Monday, October 26, 2009

Dude Standard Time

I’ve agreed to meet this guy at the bar at three. I walk in at three on the dot, not knowing whether I will find the guy a couple drinks into his afternoon, or not there...but a message saying he’s running 15 minutes late…its always 15 minutes, or just not there.

This guy is one of my more unique old friends…Joey Zhuang…or Joey Dude as we have taken to calling him for the past few years. Joey grew up in the neighborhood, is half Italian and half Chinese, is a private eye with a reputation, and, as we have all told him on many occasions, inhabits his own time zone, which moves along with him like some strange bubble, spacing out anyone within a few hundred yards. Its not that Joey is always late or always early, its just that he does not wear the same watch as others in the general population. We call this anomaly in the space-time continuum Dude Standard Time…DST for short…and I must admit that the old Duder Bar probably inhabits this zone as much of the time as Joey Z…as does The Duderino Lebowski, of course…the father of DST. I guess we should not be too surprised at the way JZ handles reality, of course, since he claims that he can document that he is the " 100 generations or so later...grandson of Zhuangzi ...Chuang Tzu, to you...", notorious Taoist innovator, incorrigible prankster, and some say, early prototypical op for the King (ostensibly!)...a real "under the radar" way behind the scenes kind of guy.

Joey Z. became Joey Dude after we noticed that he was beginning to greet clients and other visitors…e.g. us…in his home/office, dressed in much the same way that brother Jeffer was dressed at the beginning of the movie. What clinched it was what is now considered an epiphany laden situation, which occurred a few months ago, during which I and a couple of others from the Duder went to the local Safeway to buy half and half, and encountered Joey in the dairy section obliviously dressed in full regalia…robe, jellies, shorts, and so on…sniffing at an opened carton of the designated liquid. He was shocked and embarrassed to see us, and…we truly believe…did not realize he had left the house in his bathrobe. He stammered that he was on the verge of a breakthrough and hurried away toward the checkout. From the point on, Joey Z. was not just Joey Dude to us, but Joey Dude…the Bathrobe Shamus.

Later the night of what has come to be known as the “Bathrobe Shamus Incident” he showed up at the Duder unquestionably looking the part of the near-celebrity tabloid darling…the solver of bizarre, off the wall cases…the notorious San Francisco P.I. that he is. Looks a little like Jackie Chan, FYI. We all had a huge laugh. Joey never took himself too seriously…and still does not.

But I’m going on and on…back to NOW. I enter the Duder and look around. No Joey.

Louise yells, “Joey called. He’ll be here in fifteen minutes.”

I walk on in trying to figure out where the familiar, booming, sonorously London accented voice is coming from. Hadn’t heard this voice for a couple years, but the lilting scotch/rocks laden tones are unmistakable…Reginald “Reggie” Hamm is in the house…

"Extreme BUSYNESS is a symptom of deficient vitality, and a faculty for idleness implies a catholic appetite and a strong sense of personal identity. Robert Louis Stevenson said that my dear friends.”

Reggie is holding forth at the far end of the bar. His small but captive audience is enthralled. He sees me and beams his Falstaffian grin.

“Hieronymus…you’ve finally arrived.”

“Reggie…you old fraud. I wish I had known you were coming, I’d have…”

“…half baked a…”

We hug. Reggie is a great champion of The Idler…that across the pond publication that self applies the following…

' The Idler is a bi-annual, book-shaped magazine that campaigns against the work ethic.

It was founded in 1993 by Tom Hodgkinson and his friend Gavin Pretor-Pinney. The title comes from a series of essays by Dr Johnson, published in 1758-9 in the Gentleman’s Magazine. The intention of the magazine is to return dignity to the art of loafing, to make idling into something to aspire towards rather than reject. As well as providing a radical and thought-provoking read, the Idler is also very funny.'

“And so Reggie…what brings you to our fair city?”

“The Long Now…”

“The what? Oh…you mean Stewart Brand and Brian Eno’s thing?”

“Of course Hieronymous…you and your Dudeists…I have heard the whole story, you know…you guys must attend the Long Now fund raiser. Tomorrow night. You guys claim to inhabit the long now, don’t you?”

“You could put it that way Reginald…without so much snark in your tone. Has The Idler Time Investigation Team discovered just how long NOW is yet…by the way…as they announced they were about to do?"

“Progress Hieronymus…progress. All in good time. I dare say, more progress than you and your Dudenicks are making, I’ll wager.”

“Sorry I’m late…”

Joey Z. strides through the door and heads down the bar with that “I just got laid and you didn’t” smile on his face. He extends his hand. I grab it and do one of our complex, over the top handshakes. Reggie marvels.

“You must teach me the secret handshake Hieronymous…”

“Reggie Hamm say hello to Joe Zhuang…”

Reggie seems to recognize the name.

“Private investigator Joseph Zhuang?”

“Yeah…that’s it. Have we met?"

“I’m afraid not. Read about you in the Weekly World News though.”

“Oh fuck…here we go again…I’ve been able to stop most of that shit. When did you see it?”

“Yesterday…at the airport…”

“What was it about?”

