On giant golden Buddhas.

Published March 24, 2012 by mandileighbean

Let me begin this particular blog entry with an apology: I am sorry that I am a big, fat liar. I was supposed to being my year-long creativity challenge yesterday, but here I am, beginning today.

Better late than never, right?

The prompt and the resulting piece follow, and I sincerely hope you enjoy them. If not, feel free to tell me all about it! Comment with critiques, praise, or your own piece! Let’s share and see if we can’t make this better!

THE PROMPT: “Giant Golden Buddha”
In San Francisco there was a townhouse with a second story picture window – the living room, apparently – completely filled by a giant golden Buddha. This seated Buddha, which must have been at least six feet high, faced out, serenely overlooking the marina. The exercise is this: Robert has been invited for cocktails. He enters the living room from the hallway. From Robert’s point of view, this large statue blocks what must be a magnificent view. What does he think about that? Write the scene, and include some dialogue with the host and Robert’s unspoken thoughts.

THE PIECE:

Robert’s shiny shoes clicked loudly against the concrete sidewalk, and the echo sounded hollow and empty when it returned to him on the warm breeze. He was walking to Mr. Martin’s townhouse for some cocktails, or at least that’s what he had been told by his secretary, Allison. Friday afternoon, as he was calling it a day and leaving the office, she had excitedly stopped him and told him about the invitation from the head honcho, the big boss man. Allison also admitted, somewhat ashamedly, that she had already accepted the invitation on Robert’s behalf, and had copied down all the necessary information onto an index card. With her finely manicured nails, Allison made sure to point out the time and the date several times. She wanted to stress the importance of this seemingly innocent cocktail party, and the possibility it had to positively affect both of their futures at the public relations firm. Robert began to voice his concerns, his trepidations and some nerves, but Allison hurriedly cut him off and told Robert not to worry. She promised that Robert would be fine and make her proud, and instructed him to just be himself, but to not show up empty-handed. Allison had given Robert an encouraging pat on the back, and then returned to her desk.

            During Allison’s instructions, Robert had smiled and nodded, and done his best to seem eager and prepared. He wanted Allison to believe that he believed her when she said it was no big deal, and that he would be fine. Truth be told, though, Allison was full of shit. Being invited to your boss’s expensive townhouse after being with the firm for only a year was a very big deal. Maybe Robert would be fine and would handle himself well, but no one knew for sure and danger was just as much of a possibility as success was. He had been nervous and battling an upset stomach since receiving the invitation and here he was, headed to the townhouse almost a full twenty-four hours later, feeling no better. He wasn’t sure if he felt worse, or if that was even possible, but his palms were slick with sweat and his stomach flipped uneasily every now and again. He thought walking would help release some of the nervous energy, but it hadn’t made a noticeable difference. Robert had then tried to enjoy the weather, which was truly beautiful. The clear sky was slowly being filled with majestic hues of burning orange and romantic red as the sun made its habitual descent. The dying rays were powerful, and Robert had to squint against them and at times, look away to his shoes – his shiny shoes.

            Was he trying too hard? Robert wondered how he really looked. With his meticulously pressed pants and finely tailored button down shirt, he knew he looked professional, and he hoped his long, thin tie helped him retain his youth and optimism. His hair was short and neat, or at least it had been. Robert wasn’t entirely certain of its current appearance because he had nervously run slightly shaking fingers through it about a million and one times. Looking professional was helpful, but Robert knew it wouldn’t be enough to be memorable or impressive. He’d have to be smart, charming, witty but generic enough to blend in and not upstage the host, or any other guest. It was an incredibly fine line to navigate, and he was certainly feeling the pressure. When a smooth, warm breeze rolled lazily along the street, he welcomed it gladly. He closed his eyes for a moment, took a deep breath, and slowed to a halt.

            Mr. Martin’s townhouse was awesome. Open-mouthed, Robert craned his neck to take it all in; its Spanish roofing with terracotta coloring, its looming picture windows that had to offer incredible views, based on its proximity to the marina. So this is what it’s like to live high on the hog, Robert thought, allowing a small smile to play upon the corner of his lips. For a moment, he began to envision himself in such a residence and what the kind of life would be like, but he reminded himself where he was and snapped his mouth shut. Straightening his tie, he casually strolled – or at least tried to – the wide, stone steps to the front door. He rang the bell and focused on his breathing before the door opened before him to reveal Mr. Martin himself.

            “Hey there, Roger; I’m so glad you were able to make it!” Mr. Martin greeted Robert with a disarming smile and a loud, booming voice that grabbed the attention of anyone and everyone within ear shot. Robert offered a queasy smile.

            “Thank you for inviting me, sir. You have a lovely –“

            “What’s that you’ve got there?” Mr. Martin asked, indicating the bottle of scotch tucked beneath Robert’s arm. Robert had forgotten he had even had it, and now offered it to Mr. Martin.

