Surgery or No Surgery

Master Yao Xin Shakya

Surgery or No Surgery


Sometimes we assign too many miraculous qualities to remedial devices or else we take them for granted and gloss over the good they do. Either way, we don’t really consider to what extent they have come to permeate our personalities. Sometimes we expect too much from them.   There’s an old Spanish folk tale called Las Gafas, which means “the eyeglasses.”  A peasant farmer was standing outside an eye glass shop and overheard the owner say to a happy customer, “With those glasses you will now be able to read everything!” The old farmer saved his money and returned to the shop and asked for reading glasses.  The owner put a pair on the farmer and presented him with a newspaper.  “Can you read this?” he asked.  The farmer said that he couldn’t.  The owner tried another stronger pair; but the farmer couldn’t read the paper with those, either.  The owner tried every possible pair on.  Finally. he closed the last box and said that he could not help the man.  “But I heard you say that your glasses would enable a man to read!” the farmer protested.  Suddenly the owner understood.  Angrily he said, “Do you know how to read?” And the farmer replied, “No, that’s why I’m here.”

Sometimes we grow so accustomed to our eyeglasses that they become as much a part of us as a nose or foot.

When I was a child I had an eye problem that required correction with eye glasses.  Maybe it was because other kids at school needed glasses but for one reason or another didn’t get them, or maybe it was the notion that kids who wore glasses were nerds, but whatever it was, I was a “four-eyed” misfit and had to be reminded of the fact regularly.  Yes, When Clark Kent was the helpless reporter, he wore glasses.  As Superman, his eyes were perfect.  Woody Allen played a series of odd-ball characters who were essentially losers who always wore glasses.  Same thing with Spiderman.  And Robert Carradine in Revenge of the Nerds sealed the fate of any kid who wore glasses.  We were nerds, not good for sports, and if we wanted any friends, they had to be with other “four-eyed” kids and our meetings – because we were excluded from athletic pep talks and practice sessions – were always in libraries. The feeling was that we just wanted to prove ourselves superior in some way and therefore tried to pass ourselves off as intellectuals.  You could make a donkey look like a genius if you put a pair of glasses on him.   It was the kind of cock-eyed thinking that the old peasant had.  Just wearing glasses could make an enormous difference.

Years of this resistance to the Four-Eyed troop, helped to congeal a sense of indomitable unity in that troop that the other 20-20 visionaries didn’t possess.  Our glasses were more than steel, glass, and plastic.  They were a kind of epoxy that held us together.

Then came Lasik surgery.

Defectors from the group went ahead and got the surgery and threw away their “badges” – their “membership cards in our club.  It was as though since children we had drawn our wagons into a defensive circle, and suddenly links in that protective chain vanished.  We were vulnerable.  We discussed the surgery.  I was completely resistant to the idea! Why should I change myself trough surgery to fit others?  Why spend that money for something so unnecessary? People kept asking me why I didn’t have it done, and sometimes I’d say that there were risks of infection, of “Flap” problems, of troublesome ‘dry-eye,’ or of procedural errors that resulted in worse vision problems, such as an intolerable blurriness.  But the percentage of these problems was miniscule compared to the advantages; so, ultimately my reasons was simply that I didn’t want to have it done.  My glasses were part of my identity. When I looked into a mirror, I saw me… a man with glasses.

Naturally, my relatives were less tolerant of my obstinacy. They didn’t understand and began to berate me for refusing to see an eye specialist.  Their anger made my anger rise and soon we were having heated discussions.

One day, after a nasty argument with a new “ex-four-eye” relative, I finally got around to asking myself, “Why the hell are you so touched about this thing? Why does it push your buttons so hard?” Being a Zen Buddhist priest it isn’t my habit to hide myself when I see anger taking root deeply in me. As we all know, anger is a natural tendency and is only rarely benign. The Buddha teaches tells us that anger is born from ignorance, and that ignorance is deeply rooted in our habits and views.So came the questions: What was I ignoring? What was I hiding that resulted in such anger?At first I tried to look into the subject intellectually… and it was a mess. I first thought, “Well, it must be a kind of deep reaction against the crazy consumerism I see in this manner of doing surgery as easily as buying croissant for breakfast.” Then it went to, “It’s is a reaction against what I saw as a kind of silly conformism to new norms dictated by fashion”.  These comfortable excuses suited me for some time.  And then my thoughts hardened into a more durable aggression.  “The people who submit to this are stupid consumerists.  They want to show-off and join the ranks of people who insulted them all their lives.  No, the problem is not in me, it is in them.”

Time passed.  I realized that none of these explanations was satisfactory.  I began to dig deeper. The real work was only beginning. Being a Four-eye wasn’t just a need or even a habit, it really became one of the grids of my identity, my sense of myself, and my sense of security in having a group of friends, like me, who stood bravely against the critical world. By leaving their ranks, I was betraying them just as much as I was betraying myself… capitulating to the world that had shunned me for being different.

I began to understand that I was attached to this worldly device… this pair of eye-glasses… just as I was attached to the people who shared my isolation for all those years.  It was an ego response… not necessarily a bad ego response… but something I created to meet real or imagined challenges.  Glasses were a device, a thing… and while it may have helped me, I had no right to extend my “attachment” to the thing to other people.

Once seen and realized, attachments simply loose their power on us. We still may feel fear or anger but the hidden, somewhat unconscious, play that our ego tries to do looses his impact. We suddenly see through the net the ego weaves to protect itself, and it just doesn’t work anymore. This is why the old masters and patriarchs always asked their students to “keep aware of phenomenon without getting attached to them” or “to not let thought mount to the 6th consciousness where is becomes at home in our minds.”

And now you might ask, did he get that surgery? Well… No. But I can appreciate the reasons that other Four-eyes chose to have the surgery and I’m happy they all had a good result.  Maybe it scares me to have someone operate on my eyes.  Maybe I’m a husband and father now and have other things to spend money on.  I still don’t know why I resist.  I did change the style of glasses I wear.  For decades I wore the same old style and now people stop me to comment about my glasses just as if I had changed my hair color or clothing style. I wonder what they thought all those years before.

But wearing this new pair of glasses, I realized that I saw things better, not just visually, but with deeper insight. Yes I’m wearing my new glasses and when I look at the world around me, as we all do, I do not forget that in our daily lives we need to respect other people’s views, and not always try to tell them what we think is best for them. They can figure it out for themselves – which is the only way to create a common-ground, a commonweal.

So I have to be careful to change glasses from time to time, to integrate other views. And that is the way to break into our own habits and views, which leads to break into self identification, which leads to breaking into fear and ignorance, what the Buddha Shakyamuni transmitted us as Right View which leads to Right Practice and, finally, to Liberation.

Yes, the world would be a happier place if some of us didn’t feel it incumbent upon themselves to tell others how to live and how to think and how, by obeying them, they would be so much happier.  That is a misunderstanding of our individual roles in life, and it makes the farmer who expected reading glasses to enable him to read, seem like a true genius.


image(1) image(2) imagePhoto Credit: Grandmaster Yao Xin Shakya



Hagakure (#7)

Ming Zhen Shakya
Ming Zhen Shakya



Part 7: The Wisdom of the Hagakure: The Secret of Spit


Our text is taken from two aphorisms given in Hagakure: The Book of the Samurai by Yamamoto Jocho Tsunetomo, translated by William Scott Wilson.

Chapter 10: Verse 3 “When faced with a crisis, if one puts some spittle on his earlobe and exhales deeply through his nose, he will overcome anything at hand. This is a secret matter. Furthermore, when experiencing a rush of blood to the head. if one puts spittle on the upper part of one’s ear, it will soon go away.”

Chapter 11: Verse 15 “To calm one’s mind, one swallows his saliva. This is a secret matter. When one becomes angry, it is the same. Putting saliva on one’s forehead is also good. In the Yoshida School of Archery, swallowing one’s spittle is the secret principle of the art.”

What, we wonder, is the secret matter that Jocho alludes to in these intriguing aphorisms? And can saliva rubbed on a forehead or an earlobe possibly reduce anger or make a fighter indomitable? Well… in a very real sense… yes.

The human body has three built-in autonomic nervous systems. The parasympathetic which kicks in when we eat or make love; the sympathetic which activates as we experience fear or anger – the “flight or fight” response; and the enteric which governs intestinal motility and urinary urges.

It is while we are in the domain of the parasympathetic nervous system that we salivate. We may not be rigorously amorous or ravenously wolfing down our food; but we are relaxed or, at the very least, not thinking about running away or getting into a street brawl. When we eat, we salivate as an integral part of the digestive process. When we are amorous, those long, wet kisses and all the various verbs that are common to eating and to mouth-involved lovemaking also require saliva. In peaceful sleep, we slobber like babies. In deep meditation, we drool. Our heart rate slows, our blood pressure drops, and we are utterly “collected,” calm, and focussed on what we’re doing. Seldom are we ever distracted by extraneous thoughts when we are in the pleasant embrace of the parasympathetic nervous system. Nothing can compete for the attention we give a lover or a delicious sirloin steak when we’re hungry.

In the sympathetic nervous system’s domain, the body is jolted into varying degrees of panic or rage. In the fear response, we wish, we pray, we more than anything else in this world want to be anywhere else but where we are. The body, our mind’s wise host, accommodates our desire. It knows that we must conserve body fluids so that we’ll be able to run fast and far to safety. Therefore, when we’re afraid our mouth becomes dry and our hands get “clammy” as blood and fluids are withdrawn from the extremities to serve the requirements of the thighs and lungs. We don’t want our muscles to cramp.

Consider what happens to those of us who are not accomplished public speakers whenever we’re obliged to speak to an important assembly: our blood pressure rises; our heart races; our breathing becomes fast and shallow, and our mouth becomes so arid that our lips seem glued to our teeth. Answers to questions we very well know get “stuck in our throat.” (For the speaker’s convenience, water is always placed on the podium.) We are totally self-conscious. Instead of seeing the people, we see the people seeing us. This displacement of perspective inhibits us from thinking clearly. We stammer. We stiffen, or we tremble. We stare into space with that “deer in the headlights” dumbness. If we’re reading from a text, we lose our place. If we’re reciting from memory, lines that we thought were chiseled into our brain are suddenly obliterated.

And this, says Jocho, is no way enter combat.

The military leader fears most the paralysis that comes from fear. He wants his soldiers to be efficient, agile, obedient, resourceful – and a soldier whose mouth is dry from fear is far from such competence. The good leader therefore inspires his men to trust him, to believe him when he reassures them that they will prevail; and, usually, he promises that after the battle they will drink together to celebrate sweet victory.

The “wet-mouth of fearlessness” is more than just the bravado of being able to spit in the face of an opponent. The promise of libations occurs in natural tandem with the victorious vision. It is no coincidence that triumph is proclaimed with beverages: No matter how cold it is, the winning coach will be doused with Gatorade. No matter how tee-totaling a championship team’s players are, those who don’t swill the champagne will shake a bottle of it and spray other teammates. No matter how exhausted the Indianapolis 500 winner is, he or she will lift that bottle of milk and gulp it as it sloshes down over face and neck. No need to worry about fluids now.

And yet, though a rat will scurry away from danger, it is “the cornered rat” that attacks. This reversal of response can usually be attributed to the body’s attempt to achieve homeostasis. Areas of the brain can be so chemically over stimulated that the body introduces “opposition” substances as it attempts to restore balance. Another example of this oscillation can be seen in a mother’s response to the news that her young son is missing. Terrified, she prays and vows that she will be forever grateful for the boy’s safe return; but when the boy is found dallying with friends her terror converts to anger. She hugs him and then spanks him, chastising him for being disobedient and causing her such anguish. Then she hugs him again. Even the hysterical giggling that occurs from being tickled is said to be a relief response: a person puts his hands on us in what our body momentarily interprets as a possible attack, but as soon as we discover that it is mere playfulness, we react with giddiness and laugh in a peculiar way.

Especially after we’ve endured a serious, life-and-death physical challenge and suddenly realize that we’ve survived intact after gaining our objective, we may display an irrational fury in response to our fear’s over-stimulation. We occasionally see soldiers and police officers go a little berserk when, after a particularly dangerous pursuit, they are so emotionally conflicted with the hormones of fear, relief, aggression, and rage that they lose control of themselves, violently reacting to their captured quarry – and to anyone else unlucky enough to be near him. When the overwhelmed ego cannot interpret all the signals given it, routine training disciplines go unheeded.

This, too, is unsuitable conduct in a combat situation.

The third member of the autonomic nervous system: the enteric, acts to eliminate body waste. When signals between the various systems cause a confused, conflated, panic response, we may experience sudden and totally unexpected diarrhea, urination, vomiting, or cramps. It pays to stay calm.

As to Jocho’s reference to exhaling deeply, in order to do that, the combatant must first have inhaled deeply. Fear constricts our chest and makes our breathing shallow – or sometimes it even makes our breath seem to freeze within our chest. We have heard the descriptions: “I was frozen in terror. I could hardly breathe.” or, “I tried to scream but nothing would come out.” The reason we perform the Healing Breath or other slow, controlled forms of structured breathing when we prepare to enter the meditative zone is simply that controlled breathing initiates a biofeedback loop. A slow, deep, full breath, when held, will cause the thoracic muscles to secrete serotonin as they relax when the breath is exhaled. The serotonin promotes a feeling of well being which conduces to the generation of saliva and the lowering of blood pressure and heart rate.

