First, here’s what happened.
Zero Defex, the hardcore punk band in which I play bass, is playing a show tonight (Friday May 18th) in Akron, Ohio as a benefit for our friend Logan Firestone who is dealing with stage four esophageal cancer. I went to high school with Logan and later on shared a decrepit punk rock house with him.
On Monday, I reserved a car at the only car rental place within walking distance of my house, the Enterprise Rent-a-Car at 510 N. Front St. near Philadelphia’s Spring Garden elevated train station. I arrived on Thursday morning a little after 9 am, which was about an hour and a half later than my intended departure time. It took me a lot longer to get packed than I thought it would. When I got there I wasn’t in the best mood I’ve ever been in. I don’t really like driving and I was looking at around seven or eight hours of it, and I was late.
I handed my credit card over to the guy behind the counter. He tried swiping it a number of times but it kept not working. After maybe the fifth time through I looked at the ground, shook my head and muttered under my breath, “Jesus fucking Christ.” The guy at the counter angrily slid my credit card and driver’s license across to me and said that he wouldn’t rent a car to someone who swore.
My first thought was, “You heard that?” I barely even vocalized it. It must’ve sounded like “jzisfgguncrise.” My second thought was, “What the fuck? Is this really happening?” I apologized to the guy. Which in retrospect is bizarre in itself. But whatever.
I told him I really needed to rent this car. Rather than go through the entire explanation of what I was doing I told him I was going to a funeral. He half-assedly ran the card through a couple more times but said it still wouldn’t work and handed them over again with no apology.
I made a mad dash back home to try to look up ways to get to Akron. I was now close to two hours behind schedule and had no idea what I was going to do. The first three places I called about renting cars said they were sold out. There was an Amtrack train getting into Cleveland at three in the morning. There was a bus to Pittsburgh.
But my plans didn’t include someone getting me from Cleveland or Pittsburgh, or finding someone to cart me around to the various other things I had to do that weekend. And how was I going to get a bass, amplifier and a box full of books along with my suitcase on an Amtrack train or a bus?
I knew the moment the Enterprise employee refused to rent me the car that it was going to be a desperate rush to get any kind of contingency plan going. The guy behind the counter knew that too. He knew exactly what he was doing to me by refusing to rent me that car. He knew he was making a whole lot of trouble for me. He did so deliberately. He did so, I can only assume, because I had insulted his religion.
Eventually I found a Budget Rent-a-Car location that still had cars available. They also had trouble getting my card to swipe. You know what they did about that? They typed the numbers into their computer. Just like everyone does when that happens. Heck, I’ve even been to places where they’ve written the numbers down on paper because the computer was busted. It can be done. Primitive man did it this way for millions of years. I remember. I was there.
I finally got on the road around 1pm, now nearly six hours behind schedule. The time I had wasted was critical to the band being able to get in a decent rehearsal before the gig. As it was, I sped through the rain and made it in time for us to be able to get through our set once. But that was all we were able to do.
When I posted a two-sentence version of this story on Facebook a couple of people opined that I might have made the man feel threatened or created a hostile working environment. Maybe if I’d yelled that at him. But no. I muttered it just the way Popeye mutters stuff in the old black and white cartoons.
Anyone in Northern Philadelphia in the Year of Our Lord 2014 who is too sensitive to hear someone mumble, “jzisfgguncrise” probably should not have a job working with the public. If Enterprise Rent-a-Car has a policy against renting to people who insult Jesus, that is a big problem.
I don’t agree with everything Richard Dawkins says. But in one area we are entirely in accord. Neither of us has any sympathy at all for people who get butt-hurt when someone insults their religion. Insulting someone’s religion is on precisely the same level as someone saying to a Star Trek geek that Star Wars is better, or someone telling a Godzilla fanatic that he really liked the 1998 American Godzilla movie. Get over it.
The big difference, of course, is that Star Trek geeks and Godzilla fanatics won’t kill you if you insult their fictional time wasters.
But let’s move on to the other question – Should a Zen Master mutter “Jesus f***ing Christ?”
First off, get that word “Zen Master” out of your mind. I’ve only ever used the term ironically. Technically I am as much a “Zen Master” as all those guys out there in fancy robes introducing themselves as Zen Master Whatever and I like to point out that it’s just as ridiculous to call them “Zen Masters” as to apply that term to someone like me.
Shouldn’t a Zen person be eternally serene, and unperturbed? Surely the Dalai Lama would never say “Jesus f***ing Christ” at an Enterprise Rent-a-Car place.
No. He wouldn’t. Because he would never even be in an Enterprise Rent-a-Car place. He’d have a limo to take him where he needed to go and a bunch of Secret Service guys to make sure nobody gave him a hard time.
Deepak Chopra recently spent a little time with some Buddhist monks in a monastery and was impressed by how serene they were. But Buddhist monasteries are set up for serenity. They are designed to create an environment that is protected from the usual day to day troubles we all have to deal with. The monks’ needs are all taken care of so that they can devote themselves to deep inquiry without distraction. I’m pretty damn serene when I’m at Tassajara too. Put those same monks in a big time crunch in an Enterprise Rent-a-Car place with a born-again Christian who wants to give them a hard time and see what happens to all that serenity.
Maybe it would’ve looked better if I’d just been all like, “We are just one consciousness inhabiting different bodies. Even if I don’t make it to the benefit in this physical form, I will still be there as part of the eternal consciousness of the universe.” But actually, a lot of people were counting on me to be at this thing. I’d already spent a couple hundred dollars on it even apart from the car rental. This was not the sort of thing one can simply snap one’s fingers at and go, “Aw darn.” It was an important thing.
I’ve written in a few of my books and a bunch of these blog postings that I came to Buddhism in a large part to deal with how angry of a person I was. My default emotion was rage. I spent most of my days just being pissed off at everything. People who know me now seem to assume I’m exaggerating all this. But I’m not. I used to have big dents in my car’s dashboard from pounding on it. My closet doors never lasted long because I slammed them so much.
I don’t slam closets anymore or pound on dashboards. I rarely yell at anyone. Things have improved markedly. But you never really get away from who you are.
There’s a new book out about how meditation made a newscaster “10 percent better” in his estimation. I’ve been at it a lot longer that him and I’d say it’s made things 80 or even 90 percent better. I would’ve done a lot more than just mumble and apologize back in the day. I don’t believe 100% is attainable. But I’ve started to understand that we really wouldn’t want to be 100% better because that would take all the fun out of life.
As for Enterprise Rent-a-Car, I’m going to rent from Budget from now on.
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I need a benefit to help pay my way to go to this benefit! Your donations to this blog really help! They’re my main source of income these days. THANK YOU for your support!
On May 21, 2014 at 6:30pm, Brad Warner’s Hardcore Zen will be shown at Drexel University in Philadelphia! I will be there the do a Q&A afterwards.
Sometimes a movie is made to tour.
Are you interested in seeing HARDCORE ZEN with your local community? Would you like Brad Warner to speak at your university, meditation group, or personal guests?
Now you can have both. The film will screen at a location at your discretion. Simply contact firstname.lastname@example.org with the following specifics: your location, contact info, and potential date for the event.