by DJ Bartel
Dennis James Bartel
Excerpt from chapter eight:
“The Legends of Guru Tegh Bahadur”
It had become that time of evening when the sky turned acoustic blue and grainy as a Diebenkorn. Along Ocean Ave. people sat on their porches rocking gently and talking gently. Couples jogged past in no hurry. Across the street on the beach’s grassy buffer, two old men sat on a red quilt, playing chess. Cars full of sun-worn people starting home from a warm autumn Saturday at the seaside pulled up to the signal, stopped, and continued slowly on. An old neighbor woman in Bermudas and a man’s old dress shirt was hosing down her sidewalk. Now and then she gave her scruffy dog a playful squirt. The day was dissolving, and it somehow seemed right that all these people wearing their easy attitudes should be out here sharing this parcel of land on the very edge of the Great Pacific.
James and Sat Darshan were sprawled on the porch, sipping sweaty cans of near beer that Sat Darshan had smuggled into the ashram and chilled in the bottom of the small (less used) refrigerator, in a paper bag with his name written on it. Both men were wiped out and dirty from a day of karma yoga yard work. Their hands were gritty. Their shoulders were tired. Honest toil. Sat Darshan’s enormous tapered beard was flecked with bits of dry grass. His muscle-braided neck was sweat-muddy, his turban soiled.
Two hours before, while clipping the wild back hedge, they’d discovered they each once held a teenage passion for Strat-O-Matic Football, meaning among other things that Sat Darshan was about five years younger than James had thought. He grew up in Westwood, a Rams fan. Always close. Forever frustrated. James used to follow several teams, whichever looked interesting at the time, so long as it wasn’t the Steelers. Living in the heart of Stiller Country, he could never stomach the fanaticism of everyone around him. (His father also had business conflicts with Art Rooney.) James relished each time the Steelers got their butts kicked, which back in those pre-Super Bowl days was nearly all the time. Talking about Strat-O-Matic helped James and Sat Darshan work faster and better in the yard. It served as well as chanting.
Now, relaxing on the porch, they were again talking football. James, as usual, spoke sparingly. Sat Darshan, as usual, showed his gregarious lightheartedness. The man viewed life from a happy midpoint between laughter and tears.
“I always believed Roman Gabriel had it in him to be a great quarterback,” said Sat Darshan.
“He dropped back like he was on roller skates,” said James.
Sat Darshan chuckled into his near beer. He always laughed at jokes. He waited a few moments, never afraid to let silence exist in a conversation, then said, “He had all the equipment. He lacked the offensive line.” Sat Darshan stroked his dirty beard and looked out toward the gleaming ocean. “Yeah, that whole offense was pretty ragged. When Roman Gabriel ran out onto the field he was the best athlete in his unit. But the defense was great.”
“Yes, of course, a great defense, you said it,” said James.
Sat Darshan was silent again, with a composed air about him that communicated just how highly unlikely it was that this calm and sturdy man was at all about to speak.
James, for a moment, was transported back to cold-pinched Pittsburgh nights with the wind blowing in across the Allegheny like flying icicles, and he up in his room by himself with the green-black-yellow geometric Strat-O-Matic playing board spread out before him, shifting cornerbacks, shuffling fullbacks, faced with a third and seven on the Rams 31. Nothing much ever worked against the Ram defense.
“That defense was the core of the team,” said Sat Darshan. “It would score more points than the offense.”
“Yeah,” said James.
“The Fearsome Foursome.”
“I can name all four. Deacon Jones, Merlin Olsen, Roger Brown, Lamar Lundy.”
“You said you kept stats?”
“Of course. The most important part of the game for me was keeping the statistics.”
“Yes. Books full.”
“Sat Nam, absolutely. I had color-coded ledger books for every team. I kept every stat I could think of. Number of tackles. Everything. I was a crazy man for statistics.”
A girl in swimming-pool-blue shorts peddled past on her ten-speed. They watched. James thought about driving over to Susan’s later. Ishwara would be in L.A. attending the full moon celebration. Lately he’d been thinking about Susan standing with her back flush against a wall, maybe in her kitchen, and about watching as she got herself off. She would enjoy that. And lately he’d also been thinking that Sat Darshan was the sort of man people chose to be their confident. Sat Darshan seemed to recognize this and accepted it as part of his dharma. James wondered if he could talk with him about Susan. Even Schumann didn’t have this emphatic quality as strongly as Sat Darshan – and besides Schumann was still missing.
“I remember once,” said Sat Darshan, “I had a game where the Fearsome Foursome sacked Namath seven times. Believe that?”
“Seven times is a lot,” said James, “especially with the line the Jets had.”
“And still it wasn’t enough. The Rams had to fall on a fumble at the Jets 30 with 1:30 left. Gossett kicked a field goal with fifteen seconds on the clock. Twelve to ten.”
“You remember all that?” asked James.
“I do. It was thrilling at the time.”
A fine fermata settled over the men. The sun had the right idea, holding aloft a chilled glass of watermelon juice, easing into the Great Pacific little by little, feet then waist then back then shoulders, letting the day’s tension melt away. The evening was coming on nicely. This was the closest thing to peace that James had known in weeks. These days during meditation his mantra often dissolved into visions of Susan. He knew he could not sit in the middle of the sungat during sadhana, right next to Ishwara, and continue to think about fucking Susan. The guilt was terrible, and the sexual vibration was sure to give him away. But out here on the porch, after a day of hard work, well, this wasn’t sadhana, and James allowed himself a moment in the quiet evening to think about the prospects of having Susan tonight.