Bob Sh’mal Ellenberg
11319 8th Ave. NE #106
Seattle, Wa. 98125
There was a time in my life when nothing stopped me from being with any woman who was willing to give herself to me. It was gratifying to be self-indulging. Something to do with, “As we have received, so shall we share.” I wanted to be as high on that feeling of giving as well as being on the receiving end. I tried to make it all fair.
I didn’t know I had this quality in me that women would enjoy sharing, but once I let myself out of the bag I had put myself in, I didn’t want to close it again. I knew I wouldn’t go on indefinitely, nothing does, everything changes, but for the time being it was something that drew me into itself, into a world I had never known.
I knew about womanizing, vicariously, earlier in my life, watching other men operate, and felt a lack in myself not being able to make that grade. Some how later in life it came upon me. It felt delicious being with different women.
The kisses, touches, feelings, orgasms, tears, screams, passions all were something that I seemed to have been longing for most of my life. I was careful about the feelings of the women, and always tried to make it clear that I was on an odyssey of experience; wasn’t sure about commitment. It wasn’t easy for some, but I found others who were out for the same. Don’t ask if it was all lust and pleasure seeking. I might have to agree that I was confused with what was love and what was lust, but some thing in me was seeking intimacy. I admit–that the final act was usually something I was longing for; enjoying the passing of time with one or another in order to get into the bedroom and relish what I was seeking.
Is that what they call a rake, womanizer? Don Juan shit? What can I say? I didn’t want to be taking advantage of anyone, and some wanted more of me than I was able to give, and some, less of me than what I wanted of them. I apologize to the former, many times, sorry for coming on so strong with my will for giving and receiving. Some were angry, one laughed, one cried and when I became carried away with one, asking her to marry me, she told me, “I just want to have sex with you.” Acceptance was part of the odyssey.
My fucking had become at art of sorts, at least in my mind, and I was enjoying all the pleasure my body was able to soak up and give up. There was a new sense of self, which claimed me. In addition, I admit, a detachment from my state of mind that didn’t want to look at who and what I had become. Denial, a friend told me, was one of the strongest defense mechanisms.
I finally began to look at what I was doing, realizing I wasn’t bringing into their lives the highest degree of love that I wanted to be giving to others. I also knew deep inside that I didn’t want to hurt anyone; if I was, than I was way off course and needed to straighten out my direction.
It wasn’t easy. Once an action is in motion it is carried on by
itself. I had to take charge of myself and took a look at what I was
doing. I admitted there was a protective guard that didn’t allow me
to look deeply into what I was doing and to those I was doing it to.
All this went on for a few years until an awakening came about. I knew nothing was permanent, my sexual odyssey ended and I was able to move on.
From this amazing high of sexual partying, drinking and some drugging, there was a natural downward spiral into a depression. I knew it was coming. I could feel it over my shoulder looking at me. Maybe it was death, or a guardian angel telling me to get off the merry-go-round, or you will spiral out of control. I was out of control. I didn’t want to let go though until I exhausted what it was in me that needed completion, and at some point I maxed out my life with others and hedonism; there was a saturation.
I also didn’t want to go back to another time I remembered from my youth: that of loneliness. I was much different now, older, experienced, and was able to drop the feeling of loneliness. Many years earlier, I promised myself never to feel that again. What I needed was aloneness. I used women to help me overcome feeling of being lonely, now I wanted something near by, but different. It was like wanting to be with a part of me that was hard to be with, but now I was able to deal with myself in being alone.
I don’t know for sure what I gained from those pleasure seeing, dissipative years, but I was ready to deal with me alone.
It was an experiment with life and I was making myself the subject.
Fortunately, I didn’t have to work since I was blessed with a small inheritance from my father’s brother who didn’t have any children and saw me as his own. This money carried me during the time of my, what should I call it, play therapy. Hedonism, dissipation, words that make me out to be other than who I believe I am, but it is what I was doing, so I faced my faults. Faults: Another word I don’t like in describing myself, but that’s what’s coming out of me so it has some relevance. Were they all faults, me wanting to experience life from a new slant? Was I using the women for my own experimentation in life? I never considered that was what I was doing.
In looking closely at myself, I had to see what was motivating me. I knew what I did with women had gone on forever with humankind and something in my male genetic code programmed me to that experience. Not an excuse, life is here, and we are each a part of the whole.