Naturally, there can be no choking or gasping for air when a breathing exercise is performed. Gasping signals the body that there is a possibility of suffocation and this initiates a panic response. Adrenaline is immediately released, and until the adrenaline is “washed out” of the bloodstream there will be no entry into meditation.

Since controlled and relaxed breathing activates the parasympathetic nervous system, it provides for calm sustained concentration. Fear and anger can focus the attention, too, but it is a different kind of attention – narrow and unaware of ancillary or peripheral information. This, too, is not an advantageous state for combat.

So there we are, standing in front of an assembly, trying to give a speech. We can alternate between being livid with fear and flushed with embarrassment. We may want to run away or, in our embarrassment, we may flare into anger and wish that a bomb go off and level the place, putting our antagonists out of our misery. Embarrassment generally causes a blushing of the face, or, as Jocho puts it, a rush of blood to the head; and this experience of capricious emotion disrupts our performance. What is needed is the calm, cool, unemotional exercise of duty. And this can be found only in the domain of the parasympathetic nervous system – evidenced by that nice steady flow of saliva and that deep, controlled breathing.

Jocho’s “secret” lies in not getting into the fearful state at all. It takes a few seconds to activate the sympathetic nervous system but without disciplined counter measures, it requires an hour or so for these chemical agents to be purged from the bloodstream. Regaining composure is a very good thing; but better still is not losing it in the first place.

How do we prevent fear from occurring? Insofar as combat or physical competition is concerned, we train by repeatedly experiencing situations that at first elicit a fear response but then repeatedly prove to be harmless. By “crying wolf” sufficiently, the mind is lulled or tricked into ignoring the fearful message. We habituate to the presence of the stimuli of danger when they do not deliver the expected harm. Also, the drill sergeant who shouts obscenities at his men, who heaps insults upon them, is training them that “sticks and stones may break your bones but names will never hurt you.” A soldier that is easily provoked into anger, is likewise a poor combatant.

Consider that old “crying wolf” story. A farm boy wants attention and knows that if he shouts that he is being threatened by a wolf, the workers in the field will come to save him. So he cries, “Wolf! Wolf!” Alarmed, the workers come running… but there is no wolf. A few days later, the boy again cries, “Wolf! Wolf!” And again the workers run to his aid. But there is no wolf. They may be fooled a third or even a fourth time. But they will soon ignore his cries. They have habituated to the distress call and no longer allow it interfere with their duties.

When two martial artists are in training, contesting on a mat, one may be thrown violently to the ground. But he gets up and to his body’s surprise, he is not hurt. He may be clumsy in his initial reactions, but with enough practice, he acquires confidence and can respond effectively.

There is a story told about training in Zen monasteries in which older students are permitted to kick or punch a new trainee at will. The newcomer learns to be alert to possibilities. Danger can come from any side and from any one and at any time. At first he is a nervous wreck. But he understands that he is being subjected to learning experiences and that there is no malice directed towards him, that the intention is not to destroy but to teach. This helps him to maintain a positive attitude despite the bruises; and once his body acquires the reassurance that the blows are not going to be fatal, he eagerly goes to the dojo to learn those techniques which block attacks against him – providing he can remain in control of his emotions. Eventually he learns not merely to parry, but to reposte. Once he is able to strike back effectively, his opponents respect him and his elementary training period is over.

And this is true of any kind of combative skill. With repeated encounters that do not result in serious harm, the fear diminishes until it dissipates entirely. If a warrior stays calm, he stays in control. He is not likely to flee in fear from his post just as he is not likely to let his emotions devolve into uncontrolled rage.

The control of performance fear – artistic, scholastic, or of a variety of events that require a public presentation – requires uninterrupted concentration upon the material. The moment the performer wonders how his audience is regarding him, he has broken his concentration and will fumble his lines. A series of successful performances provides sustaining poise, but when the material is being delivered for the first time, concentrated self control is required. Rehearsal helps the quality of the performance, but the focus cannot be shifted from delivering the material to considering the audience’s appraisal of it.

Jocho often asserts that spiritual conviction confines the ego’s focus upon inwardly directed sacred service and generates the faith that all will be as it should be, regardless of the outcome. Trouble occurs when attention is shifted outwardly in prideful concern for one’s appearance or reputation. Inward focus promotes the humility necessary for meditative freedom from the interfering ego. Outward focus creates the obstacle of ego awareness that slows down all action and reaction times.

Humility and a lack of desire for status are the best aids a performer can have. This requires the self-discipline to stay focussed on the task, faith in the outcome, and an understanding of the parasympathetic biofeedback loop.

Once the practitioner acquires the ability to enter the meditative zone at will, he can act and react subliminally, with extraordinary alacrity.

The angry or fearful hand is not steady; but the relaxed hand is – and for this reason the archer who can swallow his saliva – that magical elixir – attests to his being in control of his emotions. He’s on his way to becoming one with the bow, the arrow, and the target.

Jocho, a Buddhist monk and a Samurai, knew the extent to which ignorance, egotism, improper and incomplete training, and juvenile emotions hamper the ability to fight effectively. The warrior who is afraid is emotional, and in an emotional state, it is not possible to enter that vaunted meditative zone in which the ego yields to its Buddha Self; and the sensory data of action and reaction slip directly, automatically, and “subliminally” under the threshold of consciousness.

As long as fear dries the mouth, the man who stands on the battlefield with spit to spare is somebody whose side you want to be on.


The Squatters (#3)

Ming Zhen Shakya
Ming Zhen Shakya
 To see more literature about Zen and the Art of Investigation:

The Squatters

by Anthony Wolff (Ming Zhen Shakya)

To see all available chapters of “The Squatters” click here


Part 3: The squatters strike back.


A good night’s sleep had clarified his objectives which he discussed with Helena over breakfast.

“Naturally, I don’t want to see them suffer.  I am a good and gentle man.  I simply want to see them gone. Let’s not involve any other people unless we have to.  I had wanted to lower a dead animal down their chimney and drive them out with the smell of decomp, but your idea of getting that fart and skunk juice at a party store is a much better idea.  But we shouldn’t buy it around here. I have an idea. We’ve missed the Santa Fe summer opera season but we can spend the night in Santa Fe at the Hotel San Francisco. They serve wonderful Irish oatmeal with dates and nuts and cream for breakfast.  Then we can hop down to Albuquerque and hit the party shops.”

A date?  Helena’s eyes filled with tears. She used her napkin to wipe one away and murmured, “That would be wonderful.  I have just the dress to wear for dinner at a fine hotel.”

“I hope you like to dance,” he said gallantly.  She blushed.

“But first things first.  I have all the documentation that’s required to ask the post office to hold my mail for personal pickup except an Arizona driver’s license.  Let’s do that now.  I’ve got one from Nevada, so it shouldn’t be a problem.  No moving violations whatsoever.”

They drove Helena’s Lexus to the Department of Motor Vehicles and while she waited, Rick took the brief written test and then had his photograph taken.  The license would be mailed to him within 48 hours. “This means,” Rick noted, “that we have to be outside waiting for the mailman when he comes to deliver the mail.”

“He comes by at 11 a.m. faithfully every day.  I know him personally.”

“As soon as I get my license, I’ll go to the P.O. and stop the mail.  Then we’ll steam open their mail and find out things we need to know about them… phone numbers, bank account numbers, rent checks paid to them… things of that sort. Harmless actions.”

Helena agreed to the plan and amplified it. “After we’re finished with their mail, I can take Bruno for a walk and casually stick it in their mailbox along with any other junk mail.   If there’s ever a question, I’ll say it was received by me in error.”


On Monday of the following week, Rick took his driver’s license and grant deed to the post office and put a hold on all mail delivered to his address. Every day he picked up his mail, and, after culling it for information and resealing it, Helena would nonchalantly walk past the squatters’ curbside mailbox and casually insert it.

“A kettle and steam,” Rick noted.  “Who needs high tech solutions?”


Harry and Pamela Nicholson, the neighbors who lived in the house across the street with their four grade-school children, had not been particularly nice to Helena ever since the squatters moved in.  As the squatters increased their income by renting rooms, the number of cars in the area grew.  There were no concrete sidewalks on the street – passage across the lawns that paralleled the street was effected by flag stones or other spaced brick pavers – but soon the cars and trucks, driven often in drunken carelessness, were knocking down mail boxes and parking on lawns. On many occasions, the Nicholsons found their driveway blocked and had to call the police.  As the offending car was being towed away, always, according to the scheme, the car owners said that they had been given permission to park there by Ms. Maxwell who claimed she owned the property. Having said some ugly things to Ms. Maxwell, the Nicholsons were loathe to admit their mistake when they learned the truth.  And she, considering them an ally of the squatters, made no attempt to be friendly to them.

On one occasion, the squatters called Animal Control to report the Nicholsons for an animal cruelty infraction, leaving Ms. Maxwell’s name as the complainant.  They had secretly opened the Nicholson’s gate, letting their cocker spaniel out.  They immediately replaced it with a sick and emaciated dog one of their renters provided.  Animal Control took the sick animal into custody and since there was no chip in the animal’s scruff, issued a citation.  The Nicholsons sounded moronic when they insisted to the judge that their spaniel was well fed and cared for and missing.  Only a costly appearance by their veterinarian convinced the court that this was not the animal the Nicholsons brought him for routine care. Still, before his testimony could be given, the Nicholsons had directed harsh words at Helena and repeatedly demanded that she tell them what she had done with their dog.

After the July 4th incident, when the police did canvass the neighborhood, asking if anyone was aware of illegal fireworks being used on the street, the Nicholsons, who were aware of such fireworks, spitefully said that they knew nothing.  It was a lie and they knew it, but shame when not overcome by quick apology, has a way of converting into reasonable self-defense. As the troublesome nature of the squatters became more apparent, they automatically forgave themselves for being coerced into committing such an understandable offense.

Despite these difficult circumstances, an incident occurred that gave Rick and Helena an opportunity to convert the Nicholsons into allies.

Harry Nicholson had hired a contractor to build a low brick wall across the front of his property.  He did not extend the wall up the sides of the property and so no right-of-way infringements occurred. The street was exceptionally wide and allowances for traffic and parking were easily observed. A gutter running along his property created a dip in the street surface so that his three foot high brick wall – which met existing building codes – seemed higher.  The new brick wall, completed on the Friday that Rick and Helena left for Santa Fe, had been landscaped with honeysuckle that would have remained green throughout the year.  The wall lasted two days. The Nicholsons awakened on a rainy Sunday morning to discover that an unknown vehicle had backed into the wall, knocking a six foot section of it onto the lawn and walkway.

Harry went across the street and examined the cars and trucks that were parked on the lawn and street.  Just as he found a heavy duty truck that had fresh rear end damage, one of the squatters came to the window holding a rifle and demanded that Harry get off his property.  Harry had a camera with a telephoto lens and ran home to get it so that he could safely photograph the damaged vehicle; but before he could find it and return to get the photos, the truck drove away along with his proof.  Two days later the truck returned, but the damage to its rear had been repaired.  Harry complained to the sheriff who sent a deputy to question the truck’s owner who, as expected, denied any knowledge whatsoever of the collision.


Just before they made their New Mexico trip, however, Rick and Helena talked about many instances of squatter criminality as they sipped what had become Helena’s speciality: vodka gimlets.  Helena, wanting to know how they would register – whether as friends in two rooms or man and wife in one – tried to steer their conversation to the planned visit to Santa Fe.  “Let’s talk about pleasant things,”she said. “It’ll be good to see the Painted Desert and the Petrified Forest.”  Rick agreed.

The neighborhood had been in a quiescent phase and judging from the information Rick gleaned from opening squatter mail, a funeral plot and casket for one Jay J. Mulroy of Cincinnati, Ohio, had recently been purchased. Rick consulted a calendar. “Some of them may have gone East for the funeral service.  Let’s see. Columbus Day falls on October 8th.  It amazes me to think that I’ve lived with you for only ten days and here we are, preparing to take a long holiday weekend together.”

“Yes,” Helena tried not to sound eager.  “The time does seem opportune.  Only the squatters’ renters seem to be home.”

“Since we’re only going to be gone a few days, let’s leave tomorrow morning,” Rick suggested, “the 6th, and lessen the odds that your property will be damaged. I’ll change our hotel reservations right away.”  He called the hotel.

The subject of how they would register was answered. Rick ordered a suite for two.  It saddened Helena that her self-esteem had become so low that she had ever doubted that he would publicly disown her. “So much will seem new to me,” she confided.  “I hope I remember how to dance and which fork is the salad fork.”

Rick laughed.  “Let’s make a deal,” he said. “I promise not to step on your feet if you promise not to step on mine.” It was meant to be a joke (he said it as a child would say, ‘I’ll show you mine if you show me yours,’ and the two of them chuckled.

Helena immediately went into Holbrook to an exclusive cosmetics shop and bought herself new heavy-duty make-up.


