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.)
“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.”
“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.