Dharma Dogs

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G Sakamoto

The sun felt good. Although the wind had stop blowing it was still cold in the shade. The trees were beginning to show green on the tips of branches. People, his regular customers and passers by, would be out on the sidewalks enjoying this beautiful day. Hopefully, hungry for his offerings.

He needed to find a way to support himself. He was mindful of the words of his teacher, “No work. No eat.” When his teacher became too old to work, he died. He was still not sure if that was such a good idea. It was a little frightening. But that was the simple seriousness with which his teacher lived his life. He studied, taught, then died. Sort of like Lucy and Easter eggs, “You cook em. Colored em. Eat em.” He had hoped that things would have begun to become simpler, clearer to him by now but it seemed murkier than ever at times. He was reminded often by teachers and events to be present. Even in Yoda’s admonition to Luke and Obi-Wan he could hear truth:

“Ready are you? What know you of ready? For eight hundred years have I trained Jedi. My own counsel will I keep on who is to be trained. A Jedi must have the deepest commitment, the most serious mind. This one a long time have I watched. All his life has he looked away… to the future, to the horizon. Never his mind on where he was. Hmm? What he was doing. Hmph. Adventure. Heh. Excitement. Heh. A Jedi craves not these things. You are reckless.”

It was nearly 11:30. People were starting to come out of the buildings. Lunch time. He had started last fall. Not a real good time to start as a sidewalk vendor. There was the winter to look forward to. But the few people who were out in those cold and lean months were hungry. Smaller crowds meant he could hone his skills and be ready for days like today. He took special care when preparing for the day. He sliced onions, not the bottled stuff that was ok but just didn’t sit right in the bun. Tomatoes too he selected at a certified organic farmers market. The relish and jalapeños came from a friend whose family had pickled pickles for three generations. He made pico de gallo for the more adventuresome. He did not tell anyone that the buns were not fresh but at least a day old. Most people just want fresh. But letting the buns age gave them a better bite even after sitting in the steamer. If he were in a storefront things might be handled differently. There was an assortment of mustard on the rack and hidden from sight, the forbidden condiment, ketchup. Anyone asking for ketchup in the presence of others, courting scorn and derision. He enjoyed ketchup and could not understand the prejudice against ketchup. His cart was not very big. He kept it tidy, clean, inviting.

In ones and twos, people were coming to his cart. There was a line now. It was going to be a good day. Over the heads of the customers in front of him he could see his old friend approaching. He was someone from before his street vendor incarnation. Now, he and his friend had a routine when he placed his order. His friend would announce loudly, “Make me one with everything.” He would make him a special. Then when his friend asked for change he would say, “Change comes from within.” Sometimes it was amusing, sometimes darn right irritating. Some were startled when he placed his order. Looking at their face he wondered if they would ever come back. He finished the order in front of him. His friend stepped up and with a great flourish, a loud voice, waving his arms and bowing, placed his order: “Make me one with everything.”

The vendor smiled to himself. He began to put his friend’s order together. Steam rose from the bun box as he opened it. With his tongs he tested then pulled out the finest, steamed, lightly chewy bun. Out of the pot of hot dogs, he would have much preferred grilling but this was a cart, he lifted a beautiful Brooklyn dog. Each bite of a Brooklyn was known to bring a snap and smile to the eater. With the deft hands of a well trained journeyman he place mustard, relish then slices of tomato and onions. Finally a light sprinkle of kosher salt that gave flavor and texture to the experience. He too had experienced such a dog, many years ago, at a small counter far away. That bite remained with him even now as he prepared each dog. It was not everything but such a dog would bring happiness to any grumpy old man. He carefully wrapped the hot dog then placed an empty wrapper in his friend’s outstretched hand. To his friend he said, “All things are empty.” And smiled. Before his friend could say a word in protest he placed the finished hot dog in his other hand. “This too is empty.”

It was going to be a good day.