Sunday, August 12, 2007

The Buddha in the Bathroom

This story is a "Best of the Blog" repeat.

If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him. — Buddhist proverb

It had been a long week. The skies were gray and the air was thick. I was sitting back in the recliner thinking about the upcoming game between the Metas and the Pseudos when the phone rang.

Sarah got it.

"Sam and Sarah's existential exterminators — if it can be, we can do! — may I help you?"

It was that season again. Last year it was an outbreak of solipsists and the year before that it was sophists. Sometimes I wonder what motivated me to get into this business. If you pinned me to the ground, I might be willing to admit that Sarah had something to do with it. Just don't tell her, okay? She's into it for the thrill of it. Go figure.

"Hey Sam!"


"We've got a Buddha."

This was great. Just fantastic. In this business, there's a couple of words that you really don't want to hear and one of them is Buddha.

"Tell him we'll be right there."

Sarah hung up the phone and I finished my coffee. Slowly. Ten minutes slowly. Sarah glared at me.

"What's the matter, babe?"

Her scowl threatened to burn tiny holes into the backs of my retinas.

"What do you mean what's the matter? You keep bitching that Reality Plus gets more business than us and now that we've got a call you just sit there like a chunk of lard."

That hurt.

"Listen, you said it yourself. He's got a Buddha in the house. It ain't worth the effort."

"She's willing to pay triple rate for us to get rid of the damned thing!"

I jumped up, got my coat on, checked my gear and was out of the door in a matter of milliseconds.

"Well, what are you waiting for," I shouted into the pressure vacuum that I left behind me, "we've got a job to do!"

Sarah drove. We hit sixty down Tao Way, hung a right at Dharma Drive and went half way around Karmic Circle before we got to the house.

Two things struck me. The first thing was wealth. This house was big, white and clean. To call it a mansion would have been technically accurate but I think that calling it a palace would give you a more accurate impression of the place. The other thing that hit me was a bit more ominous: bo trees. Dozens of them. In my opinion, the things should be banned. I just hoped that we'd arrived in time. Once a Buddha gets under a bo tree, there ain't nothing you can do to get it out.

Sarah was, as usual, one step ahead of me and peering into the ontological analyzer.

"Got anything," I asked.

"Yeah. There's a heavy potential for transmigration. The entire area's on the verge of collapsing into Nirvana."

This was bad. Worse than I had thought. There used to be a place called California. Don't bother looking for it on a map, tough. It ain't there, anymore. It was the worst case of philosophical infestation since India blipped off of the map. Some people say that Nirvana's nothing to worry about. In my line of work that just ain't a very funny thing to say.

I wasted no time in heavily lacing the area with Doubt.

"Okay Sam, it looks like it's stabilizing. Let's get inside and hit the root."

I had a feeling that it wasn't going to be that easy.

I paused just long enough to add some Empiricism to the Doubt and to post a "WARNING: PHILOSOPHICALLY UNSTABLE AREA" sign. It was standard procedure following the kinds of standards that should never have to be invoked.

I pounded on the door. A frenzied woman in her mid-sixties opened the door. She look at me, grabbed my arms and shrilled, "Oh thank heavens, you're here! I thought that you'd never arrive! Where were you! Come in, come in! It's got Harold!"

She then buried her head into my shoulder and started to wail like a Banshee. Trust me, I know how Banshees wail.

Sarah took over. Wrenching her away from me, she turned her around and asked Mrs. Walden to get ahold of herself. Eventually she got her calmed down to the point where she could tell us what in the nine hells was going on.

"What happened to Harold?"

"He, he… he went after it. With a baseball bat. A Louiseville Slugger, I think."

"Get on with it," I grumbled impatiently.

Sarah threw a viciously nasty look at me and asked Mrs. Walden to please go on.

"Anyway, he went to get it and then…"

We both knew what was coming next.

"Well, he went in so mad! I was just certain there was going to be smashing sounds, but there weren't. Just silence and some mumbling through the door."

