Meditating at the French Club

The French Club in San Francisco, where wealthy men eat, drink, and smoke cigars. Perfect spot for a teetotaling, mostly vegan, meditator like me. Why do you go? You might ask. I probably shouldn’t, but I’ve never been one of those righteous, vegan, meditation people, the kind who constantly judge others. I have a close friend who’s a member of the club and usually go when he invites me, maybe three times a year.

I went last Friday for lunch. Daytime at the French Club is jacket, no tie, with no women allowed. The elevator opens on the 8th floor, a large black and white photo of Paris greets us, followed by image after image of tuxedoed men with contented smiles, leisurely cradling drinks. Over a hundred years old, the club is a throwback to a time when genders were separated. Tall men, big men, greet me, shake my hand firmly, ask about my family. Cocktails before lunch, white wine, rum, vodka tonic, whatever you want. I opt for a sparkling water. I always opt for some version of water. Tap water, still water, water with ice, bubbly water.

All the members bring expensive wine bottles to share at the meal. I sit down at the main table, ten empty glasses greet me, five for whites, five for reds, like crystal ships waiting to transport me away for the afternoon. The servers come around with the white wines. I’m not drinking today, I say, as they are about to pour, a half second of awkwardness, like telling someone I have four toes. The glasses fill up around the table, about 24 other men, and me the lone dry guy. Conversation starts out like trading baseball cards, my Pacific Heights home, your golf game, my Master’s from Dartmouth, your daughter about to get married in Lake Como. After the lobster risotto the wine has softened the men up, they circulate around the table, grab shoulders, laugh more freely. Then comes pheasant on a bed of potato puree and carrots, the red wines flow.

I’m surrounded by swirling pinots, burgundies, sipped, caressed, quaffed. The younger me would have looked for conversation, inserted talking into the scene, but I now know I have nothing to say. Instead, I find my breath and start meditating. Short inhales at first, my stomach a bit too full. But after about a minute, I’m back in me. I sit for quiet seconds there, my eyes open, focused on the sun’s light coming through the window.

Eventually the chocolate flourless cake arrives to end my meditation. I take slow bites, listen to the buzzed euphoria of the room. I wonder if they are all happy, really happy underneath the food and booze, but then I let them be, focus on my breath again.

Nick Flynn

Writing words made (makes) him whole. Cleared out the zombies with meditation, confronting the addiction (addictions) again and again. On a boat bobbing with empty gangster dreams, streams of thought, thinking about tortured bodies, here and there. Homeless writer has a home in pages, roaming with parents now dead, alive in photographs, in words, in questions posed unanswerable. The bullshit, the ticking, the suicide, the fire. Somewhere over the rainbow, his rainbow, bright colors out of darkness.

Drowning the Ring

Have you ever thrown a ring into Iguazu Falls? I have. It was a thick silver band that I wore on my wedding ring finger off and on for 2 years. I was 25 when I hurled it into the abyss. Love, the easiest most accessible word to describe the origins. But love is never just love; shield, addiction, identity, long distance longing, fulfillment, failure. She had a matching ring too, the she who wasn’t in Brazil with me, the she who was somewhere on the east coast, the she who was no longer a part of me. Not that anyone is ever really a part of anyone, even in those supine minutes (hours?), gliding puzzle pieces that must eventually disconnect.

We bought the rings at Isla Negra, Neruda’s home overlooking the Pacific Ocean in Chile. You feel that you are destined for me, we believed together, waves crashing poetry, wet ghosts of Pablo. Love. Time passed, time finishing college apart, time in Spain together, then the Atlantic between us for months, then years. Over, done, but I kept the ring. Until that moment when we charged the cascading white water, the same water her parents watched on their honeymoon decades ago. Throw it! My friends urged. They knew I wanted to bury it forever. I looked at it for brief last seconds, dented, mostly smooth, then threw it like a high fly ball. Weightless now, sun, frothy water, glint of silver in the air, then drowned, dead.

Another Shooting

I don’t go the movies because I’m afraid. My nephew tells me. My mind goes back to that evening in 7th grade when I watched Silent Night, Deadly Night, then read The Hobbit until dawn because I was too scared to sleep. Looking at him, I see that’s not what he’s talking about. I’ve been back to that theater once in the last 3 years, but never at night. He says. He doesn’t use the word shooting, the word that is on the news somewhere right now; shooting, shot, shots fired, mass shooting, school shooting. 2 dead, 9 injured, while watching Trainwreck, but nobody outside of Lafayette, Louisiana remembers. He was 14 then, a mile away, safe at home, but I look at him and see a veteran, a victim, afraid, maybe forever. Fatality, casualty, injured, with injuries, innocent bystander, survivor, relative of survivor, friend of survivor, community member, neighbor. The diameter expands, little, larger, largest, dots, spots, stains on the map, metastatic cancer.

Meditating in Bed

I’ve gotten lazy (not the right word). These days I meditate lying in bed. Slow inhales, exhales, 140 of them, 20 minutes, head still on my morning pillow. Sometimes my son joins the moments, his pjs nestled next to my wife. Is this meditation? I ask myself. Does it count? Before the puppy I used to go downstairs for 30-minute sits, quiet, alone. But the house is always awake now, or about to get up. I try to sneak in meditation on the couch after dinner. I close the eyes of my mind, breathe, count to 7, stare speechless, paying attention to nothing in particular.  Are you meditating? My wife asks? She can always tell. No, I answer, starting my count again. Post-puppy I still meet my quota, at least 45 daily minutes (usually more), but at home I’m surrounded by the family, my family. I’ve learned to accept the interruptions, the imperfections, after all, I’m meditating for my wife, for the kids, for the benefit of all beings. Sitting, walking, standing, lying down, mindful seconds, slowly becoming my mindful life.

Death in Bob’s Big Boy

Bob’s Big Boy is where I saw my first person die. As if there have been tons, like I served in Iraq or something. We were off 95 on our way to Walden Pond for an overnight high school field trip. Stopped for lunch at the oasis, Bob’s bright smile frozen in red and white checkered plastic. I had just finished eating a burger with fries and a coke, standing at entrance of the restaurant, waiting to get back on the bus, the grease still lingering in my mouth. Balding man, pot belly, sitting in a swivel stool, maybe 63. I saw him fall fast, tipped over like the last bowling pin, a french fry still in his hand. Heart attack, I think, but I wasn’t thinking. I looked at my friend Jon, we had been in CPR class together. How do we start, with a breath or chest compressions? I asked him, frantic, imagining my mouth hovering over the lips of the balding man. I don’t remember. Jon spoke the truth of CPR training, who really does remember? We gawked, immobile for a few more seconds until our bus driver pushed past us, deftly straightened the man, started compressions. Turns out our bus driver used to drive ambulances, witnessed the dying, the dead, dozens of times. Some of my classmates turned away, but we stared until we knew for sure that the man would never stand up again. Lifeless eyes, cold french fries, his plate of food half-eaten.

Hockey

frozen water holds the weight of winter
reflecting moon, scarred by skates
frenetic lines, puck glides without
a mark made
hard circular rubber, a speck
existing, cold on the surface
then slapped by wooden fiberglass
quick journeys forward and back
drops of sweat
melt the ice