Yours in the Dharma:  Essays from a Buddhist perspective by Sandy Garson

This blog, Yours in the Dharma by Sandy Garson, is an effort to navigate life between the fast track and the breakdown lane, on the Buddhist path. It tries to use a heritage of precious, ancient teachings to steer clear of today's pain and confusion to clear the path to what's truly happening.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010


Samsara, it is said, is the same thing happening again and again with the expectation of a different result. So perhaps it would clear some storm clouds over the current sorry state of the American union, anorexic now from tax starvation, to look back and see the egregious co-opting of egalitarian democracy by the nouveau riche is not new to American history. It is half of the cultural tug-of-war that is that history, starting in the 17th Century when the wealthy investors in the Plymouth Company literally took pounds of flesh from the first indentured colonists shipped over here with a mandate to generate high profits. The cheapskate investors did not give the indentured the proper gear or advice to survive and when most of them died, the wealthy wrote off the poor survivors, moving on and leaving them to their own devices on the shore of Maine.

Although it is rarely mentioned, academic historians have not forgotten that the Boston Brahmins, moneymen whose names we have come to revere—Tufts, Bowdoin, Hancock, Brattle, were as highhanded and self-serving as today’s Wall Street bonus boys. Historian Gordon Kershaw put it this way: “The Proprietors (my note: that’s what these bigwigs liked to call themselves) operated almost as an independent force in Massachusetts politics during the 25 years from 1749-1774. They spent money freely, influenced the General Court and intrigued with the Royal Governors. …They battled individual farmers, rival land companies and the King’s agents. They evicted settlers and foreclosed on householders … Company lawyers were always before the bar and often won their cases thanks in part to proprietary influence in high places.”

Blinded by their money, this elite actually thought the Revolution had been fought simply to secure their personal stake on this side of the pond, and once it was over, they set about grabbing New England land through illegal and unconscionable foreclosures in order to establish their own lordly fiefdoms and estates. They had the money to buy the votes and judgments.

Here how Pulitzer Prize winning historian Alan Taylor explains what they did at war’s end: “The General Court could also have reduced settler anger if it had used the cheap sale of the remaining public lands to hold down the prices the Great Proprietors could charge. In March 1784 {penniless war veterans looking for homes}, the General Court enacted a democratic sales policy for the public lands to the north and east of mid-Maine. In most public townships buyers could purchase only 150 acres apiece and would not receive deeds unless they settled their lots within a year. … The policy favored actual settlers and discouraged land speculators. It did not last long. Four months later the General Court resolved to sell off the townships and group of townships at the highest possible price to wealthy speculators. The commonwealth’s staggering Revolutionary war debt and the popular discontent over high taxes dictated selling the public lands for immediate revenue. The Court maximized the short-term public income by selling to the one group that could afford down payments in cash. Ultimate payment would fall on the most powerless: on the marginal yeomen who most needed new lands. The new land policy entrusted profit-seeking middlemen with retailing lots to actual settlers, sparing the General Court the associated bureaucratic difficulties and administrative costs. By adopting a public land sales policy that favored the landed oligopoly, the commonwealth enhanced the Great Proprietors ability to charge premium prices for their lands in mid-Maine.”

Their yearning to emulate the old English aristocracy was no different from the current yen of the Wall Street bonus boys raised on Masterpiece theater productions of English manor life. If that is not the ideal to which Americans have always aspired, Ralph Lauren, who markets exactly that fantasy, would not now be a billionaire. And Obama would not have defended tax cuts for those with millions. It's the born again vision thing.

~Sandy Garson"Wordsmithing to attest how the Dharma saved me from myself!"

Technorati Tags: , , , , , , Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 License.
Click here to request Sandy Garson for reprint permission.
Yours In The Dharma 2001-2010, Sandy Garson Copyright 2001-2010 Sandy GarsonAll rights Reserved


Sunday, December 05, 2010

Bursting A Real Estate Bubble

For the last six weeks, my main exercise has been apartment hunting in San Francisco, and all I can say for the considerable exertion is: “Really?” Decades ago, when I had to indulge in this sport in Manhattan, it was easy. I quickly figured out how to read all those Village Voice ads for available places: charm was code for no closets and wbfp (wood-burning fireplace) meant not enough space in the living room to open a sofa bed, or else the only window in the place was stuck up against the wall of the building next door so that all you were ever going to see besides yourself in the mirror was a fire in the wbfp.

Here at the end of the first decade of the 21st Century on the other side of the continent, I have seen what’s advertised as “tasteful” or “classic” or “exquisite” and come away certain I am going to die wondering: What kind of human being is supposed to live in these places? Where's reality these days? The “exciting” garden apartment with plantation shutters and a whirlpool tub consisted of a bedroom and a narrow living room that had a stainless steel “gourmet” kitchen full of expensive appliances side by side on the far wall. Over them three cabinets, “real cherry”, were mounted so high above the granite counter, they could only be reached by the jolly green giant. And, unless you counted the fancy refrigerator, those dark wood cabinets were all there was for storage. There was absolutely no place for a broom, no place for towels or sheets, no place for a garbage can, no place to even hang your hat. That stage set for a magazine shoot was going for slightly less than half a million dollars. Really?

