Thursday, February 28, 2019

Update 11A

Trauma & Therapy

The Therapy of Story-Telling
Compiled & Introduced 
by Anthony Servante

Although the story can be interpreted figuratively, and in terms of the treatment for trauma, should be, we prefer the literal understanding of the tale of the Old Man & the Young Ghost for purely entertainment reasons. After all, sometimes taking your mind off all the problems on our minds and in the news is the best respite from daily tensions. This is a fable passed down many generations in Buddhist story-telling, and Priest Bobue Horaguchi thought the readers in our trauma series would enjoy its telling here.

I take liberties with calling it a "fable" in that this is a story with a moral, the ending that separates tales and stories from the fable form. Still, Priest Horaguchi calls it a "tale", and we present here just as he relates the story to his Temple members and trauma patients alike. Take away from it what you will. Consider this your respite from the horrors of daily life or as the eye of the hurricane. I leave it up to you.

The Tale of the Old Man & the Young Ghost

 Provided by Bobue Horaguchi, Priest/Trauma Therapist

"Dad, it's time to go," Robert Asuka, Jr. told his 75 year old father, Bobue, who lingered at the kitchen window, watching his daughter-in-law in the backyard playing with her two brats. In reality she was waiting for him to leave. Once she had found out that he had no big inheritance to leave her and her family, she dropped all pretense of civility and demanded that Robby move the old man into a senior home. A home was too expensive, but Junior found an inexpensive apartment. Together father and son packed the boxes of clothes, books, candles, charms, and tarot card packs into the hatchback and drove off.
"Why does your woman hate me so?"
"Her name is Margaret, Dad. Would it kill you to call her by her name?"
"Names are important things, not to be used with words like 'hate'."
"You still talk like you're Shaman. You couldn't even keep up your Buddhist tradition."
"Buddhist is just another name for 'helper'. What I do is protect? People. From destructive forces. What you and your woman do is raise destructive children who don't respect their elders. They deserved the nightly chants. I did them to protect the neighbors from your family."
"It's talk like that that got you booted out."
"Says the coward."
The rest of the drive was awkwardly silent. There was great relief in both father and son when Robert carried the last of his father's boxes up the stairs, to the third floor, and dropped it onto the creaky old bed in the shabby studio room. The farewell was also done in silence.

As Bobue Asuka unpacked his boxes meticulously, he realized that there wouldn't be much space to move about the single room flat once his belongings were all sorted out and shelved. He had opened the curtains to allow natural light into the room. It was early morning and the sun was still rising.out of the eastern horizon. A room facing the east, he thought, was most fortunate, according to Buddhist wisdom; it signified good luck, long life, and new friends. He tried to guffaw, but his old tired throat could only muster a deep, thick cough into his hand with a mild unwelcomed grimace. He cleared the phlemy leftovers from his throat that sat on his open hand. He wiped the green mucous on the old curtains. They had recently been washed. He could smell the strong scent of bleach that had rubbed off the curtains onto his palm. He smiled at the rusty green mucous that stained the window shade and laughed to himself as if he'd won a small victory over the new management.

At noon, the sunlight was replaced by cold shade. The view was boring, he concluded, without bothering to consider the neatly trimmed lawns or the well-kept rose gardens. Or the nervous-looking seniors who walked along the man-made path that went round and round the gardens. Or the solidly constructed brick walls that separated the grounds from the outside world. It all did not matter to him.
He sat at the small desk by the window and tossed three copper pennies on the outdated desk calendar on the desktop. He considered the pattern of the coins and retossed them till he was satisfied. Then he opened his book of the I Ching, found the corresponding pattern to his coins, and read the prediction. LORE AND LEGEND ARE NOT ALWAYS THINGS OF THE PAST. IN THE DIREST OF TIMES, THEY ALSO FORETELL THE FUTURE. YOU HAVE THE WISDOM TODAY TO TELL THE DIFFERENCE. USE IT WISELY OR BE PART OF NEITHER. He replaced the coins into the pocket of the book, closed the front cover, and tossed the book back on the desktop.
Boring, he muttered.