On the road to Santa Fe, Rick told her a sanitized version of his partial castration.  “I vouched for a friend who borrowed a considerable amount of money from the wrong kind of people.  He asked me to vouch for him… co-sign, so to speak… and then he just skipped out without repaying them, and they came to me and collected the full amount plus an exorbitant amount of interest and inflicted physical damage as a special punishment for having vouched for the fellow.  I’ll let you see the results when we get to the hotel,” he said.  “I’m only beginning to be comfortable with exclusivity of the “dress left” tailor’s measurement.  I used to be “dress right.”  Helena did not know what this meant, and he laughed and told her about zippers and the scrotum and penis bulge.  She thought it was adorable that he shared the information with her.  It seemed to confirm that they were, indeed, “a couple.”

Dr. and Mrs. Rick Dubrovsky (he claimed a divinity doctorate) left their room wearing formal clothing.  They frequented a few hotels near the downtown plaza in Santa Fe and returned to spend such a night sating their long-starved lust that it was necessary to stay another day.  On their way home on Wednesday they stopped at a party shop in Albuquerque and bought a supply of the worst “fart and skunk stench-in-a-bottle” the store sold.
When they were finally home, they watched on their monitors the events of the days during their absence.  The truck and wall incident was completely recorded in astonishing clarity.  Rick consulted the manual.  “Now is the time for us to make friends of your neighbors.  The license number of the truck can easily be read.”  He copied the incident onto a DVR.  “Here, my darling Helena,” Rick said, “take this to them as a belated gift. Tell them that after we left for our holiday, I forgot my camera and came back to get it. I had important film on it I wanted to show our friends. To make sure the camera was working properly, I did a test film and happened to catch this action. I immediately started to go outside to confront the driver but he had just driven away. You were waiting for me in Santa Fe – we had a social affair to attend – and I didn’t want to keep you waiting. When we returned we saw that the truck had been repaired.”  He frowned.  “When those sons of bitches could have helped you on the Fourth of July, they stayed quiet.  Make it clear that we won’t testify about the footage because we fear the reprisals of these terrible people. Give them a dose of their own medicine.”

Giddy with the thought of being useful to “her man,” Helena crossed the street and knocked on the Nicholson’s door. She did not see that several of the squatters were watching her and wondering what was contained in the disk she carried in the plastic DVR case.

Pamela answered and saw immediately the plastic case Helena held up and waved teasingly in her hand. “Come in,” she said.  “Is something wrong?”

“I know we haven’t seen eye-to-eye in the past, but my houseguest happened to pick this up on his camera. You may find it useful, and we’d be remiss if we didn’t avail you of the opportunity to see it.  He went out to confront the driver, but the man had already driven away.”

Harry came into the room.  He put the DVR into the TV player and watched in stunning detail as the truck knocked down the wall, with the clearly visible driver who did leave the driver’s seat to examine the rear of his truck, and then simply drove away.  “I don’t know how to thank you,” Harry said.

“It’s nothing.  Rick and I only wish we could have gotten this to you sooner.  But we’re glad to help. I hope you understand that we cannot come forward in court to help you by authenticating the film.  I’ve already sustained enough damage.   Rick will not allow me to expose myself further to their deadly tricks. But this video should ease your mind about who exactly damaged your wall.  I hope you understand our need for anonymity.”

“Of course,” Harry assured her.  “No one understands better than we how vindictive those bums are.  Please convey my thanks to Rick.”  Harry gallantly opened the front door for her and nodded his head as he smiled gratefully and waved in the direction of her house in case Rick was watching.

Helena knew that she had secured two allies.  The squatters saw that she was now empty-handed and judged from the effusive way the Nicholsons stood in the doorway and thanked her as she left, that the silver record she carried was undoubtedly a video.  Don Dawson smirked.  “Is she bringin’ it or returnin’ it? Ain’t no Blue Grass music they’re listening to.  Whatcha’ think is on that record?”

Olvia Dawson offered an explanation.  “You know… one of the renters told me he saw some strange guy up on their roof. I looked through binoculars but I couldn’t see anything. If they’ve got cameras, they’re pretty well hidden. Maybe they got a new kind… one the stores don’t use outside.  Funny they didn’t give them any video of the brick wall being knocked down sooner.”

Dawson smirked.  “How could they? It happened when they was away.”

“Yes, dear.  I know. The whole purpose of the cameras is to record stuff that happens when folks aren’t home.”

Dawson grunted an acknowledgement of his wife’s superior knowledge about such things.
Since Halloween was quickly approaching, Rick and Helena agreed that the general hubbub of the evening would provide the greatest cover for her to “deliver” the stench-liquid.  Pamela Nicholson came to tell Helena that she and several other neighbors had agreed to hold private parties to avoid having the squatters’ children come to their homes.  The front of their houses would, therefore be kept dark.

Rick, unaccustomed to feelings of manly responsibility, was uneasy with the thought that all the houses would be “off limits” to the children next door. His own parents had strictly avoided participating in such pagan celebrations. He recalled how he felt missing out on all the fun.  He bought pumpkins, cut monster faces in them, and placed candles inside.  Helena would be shutting off the electricity so that she could go up onto their rooftop without any record being made of her excursion.  Rick bought several bags of candy bars to give to the children who came to the front door and, draped in a old sheet which was supposed to make him look like a ghost, he sat inside near several lit pumpkins, positioning himself close to the door to be sure that no one entered.  Helena, meanwhile, hopped the fence, hoisted herself up onto an air-conditioning unit, and then onto the roof where she poured the fart and skunk scent down their chimney.

While the four squatter children came to the door, their parents stood on the driveway near the street, waiting for them. After they each got a candy bar of their choice, Rick assumed that all the trick-or-treat children had already come to the house, but he stayed by the front door, waiting for Helena. He blew out all but one of the candles and began to pick through the candy bars stuffing himself with the ones he liked.  He heard a tapping on the front door and opened it to find an eight-year-old girl from the squatters’ house.  She had previously received candy from him and Rick became immediately suspicious.  “Can I use your bathroom?” the girl asked.

“No. I’m sorry,” Rick said, “but you have a bathroom you can use next door where you are staying.”

Suddenly the girl screamed and dropped her trick-or-treat bag scattering candy on the portico’s floor.  She ran to her parents screaming, “He made me do bad things to him!”  Her father, Don Dawson, and two other squatters, Andy and Clive, marched up the driveway towards Rick who quickly shut and locked the door.

The girl’s father pulled a child’s torn and slightly blood-stained panties from his pocket and threw it down amongst the candy.  “You can’t hide, you pervert!” he shouted.  “We’ve already called the police.” With a powerful kick, he smashed in the front door’s stained glass panel, reached through the aperture, and turned the lock. Rick tried to wrestle with him but two other men jumped on him, pinning him down. “Hold his legs so’s I can get his pants and shorts off,” Dawson yelled, and he reached up under the ghost-sheet and clawed at Rick’s thrashing body to get a grip on the underwear and pajama bottom.  In the semi-dark foyer he could not see that he left long scratches on either side of Rick’s waist.

Olivia appeared at the door’s aperture. “We’ve called 9-1-1,” she said.  Dawson handed her Rick’s torn-away garments.  “A unit’s on the way,” she said, secreting them under her coat as she turned and ran back to the street.

Helena had returned to the house and because some of the stench was on her, went directly to the  shower.  She had gone up the rear staircase to her bathroom and had no idea of the events taking place in the front of her house.

While the men continued to subdue Rick, the police arrived.  “We’ve made a citizen’s arrest of this child-molester,” the men said as Rick was transferred into police custody.

The wailing child told her horrific tale of being forced to touch the man who had pulled both his and her pants off and made her fellate him while he touched her “down there,” hurting her badly. Since the sheet might contain evidence of the crime, Rick was read his rights and led away in handcuffs and a tattered bed sheet. Helena came downstairs and saw Rick being led away as the squatter-women shouted “child molester” at him.  She quickly got their supply of bottled stench and the notations they had made of information gotten from the mail and put it in a carry-all bag.  She also got a folder that contained the deed to her house.  She ran down to the garage, opened the garage door, and against the protests of the two remaining deputies who were putting yellow tape across her portico, drove to the bus station and put the evidence in a locker.  She then drove directly to the lawyer who had unsuccessfully represented her previously

Dodge Rosewall, Esq. answered his door with some annoyance.  It was a little late for children to be calling at his home.  Seeing an obviously distraught Helena Maxwell, his attitude changed immediately and, though he was in a dressing gown, he invited her into his study.

“Those squatters are trying to frame my… well… fiancé.. though that is by no means official. He felt sorry for the children because all the other neighbors had private parties for the expressed purpose of excluding those brats.  But Rick, who is the legal owner of that property – and, incidentally, is a former seminary graduate, is a compassionate man and he bought candy bars to give them in case they came trick or treating.” She completed the sordid tale.

“Where were you when all of this was supposedly happening?”

“Uh… Uh… Is that important?”

“Of course it’s important!  It’s your house.”

“You’ll hate me if I tell you the truth.”

“I won’t take your case unless you do.”

“Rick and I went to Santa Fe for the holiday and on our way back we bought some stinky stuff in a Party store and I poured it down their chimney.”

“That was a childish thing to do.  I would have understood it better if you took an AK47 and shot them all.  But you didn’t.  You resorted to ‘self help’ and that is invariably a problem.”

“We had an elaborate security system installed.  Rick paid for it.  We have cameras everywhere, but because we didn’t want the cameras to pick me up climbing up onto their rooftop, we turned the system off.”

“Are you telling me everything?”

“Previously we did toss a few balloons filled with syrup at their lawn and we tossed a dead rabbit we found on the road into their… no… Rick’s swimming pool.”

“Helena, that is kid stuff.  You ought to be ashamed of yourself.  But something tells me that you haven’t finished your litany of dirty tricks…. so let’s have it.”

“Rick, having proof that the address is his, had all the mail held at the post office.  We picked it up and steamed open any mail that might contain information about them… phone numbers from their phone bill, credit card information, letters from Dawson’s grandmother that would yeald an answer to “mother’s maiden name”… that sort of thing.  Then we resealed the envelopes and I put everything in their mailbox.”

“Do you have any idea how serious these charges are?  Sure, if they win a child molestation charge they can get Rick’s house – which they already have, de facto if not de jure.  He’ll go to prison for at least a dozen years.  But you have no home owner’s insurance as I recall.  You’ll lose your house to them, too.  And for tampering with the U.S Mail you may get a little time in the slammer, too.”

“What am I to do?”

“Do you have money enough to pay for a defense?”

“Cash, no.  But I have the deed to my house.”

“Then sign it over to me immediately.” He produced additional papers from a desk drawer. “Sign these, too,” he said.  “Don’t worry about the house.  I’ll refund to you whatever’s left from representing you.  They can’t touch the house as long as it is legitimately given in lieu of cash as my fee.  I’ll use it as collateral to pay Rick’s bond.  We’ve got to get him out of jail.  I don’t trust the sanctity of jailhouse interview rooms.  I’ll talk to him when we get him out. Make sure he has a dollar to give me to make my representation legal.  A dollar,” he explained, “will create an attorney-client relationship, but it will hardly suffice to cover my fee.  Getting him out of trouble will be a major enterprise.   Tell me…” he asked slyly, “does he have ready access to his property’s deed? And, is it unencumbered?” J. Dodge Rosewall, sixty, flat-black dyed white hair, and a lifetime of failures buried in the furrows and creases of his face, saw his clients not as defendants or plaintiffs, but as potential sources of income.  He adjusted his knowledge of the law to fit the task of extracting as much money as he could from the client.  Only “billable hours” and “retainers” determined the merits of a case.
Harry Nicholson had seen the police cars arrive.  He had been watching the house, cursing Rick for being so “soft” as to give candy to the squatting vandals.  He bore witness to the fact that the little girl had knocked at the door and when Rick opened it, she had turned, screaming “rape” to her parents.  He could not account for Helena’s whereabouts.  The trees had not yet completely lost their foliage and she could not be seen as she tiptoed to the chimney.

He called the sheriff’s station and learned of the charges.  “They’re absolutely false charges,” he assured the deputy, a fellow who played on a bowling team at the lanes Harry’s team used.

“Well, if you’ve got something to say about this matter – which is very serious – come on in and give your statement.”

Harry left immediately for the station.  He was ushered into a rear interview room where he sat unattended for half an hour. Not only was it a busy holiday night, but everyone’s interest was focussed on the recently apprehended child molester.

Rick, never without the resources of his mind, had asked the sheriff, an investigating detective, a deputy, and an assistant district attorney to come into the secured interrogation room.  The four men had the demeanor of good men who had caught a bad man in the act.  “Gentlemen,” Rick began, “I’d like to show you something that will immediately give the lie to the charges that child and her parents are making.  But,” he added, “I can’t do this without your cooperation.”  This was certainly a novel approach.  The men brought extra chairs into he room and sat down.

