Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The Restaurant

A few years ago, on Christmas Eve, I went to a restaurant with my parents and my brother. The wait was really long (about an hour) and it was really cold in the waiting area. So cold, in fact, that only my brother and I, and a gentleman and his son were waiting. Everyone else decided that it was better to be warm and standing, then cold and sitting. I was intrigued by the relationships that occur between strangers in those types of situations and because, at that time, I was writing stories all the time, I wrote a story about it that night. It's still one my favorite stories that I've written and I try to read it every Christmas Eve. So, today, I'm going to share it with you. It's fairly short but if you don't read it I won't be offended. Otherwise, have a merry Christmas.

The Restaurant

The two men huddled inside the humid room. People lined the walls as if they were waiting to buy Beatles concert tickets. Some were playing with their fingers and pretending that they were two great warriors about to do battle at the ends of their knees. Others blankly stared into nothing as their brains did hula-hoops in their heads. Still, others tried to strike up conversations that sadly ended after they asked the universal question: “how are you?” and received the universal answer: “fine”.
The two men idly strolled towards the host and met glances of pity, menace and even scorn. Slowly, they asked the forbidden question: “How long is the wait?” Lights flickered. Motion around the room slowed. The two men’s eyes locked onto the host’s lips and in a deep, demonic voice they heard the terrible answer, “Two hours”. Gasps of air shook the room. A pregnant woman fainted. Then, after gaining his composure, Carlos put his name on the list. The host pointed and laughed at the two men in his demonic voice.
Carlos looked for a place to sit down but there were no seats left. Mark found a nice standing spot and Carlos joined him. And what a standing spot! It was a nice smooth wall that you could lean against. It didn’t have anything that poked you in the back and the wall was sturdy so it didn’t feel like it would cave in if you so much as touched it. Carlos and Mark smiled as they realized their great treasure find.
“Don’t touch me!” an ancient old man cried out. “I didn’t buy this house for you to pee in!” The old man then went into a beautiful chorus of Silent Night.
“Don’t worry about him,” a middle-aged woman explained, “That’s Jude. He’s been here the longest they say. I hear he has been here upwards of an hour and 15 minutes. He’s probably just getting delirious. Restaurant Delirium is what they call it in these parts. Either that, or he is just really bored.”
Mark looked around. The people who had already been admitted into the restaurant were eating slowly. Very slowly. Mark finally met eyes with one of them and they smiled as they took the slowest bite of lasagna the world has ever known.
“Those bastards are eating slow on purpose!” Mark announced. The people in the lobby said nothing. “I guess you already knew that…” Mark trailed off. The people actually managed to look more sullen than they already were.
“Okay, gather round young’uns and let your ol’ pappy Jude tell ye a story…” the old man started off. “Once there was a man. And he was a good man! This man liked food. Oh, how he liked that food! Well, one day, the man decides to come to this here restaurant. And you know what happened? He got in. He didn’t have to wait a single minute!” Claps and whistles rung throughout the little lobby as the multitude of people cheered for their hero who defeated the evil system of having to wait to be seated in the restaurant.
“Will I ever live in a world like that pappy Jude?” a small boy asked.
“You sure will, son. You sure will.” Jude replied though it hurt him to lie to the boy. The people in the lobby smiled at the thought of such a world.
An intercom intervened on their thoughts as it announced: “Jude. Party of One. Your table is ready.” Cheers rose up among the ranks as they clapped for their oldest remaining member. Jude danced his way to the host and when he reached him, he turned back and yelled, “Keep the faith my friends, and someday you will join me in there and we will dine as Kings!” He raised his fist and parted from the sight of the group.
While the party reflected on the memories of their departed friend, two people came out of the dining area, obviously stuffed full.
“Oh geez, I couldn’t eat another bite if I tried to,” the man said. “I am just so FULL!” It then became obvious to the group that he was purposely saying this to make the people in the lobby envious and angry.
“Hey, screw you buddy!” an upset, middle-aged man yelled but his wife held him back whispering, “Don’t fight him. He is full of energy and you, in your weakened and starving condition might pass out before you got a good punch in…” The middle-aged man stepped back and hung his head while the other man laughed and fled into the darkness.
A silence fell over the group and there it stayed until finally Carlos and Mark were the only one’s left in the lobby. The last of the group bid them a fond farewell as they parted into the warm, welcoming restaurant. Though they were close friends, Carlos and Mark hardly talked while they waited alone. Sullen grew their day, and dark grew their night. Then, like the sun coming out from behind the clouds, they were called to take their place among the restaurant folk. Jumps of joy and laughter possessed their bodies and they hurriedly followed the host.
They were showed to their table and they picked up their menus and were surprised to see a yellow adhesive note covering the dishes. The note read, “Because of lack of resources, this restaurant is now only serving black licorice. Thank you for your cooperation.”
“When the hell did I say I was going to cooperate?” Carlos asked himself.
The waiter brought them two plates strewn with three long strands of black licorice each. Carlos and Mark sat in silence, not knowing exactly what they should do. Why did they wait two hours for black licorice? They looked at it. It was uninteresting, looking no different than one would expect a piece of black licorice to look. Carlos picked up a piece and took a small bite.
“Hmm…” he started, “It tastes like…” and he never finished the thought.
Mark picked up his and began to eat as well. They finished quickly and paid the absolutely absurd bill to ask for when they were only served six strands of black licorice. Mark and Carlos departed into the cool of the night, each one replaying the events of the night back to themselves in their heads.
On the way to their car, they saw their waiter hanging out at the back of the restaurant. He saw them and called out, “How was it?”
Carlos and Mark looked at each other and tried to think of how to answer the question.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