Two knocks at the front door. He turned away from the window view to gaze in the direction of the soft sounds, hoping they'd go away. Two more soft knocks, each consisting of three quick taps. An old person's knock. A woman, he surmised.
He opened the door. There were, in fact, two slumped old women with toothy smiles manufactured by a good dentist. He could smell the chicken soup in the pot the woman in back carried. The woman in front with the free hands had to be the knocker.
"May I help you?" Bobue asked.
"Welcome to the Paradise Senior Home," the woman in front said. "I'm Madge, and this is Caren, with a 'C'." The woman in back pushed to the front and handed him the soup. The pot was heavier than it looked.
The women stood there patiently until he invited them in. He grumbled about the small size of the room. They ignored the comments and complimented him on the window view. Apparently he had one of the few good views.
There was a moment of awkward silence before Caren spoke abruptly; she had a smoker's hoarse voice. "The apartments are haunted," she announced. Madge nodded in cheery agreement. "That's why your room was available. The ghost chased away poor Mr. Tobin. At least he managed to leave in one piece. Can't say the same for the others. I'm sorry, but what did you say your name was?"
"I didn't." When Bobue realized the two women weren't taking that for an answer, he added, "Bobue Asuka, Senior. Call me Bob."
"So there's a junior?" asked Caren.
"Yes. He dumped me here."
"Welcome to the club."
"Oh, there's a club?!" Bob asked sarcastically. "How much are the monthly dues?"
"Just your blood, sweat, and tears," answered Caren with a straight face. "Plus the rent money, of course."
"And that's deducted from your SSI check," Madge added. "Whatever's left is for candles and prayer books, although this ghost of ours doesn't pay such totems any mind."
"I may know a trick or two," Bob said. "I mean, if you're serious about the ghost."
"Madge and I are pooling our checks together to afford our own apartment by the college. A bit more expensive, but we'll sleep more soundly, that's for sure." The two women nodded their heads in agreement. "And tonight you too will consider the seriousness of the matter when this little screaming demon comes at you with outstretched arms."
"Little?" Bob asked.
"Seems to be a child. A girl. Asian, I think. All dressed in white. With blue skin and black teeth and black eyes. Her feet do not touch the ground." Madge shivered at the memory.
"Did a child die here in the past?"
"No one knows," Caren said. "But she's taken a liking to this apartment building. I advise you to call your son and ask him to move you to another home for seniors. Best to get in front of this matter. By tomorrow you'll be doing it in any case. Might as well make the call now."
"My son already thinks I'm crazy with all my Tarot cards and talismans. I stand a better chance with the ghost if it's just a little girl."
"Well, good luck with that," Madge said sardonically and bit her lower lip. Caren, too, struggled to choke down a giggle trying to escape her lips.
"Then, ladies, enjoy your travels, and I bid you an early good evening," Bob said dismissively. Then, after a second, he offered, "Unless, of course, the ghost decides to follow you instead." And with that, he shut his door. He heard the ladies muttering concerns as they walked down the hallway.

The old man was eating a light dinner when he heard Madge and Caren bidding goodbye to their neighbors who had gathered for their departure. He imagined hugs and kisses, but little did he realize that it was one big bum rush. The neighbors were anxious to get indoors, to prepare for the ghost visitor, though they were somewhat relieved to have a new neighbor in the complex. The demon preferred to welcome the newcomers. They had all gone through the welcoming, the little white figure appearing in their bedrooms while they slept, wailing and weeping with her skinny arms extended, almost like a child asking to be lifted in a parent's embrace. The newcomers would wake up to the skeletal little girl in the pale Sunday dress and join her ghostly wails with their own screams. Calling the police didn't help. Neither did reporting the supernatural disturbance to the management. No one spoke of the haunting unless they were packed and ready to move out. They learned that by the second night. Then it was just a matter of hoping for new tenants and praying that the little dead girl's random visits would bypass them each night. Still, no one slept well. Ever. And then the tenants would begin to save money enough to move out and on. A Herculean task for old folks living from check to check. But a necessary chore that had to be done. And they all did it. Eventually.

Except for Bobue Azuka. Where was he going to go? He was more afraid of life than he was of death. He was ready to die. But first he wanted to meet this little girl. He washed his dishes and then began preparing for the visit. He found the box marked, "SPIRITUAL HEALING". In it was all that he needed. Or so he thought.

