IMG_0495More people pass through Grand Central Station in a single day than live in the state of Alaska. For perspective, each Alaskan has 1.26 square miles to roam around in each year, New Yorkers at Grand Central have 2.7 square feet to roam in each day. Are there too many people in New York? Alaskans might think so.

I was not brought up in Alaska, but in Southern California. Some city planner claimed that my home was within the LA city limits, but compared to NYC it was hardly city living.  Three families carved out house plots on a large hill at the end of a fire road covered with sagebrush in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains. We were 1/5 mile apart and our nearest neighbors were another mile or so across a gully on a ridge. When I looked for play friends as a boy, I hiked down into the gully or sometimes when the mustard weed had been cleared as a fire break from the top of the hill, slid half way down on large pieces of cardboard only to slide face first into the sagebrushy prickles.Then I’d go pile rocks as ammunition in case another boy, a prospective friend, might challenge my position. So I feel pretty spiritually close to the 1.26 square miles Alaskans bask in.

The first big city I ever experienced was Disneyland–the crowds, the waiting in lines for things, the myriad people watching. It trained me for what I might find when I moved away from home to a real city–Chicago.  How different life was with people as witnesses. How the people had to behave differently because they were always always being seen by other people. It was a house of mirrors.

It must have satisfied though, some part of it at least, because for the next 40 years I have lived in cities, and never returned to my cowboy and indian roots, meeting friends by throwing rocks in the canyon.

So it is somehow otherworldly, but in other ways completely natural that I now share Grand Central Station with 750,000 other people each day. And each day I disembark from my train and walk from 42nd Street to 19th Street where I work, passing 900 people just on the sidewalk I’m on. ( I counted.) I’m not even talking about the people walking on the other side of the street.

In my rock-throwing canyon I could watch another boy approach my position from a mile away. They tended to leave their backyards that spilled over the hills into the canyon, so you could see them as they skittered down their side of the hill. And with the binoculars that I kept hidden in a metal box dug into the dirt at Eagle Rock, I could see who they were long before I had to decide whether they were friend or foe.

This is different. It’s like viewing 900 photographs in 15 minutes. Some stick with you, most are a blur. But they are a blur of something human. If you saw 900 porcupines walking downtown it would be remarkable. Somehow this isn’t. And yet 900 arms, 900 noggins, 1800 eyelids–it all adds up so fast, and, it is completely indigestible. There is no time to size anyone up and see if you have enough rocks. Instead you have this too up close and personal view of nose hairs and elbows as they flash past. It takes some getting used to. Any one of them could be a serial kiler. Or more likely, your second cousin, future dishwasher, life of the party, lunky linebacker, someone’s friend from China. They all seem to pass the test for correct number of body parts. But what do they want? They whiz past like bullets.

My Buddhist practice says that we are all connected. But to my naked eye, it sure doesn’t seem that way. On the other hand, take a moment to stand on the mezzanine above the main floor of Grand Central station. From here you can see the big picture: bodies in motion. At this time of the morning there must be roughly a thousand different bodies all going which way. Here comes a big, aggressive late-trainer, he’s moving at a speed 2.4 times faster than anyone else. And the other bodies move around him, make way for him without even really noticing he is there. This is a rock thrown in a pond. This is physics. This is the Buddhist principal of dependent origination.

Nothing exists independently of other things. If this exists, that exists; if this ceases to exist, that also ceases to exist.

Hence this morning’s experiment. I am donning my guerrilla mask and going to walk at an even pace across the entire floor length to watch interconnectivity at work. What am I proving? Nothing. I’m just having fun. I’ve already told you I believe in dependent origination, so what more is there to say. Besides, it’s almost Halloween.

Probably though, I am also proving to myself that the reason I don’t live in Alaska is that it is much harder to be connected to the herd there. You have to assume that other people exist and care about you there. Here in New York, you know they exist and you know they don’t care about you.  So what do they want? Why are they here? Is it just the safety of the herd?

The tattoos may explain it. New York City has some definite over achievers in the tattoo, hair color process, look-at-me-I’m-different attention getting department. There are more tattoos per square body inch here than in Alaska, I guarantee it. Roses on butt-cheeks, hashtag Jesus on neck napes, the Loch Ness Monster swallowing entire arm wings. They came here to be part of the herd and then to prove they were different. Like me, they gave up their rocks for the expression of themselves as art. Take that Alaska.

Moreover, in moving here, my pile of rocks has been bronzed and sits on my desk as a paperweight. My new weapon, retardation. Bullets would be happier metals if they slowed down to a point where they can’t hurt anyone; that they dribble, retardedly, out the end of a gun and wobble across to their target and give it a little kiss.

