Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Patience

Rob Hardy posted an excellent poem on his blog about learning patience. It's zen-like, it's funny, it's instructive, it's Hardy.

It reminded me of Brautigan's piece about standing in line at the bank. That piece, from "Revenge of the Lawn," is reproduced here.
Complicated Banking Problems

I have a bank account because I grew tired of burying my money in the back yard and something else happened. I was burying some money a few years ago when I came across a human skeleton.

The skeleton had the remains of shovel in one hand and a half-dissolved coffee can in the other hand. The coffee can was filled with a kind of rustdust material that I think was once money, so now I have a bank account.

But most of the time that doesn't work out very well either. When I wait in line there are almost always people in front of me who have complicated banking problems. I have to stand there and endure the financial cartoon crucifixions of America.

It goes something like this: There are three people in front of me. I have
a little check to cash. May banking will only take a minute. The check is already endorsed. I have it in my hand, pointed in the direction of the teller.

The person just being waited on now is a woman fifty years old. She is
wearing a long black coat, though it is a hot day. She appears to be very
comfortable in the coat and there is a strange smell coming from her. I think about it for a few seconds and realize that this is the first sign of a complicated banking problem.

Then she reaches into the folds of the coat and removes the shadow of a
refrigerator filled with sour milk and year-old carrots. She wants to put the shadow in her savings account. She's already made out the slip.

I look up at the ceiling and pretend that it is the Sistine Chapel.

The old woman puts up quite a struggle before she's taken away. There's lots of blood on the floor. She bit an ear off one of the guards.

I guess you have to admire her spunk.

The check in my hand is for ten dollars.

The next two people in line are actually one person. They are a pair of
Siamese twins, but they each have their own bank book.

One of them is putting eighty-two dollars in his savings account and the other one is closing his savings account. The teller counts out 3,574 dollars for him and he puts it away in the pocket on his side of the pants.

All of this takes time. I look up at the ceiling of the bank again but I cannot pretend that it is the Sistine Chapel any more. My check is sweaty as if it had been written in 1929.

The last person between me and the teller is totally anonymous looking.
He's so anonymous that he's barely there.

He puts 237 checks down on the counter that he wants to deposit in his checking account. They are for a total of 489,000 dollars. He also has 611 checks that he wants to deposit in his savings account. They are for a total of 1,754,961 dollars.

His checks completely cover the counter like a success snowstorm. The teller starts on his banking as if she were a long distance runner while I stand there thinking that the skeleton in the back yard had made the right decision after all.

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Hardy's verse has the line "Why don't we do more damage -- or more good?" That is a question on which the entire apparatus of the criminal justice system is built. A fundamental question. It is wonderful to find it in a poem (ostensibly) about standing in line at the grocery store.

My favorite line in the Brautigan piece is "My check is sweaty, as if it had been written in 1929." The ominous and the whimsical side by side. That's a Brautigan trademark.

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