaces were marked out with masking tape on the paint-spattered floor. Light came in from large square windows near the high ceiling. Brent was saying, "We try to do a good job on every product. We have con- tracts with Sears, Penneys, and more furniture stores than you can count. And we sell a lot of custom work through our Roadrunner Gallery downtown at very respectable prices. We can design a highbrow product if there's a market." Comfortable with this statement, he lit up a cigarette and started across the room toward a young woman who was working intently with fast strokes. Joe followed him, and Brent introduced him to Sally.

"She'll give you the basic dope--the color combinations, the strokes--won' t you, Sally'?"

"Absolutely, Brent. I will show him the strokes in all their subtle modulations." She gave Joe a wry, familiar smile.

Brent concluded their conversation encouragingly. "Okay then, Jose, we'll give you a week. By then you should be turning out four or five canvases a day. Sally does eight, but that takes a little practice."

Sally rolled her eyes. Joe nodded dumbly. He averaged one oil a month in his studio--and besides, he had already smoked a little that morning. He hoped he could mix his colors right.

After Brent had left them, Joe stood waiting for his training to begin. Sally looked to be about thirty-two, fine lines at the corners of the eyes, curling blond hair cut short--had that single-mother look. Her frayed smock, stained with colors, exuded the scent of linseed oil. She was working intently, putting the last touches on a picture of an old buckboard falling apart in a wheatfield. She'd given it some life; it looked fast, but not crappy. She exhaled softly between her teeth. "Definitely be ready for a lunchtime number after another one of these," she said, then turned to smile at Joe, who was looking in Brent's direction.

"Oh, him," she said, "did he tell you that about the colors, that you can't mix colors when you're high?"

"He said we have to be consistent."

"Here," she said, "I'll show you how hard it is to mix these vibrant hues, to create this dazzling pallette..." She started squeezing tubes and talking faster as she did so. "This is your basic desert mountain purple--we call it Mountain Muck--about an inch of this, a blop of this, and a dab of this, mix it together--you got it, Mountain Muck. Can you do that?"

"I think so," he said, "you made it look easy."

"It is easy," she responded. "Now just get a desert scene out of that rack over there next to the little guy with the blond hair, his name's Ricky, and you'll be all set to start painting by the numbers with the best of them." As an afterthought she added, "And don't worry about Brent , he doesn't care. He just says that stuff for Jack to hear."

It hadn't been as easy as Sally made it sound, but eight weeks later Joe was doing a steady five paintings a day--his part of them at least, and had mastered the art of mixing colors consistently. Hypnosunset, horrible wheatfield, and rolling nausea (for ocean waves) had become dreadfully familiar to him. He got a fifteen-cent-an-hour raise and smoked regularly at lunch with Sally, who had a regular supplier for some marvelous Oaxacan leaf that was perfect working grade. Only a cannabinized brain could enjoy creating these ridiculous daubs, he thought, and giggled conspiratorially to himself as he imagined these great communal masterpieces finding their way into the living rooms of America, bearing those ghost-signatures-- "Atkins," "Jason," the always illegible "Peters," master of barns and buckboards, and "Lindo," whose evocative seascapes are the pride of many a motel-manager's living room. He started to guffaw and choked it off. On his right, Sally gave him a look of mock-censure.

Some people were heading out to have lunch, he noticed. He glanced at the clock. Quarter to twelve. He finished the foreground, then quickly slashed out three saguaros, careful to suggest the ribbed surface of the cactus with a few wiggly lines of lighter green. He laid down one brush and picked up another, thinking to himself, now I'll shade these pinkish boulders here in the foreground, and it'll be out of my hands. Just at that moment, Brent appeared at his side.

"Hey Joe, it's time for lunch."

Joe didn't look up, merely answered, "Yeah, I'm almost done; just a little bit more here ..."

"No, you've still got time yet, but why don't you drop that? One of our customers wants to have lunch with you. Actually she wants to have lunch with Lindo; she's bought about a half-dozen of his things at Sears back in Iowa someplace. She's on vacation here and wanted to meet him. Of course ..." Brent looked about with an expression that was a parody of innocence. "Of course Lindo isn't here, so we thought you could stand in for him and give the lady her thrill. Whaddaya' say?"

The idea had a surrealistic flavor that was tempting.

"You'll get a free lunch," suggested Brent, redundantly.

"Sure, why not?" said Joe.

"Great!" said Brent. "I really didn't want to do it. I've been Atkins twice already."

Joe laughed. "Really? You mean this happens often?"

You'd be surprised," answered Brent. "At any rate, go on up front to see Jack and he'll give you the specifics."

Jack was in his office, doing figures with a mechanical pencil. Joe stood in the doorway and knocked. Jack gestured him in, smiling and telling Joe what a great thing this was for public relations. His fervor for the charade, even down to forcing Joe to take along a beret "for the artistic look" was slightly ridiculous.

"You have the Latin look that goes with that name," said Jack. "Lindo!" He gestured brightly with his hands. "Be sure and tell her all about the years in Big Sur and Carmel. And I should tell you that Lindo does sailing ships and harbor scenes too, though we don't do as many of them as we used to--they dropped off in popularity."' His voice trailed off as his eyes wandered toward the books, and returned as he regained control of his thoughts. "As I was saying , the lady's name is Mrs. Jenny Pease, and you' re supposed to meet her at twelve-thirty at Paul Shank's. Try to get back by two--don't let her talk your arm off. She's staying at the Sahara, and you want to give this note to the desk clerk. You know the restaurant's right there in the hotel, don't you?" Joe nodded. Jack twisted his round face as he looked at Joe's clothes, then let go of the worry, "Yeah, they'll let you in--they're informal at lunch- time."

Joe put the beret on the dashboard, decided against finishing the stub of Oaxacan, and instead swigged some papaya juice cold from the thermos on the seat. The Oldsmobile died at the first stop sign, and blew out a cloud of black smoke as it restarted. Finally, the eight cylinders overcame their own inertia, picked up speed going north down Scottsdale Road, and was sliding down the street like a true bomb. The FM radio gave forth the sounds of the Dead moseying through a long, abstract concert riff. Almost unconsciously, Joe reached into the ashtray to get the roach. His new clip worked marvelously. By the time he got to Camelback Road only a shred of charred paper remained. Rather than using the hotel parking lot and risking a snub from the carhop, Joe parked in the shopping center across the way. Twisting the rear-view mirror, he tried on the beret, which actually looked pretty good on top of his pile of dark, wiry hair. He smiled at himself, that boyish smile which emanated innocence--as if to say that life was, after all, meant to be enjoyed, wasn't it?