10 Questions for the Dalai Lama

My wife and I recently watched a documentary titled, "10 Questions for the Dalai Lama" and it was very moving. I've always found Buddhism a fascinating religion ever since I learned about it in my World History class when I was in high school. The Dalai Lama is also a fascinating man which makes the documentary we watched all the more fascinating.
Many of you probably know the story of the Dalai Lama's life. But for those who don't, here is a quick synopsis. Since Buddhists believe in reincarnation, they often look for signs that the next Dalai Lama has been born or reincarnated. They often give very small children tests to determine if they are the chosen one, so to speak. The previous Dalai Lama will always leave signs and point to areas where he will be reborn before he passes. It is among these circumstances that the current Dalai Lama was chosen, at the age of two. From the age of four, his head was shaved and he was intensely trained in becoming a Buddhist monk. At the age of fifteen, one month after China invaded his country, he was enthroned as the Dalai Lama. He was deceived by Mao Zedong, China's Communist ruler into thinking that Tibet would be allowed to keep its religious freedoms and cultural practices. He was pointedly told by Mao Zedong that, "Religion is poison." After this and after suspecting that China 's rulers were planning to kill him, he led a failed uprising. The Chinese army quickly dispelled it and left with nothing else to do, he fled to northern India, where he still resides today in a town called Dharmashala. In the wake of his exile, somewhere around 1,200,000 Tibetans were massacred by the Chinese army.
Watching the movie, I saw in him the same qualities I have seen in the greatest religious leader I have seen in my lifetime (Gordon B. Hinckley). The Dalai Lama is very smart. He enjoys learning about science and greatly enjoys the topics of astronomy and neurology. He believes there are sentient lifeforms on planets outside of our solar system. He often tinkers with things, taking apart and studying the inner workings of watches and cars. He is very humble. He is quick to say that he is no one special. He often gets bored when people praise him. And the quality that most reminds me of Gordon B. Hinckley, is that he loves to laugh. He is often making jokes about himself or the idiosyncracies that he observes in other people. He refuses to fly first class on airplanes saying that if people still wanted to see him , it wouldn't make any difference which part of the aircraft he sat in. When he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989, which comes with a $1 million prize, he gave all the money away to charity.
The movie can easily make you angry at China (if you already aren't mad at them). The Dalai Lama, knowing that he is near the end of his life, in 1995, selected the next Panchen Lama. The Panchen Lama is one of the key people who select the reincarnated Dalai Lama. A few days after the Dalai Lama selected this new Panchen Lama, the boy and his family disappeared. To this day, they have never been seen again in public. This boy is regarded as the "youngest political prisoner in the world". A few days after this boy's disappearance, the People's Republic of China announced their own Panchen Lama, who would select the new Dalai Lama. It seems as though China is adamant in squashing out the culture of the Tibetan people.
Though through all of this, the Dalai Lama remains calm. He wishes no ill-will toward China and even verbally chastises anybody who uses violence to promote the cause of Tibet. He says in the film that the only hope for his people and his culture to survive is for China to become democratic. I, too, hope that this will soon happen.
Many prophets have stated that Siddhartha Guatama or Buddha, Confucius, and even the prophet Mohammed were all inspired men who were directed by God to teach their people. I enjoy learning about this man and his people and echo the prophets of the Mormon church in saying that all religions offer insight into our own religion. This is not to say that we should forsake our own religion, nor to practice anything from another. But studying and understanding another's beliefs instills in us the viewpoint that all religion at one time came from the same source and that God uses different methods to reach different people and that anything that is done to make a person choose to live a better life and to better the world around him is good. The Dalai Lama is an inspirational man and the fact that he is not of your religion should not be reason to think differently.
I hope China one day sees what they have done. I hope one day the Dalai Lama can return to his homeland in his lifetime. It would be a very terrible thing if we were all witnesses to a cultural genocide but were powerless to stop it.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Happy Birthday, Insight!

