Matthew Licht

Big City Dreams, Part 2

My enemy Lester and I started out in the same place. He’d been the new boy at the zendo before I showed up. Roshi must’ve taken him on as a hard case. He wore cologne, couldn’t bring himself to cut the labels out of his zen robes. 

Curiosity is an attribute I couldn’t eliminate. It’s become a job, sort of. Upon request, for a fee that’s whatever the client thinks is fair, I snoop other people’s lives, locate and remove whatever stands between them and serenity. 

Back then, at the zendo, Lester Frills couldn’t achieve serenity. I wanted to help him, honestly. I snooped his inner and outer lives. Wasn’t hard. 

Lester had built a career in advertising on other people’s backs. Lester bit backs, chewed them, stabbed them. He got where he wanted to be by jumping on backs. To give him his due, he wrote brilliant copy, created unforgettable campaigns. His spots sold product to the tune of millions, billions. The emptiness of big numbers must’ve scared him, or the ghosts of the potential careers he’d trampled. Maybe he got hung up on coke. In any case, one day he left a note on the desk in his duplex corner office. He broke his lease on a Central Park South dream pad with terrace, walked away from a walk-in closet as big as the Waldorf Astoria. He turned up at the zendo with a cool million in cash, wrapped in rice paper crafted by a human living treasure in Kyoto, with a daisy from Central Park taped on top of the package. The daisy got him in. At least I hope it was the daisy.

The way is hard. Lester snapped. It’s possible he found his true vocation as the Pope of Black Zen, but his mincing, giggling devotees don’t call him Serene Highness. 

Paranoia isn’t zen, but it’s human. Lester Frills is a genuine enemy. He’s sent his adepts to beat the crap out of me on several occasions. Paranoia said Lester was sending the Deco dreams to turn me on to Black Zen. Intuition carries weight, more or less equal to a photon’s. Lester Frills wanted in on my dream life, or was already there. The usual dreams of garbage, ground into clean white sand blown by fragrant breezes into the Northern Lights, were replaced by streamlined decadence. Whether I wanted to be or not, I was on a case. The case was personal.

Know yourself. Know your enemy. Is your enemy your self? 

Lester and I used to go out for beers, post-meditation. He was a funny guy, great talker, good listener. He had style, paid his rounds, bought drinks for total strangers who looked like they could use a freebie. Beered-up Lester usually had a good-sized crowd around him by closing time. My thirst shifted from beer to ginger tea. I dropped the bar scene. Or the bar scene dropped me. 

Lester worked the zendo scene. He shaved his head, did the kneel for days on end, placed himself in abstract mental locations, began to phase himself out of the world and into the Big Picture. He nearly made it. But achieving oneness with nothingness requires one terrifying step. There’s no going back, and it’s better not to look down. Lester might’ve opened his eyes at the wrong moment. The universe rushed in to fill his near-empty space. The resultant Big Bang rattled windows city-wide. 

Effete but muscular Deco warriors dropped their Dunand shields and Ruhlmann spears, screamed and ran. But they ran towards imploding Lester instead of away from him.

There are material things human beings need. Particularly those who live in New York. Clothes, for instance. The winters here are rather rigid. One shop-window always caught my eye. 

There was a SoHo zendo, before real estate in the urban industrial wasteland skyrocketed. Wandering around SoHo at night was eerie, especially in front of a seamless sidewalk-to-ceiling window. Translucent fiberglass mannequins on invisible strings glowed from within, levitated and almost imperceptibly spun in shop space, as if set in motion by the breath of big city ghosts. A cloud of desire passed overhead at the sight of those perfect zen duds. I wanted to be seen wearing them, wanted people to know where I shopped. One day I waltzed in to have a look at the price tags. Disbelief bent me double like a baseball bat. I shimmered out. 

The cute Japanese shopgirl whispered farewell.

***

Big City Dreams, Part 1

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