That’s it. I wanted, needed, to experience different parts of my whole, because that is who I am.
Then I stopped all I was doing. Phone messages came in from some of the women I had dated and loved. To a few, those I felt closer to, I returned their messages, many I just couldn’t. The ones I called back, they heard in my voice I wasn’t the man they remembered so our conversations didn’t go on long. I said little, listened as they told me about their lives. When they asked about me, I was non-committal, evasive, generic, sidestepping direct answers, giving them nothing to hold onto about whom they had known. I was empty. My voice reflected that hollowness. I heard it. They did too, so after two calls, none ever called a third time, most never twice. A couple wanted to know if it was them, if I was seeing someone, why I changed so. The only answer was the true one: I was taking time for myself to find myself.
Introspection became my way: I knew the path of life was riddled with many turns; I had made a wide one, allowing myself to stay in it for as long as I needed. I knew what I was doing wasn’t psychologically healthy, but I was into it, into myself and not having to depend on anyone for anything. I told myself, “the hell with psychology,” it never made any sense to me anyway. I have to follow my way and it has nothing to do with what preceded me into this moment of life. I was living as best I could in the present.
I needed to make a break and a change.
At first I mostly I sat in the park smiling, watching the birds flying in and out of trees, back and forth to nests. The squirrels too. Soon, though I began making popcorn at home filling a small bag and sat feeding the park animals. They’d gather around as if I was their mother, many I began to distinguish as regulars, somehow differentiating one squirrel or bird from another; seeing slight differences in color, size, even expressions. I know it sounds unlikely, but after a while it was obvious to me, some even came and sat on the bench with me. I thought of St. Francis of Assisi.
I didn’t want to be attracting anyone to me, but before long people began to arrive. The popcorn became snack time. Because I looked homeless, other homeless came and sat, offered me sips from bottles out of their pockets that I refused, but didn’t mind sharing the popcorn. I was forced to make more. After while, seeing the interest, or maybe the need in the popped corn, I began to fill a large shopping bag then two bags, knowing that the more I had the more people I’d draw to me. They, the homeless, the birds, the squirrels were without, so it was the least I could do. It took time making so much, filling the shopping bags, but what is life if we don’t follow what is moving us, appreciating that time was a gift given to me.
I didn’t intentionally want to group the humans with the park critters, but in truth, they all were the same to me. A hologram of life blended into this one living organism. I’d sit with the bags as this march of beings came around wanting popcorn. It was this blend of life into one holographic, interbeing picture, not distinguishing anything being separate from anything else. Me included. The animals got to know me as closely as the humans and after while as I walked into the park I could to feel the swarm of life forms coming around me. Ants too. I know it’s a hard to believe, but I sat at the same bench all the time, and as soon as I sat, the ants came around waiting for popcorn droppings. I began to scatter some for them as well.
It became weird beyond what I had anticipated of only giving to the birds and squirrels, but soon my bench would have five, six people squeezed into it, when three or four was comfortable. Some carried over another bench and put it adjacent to the one I used. Soon, another bench and more birds and ants all around us. What had begun as simple act, turned into a park circus. It was likes attracting likes: Jugglers who frequented the park, unicycle riders, a fire eater, clowns, a sword swallower, musicians found the atmosphere a perfect place to display their talents; large bubble makers, all of which attracted mothers and nannies and aunties, with carriages and toddlers who passed close by, stopped to see what was going on, skate boarders, roller bladers. Even when the popcorn was long gone, this section of the park became like a day event. Other vendors cashed in on the new scene in the park: ice cream, Italian ices, balloons, kit flyers, artists doing portraits, pickpockets, panhandlers, drug dealers.
Very few people knew why they were there, except there was this festive happening and they wanted to be part of it.
It didn’t take long for me to realize that it all snowballed out of my control by forces beyond what I understood. I watched, as thousands of ants were squished by people, and soon, the birds and squirrels left when it became more than they wanted.
I soon realized I couldn’t deal with environment I helped create either and after two weeks of the circus atmosphere I stopped going to that area and sat across the park watching the festivities, with only a small bag of popcorn as I had begun. My new bench was behind some bushes–I could observe but not be seen so easily.
I was thankful I didn’t have to work. I was blessed, maybe chosen, knowing that it was a gift, from my uncle, my father, their immigrant parents, from a greater power I didn’t understand, and this gift needed to be handled properly so others would benefit. I tried– popcorn
Neither what I had been doing previously in my life, nor what I was currently doing gave me an answer. The word “balance” kept popping up, like kernels of corn, inside of my thought process. It was undeniable in my mind that an opportunity was given to me to find that balance and do something of meaning.