She was trembling slightly and her hands were twisting around like a can full of copulating worms.

"So, I opened the door and all I can see was… it. It and this big cockroach. So I yelled and demanded to know where my Harold was. Then the cockroach answered and said that it was Harold. I'm married to a cockroach!"

I made a mental note: spontaneous degenerative reincarnation. Type 7, if I'm not mistaken. That's the problem with amatures, of course. They don't realize that a Buddha isn't something you want to mess around with.

Mrs. Walden was still babbling.

"He's a very happy cockroach, you know. He stays out of sight and just eats some sugar here and there. It's just that I know that he's seeing another roach! A woman knows these things!"

"Get a grip on yourself," I interrupted, "we need to know where it's at."

"Oh, probably in the back of the cupboard with all of the other roaches, having their roach parties."

"The Buddha, Mrs. Walden, not your husband."

"Oh! It's in the upstairs bathroom. Just get rid of it and I'll pay you anything!"

In my opinion, this was a good time to renegotiate our fee but Sarah caught my eye, shook her head and told Mrs. Walden that we'd get rid of it in no time.

We decided to do a preliminary search before hitting the bathroom. At the very worst, we expected to find a few lower level koans scurrying around. The worst was far worse than that. Oh, there were koans. Thousands of them. I sprayed them with some Zeno to keep them in place. Koans are annoying but, essentially, harmless, so I figured that we could deal with them later.

The real magnitude of the problem surfaced when Sarah buzzed me from one of the upper rooms.

"Sam, get up here! We've got a Vishnu in a closet."

I hit the stairs running. In the final analysis, we found sixteen Vishnus, twelve Brahmas and a Kali. What's worse was that one of the Vishnus was about to pupate into a Shiva. Once you get a Shiva, you might as well forget the exterminators and call out the National Guard. Literally.

I cut away the Vishnus and the Kali with an Occam's razor and dissolved the Brahmas with ReduxoAdAbsurdium ™. The real bad part was that all of the evidence indicated that this wasn't a recent infestation. We went downstairs to have a chat with our client.

"Mrs. Walden," Sarah begin politely, "how long have you had a Buddha in your bathroom?"

"Well, let me see… it was before Aunt Mertie got divorced but after Johnny was caught with a succubus. It was about the time that Cynthia weren't to the hospital to get exorcised. All in all, I'd say about sixteen months."

"Sixteen months," I screamed, "are you insane?"

Sarah told me to shut up. I didn't care.

"Why didn't you give us a call back then, you crazy old hag?"

I stopped when I noticed her expression. It was the hurt look that a dog gives a sadistic master. I suddenly felt the slick feeling of guilt climbing up my throat.

Verging on tears, Mrs. Walden said that, at first, the Buddha seemed harmless.

"After all," she explained, "it said such cute things about trees and ponds and shapes. We even invited our neighbors over to see it. By the time it got to be a nuisance, we were too embarrassed to call an exterminator. Harold said that he would take care of it himself. And now… now… now Harold's gone! I had no one else to turn to. I'm sorry, I really am!"

"Does that answer your question, Sam?"

Sarah's voice was ice. I suppose that I deserved that. How was I to know that, to a bunch of tired, old people, a Buddha would seem like a fun thing to have? Something to break up the tedium. A novelty.

"Come on, Sarah. Let's get rid of Mrs. Walden's Buddha."

After finishing our preliminary search, we went up to the infected bathroom. Cautiously opening the door, I snuck a peek inside. A portly, bald figure in a saffron robe sat complacently upon the toilet as if it were an emperor on a throne. Its face was a study in serenity. It appeared to be studying a role of toilet paper with unfocused eyes.

Sarah already had the ontological analyzer set up.

"Bad. It's at least a Level 12 Bodhisattva."