Outside the car a warm spring breeze was blowing, the sun was shining brightly, just like the brochures promise it will. In front of the hotel, tourists were getting in and out of cars, taxis, and airport vans. Inside, the lobby was lined with showcases full of moccasins, windbells, and turquoise jewelry. Girls in bikinis, carryng bright towels, wandered through occasionally on their way to the pool or the elevators. Doctors' wives in tennis outfits went striding through, carrying sports bags and rackets. Men in business suits made for the lounge. Sun-dried retirees stood about in little groups waiting for tourist vans to arrive, comparing notes about room service and arthritis remedies.

Joe was standing in front of the hotel desk, about to ask a question, when he realized he'd lost the note. And just right then, with the initial onset of the Oaxacan affecting him, he couldn't remember the name of the lady he was supposed to be meeting. The lady desk clerk seemed annoyed before he started, so he was about to retreat for a moment to collect himself when he felt a light touch on his elbow. He turned, and there stood a little lady in an old-fashioned hat with a white veil on the brim. She had a crinkly smile and bright eyes. Her dry voice spoke up. "Are you Mr. Lindo?"

Joe was jolted by this unexpected beginning. He had hoped to approach the meeting on his own terms, to walk up and introduce himself, in command of the situation, ready with a few good lines. Instead he had been taken by surprise, caught being his ordinary self without a shred of forewarning, not even in full control of his own mind.

"Oh, yeah. That's me. How did you know?"

She smiled knowingly. "I could tell by the beret. I figured you'd have one, being an artist."

Joe had forgotten all about the beret. For a moment he looked puzzled and reached up to touch the little hat. "Oh yes, the beret, of course. Well, you're very observant, Mrs. ..."

"Mrs. Pease," she supplied, "Jenny Pease, Mr. Lindo," and extended her small, white-gloved hand, smiling all the while.

It was a delicate hand, but not frail or weak. It had strength that yet contained a hint of ladylike reserve. And strangely, the touch seemed to set Joe at ease, allowing him to relax into his assumed role, as if its contact had trans- formed him into what he was supposed to be.

In the restaurant, they took a table by the window, with a view of the pool, of the bikinis and the young men, of the children dripping and shivering in the occasional breeze, of the suntanners, stretched out, baking, gleaming with oil, straps untied to bare the back. When the waitress came around they both ordered baked halibut, and after she had left, Mrs. Pease looked fixedly at Joe for a moment before she said, "Really, I'm so glad to be able to meet you. Your agent said it's unusual for you to be here, that you're usually in California, painting at the beach."

"Oh yes," answered Joe, "I like to do all my work from life. It's really no fun to be cooped in a studio all the time. I like to feel the wind and smell the ocean."

"Oh yes, your work shows it," she responded "it's so full of life." Then, knitting her brows in an expression of slight puzzlement, she ventured a question. "But aren't you a little bit young to have painted all these works? You can t be more than twenty-five, and I began my collection of your paintings over fifteen years ago."

"My agent," Joe responded with an indulgent smile, "is a good man, but he sometimes conceals things which should be revealed. You see, I am the second Lindo; "my uncle was the first one. You must have purchased one of his works. We work in much the same style, because of course I learned from him."

"Oh, really?" She seemed delighted. "So you come from a family of artists! That's why you do it so well. Was your father a painter too?"

Joe felt his mind loosening up, getting into the improvisational flow of invention. "No, my father was a sculptor and a stonecarver. He did gravestones for a living, and his work still adorns some of the finest memorial parks in California. And yet," here his eyes became distant, "he asked that only a simple marker be placed on his own grave. He was a very humble man." Joe's father was actually a CPA, but that ancestry had never inspired him.

"Well, I'm glad you explained that to me. I just couldn't imagine you doing oil paintings as a ten-year-old."

"Actually, I did start painting even before that age; I never sold a work until I was twelve. But my uncle always encouraged me to try my hand. He and I would go out walking together; I would carry his folding stool. He bought me my first sketchbook, and taught me how to use charcoal. I was very fortunate to have such a teacher."

Mrs. Pease seemed immensely impressed. "Well, I would have never known," she said.

The waitress brought the food, which looked very good, and the wine Joe had ordered, more to fill out the role than for any other purpose. But Blue Nun does go very nicely at lunchtime, and Mrs. Pease was evidently not a teetotaler. She filled their glasses to the brim with a hand that seemed accustomed to dishing out large portions of home-cooked food. When they were empty, she filled them again. As they ate, they could hear the muted sounds of splashing and pool- side play as children chased each other into the blue water. The sunbathers didn't move at all except to order drinks.

"Do you have any children, Mrs. Pease?" Joe ventured.

The lady seemed relaxed, waved her wrist with an easy gesture. "My two daughters are married. My son's got his family; they run the farm now and my affairs since Ed died two years ago. I get tired of being a bother and so my son suggested maybe I should take a trip to Sacramento and see my sister Edna. That was when the idea started bubbling in my head. You see, I've never seen the ocean. Not even once. Ed had been in the navy and it was no great shakes for him, and until I saw your paintings, or your uncle's, I never thought I cared to. But now, before I pass on, I think I'd like to."

The two continued talking in this way for some time, and it was Jenny who ordered the second bottle of wine. Joe forgot that he was supposed to be Lindo, and Mrs. Pease didn't care to notice, because she was so interested in what Joe was saying about Big Sur, a place he dearly loved. He told her about staying overnight in a cave, tending a small fire for warmth, about hitching up and down the coast, just looking for what he could find, and if it all didn't jive with his previous fabrications no one seemed to mind.

After the waitress eased them out of the empty dining room, where busboys were cleaning and setting up for the dinner shift, Joe escorted a slightly loose Mrs. Pease to a chair by the pool. She said she wanted to smell the water. It was quiet there, too. Shadows had driven off the sunbathers, and the last of the children were being led away, shivering in their damp towels.

"Thank you, Mr. Lindo," she said, "for a very nice time. It's been a long time since I had a chance to talk to anyone. I'll be flying back from Sacramento, or I'd say we'd have lunch again on my way back through. I like the bus, but my daughter-in-law doesn't think I should ride."

"That's okay, Mrs. Pease, but could I have your address? Maybe I can write to you sometime. I'm not a good writer, but I'll try."

"Oh, sure, I'd love that," she said, and began rummaging through her purse loosely. "Here's a utility bill with our address on it. You just write to that address, and I'll get it."

Joe took the old envelope and stuffed it in his pocket. As he took her hand to shake it for the last time, he kneeled down to see her eyes. They were happy. "You make sure and get to the ocean, now, okay?" There was no pretense of Lindo in his voice as he squeezed her hand and looked into her eyes. She nodded in response, gently smiling.