At ten past ten P.M., the ghost appeared. It did not scare the old man. He believed it was indeed a spirit of a former living creature of a God, and not a demon, so he wasn't concerned. He had had many arguments with his son over the existence of the supernatural. He spent his life advising troubled families who had lost a loved one, giving them herbs to ward off the evil spirits, talismans to summon good baki, and chants to communicate with the departed souls who yet wandered the earth. As a matter of fact, the old man was confident while he emptied his special box and readied the necessary items on his small table. It took less than an hour to arrange all the protective materials. Now he would wait and rest.

As he digested his meal on the uncomfortable chair that came with the apartment, he waited for the silence of nightfall by taking a short nap with his head resting in his folded arms on the table. He could not afford to be caught sleepy or asleep. He dreamed of arguing with his son and being glared at by his son's wife and two spoiled children. As soon as he began to lose the argument in the dream, he knew it was time to awake.

Exactly as he opened his eyes, there was the ghost, floating just a few feet from his chair, the light from the window passing through her tiny white clothes, her face expressionless, her eyes raven black. It was a dead little girl. Her skinny arms were outstretched and her wailing pierced the night. What few neighbors who remained in the apartments sat up in bed and sighed in relief, grateful that the new tenant was the latest host to the ghost. Tonight, it was his problem.
The old man stood, towering over the little girl, who raised her arms upward as the man rose. He assessed the situation. Not evil. Perhaps. But angry. He lit the incense and candles. Her little figure rose till her dead eyes were level with his curious stare.
The girl shrieked. Maybe a bit evil, he surmised. Suddenly, she rushed him, passing through him like a biting chill. He breathed in quickly. And breathed out slowly, composing himself. He could see his breath turn to a stream of fog. The cold gust blew out the candles. Calmly, he re-lit them and added more incense sticks to the jade vases that were gifted to him by the Hanasaki family. The ghost re-appeared in the exact same spot. It stopped wailing and watched him curiously. He removed the lid from the Emperor bowl filled with white and black rice, scooped out a handful, and threw it at the girl. She vanished. For a second.
She appeared and rushed him again. Bob was ready with a second scoop of holy rice. The young spirit was not ready this time. The rice clung to her ghostly form. She screamed in agony as she picked off the grains from her ethereal skin. Like a blast from a shotgun, Bob imagined. He had a third scoop in his fist. She plucked the last grain of black rice from her forearm and spun as the third scoop of rice flew at her. The grains bounced off her like pebbles off a tornado. They struck the old man in the face and arms. He dropped to one knee in unexpected pain.
The girl flew over the kneeling man as her pale white dress extinguished the candles and incense. She stopped, floating above the table with the old man's trinkets. She spun once more, building up a blast of air, and scattered the healing items till the table was bare.
The old man rose to his feet and assessed the damage. He wiped the looser grains from his face and arms, but the rice pellets that were ingrained deeper into his skin had triggered small streams of blood.
Suddenly, the ghost passed through the old man's chest again and again. He gasped as the chill caused his heart to palpitate, stop, and regain normal beating. The rice fell from his hand. The little white girl floated in front of him. He imagined himself paralyzed from a stroke, bedded in this cursed room in this forgotten apartment building, with pity visits from his son and his rotten family.
He had one more weapon. He scooped it from the floor. He grasped it. The ghost readied herself for another sweep through the old man's frail form. She would not kill him, for that was clear to him. She wanted him near-death, bedridden, harmless, so she could have her helpless company to visit as she pleased. For what reason he did not know, and perhaps she no longer remembered. But he knew he must not let her win.
The dagger of Khan, hand-forged by the monks of the Sacred Mountain thousands of years ago, held with the last iota of strength in his tired and freezing hand, gleamed in the light from the outside electric lamp. He angled the dagger carefully, its razor-sharp blade pressed against his own throat.
Fear blushed the white face of the ghostly child. She was taken aback a second before her figure tensed for another flight into the old man's heart.
"Too late," the old man announced proudly and swiped the blade across the carotid artery that bulged in his thin old neck. The red spray should have soaked the girl's white dress, but instead the mist of his blood passed through her as easily as she had passed through his chest. His body slumped to the floor. It took mere minutes before he became a corpse. The girl stared at the old man's lifeless body, hoping for some miracle to return him to the living. So absorbed was she in his death that she did not notice the phantom figure of Bobue Asuka standing behind her.
"Ha!" he guffawed. And grabbed the little girl's skinny arms, turning the girl to face his ghostly face. She showed a terror that only a child could understand, a fear that the old man finally understood. "Now things are as they should be. You are the child, I, the parent."
The girl smiled. All fear was gone, for she now understood as well. Bobue saw a rosy tint on her lips. It almost looked like a happy color. He released his grip on the girl and took her warm hand. "I'd like to introduce you to my son and his family. I think we'll both be happy there."
They floated out the window and headed for their new home to haunt.