Rick continued.  “The girl says that I made her fellate me and that I put my fingers into her private parts. I was attacked by her father and two other men immediately.  And then I was transferred into your custody.  At no time have I had an opportunity to wash my hands.  So, first I’d like you to have your forensic people swab my hands completely. I never touched that child. Secondly, she has said that I made her fellate me.  I’d like you to show her photographs of a normal men’s penis and scrotum and also pictures of men who have undergone an orchidectomy… one testicle removed without any prosthetic implant.  The difference in appearance between a normal man,” he stood up and lifted his sheet so that they could clearly see the surgical procedure he had recently undergone, “is noticeable to anyone with eyes.  I didn’t touch that child and I did not ask her to touch me in any way.”  It was the first time that he had seen the scratches on his waist. He lifted his T-shirt to see the full length of the scratches.  “Look at this!” he nearly squealed, “these are the marks of wide adult fingernails, not a little girl’s scratches.”  He looked up registering horror that his flesh had been scraped by “a filthy beast like Dawson!”

The onlookers were more interested in Rick semi-castration. “Son of a bitch,” the detective said.  “More trouble from those squatters.  I don’t know what the hell is keeping the owner of that joint from taking legal action against them.”

Rick bowed his head.  “I, sir, am the legal owner.  Your point is well taken.  My negligence is  to blame.  But of this child molestation charge, I am innocent.”

A forensic technician came into the interview room and swabbed Rick’s hands looking for any trace of blood or tissue from the scratch on the girls pubic area.  He also trimmed Rick’s fingernails. ‘I’ll give you a preliminary report asap,” the technician said as he left.

“First,” said the A.D.A., “see what there is to be found under Donald Dawson’s nails. And if you find human tissue, type it precisely and come back and get exemplars from this man’s waist.” He turned to the others to explain, “There’s skin and then there’s skin.”

The photograph library was searched for pictures of male sexual organs.  No one could find a photograph of a scrotum that had only one testicle. When the sheriff regretted this, Rick lost his temper.  “For God’s sake, then take photos of mine.  Put them with the others and see how she reacts!”   Using several different cameras, angles, and backgrounds, Rick’s genital area was photographed.  One was selected for the photo line-up.

Jeffrey Lowe, the Assistant District Attorney, had already summoned, according to procedure, a child psychologist, Dr. Irene Ives, who was regarded as a “stupid opinionated bitch” by the entire department, including the women. When she went into the interview room to question the victim privately, the others watched from the other side of a two-way mirror.  They also listened to the interview.

Holding two dolls, a male doll that wore a loin cloth and a female doll who wore a sun dress and underwear, Dr. Ives began, “Shawna, can you tell the difference between these two dolls?”

“Yes,” sniffed the girl.  “The man has a towel around him and the lady is wearing a dress.”

“Excellent!” Dr. Ives exclaimed.  “Now, let’s pretend that the lady doll is trick-or-treating and comes to the man doll’s door.”  She placed the two dolls into the child’s hands.  “Can you show  me what happened when after she knocked at the door?”

Shawna Dawson was confused.  She had not been rehearsed in the scenario using dolls. “I asked for candy… trick or treat.” She looked away and pursed her lips.

“And then did the bad man tell you that he had candy inside?” Dr. Ives asked.

“My God,” the ADA whispered, “She’s leading this kid. A good defense counsel could get the whole thing thrown out.”

“Let’s get a real doc in here,” the Sheriff said, summoning a deputy. “Get Dr. Ferguson over here to conduct a prelim.”

Shawna Dawson twiddled her thumbs. “He said he had good candy for me inside and that I should come in.  I went in and he shut the door and took my hand and led me into the living room.  He showed me a big bowl of candy bars and said I could have them all if I did something nice for him.  Then… then….  Oh, I don’t want to talk about it.  I want my Daddy.” Shawna pursed her lips again, indicating that she would say no more.

“Daddy’s outside waiting for you.  We’ll see him as soon as we finish talking in here.” She picked up the dolls.  “We don’t have to talk about what he did to you, but these dollies want you to show me what he did to them if they were you when you, as the girl dolly, went into the house and asked the boy dolly for candy.”

Shawna picked up the girl doll and pulled down its panties.  Then she removed the loin cloth from the boy doll and bent the girl doll’s legs so that she was kneeling before him.  She then described the action with flawless detail.  Dr. Ives thanked her and led her from the room to her waiting father who was, at the moment, balking at having his fingernails scraped and cut by the technician.  “You lookin’ for his skin?  You’re gonna find it!  I had to fight the bastard and he’s a big fat guy.”

The ADA privately asked Dr. Ives for her opinion.  “Undoubedly she is telling the truth. No child could relate the event in such detail unless she had, in fact, experienced it.  I’ll have my report on your desk in the morning.” She saw the police surgeon and a registered nurse arrive. “What’s he doing here?  The physical examination should be conducted in a hospital.”

The police surgeon paused to answer her.  “The sheriff asked me to come in and do a preliminary exam,” he said as the sheriff handed him a release form. “I see we have parental permission,” the doctor said.  “Good. Let’s go into the infirmary.”

It was clear that there was a fresh superficial scratch and many old vaginal scars.  He left the girl with the nurse and came out of the infirmary to speak to the Sheriff.  “She’s got a fresh scratch on the inside of her thigh and a lot of old vaginal scars that evidence some serious trauma. Since your suspect has been in the vicinity for less than two weeks, he can’t have caused the damage.  The child’s hymen was not intact.  It had been breached, and,” the physician added, “not recently. I’ll send you a formal report, but in my opinion, he’s not your guy.”

The sheriff called the ADA aside and informed him of the surgeon’s finding.  “Proceed with that photo lineup,” the ADA said.

The forensic tech called to tell the sheriff that under gross examination the material under Dubrovsky’s nails was chocolate and ordinary household dust.  “There’s lots of human tissue under Dawson’s nails.  I’ll get you the DNA results asap.”

As Don Dawson, the complaining parent, signed the official typed document he had just dictated, a photo line-up of male genitalia was spread on an interview table and the girl was asked to pick the one that looked most like the man who had assaulted her.  Fortunately, she picked one that had a small penis and large scrotum, and to Rick’s relief, the sheriff nodded affirmatively to him and Rick’s possessions were returned to him with the request that he not leave town.

To the chagrin of the child psychologist who was soothing the “tormented” child, the ADA informed Dawson that his daughter showed no evidence whatsoever of having recently been molested.  “She isn’t a virgin and she couldn’t correctly pick a photograph of genitalia that even remotely resembled the man she accused,” he said sternly. Meanwhile, a deputy was downloading Dawson’s RAP sheet.

All this was too much for Dawson to comprehend and he began to berate the child viciously for not having told her story properly.  The ADA placed him under arrest for suspicion of having filed a false police report, a charge that would hold him until they could get a complete rundown on his criminal past.  The deputy shouted, “Hold on! There’s a warrant out for him in Ohio!”

“Cuff him,” the ADA said, “And read him his rights!”  A bailiff had entered the room intending to escort Rick to the admission’s room where he’d be given “jailhouse stripes” to wear as his sheet was collected as evidence.  The bailiff was confused.  “We’ve got a different guest to admit,” the ADA said, pointing to Dawson.  He looked at Clive and Andy.  “Three of them.” He looked to the deputy, “Cuff ’em!”

  1. Dodge Rosewall and Helena entered the room just as the ADA said this, and seeing Rick standing there without any restraints on him, assumed that the ADA meant that Rick should be cuffed.  “Just a minute, Counselor,” he shouted  “I represent Dr. Dubrovsky and I’d like a few minutes to confer with my client.”

Rick began to say, “I don’t need–”

Rosewall abruptly cut him off.  “Say nothing and do you have a dollar on you?”

Helena stepped forward and pressed a dollar bill into Rick’s hand. “Give him the dollar… please, Darlng. Please,” she begged. Rick, annoyed by the presence of an attorney he did not need, but wondering if there was something else going on that he did not know about, gave the dollar to Rosewall.

“Good. Now it’s official,” Rosewall whispered.  He turned to the sheriff, “Which interview room should we use?”

“Your client is not under arrest,” the sheriff said simply.  “He’s free to go.”

Rick turned to the Sheriff. “Those three men assaulted me – as your own deputies can attest.  They also smashed the stained glass panel in Ms. Maxwell’s front door which I had just locked. The door will be expensive to repair. Tomorrow my bruises will come out more clearly if you want to photograph them.  But they attacked me, punching and kicking me and pinning me to the ground.  And all of that brutality was part of their scheme to extort money from me by filing false charges.  Am I wrong?”

“They were pretty rough on him,” the deputy said.  “And the door was in fact destroyed… they kicked the stained glass clear through.  Hung there like a broken web.”

Rick signed the complaint and the other two men, Clive and Andy, were also arrested.  Their wives, however, were not and, though Shawna was placed into the care of Child Protective Services, they were free to go pending charges of child abuse and neglect that might possibly follow in another day or two.

Suddenly, everyone stopped to look at Harry Nicholson who ran down the hall and burst into the station’s main room. “This man,” he said, pointing at Rick and waving a DVR, “did not allow that child into the house.  I was watching from across the street.  I saw the parents waiting at the lawn’s edge.  The kid went up to the door, knocked, he opened the door and she started screaming ‘rape’ and ran back to them and the three of them broke in the door to attack him.”

Harry pointed at Dawson who responded by calling him “a nosy bastard,” among other unpleasant names. “You’re just trying to take it out on me… that brick wall business.”

Rick’s case was not the only one being processed in the station.  People who had been waiting began to complain and everyone began shouting for attention.  Aside from the complaints of strangers, Rick insisted that he would sue Dawson for damages and wanted to sign a complaint.  The psychologist decried the police surgeon’s lack of respect for her profession.  The ADA accused the psychologist of incompetence and naivete.  Harry defended Rick as being a good neighbor and again charged the squatters with knocking down his brick wall. Helena wanted her attorney to return the deed to her house.  Another deputy insisted that it was pointless to cuff a man before his fingerprints were taken.  The sheriff required five minutes of shouting before he could get control of the station.

Harry Nicholson and all non-essential persons were ordered to leave the station.  Harry went to a chair in the corner and sat down.

Rick stayed to talk to the ADA about the “break-in and battery” of the three men.  He could hear Helena and Rosewall talking.  He had not paid much attention to what they said, but a note of anxiety had filled Helena’s voice. So he held up a finger to his lips and gestured that the ADA should wait a moment until he finished listening. Helena had asked Rosewall to return her deed to her because, “It was just a mistake… one that followed on several errors.  Rick is not under arrest for anything.  I’ll happily pay you for your consultation this evening; but I’d really like my deed returned.”

Rosewall had taken a “father knows best” attitude towards her.  “Now Helena… you and I have known each other long enough to know that I would never do anything to harm you.  The deed kept in my hands as a retainer is a wise investment on your part.  True, it is not needed for bail… yet.  But you and Rick are not out of danger yet.  Those people can cause you both a great deal of trouble.  I’m asking you to take a few days to think about it and see what develops from your self-help adventures.”

Rick knew that if he could hear Rosewall, so could the ADA. Any normal person would ask, “What self-help adventures?” This was outrageous! Her own attorney was standing in a police station all but charging her with criminal conduct.  Fortunately, Harry, seeing a pause in Rick’s conversation, jumped up and broke into the discussion.  He waved the DVD in front of the ADA and insisted that he at least watch it.

Rick immediately supported the idea.  “Yes, it will give you some idea of what we’re dealing with.”  The three of them went into the sheriff’s office and played the DVD.

“These people are evil,” Harry said. “You cannot continue to sit by and allow our lives to be destroyed.  Your function is to protect and to serve us, the citizens.”

ADA Lowe was trying to be reasonable.  “You can’t hold Dawson responsible for knocking down your wall. We can clearly see the driver and it isn’t Dawson.   But it is proof that the man left the scene of an accident, although the DA will want the video authenticated. So at this stage you need to get your ducks in a row, and decide what you want to do – charging anybody at that house with anything comes with a load of risk.  If you think your brick wall is worth it, I’ll give you all the cooperation I can when you sign the complaint.”

Harry Nicholson looked at Rick who negatively wagged his head, indicating that he would not authenticate the recording. “I can’t give you the source of the video, that’s a promise I had to make,” Harry said,  “and for the same reason – the goddamned reprisals of those lunatics – I’ll let it go… for now. I just wanted you to see what we’re up against.”

The Journey Home

Ming Zhen Shakya

Father Terry Kraychuk –The Journey Home with Marcus  Grodi

The Journey Home is a Catholic television program in which the guest speaks and viewers can call or email questions which the guest will then answer.

In a program aired on May 17, 2004, the guest, Father Terry Kraychuk of Canada, a priest in an Orthodox Catholic Order, related the adventures he had as a young man with drugs, friends, and Harleys. Disgusted finally with the emptiness of his life, he turned to Christ and found the joy and peace of salvation.  His was a common tale of our ordinary world of “overrated pleasures and underrated treasures” (to quote a 1942 Jimmy Dorsey song).  To one degree or another most of us misspend our youth while we wait for our brain to develop sufficiently to deal with our ordinary world.

A caller, Michael of Virginia, asked how he should respond to a problem he had.  As a young man he had spent years partying, drinking and using drugs, etc.  “I’ve given the drugs up,” he said and then clarified the statement, “except for occasional use.  My problem is that whenever I look back on the times I partied with my friends, I look back fondly. I recall it as a time that was a lot of fun.  How can I be honest with myself and say I repent that lifestyle when I still look back on it fondly? How can I look back and call it bad and repent it?”