"I will," she said. "And thanks again son, for the time."

As he passed through the lobby, the desk-clerk looked serious. Outside, afternoon traffic was picking up. Though he didn't wear a watch, he was sure he was plenty late. Skimming south in the Oldsmobile down Scottsdale Road, past the false-front Western-style architecture, he thought about the painting he would like to send Mrs. Pease.

Copyright 1982, Charles Carreon
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Re: Short Stories, by Charles Carreon

Postby admin » Fri Oct 18, 2013 8:48 am

THE STRANGER, by Charles Carreon

Suddenly, he was there. Talking with the stewardess about his seat, easily agreeing to sit in an alternative empty seat, since his assigned one was occupied. Agreeing to sit on the aisle seat in her row, leaving a comfortable space between them of one empty seat. Stowing his bags away quietly in the overhead compartments. Sitting down sort of comfortably, sort of carefully. Placing a book between them on the empty seat, something thick and worn, with a bright blue cover and embossed silver letters.

He was kind of tall and definitely thin. Wearing black jeans, black pullover, and black tennis shoes with a white patch and blue star on the inside of each ankle. He had a ponytail braid about a foot long, knotted tight like a whip, with loose strands at the end, unbound. He had a kind of unusual face, pale, with dark eyebrows, framed by curling grey wisps at the temples. His voice was sort of sweet, accommodating, perhaps a little childlike, but with a firm base.

She smiled with her own full lips. She thought about her makeup. Had she put too much on? No, she'd checked it closely before she went out. For a moment she wished she'd worn some lipstick, then pressed the thought down, like an unneeded item in a cluttered purse. He was smiling back.

The conversation began. Some small overture on her part was taken up like a hand she'd extended at the start of a dance. His voice was soft and continuous, and her responses were not weak or demurring. The conversation took off like the short-hop jet itself, as they both talked over the in-flight announcements, the safety lecture, the roaring turbines of the jets and settled into the stratosphere of communication.

He was a roguish person. Not salacious or crude, not at all -- she wouldn't have liked that at all. But he had a bit of a teasing style of suggesting one outre concept after another, and then adopting it as his own, just as she allowed that such a view did not frighten her.

And indeed it did not frighten her. For even if this man were a devil, as seemed quite a bit more possible with each successive word that danced from his lips, even if ... she was strong in her faith, a faith nothing could shake. The faith of her fathers, strong as stone pillars, hallowed as the tilled soil of the heartland, as pure as the maiden skin of her virginal belly. Faith upon which other faiths were broken, the rock of ages.

He, on the other hand, professed only a strange faith. He claimed to do good by easing the weight of justice on the backs of criminals. He talked about drugs and sex and family abuse like they were everyday occurrences. He professed a belief in kindness as the supremely divine attribute, the hallmark of God in humanity. He made an argument against the existence of hell as a permanent condition on the grounds no god could be so cruel as to permanently condemn his creatures for sins of transient importance.

Then at last, she had to venture forth. Her questions came one upon the other -- did he believe in reincarnation? Did not justice require punishment? Was not her book the supreme authority? Could both of them be correct in their beliefs? If she were right, as she knew she was, did not an eternity of torment await him?

His statements became more difficult to follow. He gazed more deeply into her eyes. She felt he was looking at her more closely than anyone else ever had, certainly any stranger. He seemed to be prolonging his words, punctuating them with his gaze, trying to get her to hear the silence between the words. He quoted scripture -- "be still and know that I am God." She protested that empty space was not knowledge. He insisted that words of doctrine were not stillness.

She retreated, raising her weapons again, beautiful weapons. Her faith was safe, never had been imperiled. The edge on her sword of belief was sharp, gleamed with light. The weight of her shield was comforting, and she raised it before, proud of the golden cross that adorned it. From behind its shelter, she expressed her regret that he was so close, with his sincerity and love of kindness, and yet so grievously mistaken, so unavoidably doomed. She saw him, foolish in his professed wisdom, like a common wildflower tossing its head without a care for the morrow, heedless of the scythe. He did not yield his ground, the stranger, and his eyes continued to twinkle as his mouth seemed more resigned.

There was something he was not saying, some argument he would not bring forth. She knew it. It left her feeling confused. At one point he seemed to come close, but then he said something so strange it felt as if she had been handed an imaginary object that dissolved upon touch.

He could not say, would not say; it would be unseemly and taking advantage of her youth to say -- love, my child, burns all your theories, all the pages of your book. Love wrecks the smooth skin of your belly and the innocence of your thoughts. Love averts the hailstorms and the lightning threatened by the lawgivers. Love smolders on your lips, consumes your mind, and razes your heart. Love takes you where the wind will blow and the water flow. He did not say these things, and thus his argument seemed incomplete. The plane landed.

Her flights were mixed up. She had hours to wait. They crossed paths again in the airport. He was leaving just then. She felt a little lost. The hours would be wasted. Perhaps a few more moments, and she could have heard the rest of the story, and made a last bid to save this errant, and troubling, stranger.
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Re: Short Stories & Social Commentary, by Charles Carreon

Postby admin » Sat Oct 19, 2013 1:58 am

A NEW RECIPE FOR UPSTAIRS?, by Charles Carreon

It seems that everything eventually runs its course, even at the ACFS Corral. Recently, there have been signs that the mood of hopelessness surrounding the upstairs development is giving way to some positive, innovative ideas. It is heartwarming when the light of sense begins to dawn over the dull haze of long-standing inertia. The food store is, after all, sitting under a potential gold mine. In a town like this, where properties change hands and value faster than the action in a Monopoly game, the commercial value of the upstairs is potentially enormous.

But ACFS has a philosophy -- "Food for people, not for ... etcetera," -- and the upstairs corollary of this should certainly be "Space for people, not for profit." Of course, "the people" do not have the cash necessary to make the space usable. It will be necessary to activate at least a portion of the profit potential of the upstairs in order to finance its development. And, perhaps because nature abhors a vacuum, perhaps because the time has come for a good idea, we are beginning to hear about proposals for the use of the upstairs -- the most concrete being the one from Sandler Films. I understand at this time that Allen Sandler has withdrawn his proposal, but it still seems important to note that this plan, and others like it, which would subordinate the use of the upstairs space to the control of a single commercial interest, are really not in harmony with the basic reasoning behind creating a Community Center.

