For some reason this story has popped up for me about six or seven times in the last few months. It has a small relevancy to my daily life in Buddhist training and it’s just a good story, I’ve got lots of them, some of them a bit Truer than others but all of them true.
So, back in the mid-70’s I was standing on the sidewalk in front of a North Beach bar in San Francisco (The Columbus Cafe on Green Street), with three other guys because we were outside to have little more privacy in our conversation.
I was in my late twenties, two of the guys were in their forties and one in his 60’s. The guy in his sixties was named Johnny Fazano, he had been a boxer in the 1930’s and early 40’s and had about 80 Pro fights, and who knows how many “smokers” he may have boxed in. Smokers, are fights that can take place in a hotel room, a basement, some small arena in the country, or any place with room and no Professional sanctioning, usually for a purse that’s determined by how many guys are in the various fights and how much was put up by various backers for an array of cash prizes.
(Dean Martin was a boxer in his youth and made money boxing in smokers, before his singing career was being formed, he was the only real tough guy in the “Rat-pack”. I digress.)
Johnny was a feisty, angry, old school tough-guy who spent many hours in that bar and played a lot of cards at the back table, often arguing with somebody about something. Interestingly, in that bar there was another guy named Johnny Fazano, same name different part of Italy, who was the exact opposite in demeanor and behavior from this one. What are the odds? Super low that’s what!
Anyway, there’s the four of us out front, maybe 11:00 a.m., and a woman walks past us coming from Grant St. heading towards Columbus Ave. and she’s one of those people that you see maybe a dozen times in your life or the movies, she was stunningly beautiful in dress, carriage and looks. My head turned as she walked by and followed her path and my little Yearning Dream Engine was in high rpm’s.
Johnny Fazano’s raspy voice (He’d been punched in the throat many times in his boxing career and later too), came to my ear as he said, “Somewhere there’s a guy that’s tired of her!”, mildly caustic but not demeaning and I thought; Impossible!!
Here was a neighborhood guy talking to a No-show-Longshoreman who carried a .45, and the best thief/pick-pocket/bartender in North Beach, and me; Sharing some insight into several of the basic teachings of the Buddha and the Street. Everything changes.
My lifestyle/attitude in those days precluded my living as a Buddhist, but like everybody in North Beach I had read enough noise about Buddhism to be attracted to it, you know like a standard bar-stool intellectual. (Little did I know then, like now).
Johnny, in those days was spending time with a famous San Francisco personality who had made a name for herself in Roller Derby on a national level and he was for sure someone who had been around the block many times. It was actually a kindness this guy was doing when he made that observation. He was putting out some good basic observation/teaching about life and how to look at it in a bigger picture way, and that maybe one could actually suffer less by thinking things through, on the spot; not afterwards.
He of course, had many ways of increasing his own suffering and that of others through all the aspects of his anger and in some areas he obviously had some insight; whether he actually applied those insights to himself, was I presume, probably on a case-by-case basis, and it was a good teaching. I thought; “What the hell would you know about it, old man?”
Now that I’m older than Johnny was then, it’s fair for me to ask myself if I’ve learned anything from all the good teaching I got on the streets and later in the Sangha.
I’m certain I have and yet I still harbor a lot of the younger ‘me’ and apply what I’ve learned on a case-by-case basis, and that’s a sort of wisdom since all situations vary.
I still have unrequited yearnings arise, but I see the pattern and have a place for them. I still think, “what the hell do you know about it?” way too often and I occasionally wish there were some elegant way out of standing on the street, shooting the breeze and wishing I were “elsewhere”. Or, at least, There!
My ideas about this and
That are based on them,
Those, this and why and
When. Also how, should
Gonna and wish. I would,
Could, and then, I see;
Oh, yeah! A dream also
Forgetting. Now, I
Remember! It is never
Too late or too soon.
It just is as It is.