The second bathroom in the newly remodeled two bedroom apartment glamorized with eye candy marble, granite, stainless steel and a wine refrigerator to boot, was two times bigger and far fancier than the second bedroom, an oversized closet on the far side of the living room overlooking a street of city buses and ambulances speeding to the hospital next door. It was hard to fathom this fetish for high end upscale bathrooms, why they got more space and attention than a bed or dining room, which was conspicuously missing. What kind of person actually lives in a house without closets and dominated by bathrooms? Other than Lady Macbeth who needs to spend her days getting that damned spot out, out, out. Well, you can, for only a half million dollars—without parking for your car or vacuum cleaner. Really?

I walked into another upgraded, "sophisticated" apartment at the same price and opened what I thought would be the coat closet, since it was just inside the entry, but it was for a washer/dryer. There was no coat closet. There was no broom closet. Everything was real spare and slick. There was an open kitchen with five overhead cabinets and two below the counter cabinets. It turned out these were inaccessible because they were low and deep and had no shelving you could pull out to reach. Since pullout shelving is today’s cheapest trick, not offering it is today's dirty trick. You had to crouch and grope for whatever you put down there, and if you used the kitchen at all, you would have to put vital stuff down there. There was no dining table space, just a highly touted “breakfast bar” that looked into the sink, which was better than the window that looked into the fire escape on the building next door. There were of course two oversized and overdone marble bathrooms, but the big advertised feature was how the whole place was wired to the max for audio, video, with a big plug right over the gbfp just waiting for your 60” flat screen to be the center of this universe. How about that? Only 40 years ago people built dens because having TV in the living room was very déclassé, stigmatizing you as lower class. And that’s when TV was free! So here for half a million dollars was the lower class Archie Bunker ethic raised to sublime height: a place for those glued to the TV with snacking in reach and the chance to take a break from it to lounge in one of two exquisitely large marble bathrooms that had special quarter cut cabinetry and pricey faucets--and would have to self clean since there was nowhere any maintenance supplies could be stored. Sophisticated people evidently never make a mess. Really?

The “classic” flat was miniscule, the kitchen so small it had dorm size appliances and a bathroom so “cozy” there was no room for a toilet paper holder. It did have charm and possibly a broom closet. But it also had neighbors who wanted the right to park their SUV across the driveway, blocking the garage and seriously inconveniencing the owner of this unit so they didn’t have to be inconvenienced looking for street space for their second car. And although they occupied 70-75% of the building, with an infant (hint: high water and garbage use) they wanted all the building’s expenses split 50-50. Really?

I took a time out from this blood sport to spend five days in a crude, waterless cabin that was maybe 15 feet square, without counting the deck. It had a double bed, dresser, desk, old rattan chair, coffee table, lots of closet space and an old mini fridge. It also had one of the cheapest electric kettles you can buy, an old one at that, so old and cheap it didn’t even have an off/on switch. I just plugged it in or watched the sparks fly as I pulled the plug. I had to walk outside about ten yards to the bathhouse and uphill maybe forty or fifty more to the kitchen. Nobody could’ve advertised that shabby place as classic, exquisite, sophisticated or exciting.

But there was plenty of room for my things, even for a broom. I had the fridge for my yogurt, milk, cheeses, salsa, hummus and salads. I had that kettle for tea and coffee. I also had a cheap white Made In China mug left there for me. I had the rattan chair to read in. I had a baseboard heater that kept the place quite toasty even in the rain because it was properly placed unlike all those new fangled furnaces developers now stick in the ceiling or right out on the wall because it’s cheaper for them, even though it’s going to be way more expensive and inefficient to operate. Hot air rises, cold air falls.

How little I needed. I had lights, heat, food, a bed, an altar on that coffee table, my meditation cushion on the floor, my books and fruit bowl on the desk. I even had my “toilet bowl” for the middle of the night when using the Tupperware chamber pot beat getting all dressed to go to the bathhouse. I was safe. I was comfortable. I was free to practice without worries and so I did, pouring energy into that space.

I remembered two years ago seeing wild turkeys on my first day. So I was disappointed at seeing nothing this time. There weren’t birds anywhere. I noticed the silence, the absence, and wondered what it meant-- other than I wanted to relive past experience. But by the third day, two flocks of warblers were fluttering around the closest trees and pecking in the weedy grass between my cabin and the bathhouse. They stayed at least as long as I did, which made me ecstatic. Birds are supposed to be dakinis, so I of course tried to suppose they had come to bless me in this rundown place, and I practiced harder.

The next morning I was awakened by a thunderous pounding overhead. “They can’t be repairing this roof on a Saturday morning,” I thought in my grogginess. “They know I’m in here in retreat. What’s going on?” I looked up, through the dirty corrugated plastic “skylight” taped over a section of the cabin roof and saw crowfeet, two of them dancing around. The thud, thud that kept on keeping on was loud enough to shake the bed. That big black bird was cracking an acorn or some sort of nut right over my head! A bird as big and black as Mahakala, the obstacle removing deity to whom I had prayed for clarity on this apartment hunting business, was up there waking me up and cracking me up. I got out of the big, warm bed realizing nobody needs Wedgwood coffee cups or Carrera marble bathrooms or granite counters and quarter-cut ebony cabinets or whatever is the latest rage pretending to be sophisticated or classic, to have a life that’s exquisite and exciting. I was having it right there.

~Sandy Garson"Wordsmithing to attest how the Dharma saved me from myself!"

Technorati Tags: , , , , , , Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 License.
Click here to request Sandy Garson for reprint permission.
Yours In The Dharma 2001-2010, Sandy Garson Copyright 2001-2010 Sandy GarsonAll rights Reserved

Labels: ,