Fuel • 29 May 2010

The arcade downtown fills up with church light these summer mornings. Nobody’s on campus now except a few cute young juniors, clawing at their temples to try to make the words come out faster. It’s 80 degrees by 9 am and at Comet they’re serving an espresso called the hairbender—smooth as skyr (another new vice), but with an electric bitter that leaves the tailfins of my tongue glowing for an hour after I finish.

Shinzen likes to say that meditation on the senses offers endless subtle delights—a “palette” of experiences akin to appreciation of fine wine. And just as people expend great effort to learn to taste wine, so too can they cultivate refined perception on any dimension: sight, body-awareness, and so on. Such a hard sell for the bourgeois meditator!

Tasteless cretins!!! You are failing to appreciate yourself on an aesthetic level!!! You need some zen egghead, or at least a decent yoga teacher, to teach you to have a life!!!

This is the best way to turn brilliant academics toward a different kind of life of the mind. On the surface, the appeal is both consumerist and insanely egoic – but the bait and switch happens quickly. Sensing finally kills the need to shop to fill the void; and true experiences of flow render pissing contests over taste… tasteless indeed. It just takes a little sleight of hand to get behind the idiocy of the middle class mind.

Anyway, this morning I took up my tiny espresso cup and saucer like a cocktail and strolled the arcade. The peaked windows really are the same as those of my dad’s church – the building he’s been preaching in now for twenty years. The church is an arc turned upside down with the very tip of the hull knocked out and replaced with glass; the arcade, the hidden backbone of U District, is a great stone corridor of Lost Boysey businesses—antique jewelry, tobacco, a very old “international” travel agency, a “psychic medium.”

From now until Art Week in July (“the world’s largest art fair!,” says the town-proud neighbor who had me over for a brilliant meal of grilled Michigan vegetables and cheeses), I’m afraid Ann Arbor is just going to keep getting cuter and cuter. Let’s talk about this. (1) Wednesday night, sixty neighborhood residents gathered at one of about a thousand nearby parks and then toured the best backyards of the old west side, sampling home-brewed teas and garden salsas and learning how to plant to the rhythm of the blooms—so you have flowers from April to July. That’s what you get in a brainy town with a hardworking, community-minded, vaguely OCD populace: great damn gardens. Furthermore (2), every Friday, about 200 people show up at a house on the hill for the “breakfast salon”—in which everybody meets everybody over local omlettes and talks crafting, canning and pets. It’s not as white and over-40 as you’d expect; and last week they were playing the Kinks. Also (3), next week there’s something called the “loop de coop.” Yep, a Parade of Homes for chicken residences.

Even with my rations of cuteoverload.com cut all the way back to 5 minutes once a week, I’m so close to critical levels of cuteness that I’ve booked a hotel in downtown Chicago for the weekend. Chicago is kind of seedy and self-serious, right? I’m spending the time there with an aggressively hip English prof who only consorts with a tightly policed company of hipsters… though I can’t get there without traversing hundreds more miles of sweet green Michigan. Good thing I have the entire catalogue of Gordon Lightfoot on CD. Gordon, through his scruffy cuteness, is always reminding the ladies not to get too attached.

What else? I had the most graphic nightmare of my adult life on Tuesday night. I was drowning, black sludge sliding down my throat from openings near my ears, coating my feathers so I was glued to the ground. I woke up crying and couldn’t get back to sleep. Spent the next day feeling like a drowned rat. Or baby pelican, I guess.

Why can’t we mobilize for war when it’s against not some aggressor but our own unconscious addictions? Don’t talk to me about how angry you are at some scapegoat-symbol like BP or Obama unless you (1) no longer plan to get on an airplane ever again, (2) drive something that doesn’t use gas and (3) are organizing a new version of Freedom Summer to liberate turtles from sludge in 2010. 

In better news, Angie is giving me Stockholm Syndrome. She’s got ten years on the other biker chicks, and is by far the strongest of the pack. (Cycling, like ashtanga and triathlon, is technically dominated by practitioners in their late-thirties and beyond.) Her soundtracks are all early boomer rock, ZZ Top, AC/DC, the stronger Elton John. We’re doing intervals to Sweet Home Alabama and I love Rock N Roll, and she’s up there gritting her teeth while the traps, neck and face muscles remain perfectly relaxed. (She may be the only exerciser in town who has teased the traps away from jaw from the arm muscles: most people walk around in a mild Cro-magnon screen-lurch.)

The only relief with Angie is is accidental to her music, because those old rockers smoked and sang so far past their energetic limits that there are heavy exhalations built in to the end of every chorus. Hip hop has changed all that: these guys who compete for the strongest, longest hard-driving rechaka and can sustain a sprint for the duration of an entire track. When I try to keep pace with the hip-hop, I find myself pushing single breaths further and further, in a way that keeps the heartrate low and prevents me from sweating. It doesn’t make much sense.

I did figure out how to breathe – much shorter, which brings the sweat; and afterwards the alveoli feel so open, like the pores of the face on hot days. After so many years of playing the edges of oxygen narcosis by esoteric means, it’s nice to fill the body with that substance with something as straightforward as a work-out. A little cardio is good.

Listening to Angie’s 80s mix and using the intercostals to sweep the ribs wide enough for big, heaving lungs, I looked in the mirror and thought of my ribcage like the gull wing doors of Marty McFly’s Delorian. Long and low over the ground, hips working toward level as if on an axle, flux capacitor in the sacrum tapped in to the gas tank…. spinning out, just hoping to combust a garbage-gasoline-plutonium fuel cocktail into transcendence.