Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Modern Daoist Stories: Duke

I worked with a fellow I'll call "Duke" for a long time. Since it was the sort of job that had lots of opportunities for long conversations, I got to know him significantly more than I would have liked.

Duke was an auto mechanic who, to hear him talk, had made a great deal of money before he'd gotten polio and ended up with a bad back. As a result, he wound up at the same job that I had, even though to hear him talk it was designed to do not much more than cause him a life of living Hell.

As I got to know Duke, it came out that he had grown up in not much more than a tar paper shack with a father who had come back from WWII with significant physical and emotional problems. At an early age he'd left home and dropped out of school to live in a rooming house and work at a service station pumping gas and changing oil. The owner of the station had taken him under his wing and convinced/forced him to take on an automotice apprenticeship that resulted in his getting a trade.

Duke had a strange blind spot. He would never see contradictions between what he said he believed and the actions that he personally took. So at the same time that he spoke gratefully about this boss who had taken great pains to make sure that he actually finished his apprenticeship, he bragged that later on in life when he was a Master, he was so hard on his apprentices that none of them ever got their papers.

He also used to complain bitterly about nepotism at work, yet when one of his sons needed a job, he and his wife pulled all sorts of strings to get him one. And his son turned out to be a collossal problem to our workplace---one long time employees actually quit rather than have to work with him. Junior was eventually "shown the door".

Another time Duke was pontificating to me about how much money taxpayers waste on the salaries of politicians. I pointed out to him that I knew for a fact that the mayor actually made slightly less money than he did. Within a heart-beat, Duke replied that that was why our politicians were so worthless "You get what you pay for!"

Shortly after I started work I decided to time Duke to see how long he would talk without my offering a single word to the conversation. He talked 40 minutes straight without my saying a peep. Towards the end of this experiment, a voice in the back of my head told me "I hope this guy never gets into a position of authority!"

I got so sick of hearing this fellow pontificate that at one time I simply attempted to avoid him whenever possible. (I literally had a dream once where I strangled Duke. When I woke up my hands were rapped around the pillow and I was squeezing like my life depended on it.) This lasted two weeks and then Duke complained to my boss, who ordered me to socialize with him again.

Duke retired last year, so he is finally out of my hair. But I suspect it will take me years to get him out of my system.

I could go on and on about this fellow, but I think you get the flavour. The reason I'm writing about him is because I never met fellows like him in the spiritual books that I read. I have copies of translations of Zen Flesh and Zen Bones, The Gateless Gate, The Blue Cliff Records, The Record of the Transmission of the Light---even Zen Comics. I've read stories in Zhuangzi, Liezi and other Daoist books. I've also got all the Idris Shah books of Sufi teaching stories. Just once I'd like to read a teaching story where a Master is confronted by an angry, nasty, stupid person who is totally and complete impervious to logic---yet whom he simply cannot avoid because of the circumstances that he finds himself in.

How would a spiritual master deal with having to work with a guy like Duke? Or a crazy sadistic drill seargant after being drafted into the army? Or the mob when it wanted to extort money from you?

I once lived in a building that rumour had it had been built by money made from extortion rackets. I didn't pay much attention to this until one day I had a conversation with one of the elderly owners about some noise complaints. In his gravelly voice he said something like this "Yeah, he wants me to get involved. I don't like this sort of thing. People yell at each other, they get angry, and the next thing you know someone has their kneecaps broken with a baseball bat. I just don't like to get involved---." This guy wasn't a bad landlord, but I suspect I would never have wanted to get on his bad side when he was younger.

This is one aspect of spirituality where Christianity does have some significant insights to offer. Sometimes all we can do is "endure". And the myth of Jesus on his cross crying out "My God why have you forsaken me?" is something that really does resonate with the day-to-day misery that people inflict upon each other. We live our lives the best we can and eventually something happens to end it. And when that does, even though we may personally be gone, the universe continues. The best we can hope for is to really savour the bits and pieces of joy that life does offer us when it can, and not let the bad taste of the ugliness of the other bits leave such a sour taste in our mouths that we waste these scraps of grace.


Jim714 said...

Dear CWO:

I'm not sure why but I missed this post until reading it just now. It really made me laugh because I once timed someone in similar circumtstances, just as you did, and the result was the same!!! Forty effing minutes!!! Non-stop.


The end was different though. We are now friends and somehow he's learned to be somewhat restrained.



The Cloudwalking Owl said...

I think you missed the post because I had started it a while back but didn't finish until I'd posted another. I tried to figure out how to change the date of posting, but it seems to be based on when you start to write, not when you publish.

I'm not terribly happy with this post, but I'll just chalk it up to being more of a "diary" thing than a "Daoist" one.

I'd love to read some stories about sages or Masters having to deal with the sorts of problems we see in the work place. Maybe sometime in the future some great writer will be able to do it.