I decided that a direct frontal assault was best. I shoved the fumigator under the door and pumped six liters of Descartes. The residual fumes that escaped the bathroom filled us with a profound sense of self-existence.

I once heard of one guy who tried this trick on an enclave of solipsists. Worst idea in the world. He had to subcontract out to another firm before he could control the population explosion of the egotistic buggers. A Buddha is an entirely different matter. A Buddha that believes in its own existence is one less Buddha to deal with.

After waiting five minutes for the Descartes to take effect, I opened the door. Fat boy was still on its throne. It looked over to me and said, in a voice as mellow as sunlight on a pond, "It is unbecoming to become."

I slammed the door shut. Five more second and my partner might have been working with a wombat.

We spent the next five hours pumping in various chemical combinations. We sprayed it with Sartre and Aristotle, wasted twelve cans of Kant and even tried a mixture of Galileo, Newton and Einstein with a chaser of Logical Positivism. In the meanwhile, it's contemplations remained undisturbed.

Frustrated and tired, and still feeling guilty for snapping at Mrs. Walden, I turned to Sarah and said, "There's only one thing left to do. I've got to go in there and face it directly, man to archetypal incarnation."

Sarah had a strange look in her eyes. It almost seemed like respect. With a whisper, she replied, "Let me help you with your gear."

After suiting up, putting in my ontological nose filters, and taking a very deep breath of Descartes, I slammed the door open and burst into the bathroom.

"Okay, Buddha, I want to talk to you!"

Tilting its head, it replied with morning dew calm, "But what is you and what is I?"

"You're a nuisance and I'm the guy who's going to get rid of you!"

"To get rid of, there must be self and direction. There are neither."

I was sweating. Like The Little Train that Was, I started chanting to myself, over and over, I think; therefore I am… I think; therefore I am… I think; therefore I am.

Reality solidified a bit.

"Why don't you leave Mrs. Walden alone?"

"One must always be alone within the self until there is no self to be alone with. This is the only freedom from suffering and rebirth."

I think; therefore I am...

"If that's true, what are you doing sitting in a bathroom?"

"Was it a bathroom before you realized it was a bathroom?"

I think; therefore… I think, um, damn, how does that go?

"Why can't you give me a straight answer?"

"Why do you give me crooked questions that have no answer?"

I think; therefore I'm… not? No, no, no, no!

"Bullshit! All questions have answers."

"What is the sound of one hand clapping?"

I… shit, what was it?

He almost had me. Dimly, I heard another voice. Sarah's voice.

"The tape, Sam! Play the tape!"

Suddenly I realized that I had the Buddha exactly where I wanted it. It took years of study, thousands of volunteer amputees and the most sophisticated synthesizers on the market, but it was worth it. Teeth gritted, I pulled out a special loop-tape from my kit and played the extremely disturbing sound of one hand clapping.

The Buddha's eye's focused. It tilted its head to one side, sat motionless for a minute and said, "Oh."

With a faint pop, it disappeared.

I think that I must have passed out right after that. The next thing that I remember is having my head in Sarah's lap, which felt very nice, and hearing her say, "Good job, Sam! You did it."

That felt even nicer.

Later on, we went downstairs. Harold was back to normal. The Waldens insisted that we stay for dinner which was a proposition that neither of us choose to argue against. After dinner, he wrote out a check for six times the original amount.

"Son, life as a cockroach only has so many pleasures. I'm glad to be a man, again."

When we got back into the office, I poured myself into the recliner. I intended to stay there for a few thousands millennia. The phone rang. Summoning all of my energy, I yelled at Sarah not to pick up the…

"Sam and Sarah's Existential Exterminators — if it can be, we can do! — how may I help you?"

I groaned.

"Hey, Sam!"


"We got a Messiah on Maple Street."

I'll say this much: the hours are long and the pay is low but, at least, life is exciting.

1 comment:

ron smith said...

Funny, I just reread this in your archive a few days ago. It's a great bit of fun, and I'm glad you repeated it.

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