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Sparrow — the pseudonym for a writer and cultural provocateur who lives on New York’s Lower East Side — has been a regular contributor to The Sun for years, offering a mix of stories, poetry, cartoons, and a number of texts that defy ready classification. His pieces are typically short and off-beat; his style runs to brief, quirky vignettes, in which the humor is pointed and the compassion is apparent.
Some time back, we received what Sparrow referred to rather darkly as “the book.” Almost five hundred pages long, the size of the manuscript alone was daunting. We knew Sparrow as a craftsman of the short form; it was akin to watching a world-class sprinter suddenly decide to take up the marathon. We knew, too, we could never publish something of such length. Finally, it dealt with a spiritual quest in terms that often seemed starkly — and brazenly — “unspiritual.”
I remember secretly hoping for the manuscript to turn out lousy; that would solve everything.
And yet — the man can run.
The book is the record of Sparrow’s year-long pilgrimage — by way of Europe, the Middle East, and an on-again, off-again love affair — to India, where he planned to meet his guru, P.R. Sarkar.
Sparrow is a member of Ananda Marga, a spiritual organization founded on the idea that all human beings must have access to the minimum necessities of life before the higher pursuits can be entertained. Founded by Sarkar in 1954, the organization is involved in extensive social service programs worldwide, and offers free instruction in yoga and meditation.
Part travelogue, part spiritual quest, every bit a confessional, Sparrow’s account begins with his flight across the Atlantic, takes us through his arrest in Scotland, fruit-picking in the British countryside, Yom Kippur in Glasgow, and New Year’ s Day in London.
What follows are excerpts from Born Too Young, to be continued in our next issue. Sparrow is looking for a publisher.
— T.L. Toma
“Sparrow, we’re flying,” she said, which is a good sentence.
Look out the window — it looks like the end of the world, I told her, an eerie barren coastline.
That’s the wing of the plane, she said.
A year from today we will straggle into Calcutta and see Baba — that’s the plan. Until then, there’s this.
What am I? An aspiring writer traveling to his guru in the Age of Madonna. That was the original subtitle, but it is no longer the Age of Madonna. In fact, it is no longer the Age of Bruce Springsteen, which succeeded the Age of Madonna. I’m not sure it’s the Age of Anything. The point is I’m thirty-two — which is a little old for this — and I’m traveling with the woman I love, and I’m less afraid of flying because she is the one I want to die with.
No, first I want to see Baba, and offer myself to the Lord. I’m not saying he’s the Lord — although part of this journey is to find out — but whether he is the Lord or no, or whether anyone is the Lord or no, or whether there is a Lord, I want to present myself to the Lord, and the place to do it is where Baba is. Why? Because I’ve been dancing around his picture for eleven years and he’s come to represent the Mystery.
The Trip to Bountiful just started. A woman with blue hair is talking to a man without making a sound. For three dollars you get the sound.
“It’s good but it’s salty,” Jeanne says of the quiche.
I’m really traveling, after two years of planning; it’s Jeanne who made me go. She said, “Set a date,” and this is it, July 20. Three months ago she called me on the telephone, cried, and asked me to sleep with her — and I told her no, stay with your husband.
And now we’re married, and I’m wearing the turquoise ring she and her old boyfriend Nelson bought in Mexico; I’ve wire wrapped around it so it won’t fall off.
“We’re flying into the dawn,” Jeanne says, and Geraldine Page is crying, in a silly hat.
I slept in her lap, then worried myself awake.
“Look, there’s land,” she says now. “Between those clouds — can you see? It’s green. I wonder if we’re over Ireland.”
But I can’t see. I’d intended to buy glasses on Dyckman Street before leaving, but there wasn’t time, so I won’t see too much. I’m not sure how much I want to see.
“Yeah. Fields. Look.”
Just like America, I thought; pieces of green and brown stitched together, white roads.
“Fluffy white clouds are really lots of water that will soon fall down,” Jeanne tells me.
“What’s that, something you remember musical scales with?”
“It’s a haiku I wrote in fourth grade.”
A way out is what I’m looking for. A way out of what I’m not sure.
She changes the money: “It’s $1.51 to a pound! That’s terrible!” I like the money; it looks Chinese! (Our finances are already deeply interwoven: I bought her quiche, she paid for my luggage. It’s my secret hope our finances get so interwoven that we never part.)
Now she’s off dialing a friend. (“Watch this stuff! Carefully!”)
Lately I secretly feel we will not be together forever. Looking at her introverted WASP good looks, I think, “No, not her.” She’s told me she feels the same — though we yearn, in different ways, for this very thing. She, leaving a marriage of seven years, wants security but not finality; I, leaving a lifetime of aloneness, want finality but not . . . proximity.
The dharma brought us together and the dharma will bring us apart at the proper time.
“This is fun.”
“It’s like they made this whole place to amuse us.”
But when I try to define the dharma I fall into abstractions I read in dictionaries.
