This Is All I Need
A Brief Meditation on Desire and Death
For whatever reasons, I don’t have a bucket list of places to go or a list of stuff I want to buy or goals I need to achieve before I die. Perhaps I never did. I mostly always just did the next obvious thing, said “yes” at the right times and followed my gut. That tactic worked out once in awhile, along with the predictable epic fails.
I certainly have my lusts and passions–writing down ruminations like this being one of them–along with music, food, good stories, words and staying close to the people I love.
I don’t crave a motorbike or a jet ski or a natty suit of clothes from Dolce and Gabbana or new climbing gear or a drone. I have clothes to last a couple lifetimes and shelves of books to keep me company, skis, a hot Roubaix road bike and a Stratocaster. I may need to replace my zafu sooner or later, but when it comes to silverware, cookware, tools, toys and shoes, I’m good. I give away things often, knowing I soon won’t need them.
I do not secretly lust to sleep with any movie stars, living or dead, male or female.
But I admit to clinging to opinions and ideas like a dope-addled junkie. An old habit I’m working on. It’s endless. I’m an opinion and idea machine, like a loud radio next door you can’t turn off.
I know that as good citizens in a consumerist society, we are judged by our possessions and we’re expected to crave and acquire more things and to feel empty when we stop consuming them. Too much is never enough, just like cocaine.
And then I compound being a lousy consumer with my blatant hypocrisy. I spent my adult career helping folks to get more stuff, earning a living encouraging the philosophy of more is never enough. “Can we call Rocket and get just one more quarter ounce?”
Accumulating and showcasing our experiences and living an “adventurous life” have also risen to a competitive level in recent decades, a new type of possession reflected in polling of younger folks. I have worked in a milieu where “what did you do this weekend” or “what’s your next big trip” have taken the place of the bigger house, newer car or club memberships of the fifties. And of course we need new tools and toys to take on those adventures. This is a closed loop, perpetual motion system.
Sure, I would love to go to Dublin and Cork and Galway with the O’Keeffe kids, hang out in a pub named O’Keeffe’s and play guitar and learn to sing sea shanties, but it’ll be okay if we never get there. Instead, we can hang out here, listen to Flogging Molly, the Clancy Brothers and Dolores O’Riordan and eat steamed cabbage and boxty and drink Tullamore Dew. Kyoto would be wonderful too. I just might not return. I could sit in Elliott Bay Books or the defunct Cody’s in Berkeley or Chatterton’s in Los Feliz for an entire afternoon, reading, sipping coffee and watching it rain through the windows. Maybe that’s a bucket list item. Disappearing into Mexico has romantic appeal, like Carlos Fuentes’s Ambrose Bierce character in Gringo Viejo who set out on a final, quixotic hegira to right old wrongs alongside Pancho Villa, if there were a modern Villa correlate.
I’d like to get the Korg electric piano fixed, but my guitars will last two lifetimes and keep me engaged for now. My friend Lisa and I plan to work up some tunes together and perhaps sing and play them one day, if only for our spouses or guests taking a nap, or in a cemetery.
I love the house Sandy made for us, and frankly, never really want to leave, but out of practicality, we’ll need to move soon, leverage equity and get onto a single floor where shoveling frozen water is not a thing and Spanish is; where brittle knees don’t have to climb stairs and Über will come get us, versus a driver asking “Where is that? No, man, we don’t go there”, but the wine guy and the taqueria do deliver.
We’re doing our best caring for our two fifteen-year-old cars, hoping for a long life for both of them. I don’t crave a new one nor do I believe one would complete my self-image or put me in the driver’s seat or make me younger, more virile, brimming with testosterone.
To confess to you, I do have a recurring vision of dying alone in a dark room with mahogany Venetian blinds, a fan lazily turning above, in Tangier or Shanghai or Aix-en-Provence. This is surely another closeted bucket list thing. No idea why this is other than having read Paul Bowles, Graham Greene, Peter Hessler and Simon Winchester.
A fraud, I appear to be. I actually am wracked with needy desires. A Super Craver.
But, I just had a delicious guilty pleasure; one I am electing to fully indulge here, with your patience, guilt-free. A hearty craving is tasty, like eating all the ice cream. I’ll wallow in this for my greedy pleasure and share it with you if you’d like to come along.
I really, really would love to have a thousand-square-foot home office. Or bigger. I am trying to be reasonable here. A separate building, in fact, would be so amazing. My own personal bunker, surrounded by xeriscaped gardens.
When I was a kid, I did amateur architectural drawing. Views and reliefs and exact floor plans. I seem to recall electing a drafting class in 7th grade. I had an amateur drafting board and special papers and pencils, erasers and sharpeners (“You don’t want to sharpen THAT in a desk-mounted grinder now, do you?”). Neat drafting triangles and T-squares. I drew fantastical homes, under water lairs, subterranean hideouts, or like the home up I-70 Woody Allen used in Sleeper. So I can see this office, vividly:
It’s got twenty-foot ceilings with huge windows up above twelve feet, design-wise a blend of Southern California Spanish/Moroccan and territorial adobe influences. Beamed ceilings. A mammoth ceiling fan made of some tropical tree’s leaves. A hardwood floor, red oak perhaps, with Persian rugs here and there. The space is flooded with light as there are no curtains. The room faces south through floor to ceiling windows. The roof extends such that it shades me from the higher summer sun but allows in the low-angled winter sun to warm the place up. There’s a small woodstove. Maybe we’re on a steep hill in the northern San Francisco Bay, looking south to Alcatraz or up above Santa Fe looking down the Rio Grande Valley toward Albuquerque, or in Hope Ranch with an ocean view (the coastline in Santa Barbara runs east-west.) Window trim, door trim and wainscoting are a blond ash or light pine.
