Ten Today: Buddha and the French

July 18, 2016
I doubt I have ten minutes uninterrupted, but I’ll give it a shot. I’m at my other other other job tonight. This one teaches me to love. I practice my little Buddha steps here, learning to appreciate every mundane, automatic movement with mindfulness, paying attention. In fact, if I don’t pay attention, let my mind wander as it is wont to do when nothing in particular stimulates it, I make money or cleaning mistakes, ones that make me feel like an incapable incompetent. After all, I’ve been at the job for years now (Obviously my self-judgment needs some work).
So this one teaches me patience and presence. The other one, writing, teaches me a different kind of little Buddha practice–patience and detaching from struggle. That one challenges me too much. I wrote all day on a subject that didn’t particularly interest me–under deadline. Tonight, after the store closes at 10, and I get home just before 11, I will return to the work. It isn’t quite right and it’s due no later than Monday. That’s today. I figure before midnight is still Monday.
A new client testing my skills to evaluate hiring me, I do indeed want to impress. Right now, my draft is not impressive. To my credit, I have faked my way into the door–partially. The job description called for fluency in French. Though I have been around French speakers for the last 35 years, coming and going, and I took a couple years in college, even wrote and orally presented a fairly competent 20 minute lesson on Montaigne in grad school, I’m not sure fluent and French should both be used in the same sentence to describe me.
However, with the help of my somewhat strong reading skills, a tip here and there from the Frenchman in the house and Google, I patched together a rather inexpert but passable draft of an article discussing the meaning and origin of 5 French sayings or proverbs or adages or aphorisms. I used all those words and more to keep it less mind-numbing.
What I will come home to is a stuffy draft that I needed to leave anyhow, though the impulse to go home and finish it is way stronger than my need to practice Buddhist patience and presence here at yogurt zombie Monday. I need to make it personable, friendly and fun. Oy, that should pull on every iota of craft I can muster.
Well, only one customer intruded on my ten. Good sign. Maybe the piece will magically gel tonight before my eyes turn to lidded gravel.


Image: Architectureofbuddhism.com

The Dancing Devils’ Eve

Three sports minded looking (shorts, windbreakers, running shoes) 

men in their late sixties, early seventies in fine fit shape, 

eating frozen yogurt and chatting about American Idol, 

debating which singers touch their hearts rather than 

merely their ears and how Adele, who has a powerful voice,

sings the same sounding songs all the time while outside

the kidlets also dressed in shorts, tennies and windbreakers,

 well they just spin and run and chase and throw caps to the floor

“Pop!” and squeal and drag little sisters and brothers by the hand.

As I in my cloud of sleepless fuzz watch behind a counter through 

the protective pane of legitimacy, bleary eyed, she who cannot

help but listen and let the wordy notes of lilting song and sting

float in and out of me, touching my nerves in a gentle buzz and click,

anodizing the metal of my thoughts to clumping the hours abiding.

A glance at my bloody finger, cuticle ripped down to the root, reminds

me the angst trembles beneath the calm veneer–tomorrow’s near,

and the dancing devils and retinue request (demand) my presence. 

The Last Night Shift?

It’s a Thursday night at the sugar shack, quiet 

for the 5 to 7 hours, slow enough for me to 

inventory, tidy and re-stock. 

The day shift rarely covers all.

Like a morsel left for Elijah, the day shift–

my daughter, in fact–left me chores to do

like cutting up strawberries, cleaning up

counters coated sticky caramel or fudge, cherry

juice or chopped Reese’s peanut butter cups

dust, among the other jobs of smiling, wiping,

re-filling, lifting, swiping, shifting, and money-

tending, motions threaded into my days and

nights lo these past two years, 20 to 40 hours

a week, after the class room or with the lap top.

Thursday night, like most other nights of the

week brings in the small, smartly dressed 

woman who does not like people, especially small

ones, their cackles and laughter reverberating

madly from tile floor to painted wood ceiling;

nor does she deign sanitary all those dotted

dried yogurt drips on the scale upon which

she weighs her nightly yogurt, always the same,

the half dozen or so rainbow pareils atop chocolate 

obsession (her froyo choice and aptly so)

a lid and a bag. I get it all ready for her once

I spy her entry. Anxiety riddles her face so 

that her smile forced comfort in my familiar 

face transforms her, cracking ice panes.

She warms to me; I know her tics and peeves.

Following nervous Nelly, affectionately dubbed,

enter the Thursday night family four just out of 

church (there are three nearby churches) who

each ask in turn, “Is there whipped cream tonight?”

We make it fresh here, liquid cream and the nitrous

oxide I am often tempted to inhale on especially

dreary nights of “what am I doing here and how 

will I bear another menial, meaningless night?”

Until mop dancing, when all seems to flow, tears

and motion, two-stepping and sludgery, the end

near, a night almost over, near complete.

When then arrives the female version of 

SpongeBob who plops down 16 dollars of

yogurt and toppings while complaining of 

stomach pains, a gone gallbladder and 

a boyfriend who does not even deserve the

two chocolate chip cookies she adds to her order.

“He’s so mean,” she says, shaking her head 

so that the just-put-it-up-any-which-way bun

flops side to side, loose and threatening to fall.

Her appearance sparks a laugh and a text to 

my day shift counterpart–my daughter–

who earlier remarked that she hadn’t seen quart-lady

lately and wondered if she was all right.

Quart lady once complained the tart machine freezes

up, protested so fervently about its unavailability

since tart was the only flavor she could eat, 

given her gall bladder problems, prompting me

to move tart two machines down, thinking of her ire,

and when I proudly showed her on her next visit

the new location, which she herself suggested, she

smiled and promptly filled her cup with dulce de leche.