Father Terry answers by stating his belief that the joy and satisfaction Michael felt about such events were not true joy and satisfaction. In fact, such party-and-drugs behavior was a form of slavery in which Michael was entrapped. They constituted a false rebellion that didn’t answer the desire of the heart.  “Only in Christ,” he asserts, “can true liberation be found. The world is constantly trying to enslave us, and our broken nature is geared to that enslavement. Christ comes to set us free.  And so you really have to look inside yourself and ask, ‘Am I still attached to these things?  I really need to ask Christ for the grace to repent and turn from them, and really discover the treasure of Christ and discover that only in Him – Saint Augustine put it perfectly – ‘God has made us for Himself. Our hearts are restless until they rest in Him.’ ”

In Zen, we can acknowledge that certain past behaviors were harmful, and we certainly regret any harm we caused others, but our attitude towards the past precludes judging actions as bad because they did not conform to the codes of the righteous.  But the requirement that we repent, i.e., show contrition for having done something wrong, and, in a sense, condemn that behavior, is not a Zen requirement.  We see all our past behavior as part of the whole and know that we cannot single out any act and judge it.  To condemn our past actions as “bad” is to condemn those who in the present moment are acting in a similar way.

As we understand Karma, one cause can have many effects and these, in turn, can create many causes.  Our goal, whether consciously stated or not, is to get ourselves into such a good place spiritually that if we had to relive our lives, we would make the same mistakes again – since making even a small change might lead us to another destination, and we would not risk that.  Life lived in the Spirit is as near as we can get to Perfection; and this is a position that only a fool would jeopardize.

In Zen as in Christianity, connecting with our interior Buddha Self and living out the life of that Self is to be reborn in the Spirit.  In 2 Corinthians 5:17 we find, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!”

Father Terry requires that the one who indulges in reckless behavior repent it and detach himself from these activities. Ceasing to act recklessly is a given in Zen, while detachment is left for the more serious problem of severing our emotional ties to people.  This requirement is illustrated in a famous old Zen mondo:

The master tells the novice that he must ‘kill’ all those to whom he has attached himself.  The novice is shocked.  He asks, “But my parents?  Must I slay them, too?”

The master responds, “Who are they to be spared?”

The novice sadly looks at the master and says, “And you, Master… must I kill you, too?”

And the master smiles and says, “There is not enough of me left for you to get your hands on.”

It is not necessarily jejune to ask, “If we have never sinned, how would we be saved?”  We were primed for our misspent youth by our genes and our formative childhood years, which, in turn, were influenced by parents who had their own genes and formative years.  How far back must we go to explain our “entrapment” or “enslavement” to reckless activity?  We all knew kids who did not indulge in “bad” behaviors; and more than a few of those poor devils were so goody-goody that they actually went through life assuming that their righteousness evidenced some kind of exalted spiritual life.  They never knew more than the religious life; and, as we all know, there is a big difference between these two lives.

Of course, we strive to be more considerate, more useful, reliable, truthful, and humble.  Of course, we shun alcohol and drugs; but we don’t judge the immature who indulge, or the adult victims of addiction, or even those who tempt fate by thinking that they can freely use amy substance they want without succumbing to any captive effects. Zen sets its example which we hope others will willingly emulate without being forced by shame or castigation to change.

It surely is correct to say that to live without “resting in God” is a restless life, and that we should seek our rest in our Buddha Self. But we cannot look back in anger and contempt at our past actions.  If we are safe in the Spirit, we know that for good or ill, our past actions contributed to what we are now. Changing even one small event in the past may alter the course of our life.  If we are privileged to know the Buddha’s grace, we would not risk another outcome. That is basic Karma.


The Squatters (#2)

Ming Zhen Shakya
Ming Zhen Shakya
 To see more literature about Zen and the Art of Investigation:

The Squatters

by Anthony Wolff (Ming Zhen Shakya)

To see all available chapters of “The Squatters” click here


Part 2 :  Rick commits the no-no of self help


Helena Clark Maxwell did not have any alcoholic beverages in the house. Rick, therefore, had to pretend to enjoy plain quinine water with fresh lime, while several old boom-boxes blared combinations of heavy metal and country music from his house over Helena’s rooftop to the patio where he sat with his hostess.  At first he squirmed, a little shaky from sobriety, and grit his teeth, a reaction to the music; but then the breeze changed direction, and the soughing of the bamboo grove that was a quarter-acre deep at her property line, pushed the raucous sounds away.  The relief he felt was palpable.  “Tell me more about yourself,” he insisted.  “You’re obviously an educated woman… a distinguished alumna, perhaps?”

“I studied fine arts in Paris and Amsterdam.  Portraiture mainly. Classical style, no impressionistic stuff.  I was once considered an excellent portrait artist.” She smiled.  “I had a knack for painting pearls and diamonds.  I don’t know why.  But the very first day I tried to paint them, I succeeded.  Other things I had to work at… but not pearls and diamonds.  I could also do eyes… but teeth!  Oh, they gave me trouble.  It took me a year before I could get them to look natural. Soon after I turned pro, I was self-sufficient.  I had beautiful clothes and I loved being seen in them. I traveled.” She sighed and grew quiet.

The squatters’ music could still be heard.  “Do they ever play anything else?”

“The heavy metal is for the teenaged boy and I think the men like the western music.” She sat up.
“I’ve got an old CD player and a rather nice Shakuhachi recording that I haven’t listened to since before the 4th of July. The batteries should still be good… if you’d like to hear it.”  She paused nervously.  “I don’t want to force my Zen music down your… ears!  You’ve been so kind.”

Rick pushed himself up into a sitting position.  “I can’t think of anything I’d rather hear more than your voice and a Shakuhachi flute.  Promise me you won’t stop talking just because the music’s playing.”

Helena giggled.  “You just stay comfortable.  I can carry a CD player all of twenty feet.”

Rick drank more quinine water and lime, and as he listened to the flute he began to relax and actually to enjoy sitting outside in the evening air on the squatter-free side of her house. They made a pact not to discuss problems; but then the breeze grew into a wind and perfidiously changed directions.

The flute recording had ended and Helena sighed, “It’s just as well.  Come on. I’ll make us a bedtime snack.”

Rick noticed that her swimming pool was covered. “Don’t you swim anymore?”

“The squatters throw dead rats and all sorts of debris into the pool and then call the Board of Health who issue me citations.  They killed a neighbor’s dog from down the street and threw it in… and reported me.  That was the last straw.  I drained the pool and covered it.”

“You are a kind human being… and the first who ever called me ‘kind.’  If you’re also tolerant and, perhaps, cooperative, I promise that you will be swimming in your pool very soon, indeed.”

“You will find me an able assistant if you intend to direct some malice towards my neighbors.  Anything you ask, I will do.  You have my word.”

“Great minds think alike,” Rick joked. Suddenly, a nearby gate opened.  “Maybe it’s the surveillance guy,” he said.

A man carrying a stack of boxes came into the patio area. “Maxwell?” he asked. “I’m Jeff.”

Rick introduced himself, produced several folders of traveler’s checks from his hip pocket, and reiterated the conditions.  “The cameras must be hidden and the recording’s resolution as high as possible.  Can you do it?”

“You wanted ‘state of the art,’ and that means tiny, powerful, high res and expensive. You’re out here in the middle of nowhere… lucky to get cellphone service.  There’s only a handful of internet users and they’re all DSL.  You’ll get remote viewing, but don’t count on it.  DVR, High Def, 24/7, 8 channel, 500 GB hard drive, 120 frames per second, playback, copy. The works. Interior cameras on the doors. You’ve got street lights and flood lights all around you so you don’t need night vision.  I’ll do a complete perimeter installation. We’ll put the monitors in your downstairs’ office as you indicated.”

“”Lay on MacDuff,” Rick said, looking around to see two workers follow Jeff into the patio.  “Would you like us to get out of your way?”

“For a couple of hours or so, that would be nice.  Ms. Maxwell told me in some detail the unpleasant circumstances.  I checked and verified that Richard Dubrovsky is the registered owner of the property next door.  I’ll have to ask you both to sign a release because the way the courts are now, criminals have all the rights.  ‘What’s yours, is mine and what’s mine, you keep your goshdarned hands off of.'”  He produced several documents.  Rick and Helena signed them and went inside.

The old itch seized Rick.  “How about if we go out for some refreshment and let these men do their work unimpeded?”

Helena Clark Maxwell had not gone out with a man in months.  “You don’t mind being seen with a scarred-up woman?”

“You offend me, Madam.  I will be proud, indeed, to have you on my arm.” Curiously, Rick meant it. Such spiritual discipline as he had enabled him to despise superficiality in all its forms. And for a reason he did not quite understand – especially after seeing the disaster of his house – he felt playful. He extended his arm.  “Shall we go?  Your carriage awaits.”

Rick opened the mobile home’s door and ushered Bruno inside.  He opened the passenger door for Helena, tossed Bruno’s bedding behind the seat, and said, “Your Highness… now you can do that flat-palm wave to the thousands that line the streets.  You know that royal, ‘Howdy, folks’ wave.”

She laughed, and as they drove to Holbrook, it amused him to realize that he was slightly giddy. He thought to himself, I am not the man I was a few months ago, but neither am I anybody else. This woman is bringing out the good version of myself.  The Good Rick.  I am turning over a new leaf.  Maybe she’s the page turner for the virtuoso pianist.  He looked at her and wondered what she would be like in bed. Could the squatters have driven her to the extremity of conscience-free evil?  This intrigued him.  She was probably a nice girl once.  Still… an artist in Paris and Amsterdam? She’d know the dark side. Maybe all the agony they put her through had made her sexually depraved. Or, maybe she’d behave lasciviously to please him. Maybe she’d want him to debase her.  He’d need the lights on to appreciate the scene. Those lights would work both ways, and he was immediately reminded of his own scars.  His humiliation inhibited him. Better to keep in mind that all cats are grey in the dark.

They went to a bistro and discussed solutions over vodka gimlets.  Rick sipped his drink with relief. “While I see merit in tossing some dynamite under the house and blowing them all to tiny bits, it is my house, after all.  Let’s start small.”  Helena agreed.  Rick outlined his plan.  “We can buy some balloons and fill them with Karo syrup and toss them under their cars or in the weeds under the windows and let all the ants in Arizona come and have a banquet. We can get clay or baking potatoes and push them against their exhaust pipes to get a precise measurement of the diameter and then get polyethylene pipes – you have a sprinkler system so you probably have some lying around and, if not, we can buy tubing of the precise diameter.  Then we fill a condom with water and put it inside the pipe and freeze it. Since we’ll be freezing them in your fridge, we don’t want anything dirty.”

“Ah,” Helena nodded approvingly.  “Then at dawn, when it’s still freezing, we can slide the ice into the exhaust pipes.  By the time they realize that they’ve got a serious problem, the ice and the evidence will have melted and the damage will have been done.”

“Exactly!  How quickly you put things together!  I am impressed!”

“We ought to stick a pin in the balloons before we launch them,” Helena said, “so that the syrup is sure to seep out. And we could stop in a party shop and buy that stinky stuff… it’s a liquid.  I weigh only 115 pounds.  I can tiptoe to their chimney and pour the stuff down.” She hesitated. “Another thing we could use is a package of those instant biscuit rolls. We can flatten them against the side of the exhaust pipe and then, as they heat, they swell up as they bake.  They’ll prevent the exhaust from escaping. While they’re doing the damage, they’ll turn black and flake away like ordinary carbon. I’ll buy some tomorrow if that’s ok with you.”

“Excellent!  That’s a fine idea!  ‘Fart and Skunk Juice’ it’s called.  I confess, that never occurred to me. Maybe it’s because I can’t envision myself climbing onto roofs.” He patted his belly.  “And I tend to think of biscuits only as comestibles.”  He picked up her hand.  “And pricking the balloons,” he said suggestively.  “You naughty girl.  I can hardly contain my joy.” He suddenly became solemn.  “I don’t want to get ahead of myself and omit things you ought to know.  What I’m saying is that I have a confession to make.”

Helena became apprehensive.  “What is it?  You can tell me.”

“You know that originally I had a contract with a property management agency.  They’d pay the utilities – to keep my credit good – and I’d reimburse them immediately and they’d get the money from the tenants.  It worked out fine for the longest time.  But then the house went vacant and while they were looking for new tenants, those animals moved in.  The utility bills came in and the agency paid them and I reimbursed them – but they couldn’t collect from the squatters.   I had left the water and power on so that the lawns would be maintained and the floodlights, of course, so that prospective tenants could be shown around.

“At first I didn’t pay much attention.  I may have been in South America at the time… I’m not sure… but the bills became enormous and I asked the agency to get the squatters out.  But though they didn’t pay rent, or taxes, or utilities, they did receive mail at my address and a couple of them registered to vote.  So the address became their legal address.  It was difficult and expensive but the agency finally won their case and I immediately had the utilities turned off – and that’s when your problems began… because that’s when the squatters had the decision reversed by taking in a disabled vet; and the agency was warned that if they persisted in harassing them they faced all kinds of charges.  I paid to have the vet paid-off, and he moved out.  The sheriff came and verified that there was no vet living there, but I never did anything more about it.  I assumed that the judge had reversed his reversal. I wasn’t being billed for any more utilities and the agency had had enough of those people and ceased to represent me.  I wasn’t really bothered about it… I guess my interest was elsewhere.  So for the last months you’ve suffered because of my negligence.  Can you find it in your heart to forgive me?”

