i was depressed. It was the first anniversary of my true love’s death, and in a stroke of unforgivable timing, the guy who I’d been bonking on a regular basis had just informed me that he needed to be “free,” an adolescent status that I felt was unbecoming of his 37-year-oldness. Still, I had no compulsion to talk him out of wanting “freedom,” so, like I said, I was depressed, and I felt like if I didn’t see a tree that wasn’t jacketed with bus soot and pug piss and empty Frappaccino bottles I was going to steal a large machete from the Afghanistan carpet store and rend my garments and wander down Seventh Avenue, swacking gay rollerbladers off at the knees with green foam coming out of my mouth.
So I called up this ashram I’d researched in a similar depressive fit last year, when I thought I wanted to take a month-long Vow of Silence. It was Memorial Day Weekend. Lots was going on, they said. A flute concert. Indian dancing. A visit from a real live Saint. Three meals a day plus room and board, the whole yoga shebang, for 150 bucks. My friend Mo had just broken up with her boyfriend too, and was suffering hard, so I convinced her that if she came with me, the negative ions of nature would act like some kind of divine power sander and
blast away the sedimentary layers and stalagmites of corroded love juju that had formed on us.
“So can I get a double room for my friend and me?”
“We cannot guarantee that you will not have to share it with somebody else.”
I thought of who might be sharing our room: some depressed, overweight, single, graying, 45-year-old Jewish born-again-Hindu woman with hairy armpits and natural cotton pants who would chant very loudly and piously whenever she felt like it, and whine the rest of the time and occupy an ungodly amount of personal space with her wangled aura.
“You must guarantee that nobody else will be in our room or we’re not coming.”
“Well, we reserve all of the double rooms for married couples.”
“Oh, well, so I guess you discriminate against couples who aren’t married?”
“You … and this other woman?”
“Yes. We’re a COUPLE.”
I felt bad already, lying to the registration woman. I was already racking up more bad karma, and I wasn’t even there yet. I figured Mo wouldn’t mind acting like my lesbian lover for a weekend since we act that way all the time when we’re drunk anyway.
In any case, they gave us the room, and we ended up on the shuttle van, crushed up against a gaggle of exactly the type of woman I didn’t want in my room for several hours as we were driven up into the Catskills. I read the list of ashram do’s and don’ts: no drugs, no alcohol, no onions, no garlic, no weapons, etc. I felt totally secure that I wouldn’t run into anyone I knew.
Pulling over the last hill to the ranch, we noted that the landscape was breathtakingly serene, splayed out with the hoydenish colors of untethered foliage and colder than shit. Spring had recently sprung in New York and I started to resent my optimistic luggage full of white sundresses and white shorts and other holyish sunwear.
A French woman with a complicated Hindu name smirked at me when I checked in to the double room with my galpal. “You know, the Krishnas sort of frown on homosexuality,” muttered Mo. “Tough tits,” I remarked. “Just wait until I get in the sauna. I’m going to compliment all of the women really creepily. ‘Hey. You got a nice YONI. Only you need a more powerful depilatory.’” I was proud that I already knew the Sanskrit word for crotch.
Then they fed us. Vegetarian food can be made well. I know, I do it myself all the time. However, if you take a vat of zucchini and boil it down until it looks like oiled newsprint, sauce that up with a tub of frightened mung-beans, dribble all over it with chunky yellowish vego-sop, and totally eliminate all traces of joy and flavoring (onions and garlic are considered too RANDY, too PASSIONATE), you can achieve ashram cuisine: something that is evidently palatable only to the super-adept.
I looked longingly out the window at the ashram’s beautiful Indian milking cows, with their big sensitive Astro-Boy eyes. They were strangely human, very aware and sentient cows, and I wanted to eat them.
This was the ashram schedule: up at 5:30 in the morning, while the cows were still frozen. Chanting and meditation until 8 or so, then two hours of yoga, then “brunch” (more of the same; in ashram land maimed zucchini is considered a breakfast food), then “karma yoga,” which consisted of doing everyone else’s dishes and shoveling cow shit and any other surge of manual labor that the ashram deemed necessary; a karmic indulgence-selling kind of deal that would have made Martin Luther stomp into the temple with his gum boots on and spontaneously burst into flames of fury.
During brunch, while I was dropping soggy blotches of gray yoga curd pooty onto my tin plate, I had a dij` vu: the schedule, the meals, the chores, the unenjoyable bucolic setting … I had done all of it before, years ago, in juvenile hall. This sensory recognition was confirmed by the hour of Karma Yoga I did in the kitchen afterwards, scrubbing gelatinous clots of boiled fiber off hundreds of pieces of industrial flatware.
The head ashram mojo Grand Dragon guy told us that he had been eagerly awaiting Saturday night’s flute concert for months. This turned out to be some guy with a wooden ethnic flute thing that was capable of emitting five notes in an escalating pentatonic scale, and little else. The guy would play long, slow, impassioned blasts of one note — Dooooooooooot. Doooooo-ooooooooooooot. Then go really wild, like Kenny G on Xanax with no fingers: Dooooooooo-FWEEEET! Tweedle-eop, fweet! It was so impossibly dull, I kept thinking that it should be one of those TV commercials: “Does your Saturday Night look like this?” and they’d show the ashram flute concert, with all these timid, earnest middle-aged people wrapped in wool blankets, entering a state of paralysis to the grave and sober fweeping and dooting in the cold mountain air, “Or THIS?” and they’d smash-cut to a bunch of American Bandstand kids in tight striped vinyl midriffs, doing skateboard stunts inside an electric dome to flaming synthesizer riffs.
The “Saint” was pretty interesting. He and his group of yogi-swami pals coolly strode around the ranch campus in their flowing sitar rock-star garments like some Calcutta vision of the Monkees in “Head.” We all assembled to hear this guy, who sat cross-legged on a little platform in the meditation hall, behind a microphone covered with red and pink flowers. All the yoga camp regulars were twittering before him like he was Springsteen. He sang a lot of songs and talked in a Godly monotone about “Impermanence,” which I recognized as the heart of my earthly dilemma, in fact, everybody’s dilemma. “You cannot change the course of the waterfall, you cannot change the currents of nature, etc.” Why can’t shit just stay put? Why can’t people just hang around and love me forever? Why do the great peak times of my life evaporate in a millisecond and why does a weekend at the yoga ranch seem like several months?
We miraculously got through the weekend, and by the third day were actually sort of acclimated to the schedule. Yoga is a peaceful way of life that takes you away from your ordinarily painful routine and provides an airy, light-headed alternative, enhanced by the ancient practices of sleep depravation and extensive bouts of breath-holding, which depletes the oxygen in the brain.
The biggest problem with the whole yoga ranch experience is that although Mo and I were a little younger than the other karmic refugees, we were pretty much exactly the same as all of the women I couldn’t stand. We were all disappointed, stomped whiteys looking for some kind of higher ethnic religious connection in order to provide relief from men, and trying to plead to the heavens in a language that wasn’t English. Still, I got back to New York in one piece and realized that I didn’t want to smoke 13 cigarettes and drink several bottles of King Cobra. All I really needed was to clean my apartment. So I guess it worked.