“To make oneself understood is impossible; it cannot be done.” -Thomas Bernhard
The first job I was fired at was Straw Hat Pizza. I was fired for serving my fifteen-year-old friends a pitcher of beer.
This began my career of getting fired from jobs.
Fired from my job as a shoe salesman for being too indignant, fired as a barista for not being friendly enough, fired as a mortician’s assistant for not being able to handle the heat, fired from my job selling bagels, fired from my job at Macy’s for ringing up my own sale (twice), fired as a waiter for kicking a snobbish customer out of the restaurant, fired as a waiter for not attending to customers well enough, fired, fired, fired.
Final job I was fired at: A high end and crowded restaurant in Sacramento where I was working as a bartender and was fired for being too slow.
I’ve always been too slow. Too slow for success. To slow for winning. I don’t like speed. Makes me nervous inside. I’m always nervous inside. My Zen Friend is never nervous. Never has a single problem. Never. He tells me I need to get better at this. I lack focus he tells me. I lack the discipline that is needed to be at peace in today’s competitive world he tells me.
I can’t tell you his name because he no longer goes by a name. He is a disciplined Zen practitioner and as a result he has detached himself from any egoic identity. I will refer to him as my Zen Friend. My Zen Friend and I live together. I rent a room and in the apartment he is renting. We are both almost fifty years old.
I haven’t been able to find my driver’s license. This is very frustrating since I remember having it several days ago. I have searched my closets, my pant pockets, my jacket pockets, books that I have been reading. I think I have lost my drivers license. I don’t really need it anyways. I mean I need it but what is the big deal? If someone stole it or found it and is using it, then ok. What do I care? I will get a new one eventually. Until then I am not going to worry about it.
My Zen Friend shakes his head at me when I tell him this. “Hommie that is not good.” “Hommie you need to take care of your things.” “Hommie you need to stay on point.” My Zen Friend calls me Hommie because he is black. I am white but call him Hommie because he is black. It is a term of endearment for both of us.
“Hommie, I know.” “Hommie, I realize I should be more on point with taking care of my things.” “But Hommie you know that everything is impermanent. You know that the more attached to things we are, the more we suffer. I am just letting my drivers license go for now.” This is what I tell my Zen Friend. He understands.
“True dat hommie,” He says. He is almost fifty years old and he still says, “True dat.”
Our apartment is minimal. I have more things than he does because I have been married twice. Because he is a self-declared minimalist, the little that he owns is high quality. High quality sheets, shirts, shoes, pants, mattress, desk, computer, underwear, towels, body products, socks, jackets, speakers. In my room I have some high quality things like my organic mattress and my Eames Longer but I have a lot of things that just fill space. Books, magazines, art, records. He has none of this stuff. I prefer culture. My Zen Friend prefers nothingness.
We spend a lot of our time at home. Neither of us go out much. Sometimes we will but we prefer to remain behind a closed (and locked) front door. The outside world is no longer a place that either of us care for although I tend to stay home more than he does. “Don’t trip Hommie!” he tells me. “Just go where you need to go and don’t worry about it. Stay present. Stay out of your head G. Don’t trip.” This is what my Zen Friend tells me about going out more. We both call each other G most of the time.
I am trying not to get fired from the job I currently have. I work as a college level literature tutor. The job is better than working as a bartender. For one I can sit down when I work. I also don’t have to talk to people I would rather punch in the face. Working as a bartender is a sentence in hell, but like most people who reside in hell, the vast majority of bartenders do not know that they are in it. This is one of the benefits of working with a substance that numbs the mind- it allows you to tolerate things you could not normally get through. I prefer working with words and college kids, although I would much rather not have to work at all. Work is a terrible thing that humans have done to themselves.
The other day I went to one of my student’s house to help him write a paper on Franz Kafka and Existential Imprisonment. The idea was mine. His mother and father were screaming at one another in the next room about some bill not being paid on time. The husband kept screaming, “You need to get better at this. You need to improve at paying bills on time!” This is what Existential Imprisonment is, I thought. I didn’t tell him this.
In the evenings, several times a week, my Zen Friend and I have a ritual. We share a bottle of red wine and eat a pizza. Not just any pizza but an organic New York style pizza. As we drink and eat we will listen to music from his Apple desktop computer. We will talk about various things. “Hommie, how are you doing in your life?” “Hommie you feel like you are on point?” “Hommie, if you died tomorrow would you be cool?” “Hommie you meeting any ladies lately?” He will ask me things like this. I will ask him: “Hommie you figure out a career path for yourself yet?” “Hommie, what do you want to do with your life?” “Hommie, any desire to get a better job?” “Hommie, you been looking for a relationship?”
