A life, bright and brief
Wednesday afternoon I was sitting in the most comfortable chair in Barb Curtis’s store, my mind a complete blank.
This blank state of mind, called “mushin” in Japanese, is highly sought after by Zen Buddhism practicioners, Omega Institute groupies, and pilgrims to Sedona and other such mystical sites.
“Mushin” is short for “mushin no shin,” which translates literally as “mind without mind.” In my case, it meant a total emptiness of thought. This is considered an ideal state for people in heavy meditation or contemplation: Since their physical being is detached from their mental one, the mind is not burdened by the body. So in a true mushin state, since the mind is empty of thought, the person isn’t bothered by anything.
At least that’s the theory, and that’s what all the Omega groupies pay the big bucks for. In my case, while my thoughts were nonexistent, I was bothered plenty. It’s the day my column needs to be written, but I had no idea what to write. Nuttin’ Nada. Bupkes.
My mindlessness-but-annoyingness was jarred by a voice. It was Barb, of course, since she was the only other person there. But being in my other-worldly state, I didn’t hear what she said.
“Huh?” I asked.
“I said,” she said (a bit waspishly I might add), “I have a great idea for your column.”
“Excellent,” I said. “Why don’t you get a paper and a pencil and write it?”
“Because I’m not a writer,” she said, even more waspishly. “But you are.”
“And so I’m your designated columnist?”
“No,” she said. “It’s just something important that I think needs to be in print.”
Thundering Lord Jesus, I thought. Here it goes, something that needs to be in print. Some vital bit of information the public must know, and must know immediately, or in a day or two civilization will sink down the loo.
It’s what always happens when someone tells me there’s something I must write a column about. And in all fairness, a lot of those people’s causes are valid — pollution, wealth inequality, endangered species, government corruption (pardon the redundancy), and on and on. But just because something’s important to someone else, doesn’t mean it’s important to me. And even if it is important to me, it doesn’t mean I can actually write a column about it. Still, generous lad that I am, everyone gets an audience.
“OK,” I said, “what is it?”
“Light bulbs,” she said.
“Light bulbs?” I said, trying not to roll my eyes, “You want me to write a column on light bulbs? Uh, am I supposed to write about light bulbs in general, or do you have something specific to say about them?”
“Oh, very specific,” she said. “Very, very specific.”
“All right,” is said. “What is it?”
“It’s how halogen light bulbs are crappy,” she said, crossing her arms and giving an exaggerated nod of her head — the body language equivalent of three exclamation points.
Now, it may come as a surprise to you, but I don’t believe I ever gave any thought to light bulbs. Or at least no more thought than to replace ’em when they burn out and to be sure I’ve got some extras in the light bulb locker.
But such was not the case with Barb: She was thinking about them a lot — the halogens in particular. Before our conversation I had no idea Barb had a misegoss about them; afterward, it became something I think I’ll take to my grave.
The lights that failed
“Crappy, like how?” I said. “They don’t put out enough light?”
“Oh no, they have lots of light,” she said. “They just don’t last.”
“Hate to break it to ya,” I said, “but no light bulbs last.”
“I know that, Mr. Smarty Pants,” she said. “But they don’t last at all, compared to incandescent bulbs.”
“Tough noogs,” I said, “because they don’t sell incandescent bulbs anymore.”
“I know that too,” she said. “That’s how I ended up with the halogens. Which was a huge mistake, since they burned out so fast.”
“Like two weeks,” she said. “Incandescents last four times as long, at least.”
“Where’d ya get ’em,” I asked.
“Two different places,” she said. “In the dollar store and in a hardware store. And they both were equally crappy.”
“How much ya pay for ’em?” I said.
“Two for a buck in the dollar store, and two for a buck-fifty in the hardware.”
I thought about that a bit. If the bulbs cost a third less in the dollar store, but each store’s were as short-lived as the other’s, it was either a source of pride for the dollar store or a source of shame for the hardware store. I contemplated this juxtaposition, this irony, point of pride or disgrace, when suddenly, in mid-contemplation, Barb snapped at me.
“Well?” she said.
“Huh? Eh?” I sputtered. “Well, what?”
“Well, are you gonna write about it?” she said.
“Write about the crap-i-tude of halogen light bulbs?” I said.
“Yes,” she said. “Since that’s the only thing we’ve been talking about.”
I thought about it for at least three seconds before she interrupted my thinking.
“So you gonna write about it?” she repeated.
“No,” I said.
“Are you just saying that to be contrary, or do you have an actual reason you won’t?”
“Actually, I have two reasons,” I said.
“And what are they?” she said.
“One is I don’t wanna write it.”
“And the other is…?”
“The other is no one would wanna read it,” I said, heading toward the door.
“It’s a shame,” she said, getting in her last salvo, “Cuz I know people would like to read it.”
“Yeah, well …,” I said, getting in my last salvo, “And a bigger shame is we’ll never know.”
Me, write about light bulbs?