ROCKET SCIENCE: Slay the Buddha

Frank Cotolo's Rocket Science

We’re all messes in our own ways and not only using the concept of “mess” as described by social or cultural or tribal definitions. Intuitively, I have always been suspicious of those who feel they are “all right,” “balanced” or even “sane.” Someone once told me there is a thin line between the mad and the maddened and an even thinner line between the conscious and the unconscious but more importantly that each thin line is, as Somerset Maugham wrote, a razor’s edge.

That’s because people, as I have learned to understand them, refuse to see the “big picture,” because it is a fierce display of hopelessness in the long run, which has a conclusion they think they see clearly but I don’t think anyone sees clearly at all, no less a destination in or after life and furthermore, if they are peering into such futures then they are missing what happens now. Yes, now, even as you read. Pass it on.

The secret of life is no big whoop. I learned it in my twenties (from a Master of Zen) and when I learned it I realized it was always right in front of me, undeserving of a “search for self” or any such nonsense. Yet, anyone and everyone whomsoever tried to teach me anything, no less everything they thought they knew, denied its simplicity.

Simplicity equals mess and vice versa. They coagulate and the resulting block of hard matter is a metaphor for the ages, of as the Master of Zen would say, “All one needs to do is blow lightly and the massive structure crumbles while others hammer away futilely without making so much as a hair crack.”

But there is nothing easy about this game of contradictions because, as with everything, it’s not the solution but the coagulating of the opposites that push out buttons and burn bridges behind us and get under our skin where we “sacrifice anything come what might for the sake of having [X] here, despite a warning voice that comes in the night and repeats and repeats in my ear: Don’t you know you fool, you never can win. Use your mentality, wake up to reality . . .”

Thus the struggle, the rebellion, the denial, the mess that we each are inside of our heads and hearts, all of it growing dense skins and suffocating us.

There is no “good news,” no matter how loudly the sanctimonious shout.

Oh, they tell me, so you are a Zen freak who drinks from the River Ganges and reincarnates traveling the karmic wheel and who leaves the bovine to roam the filthy cobblestones with the stench of false sacred blessings and who genuflects to the moonstone and calls Kali and this and that, all of which reduces me to a religious stereotype. I don’t mind. Yes I do and I have the mettle to introduce the brilliance of abstraction to them all.


Because I know that if I meet the Buddha I shall slay the Buddha.

My Master of Zen, by the way, was a most unlikely teacher. He was a Korean War veteran, a man who trudged through the muck of rice patties with communist soldiers on his tail and who understood the Bible by being able to see the messages hidden in the fiction (as he was with all literature) and who did not preach and who fought in the Golden Gloves as a young man and who was the black sheep and youngest of his father’s sons among a quintet of brothers, all of whom were born with the legacy of bad hearts. He was a heavy smoker who quit far too late in his life and he was married to a woman who became American because he married her, which he did in secrecy from his family because he was a loner, even among his blood and even in marriage, and he continued his U.S. military life after the war and told stories of the hypocrisy and the praetorian figures from the top down, and who had a strange friend named Sydney, who was slovenly and wreaked of jolly mirth to hide his quiet desperation. My Master of Zen shot pool and only drank beer when the temperatures of the city were stifling enough to make it unpreventable to quench a thirst any other way, a thirst that, though it was quenched entirely, was not quenched for long, but the moment counted more than a long-term solution to the thirst. He introduced me to Jean Shepherd, radio’s storytelling virtuoso, who would galvanize the writing and speaking skills, which colored my nights with substance. He reveled to the true impact of Frank Sinatra’s character’s singing “The Lady Is A Tramp” in context of the movie “Pal Joey.” My Master of Zen pointed out Sinatra’s phrasing and from then on I understood that when singing phrasing wins and the vocal places. “It doesn’t matter who’s elected President,” he said, “we still have to get up and go to work the next morning.” He told me I probably would never work a day in my life and he was correct because I never did anything to make a living that I didn’t find a way to enjoy. He did not own a car or a driver’s license. He took city buses and rode the subway. He enjoyed discount stores, where nothing was truly overpriced. He was not cheap. He was austere by definition. He secretly wore a toupee, though most people suspected it was not his hair.

I am still learning things late in life because of him. I am still a mess but now I know the secret of life.

He was my Master of Zen, my Buddha, and he died before I had a chance to slay him.

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