The Sandler offer is a good thing, for it wakes us up to the value of our possession. But to allow a private commercial venture to possess a controlling interest in the destiny of the upstairs will, inevitably, cause the major portion of the actual cash benefits to go into the pockets of relatively few people. ACFS, philosophically speaking, should aspire to exactly the opposite sort of result for our upstairs. We should try to share all of the benefits (the space, the profits, the services provided) as equally as possible, so that the community will be truly enriched -- not merely by the creation of a new stage for theatre or gatherings, but by a variety of services which are needed and desired by the members of ACFS.

Many people have worked to make the upstairs what it is, pouring uncounted hours of skilled and willing labor into a project which they understood to be the creation of a focal point for diverse community activities. This intention must not be abandoned -- we must keep faith with our starting energy, and any plans to actualize the profit potential of the upstairs should preserve the Community Center as the centerpiece of all structurings of the physical space and the rights of usage. Office spaces, a mercantile store, a craft coop where local craft-people can sell and trade without markups, a kitchen -- all of these are things would complement the atmosphere of the Community Center, making it a natural place for interaction.

ACFS will get what it wants out of the upstairs if we can define our goal clearly. A first step toward forming our ideas might be to create some preliminary plans (or publicize existing ones) for the use of floor space. This would give us some kind of handle for dealing with interested groups who might want to know what amount of space would be available to them under what conditions and costs. The idea of seeking monies to establish a mercantile store seems flexible enough to work with, since it could be managed without impinging on the community space (if that were part of the plan), and a mercantile store could channel a lot of very useful cash through the space and thus assist the development.

At any rate, the pot is boiling, and these are just seasonings for the stew which we can all create together. Perhaps the time is right for coming up with a recipe.

(October,1982, Issue 45, "More Than Food," Ashland, Oregon)
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Re: Short Stories & Social Commentary, by Charles Carreon

Postby admin » Sat Oct 19, 2013 1:58 am

BOOK REVIEW: BORN IN TIBET, by Charles Carreon
[Published in "More Than Food," house organ of Ashland Community Food Store, Ashland, Oregon, circa 1980.]

As far as I know, "Born in Tibet" was the first bit of literature, the tip of the Trungpa iceberg, that has since appeared on the contemporary spiritual scene. It chronicles his early life, the unique circumstances of his upbringing as a tulku (a reincarnated spiritual teacher), as well as his personal account of the catastrophe which drove the Tibetan people from their home amid the snowy heights.

Being the eleventh incarnation in the illustrious lineage of the Trungpa Tulkus, his rebirth as the child of Tugtso-Drolma in a small village in Tibet was divined by the Gyalwa Karmapa, the supreme head of the Kagyu lineage. When the monks who were coming to ascertain the genuineness of this prediction arrived at the home of the infant, he appeared very glad to see them, waving as they arrived. When they left, though a mere eleven month babe, he laid his hand on their heads in blessing. His enthronement as the abbot of Surmang monastery took place two months later, and it is related that he did not cry even once.

His formative years slowly led up to the training in scholarly discipline that forms the basis of spiritual illumination, and further, the mastery of the various means by which beings may be freed of delusion. His memories of his tutors all seem to be fond ones, as well as humorous. I particularly enjoyed reading how Apho Karma would first prostrate before the young tulku, then speak some words of edification, and then administer the required chastisement "to the appropriate part" of his body.

Gradually this form of outer study became blended with the spiritual transmission he received from his gurus. Foremost among these was Jamgon Kongtrul of Sechen, himself an incarnate lama, who had received teachings from the Tenth Trungpa. It is through this method of passing the Light from one tulku to the next that Tibetan Dharma has remained a living teaching, losing none of its force over the centuries since its establishment by the famed magician and teacher, Guru Padmasambhava.

This entire process of passing on the transmission was paralleled by the growing menace of the Chinese intruders. While each passing year brought an increase of maturity and wisdom to the youthful tulku, it also revealed the dominating intentions of the Communist intruders. Like the rising tide, it soon became apparent that the Chinese would not rest until all things went their way. From poster plastering and road building, to the enlistment of spies and coercion of chieftains and local leaders, to the actual murder of lamas and landowners, it is plain to see that the Chinese were following a premeditated plan in their takeover of Tibet. By the time Trungpa decides to escape, it is nearly too late, and the hundreds of refugees who attach themselves to him are forced to endure a months-long trek through desolate mountain passes, dodging the Chinese, eating little or nothing for days on end. It almost becomes an adventure story, and yet, it is something more, because it speaks as the test of Trungpa's practical presence of mind and inner growth after a lifetime of esoteric study. When all around others were losing their grip and acting irrationally, the young Tulku maintained an incredible constancy of energy, and fulfilled the faith of his followers.

After arriving in India, fate took him to England, a scholarship at Oxford, etcetera. Somehow, he felt that the important ingredient in his life was missing, which was resolved on a visit to Bhutan. There, during a ten-day retreat at Tagtsang (where Guru Rinpoche first manifested in wrathful form in order to subjugate evil forces before entering Tibet), Trungpa prayed for guidance. At first, he says, nothing happened, and then he received what he sought. "The message that I received from my supplication was that one must try to expose spiritual materialism (the term Trungpa used to describe egoistic manifestations of spiritual practice) and all its trappings, otherwise true spirituality could not develop. I began to realize that I would have to take daring steps in my life." He did not last long in England.

At this point, he becomes part of the American scene, founding Tail of the Tiger in Vermont, scandalizing the uncertain, headlining at Naropa with Ram Dass. It is worthy of note that Trungpa speaks with great warmth about Suzuki Roshi, the founder of Tassajara and the Zen Center in San Francisco. He also has many kind words for the late Thomas Merton, whom he characterizes as "an open, unguarded, and deep person ..."

"Born in Tibet" is the simple, direct story of a life that has been lived with great clarity. If emotionality and attachment are missing, feeling and warmth are not. The spare, simple drawings by Trungpa add much to the text. It is a splendid introduction to a teacher who will doubtless be remembered as one of the most colorful founders of American Dharma.

Next month, Part two of this series: "Meditation in Action" and "Mudra," Chogyam's only book of poetry, and well worth reading.

(December, 1979, Issue no. 16, "More Than Food," Ashland, Oregon)
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Re: Short Stories & Social Commentary, by Charles Carreon

Postby admin » Sat Oct 19, 2013 1:59 am


THE NO-CARE CHILDCARE BOOK -- a handbook for parents with limited commitment, by Lee and Mary Usual

In today's rush-rush world, children are often left out in the cold, swept under the rug, given the short end of the stick, and in general exposed to a continuous stream of pedestrian treatment which, we are warned, will blunt their receptivity to life in general and foster feelings of resentment toward their parents, in particular. News of this regrettable phenomenon has given rise to a wave of concern among sensitive parents, already concerned about their parenting abilities. All in a rush, they buy child-size furniture and organize their own lives around Montessori activities involving brooms with shortened handles and sandpaper letters to stimulate the child's tactile sense. Their conversations with their children become slow, careful, considered exchanges between equals. A new school of child-rearing encourages parents never to forget for a moment the delicate and impressionable qualities of the child. Like avocadoes or peaches, careless handling can swiftly reduce a child to a mass of unappealing bruises.