“Remember that lady made such a stink and then 

didn’t even get tart after all?” my daughter laughed

just today, this afternoon, at our passing of the baton,

shift change. She too has loved and hated the job.

And just yesterday, the young, energetic blonde with

savings, ready to own something (his girlfriend aside),

with his queries and interrogations–“What is your favorite

flavor? And how do you like working here? And which is 

the most popular items in the store? And which machines

are your favorite?”–may be, perhaps, looks like, and so if

he really does want to buy the store, what then?

 This job, a helping hand and gift after a bad life trip and fall,

a stop on recovery’s road, for which I thank cousins and sweets

and sweet cousins, father and son, and daughters,

and all who seek comfort in colorful swirls and turrets, 

gems and decor, sugar coated and sugar free, reward and 

punishment for all those bodies small, square, squat, thin,

lanky, lean, old, young and in between that have passed

through and paved my practiced presence, order, patience 

and humility these last couple years, sometimes failing at all 

or some, sometimes succeeding at all, some or none.

These sentimental seeds I sprinkle like rainbow and chocolate

on a quiet Thursday night’s spurring these 

final thoughts, final words and future memories.

The zen of shop mopping

Nope, I will not write yet another wax-on-wax-off tale of patience and fortitude–not exactly. I can declare neither hate nor love for mopping to wring a lesson from the chore. And it is a chore, one that ends the night at the frozen yogurt shop after a long or short shift late at night. 

After turning off the “open” sign, I commence the real work of the night: twenty or thirty large and small tasks, including bagging trash, counting money, wiping counters, refrigerating perishables and washing dishes. 

There are tables, chairs, sinks, counters and machines to be wiped down; trash cans to be emptied, collected and dumped; and monitors, lights and signs to be turned off. Food needs to be collected, capped and stored. Money needs counting, sometimes re-counting, and the morning’s drawer calculating. Each of these tasks is not difficult or time-consuming but the sum total of task-to-task and back-to-front activity wears a body down, certainly sucks a mind’s attention down the drain with the dirty dishwasher. On auto-pilot.

So by the time the final chore of the hour before locking the door behind me to the other side where the cool, nearly-midnight air refreshes my sweaty face and tired bones, I am both excited and exhausted at the thought of mopping the entire store, the longest, most arduous chore of the clean up. 

Nearing the finish line, the mind takes the bloodiest beating in a marathon run. Roughed up for miles but patiently ticking the feet and hours away, the mind waits while the body mindlessly erodes. And just when the body gives out, its last shred of fuel expended, grindingly painful, the mind kicks in hard to turn the cogs, shovel the coal of the engine by sheer might and will so the machine will turn and one foot wil continue to be placed in front of the other to inch away toward the most beautiful words ever sported on a banner: “Finish Line.”

The most dangerous place, finish line in sight, is the likeliest place for injury. I want to get it done, sprint past the pain to grab the sweet god-like goal of stopping–to be done actually, not the mental done-ness of being over the whole run, race, challenge, training, preparation and completion thing that occured miles before then. 

But sprinting is foolish. Mistakes are made: a tired sloshy ankle gives way, dizziness or nausea may end the race at the medical tent, or longer recovery time incited by even more ligament and tendon strain than has already been inflicted by the previous 26 miles.

No, the better choice is to keep steady, rein in the mind’s anticipation and body’s blind adrenaline. When I have resisted the lurch–the mad dash to freedom–and kept my pace even and weary-strong, lifting my agonized thighs just a tad higher to lighten my cement feet for a slight spring to my chugging trot, I feel better, less miserable, and more attentive to the faces and cheers around me (a thinned crowd by then). Relishing the moments, I call it.

I do not relish mopping, especially after the mind stultifying hours of lulls and frenzies of retail that leave me aching to go home, actually anywhere far from slung frozen dessert. 

But mopping has its up side. 

Surprisingly, mopping involves a bit of know-how, technique, and physicality. Without a bit of coordination, the mop does not swirl, curl and swoop rhythmically and capaciously. Without the meditative steadiness of pace, space and motion in a dance of short-stepping, weight shifting, forearm tension and bicep propulsion, all in a swivel and sway of calculated spatial coverage, mopping feels and probably looks more like a wrestling match with an unwieldy, dead-weighted dragging opponent. 

Mopping too quickly expends too much energy, produces too much perspiration and inevitably leads to missed spots, besmirching reputation, calling workmanship and thereby a worker’s integrity into question–no pride in her work.

More importantly, however, rushing a mop across a ceramic tile floor deprives the mopper a pleasingly measured assessment of work in progress, a confident chipping away at an expanse, the satisfying glide of wet cloth strands across a slick surface and focused scrutiny of tile by tile smudges. Moreover, the muscle and dance of the mopping, a duet of synchronized synapse and lead-and-follow, is also lost. 

Attention to detail, to each inch of the mop’s path, unfolds appreciation for disappearing dirt slid to clear clean, and the running catalog of muscles fired in the process from wrist, ankles, balls of the feet, toes, calves, thighs, upper and lower back, buttocks, fingers and neck. 

All mindful movement yields connections to the eternal, a presence of doing and being. The deep listening of notice, of attuned awareness tricks time, averts the mind’s eye from pain to stillness–a sort of suspension–suffering to studied observation, a diversion ending in momentary neutrality and connection to the sideways slanting of life. 

Mopping–when the mood is right–takes me there.