I didn’t have any answers when these thoughts came to mind and again I began looking for something to climb under or into. Part of me wanted to hide. My reality self knew that was impossible and thankfully, my self-preservation instinct took charge and I never did anything outrageous. The challenge seemed too severe for one who had no claim on doing or being, but going to jail was not an alternative; keeping close to reality was maintained best as possible.
I read an article about a man who went into the underground tunnels in New York City to do a documentary on people living down under and ended living there for a couple of years after he completed his documentary. He found that way of life was liveable. I read about men, women too, living homeless in the woods on the outskirts of communities. I laughed to myself, realizing I even knew many in the park. Many had chosen this way of life because they saw society fucked anyway, and didn’t want to, or know how to be part of it.
Most of us recognize that we need some kind of autonomy in life. To be ourselves–not be shackled by the mundane yoke the world of work puts on us. Most give it up in order to be responsible, acceptable and agreeable, to fit in where we believe we belong. Mostly becoming a conditioned reflex to life.
There were others though, I see them around me all the time, wounded in life from personal traumas or those upon the world. They end up not caring what happens, so they give it up, living as best they can off the streets, out of dumpsters, panhandling, flying a sign, day labor, making it anyway they can without having their lives caught up in humdrum.
Being fortunate as a low-level heir, I was saved from giving up my life entirely to the streets. Being close by, near the edge, flirting with total disregard for anything I knew about a “decent” way of living. However I was living, it is what was happening. I also recognized, I didn’t have to change anything. Life was comfortable. It may not sound like it was, but having lived 50 years in the world, I knew comfort compared to how I saw others.
Sitting on the park bench, away from the small park throng, which had dispersed itself in time, I found very satisfying. Something in me felt akin to the wild free life of the squirrels and birds and yes, the homeless. Sitting and watching, eyes open, but not particularly seeing, but taking in everything without judging, evaluating, assessing; a neutral observer of life was suiting my nature. Is this the way to spend a lifetime? It didn’t have to be lifetime; it was for the now, although the “now,” I understood was all there was. So, this I accepted, surrendered to, it was what I was doing with this moment of eternity.
I considered, that this man, me, was under no obligation to do any more then what was happening in the moment. The bench was comfortable, my clothes were warm as winter approached, my apartment, although more like a cave, was enough, food was plentiful when one, being blessed, had money.
The park was a daily part of my life. With that came the homeless who didn’t take long to find my new bench with the birds and squirrels. I became familiar with a few, although did my best to not get any more friendly then necessary in passing out some popcorn. I also didn’t bring any more than a brown paper sandwich bag, which I folded, put away, to be reused. More than one wanted to know why I wasn’t making more, as I had done previously. Part of me felt I didn’t owe any explanation since it was only my business; another part of me knew some of them didn’t get regular meals and the afternoon snack I provided for those few weeks, until it turned into a happening, was more then welcome. Since some felt I was one of them, at least partially so, looking the part, and for me, actually feeling it, they felt I was being disloyal, not caring, and being stoned or drunk, whatever explanation I gave went no where.
Then one day: “Hey mon,” one outspoken, dreadlocked Jamaican man belittled, “you don’t care about us, feeding the fookin birds and shit, but not people. Who are you mon, what you about? You one of us or not?”
I had already given explanations to others, and was getting irritated at the insistence that I make popcorn for the hungry of the park. I didn’t want to be rude. He heard my explanation earlier in the afternoon, when others sat around asking for popcorn. Now he was standing in front of me, maybe his nerve strengthened by alcohol, wavering back and forth as if he might fall on top of me or backward. I didn’t feel I needed to tell him anything again. I looked away from him. Looked back, “I don’t have any more.”
“Make more mon, you can make more, we poor and hungry,” he raised his voice a couple of octaves, which got the attention of passer-bys, who had their mind distracted from where they were going as happens in the park. To those pushing strollers or walking with toddlers, any little diversion seemed welcome from their day to day life, although, being protective, his raised voice only produced a turned head, as they continued on, stopping a way off to see what was happening. So even his one-line, caught their attention for the potential of a park event.
Two teenagers on skateboards stopped and stood right next to my inquisitor, unabashed, like they were part of the issue.