“Of course.  It isn’t your fault.  They are so crafty.  They know how to get the judge to sympathize with them.  My attorney’s efforts are always blocked… They produce a pregnant woman…. or an elderly man…  or a disabled vet. On it goes.   I hate to tell you what it’s cost me… besides the scars, career, and marriage.  They earn money “renting” rooms out. They could have paid their bills.  But they have an ‘outlaw gang’ mentality.  Thank God for my religion.  I’d have gone crazy if I hadn’t been able to get control of my mind.”

“What did your lawyer tell you?” Rick asked. “It seems to me he could have done more to protect you.”

“He said that the utility companies said that if I suspected a crime had been committed I should report it to the police.  Meanwhile, I was liable for the bill.  I could take more civil actions to recoup the charges, but that would hardly be worth the time and expense.  I reverted to a kind of primitive existence.  I bought a padlock for my circuit breaker box in the back yard, and at night, I’d throw the electric switch. I also got a toy shotgun and since I couldn’t sleep I’d stand guard occasionally at a kitchen window holding it.  I got an adult terrier from the pound and he’d bark whenever someone came into the yard.  I tried to keep him in the house… but he wasn’t trained and wouldn’t obey; and one day he got out and died soon after. I hadn’t been that close to him but I felt responsible.  I had him buried beside Greta.  And then I had all the exterior electric outlets removed and the faucets welded shut.  Then they started to get their power and water from the neighbors on the other side of them. These people have children, and I heard that their kids were threatened if any complaints were made.  After what happened to me, people took their threats seriously.

“I don’t have the right to initiate eviction proceedings.  You do; and my attorney said that if they live there for two years, they’ll have a legitimate claim to assert that they’re holding the ‘abandoned’ property by hostile or adverse possession. This means they’ll have the right to shoot you if you try to dislodge them.”

“I could only glimpse what they did to the garage doors and lawn.  Has the rest of the house been similarly abused?”

“I would suppose so. From what I’ve seen, the kids would swing on the cabinet doors in the kitchen and they are mostly pulled off their hinges. The woodwork around the windows has been destroyed by their incompetent installation of the air conditioners. Your house is the oldest in the neighborhood.  It had its own well, which became a water company when the other houses were built.  And then it came under County management.  There’s a small brick building right where you parked your mobile home.  The well is inside it.  Only the fire department can access it.”

“Hmm.  And we can’t just burn down the place.  My insurance policy was not renewed.”

“And a burned out wreck next door wouldn’t help me sell my house.  I don’t have home owner’s insurance either. The policy would not be renewed.”

“Good grief!” Rick exclaimed. “We can’t even commit insurance fraud!”  They both laughed.

On the drive home, they stopped in a convenience store and bought syrup, balloons, a tube of raw biscuits, and a bottle of vodka.  As they left the store they saw a dead rabbit lying in the road.  A child again, Rick stopped and got a plastic trash bag from behind his seat.   “Let’s give them something for my pool,” he said, collecting the dead animal. They giggled all the way home.  Rick placed a ladder against the fence and flung the dead animal into his pool.  When they heard the splash they jumped up and down and clapped their hands.

“Let’s do the syrup and balloon thing before the surveillance guys connect the system,” Rick suggested.  Using a funnel, they filled half a dozen balloons, tossed half of them over the fence, and tossed the remaining three under the cars in front of the house.  The music was off for the night. Helena mixed two drinks and brought out two blankets. Rick turned on the Japanese flute music and they braved the cold night air and lay back on the deck chairs on the patio to marvel at the stars.
The surveillance company men finished installing the cameras and monitors.  “If you want to switch off the cameras, you can shut them down at the monitors or, since the system runs on house electricity, you can throw the circuit breaker out back and shut off the whole house.  I have a big battery generator in stock.  You can get along without it; but if you fear natural power outages – like thunderstorms  – you should get an emergency generator.  That takes a simple hookup.  Just call me if that’s what you want. And read the manuals!” he said firmly. Then he added, “The system’s on if you want to go watch us leave.”

They hurried to Helena’s office and could hardly believe the clarity of the images on the monitor that picked up the unmarked van’s departure. There was only one chair at the desk.  Rick sat on it and Helena sat on his lap. In a soft voice, Helena finally said,  “It’s getting late.”

Rick walked her to her bedroom door.  “Dear lady,” he sighed, “you are a worthy partner.”  He kissed her goodnight and then retreated to the guest room.

The Squatters (#1)

Ming Zhen Shakya
Ming Zhen Shakya
 To see more literature about Zen and the Art of Investigation:

The Squatters

by Anthony Wolff (Ming Zhen Shakya)

To see all available chapters of “The Squatters” click here


Part 1:  Rick becomes a vigilante


At the time of Rick Dubrovksy’s semi-castration, he weighed two hundred forty pounds, fifty of which he was not tall enough to carry gracefully. Long having passed the “pleasingly plump” stage, he had been flirting dangerously with “sloppy fat.” That he lost nearly twenty pounds in the three weeks that followed his forced removal from his home was not due to the excision of part of his anatomy.  His missing testicle contributed little to the loss of weight.  His missing Jaguar along with fear for his life were greater factors in his noticeable slimming.

Money was not a problem. He had cash in the bank and a respectable portfolio of stocks and bonds, and he owned a couple of houses from which he was supposed to derive an income.  As Rick searched for a new place to live he considered these two residences. One house had been leased to the United States Postal Service that served a rural community in Kentucky. This one, he wisely decided, could not be considered a replacement dwelling.  The other, a once desirable ranch-style house located at #124 Lafayette Street in a small but prosperous enclave called Frenchman’s Park, that lay somewhere between Holbrook and the Petrified Forest in Arizona, was occupied by squatters who had caused so much trouble for the real estate agency hired by Rick to manage the property, that the agency had refused to renew its contract with him.  His homeowner insurance company followed suit and also declined to renew his policy.

It was this latter issue – squatters –  that assumed unnatural proportions in Rick’s cogitations. It was especially humiliating that it was low-life thugs who had collected a debt from him, a debt incurred by a mere acquaintance for whom he had incautiously vouched or otherwise assisted, and who had quite literally forced him to sign over the deed to his home and the title to his car, and, as a Shylockian souvenir, had removed somewhat less than a pound of flesh.  He had loved his Las Vegas house – with its palm trees and sculptured flower beds – and he had loved his Jaguar – with its cats, a single chromium Leaper on the bonnet and a half-dozen Growlers in the cabin, and while he had never made any overt signs of affection for his missing testicle, he surely loved that too.  He had done nothing and yet he had been callously dispossessed of his property; and it was the same there, near Holbrook, Arizona, where he owned a house that strangers had simply stolen from him by moving into it when no one was home. There were ten or more of them, hillbillies from Appalachia the Agency said, who lived like those Irish Travelers except they had stopped moving and were sending down roots, destroying the neighborhood with their broken down cars all over the lawn and street and their jury-rigged installation of old stolen air conditioning units, and their theft of water and electricity from the neighbors.

How was this possible?  Where was the law?  He refused to consider buying another house… no, not while he owned a perfectly good one in Arizona.  All that stood between him and his house were a bunch of redneck thieves.  He was on a mission… a mission for the Right, for Justice… and if he couldn’t defeat them, he deserved to be homeless and alone.  Well, he thought, not exactly homeless since he’d probably buy one of those Winnebago RVs… and he did have his little dog Bruno with him.   He was a knight errant.  He’d buy a mobile home and if he failed in Arizona, he’d drive on or kill himself.

He put most of his furniture in storage.  Fortunately, the new owner’s taste did not run with Wassily or Barcelona chairs… with Eames… or Rietveld….Starck, or van der Rohe… and he was asked to remove his ugly stuff.  The new owner – a thug’s daughter –  liked blue and cream French Provincial and wall to wall shag carpeting and lava bowls and candelabra mounted on the walls.  It was insult after injury.  On the morning of his last day the carpet layers came and covered the floors with purple loops and a discount furniture store unloaded blue and cream versions of Louis Quinze in a bucolic seraglio… brocade… everything was brocade. Rick wept as the salesman from the Winnebago dealership picked him up, for at that moment delivery men were lugging a cream and gold baby grand piano that had fur trim… white fur trim… rabbit possibly?  ermine?  His tear-brimmed eyes wouldn’t let him get a close enough look.

He needed a new householder’s persona.  Carrying his shelter with him sounded like a crab or a snail.  But wasn’t that what a Winnebago was?  He’d be inside his home, steering it… and if that didn’t sound like a crab, what did?  But it made him uncomfortable.  Crabs and lost testicles just didn’t go together.  No.  And then the salesmen showed him a Sunstar model and talked of horsepower.  A horse!  “I like the horse concept,” Rick said to the salesman who did not have the slightest idea of what a horse concept had to do with anything.

“Horses are good,” the salesman replied.

“Yes, there are many famous steeds,” Rick offered.

The salesman tried to be helpful.  “Ya gotcher Trigger, and Silver, and Fury.  As a courtesy, we have a professional painter write on both sides of your vehicle, whatever name you want to call it. It’s sort of like WWII with the bombers.”

“I was thinking of a horse’s name that would convey more of my persona.”

“Well, what’s yer persona tryin’ to accomplish by drivin’ around?”

“Trying to dislodge squatters from a house I own.  I’m told that it’s impossible to get them out.”

The name came to him instantaneously. “Rocinante.  Have your painter put that name on both sides.  If I am not Don Quixote, tilting at windmills, with my little loyal sidekick, Bruno, my Sancho Panza, who am I?  I truly must be mad yet I defend the Right.  I am a knight errant.”

The salesman had him write the name out in clear letters and thought to himself that as long as Rick’s money was good, the name suited him fine.

And so there he was on a fine morning late in September, driving south in his new Winnebago Sunstar, newly named Rocinante, with his dog Bruno sitting in the seat beside him.  He was, at forty years of age, shocked to think that he could have blundered so egregiously in the prime of his powers.  He now doubted, with good reason, the principles by which he lived.  He had been born with a very high I.Q. and had regarded himself as being more superior to the average man than the average man is to the ape.  He did not associate with persons who resorted to brute force, preferring instead to profit from the more intellectual type of mischief.  By keeping unsavory persons at arm’s length he assumed that he had rendered himself safe from their antics. Well… that was wrong.   For spending money – and because he liked an intellectual challenge – he’d help to further someone else’s schemes, and then he’d charge a portion of the profits as his fee. Aside from such tainted sources of income, and, of course, his legitimate investment income, he would write theological articles under one of several pseudonyms.  Rick was a seminary school graduate and possessed the rare ability to recognize as drivel much of what passed for religious commentary.

As he climbed the highway that led out of Las Vegas, he grew restive.

Why, he wondered, was he on a mission instead of on his patio sipping Tanqueray and Schweppes?  Why suddenly was he becoming a victim of stupid people?  Thugs and Hillbillies.  Had he misread his opponents?  Or was it possible that he had misread himself?  He had often quoted Heraclitis, “All things are in flux.”  Good Grief! Rick thought.  Was it possible that he was one of those things?

Change.  He felt like Moses leaving Egypt and then told himself that if only he believed that crap in the Bible maybe he’d discover something useful from Exodus.  He needed a sign.

He came to Railroad Pass and decided to take a right and head south towards Blythe, California.  He passed the turnoff to Laughlin, Nevada… but he didn’t care to gamble.  On he went until he encountered Blythe which he found to be completely uninspiring and he wondered why he had decided to turn right back at the Pass. And then he saw signs that indicated he was on the way to Glamis.  Macbeth was the Thane of Glamis.  Well, if that wasn’t a sign, what the hell was a sign?  Wasn’t he aristocratic in the true sense of the word?  Aris.. as in Erin… as in Iran… as in Aryan… cognates all of “noble.”  True, it was not on his way to the interstate 40 route that would take him to Holbrook; but he had no schedule to keep. He’d stop there.  For all he knew he’d meet someone glamorous in Glamis who would restore his sense of self that seemed to be disintegrating.  What was the feminine for Thane?

He saw Glamis… nothing but sand dunes.  He read a road sign that said that quite a few scenes from the movie Dune were filmed there. When Rick saw Glamis a competition was being held and suddenly dozens of three-wheeled ATVs scattered over it like so many cockroaches when the light was turned on.  Rick decided to reverse direction and go back through Phoenix up to U.S. 40.   It was just another disappointment.

His urologist had told him he could still have children.  He’d make a good father if only he could find an acceptable woman to be his mate. He’d have to lower his expectations, of course. Any man who had his property taken from him by thugs and hillbillies – as easily as candy could be taken from a baby – and who had only one testicle, could hardly require perfection.

As he drove, he called his former real estate agent to tell him that he, himself, was going to 124 Lafayette Street… that he, himself, would do battle with the squatters… a one-man army… a knight errant.  “I know you’re not contractually obliged to give me any information,” he said, “but if you feel generous, I’d certainly appreciate a few tips if you have any.”