“There are no panhandlers here,” I told her in Victoria Station. Then a fourteen-year-old came up to me and said, “Kin you lend me sixpence for the tube?” I gave him ten pence and he gave me back two.
People write the same things on benches:
“Sparrow, there’s a clock with a sign over it: ‘This clock is three minutes fast.’ ”
What is dharma, the hero of this poem?
Jeanne and I are bored with one another, bored with London. She’d quit her job and hoped to relax, and now this traveling without direction is worse than 9 to 5. Jonathan, her former professor — he writes for The Observer — made us feel like fools. How can we get a job when there’s three-and-a-half million unemployed? Beats me. Jeanne seems to want to be in India, or at least Africa.
Of course there’s the dharma, watching over all this like a lion, the dharma that moves only to stretch its jaws.
My new plan is to unload all my spiritual advice immediately, to get to the real part, whatever that is. (Spiritual advice to myself: go to the Royal Wedding, find a pot to make rice and beans, write this book. Try to serve.)
The dharma is what you do and don’t get pain later. The inverse is the definition of karma.
I refuse to cut my hair; I’m not sure why. It’s similar to the way I refuse to spend Kennedy half dollars — not because I respect him but because I respect the way I once respected him. I respect the John F. Kennedy of my childhood, who died in my fifth-grade class when Mr. Hassett came in the door looking worried, and David Wolfthal cried, because, “Today is my birthday.”
Garry Wills points out that Kennedy, the youngest president, and Ronald Reagan, the oldest, were born only eight years apart — and though one is a Saint and the other a Fascist, their policies were almost identical: Nicaragua, Vietnam, the invasion of Grenada, the Bay of Pigs.
But at twelve me and Jessica Gorton and Debbie Ross made chocolate chip cookies (from scratch; this was before you could make them from a box) to raise money for something — a library? And we giggled a lot and were united by The Cause; as I look back, it was like working for Stalin — noble in every way except its purpose.
Not much hostility to Americans, though the couple we met at the airport said, “For a few weeks, when there was a lot of terrorism, you didn’t see them,” as if they were talking about an infestation of mice.
(And when I said, “As soon as we decided to go to Europe, everything got radioactive and the dollar fell,” they smiled proudly. The English are pleased to host calamity.)
I guess it’s time to start The Secrets of Chinese Meditation by Lu K’Uan Yu:
“According to the Buddha, we all have inherent in ourselves the Tathagata’s wisdom which is unknown to us and which we cannot use because of our ignorance.”
I brought this book along to ridicule and decipher, a parallel text to the one I’m writing. (Let’s see: “Within us is the Buddha’s wisdom; the only problem is we’re too stupid to know it.”)
In her journal, she mentions returning to New York; it activates my fear of being left. Joan left me for Paul Rosensweig, Marianne left me for Anurag, Anat left me for Israel — and though they all came back and then I left them, their leaving is how I remember them. Will Jeanne leave me? Will I force her to? That’s why I’m going to Baba, to get off this turntable — and that’s why I married Jeanne, so she couldn’t leave me, though you can’t stop the leavers from leaving once they decide to leave.
Things are about as bad as they can get:
1) Tomorrow we lose our room with little prospect of finding another.
2) We have no contacts here; we’re meeting fewer and fewer people all the time.
3) Jeanne is losing faith.
4) We’re both dully mad at each other.
5) I want to go to this Wedding even though we have lots more important things to do.
Now we’re in the village of Milton Keynes. We rode a coach two hours from London, discouraged by the countryside; it looked like Pennsylvania. An eight-hundred-year-old hedgerow doesn’t look any different than an eighty-year-old one.
My worry today is I’m falling out of love with her. She’s a good listener — a thoughtful listener — and it’s taken me this long to run out of things to say, and listen to her. And she doesn’t have much to say. She thinks bumblebees and flowers are beautiful (as I suppose they are); she didn’t like Hannah and Her Sisters; she’s confused a lot, and confused about why she’s confused; she didn’t like London and she doesn’t like Milton Keynes because she doesn’t “belong here.” (“That’s the idea of traveling,” I explain. “You go places you don’t belong. If you belonged there, you’d already be there. Personally I know where I belong and that’s why I’m not there.”)
We just had an enormous fight, and she shouted, “Shut up!” and ran away. I assumed we were finished, that she’d gone back home — but she was on a ridge, crying, all curled up. I told her, “I’m afraid that without sex and without romance there isn’t enough to hold us together,” and she said, “Don’t you see, Sparrow? This is what holds us together.”
We’re both a little sick and vaguely despondent. We’ve reached the part of traveling where you no longer think everything’s cute but you can’t tear yourself away from looking.
I was mailing a notebook to my parents when the postal officer said, “The cheapest way is to leave the flap open.” “But won’t it fall out?” “Yes, it will.”
M orning in Glasgow — according to our clock, which is wrong. Porridge simmering on the stove. Jeanne is making the laundry clean downstairs.
I was desperate to get to Faslane for the protests on Hiroshima Day; then I discovered that yesterday was Hiroshima Day. (I thought it was the eighth. I make that mistake every year.)
