Saturday, April 23, 2011

Renunciation

It helps that I live by a cemetery and that my parents were always so cheap. The idea of being obsessed by objects and things isn't that strong in me. Even as a child when my parents asked if I wanted the latest Cabbage Patch Doll or the new sneakers, I would shrug. I didn't really care. I don't mind having nice things and, in fact, it can feel comforting. But I hold no opinion of a person who has nice stuff or status symbols of attaining property. I think this is why a lot of rap music these days feels so hollow to me: talking about 'stuff' is as interesting as talking about armpit hair.

It was to my great surprise when an older friend invited up to her mansion a few weeks ago. I figured I would use the few days up there to finish up a play and relax outside of New York. When I arrived there was money on the table and an empty house. I was told to make myself at home. I munched on some berries and decided to make an omelet. In my home we clean up after ourselves, so I promptly washed the pan and dish after eating a salsa omelet. I read a little bit and looked around in the kitchen and living room. In a lounge chair by the window was a huge pile of men's clothes. I was told to try them on, take whatever I could wear. I picked up a few of the shirts by the fistful and began looking at the sizes. Most were too small and then I noticed the name brands. Burberry, Versace, and other European designer clothes. I tried on a few and separated the can's from the can't-wears. Then I tried on the shoes, almost all of which didn't fit.

Still confused as to what was going on, I waited. And waited some more. I looked out on the backyard and the rolling river. I took a step outside onto the deck. When my friend finally arrived she drove into the garage blasting music on her stereo. She swept into the house calling my name and I greeted her with hugs and kisses. She took me around to the pile and told me to pick out what I could wear and I could have it. Stunned, I thanked her and then she showed me the Burberry scarves and other items that I could have and I was informed of a new plan: I was to help her. She needed help auctioning clothes and then was interested in starting up a media company. Slightly wary of what was going on, I asked for details and was filled in on her moving, needing to sell these designer goods, and having too much stuff for one person. She threw name brands and labels at me like an auction barker; most of the names I didn't recognize or even care about but it was nice to be informed. The important thing was that my help was needed.

Now I'm not a great Buddhist scholar or practitioner. I wish I could say I was above the reproach of corruption, but I'm not. I can be corrupted like anyone else. But clothes don't do it for me. Never have, never will. When I back in Miami I shop thrift and cheap and I'm quite happy to do so. I'm writing currently in white shorts and a cheap green shirt all purchased from Wal-Mart.

Then she said I could have a percentage of the profits from selling the clothes and the numbers began running in my head. I'm trying desperately to fund raise for not-for-profit organizations and helping sell high-end clothes could generate revenue to help a lot of suffering. I'm in.

I began making phone calls, getting a feel for consignment shops, selling online. I called and emailed friends furiously and got up to speed in an hour thanks to research. This felt good. I was doing something for a cause and to help others. My friend kept giving me clothes and showing me around to different parts of this giant cavernous house. I became aware of how lonely it must be to live in a house this large with all this stuff in it. Trunks of designer accessories, clothes. The aspect of showing seemed important to her, after all she spent the money to show it to people. The least I could do was feign interest in female clothes and sports paraphernalia. I nodded and said 'wow' a lot and tried to ask the right questions and give compliments because I figured that's what you do when someone is showing off.

The next day I informed my friend that I would have to leave by the end of the night. I had no underwear or socks. I had only planned on spending a day or two there. She went out and bought me designer underwear socks. This would give me an extra day or two to work on this project. Additionally I began ringing up contacts in the field of entertainment to make connections and weave this all together, according to her request. And then I was corrupted.

Compliments and big name. That is my corruption point. She mentioned how great these media projects were going to be, how many people we were going to reach. I tried to stay in the present moment but found my mind drifted slowly off into grandeur. I would pull it back in and then the compliments would come showering down on me: I was such a great writer. And off my mind went to a future of power and producing projects that I cared about. There were slightly concerning and unusual signs of behavior from her but I was slightly intoxicated by the compliments. I could excuse the plants being removed from pots and dumped on the floor in random areas, the paranoia she conveyed of people stealing from her, the disheveled look of the house, the disappearances during the few days I was there to meet in DC with important people.

One night I was up trying to get some writing done and I walked to my guest room to wash my face. I heard footsteps and then a note was slipped under my door. I picked it and read that she had an emergency meeting in DC and was leaving ASAP. It was 2 am in the morning. Calmly I opened the door and called out her name. I asked about the note and she assured me that she would be back in the afternoon but she had to run off to DC. She handed me a wad of cash to get a cab ride to the mall tomorrow and buy some designer glasses for myself. To a normal person, this might seem odd. But I was, once again, living in an intoxicated state. I was an important part of her team and making moves with her. I was being entrusted with the mansion, the cars, the everything. I was important.

The next morning I woke up to the empty house, meditated, made phone calls, and got a cab to the mall. I paid the driver an enormous tip and went to the eyeglass store and picked out the finest designer glasses money could buy. I had my prescription fitted and then I had time to kill. The mall and its mountain of designer 'stuff' felt oppressive and down right depressing. I walked outside and made my way down a side street. My instinct lead me to a glorious red church. I stood there and took out some of my Buddhist literature. I did a vow, looked around, and was just happy to be in the open air by myself. The cab driver pulled up and I got back inside. We talked about the church's beauty and I confessed that I didn't know this area, church architecture or even how to drive a stick shift. He filled me in on everything. I asked if he could pull into a bank because I had also been given some checks to deposit for my personal use.

