I’m sitting in the courtyard at the No Problem Coffeeshop and Café in Amsterdam, listening to music and thinking about nothing in particular. The place is full of stoners, but no problem, because it’s a cool place to sit and write. Besides, I am on a Road Trip. I don’t have any reason to think about anything in particular. I don’t have any reason to think, period. Which is easier than it sounds, because Uncle Tantra is back in Amsterdam.
The cellist half of the string duo playing Gypsy tunes comes by asking for tips. I listen for a moment to the violinist trying to harmonize with the power saw in the background rather than fight it, and I tip them well. Spirit deserves reward.
Yes, it does. Which is why I take Road Trips. Every so often you’ve just gotta say what the frequent flyer miles and hop on a plane to somewhere weird, so you can get weirder. And recently, I felt the need building in me to get the hell out of Dodge for awhile, so I figured, “Why not Amsterdam?”
Why not indeed. It has always been a place of power for me, and is the backdrop for many of my coolest moments. So I just grabbed a cubic centimeter of chance, made some reservations on the Net and here I sit at the No Problem Café, having none.
I didn’t plan ahead. I didn’t find out who was performing in town or check the tourist pages for the latest festivals and art exhibitions. I just got on a plane and flew. And it’s been great so far. I feel thirty pounds lighter and thirty years younger. Ok, maybe twenty. And it’s worked out pretty well. There has not been a boring moment so far, and I’ve been here almost 24 hours. The singer Jewel has a saying that I like, "There is a certain magic in having no Plan B." On Road Trips I tend to shorten it to, “There is a certain magic in having no plan.”
When I travel by myself, the closest I come to planning ahead is looking forward to playing a few of my favorite games. One of those games is called Hide The Salami. No, not that Hide The Salami. Although that one has its charms and is not out of the question on this trip, I play a different game with the same name. The rules of my Hide The Salami are simple. When you visit a different country, time how long it takes for you to be mistaken for a local. The lowest time wins. On this trip, I achieved a new personal best — five minutes. At Schiphol airport, I was standing in line for my train ticket into Amsterdam and this stunning woman turned to me and started babbling away in Dutch.
Be warned. This is one of the down sides of my version of Hide The Salami. When you win the game, folks have a tendency to walk up and talk to you and expect you to reply in the same language. Bummer. I know about seven words in Dutch. The funny thing is, I could actually get much of she was saying intuitively, so I answered the question I thought she was asking, but in English. The woman shifted gears into English without even the hint of a pause, saying “Thank you” and turning to explain the answer in French to her lover, another stunning young woman. Europeans are better at Hide The Salami than I am; they can walk the walk and talk the talk.
How do you hide a salami? Put it in plain sight among other salamis. Shit. I have just given away the whole secret of Hide The Salami. Well, at least you’ve still got the five-minute record to shoot for. To play Hide The Salami effectively, you have to know about seeing and inaccessibility. Rama taught these skills in many ways — in words, by having us read the books of Carlos Castaneda, and by direct transmission. The subjects must have appealed to me, because when he taught them I forgot my usual resistance and paid attention.
Seeing is essential in the professional Hide The Salami player because unless you can see, you cannot discern the proper caretaker personality for the location. In the early days, Rama used to talk about caretaker personalities a lot. To cut to the chase, the concept is based on an assumption that each of us has not a single personality but a myriad of them. In the Buddhist view, when the angry, PMS-bitch-from-hell side of you comes out and you scream at the other guys in the locker room for being so loud with their joke telling, it isn’t just a side of you coming out. It’s another you. This assumption is based on another. That there is a You in there, and that it has little to do with any of your different personalities. They are waves of self on the ocean of Self. You are the still, quiet depths.
So, once you begin to meditate and contact those depths on a daily basis, some of the identification you once had with the surface personalities begins to fade. You begin to see them as the masks they are. Once you get to that point, you can start to try on different masks for fun and profit. For fun, you might just decide to shake up your friends’ view of you by getting a radical haircut and developing a personality to match. Betty The Librarian leaves for her lunch break and Betty Boop comes back. Fun.
You can also use caretaker personalities for profit. If you suss out the company you work for and watch who gets the juicy projects and who gets the bowsers, you can put on a perfect up-and-comer caretaker personality and keep yourself out of the doghouse. You can spend the night before your big presentation watching Samurai Rebellion over and over, walk in wearing a caretaker personality that would make Toshiro Mifune soil his hakama, and ace the deal. The creative uses of caretaker personalities are many. But they all depend upon being able to see. If you cannot see beyond the surface appearance of life to that which underlies it, you are stuck crotch deep in the swamp of maya, floundering about. Learn to see, and you can walk on mud without leaving footprints.
So, to continue my tutorial for the budding Hide The Salami player, what you do when you first land in a new place is look around and try to see it for what it is. When you succeed, what you will have seen is that there are certain bandings of attention that are considered acceptable and commonplace and normal, and other bandings of attention that are considered downright abnormal. All you have to do to win at Hide The Salami is to put on a caretaker personality that appears to exist entirely within the boundaries of the normal bandings of attention for that place. To play professionally, you need to be able to take on one of the abnormal caretaker personalities of the location, and be mistaken for a local anyway.