So it is with the interconnectivity of people. Retard my friends, retard. Decelerate.

Alaska may be an extreme but so is Grand Central Station. Get out of there. Go to Starbucks. Or better yet, to the corner diner. Smile. Say hello. She’s nice. He’s a great guy. Are you reading Dickens? I am too! How about those Mets? Let’s take a selfie with everybody here.

Women understand this. But sometimes when they’re dressed for business they forget. Heart to heart. Whether we like it or not, we want to be connected, we are connected.



Cowgirl (150dpi)

Cowgirl by Gina Freschet, 2006. Watercolor, ink, collage on paper. More at

It’s blocking your way! It’s keeping you from your desired dreams! It’s really pissing you off! Relax, it’s just an obstacle.

They’re everywhere. They could be anything: rakes, people, diseases, rogue fence posts. Identifying them is half the battle. It could be worse. Some people can’t even identify when they are encountering obstacles until it’s too late.

Initially, Noah thought it was just a rainy month. President GW Bush declared the war was over. And has Lindsay Lohan hit ten rehab visits yet? Too many sunny days in a row without crab-like aliens landing and forcing you to eat egg foo yung at laser point can be dangerous.

Humans are lulled. Don’t be lulled. Never be lulled. Be aware. Be awake. Be on your guard. Take your obstacles seriously. Take your obstacle spectacles from the spectacle receptacle and put them on. And keep them on. What do you see? If your spectacles are working correctly, it should look like a meteor shower of all kinds of shit coming at you. Like Sandra Bullock in Gravity. Dangerous; but strangely satisfying.

Because when you really draw out the picture of your days, weeks, years — let’s face it, obstacles are everyday occurrences. You live in a permanent meteor shower, my friend. It’s just that human nature is such that once they’re past us, we forget they ever happened, and when they are in our face, more often than not, we are shocked and surprised that they’re there. Something in our make up wants to identify them as foreign, alien objects flying at light speed towards us, attacking our normal state, but they are not. They are as normal as breathing.

For instance, when you don’t vacuum your room for six weeks and the dust bunnies tower over your head while you’re trying to read Crime and Punishment, and you curse them for making you sneeze and try to ignore them but they’re throwing shadows on Raskolnikov, then you have manifested an obstacle.

Why don’t you just vacuum? This is not someone else’s obstacle. This is all yours. Maybe because your parents told you to clean your room and you’re not gonna! Or because there are no parents to tell you, so you eat pizza on the sofa and use the crusts, bent once in the middle, as boomerangs to try and knock the vase on the mantle into the empty six-pack case below.

I know the dust bunnies appear to be outside you, but let me tell you something. They’re  inside. Why would I argue that? Because the solution to solve them is inside you. Go find the vacuum and clean. Done. Obstacle resolved. Nothing to do but finish reading Dostoevsky and wait for the next obstacle to rear it’s pretty head. And yet something HAS changed. The challenge of man-eating dust bunnies has brought you to a new place. You have a new sense of accomplishment, a lighter step, a better view of yourself. You are now known amongst your friends as the Bunny Terminator. Get new business cards printed.

How to Turn Everyday Obstacles into Something to Really Cry About

So often no one sees your obstacles but you. This can be very dispiriting. Here are five rules to magnify your obstacles to such a size that anyone around you can see them.

1) Drama. This is a necessity. Without drama the world will never notice that you are going through a crisis, goddamnit! And the key to good drama is exaggeration. (Dust bunnies!? Don’t you see what I’m dealing with here? Manatee-sized dust bunnies!?)

2) Blame. A froth of finger-pointing is important to deflect any blame, if blame there be, from the affected party–you! Besides, it’s not your fault. It’s THEIR fault!

3) Negativity. Go crazy. Dig deep. Knock yourself out. This is the moment to release all that negativity you’ve been trying to hold back. Why do it now when you were being so positive? See 1 and 2.

4) Miscommunication. Blurt out half truths and innuendos that could be taken any number of ways. Maximizing miscommunication is the key to magnifying a good obstacle.

5) Screaming. This is crucial and it works every time, as it goes directly to the nerve impulses of the people around you, bypassing reason, and therefore is guaranteed to get you the attention you so desperately seek. It worked when you were two, why not when you’re 32? (Caution: Learn to deal with negative attention before starting.)

Follow these important rules and you can often turn one mundane little obstacle into several hundred. Nice going. You’re unlikely to reach your true comfort zone in this lifetime.