"Sometimes in death we find our true calling, 
for only the wisdom of reincarnation makes each lifetime a new lesson." 
Forgotten Buddhist Saying

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Views from a Troubled Mind 
Scene #13

Mischief & Death
by Anthony Servante

Deputies move in to oust homeless in the riverbed 
by serving notices to vacate

When the snow above the riverbed melts,
it will flood the homeless shanties

1. Mischief

First time back to Pasadena in a month. The rain. The malaise. The murder on the train. Lots of murder and death over the past two years, but more so in the last six months. (Anyway, I digress; more on this later). So I can say this is my first time back on the train since the day of the killing. During the rains, death comes to the homeless camps. After the rains, the homeless seek shelter where-ever they can find it. 

The melted snow flows down 
turning into a river of mud

On the train platform of the station this cloudy day, a motley crew of homeless people loitered. One of them had opened a panel on the side of a power post where the neon advertisement display case sourced its electrical current. He redirected a few wires, shutting of the neon lights, and plugged his cell phone recharger into the outlet. He stood by this bike, which looked like a 1970s bicycle style that only teenage nerds rode. For the homeless man, the bike served to carry four large trash bags filled with aluminum cans with the back rack used to tie down an old suitcase of clothes (he opened the case to pull out a small pipe and a one inch by one inch zip lock bag carrying about a $40 bud. After his lit up and hit a long drag of smoke, two other homeless men (who I didn't know were homeless until the three men began to talk about the rain and their shanty encampments by the San Gabriel River).
"How'd your house hold up in the rain?" 
"A few leaks but otherwise okay."
"What you smoking?"
"Medical bud." 
"Pass me a drag. Keep the pipe. I got my own pipe." 
"I don't got germs." 
"Yeah, well I do."
The bike man addressed the third fellow, who seemed quite shy and reserved, although his furrowed forehead showed signs of a temper problem, "You want a hit?"
"Nope. Doctor says to watch my heart. No booze. No coffee," he said as he dragged a generous puff of smoke from his Sherman's cigarette. No one seemed to notice the irony. 
Then the bike man noticed me noticing them. "You want a hit?"
"No, thanks," I said, realizing I wasn't invisible anymore. "But where can I buy some if I do decide I want some?"
"Where? Pasadena's pretty big."
"You can't miss it."
"I always do. I've been looking for the shop since pot went legal."
The cigarette man suggested, "Try the new shop by the CostCo. Not a big selection, but it's closer than Pasadena."
"Next to the CostCo?"
"You can't miss it."
The bike man offered, "Here, take this. It should hold you over." It was a pinch. About five hits worth. I opened my pill-holder, and he dropped it on the empty side of the two-pocket plastic container. 
"Shit," said the cigarette man when he heard the police car radio's static, raspy voice. The three homeless men turned to the street. A Sheriff's SUV cruiser large enough to hold four men slowed as the deputy in the passenger seat looked right at the homeless men. "Shit, someone called them. Let's get out of here. Now."
Cigarette man and his buddy ran down the ramp heading east as the cruiser slowed at the west ramp. The deputy exited the vehicle and hit the ground running. He was angry. 
The bike man untangled his recharger wires and nearly yelled, "Where is he?"
I told him, "He running up the ramp heading this way."
"Shit, shit," he said as he pulled his plug free of the outlet. "Where is he now?"
"Forty yards and closing in"
He closed the panel, jumped on his bike, and rode off in the direction of his friends. 
The deputy stopped and looked around the panel. He called in to his partner driving the cruiser. "They're gone. Left only the smell of grass. The panel's closed. Almost had him this time. No, not worth my time giving him a ticket for the grass. Needed the panel to be open. Mischievous mischief will hold up in court since we witnessed it. Damn it, they're fast." 
He nodded to me and smiled. "How's the homeless situation stacking up?" I asked. He answered, "We served orders to vacate the San Gabriel Riverbed to the dozens of "river-dwellers" living there. It took us four days just to find most of them. They tend to scatter when they see us. That's all we were doing when we saw these guys on the train platform--trying to serve them papers to vacate. If they're not on the riverbed, they're here at the station playing with the electrical switches or loitering at bus-stops pretending to be waiting for a bus. I guess it's better than being down in the riverbed after the rains. I don't know how they survive the flooding, but they manage. But see those mountains full of snow from the last storm? That snow's going to melt. And we haven't had that much snow since 1938, the last big deluge--rivers overflowing, houses falling off their foundations, streets underwater. So the Water and Power people are planning to dam up the river. That means the riverbed will be underwater. Got to move those dwellers out of there by Tuesday. Another storm is coming Wednesday through Sunday. You have a good day, sir." And then he walked back to the cruiser and off it went.
Then I thought about the piece of pot in my pill case. But it's not worth their time, he said. I once did three years probation for pot possession in the early 70s. Now it's not even worth their time. 
The homeless trio were probably headed for the bus-stops to loiter or back to the riverbed to secure their shanty against the coming rain. What good is a notice to vacate when your shanty is the best protection you've got against the elements?!
For them it about life or death. Ignoring an order to vacate would mean an arrest, three hots and a cot, and a roof over their heads. Their choices were limited. And the law of nature was a lot scarier than the law of man.