“You. Sounds like you get some interesting cases Mr. Zhuang.”

“You can drop the “Mr.” Reggie, “ I say. “This is Joey Dude, man…fuhgeddaboudit Z. Fuck it Joey! I told you you ought to write about your stuff yourself. Some drinks Louise…for the king of the tabloids.”

Joey look at me and glowers for a second before he cracks up.

“What the fuck…good for business, right? Long as they spell my name I right?”

“Maybe my organization could hire you,” Says Reggie.

“Which organization would that be, Mr. Hamm?”

"Reggie, please, 'Mr.' Hamm was my father. The organization to which I refer is a branch of The Idler might have heard of..."

"The Idler has BRANCHES? Yeah, I've heard of The Idler...buddy of mine in London turned me on to it years ago when it ran an article about a relative of mine..."

"Here we go," I mutter.

"No...really...not Chuang Tzu Hieronymus...another relative. Lin Yutang. Great piece in the Idle Idols section, or something like that..."

"Oh, how marvelous...Lin Yutang was your relative?"

"Great, great uncle, once removed..."

At this point, Reggie's un-natural memory kicks in.

"As I recall...that article...'Lin Yutang’s main principle is that the freedom to enjoy life is the ultimate spiritual good. The question of happiness – “entirely neglected by Christian thinkers” – is not to be deferred in the name of abstract rewards. What reward could be greater than a life enjoyed as it is lived? Play without reason; travel to see nothing; a -perfectly useless afternoon spent in a perfectly useless manner – these are the kind of activities that redeem the art of living from the business of living. Lin was tormented by the perception that...all nature loafs, while man alone works for a living...'

Joey rolls his eyes and looks at me, "He was also an inventor, you know. Wanted to live off of royalties. Patented a Chinese typewriter, but it never flew. Too bad. Didn't The Dude live off some invention in the movie?"

"Rubik's Cube inheritance...but it never made it into the movie"

"Too bad. Too bad uncle Lin's typer never...oh well. So Reggie...what would your branch of The Idler need my services for...seems kind of strange that..."

“Something we have to find. How long is the Now? Sounds like it would be right up your alley.”

“For a fee, I’ll tell you that right NOW Reggie. Fuck it…I’ll answer this one on the house…since you’re a buddy of my good friend here and all…”


“Now can be measured by measuring the time between just after before until just before after…OK?”

After a respectful pause...uproarious laughter. I request more drinks from Louise.

Much later, after Reggie has said his goodbyes, Joey whispers/slurs two pieces of information to me in what he calls "black op level confidence". First, he tells a tale about a mutual friend of ours finally relenting and taking him on an excursion into the mythical labyrinthine city of vice beneath Chinatown and North Beach…maybe even beneath the building we are sitting in now. Second, he says that...unbelievably...yet another distant relative has passed along to him a set of, up to now, unknown writings of grandpa Zhuangzi/Chuang Tzu...frighteningly ancient knowledge which could "change everything". We are both a little fucked up by this time and he knows that what he is telling me sounds like some hallucination. He manages to write the url of what he says is a TOP SECRET SITE before he stumbles out of the Duder and down the street.

“You mean you’re putting this stuff on the INTERNET?” I yell after him. “Even if it IS private you gotta be NUTS! Private for what…30 seconds after some kid bumbles his way into…”

Joey Z. has disappeared into the night.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

A Serious Dude

Its 3AM at the Duder Bar. Ron and Nancy asked me to close up, so I'm sitting here alone in the back corner booth making some notes about a movie I saw recently...the Coen Bros. (as in Ringling Bros. ?) latest...A Serious Man . I am also expecting a knock on the door. Two old friends, Diego and Lucia, asked if they could stop by after closing and use the Duder dance floor for tango practice...big contest coming up. They are not practicing at home because she kicked him out the other night. Should make for an interesting session...

...anyhow...some Pin Dudeist thoughts on the movie...

As I mentioned in an review I wrote of Cathleen Falsani's The Dude Abides, I sometimes think the Coen brothers should be named the Koan brothers. Their movies, or at least parts of their movies have always seemed like zen koans to me. This is especially true of A Serious Man. Our hero, Larry Gopnik, a physics professor, is first seen, giving a lecture on Schrodinger's Paradox...the notorious alive/dead cat...presented, as is his proof of Heisenberg's uncertainty principle, on an immense blackboard filled with scrawled equations. Riddles "clarified"...right? "Proofs"...right? Hilarious...visually overwhelming and baffling to most in the audience (and classroom) I least to me...

I hear Diego and Lucia screaming at each other as they approach the rear door of the bar. There is not a knock on the door...there is a banging. I open the door. They both greet me in a perfunctory fashion, place a boom box on a table near the dance floor, turn it on...still engrossed in their arguing...and proceed to tango. As they move, the arguing becomes bickering, then ceases completely, replaced by intense looks into each others angry eyes. If they dance like this in the contest, how can they lose?

Back to the movie...let the cognitive dissonance work its magic...

