Saturday, October 07, 2006
I got some of the best advice in my life today from the Stairmaster at my gym.
It was just two words that appeared on that little screen at the end of the workout, but to me they had the power of a Zen master’s teaching.
Obviously this was a reference to my physical condition, not my mental state, and it was meant to be descriptive rather than instructive, but after a day like today the words had power far beyond the confines of the health club.
Tell Me About It
It started this morning, when I stood on the subway platform and realized my ATM card was gone. That seemed pretty much impossible as I use that thing nearly every single day. If that card was missing it would probably mean my hand was missing along with it.
But I had both my hands…and no card. I raced back home, looked all over, and then called the bank to cancel the card. I had visions of some crack addict-terrorist-bunko artist giddily cleaning out my life savings and blowing it all on drugs, pornography and Slim Jims.
Now I’ve been trying my best to be calm. I just started reading a fabulous book, The Healing Power of Mind, a book of meditations by a Tibetan Buddhist. The philosophy is fantastic, an endless quest for peace and enlightenment that contrasts ever-so-slightly with my life of worry, fear, rage, and toxic over-reaction.
I’ve been reacting to situations better because of this book. The other day a reporter was sick and I had to fill in on the energy beat—something I hadn’t done in over a year and about which I know next to nothing.
I began to get antsy as the story refused to come together, but I just breathed slowly and reminded myself that this is a situation and it will soon pass. No one plotted to put me here; the company was short-handed and they turned to me for help.
I injured my shoulder last week and decided to skip the boxing class for the next seven days to see if it heals. This wasn’t an easy decision as I am addicted to this class, but one of the more experienced boxers in the class had a shoulder injury that forced him to layoff for three months. I’m trying to avoid that.
So instead, I’ve been working out on the equipment. It’s not the same, of course, since you can only push yourself so far while a teacher can squeeze that last bit of effort out of you. But I decided I would enjoy the break from the routine and enjoy the new program.
Take a Number
And then today everything went to hell.
After calling the bank I decided to pick up a temporary ATM card at my bank’s branch at work. It’s only a block or two away and I could then skip right over to the office.
Well, I get this card-carrying twit at the customer service desk. Now, “Customer Service” used to mean you served the customers—helped them with their problems and sent them off happy and smiling.
But that’s another age because the worthless slug I got is talking on the phone, signing off for a delivery from the UPS guy, and, oh, yeah, handling my problem. She checked off some areas on a form that I had to fill out and then pointed, pointed at them, like I was a goddamn German shepherd being ordered to fetch.
I filled out the form, handed it back to her, and she pointed again at some spots that I apparently missed.
“Could you please speak to me?” I asked.
My request didn’t seem to register with this hockey puck, which is even more depressing. At one time people at least knew they were being rude and stupid. Today they don’t know what good manners are, so it’s pretty hard to correct them.
So I get my card, go out to the bank of ATM’s in the lobby and try out the card. I am told that I have virtually nothing in my account. This is unmitigated bullshit.
Either I got ripped off by Willie Sutton’s cyber-space offspring or Miss Bonehead had screwed up. Take a guess.
Back into the bank I go, and this time there’s another woman behind the counter, who, unlike her colleague, appears to have a brain. She finds that my temporary card is only good for my checking account, since the lunk head didn’t process the thing properly.
Now this one is also a good soldier and promptly calls the personal banker, who starts giving me a sales pitch while I’m waiting for my damn ATM card. She said she’d call me next week, whereupon I took her card, took my card, and got the hell out of there, glad to be rid of these losers.
Only I wasn’t. I got to my desk, started working, and then I began to fume. I couldn’t forget that first idiot and her pointing, her multitasking at my expense.
Why not put on the I-pod and switch on a Game Boy while you’re at it, Zipperneck? Then I'll be completely invisible.
Needless to say all this rage and bitterness doesn’t have a place in Zen Buddhism. I claim I want to change, to lose the anger and follow a higher path, yet I go berserk over some rude treatment at the bank. Sure, it was annoying, but I was making career out of it. I let anger become a part of my identity.
I decided to call the branch and let them know how I felt. Somebody picked up the phone and I gave it to with both barrels. I’m a customer, I work for a living, who does this schmuck think she is treating me like this—the whole routine.
“I didn’t get this woman’s name,” I said in closing. “But she’s a jerk.”
Yes, I know, quite witty, but I really was pissed. And just when I was hanging up, it occurred to me that this woman on the phone could very well have been the same ass clown who had caused all the trouble in the first place.
Now she knows how I feel, but I doubt seriously she’ll pass the message along to her supervisor.
Okay, so I get through work, head uptown on the Hell Boy express, which is packed with bleary-eye commuters and screaming babies. My plan is hit a New York Sports Club on 80th and Broadway and then zip over to the Hayden Planetarium for their monthly “Starry Nights” program.
It’s a good plan and with my Zen Stairmaster advice, I’m feeling pretty good as I walk into the Hayden.
I’ve only been there a few times since the overhaul, but I’m partial to the old planetarium, which was dark and solemn and little bit creepy. You really felt like your were leaving the earth when you entered the old place, as opposed to the new one which looks like some sort of game show set.
Still they had a good Latin jazz band and there were people all over the place. I line up for something to eat and one of the food jockeys talks to me in this snotty tone—or maybe she didn’t, but I was so hypersensitive that I was ready to take offense at the slightest thing.
Then the checkout girl starts ringing me up and this geezer charges up, lifts his glass of wine indicating he wants to pay for it right now. Again, I get pissed and wonder if I’ve turned invisible during the day and just wasn’t aware of it.
I’m getting angrier as this jerk lingers there, so I get my change and then—oh, God, this is so bad—I deliberately reach across the guy to get napkins. He’s startled and grabs for his wine and I give him a dirty look.
The evening is turning into a real disaster. I’m ashamed of the way I behaved toward that man and I want to go over and apologize to him, only I’m concerned he’ll take the opportunity for some payback.
I’m thinking I should run back to the gym, throw myself down before the Stairmaster and ask for guidance. What the hell is wrong me? I’m acting like a cranky neighbor in a Neil Simon play or Travis Bickle without a taxi. Is this any way to live?
And what happened to the Zen master wannabe who was going to take everything in his stride and control his anger? Was that just talk? And I doomed to be an angry, hostile man all my life?
Okay, let’s take a time out. I dropped the ball today, big time. But I figure on every long journey you’re going to get lost. You’ll bump into trees, go miles out of your way and wish you had stayed the hell home.
Then you’ll calm down and get your bearings. Check the map and get back on the right road and pick up the journey, happy and thankful for every step you take.
So I’ll cool down, like the Stairmaster told me to, and I’ll resume my journey toward peace and enlightenment.
I came home about 10 pm tonight, checked the phone for messages, and saw something laying face down on my desk. I knew what it was before I even flipped it over and there was my ATM card, now a useless piece of plastic.
I was so agitated this morning that I couldn’t see something even though it was right there in front of my face.
Thank you, oh, great and wonderful Stairmaster, for this valuable lesson.