A Cut-up Life By Manton Aughtney [PREVIOUS PAGE] [NEXT PAGE] [Texts Index]

Part 5: Zen Through Beer

These dead days, the continuous drab stream of grey flowing from our one window. Days pass without notice. Muttered conversations echo from cobwebbed corners. Debris accumulates. Plates covered with mold loom threateningly under chairs, on the coffee table, on the shelves. Decay has established itself as the predominant condition.

And the typewritten pages pile up, mostly due to my roundabout and thus far unproductive efforts to discover just what it is we are doing here and for what purpose. I sometimes think of our little social grouping as sort of a literary/artistic movement. This for me is a handy excuse justifying the miserable living conditions; what you might call the "starving artist" motif.

Most of us derive our existence from hand-outs of one kind or another. I happen to have indulgent parents who are sending me through school. Don is in a similar situation. The majority of everyone else has the government to thank for their daily bread, or fried potatoes, as is more accurately the case. We have developed an alternate way of looking at reality. We are Losers. Compared against societies norms and expectations we don't add up to much, and we are fond of reminding each other of this fact. We have developed a trait which is typical of most subversive, subcultural groupings: we view the majority of humanity with a sense of disdain. Who would want to be a "Winner" in that idiotic materialist world of violence and corruption?

All the real Human Beings drop out. I guess we are like second or third generation Drop Outs. Born in the sixties, we were alive just in time to absorb maybe a little of the Free Love/Cosmic Consciousness Ethic before watching that generation turn to the destructive hedonism of the Me Decade. In the late seventies, we had become punk rockers, naively adopting the banner of Anarchism as the only solution to society's collective insanity.

By the early eighties the whole punk rock thing had become another marketing scam, lining the pockets of some very un-punk entrepreneurial types. So we went underground. We turned to "escapism", spinning our own alternate realities in dingy apartment rooms... The World could go on without us. We were not going to argue or plead for reform.

And now, smack in the middle of the 1980's, The World has ceased being a concern for us. Now we see that The World was always only a fabricated concept. It was an idea passed on to us by our parents and teachers and reinforced through television and the media. It became The Fundamental Underlying Cause, The Ultimate Referent of Most Basic Meanings. Elusive and unexplainable in terms of any known language, (languages themselves being subsystems in it's supreme order) we fight to overcome its tyrannical rule, to discover a life beyond its scope.

* * * * * * * * * *

Sunday afternoon. Grimm, Mike, Dave and I are sitting around the space, just starting in on a case of beer. We are all pretty quiet, conversation still not having moved beyond the level of polite formality. Maybe we are possessed by that ethereal solemn quality of Sundays, a quality that lingers still in this unholy era... I sense that a change of scenery is in order, so I suggest we take the case of beer and go sit up on the roof of the building.

Stepping onto the roof we are greeted by a fine mist of rain, sparkling in the unusually warm afternoon sunlight. This vantage point provides a perfect view of the harbor. The four of us stand silent for a few minutes, absorbing the scenery. It is a picture-postcard view: cluttered rows of sail boat masts, large cargo vessels anchored further off shore, and the mountain ranges to the north providing a backdrop upon which hang patches of cotton-fluff clouds.

I set the case of beer down, and each of us grabs a fresh bottle.

"Wow, just like a postcard eh?." I say, twisting the cap off my beer.

"Looks like a Tony Eddington painting to me." says Grimm. "He's really into those sappy landscapes. The kind of stuff that hangs on the walls of motel rooms and dentist's offices."

"Can't you guys just look at it and see the natural beauty, without having to compare it to some commercial product?" Dave asks, his voice quavering with a impatient incredulity. "I mean try to look at the Thing Itself, apart from all the secondary associations."

"That's kind of a Zen idea; to see the object in it's Beingness..." I say, picking up on what Dave is trying to say.

"There you go again, another association. Now you try to see it in the context of Zen Meditation, with all the images and memories that Zen implies. Just Look!"

Dave is one of those rare students who is fanatically devoted to his studies. He is an english major, obsessed with the mystic/pastoral tradition of Immediate Sensory Image. Although his enthusiasm is genuine, he often contradicts himself. Within the span of a single conversation he might argue vehemently on both opposing sides of an issue, without realizing that he is doing so. And right now he is about to do just that.

After a while we move to the other side of the roof to investigate a chatter of shouted voices and revving car engines. Looking down five floors into the street we see that there is some sort of film shoot underway. Apparently they are filming a rock video: Four youths clad in distinctly 50's-ish outfits: greased hair and school jackets, are jumping in and out of a red convertible hamming for the camera.

Then the camera pans over along the warehouse fronts and focuses on a woman strutting towards them. She is not, however, dressed in the rocker's logical compliment of long dress, bobby socks and pig-tails. Instead she's more like the heavy metal vixen stereotype: T-shirt and leather miniskirt, fishnet stockings, high heels, her eyes dark and mysterious under the visor of a leather biker cap.

As she approaches the group they move around the hood of the red convertible, shifting through poses of masculine bravado... I am waiting for Dave's pronouncement on this scene. I'm not expecting any references to Zen. He takes a big guzzle of beer, then starts pontificating:

"Look at the imagery used here. The boys are harmless rock and rollers, evoking fond memories of a simple era now passed. Juxtaposed with them, the image of a conquering dominatrix. She's a symbol of corruption, proffering the apple of carnal knowledge. It's Ye Olde Fall from Innocence. But the director of this little drama has no moral lessons to offer.

He uses the image for the power that it has. He wants something that will cut through the mass of media noise and score a direct hit in the central nervous systems of millions of adolescent boys: providing viable fuel for their masturbation fantasies. And behind the scenes even further, in a plush office somewhere, corporate executives are looking over charts of projected sales."

"Oh yeah?" says Grimm "All I see is a bunch of people and a red convertible. And their Total Being, of course."

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