Larry Gopnik is introduced "explaining" a famous paradox. Then he goes home to another set of riddles. Larry's wife wants to leave him for an unctuous, weasel-tongued new ("Is his poor wife cold yet? Three years?") widower and Larry has no idea why. His son Danny (a true Dude in the making, as we will see)...days away from his bar mitzvah, is lost in a pot fog. Larry's unemployed and very twisted brother, Arthur, is crashing on his couch. And...his next door neighbor, Mrs. Samsky, whose husband travels, is tormenting him with her nude backyard sunbathing...which he discovers while on the roof adjusting his TV antenna so that Danny can watch F Troop with clarity...the prelude to the devolution...

Are these the baroque machinations of a trickster God? A latter day replay of Job's soap opera? A bad, carnivalesque secondary theater production staged by Larry David and art directed by Diane Arbus?

Odd twists and turns...a lot of ins and outs and what-have-yous...crop up at Larry's university as things move along on down the road. He's up for tenure and the tenure committee is receiving letter after anonymous letter questioning Larry's moral turpitude. On top of that (here comes a dash of Asian thought to flavor the stew folks), one of his students, a Korean young man named Clive Park, apparently leaves an unmarked envelope containing three grand on Larry's desk in an attempt to bribe Larry not to fail him. When Larry questions this, Clive's father shows up at his house and threatens to sue...(from the screenplay)...

Larry turns to Mr. Park.
Larry:...I, uh...See, if it were defamation there would have to be someone I was defaming him to, or I...All right, I...let's keep it simple. I could pretend the money never appeared. That's not defaming anyone.
Mr. Park: Yes. And passing grade.
Larry: Passing grade.
Mr. Park: Yes.
Larry: Or you'll sue me.
Mr. Park: For taking money.
Larry: So...he did leave the money.
Mr. Park: This is defamation
Larry stares at him.
Larry: Look. It doesn't make sense. Either he left the money or he didn't...
Mr. Park: Please. Accept mystery.

Yes Larry...the mystery, indeed. Seeking answers to all of these doings, which are getting "curiouser and curiouser", as Wavy Gravy would say, Larry seeks the advice of his rabbi and winds up having to consult with the junior rabbi instead, who admonishes Larry to..."Look at the parking lot, Larry"...a phrase which may work its way into our lexicon in much the same way as...well...shush...listen to me going on...better not go there just yet...

Anyhow...what the rabbi means is that Larry is looking at his life, as he would the mundane parking lot outside, with tired, world weary eyes. He asks Larry to imagine himself a visitor (from a primitive tribe?), someone who isn't familiar with autos and such, "somebody still with a capacity to wonder, someone with a fresh perspective...Things aren't so bad. Look at the parking lot, Larry."

Larry finally gets to talk with a higher level rabbi who tells him the tale of a dentist's weird discovery in a patient's mouth...the letters spelling "help me" in Hebrew engraved on the inside of the patient's lower teeth...and its aftermath...after awhile the dentist stopped worrying about what it meant...shaggy dogs continue to bark. Still not satisfied with the answers he is getting to his "What the fuck is happening here?" question, he tries to talk to the wisest rabbi in town who refuses to see him his snide, puffy and aged secretary informs him...the rabbi is busy...thinking.

Not wanting to be left out of the party, synchronicity now comes stumbling down the road in the form of simultaneous car involving Larry, one involving his wife's lover. The other guy is killed and Larry's wife insists that Larry pay for the funeral. Onward...

Bar mitzvah day arrives and Larry's son, Danny, is stoned. He makes it through the ceremony and is escorted away for the final step in the audience with the oldest and wisest of the rabbis...the one who refused to see Larry. The boy trembles as the old man looks up at him and speaks slowly..."When the truth is found to be lies/And all the joy within you dies/Don't you want somebody to love."...then turns on the portable tape recorder that had been confiscated from the boy in class at Hebrew school. Grace Slick and the Jefferson Airplane...Danny's favorite band (the young Dude's Creedence?)...fill the room and the old rabbi smiles. Wisdom has been passed, once again, from old to young...

And the young, new Dude able to chill? Not quite over yet folks. Back at the university, Larry finds out that he probably has been granted tenure. He also decides to do things the Korean way and take the money Clive pay a criminal attorney now needed to keep his brother out of jail, actually...but that's a part of the story I won't divulge. Don't want to ruin every surprise for those of you who haven't seen the movie yet. Things seem to be looking up. The phone rings. It is Larry's doctor telling him that he has gotten the X-rays back...another detail I left out...and can Larry come in for a personal consultation immediately. No, it cannot be dealt with over the phone. Larry stumbles out of his office...

In the meantime at young Dude's school a storm approaches. The teacher gets a tornado warning and is told to take the students to the storm shelter next door. Outside, we watch as the teacher cannot get the door to the storm shelter unlocked. The tornado bears down as Danny, oblivious, tries to pay off an old pot debt...

Fade to black...and more black? Sometimes you eat the bear and sometimes the bear eats you pardner. Take comfort in knowing that young Danny, the designated new Dude, will probably be bounced around a little, but just as probably will roll on out of this eat the bear another day. And abide...

Diego and Lucia conclude their tango practice and disappear into the night. Once again, the Duder Bar is empty...except for me...

...and the Koans...