I, like my mother, totally spaced that it was my sister's birthday yesterday. I had a really busy day with work and my desire to finish all of my Christmas shopping. Anyway, I had meant to write a blog about her so here it is:

Growing up, Insight was should we say it? An ingenious con-artist. She often had me run get her things upstairs for her with the promise of a quarter, or sometimes a surprise. The surprises were never really that interesting. I always did it just to be nice. When I was really young, she would often come to my brother and I with a proposition: If we helped her clean her room, then she would play Stage with us. Stage was a game we liked to play with her radio because a microphone could plug into it and you could sing songs. In our house, the entryway was elevated over the living room so with a stretch of the imagination, you felt like you were on stage. I never liked actually singing but I REALLY liked listening to all the songs and dancing around. I also liked just doing something with my brother and sister because it was rare that they wanted to do something with me.

Since Insight was 7 years older than me, and 3 years older than my brother, she was often put in charge of us while our parents were gone. She ruled the house with an iron fist...or should I say wooden spoon? You have no idea how many times she chased me around the house with a wooden spoon. I probably deserved it. I think I developed my problem with authority during those times. One time, I got tired of running and let her hit me with the spoon and then I hit her back. When my parents came home, she told them I had hit her. I yelled at them, "But she hit me with a wooden spoon!" My mother said, "But you don't hit girls!" I asked why. She said, "You just don't." And to this day, I never have again.

Insight and I often made fun of my brother when he wasn't around. I didn't like him because he picked on me, and Insight didn't like him for some other reason. Sometimes we would go together to mess with him, like opening the bathroom door while he was using it and leaving it open for anyone to see him on the toilet if they walked by.

Insight made me watch so many movies and TV shows when I was a kid that I would otherwise not have watched. I am so glad she did because I was so "ahead of the game" when I grew up and people had asked if I had seen any of those things. Labrynth, Adventures in Babysitting, and a some others are just a few examples. My mind is foggy right now but I know all of them when I see them and whenever I do, I tell whoever I'm with, "Yeah, I used to watch that with my sister all the time." And Labrynth is still a favorite of mine.

Insight has the best laugh. It cracks me up. Whenever she laughs, I laugh. She and I used to watch the Simpsons together, and that was my favorite show. She, to this day, still tells me that she loved doing that because she loved to hear me laugh which is ironic because I loved doing it because I loved to hear her laugh.

When I was in middle school, I used to dress like a gangster. I don't know why I did. Most of the other kids dressed like that and because I didn't know who I was or who I wanted to be, I dressed like that too. One day, when I came home from school, I told my Mom that I wanted to go shopping because I really wanted these new pair of baggy pants. My mother didn't want to and we began to argue. My sister came in and overheard the conversation and asked me, "Why do you want to dress like that? Why don't you just wear whatever you want to wear?" She said it in a non-confrontational way, softly, with true sincere. I don't know why, but something changed in me from that moment on. When she said that, I knew that I was a poser and was being someone I didn't want to be. From then on, I dressed how I wanted and didn't give a crap what anyone thought. That's why, even in college, I would wear shirts that I had worn in the 8th grade and sometimes dress like a homeless man, except not on purpose (sorry Stace-Ghost). I also had one of the best years of my life (8th grade) because I just didn't care about the little things anymore. I also met my two best friends who are still, to this day, some of the closest friends I have. I would not have met them had I not had that realization because I would have still been trying to act cool when I was really unhappy. Looking back, its amazing how such a sincere, sisterly, and caring moment changed my life so much. I love you Insight, and I hope for only the best things to happen to you in your life. Happy Birthday.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Crank It

I've been pretty stressed out lately for a number of reasons. None of them have to do with Christmas. And frankly, I don't really want to go into it. Not because its a secret but because I'm tired of complaining through my blog. So I'll leave it at that.
But ever since I was about 15 and started playing guitar, I've always found that the best thing to do when you're stressed out is to plug in your guitar, crank up the volume, and play like there's no tomorrow. There is something exorcising about it-like you play your anger and stress out over the guitar and through the amplifier, and somewhere through all that fuzz and distortion you start to feel better. Some people go to the gym to relieve stress. I go to my drummer's house and jam.
That is the reason music makes such a good companion.
I don't play as much as I used to. I don't know why. I think I'm just going through a phase of being uninterested in it. I think its because of everything that happened with my band Bullet for Babs, my other band Shambala, and after finishing my last album-it all just left a bad taste in my mouth. Things happened that really pissed me off (and they still do) so I think I just don't feel like playing much. But anyway, my point is, that even though I feel like that now, there are still days when I'm at work and I just know and just feel that when I get home I need to pick up the guitar and play for a little while. Its always there. Sometimes I don't feel like playing any of the songs I know so I will write a new one. Sometimes I'll learn a new one. And other times I'm perfectly fine with playing a song that I've already played a million times.
The gift of music is in its gift to heal. There are some songs that touch the soul and they were always meant to. I usually jam with my drummer every Monday but since this Monday, we celebrated my sister's b-day, I had to cancel. But we re-scheduled for this Saturday and I've been looking forward to it everyday. Its getting me through the week, just looking forward to it, and on Saturday when I crank up the volume, it'll get me through next week as well.