It was the five o’clock line, that place, that fuzzy magic place where night blurs into morning, where afternoon blurs into evening. Anyway, it was all a blur. I looked up and saw the moon, the magic fuzzy moon, sitting still like a ghost stuck somewhere in the faint blue of the sky. I was standing on the street corner next to Josie’s, the pharmacy and restaurant run by Jim Yoder…
One day way back, me and some of the guys–Cargo Ship, Torrin, Alex, and Vic—we were at the counter drinking malts and laughing, trading stories, just enjoying each other and the day and the taste of chocolate syrup and malt powder mixed with the sweet, thick ice cream. And it was the best, the most delicious moment I think I had that year, or maybe that anyone had that year. Someone made a joke, Vic I think, or maybe me. It doesn’t matter. Jim was back behind the counter like he was all the time in those years, cleaning the malt spinners, shining the chrome till it was like a mirror, like a piece could fall on the floor and you could stand over it and see every loose string in your inseam. It was a beautiful thing, and now that I think of it, he was a beautiful man, just beautiful in the way that shines through like that chrome. And Vic says all loud and vulgar “Hey Jim, why’d you call this place Josie’s. You’re not a Josie, you’re Jim…less you got somethin’ you’re not telling….Got any secret’s Jim? Anything to take off your chest?” It got quiet, everything was quiet, and Jim turns real quietly, never really lifting his head up, in fact kinda droopin it at little.
“It’s my daughter’s name,” he said softly. “It was, anyway.”
And just like that he turned back to shining the malt spinner. We all only looked at each other, the four of us, very solemn, even Cargo Ship was quiet and didn’t sneak anymore pulls from his flask or take another drag from his cigarette the whole time. The cigarette just sat in the holder on the side of the ashtray burning like a stick of incense in a head shop, the ashes forming long grey cylinders that fell off silently into the middle of the ashtray. It was because we all knew his daughter was buried in the cemetery, and had been there nearly five years by that time. Poor girl was run over in the street a couple weeks after her third birthday, run over by some drunk who’d nearly gotten off due to technicalities.
The judge had even called a special hearing where he was about to rule on the lawyer’s motion to dismiss, and everyone in town knew what was coming, that killer was about to walk free. Then the judge looked at the man and said “Before I rule do you got anything you want to say?” And right there the man just stood up and said, “Yes, your honor, I’d like to change my plea. I’m guilty, and would like to serve my time.” And the whole courtroom gasped and the judge asked what he called his “clarifying questions” and smacked his gavel, and that was that. The man went up for six years, which wasn’t nearly enough in anybody’s opinion, but he could’ve walked free. Some said he thought on what he did, or had pains of conscience, or some such like that. But I think he looked over the angry crowd in that courtroom, knowing there was an even angrier crowd outside, and he knew his only chance of getting out in one piece was to plead guilty and get an escort from the state patrol. And Jim Yoder, running that malt shop, that was his way of being with his daughter, and that’s why he did it so well.
And that’s the Dharma, the truth of things. That beneath, above, throughout the scenes that play out around us or in us, there’s the truth that’s feelable and not feelable at the same time. It’s knowable and not knowable at the same time. It’s the chains of entangled bosons and hadrons, the strings vibrating across the thorny undulating basketweave of time and space. All of it in it’s unfathomable multi-dimensionality, it’s chains of entangled particles moving all pale and fuzzy through the Higgs fields and de Sitter spaces. It’s found in the mountaintop, and the rain, and the clear blue sky, and the faces of children and old folks, and everything in between. It’s in that book Japhy Ryder said he was going to write “Mountains and Rivers Without End” and completed 40 years later, and the gravitational waves sensed by LIGO, which was also a 40 year old idea by the time it came to life. Things that can be laughed on and thought on, and it’s the dance of life, the learning of machines and people, and the truth of the future that everything’s bound together now and bound to break down into photons spinning off through ever-expanding space until time has no meaning.
…The sun was bright, it seemed like it was just getting brighter and my head was aching with the red wine hangover, the kind that all the excedrin can’t help. So I turned my head down from that beautiful moon, mostly full it seemed like in the sky, and looked down next to me. There was a kid there, six or seven I think. Maybe five. He was looking in the glass door. Josie’s was filling up. The pharmacy part was gone now, and it was just one big diner. Jim had given up the daily work years ago, in favor of fishing and painting and volunteering at the children’s hospital. I don’t know how he could bear to be there with the memories that must’ve sprung, but maybe it’s just something he had to do, just like I had to go out in the mountains and meditate in solitude until the earth and the universe birthed connection into me. The Dharma of Irony and all that.
