Election Night

7 November 2012 · 14 comments

This morning, I drove half an hour from Portland to Canby to run a bunch of errands. I stopped by the family box factory to do some computer programming (paper prices have risen), had lunch with my accountant (who is also a close friend), and had my girlfriend clean my teeth (she’s a dental hygienist). I left the dental office at about 4:30 and was stuck in traffic for almost the entire drive.

“This sucks,” I thought, as I sat on the freeway with everyone else. “Plus, I’m hungry.” I hadn’t eaten much despite the fact that I’m supposed to be increasing weight.

“Maybe I’ll eat at Screen Door,” I thought. Screen Door is one of my favorite Portland restaurants. It features great southern food, including the best fried chicken I’ve ever had. Fried chicken has a lot of calories. And there’s lots of protein there, right? It seemed like a great way to get my daily dietary intake up to where it ought to be.

Screen Door is usually packed. Not tonight. Tonight, there were maybe five tables full, plus one fellow at the bar. Two fellows at the bar after I sat down.

“I don’t need a menu,” I told the bartender. “Just give me the fried chicken and a Rhett Butler.” A Rhett Butler is like an old fashioned, but with ginger puree. I pulled out my notebook and prepared to take notes on this month’s book group book, For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway.

“What are you reading?” asked the fellow seated next to me at the bar.

“Hemingway,” I said.

“Can I see?” he said as he picked up the book. He leafed through the pages. “John Donne,” he said, noting the inscription at the front of the book. (“For whom the bell tolls…” is a quote from Donne’s famous mediation on death.)

Note: As some of you may know, I am a poetry geek. Always have been. One of my favorite poems is John Donne’s “A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning”. “Thy firmness makes my circle just, and makes me end, where I begun.” Great stuff.

“That’s very buddhist, you know,” my companion said, handing Hemingway back to me. “‘No man is an island’ and all that.”

“Is it?” I asked.

“Yes,” he said. “Nothing in the universe stands alone. Everything is connected. Everything can be broken down into something smaller. Everything arises from causes and conditions. All things that are born are subject to death.”

“Huh,” I said. “That’s interesting.”

“You know what,” my companion told me. “You ought to go online. Go to YouTube. Look up this guy Dzongsar Khyentse Ripnoche. Look for the videos where he answers questions.” I offered him my notebook and he wrote it down for me.

“You might also be interested in a couple of other books,” my new friend told me. “You should read Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda and On Becoming a Person, which is a great humanist book by Carl Rogers.”

“Wow,” I said. “My girlfriend really likes Paramahansa Yogananda. She says Autobiography of a Yoga was very influential for her. In fact, in my car I have a couple of his lectures on CD.”

“He’s the real deal,” my companion said as our dinners arrived. My fried chicken smelled delicious. He had ordered a cheeseburger, which I didn’t even know you could get at Screen Door. “He’s not a charlatan like a lot of those guys in the east. He’s a real avatar.”

As we ate, the guy next to me asked me a bit about my life, and I asked a bit about his. I told him that I make my living writing about money. He told me that he makes his by practicing naturopathic medicine. Or he used to anyhow.

“I was building my practice,” he told me, “and everything was going great. But then fate intervened. I got hit by a drunk driver. An eighteen-year-old kid t-boned my car and I lost everything to medical bankruptcy.”

“That sucks,” I said. “What a shitty thing to have happen.”

“Yeah,” he said. “It just reinforced how nothing is permanent. You can thing you have security, but it’s really just an illusion.” He paused for a moment, taking a bite of his burger. “But you know, there have been a lot of blessings that came from that. You’d be surprised.”

“From the accident?”

“Oh yeah,” he said. “I learned a lot about myself. I’m much stronger now. I’ve never been happier.”

“Good for you,” I said, stirring some of my mashed potatoes in the tasty tasty gravy. We sat in silence for a while.

“How old are you?” my friend asked eventually. “Forty-eight?”

“Forty-three,” I said.

“Forty-three!” he said. He seemed surprised. “You have a little grey hair there, buddy.” I was dying on the inside, and I wanted to laugh. Nobody’s ever thought I looked older before. Most people think I’m in my thirties.

“You eat paleo, don’t you?” he said.

I laughed. “I try to,” I said, “though I’m not sure fried chicken counts.”

“You should try the Cultured Caveman,” he told me. “It’s a paleo food cart. Also, take a look at Nora Gedgaudas. She wrote a book called Primal Body, Primal Mind. You might like it.”

“Well, I can’t eat any more of that,” I said, pushing my plate aside. “Who am I fooling?”

The bartender was standing right there. “You need to finish that, young man,” he said with mock severity. We all laughed.

My companion and I talked a bit more, and I mentioned that Kim eats paleo too. (In fact, she’s much better at it than I am.) I’d already told my companion that she was familiar with buddhism, and that she knew about Paramahansa Yogananda. He seemed impressed.

“Your girlfriend must be very thoughtful. How old is she?” he asked.

“She just turned forty,” I said. “And she is very thoughtful.”

“You’re lucky,” he said.

“Why’s that?” I asked.

“To meet a woman our age who’s thoughtful is very rare. It’s unusual. It sounds like you found a winner. Don’t screw that up. If she actually believes and adheres to this stuff, it’s like finding a treasure buried under your kitchen floor.”

