Tuesday, December 8, 2009

zen and the art of public policing

illustration by ib.

There is a theatre company near here on the south side. For many years it was Glasgow's Transport Museum before they moved it to the West End. Willem Dafoe did some New York Studio workshops there sometime in the early 90s, I seem to recall. I did not attend. But it struck me as an improvement on Victor and Barry.

Anyway. Volunteers at the Tramway have worked over the years to build a kind of Zen Garden at the back. It is a nice space and the kids have always enjoyed it. Long before the indoor smoking ban was put in place, it was our habit to sit out with a glass of wine or two and let them run about.

It would be remiss of me not to point out that it is a theatre company. There have always been plenty of twee characters about. 

It has never bothered me any. 

The garden has a nice feel to it and more or less adopts the spirit of a public park. Once in a while you might see a gardener out there running a rake over the gravel or picking up the odd piece of debris.

It has always been my habit to carefully retrieve my dog-ends and dispose of them in a big metal dustin before I leave. This I do in any park, but the act of observing the man with the rake is admonition enough. He might not consciously make intricate swirling patterns in the gravel, but he attends to it very dutifully.

So. A couple of months back I stopped in there on my own after visiting the
dentist several hundred yards along the road. It was late afternoon and the bar was wholly empty except for a young asian girl in her twenties. She ordered a tall glass of wine and stepped out to a table to read her book.

"Can you smoke out here ?" she asked me.

"Of course, " I said, and wandered off to sit on the long wooden bench running alongside the gravel trench. It was a pleasant afternoon. I nursed my own glass. Presently, I took out a cigarette and lit it.

I was about an inch in when a second young woman appeared - this one in dungarees - and hopped onto the concrete ledge just behind me. She was about eighteen or so. Going on forty. She sat there cross-legged with her face turned a little theatrically toward the sun. She was very pale and had a little skipless hat perched on her head. Her face was peppered with freckles.

She wrinkled her nose.

"You can't smoke in the garden," she said.

I looked at her. "Of course you can," I said. "We are outdoors."

"Yes," she allowed. "But this is a zen garden. Many people come out here to contemplate. Besides, it's not just disrespectful to Buddhists. There are all sorts of people who come here. People of diverse ethnicity and religion."

She enuciated each word as if passing sentence. Haltingly, and just a little condescending in tone. As she said it, she glanced pointedly at the young Asian woman scrabbling to extinguish her
own cigarette out of sight beneath the table.

"What do you mean ?" I said. "I am a Buddhist. A Glasgow Buddhist. Virtually every Buddhist I know smokes."

"No they don't," she corrected me. "Buddhists don't smoke."

"Of course they fucking do," I retorted. "Muslims; Hindus; Sikhs and Christians. We are not in fucking church."

I was getting wound up in spite of myself.

"Listen," I said. "I just spent two pounds fucking fifty on this glass of house white. It tastes like piss. I am going to finish my damn cigarette. I've been coming here for years and you are the first person who has had any issue with my smoking."

The asian girl seemed aghast. The bitch in the dungarees was delighted.

"You're upsetting the other patrons," she told me. "If you continue like this you will have to leave."

I did, but not before finishing my cigarette. I did not enjoy it any. I was so incensed I left the butt curled up on the raised gravel where my foot crushed out its last gasp.

"You're not a Buddhist," she snapped at my back.

I don't know. Maybe I shouldn't have ended it by turning the other cheek. Maybe the whole situation went tits up as a result of my engaging with her in the first instance.

That's the thing with religion. When it catches on, it starts a fire. More often by accident than grand design.

This post originally appeared as a comment by way of reply to friend and sibling, NØ, who much to my delight confesses to having used the wafer thin pages of numerous Gideons Bibles to roll a joint or two. Spiritual economy and recycling at its most considered.

I ROY: BUCK & THE PREACHER from "Hell And Sorrow" LP (Trojan) 1973 (Jamaica / UK)


anto said...

this reads like a chapter from factotum in terms of pace and the nature of the encounter. that or tales of ordinary madness.

the tunes you are putting up are just brilliant and fit well with the grim weather we're having here in ireland. the mongness of the sound blends well with the way me head is at the moment. i needs tunes like this to tune out from economic ruination and church scandals which splatter the radio, print media and tv here in ireland at the moment. at least Henry's errant hand gave us something mild to whinge about. the 'real' news makes you wanna hit someone.

ib said...

Anto. Thank you, man.

Buck, of course, is my Jonah the Baptist. Or something close. More human than priestly in all his pointless toil and masturbation.

Tales of Ordinary Madness, it is.

The climate here right now - not surprisingly given our shared topography - is black and sullied as a curtain hanging out the window. Rain and tubercular spattering.

It's what we've come to expect.

Those church scandals are never far away. It's a wonder parents still insist on sending them their children.

Just another fucking habit.

I'm encouraged enough to keep the dub thing coming for now. I can't seem to find anything else to keep me remotely sane either.

Cheers. And I hope I don't sound more po-faced than I mean to.

Löst Jimmy said...