The space is a rectangle, 22.4 by 44.8 feet. I considered square and round shapes, but the Pythagorean possibilities multiply using two squares that form a rectangle. The full wall of windows is on a short side.
Two walls are saved for bookshelves, from the foot-high baseboard up to eleven feet, with thousands of books and all my tchotchkes. Book sections are labeled and alphabetized: Fiction, Social, Political, History, Zen, Poetry, Biography, etc. We’ll need two rolling library ladders. The fourth wall is reserved for art. I’ll rotate the framed art regularly. I’ll need a tidy storage cubby for art-in-waiting. I want a library-style map device, perhaps a dozen panels mounted to a wall frame with piano hinges, 3’x4’, with a map on each side. Twenty-four maps, including:
- The southwest US between the pre-Spanish era and the Anglo invasion.
- Modern China.
- China in 800 CE.
- A Manhattan street map.
- A USGS map for our exact location.
- A map of London, 1600’s.
- Hong Kong.
- The modern US, west of the 105th meridian.
- Japan with Zen temples noted.
- San Francisco.
- New Orleans.
There is a tatami set up on a small platform 18” high. The tatami is the traditional Kyoto size (Kyōma), 0.955 by 1.91 meters. (See, that 2:1 thing again.) My zabutan and zafu sit on top and a small Zen altar or butsudan is on a low table nearby.
I’ll need an area for the Korg electric piano, after I get it repaired, the Taylor and Strat guitars, the Fender and Crate amps and maybe a drum kit. A side table for all manner of shakers and bells and noisemakers.
The place is fully wireless with a dozen or more zoned Sonos speakers.
There are three massive tables maybe four feet by eight (2:1 again…), one used for a desk with three 32” monitors for the Macs, a keyboard and phone but otherwise spare, save for the Waterman pen and inkwell. The other two tables have work-in-progress neatly organized, with six not-overly comfortable chairs for meetings. I’ll get myself a Herman Miller Aeron.
There will be a four-foot high bank of freestanding legal-sized oak filing cabinets, providing more surfaces on top for display. I still love paper, and after I depart, I’d like my family to touch and smell all my papers. Hence the old school paper storage. I have saved letters from nearly sixty years ago.
There should be a reading section with an Eames lounge chair and ottoman, large side tables, and targeted lighting. The chair must pivot back so falling asleep and not getting crooked is essential and I can sleep the entire night there. A Navajo blanket is close at hand.
All the lighting is on rheostats and is manageable by zones to create unique moods. The lighting and Sonos should be on voice command. “Donald, I’m a bit knackered. Would you please turn off the lights and put on Pat Metheny low? Follow with Herbie Hancock’s Gershwin album on repeat. Thank you. Goodnight, Donald”
I want a sink and a small counter with coffee maker, space for Sencha prep and a rack for wine glasses. A Sub Zero wine cooler under the counter.
A WC is just next door, with a walk in shower and bidet. Yes. For me. It saves paper.
Three 65” Sony high resolution flat-screen smart television monitors drop from the ceiling, web-enabled and on voice command, in front of the main desk, but high up and back ten feet, like in an airport lounge. Like command central. Everything ever produced on film or television is available. They can also rotate to be visible elsewhere in the room.
Finally there is a cozy sitting area with a collection of two over-stuffed, chocolate-colored leather chairs and matching couch with a glass coffee table and side tables, two floor-standing lamps and a Persian carpet beneath, in burgundy and turquoise tones.
I’ll have an expert from Hong Kong to advise on feng shui or “wind/water”.
That should about do it.
Too much to ask for?
I actually am happy with what I have. And this indulgence was a fun fantasy. When I block acquisitive tendencies it can create more tension. We want stuff. We want experiences. We want love. Ultimately we want to live forever. But indulging all my desires might also create insolvency, addiction or paranoia. Simply watching them come up and fleshing them out then letting them go can be soul salve.
I am reminded of Steve Martin in The Jerk, a surprisingly philosophical picture Steve wrote and Carl Reiner directed. Steve grows up Navin Johnson, the adopted white son of southern black sharecroppers. Navin came up in poverty but makes it big, then loses it all.
As he trundles out of the mansion he just lost, leaving behind Bernadette Peters, his soul mate, he weeps and picks up assorted items as he returns to homelessness.
“I don’t need any of this.
Okay, I need this ashtray.
And this paddle ball game.
And this remote control.”
I don’t need a thousand square foot office. I “portable office” pretty well.
A big office won’t fit into that three layered corrugated box they end up burning us up in. Not much other than me is going in there. And perhaps a few lingering ideas.
But it would be so fine to hang out in my fantasy office for just an afternoon before I go, after a glass or two of Amarone, having fallen asleep with an Alan Watts book in my lap and Kurosawa’s Dreams playing on one of those big screens, Alcatraz and the Presidio in the fog to the south.