Among the Parsley
I was on the road in the late Sixties, early Seventies, swept along by the wild ride Freedom takes you on when you’re young. Just out of my one tour in the military. Vietnam era but like most of us I never had to fight. This freedom I’m talking about was like going from a babbling brook into dangerous rapids, except that you don’t feel the danger. Just the speed.
I wound up in Sausalito sometime in 1970, trying to escape from the aftermath of the Summer of Love. Believe me, it resembled the morning after a bad storm. Debris everywhere; human, and just plain garbage. Dead-eyed flower children dirty, lost, abused and subdued. San Francisco’s beautiful streets strewn with litter, broken bottles, political fliers as thick as confetti.
I was staying with two friends in their large van. They were political socialites from Ann Arbor, Michigan, who were out to correct the world. They were absolutely ecstatic because Alan Watts had agreed to let them take him out to dinner. He lived on a houseboat there in Sausalito, and was beyond famous for his wonderful books introducing Zen to the Western world. And, they were wonderful. I still have dog-eared copies of his paperbacks somewhere along my walls of books.
They rushed around, getting ready, polishing themselves, hoping they wouldn’t do anything unworthy of his company. I sat in the big van, reading something, probably tripping. Sometime after midnight they stormed into the van, angry, feeling defiled.
“He’s a hoax!” Doug shouted in his rich-kid-turned-revolutionary voice. Marsha just huffed around the van, which was now cramped and overheated.
Turns out they took him to a very nice restaurant where he proceeded to pull a flask of whiskey from one pocket and a cigar from another pocket just to get rip-roaring drunk while flirting with all the women in the place. All the while eating a large steak. Bloody and rare, for god’s sake!
(First of all, if I’d had to spend an evening with these two I would’ve at least faked drunken-ness, if not a seizure).
The thing is, Alan Watts gave them a primary lesson in Zen. Enjoy your life. It’s all there is. We come out of nothing and return to nothing. While we’re here, we should love every moment of our lives. No moping, no pious vanity Christians enjoy with their humility.
He had a ball at dinner, and they could’ve joined him. Instead, they expected him to act like they wanted him to act. The exact opposite of Zen.
I was just sitting here this morning, exhausted from a week of folk festivaling in Florida (no work, just eating, drinking, playing music, socializing and avoiding sleep), reading Maggie’s new copy of The Sun magazine, when I came upon a short excerpt from Alan Watts. In My Own Way. He died in 1973, and much of his language dates him, though I always loved the photo of him on the backs of book jackets with a flat top haircut, a white shirt, a tie and a huge grin. This in the time of being worshiped by Hippies.
The article started with a short quote:
This is all there is
The path comes to an end
Among the parsley