San Francisco Stories

Tassajara Stories

11-14-14 - Halpern at the Door - Sometimes it seemed as if how long a person stayed was in inverse proportion to how determined they were when they arrived.

Back in 70 I was visiting the City Center from Tassajara and was hanging out in the entranceway with Bob Halpern who'd been given the task of greeter, a role that didn't exist before or after his stint. I enjoyed watching him relate to those who came to knock on the door. Sometimes I'd marvel at his ability to make someone feel welcome and others I'd cringe at the way he'd toy with people's assumptions. One memory in particular sticks in mind. The doorbell rang. I answered it. A guy with a backpack and beard. "How can I help you," said Bob matter of factly from his chair behind a dark wood table.

The young man stood erect with his heavy back pack still on. He spoke with serious precision and resolve. "I left MIT shortly before finishing work on a PhD in astro-physics. I have hitchhiked from Big Sur where I've been camping for three months in the wilderness, living off the land, contemplating the course my life should take. Now I have arrived at this temple to end my wandering and devote my life to the study and practice of Zen."

Bob looked a him blankly. He tilted his head. "Oh yeah?" he uttered. An empty pause. Then Bob's mouth slowly opened, top iip going one way, bottom one other, his head went back, tongue protruded, slobber dripped out. He started moaning and shaking, gurgling, grunting, head wobbling. His eyes rolled. His arms began making spastic motions. He fell to one side, the chair overturned to the other. He lay on the floor vibrating violently, wild bug eyes open, writhing, flopping about with unintelligible movie monster sounds and frightening jerks. I took the arm of the poor perplexed guy and walked him down the hall. Loring came up the stairs. I asked him to please take our visitor to the courtyard and speak with him. Loring was a sympathetic listener. I went back to find Bob sitting at his desk looking at the morning paper as if nothing had happened. I took the section with the funnies and bridge column and sat in the chair next to him. Never saw that guy again.