“So you’re saying you can’t–more accurately won’t–work with an available resource because you and your mutual aid society are too cool to be seen with them?”
“No, I’m sayin’ that the Krishnas were founded by a fuckin’ racist and they can’t organize themselves out a wet sack.”
“No, no, racism is prejudice plus power. How can an Indian immigrant be racist?”
“Institutional racism is prejudice plus power. And that Indian man can be racist when he says shit like ‘Hitler was a great hero’ and ‘slavery was a good thing’.”
This gives them a moment of pause, which seems needed. Sage and Cliff both are breathing a little heavily, which means we stumbled upon this…we’ll say ‘domestic debate’ mid-exchange. But strangely, though the talk is animated, these are not lovers at odds. At least not in body language.
As Sage made himself comfortable in Cliff’s home, Cliff is now getting a taste of life in Sage’s world. They’ve made it to somewhere that once again shows Sage’s eye for idyllic settings–likely somewhere in or adjacent to the Mark Twain National Forest, at the edge of a shallow but wide creek bed that develops into a more aggressive stream across rocks down a hill in the distance. Situated between two gigantic pines, Sage has parked the biodiesel camper. Fires have been raised and stoked. The lovers have been in various states of shirtless repose for two days. And right now, they’re in bed–but Sage has left the sliding door and the hatch open so that they can enjoy the evening breeze.
And while one wouldn’t call this conversation friendly, or joking, one can sense that there is a feeling of legitimate respect in it. Probably because Sage is actually letting Cliff say his piece. Sage is actually listening.
“So the Krishna’s are out because of the heritage of their founder. But you’re both working towards the same goal, no? Aid for the less fortunate, food for the hungry, dignity for those who are getting stomped to dust by the heel of Capitalism.”
“I mean, yeah, in the broad strokes. But what I wanna give folks is just what they deserve fer being human beings, y’know? An’ what they want to give is that ‘cause it could mean a new convert. It feels fuckin’…transactional. Sure, all they want is you to listen to a sermon. That isn’t a whole lot to ask. But it is more than we ask. Their numbers aren’t crazy good, and they are crap at raising money. I don’t feel like I’m better’n them, but I know they’d be more a detriment than whatever benefit they’d provide. We…”
He trails off, noticing that Sage is simply smiling and watching him speak.
“Pontiff, dude, what the fuck?”
“Nothing. Just listening to you talk.”
This brings silence, and a slow chuckle from Cliff Pike. Finally, his cheeks reddening in high contrast with his coal mustache, he turns away, causing Sage to burst out laughing.
“Hahahaha, the legendary hardcore street warrior can’t take a little adoration?”
“Shut the fuck up, hippie.”
Pontiff embraces the highway overpass shoulders of his companion. Boyfriend? Partner? Being a relationship anarchist has been his natural mode for so long that he’s not sure how well hierarchical language is going to fit him anymore. He knows that conversation is probably coming sooner rather than later, and he dreads it–not because he worries that he won’t be with Cliff, though. That part seems without question, even if the relationship is still pupal. But Sage worries the ghosts of who he was may rear their head–he’s also not sure that’s so much “who he was” as who he naturally is. He doesn’t know how to make that piece of his puzzle match up with the fact that he wants to view his life in terms of pre-and-post meeting Cliff Pike. Laying a soft kiss on one of the man’s cathedral trap muscles, he softly sighs, and his internal struggle isn’t going unnoticed.
“Earth to the cosmonaut. You got quiet, what’s up?”
“Nothing I’m just…just thinking about the match.”
“You’re dogshit at lying, y’know that?”
“Only to you.”
“But serious, what’s eating you?”
“Honestly, part of it is the match. Part of it is existential ennui, the sort of psychic doldrums I’d normally fuck and drug my way out of across a couple states like a sexual General Sherman. But now, since somebody has decided to make me inordinately fond of them, I’m reckoning within these internal struggles in real time. I need to take some mushrooms and watch the sun rise, something to scour me clean so I can get my head straight.”
“Hell, I’m not opposed to that as a plan. But why worry about the match? I thought you told me you didn’t care about your win-loss record.”
“The thing about that is like…ego is poison, right? Because then you start getting notions about how much better you are than your fellow human beings. So from that perspective, spiritually, I think getting wrapped up in a win and loss record is pointless. Harmful, even. But there’s also this real-world end of things, this consequence. The Krishnas can’t feed the poor on Vaishnavism, any more than I can right the world’s wrongs by trying to elevate the consciousness of the proletariat. That doesn’t pay rent, as you’re so fond of reminding me. So then I have to get my head around the real vinegar-brained realities of things, which isn’t my strong suit, but…I don’t have a home in the traditional sense. We’re in my home. It’s paid for. My habits don’t cost me much. I’m not a member of clubs that charge membership fees, I do not owe money to personal trainers or nutritionists. I am free, in as much as someone can be in this white supremacist patriarchy.”
He runs his hands through Cliff’s hair, thinking.
