I rented a car at the airport and drove to Bobby's hangout in Venice called Muscle Beach, which is an oceanfront gym planted on the boardwalk amongst a multicultural sprawl of shops, eateries, street artists, mobile vendors, and a general potpourri of personalities that spill out from the epicenter of Los Angeles. Since he had no cell phone, Bobby assured me that I would nevertheless be able to find him at his home base in the sand, near the weight machines, pull-up bars, and various workout apparatuses.
Sure enough, as I strolled along the strip and enjoyed the cool breeze of the Pacific Ocean, I found Bobby in the sand pit, among his fellow fitness enthusiasts. We greeted each other with great excitement and smiles, and Bobby punctuated the moment by saying: "I can't believe this is happening." His face was spectacularly tan and looked heartily weathered by the California sun. He had also clearly been at the mercy of a certain kind of raw exposure—a kind of unsheltered intimacy, nurtured by radical coexistence with the wild elements of the West Coast. He had abruptly and unexpectedly gone from being immersed in a scholarly setting at a private university (Loyola Marymount), to a primal mode of day-to-day survival on the beach. Yet, his yoga and meditation practices remained daily and consistent (true signs of intense bhakti).
Bobby soon introduced me to two of his friends that were sitting on a bench along the periphery of the sand pit. Both were immigrants—one from Ireland, the other from Romania. The Romanian was a professional chef who had also recently done massage therapy in Martha's Vineyard before coming out west in search of a warmer climate. The Irishman was a business graduate with a newfound desire to change the world. In a matter of minutes, our conversation touched upon topics like psychedelic, out-of-body experiences, to tantric, pre-orgasmic sex.
Not a bad start to my trip, considering that I had only hit the tarmac at LAX about an hour ago.
As the sun faded into the distant blue, orange horizon, we decided to walk around Venice and grab something to eat. Bobby gave me a running commentary of the scenery as we trodded along. There was a slightly unkempt man laying down on the sidewalk, and Bobby said: "That guy is a self-proclaimed Satanist who will answer any question you have for $1." A moment later, a kid came skateboarding by and skidded to a grinding halt once he recognized my illustrious tour guide. They hugged, and the youngster reached into a brown paper bag and handed Bobby a sizable chunk of a pot brownie recently procured from a nearby medical marijuana dispensary.
We found a slightly upscale Chinese restaurant called Mao's Kitchen. "Chinese country cooking with a red memory," said the menu. While Bobby spoke fluent Spanish to one of the bus boys bringing us water, Josh (the Irishman) read me some of his favorite selections from the revered Irish poet William Butler Yeats. I listened intently, then responded in kind by rattling off an excerpt from Walt Whitman's Song of Myself.
After dinner and plenty of jasmine tea, we headed back to the boardwalk. We came upon a couple of artists who were painting under the moonlight and the street lamps. One of them was covered with splatters of paint, even on his face and shaved head. He looked like Jackson Pollack had used his body as a canvas, with none of the epidermic regions left untouched. We started talking to him, exchanged hugs, and then he snatched a basketball from Josh's hands and painted a nice little diamond shape on the worn leather. Moments later, a wandering yogi came upon us, and we all started doing asanas on the sidewalk as people passed and watched. After stretching, we conversed, and it turned out that the yogi was in recovery from intravenous, crystal meth addiction. He found great benefit in achieving natural highs with yoga, so I told him about AYP for Recovery. It was a hopeful and synchronistic conversation.
The next morning, Bobby, Josh, and I picked up Chas from the airport, and headed to the Self-Realization Fellowship Lake Shrine on Sunset Boulevard, which Yogananda built near the end of his life. The sky was overcast and raining with a soft, persistent drizzle.