            “I just thought it’d be nice to bring a little something, sir, so I stopped by the liquor store and asked the attendant-“

            “Is it single malt?” Mr. Martin asked. His smile had become strained as it transformed into scrutiny. He was studying the bottle and the label, and Robert’s throat had suddenly gone dry.

            “Well, sir, I don’t exactly know. I asked the attendant-“

            “Ah, well it’s no matter. Come on inside!” Mr. Martin clapped Robert on the back strongly. His strength wasn’t surprising to Robert – it was expected. He wasn’t massive in size, but he certainly was massive in personality. The man exuded confidence and effortlessly commanded respect. Dressed casually in a pair of tan slacks and a light yellow polo shirt, he pulled Robert inside the home and let the door shut behind them. His canvas boat shoes moved soundlessly through the short hallway that led to stairs that then led into the living room. The room was nearly filled with executive types, smoking cigars that probably cost more than anything Robert had ever smoked. The scent of cologne hung heavily in the air, mingling with the smoke, and both created a somewhat stifling atmosphere. Robert loosed his tie and turned to Mr. Martin, who was discreetly handing the bottle of scotch to a maid, whispering something. Robert tried to keep the heat of embarrassment from his face and tried to trap it within his chest. “So Roger, let me introduce you to the guests!” Mr. Martin once again clapped Robert on the back, and he felt his knees slightly buckle under that weight, and the weight of the pressure to be impressive.

            He was steered by Mr. Martin to the different groups that had assembled, and introduced to some of the most successful and well-known men in the community. Each was generically handsome, dressed in a fashion eerily similar to that of Mr. Martin, and each shook Robert’s hand in a professionally polite manner. Once all the introductions had been made, Mr. Martin left Robert to fend for himself. Unsure of what else to do with his sweaty, shaking hands, Robert shoved them deep inside his front pockets and took a few steps toward the nearest group of businessmen. He smiled brightly at those who noticed him – though none really did – and listened to the conversation for an opening. An older man with peppered, slicked back hair was saying, “I’m taking the wife and the kids toParisthis summer. We have a house inGreece, but we’ve been there so many times and, you’d be surprised, it’s a tiny island. We’re confident we’ve seen all there is to see.”

            A man beside him with a rotund belly and significantly less hair asked, “What’s there to do inParis?”

            The first man shrugged and rolled his eyes. “I know the wife wants to see theEifelTower, but the daughter was going on and on about seeing such and such with the ex-patriots or something.” He paused and let a small laugh escape him. “I didn’t know they had patriots inFrance.” Those around him laughed heartily. Well, all those except Robert.

            Robert cleared his throat and said, “I think she was talking about expatriates – people who temporarily reside in a country and partake in a culture other than their own upbringing.” The crowd fell silent and what felt like a hundred piercing eyes turned to Robert. Suddenly, he felt small and dumb. Casting his eyes downward, he continued, “Have you ever heard of Fitzgerald or Stein? I think Hemingway went, too.”

            Another man said, “Are they involved in PR?”

            Laughing, Robert shook his head slowly and looked up. He was the only one laughing. His face fell and he decided to explain himself. “No, they were American writers in the 1920s that went to Francebecause they found artistically inspiring and freeing.” Robert took his hands from his pockets and brought them in front of him. He wasn’t sure what else to do or say, but he still had the attention of the group. “Has anyone ever read The Great Gatsby? What about The Sun Also Rises?”

            The portly man laughed and said, “We don’t have time to read, Roger! We’re building an empire!” The other man laughed and the conversation returned to safe and familiar territory for the men – back to business. Robert’s face burned red and he excused himself from the group. His tail was between his legs and he was feeling defeated. Clearly, these captains of industry had nothing in common with him, and had failed to correctly remember his name.

            What’s worse is that it wasn’t their fault; Mr. Martin had been calling him Roger all night, and Robert had never corrected him. Was he too afraid to contradict him? Was he weak enough to suffer that kind of humiliation?

            What was he doing?

            Robert had inadvertently traveled into the adjacent room, which was blessedly empty. There wasn’t much room for guests as the space was filled with ornate furniture and expensive looking knick knacks that served no discernable purpose other than “completing the room.” Robert turned to his left slightly, and there before him was a massive, golden statue of Buddha. It nearly hit the ceiling, and was wide enough to block the majority of the picture window … a window that clearly looked out onto the marina and the setting sun. Behind the grotesque and gaudy statue was a breathtaking view of natural beauty, of something that the hands of men could never emulate, that was engineered by and worthy of something great. Robert scuttled from left to right, rose on tip toe and slightly squatted down, but all he could see was Buddha. He sighed in frustration and turned to see Mr. Martin standing in the doorway. “Roger! I’ve been looking for you! What are you doing in here?”

            Robert jerked his head back towards the statue. “What is that, sir?”

