zen and the art of public policing

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)


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