We will answer each other’s questions and laugh a lot. He finds everything serious funny. I find anything serious a waste of time. We will spend all night sitting on the Ikea couch, asking each other questions, losing ourselves in songs when we feel the grove. Then we will clean up and go to our own rooms. My Zen friend goes to bed a lot earlier than I since he wakes up every morning at 5am and does Zazen meditation for an hour. I will stay up and read or go on-line. Currently, I tend to have a social media addiction, but I don’t want to talk about that now. I would rather talk about the silence, the stillness, the feeling of being fully present and abstract in the quietude of my life as I read my book in the rented room.
There is not much more I can say about that.
No one ever discusses this but I often wonder if as a man grows older his desire to care about things declines. Maybe not, since I was never one to care all that much. I was never ambitious about anything to begin with. The first job I had at Straw Hat Pizza I did care about. My parents psychologically manipulated me into the job since they made me believe that I would be a failure in life without one. I didn’t care about the job because I did not want one. Serving my friends beer was more important to me. If I was given the same opportunity to do the same thing all over again, I would still serve my underage friends beer. It is more important to live a good life than it is to work. On my first day of work I was without a work ethic. To this day I am still yet to find one.
When I was fired from my job as a bartender my Zen Friend said, “Common G, you need the money. Why you getting all caught up in liking or not liking it. Just stay present and do what you got to do.” I told him that I did not like working with the general public. That I just didn’t want to do it anymore. I told him that I knew I needed the money, but that I would figure it out. “I always do.” He said, “True G. True dat.” Then he dropped it.
My Zen Friend does not have a lot of ambition or drive either. He has a good paying job where he trims the leaves off of marijuana plants. This job requires a large amount of focus and discipline so he is the right person for the job. I couldn’t do it. He is present all the time. Doesn’t think about the future. Enjoys his life as is in the present moment. Rarely ever trips over thoughts. I trip a lot. When I do he will say, “Why you trippin G? Don’t get hung up in that thought stuff. Just stay present with what is. Let it go G.” I don’t disagree with him but I still trip. I am a man of thought. He is a man of the present moment.
I don’t care about the things that an almost fifty-year-old man should probably care about. I pay my bills but that is about it. I don’t go to the dentist. I don’t have car insurance. I don’t have health insurance. I often don’t call people back who call me for tutoring help. I’m not interested in enlightenment or spiritual development. I am not interested in what the few creditors who are after me want from me. I am not that interested in anything really. I suppose I am tuned out but not turned on. Maybe I am lazy. Maybe I just don’t see the importance of things when we are all facing an eternal void that any of us can fall into at any moment. Up against the eternal void, nothing serious really seems to matter.
My Zen Friend and I spend a lot of time cleaning and organizing our apartment. It is the one space that we can control in this out of control world and we like to have the space that fills the inside walls of our home well curated. We will vacuum, mop, scrub, dust and arrange at least three or four times a week. As we do it we will play various kinds of music. New Wave music. Classic Hip Hop music. Experimental music. Indie Rock music. Post-Punk music. Avant-Garde Classical music. As my Zen Friend cleans he will laugh out loud. He will occasionally say things like, “Whooooo!!! Isn’t this great? So grateful to have our own nice place to clean G!” He will also say things like, “Whooooo!!! So great to be alive! Lovin it G!” I will smile at him and appreciate his enthusiasm for life. I don’t mind cleaning and organizing but I do not feel as enthusiastic about life as he does. Maybe I should practice Zen meditation.
I was thinking that if someone else has my driver’s license they could steal my identity. “Don’t trip Hommie. Let’s make a trip to the DMV together,” my Zen Friend said. We went to the DMV.
As we were both sitting in a chair waiting for my number to be called my Zen Friend nudges me in the arm and says, “You present G?” I was lost in thought. I was thinking about how people are like sheep. I was thinking about how the DMV is like an Orwellian Big Brother organization that has control over almost everyone. I was thinking about how willingly people seem to participate in this system. I was thinking about how annoying all these people are. I was thinking about how we all looked like slaves. I was thinking about a younger girl’s nice body. I was thinking about her coming home and having sex with me. When I told my Zen Friend that I was not very present he made a clicking sound with his tongue and shook his head in disappointment. When they called my number we both got up and walked to the counter with a miserable and overweight looking woman behind the counter. She wouldn’t let me get a new drivers license because I did not have any identification.
“Well that sucks,” I said as we walked out the front door of the DMV. “Don’t trip Hommie. You will figure it out,” said my Zen Friend.
After the DMV we went to nearby café. He drank green tea and I had a cappuccino. We sat outside the café and watched people walk by. Everyone on the go. Everyone trying to get some place else. It was like everyone was playing a game, which each of them was desperately trying to win at. We watched and both of us noticed attractive women as they walked past. My Zen Friend would say, “Man she is fine!” and I would say, “Look at that girl over there. She is hot!” When we were done, we returned to our rented apartment.