That’s when I noticed his dirty worn out shoes and his hair messed up in tangles with a smell coming off that I could pick up even four feet away from it. The street smell, if you know my meaning. And if I hadn’t gone out to those mountains I’d still have been too self-conscious, but I didn’t care too much anymore for that and I just stepped over next to him and said “You hungry?”
And he looked up at me, all scrawny and bad looking, and said “Yea.”
“Well let’s go in, I’ll buy,” I told him. Then realized how it could look and said “Well, actually, let’s ask your mom.”
And he looks back at me with the biggest brown eyes that were just brimming with the brightest light and the deepest sadness all at once and said “Don’t know where my mom is. I’ll ask my dad.” And he walked all quickly down the street, his walk was faster than most people can run, and I wondered how he could do it on those spindly legs, but he did. He stopped at the side of an old Chevy, painted brick red, looking rusted out, like the frame could go any second. Somebody rolled down the window, and I couldn’t see who or what was said because of the reflection off the windshield. After a little bit someone got out of the pickup, a grown man, and then another person, a girl who was about half the age of the boy I guessed, since she was half the size. The three of them walked back, the littlest one holding the grown man’s hand. When they got up to me the man said his son told him I was going to buy them dinner and asked if that was true. And I couldn’t answer for a second, because under the shabby clothes and the messy hair and the stink of the homeless streets I could hear in his voice a dignity and education, he had the eyes and the bearing of a man who hadn’t seen good luck in a long time and was seeing it again for the first time.
I reached in my pocket and pulled out all my cash, and then reached deeper and pulled out the quarters and pennies that were all stuck together in the corner of it. $18.23, I said that’s all I had, but I thought we could go in there and have a feast if we played it right. And that’s exactly what we did, we got a table and whetted our appetites on saltines and sugar packets, and the kids even ate the Sweet-n-Low, making faces while their dad and I laughed until our sides hurt. We had chicken strips and hot dogs and french fries and carrot sticks, and passed around a soda that must’ve been refilled twenty times, or so I’d guess since that’s how many times everybody had to get up and pee. I told them about the Dharma, and hiking in the mountains, and about entanglement and how everything is everything else, and everything is nothing all at the same time.
The kids–they told me about Santa Claus and Christmas presents, how they’d caught fairies and talking toads in Gilmer Pond, and how there was treasure buried in the woods nearby. I laughed and told them I knew there was, because there was magic and treasure buried everywhere if you knew how to look for it. The dad, he just laughed and was quiet mostly, and at some point told me how he was an attorney, and how the kids’ mom had turned into an addict, spent everything they had or traded it for dope, and how he’d found work in this town only to find it dried up when he and the kids got here. There was a sadness in his voice, but it vibrated with hope also, and when I saw him tickling his daughter and blowing the wrappers off the straws with his son, I couldn’t help but feel it all too. Then we got a huge chocolate malt and I took one long pull off it, remembering my old times here with Jim and Cargo Ship, Alex, Vic, Torrin, and everyone else, and it was so good I got tears just thinking of them all, then I pushed it over to the little girl. She grabbed the tin intently with both hands, and before I knew it all three of them were drinking that malt all together, their black hair and the brown skin of their heads touching, drinking and giggling at each other over through those straws.
Well eventually the waitress left the receipt and I put down the money on top of it. After the bill there wasn’t much left for a tip, but I hoped the she wouldn’t mind. I wrote a little poem for her on the back of the receipt as partial payment, and I hoped it would bring her some kind of enjoyment or peace. Then the four of us walked out, exchanging pleasantries and thank yous, and the dad told me one day when he was back on his feet he’d find me and repay all my kindness, and I couldn’t help but think how jagged were the wrinkles in his dark brown skin, and how his teeth and eyes glimmered in the light, and how his black hair curled around itself like the wings of a dragonfly, and he was just beautiful like Jim shining that chrome. So I just told him there was nothing to repay and that it was the best eighteen dollars and twenty three cents I ever spent, and then his kids were already going down the street, most likely back to Gilmore Pond, or maybe back to the pickup to get some sleep.
I can’t remember to this day if it was sunlight or moonlight that was shining when we came out, if the early had turned into day or the late into night. I just remember the three of them going down that street, their shabby shoes clapping the sidewalk, their hands touching, talking to each other, and how it was the most peaceful and happy and Dharmic thing anybody ever saw, or maybe even ever can see.