We pulled into the parking lot entrance and were greeted by a timid but friendly man. "Sorry, the lot is full," he said. Before I could respond, Bobby yelled from the backseat in roaring protest, with an impressively high decibel level: "We're devotees of Paramahansa Yogananda!!" In a gentler, less Brooklyn-like tone, Chas quickly pointed to an empty space in the distance and said to the attendant, "What about there?" I just laughed and told the besieged fellow that we were serious meditators. He reluctantly waved us through, realizing that we would not back down so easily.
We meandered into the main temple, which sat high atop a hill overlooking a little lake populated by big ducks and royal-looking swans. A statue of Jesus stood on the peak of a waterfall that was cascading down the embankment. Inside the temple, a Sunday service of a couple hundred practitioners was trickling out into the lobby and gardens. We walked into the nearly emptied meditation hall, and I explained the revered pictures of Yogananda's guru lineage to Josh, who was not familiar with SRF. The avatars were on display at the altar, front and center: Jesus, Krishna, Babaji, Mahasaya, Yukteswar, and Yogananda himself.
We returned to the lobby and huddled together, and I said: "Gentlemen, one day we will have an AYP center of this size and magnitude." They chuckled, and then we sauntered down a zig-zagged terrace of steps to the sizable pond below. There was a smaller chapel on the far side of the lake, away from the bookstore, gift shop, and museum. We decided to meditate inside the quaint structure, which was palpably serene and quiet.
After our 20-minute session and short rest, we emerged again into the open air, and lo and behold, all the rain and dark clouds had dissipated! Our inner housecleaning had been echoed by the clear light of consciousness and the sun shining down upon us. Score!
That night, we crashed in a 4-star hotel, thanks to the spectacular discount Chas receives for being a pilot with a major airline. Before bedtime, we found our way to the hot tub on the roof. We conversed about cosmic consciousness and supernormal powers (siddhis). I was feeling pretty joyful, and once I finally got to lay down and share a luxurious bed with Josh, I laughed raucously and convulsively for about ten minutes straight. He uttered words of tolerance and approval as I unwound obstructions through my bout of sober euphoria. He understood.
The next day Chas, Bobby, and I went to watch the filming of the Conan O'Brien show in Burbank. Being a big fan of Conan, and having watched many hours of his show on TV and YouTube, it was surreal to see him in the flesh. In a strange way, he almost seemed more distant in my real-time vision than when seen on the flat screen of my smartphone. I guess I was secretly yearning to shake his hand, to have a face-to-face conversation, to make it realer than just being an audience member. Oh well, the experience was still enjoyable, and much appreciated, and besides, before the show, the three of us climbed up a steep hill near the studio and meditated together—high above the monstrous power lines and the concrete-encased Los Angeles River flowing below. Another notch in the belt of AYP's fledgling satsang.
Chas had to fly out the next morning, and after he left, Bobby and I hiked a strenuous trail called "The Vital Link" in Wildwood Canyon Park. The elevation rises over a thousand feet in less than a mile when traversed on foot. Very sharp inclines are marked by the consistent 45-degree angle of the upward surge. At the top of one of the peaks, we took in a sweeping 360-degree view that revealed Santa Catalina Island off the Pacific coast, as well as the more inland mountains of Angeles National Forest to the east. We enjoyed the vast silence for a while. Like pure bliss consciousness, the space seemed to stretch infinitely.
On the way down, Bobby started shuffle-jogging, and I kept pace with him. Before long, he was sprinting at full speed with pogo-like legs. I felt exhilarated and charged, so I, too, hit the accelerator and let my senses become super-heightened as the pull of gravity dragged me gracefully downhill—bouncing off chalky rock and dirt the whole way...feeling fully alive and capable.
Later on, I was dying to get my hands on a guitar, so I dropped Bobby off at the beach and swung by a music store, where I found an acoustic Gibson in the high-end section of the shop. I felt so relieved, like a junkie finally getting a fix. As I was picking and thumping and singing, a Hispanic man approached me and asked for advice on what guitar to buy. His broken English made me desperately wish that I was fluent in Spanish, but I managed to convey a few hints despite the language barrier. He said he liked the looks and sound of the Gibson I was playing, so I handed it over to him. He strummed a few chords, and I told him that he was a natural. As I was leaving, I also told him that he couldn't make a wrong decision—they were all superbly crafted instruments. He had eager eyes and a childlike smile. It's random encounters with people like him that keep me motivated to open myself to strangers.
