I met Roshi Bob when I was young .
On a cold New Jersey day my car broke down and I was wandering around looking for a place to call home. With a bitter wind blowing down from Hackensack I stumbled into a little bar called the Now or Never. It was in Secaucus, just off Route 3 along an approach to the Lincoln tunnel where east-west meets the Jersey Turnpike. The Now or Never, turned out to be a neighborhood joint a stone’s throw from the Big Apple and within scenting distance of that great, smelly, smoking, landfill ironically called the “Meadowlands” and known by some as Our Lady of Perpetual Cosa Nostra cemetery.
I stepped into the saloon, stamped snow off my boots just inside the door, and scanned for a phone. There, to my left, at the end of the bar, the person I came to know as Roshi Bob caught my eye. He was seated under the silver arc of a stuffed marlin eating a pickled egg wearing a Yankee cap and a wry smile. His backlit head glowed in the neon of a Piels sign and crumbs of yolk and albumen, in a halo of golden confetti, ringed a small white plate on the bar between his hands. In front of him was a bottle of Guiness next to a half-full glass wearing a spent head of foam. It wasn’t long before we’d struck up a conversation, and that, as they say, was that. Then and there our friendship was launched and christened in beer punctuated with Wild Turkey chasers.
In the years following that first meeting Roshi said many intriguing and memorable things, most of which I’ve forgotten. But, luckily, I did jot some down with a #2 Ticonderoga pencil that Roshi insisted I use because he usually changed his mind about everything. In fact, Roshi hated pens. He once warned, “A pen is an instrument of the devil and dogmaticians. Erasable graphite is the blessed marker of the Tao.”The letter killeth in some political contexts,” he went on, “especially when written in ink. But rash remarks rendered with a #2 Ticonderoga are easy to erase.”
To say that Roshi is remarkable is to alliterate…but writers do that. And to say that Bob was the best is –well, there I go again –it’s an occupational hazard. What I’m trying to say is that life with Roshi has was an eye-opener. But one day, without due notice, our beloved guru took off in a spontaneous migration. Leaving his students in a group funk.
What became of him, you ask? Good question. In fact the story of Roshi’s disappearance is a little quirky and probably needs some explanation.
Getting Knocked off his Horse on The Way Past the Golden Arches
What happened was that there came a moment when Roshi Bob became completely fed up with what our American thing had developed (or devolved) into. A society wherein buying things had become the apotheosis of happiness –as well as being a duty. What would Socrates have thought? Or Tom Paine? Realizing he had no good answer to these questions our Bob decided to disappear into the deep midlands. In fact, he took leave of the census and was (poof) outa here. Roshi hopped a west-bound Greyhound and dropped into the Middle-Western Kingdom somewhere between Cincinnati and Crested Butte.
Picture the scene: Roshi Bob walking a New Jersey sidewalk on Haledon Ave. just across the Paterson line. At his quick and steady pace he’d been beating cars from light to light when, allofasudden, he stopped dead. What was up? It was as if he, like Saul, had been knocked off his horse and blind-sided by the Tao –only this time not on the road to Damascus, but on a Passaic County street right in front of a pair of golden arches.
In a later teaching tape Bob told how, in that instant, glancing up at the billions-sold sign, he’d had a vision of a burger floating in a sea of transfats. In a flash his life passed before him as if he’d just been handed undeniable proof there was no god and we were definitely on our own. Whereupon our lucky guru suffered an acute infinity attack and decided on the spot that he had to know more about Sioux Falls. So our guru-to-be abruptly leapt a westbound Greyhound diesel and evaporated in a cloud of oil-scented blue-gray fumes.
Before the Golden Arches
Despite the fact that I’ve become Roshi Bob’s chronicler, I was not the first to discover him. In this day and age, when pixels are mightier than the pen, it’s hard to imagine a world with a slower, more fluid pace. But there was such a time, and it was in that time that Roshi Bob began taking notes. And it was from these notes that Roshi first began collecting students. But how exactly did that happen?
As late as the mid-nineteen-fifties people still wrote letters with pens on paper. Though it’s become an antiquated form of communication, it was once a popular and effective one. Many old people who were brought up on Papermates and Bics and don’t understand pixels, still prefer pens. Some of them even use fountain pens, a tool that goes back to the period between cuneiform and pocket protectors.
Anyway writing letters with pens had a physical component you just don’t get with a keyboard. And, it required time. But time is not something much appreciated at the dawn of the 21st century. As Roshi himself once pointed out, “Time these days is something we think can be saved, as if time could be stood still and stored like bullion. Despite the prevailing winds, time is not money. You can’t hoard process. Time is life itself.”
In the old days it was not considered quaint to see people hunched over desks under forty watt bulbs putting words to paper. Sometimes whole paragraphs of pen strokes would be sent to enemies or loved ones by messengers in blue-gray uniforms who actually carried them around in a sack to be handed out personally. But just as often these words would be filed away in a drawer somewhere and become lost.
Usually this was for the best (if you’ve ever read an average personal journal). But every once in a while someone with a peculiar slant on things would come along and jot down his thoughts, and sometimes misplace them. Then one coincidental day, someone would find them in an old trunk in Weehawken, or in a cave overlooking the Dead Sea, or buried in a field in New York State, for instance. And, because what they found sounded a little peculiar, and because they thought the coincidence of its finding made it “cosmic” (because God is often confused with coincidence), they decided those old notes must have religious significance.
So (to get to the point), an anonymous person (who we’ll call Joseph Smith for the sake of this discussion) emailed a scan of some spiral notebook pages to a friend. While doing some renovation work in a Garfield, NJ basement on Farnum Ave., this Joe Smith had found them in a ceiling cavity above a lally column along with a copy of the I-Ching, several pennies, 3 dozen Hershey bar wrappers, a pack of Zigzag papers, and two very dehydrated grapefruit. It was learned later that Roshi Bob (then still known to his friends and family as Bobby B ) had spent some time with his aunt Rose and uncle Leroy somewhere in that vicinity at about that time (the pages were dated June 25,1958 and July 5th, 1958).
These were eventually authenticated as genuine sayings of Roshi Bob, and have been confirmed as having been penned during Bob’s post Judeo-Christian (PJC) period. Following from those events and my later serendipitous meeting with him that day at the Now Or Never, all I can say is, the rest is history.