After depositing the checks I made my way back to the mansion, feeling pretty good. Lunch was made and meetings were set for the auction site and for the media projects. My friend arrived and said she was exhausted. Unfortunately the media person was already there. They engaged in an hour long conversation and she retired to bed. But before doing so, she handed me several more hundred in cash to go have dinner with the media producer. We hopped in a cab and choose Thai. My friend picked the finest steak and ordered a bottle of wine for himself. I stuck to salad, and a few veggie options, sans the wine

The next day it was more of the same and the web designer stopped by. More money was handed out and we dined at a fine French restaurant. I came back home and ordered a ticket to come back to Miami for my mom's surgery. I normally don't sleep the night before flying so I was wandering around at 3am and my friend asked me if I needed a ride back into the city. A cabbie was coming but she offered to drive me in herself in an hour. This would beat the traffic and I could wash all my dirty clothes. Deal. I showered, changed, packed the items she had set aside for me and hopped in the backseat of her Mercedes with my stuff in a box.

She drove me back into the city and I thanked her profusely. I was already planning on gift baskets and thank you notes galore. A few hours later it all changed. I was washing my clothes and I got an email asking where certain clothes were. These were items that she had given me and saw me put in the backseat of her car. And then it all hit me: the strange behavior, paranoia, memory loss, excessive giving. This was her standard method. That's why all of her friends -according to her- had stolen from her. Panicking, I immediately tried calling repeatedly. No answer, and straight to voice mail. I texted her and emailed her. No response. I took the items in question and shoved them in a bag. I frantically ran to the local UPS store and asked them ship these clothes overnight, express ASAP back to my friend's place. Nightmares of cops knocking on my door began to play out in my head.

The UPS service said they would be there by tomorrow. I could breathe again and sat at a computer and wrote her a long email. Of course it must have been my 'misunderstanding.' Yes, the clothes being shoveling at me for several days must have been a 'misinterpretation.' But I took the blame and tried to think of the karmic causes for such an odd ripening: to be given and then to be accused.

I didn't hear any word from my friend for a week. I flew back that day and my mom had surgery on Monday. Afterward I was pretty much consumed with taking care of her and my Dad, while paying bills and keeping the house in order.

A week later I call my friend's daughter and she sounds surprised to hear me. I just sent out a beautiful gift basket to my friend and was just following up. She's a bit stunned and asks if I get the email? No, what email. She forwards them to me and my jaw drops. In the email my friend accuses me of stealing from her: clothes, accessories, sports memorabilia, furs, antiques, even food. She listed things I had never heard of or seen including antique Bibles and 14th century figurines as missing and it was all because of me. I was also accused of having sex with men, whom I brought into the house, and even having sex in front of her. I also impersonated one of her relatives and gallivanted around town running up a tab in her 'good name.'

If you have ever been accused of something you never did, then you might know how I feel. Now multiply that by a billion and you begin to get a sense of how absurd and far-out these claims sounded. Her daughter informed me that her mother had psychological issues and this is par for the course. She never presses charges, but she just invites people in, showers them with gifts, and then accuses the same person of stealing from her.

In her emails I was a degenerate theft right out of a Jean Genet novel. A manipulative con man of unparalleled rank. Money, clothes, lingerie/underwear had all gone missing in my short stay there. I was from "Six Degrees" and her sentences were punctuated by multiple exclamation marks like an enraged high school girl. Her emails ended with her denouncing me but vowing to rise above it all. She would, according to her, soon be a star on youtube, seen around the world. She was too fabulous to be kept down by me or anyone else.

In a follow-up email to her friends she then said that I couldn't get enough of her and was emailing her constantly after she had already told me to stop. The only emails I had sent in the last week was a personal thank you note, a business reminder about the website, and an update of my mom's condition pre- and post-surgery condition that I blasted out to my friends. Quickly I removed her from my list of contacts and began sulking. How stupid, to have trusted! How stupid, to have believed! How could I have not seen the signs? They were everywhere. The woman was clearly out of her mind and I called her a friend (a distant one, but still) for years. I felt so low and foolish.

And then grace returned. I meditated on it and the meanings. Perhaps I should have asked, but I am learning. I emailed if any of the stuff should be returned and didn't get a reply. I've asked around and now I don't know what to do, so I've taken matters into the hands of the needy. Most of the money I have given away to charity. I am finding a way to auction off the clothes so they can go toward the hungry and others who need help. I am trying to turn this around into a way to help others.

We'll see how it all works out. I'm surrendering to the renunciation of these things. These items that so many people value, fight over, make false accusations, these silly little trinkets that mean nothing to me. I can use these trinkets to help others.

In some ways this experience deepened my faith in renunciation Imagine if I had really cared about these clothes or my name. My friend said I could file a libel suit against her and win a lot of money. But I don't care. The experience is one that ranks as the most bizarre thing to happen to me in the last several years. Live and learn.

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