Farther down the road, I found an Asian massage parlor [Note: Not the "happy endings" kind]. Behind a partitioned wall in the front area, the hidden interior was like a miniature factory, with about 25 low-level couch-tables scrunched together in perfectly aligned rows. However, I saw only two customers receiving rubdowns. The cashier up front assigned me to one of the many free tables, and from behind a backroom curtain, a short Asian man emerged like a stealthy ninja, carrying a bucket of hot water for me to submerge my feet in. As I was soaking my feet, he worked on my shoulders and neck. Then he had me raise my arms so he could interlock them with his own and do some crazy, turbo stretches that I had never experienced before. He was like a pretzel magician. After that, I lay down, and he hit all the major spots any therapist would usually cover, but once again, he threw in some new tricks that I will definitely try to mimic and incorporate when I start massage school in March. It was an hour-long session, and when I arose and opened my eyes, I was stunned to see the entire room full of customers! I had only heard a few whispers the whole time, but the parlor had nevertheless been silently and magically flooded in the interim. What a marvelous and efficient operation they were running! When I went to pay at the register, the cashier said: "25 dollars." It was undoubtedly a real bargain, considering the amount of work the therapist had applied to my muscles. I gave a $15 tip.
I scooped Bobby up again, and we ate dinner at a restaurant called Baby Blues BBQ. It was Southern cooking transplanted to the West Coast. I ordered a beef brisket sandwich, an Arnold Palmer (which is non-alcoholic sweet iced tea mixed with lemonade), and a piece of buttermilk pie. Above our table, mounted on the wall, was a surf board with a painted rendition of Johnny Cash extending his middle finger in flippant defiance. Our waitress was from New York. She winked at me and called us "love bugs". Bobby ordered a second helping of his main course, and he looked totally blazed from the edible marijuana he had ingested earlier. I, of course, was sober, at least in the sense of being free of entheogenic stimuli.
After dinner, Bobby wanted to take me to the campus of Loyola Marymount, where I was originally scheduled to teach an AYP workshop for the master's program of yoga studies there (before Bobby's hiatus had altered the plan). We were coming full circle, and how timely it was, given that I was on the last night of my trip.
We shuffled up a side path and moved effortlessly though the sublime night. The campus was pristine in many aspects. It was such a contrast to the grimy boardwalk of Venice. We made our way to the most central academic building, which was open. It resembled a massive mall or corporate complex. There were multiple escalators connecting three floors, with a wide foyer that stretched for hundreds of yards. Along the rectangular perimeter were various departments, classrooms, and faculty offices. There were marble columns, glass walls, and even indoor trees scattered throughout the facility. It was state-of-the-art, and dripping with Jesuit money.
As we were leaving campus, we swung by Bobby's former dormitory, and out of the corner of his eye, he saw his old roommate in the late-night laundry room. We kept going, due to a need to maintain an incognito presence. We returned to the rental car. My mind felt crystal clear and calm. Some kind of reconciliation and future premonition had occurred, though I couldn't explain it definitively.
The next morning, en route to check out of the Jolly Roger Hotel in Marina Del Ray, Bobby projectile-vomited in the corridor between our room and the lobby. The edibles had gotten the best of him. I quickly grabbed towels and cleaned up the mess. Fortunately, he was able to make it to the car. I dropped him off at Muscle Beach, where I had found him six days earlier. I hugged him and said: "Take care of yourself."
I arrived at LAX and boarded a plane to San Francisco, where six years ago, I had gotten divorced, sobered up, and found AYP during the transformative onset of my Saturn Return.
In the next blog, I'll write about what happened once the plane landed.
Thank you for reading.