This new book by the Usuals provides a refreshing alternative to the attitude which emphasizes the importance of a warm bath following the trauma of birth, titty till the child rejects it in disgust, and potty training as an elective. While one may not agree with the Usuals on every point, their philosophy of benign neglect may be far more appealing to many parents than are the rigorous developmental timetables emphasized by the new school of child-rearing. The central idea of this slim but valuable book is that children, while fond of attention, need, and even desire, considerably less of it than many people claim.

A sampling of chapter titles may help to convey the flavor of the book, which is liberally salted with humorous anecdotes drawn from the Usual's home life.

• Chap. 1. The Fine Art of Looking the Other Way--the core of no-care childcare
• Chap. 4. When Childproofing Becomes Adult-proof--keeping the home livable for parents
• Chap. 5. Ten Ways to Abuse An Apple--activities for pre-schoolers

And one that I found especially helpful:

• Chap. 8. No, We're Not There Yet--useful mantras for traveling with children

While many parents may not agree with the Usuals when they maintain that six-year olds are ready for unsupervised backpacking trips, they have many ideas which every parent will find helpful. Especially if you find yourself oppressed by feelings of guilt due to your disorganized style of child-rearing, but seem to lack the time or the saintly disposition required to go full-bore Montessori, this book may be for you.

(May/June, 1981, Issue 30, "More Than Food," Ashland, Oregon)
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Re: Short Stories & Social Commentary, by Charles Carreon

Postby admin » Sat Oct 19, 2013 2:00 am

IS GREED GOOD?, by Charles Carreon

[When I wrote this column for our Co-op newsletter, the movie "Wall Street," had not yet been filmed, so I could not quote Gordon Gekko (memorably played by Michael Douglas) and his wonderful "greed is good" speech. Nevertheless, I had an intimation that simple greed might be a less hazardous emotional material than ideological certainty. I penned the column shortly after an upheaval in our Co-op management that resulted in the complete discharge of the entire Co-op board of directors in a Nixon-style Saturday night massacre. Subsequent experience has shown that non-profit corporations of the religious and spiritual sort fall prey to the same types of manipulations. Keeping sight of the object of a dispute, and remembering not to destroy it in the process of battling for it, has since become a watchword in the management of my own affairs. Perhaps others may profit from my musings.]

With the deadline for this column only a couple of hours away, it's definitely time to find a topic. I guess I'll just write about the successful strategic nuking of the late, great Board of Directors. Actually I wasn't sleeping last month; I had merely averted my eyes to avoid having them melted from their sockets. Nothing lost, though. It was enough to see the crater left in the aftermath of the incident, to hear the garbled rumors from dazed survivors, helpless even to regroup their cause and to read the newsletter, composed in a state of shock, like a memo from a doomed civilization. Like the refugee in Graham Nash's song, "Wooden Ships," I too must ask, "Who won?" And also, "Why did it happen?" Who pushed the unstable energy of the General Membership to critical mass and beyond? Why did the advocates of caution and reasoned action choose to act in the fashion they so often deplore?

Gabriel Garcia Marquez occasionally writes about a character who has the strange habit of building things during the day and taking them apart at night. This seems to be precisely the problem here at ACFS. One month a new board is ushered in with flowers, laurels, and trumpets, and the next month their work is summarily halted by the very persons who elected them. That this does not seem like a very rational way of doing business does not occur to anyone, and if it did they probably would not care. Like Marquez's character, the mere fact that it is dark is probably sufficient reason for getting on with the process of disassembly. At least, however, this gentleman does not destroy his creations utterly, but merely takes them apart, to begin his work anew with the coming dawn. The fused slag-heap of ideology and emotion left over from this latest strategic first strike hardly invites renewed creativity.

In his works on Taoism and Zen, Alan Watts was fond of pointing out that greed may often be a more compassionate guide for action than pure, ideological dogmatism, which may sound better at first gloss. His reasoning was that while the greedy can be depended upon to curtail aggression when it threatens to destroy the object of their desire, true believers are known for their policies of extermination, and a war between partisans of irreconcilable ideologies can only be a war of mutual annihilation. That our entire world today is threatened by such monumental stupidity is common knowledge, but that our own little island of collectivity is threatened by the same dynamic is scarcely considered.

The corporation of which we are members is not immortal: it is not invulnerable, and those who insist upon taking liberties with its safety through irresponsible actions should reflect and feel cautioned. The energy of human commitment is precious, and it is easily wasted in fruitless engagements wherein one faction indulges its whims by ousting another. Those who initiated this motion may be quite satisfied with themselves, feeling that they have removed an obstacle to progress, and saved everyone from long hours of wretchedness. Granted that their action may have been a response to some irresponsibility on the part of the board, it yet remains a tremendous display of indelicacy and lack of creativity. Those who are too swift to accuse others of being intractable and uncooperative should recognize their affinity with those who order lobotomies and command hit squads -- the politics of elimination are simple and effective, but they rarely lead to conciliation or unified action.

I do not mean to sponsor yet another ideology in this column. We may be sure that when a war of mutual destruction is being fought there are ideologies on both sides, and I do not wish to join the ranks of either. But responsibility for the master stroke which broke this whole issue open like a sore lies squarely in the hands of a few. Glosses and justifications do not seem to be in order. We must consider the morality, the fragility of our collective organism, which continues to live on the basis of human commitment. Before we decide to take up a fixed position, from which we will not budge, we should consider. And before we resolve to dislodge another person from their commitment, regardless of the consequences, we should consider.

(1982, Issue 41, "More Than Food," Ashland, Oregon)
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Re: Short Stories & Social Commentary, by Charles Carreon

Postby admin » Sat Oct 19, 2013 2:00 am


Every generation of poets derives inspiration from different sources. Social conditions, living environments, economic fluctuations and wars, in short, all the varied movements of life are the background for creative expression in every period of time. Writers are moved to find styles, forms, and mythic outlines appropriate to their experience, which help them to say what they want to say.

In "Sunflower Sutra," Ginsberg has used the paradoxical philosophy of Mahayana Buddhism to reconcile the decayed nature of our society with his own unitive spiritual vision.

