Buddhism is really the only religion that makes any sense, and that is because there is nothing too inherently kooky about it. No burning bush in magic underwear, no paradise with 72 Virgin Marys, no speaking in tongues door-to-door. The Buddha found enlightenment under a tree, yes, but he had only been sitting there for 24 hours, which is totally doable. There was no serpent tempting him, nor did any booming voice from on high ask him to sacrifice his son to prove his love to his creator.
Instead of promising people that things would be good for them if they were pious, Buddha instead originated the expression "shit happens." When he was really feeling premenstrual (it's that yin-yang, male-female thing he embodied), he would add, "Deal with it."
The funny thing is, there is a relief in knowing that shit happens. If you only expect good things to happen in life, you are going to be thoroughly disappointed. I think this is why emotions that arise on vacation are so ripe: You are expecting to have a good time, and anything less than that is a slap in the face. But to give in to such sadness is to ignore the human condition.
I have to remind myself of this every time I go to the Buddha Lounge, which is pretty often, since I work in Chinatown a lot. The joint itself is always a letdown. It looks awesome from the outside, with neon and Enter the Dragon filigree flanking the entrance. I always hope to traverse some sort of Bruce Lee House of Mirrors to get to the bar. Alas, it is just a small room with minimal decorations and, if you are lucky, some classic rock on the jukebox. So, you might be asking, why do I keep going inside? Because this is one of the best places in the city to rub shoulders with tourists from North Dakota on their first trip out West. They talk funny and are entertaining.
I always make a point of stopping to ask tourists with a map if they need help. Ninety percent of the time the answer is "No," although the parties concerned usually look completely frazzled. The dad is insisting on figuring it out for himself, and the mom is too weary to speak, possibly from arguing all day about the directions they are taking. The kids are usually open and desperate to find a resolution. They will holler out, "We are trying to find the bus to Fisherman's Wharf!" I point them in the right direction, and the dad waves his hand as if to shoo me, the mom tugs at her husband's sleeve in an I told you so sort of way, and the kids start walking towards the bus stop in hopes that their parents will follow. I am always left wondering why people go on trips together if it is never enjoyable.
Still, as a writer, this shit is golden.
I perched on my seat at the Buddha Lounge and waited for enlightenment to come in some form of out-of-towner. Strangely, there were actual Chinatown denizens in the bar, something rarely seen here. They were playing cards. The bartender was a middle-aged woman short on conversation but friendly enough.
It didn't take long for the threesome to arrive: Dad, mom, and son, who looked to be about 16. No one was smiling. The parents were wearing visors (visors! Yes!) and the kid was in an Ed Hardy shirt. The dad ordered a beer and the mom and son got sodas. The dad took out a credit card and then looked gobsmacked when she said, "Cash only." He rooted around for some and didn't seem to feel any in his pockets, so he asked his wife if she had any; annoyed, she opened her purse and pulled it out. The dad took a long swig on the beer as if his life depended on it. Maybe it did.
"Where you guys from?" I asked the kid, who hadn't yet promised to sleep with only one person for the rest of his life and so was not yet crushed with the weight of his very existence.
"Kalamazoo, Michigan," he said, with a sort of "can you believe that?" twinge to his voice. I did my usual thing in these instances when someone says they are from the Midwest, which is to tell them that I am from Illinois, as if we must've had the same milkman or something. He nodded. No one spoke.
Dad got out his map and was tracing something with his finger. Mom rested her chin in her hand. Dad started muttering about the 14L, so I interjected that it had been rerouted, determined as I was to engage these people. The dad looked even more dejected at this. So dejected, in fact, that he was willing to ask for help. "How do we get to the Mission?" I suggested the 8X and then BART, and he responded the same way he had when the bartender asked for cash. He didn't know what BART was, so I told him, and he and his son nodded and seemed open to the idea. The mom, however, was still planning her murder-for-hire scheme and barely cracked a sneer.
"There is no hell worse that being trapped in an unhappy marriage," my mother always told me, which is possibly why I have never wed. I do, however, remember traveling with various boyfriends, and depending on how well the relationship was going, the trip was usually a metaphor for the situation as a whole. You are trapped with the person until it is over, so people tend to let their true selves out with the full knowledge that you cannot leave them (at least until the plane lands). I suppose the bonds of marriage instill the same altered reality. But this is where Buddhism comes in: You must accept that marriage is hard and takes work. Just like life.
"Ready?" said the dad.
"Ready as I'll ever be," said the mom. The son was already out the door.