Amsterdam is pretty easy. Amsterdammers have an extremely wide banding of attention fields that they consider normal. So I could have picked from dozens of acceptable caretaker personalities that would have taken in the woman at the airport. It’s a little more difficult in places like suburban Detroit. Then again, who would be weird enough to play Hide The Salami in suburban Detroit?
Why do I suspect that my readers already have a suspicion about who would be weird enough? Correctimundo. To pull off Hide The Salami in Detroit, you have to not only be able to see, you have to know about inaccessibility. For those interested in developing the artform, I can recommend three resources — all true spiritual classics. The first two are Journey To Ixtlan and Tales Of Power, by Carlos Castaneda. He does a good job in those two books of presenting don Juan’s description of inaccessibility. The third is the How Not To Be Seen skit from Monty Python’s Flying Circus. Study these works diligently, o nobly born, and you will become as much of a Master Of Inaccessibility as some Hollywood stars I ran into in L.A. a few years ago. When I was still teaching meditation, I used to use the stories of these run-ins to teach students about seeing and inaccessibility.
The first run-in took place in Malibu. Beach and mountains, separated by a twenty-mile-long strip of weirdness. I was having Sunday brunch with some friends at Alice’s Restaurant. I had already ordered and was sitting there checking out the room when a couple walked in. The maitre ‘d walked them through the entire length of the room to a table by the window. Not one person so much as looked up from their Eggs Arnold. The couple, who looked pretty darned good, by the way, were Ed Harris and Amy Madigan. Ed had recently starred in The Right Stuff; Amy in roles that she disappeared into perfectly, unfortunately so perfectly that they escaped the notice of Academy and Emmy voters.
Ed pulled out the chair for Amy and she sat down, her back to me. He took a seat on the other side of the table. Still, not one person in the room had noticed them. Well…one person had. So Amy Madigan, after settling in and ordering a glass of wine, oh so slowly and unobtrusively turned in her chair and scanned the entire room, looking for the person whom she could feel had 'busted' her. She searched until her eyes met mine, even though I was pretending not to be looking at her. She smiled warmly, and then turned back to talk with her husband. It was a nice gesture, the Hide The Salami counterpart of leaping the net to shake hands with your opponent in tennis.
The second run-in is even cooler. It was on another sleepy Sunday in L.A. I went to see a matinee of the new Woody Allen movie. Unfortunately, the only place it was playing was at that shitty UA theater in Westwood, the one famous for being the worst first-run movie house in town. Sure ‘nuff, about halfway through the film, the projector broke. Woody’s face melted and burned onscreen and we sat and burned in the audience, waiting for them to fix things. The courteous staff left us sitting there for almost fifteen minutes before sending some flunky in to announce that they were “working on it,” and that we might be more comfortable waiting in the lobby.
So for another half an hour or so, about two hundred people hung around the oh-so-unattractive lobby of the UA Westwood, waiting for the staff to get their act together. It was a Sunday matinee in L.A., so there were famous people in the audience. One famous actor/director stood with a group of friends in the center of the lobby, doing the L.A.-don’t-look-at-me-but-really-look-at-me-a-lot thing. Naturally, everyone in the room was looking at him, pretending not to. I got bored in a couple of minutes, and just leaned against the wall checking out the room, trying to find something more interesting.
I stood there looking for half an hour, without success. Finally, just before the aspiring PR professional announced that they couldn’t fix the projector and that we should all go stand in line outside at the ticket booth again to get refunds, I turned and glanced at the couple who were seated quietly beside me on a long bench. I checked ‘em out, saw nothing whatsoever that held my interest, and turned back to the crowd. But then something clicked! and I turned back to look at them again.
They were just sitting there, wearing jeans and T-shirts and baseball caps, just like everyone else. Part of the normal scenery. Part of the normal bandings of L.A. attention. No one paid them the least bit of attention. But 'they' were Bruce Willis and Demi Moore. Demi was not as famous then as she is today, but Bruce was in, I think, his second season on Moonlighting. It is safe to say that he was easily the most famous male TV star in America. But the two of them were sitting there quietly, talking to each other, complete masters of How Not To Be Seen in a town where everyone is looking to see.
Ah, but all the others were trying to see without knowing how to see. They scanned the room, looking for some Famous Person who was pushing it out, folks who were using their occult energy to attract attention. They found them. What they missed was the couple in the corner pulling it in, demonstrating at least to me that they had mastered a higher skill. Anyone can push it out. It’s occult grade school stuff. But how many are so good at pulling it in that they can sit in a room full of two hundred bored, frustrated people looking for anything to entertain themselves with, and have no one notice them?
Almost no one. This time, I tried to learn from their example and do some pulling in myself, so I don’t think the two of them ever noticed that I had busted them. It was the least I could do for them; they seemed to be having so much fun, and seemed to be so much in love. They deserved their moment of privacy.
So there you are. Seeing and inaccessibility — the two prerequisites to Hide The Salami 101, in a nutshell. Or nutcase, depending on your viewpoint. No problem, either way. If you’re interested in taking the course, see the registrars at table seven, if you can find them. I think I last saw them at the student union. Me, I will be neither attending nor teaching. I’m on a Road Trip. And since the batteries in both the Vaio Te Ching and my own jetlagged body are beginning to show signs of wear, I think both of us will head back to the hotel for a recharge. There are things to do tonight, and places not to be seen.