“Here’s one,” said the agent.  “If the squatters are able to prolong their occupancy of the house for another ten months, they will meet the first requirement of Arizona’s Adverse Possession laws: the two years of continuous occupancy. So don’t dally. I wish you good luck,” the agent said, “although I am certain that no amount of good luck will be enough for you to succeed.  Those sons of bitches,” he added, “know every goddamned angle in the book.  Everybody in the neighborhood wants them out; but they are the stuff of Pacific Heights.  You will not win. Be careful.  They will get more than your house from you.”  He took a deep breath. “But I’ll give you “E” for effort anyway.”

According to the agency’s now-expired contract with Rick, they had paid all utilities and taxes on the property and then collected the money from the tenant; and if the tenant (or squatters) failed to pay, they’d bill Rick and he would reimburse the agency. On Rick’s behalf they would immediately proceed to use every available legal remedy to recoup the monies due, but their efforts to secure payment from the squatters had not only failed, but they had been warned by a court that if they persisted in harassing these individuals they might very well be held to account.  At that point, the Agency surrendered.

Rick had been given “blow-by-blow” accounts of the Agency’s efforts, but for some reason – he didn’t know why – he had not given the problems any attention. It all seemed so far away… not in mileage, perhaps.  But in some other more important category.


He stopped for dinner at a fast food joint and pulled into a rest stop to get a good night’s sleep.As he lay there, unaccustomed to the bed, home, setting, and noise, he made some decisions. It was time that he turned over a new leaf.   He’d adapt to his new semi-castrate state. No more bi-sexual nonsense for him.  No, he wouldn’t waste his swimmers on dead-end receptacles.  He would clean up his act, settle down, be a good man instead of just a smart one.  This appealed to him.  Good instead of smart and what always seemed to be its corollary, bad.  He wouldn’t make Macbeth’s mistakes.  He would be content to occupy his own home – once he got the squatters out.  He would be kind and reasonable with these homeless “wretched refuse from some teeming shore” folks.  He’d show compassion. He wouldn’t refer to them as “stupid hillbillies” anymore.  They couldn’t be all that stupid if they defeated the agency with such regularity.  “Every man has two sides.  I’ve shown only my smart, superior and occasionally naughty side. I can show my normal, average and accessible good side.

Rick Dubrovsky did not know to a certainty that he possessed a good side, but if he did, he formed an almost religious determination to show it when he reached his destination -124 Lafayette Street –  just on the other side of Holbrook.


He awakened early and stopped at an all night diner to eat breakfast. Physically refreshed, he continued to think about his principles as he headed for Holbrook.

He arrived too late in the day to do anything constructive about the squatters, but he did drive past his property and was stunned to see the condition of a building he owned.  He, who personally coiffed his hedges and flower beds and had been the acknowledged owner of the finest landscaped house on the block, saw a scattering of weeds, assorted junk, broken windows, torn screens, dead trees, and a vehicle perched on cinderblocks instead of wheels. Both garage doors, one for the large two car garage and the other for a single car were scratched, dented and filled with graffiti.  He had also noticed that the disassembled parts of a Harley were strewn around the driveway.  This was heresy to him and he muttered, “Swine!” as he passed.

He pulled into the driveway of the house next door that belonged, according to the mail box’s legend, to Ms. Helena Clark Maxwell.  Leaving Bruno in Rocinante, he walked up the driveway, climbed the portico steps, and rang the bell.  Ms. Maxwell, opened the door only as far as the security chain would allowed.  “What is it?” she asked.

“Ms. Maxwell, My name is Richard Dubrovsky.  I happen to be the legal owner of the monstrosity next door.  I’d like to begin eviction proceedings against those squatters and I’d appreciate it if you’d talk to me and tell me what’s been going on.  My real estate property managers have refused to renew their contract with me.  I’m a bit on my own and I truly need a friend.”

Helena Maxwell shut the door, unlatched the chain, and opened the door again to allow him to enter her house.  “I take it that that’s your mobile home parked in my driveway.  I’d appreciate it if you’d get it off my property since it’s likely that it will be damaged there.  I’ll wait here while you move it… preferably across the street.”

Rick could not take his gaze away from the scars on Helena’s face and neck.  He said, “I understand.  I’ll move my vehicle immediately.”


When he returned to her house, she had put the tea kettle on and was setting the kitchen table for tea, bread, and a plate of cheese and cold cuts.  “Have you eaten lunch?” she asked.

“No, as a matter of fact I’m starving, although how I can eat anything after having seen the mess next door, is a mystery. Thank you for your kindness. Would you be averse to my bringing my little dog in here.  He’s a good old dog and I guarantee he will make no mess.”

“You can bring him in.  But when you take him out to do his business, you have to accompany him. They have thrown many different kinds of poison pellets into the grass back there.”  He agreed to the terms.

They ate sandwiches and drank several pots of tea. Helena had cans of dog food left over from her “late schnauzer, Greta.”  Bruno ate the dog food and Rick took him outside and scooped up his poop, putting it in a special bag that closed so completely that no odor could escape.  He put the bag in the trash can and returned to Helena’s kitchen to wash his hands.  She was now satisfied that he was an educated gentleman and began to tell him her experiences with the squatters.

She wiped a tear from her cheek and began, “They lived in there for almost a year and aside from the drunken fights and loud music, they at least didn’t cost me anything. They had come in a rental truck and carried in furniture and dishes. I didn’t know that they were illegally occupying the premises.  I thought they were simply new tenants.  Then in May of this year, the utility trucks came and shut off their water and electricity. The house was quiet for a few days.  I thought they had gone. And then on one Friday at the end of May a new woman from over there came to my door.  She was pregnant and holding a toddler in her arms.  She said she was a new tenant and asked me if she could use my water until her husband could get the utilities turned on the following Tuesday… when the Memorial Day holiday was over.  I said, of course.  I was happy to think that the old bunch had gone. Her husband was polite when he screwed onto the faucet a bi-valve device that allowed for my hose and his to be used simultaneously.  I actually thought that having the ability to connect two hoses was a good thing.

“Almost immediately, my dog Greta got sick. The vet said that possibly she had been poisoned.  He had tests run but couldn’t identify the poison. She died in my arms.  I had her interred in a pet cemetery.” Helena began to cry and excused herself to go into another room to blow her nose and splash cold water on her face.  For a reason Rick did not understand, he felt sympathy for this scarred woman who cried not for herself but for her dog.  He knew how much Bruno meant to him.  Yes, he could sympathize.

She returned to her chair in the kitchen and continued.  “Next thing they had strung a three prong electrical extension cord under the fence and into one of my exterior outlets. I have a bush – since removed – that sat in front of the outlet and their cord was sort of camouflaged brown and green.  It snaked up to the outlet around some flag stones and I honestly didn’t notice it. I was still grieving about my dog.  I didn’t become aware of the electricity problem until I got my bill late in June.  I brought my last year of electric bills to them and showed them how much electricity I normally used and asked them to make up the difference. They said they would, but it was one stall after another.  They found a bunch of old air conditioning units and installed them in all the windows.  The old squatters hadn’t moved out at all.  This woman – she said her name was Babs Bristal – had just moved in with them.  There were about fourteen people living in the house.  The squatters also rented out rooms.  You have big bedroom closets.  They qualified as rooms.

“Mostly they were quiet during the day, but not at night when they were all home with their cars and trucks and using my electricity that they had connected when I went to bed.  My attorney gave me a reason to hope. The agency had just won their case against them, and the constable was ordered to assist in their removal; but then at the last minute, they produced a disabled veteran who lived with them, and the judge reversed the order.  That’s when the Management Agency refused to renew your contract with them.

“You have to appreciate the ancillary damage they did.  I was not only faced with vet bills and cemetery plots and being desperately unhappy by the death of my dog, but I had these exorbitant utility bills. My life was all expenses and no income. At dinner time and weekends they’d play horrible music, and my nerves were beginning to suffer. I wasn’t sleeping well because of the constant fear.  I’m a portrait painter and I just couldn’t leave my house during the day to drive off to a client’s house and do even acceptable work.  The whole time I was away, I was worried about what the squatters were doing.

“My attorney told me to install a security camera to get proof of their thefts and then to file a complaint, but I was engaged and planned to move out in September when I got married.  I had thought I’d simply sell the house here for whatever I could get for it and move down to Phoenix where my fiancé’s work had taken him  Since he’d be including me under his medical benefits as of September 1, I let my hospitalization policy lapse because I had so little money.”

She poured another cup of tea.  “I always go to bed early and since I rise early to do the Suryanamaskar – the sun salute – I do yoga – I heard a noise one morning and that’s when I discovered that they were cleaning out their…  your… swimming pool.  My fiancé was spending the 4th of July holiday with his kids and parents in Tennessee so I called him and asked what I should do.  He said, ‘Disconnect it!’ as if I had asked a stupid question.  But I was afraid of them! They poisoned my dog! But he was adamant so I disconnected the hose as he said I should.

“That afternoon I was having tea in my tea house.  I’ve been involved with Zen Buddhism for many years, but a couple of years ago I visited Kyoto and my practice just blossomed.  I truly wanted to live a Zen life.  So I built my own tea house… even used the green powdered tea. Wabi Sabi was so appealing to me.   I had the fire pit for boiling the kettle of water…a window that let the morning sun in.  I planted morning glories. My house was wood frame with bamboo slats for the sides and door.  For the sake of authenticity I put a shake shingle roof on it.  It was so pretty…

“While I was inside having tea and meditating, a firework of some kind… it seemed more like an incendiary grenade… went off at the side of the tea house and, as you can see, I was cut from shattered window glass and burned.  I screamed and screamed and finally the people who live behind me heard me and called 911. I was holding a heavy brass candlestick at the moment of the explosion and it struck my face, damaging some facial bones.  Cut, burned, broken and bandaged, I naturally couldn’t talk and was barely conscious.  My parents came down from Idaho and got me.  The police notified them and since I had no medical insurance, they paid the bill and took me back to Idaho. They refuse to tell me what it cost. I healed well enough to have the bandages removed, but the scars and the deformity was awful – part of my cheek bone had chipped off – it should have been corrected immediately, but it was July 4th and the E.R. was swamped. My fiancé took one look at me and his vision of a beautiful bride vanished.  I repulsed him.  I saw it in his eyes.  He lied and said he was reconciling with his ex-wife and told me to keep the ring.  It was a two carat diamond solitaire.  I gave it to my parents to cover the cost of my medical expenses.

“My home owner’s insurance policy did not cover anything because the tea house was an illegal structure. I hadn’t given them the required notice of my intention to erect a building on my property.  I also didn’t get a building permit.  And then, while I was away recuperating, they filled your pool and ran those old air conditioning units day and night.  A neighbor told me that an old apartment house was scheduled to be razed in Holbrook and one night they went there and tore out a dozen units and installed them in your windows.  You had a perfectly economical evaporative cooler and didn’t need air-conditioning.  But they didn’t maintain the unit and what with all that free electricity they got from me… well, when I got home I found my water bill was $3000 for July and my electric bill was $3800.”  She put a small step ladder by the kitchen window.  “Here,” she said, motioning to Rick to come and look down into his property, “you can see your pool.”

Rick saw children playing in a slime green swimming pool that was covered with leaves. As he stared into his once lovely back yard, goodness began to leech out of him… rapidly.  But Helena was no Lady Macbeth spurring him to dreadful action. He was the property owner of that mess and was technically responsible for her tragic circumstance and still she did not blame him.

“What a nightmare,” he said.  “I cannot tell you how sorry I am about this.  It is a terrible thing to be someone’s victim.  Some day I’ll tell you my sad story.  Be assured, however, that my agents did all they could to dislodge these squatters. For a reason I cannot understand, the law is always on the side of the tenants and squatters. Landlords and owners don’t seem to have any rights.  I begin to think I shall have to play a dirty game with them.”

“No game is dirty enough to suit me,” Helena replied as she cleared off the table.  “Do you have a place to sleep tonight?”

“In my mobile.”

“Nonsense.  I have four empty bedrooms and you’re certainly welcome to use one.”

Rick was genuinely moved. She was a complaisant follower, not a nagging bitch. And she was even offering her hospitality to him. “I will happily accept your kind offer,” he said. “I pray that my presence here will not cause you more misery.”

“What more can they do?”

“Evil people find a way.  You and I, together, may have to learn a few evil tricks.  And I begin to think we will have to learn them quickly.”  He began to walk towards the front door to return to Rocinante for an overnight bag. He stopped to ask, “Did you ever get  security cameras for your property?”

“No.  I can’t afford them.”

“I can.  While I go to get my things, look up a security expert who will work at night and install the least noticeable cameras around your property.  I have a considerable amount of traveler’s checks on me.  I can pay him immediately.  Tell him we want a top-of-the-line installation.”

The Sale of the House

Yao Xiang Shakya
Yao Xiang Shakya

Dear Friends,

We are often susceptible to  what is called “diminishing volition” which simply means that we start a project fully intending to perform it as promised, but find that our willpower grows more feeble with each passing day.

Sometimes we are so thrilled to start a new Zen program that we pledge to perform an unrealistic schedule.  Oh, we will rise at dawn, and do yoga and meditation for an hour, and then chant for half an hour, and finally eat a healthy vegetarian meal, and then get ready to go to work.  Not even monks in a monastery would try to squeeze such a schedule into their daily work routine. But we are euphoric and we sincerely believe that we can easily accomplish the goal.