The anxiety brought on by what Alvin Toffler called "too much change, too fast," has afflicted many persons with a sense of hopelessness, and the eagerness of youth often finds itself with little to feed upon. Our society has warred against mythical consciousness, which is the nourishment of poetic minds. Scientific reductionism has consistently triumphed over structures which once gave spiritual meaning to existence, and questions of quality have been buried under a barrage of surplus goods. The mythic landscape has been razed; the flower of life has been killed by commerce and industry.

Allen Ginsberg, born in the Eastern U.S. grew up close to the chaos and confusion of this age. His poetry has never ceased to be a reflection of the anarchic conditions of our times, and yet it always rings with a spiritual impulse. In "Sunflower Sutra," these two qualities are quite evident, and the very title implies that the poem is some sort of spiritual instruction. There is no tone of resignation in the poem, despite an unpicturesque setting. For a Buddhist it is apparent that Ginsberg is affirming the Buddha nature, which remains pure in all circumstances, ever free from dualisms of all types. It is a part of the Buddhist Mahayana (Greater Vehicle) path to affirm the supreme reality of one's Buddha Nature, regardless of the apparent extremity of a situation. "Even if the sun were to rise in the West, the Bodhisattva has only one way," said Shunryu Suzuki, the founder of Zen practice in this country. By this he meant that followers of the heroic path of Buddhism (Bodhisattvas) are pledged to uphold the pure view of all phenomena as the play of an intrinsically empty awareness "even if the sun were to rise in the West."

Ginsberg, like a good Bodhisattva, has taken up the standard of enlightenment, though in a railway-yard he can find no better emblem than the wilted, besooted corpse of a dead sunflower. The holding of the sunflower "like a sceptre" parallels the symbolic postures of Tantric deities in Tibetan Buddhist iconography. These deities, who depict various aspects of the enlightened mind, often hold a ritual implement called a vajra (diamond) sceptre, representing their possession of the untarnished and indestructible quality of the pure, original mind. Almost comically, and yet with absolute seriousness, Ginsberg takes the same sort of posture. He is willing to stand up for the purity of beings, to affirm their intrinsic beauty and worth, though it be hidden within the grime and decay of phenomenal existence.

According to the Zen tradition there is only one place to look for enlightenment, and that is in the world. The Sixth Patriarch, Hui Neng, said: "To seek for enlightenment outside the world is as foolish as looking for a rabbit's horn." Ginsberg's Sutra begins in the world, with a restless, roving description of decaying objects in a bleak environment. The sunflower is an ugly object in an ugly world. "... the gray Sunflower poised against the sunset, crackly bleak and dusty with the smut and smog and smoke of old locomotives in its eye --" He describes it with human attributes: "... big as a man ... seeds fallen out of its face, soon-to-be-toothless mouth of sunny air ... leaves stuck out like arms ... a dead fly in its ear ..." It is a pathetic figure, which Ginsberg identifies as his own soul: "Unholy battered old thing you were, my sunflower O my soul, I loved you then!" The sunflower, with "all that dress of dust, that veil of darkened railroad skin ... artificial worse-than-dirt ..." is afflicted by civilization, but even worse it has lost its identity as a living thing from long association with "rubber dollar bills, skin of machinery, the guts and innards of the weeping coughing car, the empty lonely tin cans with their rusty tongues aslack, what more could I name ..." The sunflower is estranged from itself just like Allen and Jack: "rheumy-eyed and hung-over like old bums on the riverbank, tired and wily." There is real tenderness, genuine compassion in his question: "Poor dead flower? when did you forget you were a flower? when did you look at your sin and decide you were an impotent dirty old locomotive?" And this is the turning point of the poem, which might have led to a depressing dead end but instead turns, stirs almost astonishingly to become a song of celebration, a defiance of appearances worthy of praise. Standing aside from the tragedy, Ginsberg can say, "You were never no locomotive, Sunflower, you were a sunflower," which is, after all, not such an amazing thing to note. But then again, who else but Ginsberg would do it?

It is said in the Bodhicaryavatara, a root Mahayana text, that to discover compassion for other beings is like finding a jewel in a dunghill, because compassion transforms every situation in life. Unlike many modern poets, Ginsberg is able to use the magic of compassion to transform his perceptions, and purify, as it were, a rotten situation. He is able to assert, for his benefit as well as our own: "We're not our skin of grime ... we're blessed by our seed." He sees "golden hairy naked accomplishment bodies" albeit "growing into mad black formal sunflowers." The insight of this perception changes the tenor of the poem. The depleted, futile atmosphere of the poem's beginning has gone. The static, disheartening quality of "we thought the same thoughts of the soul, bleak and blue and sad-eyed, surrounded by the gnarled steel roots of trees of machinery" has given way to an energetic vibrancy. Ginsberg's heroic declaration of life has strengthened him, and the closing image is tight, coherent and powerful: "... spied on by our eyes under the shadow of the mad locomotive riverbank sunset Frisco hilly tincan evening sitdown vision." He has made the enlightened gesture, or as the Chinese Master, Lin Chi said, "He has spoken a good word." And that is all one can ask of a Sutra.

1979, Charles Carreon
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Re: Short Stories & Social Commentary, by Charles Carreon

Postby admin » Sat Oct 19, 2013 2:01 am


Kagemusha, The Shadow Warrior, like much of Kurosawa Akira's work, is a film about feudal Japan. In this, his most recent work, the action centers around a political ruse in which the warlord Shingen, head of the Takeda clan, is impersonated for three years after his death in order to stave off attacks which might befall a leaderless state. The man who impersonates him is a nameless thief, whose physical resemblance to Shingen is his only qualification for the job, aside from his basic ingenuousness.

Kagemusha is a study in contrasts. It is a story about a very small, very simple man who is forced to assume the character of an immensely powerful warlord. The film explores the many contradictions and paradoxes which arise from such a situation, and, in the course of the story, gives us a deeper look at the meaning of leadership and power, and its relation to loyalty and faith. For the thief, unwilling at first to go along with the plan, ultimately gives all of himself out of loyalty to the deceased lord.

In the opening scene of the film we see three men sitting in an austerely elegant Japanese room finished in dark wood. Lord Shingen is sitting in the center; above him is the plain floral emblem of the Takeda clan. On his right sits his brother the adviser, on his left the thief. All three men are dressed in identical robes of grey silk. They are all slightly bald, and their black beards, streaked with grey, are all trimmed in the same distinguished style. The two nobles, Shingen and his brother, appear dignified and somewhat tired; the thief is the picture of dejection, appearing utterly disconsolate but for the resentment which tightens his body like a tensed spring. When Shingen makes a remark about the unsuitability of allowing a thief to impersonate his noble self, the little man explodes in fury. Wildly gesticulating, he roars, "I steal a few coins and hurt no one ... you kill hundreds and steal whole countries! Who is the greater thief?" Though the brother-adviser moves to draw his sword, the warlord, undisturbed, admits the accusation is true, and goes on to say that having banished his father and killed his son, he will do anything to rule. After this scene the credits begin to roll, and one realizes that a sort of magic has already begun.