“Hey man, you’re the dude who gave out the popcorn and started that park party over there,” turning and pointing across the field.
“How come you don’t have the big shopping bag any more? That was pretty cool.”
I was alone, on the bench, expected to relate, looking at the three of them. Did I need to say anything?
“Yeah, mon what’s up with you and that shit. You start a feeding program and then take it away. You like the fookin government.”
A guy without legs, about my age, came by on one of those small boards with rollers under it. He had a long beard, almost to his chest; wore blocks of wood strapped on his knuckles for pushing himself. He stopped alongside the skate boarders, who called him, Slide. “What’s up boys, this old man giving any trouble. I saw him the other day only feeding the squirrels and wondered how come he wasn’t taking care of the hungry people.” His voice was very deep and gravely. I could see scars and stitches where he had surgery on his throat. I quickly wondered if he was a Viet Nam victim, while I was in Canada for ten years. The thought came to me: I could be him if life was different. I felt something sad for him.
Something deep inside of me was feeling compelled to explain myself, another part of me didn’t owe anyone anything. I tried to stand up. The Rastafarian, or whoever he was, put a finger to my chest. “Whoa cuz, we askin something! You too good to talk with us?”
I sat back down. “No man,” I finally answered. I’m tired of this. I just come to the park to feed the birds and squirrels and everyone all of a sudden thinks I’m a feeding program. It ain’t that way.”
“Where’s the big fuckin bag man,” Slide putting in his two?
“That big fuckin bag started that whole fuckin party across the way. That’s not why I came to the park. I told this shit to you people for the past week. What more do ya want to know?” As my words came out I knew I should have been cooler.
Slide jumped right on it. “You people, you people,” his gravely voice was harsh, angry. It didn’t take much to incite some one in the park. “Who you talkin about: you people? Little guys without legs with fucked up voices? You talking about me man?”
I sat looking at them, uncertain why this was happening; what it was going to turn into. Rasta man was six feet, thin, wiry strong, stood still right in front of me with his legs spread. The alcohol smell sprayed out of his mouth when he talked; he was feeling confident with support around him.
“Hey young brother,” he said to one of the white boys holding their skateboards, “let me hold your skateboard, in case I have to whack this sucker in the head.”
Both kids reflexively pulled their boards away just a bit, but Rasta man instinctively reached fast, grabbed one and the kid let go. Rasta held the board in both hands in front of him. Than he began raising it in the air a bit with his right hand, hitting the other large, open palmed hand, with it, like some one does with a bat before they are about to use it on some one’s head.
Damn, I knew I had to do something. Only one thing to do: “Okay, guys, tomorrow I bring the big bag of popcorn. In fact, I’ll bring two big bags.”
Slide scooted a bit closer to my knees. “How we know you gonna do this cuz? You could cut outa here and we never see your sorry ass again. We like the way you make popcorn. How we know you comin back with two bags?”
“I’m telling you. I did it before and I’ll do it again. I liked doing it until it turned into a fuckin circus. That’s when I came over here. Look, this is more out of the way. I didn’t think it’d attract so much attention. I’m a private guy. You know what I mean, I didn’t want a lot of people around me. It got crazy. Too much for me. I got my own problems.” I was talking fast, feeling some panic, fear, uncertain what was going to happen.
“I just wanted to feed the animals and a few people, but it got out of hand. You know what I mean? Look, I’m in the park too. Everyday. I’ll be here tomorrow.” I wanted to stand up, but Slide was still at my knees and Rasta man towering above him and me, still threatening, holding the board.
“Hey,” one of the kids interrupted, “I don’t care one way of the other. Gimme my fucking board back, man. I think he’ll be here tomorrow. Maybe he’ll bring three bags, I don’t give a shit. Hey Scamp, let’s get out of here. This is weird over popcorn.” He reached for the skateboard, but Rasta pulled it back, away from the stretched out hand.
“Whoa, young rollerboard man. You trust this sucker? How come you trust him? Whacha know about this dude?”
“Nothing. I don’t know nothing about him.” There was irritation in the kids voice. “And I don’t give a shit. You guys work it out with him. Give me back my fuckin board, you don’t need it to do what you want to him.”
Rasta man looked at the kid, looked back at me. He looked down at Slide, his only compatriot. “What you think Slide? Should we trust this white sucka to bring us our food tomorrow?”