Then… on Monday, we have to skip the chanting because we were late getting up.  On Tuesday, we do only fifteen minutes of yoga and ten minutes of meditation.  On Wednesday, we have time only to chant for fifteen minutes.  On Thursday, we do the Sun Salute and drink a glass of orange juice with some pastry.  And on Friday, we’re back to our old routine of coffee and a biscuit before we hurry up so that we’re not late for work.

Excessive promises are made in the irrational state of euphoria.  They are the other side of depression – when we don’t feel like getting out of bed at all.  The Zen Way is to lower the high and to raise the low, to meet in “The Middle Way.”

There was a rich man who fell off a boat and was foundering in the river. He could not swim and he clearly foresaw his own death.  But a passing fisherman saw him and dived into the water to rescue him.  When the rich man finally was brought to shore, he was ecstatic with gratitude to the fisherman!

“I have a gold coin I could give you, but that is hardly enough,” he said. “Instead I am going to sell my house and even my house cat.  And what I receive for the sale of the house, I will give you.”

The fisherman was so thrilled to be rewarded in such a great way. He told his wife that after working so hard all their lives, they could finally enjoy their old age together in comfort.

The days passed and the rich man began to think, “Ah, the fisherman was used to diving into the river.  It was nothing special for him to do.”  And then after a few more days, he thought, “Ah, if he had not saved me, then surely someone else would have jumped in to help.”  And a day later he almost resented the fisherman for expecting to be rewarded for something that any decent human being would do.”

Finally, he sold his house and cat for $100,010.; and he gave the fisherman his reward… $10.00. “I am a man of my word,” the rich man explained, “I sold my house for ten dollars and the cat I love so dearly… my precious pet…  I sold for $100,000.” The fisherman who would have been happy to receive the gold coin was now cruelly disappointed.

And so it is with most things in life. We must beware of “diminished volition” and recognize when we want to go overboard with our willpower we are susceptible to the limits of our inevitable diminishing volition.  

And then when we make a promise to start a morning Zen program, we limit it to a reasonable amount of time…. a Sun Salute, Five Healing Breaths, and a recitation of the Heart Sutra.  Fifteen minutes ought to do it.

Hagakure (#6)

Ming Zhen Shakya
Ming Zhen Shakya


Part 6: Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai
by Ming Zhen Shakya


Jim Jarmusch’s film Ghost Dog is the story of a modern Samurai warrior who serves his daimyo master according to principles stated in the Hagakure.

The film reminds us immediately of Lao Tzu’s verse in which he says that clay may make the vessel but what is important is the empty space the clay encloses.

In Ghost Dog, what we don’t see, or see only fleetingly, is the important part of the story. This vital empty space is contained within two events: the first of which occurred eight years before the film begins and the second which occurred four years before the film begins. In a brief flashback, we see the first critical moment: thugs have beaten and kicked a man who lies prone and bloody in an alleyway. One of them is about to shoot him, when a passerby, a mafioso named Louie Bonicelli, sees the assault and, heroically responding to the human impulse to help the underdog, fearlessly draws his weapon, confronts the thug, and kills him before he can kill the helpless man.

No man can feel lower than a man who’s lying on the ground being kicked like a dog. For him there are only three possibilities: he can perish in his shame; he can continue in that same ignoble state; or he can be reborn in a new identity. Evidently, the man resurrects himself as a samurai warrior with only the ghost of his former dog state remaining. But we do not see the transformation. We know nothing about his existence until four years after the attack, the time it has apparently taken him to prepare himself for service. It is then that he contacts Bonicelli, acknowledges the debt he owes him, and pledges a lifetime of unconditional service as repayment. Having committed himself to do whatever his master asks, he becomes a hit-man. He would have gone to the bakery every morning for cannoli if that had been the order.

The film doesn’t say that prior to the attack Ghost Dog was a man without honor; skill; religion, codified principles, or a leader whose commands he could serve unreservedly. We know only that when he does emerge after his four year absence, he is a crack, ambidextrous shot; a dutiful and efficient murderer, and a devout Buddhist. He lives a spartan existence in a rooftop shack beside a coop for carrier pigeons – the means of communication he uses to contact his master.

He prays before a Buddhist altar, wears beads, and does a sword routine, more as an action meditation than as preparation for battle, for in fact he does not ever use a blade. He identifies himself with two ko-mon crests, both are trefoils, one of encircled birds – possibly doves, the symbol of the Holy Spirit – embroidered on his jacket, and the other, a gold pendant of encircled radial legs. He reads the Hagakure as though it were scripture.

He collects his wages annually, during a holiday that in Japan is traditionally reserved for the mourning of the dead – the autumn equinox.

Jarmusch lessens the violent aspect of Ghost Dog’s duties by invoking the Bugsy Siegel gangster ethic: “We only kill each other.” The presumption here is that the deceased deserved their fate.

The mythological implications of Ghost Dog are strengthened by fictitious elements in the setting. Jarmusch filmed in Jersey City, New Jersey – but the license plates bear the mottos of unknown states and the telephone area code (433) that appears on signs is of a number not in use in the U.S. We’re not in Kansas, anymore…

Although many TVs are on during the film, only cartoons are shown. The cartoons presage the action… or vice versa, making an interior witty commentary : in a cartoon, Betty Boop waves a banner at a flock of circling birds and Ghost Dog, on his rooftop, waves a banner at a flock of circling birds; Ghost Dog watches a woodpecker; and in a cartoon a ghost laughs at Woody Woodpecker; a cartoon dog-character shoots a gun up a water pipe and Ghost Dog shoots a gun up a water pipe; and so on.

Whether Jarmusch has placed the Hagakure at the service of his plot or whether he has put his plot at the service of theHagakure is of no consequence. The film is what it is, and it is intriguing. Forest Whitaker is perfect in the role.

Ghost Dog quotes 15 selections (plus two lines from a 16th) taken from the 300 or so verses translated by William Scott Wilson in his Hagakure: The Book of the Samurai.

To refer to them, we’ll number them in accordance with the chapter and verse in Wilson’s work. (Wilson divided his work into chapters but he did not number each entry within the chapter – so this must be done by the reader). For example, Ghost Dog’s first reading is taken from two verses: 1:2 (Chapter 1, verse 2): “The Way of the Samurai is found in death.” The recitation then jumps to 11:31 (Chapter 11, verse 31). “Meditation on inevitable death….” and ends by returning to 1:2 for the line, “This is the substance of the Way of the Samurai.”

It is a somber recitation. What it is not is one of those “Meditations on the transiency of life” or a resigned acceptance of death’s inevitability. In the orient there are many “charnal house” type exercises in which the meditator is supposed to grasp life’s transitory nature by sitting on a corpse or some such drivel. If being in the company of mangled or diseased corpses were the key to comprehending the mysteries of life, morgue attendants, cops, and funeral directors would be philosophers. They are not. Such thoughts are of no value to a warrior.

Recitation 1 (1:2) The Way of the Samurai is found in death. (11:31) Meditation on inevitable death should be performed daily. Every day when one’s body and mind are at peace, one should meditate upon being ripped apart by arrows, rifles, spears and swords, being carried away by surging waves, being thrown into the midst of a great fire, being struck by lightning, being shaken to death by a great earthquake, falling from thousand-foot cliffs, dying of disease or committingseppuka [ritual suicide] at the death of one’s master. And every day without fail one should consider himself as dead. (1:2) This is the substance of The Way of the Samurai.”

The penultimate line restates Hsu Yun’s great advice: “Cultivate the poise of a dead man.” The samurai should be incapable of being emotionally aroused, particularly by lust, greed, pride, jealousy or anger.

The selection offers a solution to a warrior’s natural fears of pain and death. Fear slows reaction time, indeed, sufficient fear can freeze reaction time altogether, resulting in that stunned paralysis we often call the “deer in the headlights” response. Obviously, controlling fear, suppressing or eliminating it, is much to a warrior’s advantage. The more a warrior is cognizant of the calamities that may befall him, and the more he rehearses his role in the event, the more he acclimates himself to the possibility. And then when he goes into action and the calamity does not occur, the event loses much of its fearful character – and as the fear lessens, his efficiency increases. This daily recitation does not make the samurai passively accept these possibilities. On the contrary, by listing the disasters, a positive emphasis is placed upon being prepared to meet them.

Modern survival manuals can provide explanations for the physiology of fear – the sympathetic nervous system, the amygdala’s function, etc. But this information was not available to the samurai. He would know only that a man who swims does not fear “being carried away by surging waves” in the same panic-seized way that a man who cannot swim fears it. A man who learns how to maintain his balance on unstable surfaces, such as a sailor with “sea legs,” does not stumble and fall as an untrained landlubber would. As a mountain goat is not afraid of cliffs, a man who hikes and rock-climbs becomes more nimble and surefooted and thus acquires confidence as he overcomes his natural fears. He appreciates the danger of lightning and doesn’t stand under a tree in a thunderstorm. He keeps his armor in perfect condition – the better to defend against arrows, spears, bullets, and swords. He is fastidious in his personal hygiene and attentive to his diet and sleep requirements and in so doing becomes less vulnerable to disease.

With training, the techniques of meditation can be adjusted to produce a “hypnotized” anesthetic effect. We know also that under hypnosis or in any self-induced trance, a person can not only become oblivious to pain, but he can speed the healing process. Hypnotic suggestibility is part of the acupuncture regimen as well as a means to control bleeding in, for example, dental extractions on hemophiliacs. (The stigmata are the reverse of this effect.) With sufficient willpower and a knowledge of focussed concentration, these pain management techniques are not difficult to acquire.

Yukio Mishima in his The Way of the Samurai comments, “Hagakure insists that to ponder death daily is to concentrate daily on life. When we do our work thinking that we may die today, we cannot help feeling that our job suddenly becomes radiant with life and meaning.” His comment emphasizes the positive aspect of what otherwise seems morbid and pessimistic. And it is to be remembered that although he was a writer – not a warrior – he wrote eloquently on the very day that he planned and executed his own death.

The willingness to die for principal or principles is part of every soldier’s heroic willingness to sacrifice himself. We expect that the Secret Service agents who are assigned to protect the President will “take a bullet for him” in the event of attack. They know this in advance of every assignment – as does every soldier who goes into combat. And all of them know that constant training and vigilance are their best protection and means of survival. Ghost Dog places himself at the secret service of his Daimyo; he has pledged to do as he is commanded; and he must, at all costs, protect him with his own life. It follows that he cannot harm him.

And if, in a final showdown, a samurai could not avoid death by any means, he could rely upon his knowledge of Zen Buddhist theology which differs completely from older versions of Buddhist truth. The Zen concept of illusionary “life and death” is often poetically described as a simple journey of shifting forms, as the Great Ocean evaporates, forming clouds that rain down upon the earth as individual living beings which pass through a conscious existence until each eventually returns to Oceanic bliss. Mishima writes, “… we [Japanese] were unable to assimilate Buddhist philosophy with its stultifying concept of sin and karma, according to which one is born and reborn throughout eternity. Death for Jocho has the strange, clear, fresh brightness of blue sky between the clouds.”

Although the practice of committing ritual suicide at the death of his master was not a common practice and occurred only during a fifty year period of history, if required to commit hara kiri, a samurai could do so as a willing martyr to his way of life and as an act of loyalty to the heroic individual to whom he literally owed his life.

A loyalty of such depth, once pledged, could not easily be siphoned off and distributed. Further, given the inter-family intrigues and wholesale punishments, surviving one leader and then pledging loyalty to another, who may or may not have been on good terms with the deceased daimyo, did not hold much in the way of confidence and trust.

Recitation 2, (1:73) contains most of the original verse. The omitted line – inserted here in brackets – helps to clarify the meaning.

“It is bad when one thing becomes two. One should not look for anything else in the Way of the Samurai. It is the same for anything else that is called a Way. [Therefore, it is inconsistent to hear something of the Way of Confucius or the Way of the Buddha, and say that this is the Way of the Samurai.] If one understands things in this manner, he should be able to hear about all Ways and be more and more in accord with his own.”

This recitation states the practical advice not to apply other standards of behavior to the Path to which one has committed oneself. Although the Code of the Samurai may take what it requires from any other Code, it is not obliged to accept that Code in its entirety and it cannot be judged by that other code. The Samurai’s own Way is his own unique Path which he must follow consistently; and he cannot follow it properly if he is constrained by extraneous rules or conflicted by contradictory values or directions. In Biblical terms, “A servant cannot serve two masters.”

Ghost Dog serves one master and he serves him without reservation. Of course we realize that “we only kill each other” is hardly an excuse for what he does – but our larger view must encompass his initial beating. The society in which he lives – that mythical place – is a dog-eat-dog world. It is, as Mishima noted, “Jocho’s dream.” In this world, Ghost Dog is able to balance the crime of committing a dozen contract murders by living a monk’s gentle and austere life. In this world, he lives and must be judged by his adherence to the Samurai’s code.

In that mythical “dream” world, Ghost Dog performs admirably.

Editor’s note: The remainder of the Recitations will be discussed in subsequent essays.