When You Like Obstacles Too Much Because They Give You the Reason to Complain

Obviously this a self-fulfilling prophesy. You are stuck my friend. You ain’t moving forward one inch, because you have designed the perfect system for not moving forward. Life didn’t do that. You’re clever brain did. But how to get out of this cage? My only advice for you is to take an action. Any action, really. It just needs to be something to get you out of the bubble you’re in. Go ahead, take the Greyhound bus to Dayton, Ohio.  Somewhere on that long trip, you’ll start to reason with yourself. “Why the hell am I going to Dayton, Ohio!? I can just as well buy gummy bears in Albany.” And you’ll take action to change course. It’s not the course, but the ACTION that will bring you to a new place. You may meet your soul mate on the bus and re-start life as a pool cleaner in Albany. Have new business cards printed.

When Obstacles are People

Ok. This happens all the time. Even though you are as shocked and surprised by these as you are by your karmic dust bunnies.

One sure sign that this is happening is when you feel your buttons being pushed.

“Back up Bertram!”

Oh wait. Bertram is my boss. If I tell him to back up, I may get fired. But why is he pushing my buttons? Doesn’t he understand that only abusive fathers are allowed to do that? He’s not my eff-ing father.

“Back up Bertram!”

Shit. I’m on probation.

My shrink says I have a deep-seated hatred of authority based on my father’s need to have me scrub inside bathroom drains with a mustache comb.  I tell him Bertram has no facial hair whatsoever. He asks if any other figure of authority other than my father ever pushed my buttons. I tell him only about 250 of them, my whole life. He tells me it’s not about Bertram, it’s about the obstacle of Bertram as he represents my past karmic relationship to my father. I tell him Bertram’s a shit stick and should have his nose hairs plucked until he screams “Mama.” He tells me that after the authority issue we’ll start on facial hair, and that the answer to dealing with this obstacle is not outside, it’s inside me. I’ve heard this somewhere before so I’m instantly suspicious of it, but have to admit that the other 250 authority figures I had problems with were shit sticks as well. And if I hadn’t allowed them to push my father karmic buttons I’d be better off than I am today.

Next day I bring Bertram a box of chocolates with Tabasco sauce centers. It turns out he doesn’t eat chocolate and neither do I. We have fun dropping them from his third story window and talk about my father’s nose hairs. It turns out he’s an orphan.

Love Your Obstacle

It is yours. All yours. Other people have obstacles that may be similar, but no one has obstacles like you do. Show some pride. Take responsibility. Those are some fine looking obstacles you have Mr. Jones.

Besides, ownership is the first step to awakening.

If you don’t claim them, you will all always be buffeted by them. It will be like playing dodge ball in a ping pong ball testing zone, blindfolded. “No sir. Those are not my obstacles. I never saw them before in my life. My obstacles wear condoms.”

The Upside

If you get used to not just obstacles, but the everyday flow of obstacles, you can relax. You can take off the Freddy hockey mask, rubber knee covers, umpire vest, ear plugs, nose plugs, protective eyewear, athletic cup (no, on second thought, better leave that on) steel toed shoes, and deflective ladle. Re-lax. Let them come. Bring them on. “Oh really world, is THAT the best obstacle you can throw at me today?” Money flows in and out of your life, why not obstacles?

In fact, the more you grit your teeth, hold your breath and become a paranoid Polly, the more you  hold onto obstacles. The more you hold on, the more you internalize…pretty soon you’ve got health problems. You swallowed your obstacle and you won’t spit it out. While you were doing all those things you wanted to do with your life if those obstacles would just leave you alone, you have become your obstacles.


Without obstacles you are nothing. A beached jellyfish. A couch potato on Soma. Your obstacles are your life–study them, treasure them, struggle, yes struggle, to understand why they’re in your life and not someone else’s, dialogue with them, spread them like mayonnaise on the ham sandwich of your soul. They are the yang to your ying. The pearl for your swine.

So treat them well. Take them for long walks on the beach. Introduce them to your friends. Treasure them as challenges, appreciate them as motivators, study them as ways to get from there to here, and finally get beyond them. Then set sail on that open sea of possibilities…where guess what?  You’ll be saying hello to your new obstacles.

Intelligent Design

vectorstock_1694557Intelligent Design

My SmartAlarm woke me at 5:51am this morning and brought my SmartPants on a hangar. I was barely awake but ascertained that my SmartZipper still worked. I had not rusted it the night before by peeing backwards as I had previously feared. You must exist.

My SmartComb has a virus so I just ran my hands through my hair and looked fairly decent. Had a SmartDrink and a banana. Thank God (just kidding, I don’t even know your real name, but for now I’ll call you ‘God’). I recharged my SmartNapkin, but it was so buzzed it wiped two moles and an eyebrow completely off my face along with the remnants of breakfast.