Ah the religious zealot at work; the equivalent of the Thought Police. Like the pontificating politician there is something inherently wrong with these people.

Bollocks to them all

ib said...

Well, yes. Close enough.

I am enough of a c@nt that I object to anybody lecturing me on the evils of passive smoking under nothing but the sky for a ceiling, let alone the rest of the moral crusade.

It's like those Jehova's Witnesses. Like vampires, nobody is going to physically invite them in; although I suspect nobody really wants to say "fuck off".

I don't think I'v ever ever been so obvious, except maybe in a toilet on a overnight train.

Still. Somebody once had the temerity to confront me with the admonishment that no Jehovah's Witness they knew of had ever been convicted of a crime.

Seriously. And this without the merest shred of evidence.

Well. I am nothing if not cynical, and I do like a challenge; even if it should involve nothing more than a two fingered shuffle. Or google.

Guess what ?

Here's one of the rocks unturned:


One would have thought that the 1950's "White Man" clothes and values would have sufficed as a giveaway, but no, then they have to go cold calling.

ib said...

Lest I forget. Enough of the tangents.

The thing was, I don't recall ever seeing this particular woman before. I am fairly certain she made no contribution to the building of the garden.

I don't think she was what I would refer to as a Buddhist, either. Although I am no authority. I suspect she might have attended a few workshops on chanting and other meditative techniques and convinced herself that all the evils in Tibet begin, perhaps, with Doc Marten carbon footprints.

All this is speculation.

I am familiar enough with the base tenets of Buddhism.

"Life's hard, then you die."

I've dabbled in Yoga; a bit of this; a bit of that. I am a lapsed vegetarian, and I don't kill flies or dispel insect infestations lightly.

I don't care for head lice or cockroaches. I ignore my higher intuitions at my peril. I've even proclaimed my religion as Buddhist in hospital recovering from stab wounds, if only to keep the priests and clergy at bay.

My sole point is this: never take a motherfucker at face value, unless he (or she) is your kind of motherfucker.

That's good enough for me.

ib said...

And. Just to add insult to injury, my son earlier this evening compared me to Gordon Ramsay.

I assume this means he sees me as some foul-mouthed ass with an ingrained sense of his own failings.

Mind you, I am not much of a chef.

Mr. Beer N. Hockey said...

My favourite George Woodcock essay addressed the No Smoking Nazis. It was published in the Vancouver Sun back when the No Smoking Nazis were getting fitted for their filter brown shirts. I wish I could find a copy of it.

The Ramones would have addressed your Zen Garden No Smoking Nazi thusly, "You're a loudmouth baby, you better shut it up."

ib said...

No Smoking Nazi, she was. Whichever airline you and Sonja flew back in on ought to have employed her to take care of Mr. Shit N. Vomit.

A regular sky pilot.

Löst Jimmy said...

I did know a Jehovah's Witness who committed a crime - armed robbery in actual fact. He was a former school peer of mine, who ended up robbing his workplace boss during a ill-planned single-handed wages snatch. He waited until closing wearing a balaclava walloping with a rubber hose and totting a toy gun. 2 years HMP which no doubt allowed him to consider the ungodly error of his ways. Funny to say, but upon hearing the news I felt (oddly) sorry for him. The austere presbyterian teachers at school gave him a hard time for being a JW I think.

Back to the Garden Smoking Nazi, I don't mind people having religion - buddhism I have read much about - it is the singular ferocity of 'born again' types, the unflinching doctrine which is held up as the only path and those outside are to be pitied or condemned.

You like Ramsey?
For fucksake, fucking hell!
Never surely?

ib said...

Superb tale, if a little sad. That's what comes of not celebrating Christmas; or the 'Father Christmas' side of it, at least.

I think Van Morrison was raised as a Jehova's (Can I Get A ?) Witness. That might explain his being such a grumpy bastard.

Oh. And Patti Smith and Lester Bangs too.

I'm not so much a fan, but I have been known to enjoy an episode of "Kitchen Nightmares" or too. Not the "F-Word" or "Hell's Kitchen".

You seem appalled.

Of course, I he belittled me like that I'd smash the Cooking Sherry in his face. Interestingly - which is why I raised it in a roundabout way - by all credible accounts he is apparently extraordinarily shy and nervous off camera. Which begs the question as to why he behaves like such a twat. A very Scottish trait, that defensive arrogance.

On the whole, I feel any restaurateur who fields unsafe food deserves a bollocking.

Crap footballer, mind you.

Löst Jimmy said...

My expletive outburst was of course in honour.

Yes a mate of mine met him when he was in Inverness. Apparently he never swore once during the entire encounter

Have a good weekend when it finally comes around - not too much Chilean Red now...except for fortifying against the winter chill of course!

ib said...

That he didn't find time to swear is vaguely telling.

I'll do my damndest not to drown in the Chilean red. Actually, the staining I suffer around the mouth whenever I drink red these days is almost shameful. Unless I brush my teeth immediately after imbibing, I seem to resemble a vagrant with a thirst for adulterated blood.