I nodded in silent agreement. I wanted to ask more — why is it rare to meet a 40-year-old woman who’s thoughtful? — but the conversation moved on. We talked about Tibet, about buddhism, about money, about divorce. We discussed John Steinbeck and Robert Kiyosaki.

“I wish I had unlimited time to read, study, and contemplate,” my friend said. “And to meditate.”

“Me too,” I said. “Me too.”

“I’ve traveled around,” he told me. “I’ve met a lot of thinkers. I knew I’d found the right teacher when he told me, ‘The ultimate goal is to become your own teacher.'”

“I like that,” I said.

We stood to go our separate ways. “You can write about this,” he told me (he’d seen me taking notes), “but please keep me anonymous.”

“I will,” I said. “Thank you.” We shook hands and walked out into the rain.

1 Andrea November 7, 2012 at 06:26

Sounds like he was talking about Carl Rogers’ “On Becoming a Person.” Definitely a good read if you aren’t familiar with his work! How cool to run into someone who is well read and able to hold an intelligent conversation; I personally don’t find that very often.

2 Christine November 7, 2012 at 06:32
3 jdroth November 7, 2012 at 07:30

Thanks, Andrea and Christine. The book was “On Becoming a Person” by Carl Rogers. I’ve updated the post to reflect that. The book sounds fascinating, and I’m sure to get to it here in the near future…

4 Jenzer November 7, 2012 at 07:27

Speaking as another forty-year-old, thoughtful woman, I’ve also found it rare and unusual to meet others like me. Those I’ve found I tend to hold onto as friends, even when life circumstances change and geographic distances separate us. It’s also helped me to look beyond my age-peer group to make connections with wise elders.

5 Amy Jo November 7, 2012 at 08:18

Interesting comment on “thoughtful” 40-year old women. It rings untrue to me because I feel surrounded by thoughtful women (and men). And I’ve always felt that way. There are women I’ve known since high school who have always been thinkers, or thoughtful people, or whatever you’d like to call it, and women I’ve only met in the last couple of years. And other women who I misjudged as less-than-thoughtful who I now know as very thoughtful. What does this mean? I think it means many different things. One, there are probably more “thoughtful” women than we realize or recognize. For some their “thoughtfulness” might be hiding behind their appearance or some sort of social handicap, and others may feel it isn’t appropriate or comfortable to share that much of their inner life. It may also be that thoughtful women tend to cultivate friendships with other thoughtful women.

6 Jenzer November 7, 2012 at 10:04

I think all your observations are spot on, depending on the woman and the circumstances. The majority of my most “thoughtful” female friends are introverts, and not inclined to hang out together in large groups — at least, not for any length of time.

7 April November 7, 2012 at 08:32

Yoga, Buddhism, books, food — what a great conversation! :)

I second Primal Body. I don’t follow any diet religiously anymore, but I do stick to that plan about 5 or 6 days out of the week. You can check out one of her snack recipes on my food blog: http://www.love-crumbs.com/2012/05/19/low-carb-no-bake-coconut-almond-butter-brownies/

8 Chinamom2006 November 7, 2012 at 08:38

I hope you will be in touch with this guy! he sounds like a very interesting person to have as a friend! ;o))

9 Jenna November 7, 2012 at 09:05

So that is how your pre-East Burn night went. Very interesting.

10 Morgan November 7, 2012 at 11:04

It is rare to meet a thoughtful people regardless of gender or age, though it is less rare if you are thoughtful yourself. Great post, JD.

11 Dizzy November 7, 2012 at 11:53

[Warning - opinion that's unlikely to go down well with the herd ahead]. This is obviously an account of a fraction of the conversation JD had with this cheeseburger-eating stranger, which presumably also included some lighter and more humorous banter. So I know even as I write this that I’m being a tad unfair, but guy-at-the-bar comes across from this post as an insufferable know it all. I (literally) laughed out loud at the “few thoughtful women our age” bit because the whole scene sounds like a dictionary-definition-made-real-world-episode of that terrible and terribly controversial word “mansplaining”.

Nothing wrong with a few grey hairs either ;^)

12 Kathleen @ Frugal Portland November 7, 2012 at 15:34

I love this — I love that you ran into someone and had a conversation that made you think.

13 Mrs. Money Mustache November 7, 2012 at 19:05

These are the moments I live for. It’s not often I have a conversation like this, but when I do, it does seem to come at an unexpected time. Thanks for sharing that.

This part struck me the most:

“But you know, there have been a lot of blessings that came from that. You’d be surprised.”

“From the accident?”

“Oh yeah,” he said. “I learned a lot about myself. I’m much stronger now. I’ve never been happier.”

It seems to be a recurring theme in the lives of those that are close to me these days. Those that learn from their difficulties find a new kind of knowledge that would have never been available to them before. What a great attitude to have when going through hard times, even if only in retrospect.

14 bon November 7, 2012 at 20:30

I think that it is fair to say that it can be hard to find thoughtful people. Men, women, 30’s, 40’s, 50’s etc. That’s why I appreciate your writing so much JD – so glad that you’ve started this blog, speaks to me at this phase much more than GRS.

I wonder if people would say that being “thoughtful” is something that happens more as you are older or younger – the “in their 40’s” part of the gentleman’s statement threw me a bit. I’m in my 30’s, and would consider myself quite pensive, but probably less-so than when I was in my 20’s and younger, just due to the demands of the day-to-day. Hoping to re-center. :-)

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