2. Death

February 2019 Irwindale man jumps in front of speeding car, San Gabriel Bridge shut down. I try to Google the latest news when I get home. I find nothing on the alleged suicide, but discover a pattern of death going back years. 
January 2019 Man stabbed on the train between the Irwindale Station and the City of Hope Hospital Station. It takes the coroner 12 hours to arrive at the crime scene. Meanwhile, half the Sheriff's department and 75% of the TV news station vans litter the streets with their presence. Traffic is backed up for miles.
December 2018 Hit and run. San Gabriel Bridge shut down.
October 2018 Homeless man freezes to death in front of the Irwindale Liquor Store while waiting for the place to open. He was wearing only a T-shirt and pants. No shoes or socks.

I stop typing the dates. Seven more deaths in 2018. About 14 in 2017. Over 20, 2016. Too many. The commonality? The San Gabriel Bridge. The news says homeless camp residents use the bridge for a shortcut, get run over. The homeless say that they are targets. When the rain flushes them out of their camp, they have to cross the bridge. Those who stay behind risk flash-floods, animal attacks, and hypothermia. And murder by territorial hobos. "Hobos"? Is that still a word? But that's how the "homeless" refer to themselves in this little shanty town. 

Today the local news says that it was a woman who jumped in front of the speeding car, not a man. She was on drugs. No shoes. The driver says that she appeared to fall from the sky in front of the car. Police surmise that another car had hit her and knocked her into the air and that she landed in front of the second car. A homeless man, her companion, says that she was running from an animal. Police claim they may never know how the accident happened, but the driver was not charged.

During the day, hawks fly over the homeless camps like vultures waiting for death. After I learned how the migration and infestation of the feral parrots in San Gabriel created a territorial alliance with the blackbirds, the hawks were pushed back to the mountains. The city now belonged to the alliance of feral birds. While the parrots and the blackbirds feasted in the suburb trash cans, the hawks, like rats, honed their survival skills to pick off the leftover food of the homeless. No, they don't feed on carcasses--they steal the food of these people, leaving these poor folk one step closer to death. It's easy to create a circle of shanties to ward off coyotes, bears, and wild dogs, but how do you fight off four foot birds with razor-sharp talons dropping from the skies to snatch your meal while it's on the plate?? 
You adapt. To the skies. To the rains. To the orders to vacate. You adapt. You recharge your cell phone on the train platform panels, while you scan the streets for patrol cars and scan the skies for hawks. Soon, the snow will melt and decisions must be made. You adapt. Just like the hawks, you adapt.