The next phase of the film seems to move extremely slowly by ordinary cinematic standards, which require sustained tension as a basic element in any film. Kurosawa has rarely concerned himself with such standards. His directing is fearless in the sense that he is not afraid to let the camera linger over images long after the basic image has been established. The viewer spends a lot of time watching soldiers, in beautiful lacquered armor, marching over fields, up hills, and across ridges. With many directors this sort of footage is the result of failed attempts to achieve epic scope. Not so with Kurosawa, who somehow manages, without tricks, to inspire us with patience, encouraging us to take a second look, and a third, at what we think we have seen before. And there are rewards. An indescribable scene of a column of soldiers, passing before the setting sun, breaking its rays into a flowing display of crimson and gold, till one cannot decide what to look at -- the soldiers, the sun, or both.

Many scenes in the film examine the impact of European muskets on traditional Japanese warfare, marking that moment when technology eclipses heroism in importance. Shingen himself is killed by a sniper, and the film ends with the annihilation of an entire army by a coldly calculated barrage of musket-fire. The tone of the battle scenes, however, is reportorial, and there is no overt attempt to spark a reaction of revulsion towards violence. Kurosawa's simple style presents the mechanics of war without flinching or gawking, and saves the film from becoming stuck in easily evoked emotional patterns but limited in scope.

The thief is the focus of the film. The film helps us to see what happens to a little man who is asked to appear powerful, to seem like the very son of heaven, and who is yet granted no real power to command or initiate. His job is to deceive, and leave the ruling to the retainers. He has to deceive his grandson, a beautiful five year-old with black hair in a blue kimono who runs to his "grandfather," and after examining him briefly turns to the court and says brightly, "This is not my grandfather!" He has to fool the concubines and the horses. (The Master is ill and cannot ride.) He is surrounded by guards, at least one is always by his side, and it is his luxury to be himself whenever he is alone with one of them. In a superb cinematic moment, the thief, who has just met his guard-advisers, tries on an imposing look. The guards warn him not to get cocky, and relax into easy postures. Then, by some strange alchemy, the thief takes on the imposing, introspective look that earned Shingen his nickname, "The Mountain." The guards stiffen; unable to prevent themselves, they return to postures of perfect attention.

The imposter lives on a razor-edge. Whenever he must face those who were familiar with the lord, the retainers try to set up the situation to avoid every difficulty. But facing the concubines his composure disintegrates entirely. He cannot maintain the facade, and attempts to declare himself an impostor, but the two beauties think this is very funny. The more he protests the more they laugh, till at last he gives in and it all becomes a fine joke. One comes to realize that every day is filled with this sort of painful interaction, as the Shadow Warrior attempts to conceal his insubstantiality, or to add to the seeming substance. Only with the grandson, Takemaru, does he acquire a real personality. The two play together daily, and their love for each other is obvious. When at last the deception is ended, it is these two who suffer, and the thief will suffer more for the loss of Takemaru, it seems, than for anything else. One cannot but wonder if the warlord himself could have even approximated the sort of fondness which the thief possesses for this child.

The painful tension within the thief culminates in a dream sequence of surreal intensity, done not with camera tricks but rather, as the Japanese seem to prefer, with an unearthly stage setting. Dressed in fierce battle-armor, his face gleaming with burial oil, the warlord shatters his burial-urn from within, and emerges in awful glory. The thief, terrified, runs from him, staggering across dreamlike sand dunes of different colors. Then, suddenly, the warlord is gone. Searching for him now, the thief stumbles into a shallow pool, and the sound of his feet splashing reverberate like the roar of mighty waves. This scene symbolically crystallizes the relationship between the warlord and his shadow.

The climax of this paradoxical situation comes in battle. Shingen's son, who is too ambitious and jealous of his father's fame, is not reconciled to following this strategy of deception. He fears to live in his father's shadow, and living in the shadow of a shadow is intolerable. He ventures forth with his army, but so recklessly that the main force of the Takedas must move to protect his rear. Led by the thief, surrounded by his adviser-guards, they enter the fight. The battle continues into the night, and the Shadow Warrior has nothing to do but sit, impassive as the Mountain himself, while young boys shield his worthless plebeian self with their own bodies. The deception is successful, and the attackers, cowed at last by the Shadow Warrior's immovable presence, retreat. The thief cannot help but be pleased, almost as if he had done something.

The film ends tragically because the shadow can never become the substance. The aggressive stupidity of Shingen's son undoes all the posthumous effort of his father, and the end of the Takeda clan is as swift as water going over a cliff. There seems to be an element of fate here, for the thief's efforts held back disaster, but only for a time. The shadow could only forestall the destruction which the lord himself would have averted entirely.

The thief, for his own part, becomes one of the warlord's true servants. His final sacrifice is touching to the point of being sublime. He dies in the waters of the lake where Shingen himself was buried, reaching for the Takeda banner, which floats in the water, just out of reach, as the current bears him by.
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Re: Short Stories & Social Commentary, by Charles Carreon

Postby admin » Sat Oct 19, 2013 2:04 am



[Perhaps one can never recapture the splendor of one's youth, but when I read this naive essay, crafted no doubt in the midst of some icy winter, marooned in the middle of a field of mud and frozen teasle, living in a house made with your own hands, and those of your wife, tending little kids who never-endingly have to shit in the outhouse that is no short walk away in the driving rain, then I know what folly is. There, nurturing literary illusions, did I find myself, a noble essayist for "More Than Food," the literary organ of the august body known as Ashland Community Food Store. From such a sturdy soapbox did I proclaim my outhouse sutra.]

I. Love

If we examine our closest relationships, we will see how far they remain from any sort of total devotion or love. No matter how "much" we love someone, we still are capable of turning it off or on, depending on our mood or their behavior. This is because we "love" people as long as it serves our purposes. We "love" in order to manipulate them. We rarely conceive of expanding our love around others as a nurturing, allowing space. We keep our love inside, and control the flow in accordance with what we wish to effect upon others. This can even be considered very sophisticated and clever, but actually it is quite sterile. At this point "love" has become a medium of exchange, and the more we "love" someone in this way, the more they are in our debt. If we are discommoded by the behavior of someone we "love," we feel as if we are extending credit upon which we shall collect in due course.