            Mr. Martin shrugged and puffed on his cigar. “I don’t know. Mrs. Martin picked it out. It set us back a fair amount, though. It’s made of solid gold, and there’s no other statue like it. It might have set a record for its size, too.” Pleased with the statue, but more so with his ability to acquire it, Mr. Martin grinned in a manner Robert suddenly found absurd and wiggled his eyebrows.

            “Sir, do you know who Buddha was, or was this statue symbolizes?”

            Mr. Martin’s face was void of the humor it had so recently displayed. He narrowed his eyes at Robert. “What are you getting at, Roger? Do you find this statue offensive in some way?”

            Robert threw his head back and laughed. “No, sir; Buddha symbolizes serenity and enlightenment. There’s very little offensive about that. What does offend me is that you have yet to get my name right.”

            “What do you mean?” Mr. Martin asked, although his face paled as if he knew the answer.

            “My name is Robert. I’ve been working for you for about a year, and my name is Robert.” Robert had clenched his fists and stood up taller and straighter. He had also raised his voice, and a few of the men from the other room had wandered over to see what was going on. Robert paid no mind to the other men, or the way his body was subconsciously and physically reacting to the evening. “I apologize that I brought the wrong bottle of scotch sir, and I am incredibly sorry that I will not be in the office on Monday. Or ever again, really.”

            Mr. Martin took the cigar from his mouth and pointed it at Robert. “What’s this all about, Rog-“

            “It’s Robert! And this entire night, all anyone has talked about is work and making money and that’s all well and good, but why should I be made to feel like I’m weird and insignificant?” Robert was exploding. More eyebrows were raised as more eyes crowded into the room and the narrow hallway beyond. Robert had never wanted to work in an office, had never wanted to work for money, meaning he had always wanted to do something he loved and was passionate about. He hadn’t been happy for months, but he’d been too much of a chicken shit to admit it or do anything about it. It took a comically large statue of Buddha to set him off, to finally make him realize he was becoming insignificant in his own life. “I like to read! I like fine art! Maybe I should write for an arts and leisure magazine! Maybe I should be a food critic! For the past year, I have kissed ass and toiled away for hours in a tiny speck of a cubicle and for what? For a golden statue to fill the picture window in the townhouse I can’t afford?” Robert turned to yell at Buddha now. “I don’t want that! I want to be happy, and I want to see what’s beyond money! I want to be happy, and loved and needed, and I want to come home from work not exhausted, but inspired and exhilarated!” It was a level five meltdown and Robert was going to end with a bang.

            Head held high, Robert walked over to the statue. “I’m sorry, because I do not think I am superior to you gentlemen. You are successful and admired, and I would never take that away from anyone. But I am different, and I’m sick of being a square peg in a round hole, and I am sick of this statue!” Suddenly, Robert threw his body against the statue. He used the entirety of his weight and the statue wobbled before crashing onto its side. The men scuttled back, gasping as the glass table beside the statue shattered beneath its awesome weight and the floor shook. “Look!” Robert exclaimed, pointing through the window. “Look at that sunset! Look at the water! That is what I aspire to!” Hair askew and breathless, Robert turned back to the men. They stared at him with wide mouths and vacant expressions, unsure of what to make of the man before them. Embarrassed, Robert cleared his throat and straightened his tie.

            “Robert,” Mr. Martin said gravely, “I think it’s time you left.”

            With a nod, Robert maneuvered through the crowd to the exit.

 

2 comments on “On giant golden Buddhas.

  • I almost had a belly laugh. About halfway through the story, before Robert starts getting more comfortable, I thought to myself how this all resonated with The Great Gatsby. Then he mentions it. I had to make sure he wasn’t just thinking it. It was a very spontaneous, entertaining moment.

    Everything was great, and the use of the Buddha as a beacon of the partygoers’ ignorance was very clever. It shows you really thought about this.

    However, if I may offer one critique, I felt a sense that Robert walked away almost in defeat, like he was some crazy guy who had a random, pointless outburst. Of course that’s how Mr. Martin and the other stiffs felt about him, but we, the readers, identify with him. We’re meant to.

    Up until that point, we had seen the world through his eyes and stood in his shoes. But at the end he felt almost abandoned, like he was indeed some loon and not somebody who bravely stood up for his convictions and desires. A small bit at the end detailing his relief, his renewed spirit, would have been perfect.

    Thank you for sharing! Succeed at your challenge. Leave luck to gamblers and the lazy.

  • Thank you so much for the critique! I couldn’t agree with you more. I’m not sure what happened at the end – maybe I felt defeated by the prompt and stopped trying? I know that I didn’t want anything to be too obvious and I wanted to avoid explicity stating things, but I most certainly didn’t want Robert to end defeated. I wanted him to be vindicated, but without being self-righteous.

    I’m so glad you said that. Thank you so much!

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