Slide backed away from me a couple of feet and leaned his head back up at Rasta. “I don’t like this guy, man, didn’t like what he said about me and my people. Give the kid his fuckin board, you and me follow this dude to his crib so we know where to find him if he don’t show up.”
“Hey Slide, you thinking now. Here kid get the fuck outta here. You white and eat good, not like us. We need the popcorn.” Rasta handed the kid his board and the two of them didn’t wait a second before they rolled away, one calling over his shoulder, “asshole.”
Rasta turned back to me: “Okay, man get up and take us to where you stay. If it looks better then the shelter you may have a couple of guests.”
I slowly stood and began to walk. I didn’t say anything. Slide went in front, Rasta and me a little behind. I sort of felt I was being marched, guarded, so that I couldn’t escape.
Popcorn? I kept asking myself: Is this over popcorn? How do things happen this way? Damn, I thought to myself, I’m never going to take them to my apartment. I lived about ten blocks from the park. We had to cross a lot of streets. I knew, or thought I could outrun Rasta, and Slide, well, he was what he was.
The streets were pretty heavy with traffic and I was judging when to make my move; to break across the street just before a long line of cars. I wasn’t sure if Rasta man would go after me alone and leave Slide at the curb, or if Slide would try and scoot across the street after me, which would be stupid. The light in our direction turned red for us to stop. We all stayed close together at the curb, Rasta holding onto my arm. His grip was loose, I guess thinking I wasn’t going to try anything, or the alcohol was taking charge. When I saw a long line of cars, three abreast, coming down the street, I pulled my arm away from Rasta, and bolted across the street. Some of the cars were pretty close and had to stop short. I didn’t look back right away to see what happened, but I heard the scream then crashing of cars. When I was across the street, still running I turned my head and saw Slide’s paddle board skidding down the street. I kept on running.
I jogged most of the way home, looking over my shoulder at each corner. When I got into my apartment I slumped into a stuffed chair and slowed my breathing, exhausted and dumbfounded. All I could think about was what might have happened to Slide. Damn, it was my fault. It didn’t seem to fit: Like Buddha, not wanting to hurt anyone, my actions, or non-action, may have killed Slide. I thought if I had kept bringing the popcorn, none of this would have occurred. Or, if I stayed going out with women, but no, I knew I needed something else. But not this. I wondered if I was selfish in stopping the feeding program, retreating from the happening around the benches where it all started giving out the snacks. I thought how I didn’t want any of that anyway; just feeding my pets; now confused, tired, scared and unsure what would be next. I said some prayers for Slide for Rasta man too: what the hell. I had to move out of the neighborhood, maybe out of the city, reconsider what I was about, up to, and what I should do with my life. Finally sleep took over.
Waking up my immediate thought was Slide; right away I again said a prayer out loud for him, apologizing for what I had done, knowing it wasn’t all on me. It was his energy and mine, Rasta too, popcorn, the bench, the park, all of it, coming together at that moment in that place may have done him in. A karma thing. He didn’t have to get into it with me. Popcorn? He was killed over popcorn. Maybe he wasn’t killed. I didn’t understand life or what makes thing happen the way they do. I knew God was playing this out as with everything. Everything happens for a reason. Maybe for him it was his time, and for me, maybe there was a message behind all this. I had to look and seek.
I knew I had time. No one from the park knew where I lived, but I resolved that the next day I’d take my pack and move out. I’d cut and shave my beard, cut my hair, get some clean clothes. I didn’t want to go back to what I had been doing with myself, but something in me knew that I was only playing another role in life that still wasn’t who I was. I was irritated at myself for being myself and unable to fit in like a normal man. I thought of the businessmen all over New York City with their dark, pressed, suits wearing ties that were to me like a hanging noose. I thought about being raised to be that; what was it in me that rebelled against that way. I argued with myself about why I couldn’t just give into that and not have this life long pursuit of needing to know. It was conflictual. All life was a conflict, but within that, I knew, I knew, something was deeper, meaningful. Something in me wanted to find out what that was.
I decided I’d take a bus to Santa Fe New Mexico. I always loved the pictures of that part of the country. There was something about the mountains, desert, high altitude, long views, adobe houses, that fascinated me, but I was never close to anything place like that. I wanted to find something out about me and that environment seemed a perfect place. I heard about the mountains there and mysterious mystical forces at work. I wondered if they would be any different than giving out popcorn in the park.