Exchange oriented loving arises because love does indeed have great value. It is the most valuable thing we can possess. Ah, there's the rub. For we believe we can possess it. But love is not possessable. It is the wealth of a heart that has no gates or walls, no inside or outside. As soon as we regulate the flow of our affection, it becomes something a little different. It is no longer the pure and delightful substance it was. It still has value, but its value is now relative. We can use it to buy what we need, like dollars, but, like dollars, the value is ascribed rather than intrinsic. A dollar has not the loveliness of gold, or a diamond, nor does it contain nourishment as does a slice of bread. A dollar, by itself, without a government behind it, is nothing but a rather ugly piece of paper. It is of no use to the possessor if there is nothing to exchange it for. This is why regulated, conditional love does not nourish the one who gives it. It is also frustrative to the receiver, for it is never total, like a river flowing to the sea without restraint. It is rather a spigot which can easily be switched off. Pure love never has this quality of holding back or controlling. It is as vast as the sea, as unchanging as the sky. You cannot hold it or use it for selfish ends, but it nourishes the whole universe.

II. Growth

The saddest thing about the human condition is that this completely perverse state of affairs is taken as normal. A person who transcends these boundaries is either a fool or a saint. In most spiritual traditions there is the notion of a "transmission of wisdom" which comes from the enlightened source, and transforms the very basis of the aspirant, making possible a relationship with life which was previously unreachable.

What is often not mentioned is why this transmission is necessary. Why do we need a key to unlock the door to our hearts, if the nature of love and openness is unobstructible. The reason seems to be that humanity as a whole is also the keeper of a certain esoteric tradition. Unfortunately this tradition is more after the manner of a black art. The members of this cult are all our fellow beings in delusion, recognizable by the veil which cloaks their eyes and the shield which covers their hearts (and other soft spots). Together we perpetuate upon each other and upon our children a transmission of ignorance. There is no doubt that this cult uses brainwashing and coercive techniques, but all these things may be forgiven them, for at heart "they know not what they do." "They know not." We know not. To not know is ignorance, and ignorance is the path of the unfree.

When the ignorant initiate others into ignorance it must of necessity be a sort of spooky thing. "There is something which it is dangerous to know." "Do not look behind that door." "Here's your blindfold. Don't take it off or you'll go insane." If you ask why you cannot know, or the door cannot be opened, the blindfold removed, you hit a rut of circular reasoning, a blind reliance on authority and tradition, or a semi-rationale propped by assumptions which are no more sound than the attitudes they claim to support. And all of this, of course, because, since the unexplored territory is forbidden, the authorities, on the one hand, cannot have knowledge of it, and explorers on the other hand, may often have to operate in secret. So the aggression of these black magicians of stupidity makes the situation even stickier. And as long as we shore up our shortcomings by means of aggression, protecting ourselves from openness by means of obstinate close-mindedness, we too are black magicians.

When one of these unfortunate sorcerers of stupidity begins to become disgusted with the dark and delimited environment of ignorance, the process of transmutation may have begun. Most likely, he will begin to seek others with a similar attitude, and perhaps will in time meet with a white magician. The white magician is an unveilment of possibility. His openness is extraordinary, and, to the aspirant, he seems to see things that are "invisible." The first thing this luminous sorcerer will do is to make the potential pupil aware of the fact that he is still carrying arms and protective gear. He will explain that it is impossible to learn the way of the white magician when one is still involved with defense of self. If the pupil can learn to dispose of his weapons, it may be possible for him to begin the path of unveilment.

So here we have the picture of a true beginner. Such a person still may not see very well, but they have lain down their weapons and are working on freeing themselves of their armorplate. They do not fight to preserve their delusion. They may even gain a certain sense of dignity, of decorum, because their humility and openness makes them more magnanimous, less petty. Since they do not constantly have to attend to myriads of defensive mechanisms , they develop a stillness, a sense of composure that is quite dignified. On the other hand, they are aware of their limitations, and do not try to do more than they can. Because they realize their state of partial blindness, they do not move too impulsively, lest they bump into something. Because of this they work right with a situation, closely and precisely. There is a complete lack or arrogance, since such a person is always aware of the fact that they are beginners.

Slowly such a person's vision gradually improves. The self-interest that clouds over situations is seen more and more dispassionately. Eventually, they can reach a stage where they cut down self-interest mercilessly the instant it appears. The Buddhist tradition of the Mahayana characterizes such a person as a Bodhisattva -- a hero of light. Lao Tzu says, "The sage has no mind of his own -- he is aware of the needs of others." and, "By selfless action, the sage achieves fulfillment." When this style of action becomes firmly established, the aspirant is becoming a white magician, but does not notice it. From their point of view, they simply are living in an open environment which they take to maintain in its original state. There is no possibility of exhaustion or weariness, because there is no attachment to standards of achievement or progress. It is a situation of knowing one's job and doing it well.

As the handling of energy becomes increasingly fluid and spontaneous, the magician is less and less hindered by the limitations of self-impurities. As wisdom dissolves all apparent dualities, which are increasingly subtle, the practitioner moves toward the level of a siddha -- an Accomplished One, able to play with paradoxes and contradictions skillfully without being burned or entangled. No mere cleverness is involved here, but a real mastery of the elements of consciousness, and hence, matter. Such a master bends all his power to the service of fellow beings, and thus develops space to a level of keen precision, imbuing it with a quality of crystalline luminosity. The wisdom of such beings is so penetrating and incisive that it takes cuts on the armor of ego that cannot be healed. Likewise it is able to mend the fragmentation of mind with such skill that it will never again give way to the forces of chaos. It is said that the Siddhas use the power of chaos itself to destroy it, short-circuiting the elaborate weapons system of the self.

Beyond this level it is impossible to describe the vastness of such compassionate activity. It has been called "Light Everywhere." Such activity is as purposeless and effective as the power of the radiant sun, as unshakeable as infinite space, as supportive as the fertile earth. Bodhisattvas and novice white magicians grow on this vast expanse like numberless blades of grass, as rusting swords and moldering armor fertilize the rich soil.

Afterword: I am indebted to Carlos Castaneda for relaying Don Juan's description of our fellow men as deluded black magicians, and to the Venerable Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche for his vivid descriptions of the Buddhist path. Also, for those who may be interested in seeing a teacher who is said to have achieved the level of "Light Everywhere," be sure to watch for the visit of His Holiness Dudjom Rinpoche, the head lama of the Nyingmapa tradition of Vajrayana Buddhism.

(May, 1980, Issue 20, "More Than Food," Ashland, Oregon)
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