“I guess what I’m getting at is that I have a chance here to make actual change happen for people right here, right now. Real change. Groceries, food, medical care, rent assistance. The things these pigs and physically vampiric oligarchs won’t ever provide. And if that’s going to be something I do, then all of the sudden…the wins and losses start to matter. Because I keep losing, they aren’t going to keep me around. And if they don’t keep me around, then I’m going to go back to bumming in between festivals and sleeping on beaches. That’s a good life. It’s a simple life. It’s a life that kept me and held me and allowed me to flourish.”
Shaking his head, Pontiff chuckles.
“But Buddha help me, I want more for myself. I want more for the world. I want more for the people.”
“So you gotta beat him.”
“Not just beat him, Cliff. I need to beat everyone.”
This begets another silence, where both men think their thoughts. Miles away from one another mentally while physically Gordian. Cliff is the first, possibly because he’s less concerned with the far-off-reaches of spiritual implications of that statement. One gets the impression, based on his smirk, that he thinks what Sage is proposing is a wonderful idea. Finally, he nudges his partner.
“…that mean you’re gonna hack off the white-boy dreads?”
Sage laughs, his smile bright. His eyes twinkling. He playfully swats Cliff in his steamer-trunk pecs.
“Not a fuckin’ chance.”
While we are used to Sage recording his bit to camera in the aftermath of some psychedelic awakening, he’s very much alone in these times. These are times for quiet monastic reflection.
Right now, in the distance of the camera’s field of view, a figure stands. Entirely backlit from a dying fire and the oncoming dawn, we assume it’s Cliff because he’s who Pontiff was seen with–but even if that wasn’t the case, his stout workingman’s musculature would be a dead giveaway. But near us, in the foreground, in a sarong but otherwise sky clad, is Sage.
His eyes are dilated.
You ever think on things?
Like not ‘do you ever think’, because that’s an insulting question.
But I found myself wondering. Does Rocky de Leon think of the larger quandary his existence presents? Does anyone in this company? In this industry? Or am I this lone figure trying to understand why I was blessed with the ability to hurt, and how to apply that to help my fellow humans on this rock?
Rock, Rocky. Connections, patterns.
De Leon. Of the Lion.
Let me circle back to that.
In the broader spiritual sense, I have been thinking of this. Because it’s not just that I was blessed with ability. I cultivated it, nurtured it, trimmed it like a prized bonsai. I could have had the talent and let it wither. I didn’t. Why? For some time–for a long time–I thought violence itself was the answer to the greater psychic threat that faces this nation, the world, existence. But then I learned new lessons, and I am eternally grateful for new lessons. See, the violence works if the participants are willing. If the soul is prepared. But I cannot enlighten by force, no matter how hard I might want to.
Like, there was a time, right?
And it feels like a lifetime ago but for you it’s probably just yesterday.
Where I would have sat here and considered the eye of the lotus and hoped that I might bring you to new heights of consciousness.
But you don’t want that. It’s plain for anyone to see. You’re absolutely perfectly content just failing through things and collecting money. People tend to gravitate to where they’re most comfortable. For me that’s nature, the edges of the greater cosmic psychosphere, pushing myself to be better. To live a better life. For you that’s…treading water. And one day you’ll get tired of that. Your limbs will ache, your joints will cry out for relief, your heart will feel like giving out, your will to keep treading will be nothing but dust, but sand.
Then you’ll be ready for the lesson.
Then you’ll be ready to ask the questions of yourself that I do.
Does Rocky de Leon think of the larger quandary his existence presents? Of course you don’t.
You are of the lion, but you are the dog instead.
That is not an insult, I am speaking of your existence in the manner of Seung Shan.
You aren’t familiar?
Rocky, Rocky, Rocky.
I feel your soul. I know you thirst. But you haven’t made the leap to not jump after the bone!
My words are coming in sequences that I didn’t mean them to. Let me explain.
So the Buddha is speaking to some people, right? And he says there are two types of practitioners of enlightenment. Those who chase, and those who exist.
The person who chases is always seeking a fix or to hold onto something, but that’s not how it needs to be. You don’t need to cling to silly things like your identity and your ego, those are a child’s things. The person who exists knows the path that they’re on is the correct one, because it’s the path that they’re on. If it wasn’t the right path, they wouldn’t be on it.
You throw a bone to distract a dog? Dog chases bone.
You throw a bone to distract a lion? Lion chases you.
Finally, the sun breaks over a mountain peak. It bathes The Bodhisattva in golden and amber, making him seem almost to glow. He does not wince at the light, his eyes do not narrow. He simply smiles, allowing the warmth to bathe him. Like a napping cat, his body unfurls himself as he stretches into the beams.
I know why I fight. I bothered to ask the questions you never did.
That’s something that should scare you, man. Because I took harder fights than you to the limit back when I was approaching things from the incorrect angles. Back when I was in a mire of spiritual darkness. So I’m not here to beat you to bring you to my way of thinking, I’m not here to beat you because I feel like it serves some greater metaphysical purpose. I’m simply going to beat you, because that is enough. That is enough today and tomorrow and next week. The fight is not the destination, Rocky de Leon. The fight is the journey.
You’re of the lion, but I am the lion.
Because I can throw a bone and stray you from your path.
I hope the day is going to come when you can live up to your namesake.
But I think we both know that day isn’t coming soon.