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Click for Tsakli GalleryFree Falling

The Image: A frontier saloon. A cowboy, dusty from the trail, stands holding open the swinging doors, silhouetted handsomely against the John Ford sunset. He's checkin' the place out, trying it on for size in his mind before stepping in. Strangely enough, a Tom Petty song is playing in the background.

The saloon is not hard to find. From Santa Fe, drive northwest, turn right at Stonehenge, then take the White Pass road. It's on the right. You won't be able to miss it. It's your classic roadhouse saloon, in a town that grew to almost 3000 people before the mill closed. Now it exists pretty much on Mount Rainier tourists and locals just scraping by. Last night the place was full of them, here until late to drink beer and play the Pull Tabs game, hoping to win enough money to cover the rent or maybe just the night's drinking. Some could see this as sad; I don't. I appreciate hope in whatever form it presents itself.

But right now no one is here but me and the red-haired waitress who served me my beer. I'm not playing the Pull Tabs game. I have better things to do. I have a cool moment to appreciate. The cool moment is, in fact, right now. I'm kinda weird, and the setting of this particular tsakli may not appeal to you, but to me this is Some Kinda Heaven. I'm sitting alone at my table in the corner in a dark, empty room that in its day has seen laughter and dancing and broken hearts and good times and bad times and just time, period. The place has got some mileage on it; it's cool. And that's not even taking into account the jukebox.

I am an appreciator of jukeboxes as an artform. Especially these days, when they contain CDs, which can either be supplied by the vendor or chosen by the owner of the establishment. Suffice it to say that the best jukeboxes are the ones where the selection of CDs creates a portrait of the owner and the bar and where they are both at right now. So far in my travels, the best jukeboxes I have found are in Amsterdam. There's a good one in Royal Oak, Michigan. And there's a great one here. And I'm here alone on a rainy day with a pocketful of quarters from the last place I stopped in Nevada.

They had a slot machine on the inner door of the crapper. No shit. Uh...well...maybe some shit. It was a crapper after all. You could sit there relieving yourself and relieve yourself of some spare change at the same time. I couldn't resist. I reached into my pants pocket, which given my position was at my feet, and found one lone quarter. I popped the sucker into the slot and pulled the handle. The dials spun and clicked one after another into place. Three cherries. Cool, thought I. That is, I thought that until the machine decided I had won and started spitting out quarters all over my naked lap. I will leave it to you to picture the scene. Here's this guy with his pants down around his ankles, trying to catch a buncha quarters pouring out of the machine in front of him, trying to gather up the fallen ones while perched on a toilet. It was a humiliating, if profitable, experience.

But now, sitting alone in the saloon by the jukebox, listening to my selections and writing, I am learning just how profitable it was. This is a really cool moment.

One of the real, physical Tibetan tsakli I own is a fanciful Pure Land vision. In the background you can see red mountains against a sky filled with celestial lights. The mountains are standing in what appears to be an ocean. In the foreground are a couple of traditional Tibetan houses. Through the window of the house on the left, you can see a lama in full robes standing with two small children, his gold/green halo clearly visible around his head. Through the window of the smaller house on the right, there is another monk who is clearly in the process of getting laid. Go figure.

I mean, really, go figure. This is religious art, probably one of a series portraying the seven planes of existence. And this is clearly some monk's personal vision of the human plane. Go fucking figure.

Needless to say, I fell in love with this particular tsakli the moment I saw it in my friend Scott's gallery. I had to have it. It just has such force of personality. Within the context of traditional religious art, some monk managed to create a scene that captured not only his vision of the infinite but also his very finite personality and personal longings. I can easily imagine some monk sitting alone in his dark monastery room creating this piece, dreaming of enlightenment but also dreaming of being the guy gettin' some in the house on the right, dreaming of someday becoming the high lama of his monastery but also dreaming of being the lama with children in the house on the left. This was a very real person, whoever he was. I feel proud to have his dream gracing one wall of my house.

And now I sit trying to convey in words a similar Pure Land vision of my own. I have often dreamed of finding the perfect saloon. You know, a place with character, the kinda place where you feel comfortable with the crowd at the bar or around the pool tables, and where everyone plays just the right selections for the moment on the jukebox. Only in my dream, the place is empty except for me. I am on a Road Trip, with nowhere to be and no particular time I have to be there. I am free falling. I sit at my table in the corner, popping my slot machine quarters into the jukebox, playing the same song over and over, writing this.



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