Friday, June 11, 2010

The Reality Guru

for Henry Rollins

He takes you shopping, to see the smoking shells of consumer idolatry, the empty souls trying to fill themselves with Ecko and Lucky-- but also to teach you to figure sales tax in your head. He takes you to dodgy tube stations or out to the banlieues to practice the thousand-yard stare that says better left alone. He makes you change tires even when they're not flat; he wants you to be able to do it in the dark, in the rain, with cars slamming past at 80.

The Reality Guru never mentions God. "What are you doing?" he'd ask, when you, in the day, indulged in God-talk, in chit-chat about satori and mountaintops. Then you realized he meant it literally: what are you doing, this second? Sitting, talking about God, hoping someone has it all figured out and that it's all going to be OK.

He has taught you how to cure a hangover and that lies are most believed when they make you look bad or make the victim look good. He has taught you tactics of defensive, evasive, and offensive driving, along with a hefty dose of Krav Maga. He learned it in the ghetto, he says, and you're still not sure whether he means Brooklyn or Kiev.

The Reality Guru wants you to get enough sleep. When you stay up late to read a Gita or wake up early to meditate, he wags a cautioning finger. Like a tough Twelve-Step buddy, he helps you get in touch with your feelings, helps you tease out your hidden motivations and neuroses and reflex responses, but then abruptly says, "OK, enough. Get over yourself." But later he picks up where he left off.

The Reality Guru sends you up and down hospital corridors to find patients too out of it or too far gone to know you're there, and he makes you sit with them and sit with them and sit past boredom and revulsion until you don't want to be anywhere else, until the noise and sadness and smell all bloom in your awareness like lilies. He's had you panhandle at Charing Cross Station and stand around the Musée d'Orsay with a Union Jack umbrella, then lead the assembled British tourists through the galleries, lecturing them on paintings you know nothing about. You've shaved your head, donned the saffron, and shilled for Krishna on the streets of Nashville. Then the two of you caught Danny O'Keefe at the Bluebird, getting sozzled in full Krishna garb, getting bourbon all over your robes, howling along with "Good Time Charlie's Got the Blues" and being asked to leave. You are beyond shame.

You pay for all this yourself. The Reality Guru's not rich, doesn't have a compound or Rolls Royces or even another disciple. You work two, three jobs, then hang with him in the slivers of time you hoard from long weekends, holidays, between jobs, when normal people are golfing or going to the beach, when people like you are Ooooommmmmm-ing in Hyatt ballrooms or doing metta in Napa, in Asheville, in Madison. While others Om and golf, he stand-bys and cargo planes you to the countryside near a town near an immense lake in central Africa, to the lip of a mass grave plowed in moist earth, where you and he stand and stare down at your tumbled future, where he recites a short prayer and hands you a bucket of quicklime.

You are making peace with the dead. You can console the bereaved and the dying. You can shine shoes, refuse the service plan, right a sagging hinge, and negotiate a raise. You know how to listen. You and he are walking through a mall, not a Brooks Brothers and Pottery Barn mall this time but a scuff-marked, chromey Sears and Payless mall, and you feel his eyes on you and you look not at him but around you, there's something you're supposed to be noticing-- it's a dollar on the floor. You smile and keep walking. You don't need a dollar, and you're starting to feel you don't need anything else, either.


  1. this is one of the best things i have ever read! beautiful!

  2. wow--thank you so much.

  3. That's a blog post worthy of El Minotaur Blanco!

  4. there can be no higher praise.