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12/18/99 The Merge Concept
11/19/99 Degrees of Sickness
10/24/99 The Finger Game
10/14/99 Learning Very Slowly
09/26/99 Serfs Up
09/04/99 Kindergarten
08/15/99 The Son Also Rises
08/06/99 Time to Listen

Time to Listen

I finally gathered the nerve to revisit Mexico. My trip involved a handful of friends and a weekend in Rosarito.

Because we had to take two cars, the guys drew sticks to see who'd drive with Chuck. Chuck took it in good humor, knowing that no one could bear his chatter for 3 hours.

Chuck is a bright man, a physicist at that. He just needs Prozac or a partial lobotomy or something. Chuck, you see, has more ideas than there are breaths in the day to get them out. And a 3-hour car ride meant that he would have a captive, one-man audience.

You'll never guess who drew the short stick.

Chuck and I had no sooner hit the freeway than he broke into a dialogue about his last trip to Mexico, when he was stopped by 14-year-olds wearing army fatigues and automatic rifles.

I chuckled and said, "They stopped me, too."

Chuck didn't wait for my reply because he has the uncanny knack for listening while he talks. Sometimes he returned to my point; other times, he figured that if my point were truly important, he would have said it himself.

For the next hour, I only got in two words, both edgewise. I finally gave up on talking and wrote a saying inspired by my carmate: Conversation is also the art of holding one's tongue. Maybe I'll send it to Good Earth tea.

Two hours later, I began to spin with the incessant buzz of Chuck's voice. It was like a radio station that I couldn't turn off, a talk show that demanded my constant attention but not my participation. I grew homesick for silence. So it goes.

Then Chuck did something to pique my interest: He addressed commercialism in America and our "have-do-be" mentality. In case you haven't noticed, that's a button of mine. Chuck argued that a culture inundated with corporate images stands little chance of contacting the innate wisdom of the collective unconscious, which some folks refer to as God.

I bulldozed my way in to the conversation, asking him to shut up when I had to. He took it in good humor and replied intelligently (sometimes asking my permission to speak), which took our conversation in new and exciting directions. The air was alive with discovery.

Chuck and I discussed the cerebral games that Einstein played by himself in the closet in his attempt to manually myelinate (grow brain wrinkles). Chuck confessed that he had tried to heal a cut on his forefinger for 30 minutes one time before he got a migraine and gave up.

That led us to psychosomatic disorders and the self-fulfilling prophecy, which we agreed works for better and for worse. He described life as a series of boxes from which we struggle to escape, only to find that the directions were printed on the outside. He asked me to consider life on a molecular level, which I did. He took me on a journey through my own lungs and into the bloodstream.

What my friends and I had considered drivel was becoming unthinkably fascinating.

At the time we drew straws, I could only think of getting to my destination, checking in to my hotel, and beginning my escape from the real world. Once I surrendered to the moment and the company in which I had been placed -- by a short stick -- I found that the present tense was escape enough. Why was I in such a hurry to get to Rosarito? What would I find there that didn't exist here? It was like hurrying up so that I could slow down, running to bed so that I could sleep.

Time, as Chuck said, is just a coping mechanism for the overwhelming prospect of existence, a way to compartmentalize reality so that we can manage it even at the expense of enjoying it. I resolved to enjoy my own life on a molecular level, to be so totally present that I'm not really here, outside the box even as I struggle from within. After all, happiness is not a destination arrived at but a manner of traveling.

I guess people like Chuck only have too much to say because people like me don't have time enough to listen. But the next time my friends draw straws to see who gets his car, it will be my pleasure to volunteer.


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