- an archival site on the life and world of Shunryu Suzuki and those who knew him and anything else DC feels like - originally a site for Crooked Cucumber: the Life and Zen Teaching of Shunryu Suzuki

| what was new | table of contents | Shunryu Suzuki Index |

Others main page

Others Write or Draw or Contribute something
Somewhere Between Prophet and Drunk

by Mark Blacknell

Mark Blackwell studies Zen with Peter Coyote. He lives in Florida.


Its been thirty four days since my last binge. Even if the case is dropped, six months of VA outpatient substance abuse treatment is what I signed up for. Sobriety dates and group therapy. Counseling and piss tests. As if 2020 wasn't bad enough.

When my early retirement came through last May, a co-worker said I had the world by the balls. I'm not superstitious but maybe that's why the world beat the living shit out of me.

It hurts to see. If not onshore, I'd swear I was crammed into an amtrack about to be crapped out of the back of a moving LST troop carrier. Every Marine's worst nightmare. Navy sardine cans.

I'll try the toilet again and hope something comes out. The sickness has no compassion. Why should I? Gratitude for life? Forget about it. Debilitating nausea and headache can't be appreciated.
Withdrawal? Stress migraine? The VA leaves me guessing. Some bureaucrat named Sharishka just hung up on me after keeping me on hold for half an hour. I accept it. It's my karma or whatever you want to call it.

Child services visited yesterday. A humiliating experience for a guy who thought he was a decent father. The social worker was more focused on the ocean view from the living room than my ability to parent. She said I was a good person that admits his mistakes and therefore the matter would be closed as soon as her supervisor signed off. My Israeli ex isn't so forgiving. I miss the kids.

I've been waiting a month for an orthopedic referral. My arm's broken. Well the private doctor from the clinic says it's broken. Coronoid process fracture. The VA says it's not. The piece of bone that was hanging on to my elbow broke off and didn't show up on the VA x-ray. They can't access the x-rays from the clinic. It never occurred to them that the hole in my elbow used to be bone. It doesn't hurt that bad. Not nearly as bad as the sickness. Whatever it is. And not nearly as bad as two nights in county lock up.

One of Pinnelas County's finest roughed me up. I don't remember the face but the name on the arrest report is Officer Gibson. I got drunk and fell asleep in the hallway of the Hilton. Gibson woke me up and allegedly I attacked him. I find it hard to believe but then again, it doesn't matter. My practice is about taking responsibility.

I gained consciousness chained to the wall. Buck naked and panicked, I thought, "Where are the kids?" Then, out of nowhere, a wave of clarity rushed over me. I assumed the posture (minus the cosmic mudra) and counted my breaths to ten. Noticing that I was up and calm, the beer-bellied hacks unchained my arm, put me in a fluorescent onesie and marched me out in front of the judge. "You are charged with felony battery of a law enforcement officer." My nervous giggle took the judge off guard so she scribbled a note to the prosecutor on my paperwork. "Disabled vet thinks this is funny."  

My jailhouse lawyer, Mr. Ford, who was in for slinging crack and slapping his old lady, assured me, "Ain't no way you're doing a stint during COVID without a prior." After he walked me through the bond process, I deposited $500 into his commissary account. I know he's a wife beater but without him I'd still be sitting there. He says he's going to fly straight and pay back the bond money. He claims the good lord sent me. I hope so but doubt it.

My counsel Maria the Greek who costs a lot more than Mr. Ford, agrees with him. She thinks the state will drop the charges or at least allow me into what they call pre-trial intervention; a year long sobriety test. The Greek came highly recommended by a lawyer friend of mine who's a Buddhist like me. Both lawyers say it's obvious that the alleged crime is out of character. I doubt they'd say that if I didn't look and sound a lot like them.

Peter Coyote emailed a support letter to the Greek. She was impressed. Peter's as real as any bull-shitting Zen priest can be. At a student-teacher meeting two Sunday's before I got pinched, Peter called me out on my drinking. I thought he was just having a bad day. Zen's a lot like the Marines. Sometimes you need to follow orders you don't like. Lose your discipline at the wrong time and pay the price, hopefully not with your life.

Everyone in my sangha tells me it's a gift to hit rock bottom. They aint looking at five years hard time but still, I appreciate the sentiment. I spent two and a half years studying Allan Watts and Suzuki Roshi before I even knew what a sangha was so, I'm damn glad to be part of one now. How many people like me did that odd pair turn on to Zen? Watts often gets a raw deal while Suzuki is the closest thing we Soto Americanos have to a prophet. The old "crooked cucumber" David Chadwick says Suzuki Roshi considered Alan Watts a "great bodhisattva" despite his shortcomings. To me, that's what Zen is all about.

I sense Buddha is somewhere between prophet and drunk.

When I consider my problem in those terms, I realize Officer Gibson didn't kick my ass and lock me up. A whole universe of sentient beings kicked my ass and locked me up. We all came to consciousness chained to the wall together. Lucky for you, only I was really there.