Took out my iPhone and called iOwa. Mom answered. “It sure is a beautiful morning son, what are you up to,” she kvelled.  “Mom. Mom,” I said to her, holding my bleeding eyebrow, “do you have to talk so loud. It’s early.”

“Well, Mr. New York smartypants, excuse me. I just wondered if it was as nice there as it is here?”

“No. No. There! Are you happy? It will never be as nice here, because our IQ is too high!” I hung up depressed. True or not, there was no reason to yell at mom.

I tried the SmartApp on my iPhone. It told me that Creationism is not a verb. Hmmm. Am I missing something here?

That SmartDrink went right through me. Had a whiz. Got hungry and munched on SmartFood. Somehow, I felt a bit smarter. Take that Darwin!

Hit the streets in my SmartCar and ran one of those red lights that takes your picture if you go through it. Ouch. I may get a summons, but that’s okay; some summonses aren’t as smart as they think they are. Today neither am I.

In fact, I am daily haunted by the miserable fact of my own stupidity. Surrounded by things and people much more intelligent than myself (some of them carrying designer bags), I either bang my iPad repeatedly against my head or take photos. Neither of these activities seems particularly smart to me. Which only makes it worse.

The Buddha said that knowledge has its limits. And at the limits of knowledge, faith is wisdom.

I figure if I could just come up with good shit like this, people would think I’m smart too.

“English is not a language for suckers, nor is it a nocturnal biped.” How does that sound?

How about…

“Facts are just words that simulate meaning.”

Does that sound like something a smart person would say? How about a New Yorker?

My SmartPhone says You exist, You’d just rather be anonymous for awhile. Hey, welcome to New York.

Is that true? Are you more than a fourth generation computer chip? Sometimes I wonder which is smarter, my SmartPhone or a block of wood. This block of wood tells me he knows Your heart, but my SmartPhone thinks You’re Penelope Cruz and gives me stock closings. Is that a sign?

If this SmartCar were smart enough it would drive me where I need to go. But I don’t know where I need to go and neither does it. I bet God’s SmartCar would know. I bet, all things being considered, God’s SmartCar is smarter than most by design.

I just wish I could design my way out of this hole I’m in, but I’m not smart enough. I’m thinking of buying one of those SmartShovels though.

Whenever I am dating someone, my Mom asks, “Are they smart.” And I always say, “Yes Mom, smart enough to date me.” She always laughs and says, “Son! You know what I mean. Do they have brains?”

For someone who loves Jesus she sure is enamored of people with brains. You never see pictures of Jesus with brains. What you always see is this gross, anatomically correct heart busting out of His chest.

“See Mom,” I want to say. “It’s not about brains. It’s about heart. And my aorta looks just like His!”

At any rate, I’m at the mall now. My mother always wanted me to be a smart shopper and I’m putting my money on the Best Buy Blowout SmartSale. I hope I’m the first one in line. It sure is cold. Do you think it’s smart to stand out here with two people dressed as Eskimos just to be the first one to get into the store when it opens in three hours to buy a Smart TV?

Smart money’s on the Eskimos. My Smart app tells me there is only one wide screen Smart TV inside this store for the advertised price of $200 once the doors open. I’m going to have to either admit defeat or kill some Eskimos…or worst of all…share. But they seem like such nice Eskimos. And frankly, the stress of being smart has just about made me catatonic. Besides, they probably own aortas just like me and Jesus.

We could cut the SmartTV into three equal parts, or each take it for a week and then unplug it and give it to the next guy for the next week, but I don’t know how smart that is, or move in together…but then we’d have to agree on watching the same programs which could be tough.

I just don’t have the brains to figure this out; I wish I had more smarts, I wish I had gone to MIT, I wish I knew how to do logarithms, I wish Einstein liked greasy sliders as much as I do, I wish I had an IOU from Sergey Brin.

According to People Magazine, JP Morgan Chase, and the Constitution the world was created in one day–the day you were born. And it’s gonna die the same way.

On the day I was born the world was pretty near perfect because whether my Smart car has a GPS or not, God’s does. And like so many Americans, though God and I don’t always see eye to eye, I have this feeling that some day we’ll be traveling together. Probably after I’ve finished filming this major motion picture I’m starring in with Johnny Depp.

And when we do, He’ll lay it all out for me. He’ll point out the stars and other great places I’ve never been to and I’ll show him the mousetraps. And we’ll eat a box of Animal Crackers together, bite off the heads, and feel really superior and all.

And then it’ll be okay, because we won’t have to be so goddamned smart. We’ll just be. And that’s when he’ll share His secret with me:

He’s intelligent by God. I’m intelligent by design.