Luckily there’s Nagasaki Day, in two days. But we don’t know if where we’re going even exists. It’s not on a map. The people we met here, a couple from Madison, passed a Polaris submarine on a loch on their bicycle trip, where they stopped and took their picture in front of it. But they didn’t see a Peace Camp.
I’m in line at a discount store, one of those fascinating areas of the modern world: a brand-new slum. Everything is plastic and fluorescent, and the buildings high-rise, but there is about the place an unmistakable air of poverty and restlessness.
I’m feeling the unity of the colonized. (I think I’ve been subconsciously angry at the English for once keeping my country in bondage.) And everyone’s dark and looks Jewish.
“Jewish?” asked the man at the bus station.
I said yes, and he half-closed his eyes. “Good, good,” he said.
Now we’re in Helensburgh. She ate meat this morning! That upsets me.
“You said if I wanted to eat the local food, I could.”
“What about the poor animals?”
“Oh, shut up.”
Now I’m shutting up and she’s walking along the curb. She’s breaking my rules one by one. One day she doesn’t meditate. The next day she won’t read The Secrets of Chinese Meditation. The next day she eats meat. The sun is setting on my British Empire; she is India and I must let her go.
(At the naval base in Faslane, Sparrow and Jeanne join the Peace Camp, the site of a permanent, ongoing protest against the U.S. military presence. They’re arrested during a demonstration.)
They dragged me a while, cursed me, my hat fell off. “You made your point. Now we’ll give you a chance to walk.”
I felt sorry for these guys, puffing away. They stood me up, and I started to half-walk. We had a good quarter mile to go, and by the end I was practically supporting them, one on each arm. They were so out of shape, just walking up the hill bushed them.
“You did the right thing, cooperating,” my officer told me.
“My quarrel is not with you, anyway.”
“Yeah. Everybody’s got to make a living,” said my arresting officer.
They took me out and sat me under a pylon at the base of the hill, where everyone else was. People were divided into Those Who Walk and Those Who Are Dragged. Those Who Are Dragged were higher caste — they got cheers from the supporters at the gate and looked more cheerfully absurd — but I’d already become a walker and it was too late to go back.
The officer filled out my description without my cooperation. Two of them worked together to guess my height (five-foot-ten) and my weight (eleven stone). They described my hair as “long and tousy.”
A woman who seemed nice and the captain started telling me that if I didn’t have a passport, I was violating the Aliens Act and would be deported — at my expense — like the five people they deported last week for demonstrating. “Just send ’em back,” the captain said.
“But if you don’t know what country I’m from, how do you know where to deport me?”
“Maybe to Russia,” they suggested.
I became friends with my second arresting officer, who started telling jokes: “Where did the first Englishman come from? When a monkey screwed a pig. And the monkey’s suing!” He guessed I was Hispanic and called me Jesus (Haysoos) Rodriguez, though he later revised my ethnicity to “Hispanic with Jewish tendencies.”
“I’m gonna arrest you for pot,” he told me, gesturing at the cooking pot in my bag. Jeanne liked that.
“I think if I had twenty-four hours with you I could get you around to my way of thinking,” he said, but the opposite seemed to be happening.
“He’s a Zen Buddhist type of guy,” he said to another cop.
“No, I’m into yoga. I’m with the Ananda Marga Society.”
“I’m with the Mafia,” he shot back.
“Tell me, this meditation that you do — is it transcendental meditation, or is it beyond transcendental?” he asked.
“It’s beyond. . . .”
“Well, how high is it, would you say? Around thirty thousand feet?”
“That’s about right,” I said.
He read my book and criticized my handwriting, my spelling, and my punctuation. The best part was when I told him I supported the ones who didn’t walk.
“Why?” he asked.
“They obstruct the wheels of justice.”
“There is no justice,” he told me low. “There’s justice for them that have, but them that have not have no justice. You know,” he smiled at me, “if I hadn’t been an officer, I would’ve been a freedom fighter.”
“It’s not too late,” I said.
“What do you think I’ve been doing all these years? How do you think I know so many languages?”
“You’ve been a freedom fighter?” He nods. “In Angola?”
“No. South Africa.”
“For the blacks?”
“For the honkies.”
After dinner I walked by the loch; it was the first time I’d seen it in a green-silver dusk light. It reminds you of when your girlfriend dresses in an evening gown and comes down the stairs in candlelight, and looks just like Janet Leigh, and you think, “What did I do to deserve this?”
Jeanne is like that, so pretty sometimes I bite my lip. (And that you love her is in there somewhere, that in some way you do deserve her. And somehow I deserve the loch now — by getting arrested for her?)
I went up to the water — the sky still light blue over the hills, but the water already dark — and in my mind I let go of Jeanne, scattered her to the universe. I’ve loved her, she’s loved me, I thought; that’s the best we can do. Eventually we’ll part. Why try so hard to hold her?
I had a turtle in . . . what grade? Fourth? It was small and green, about the size of a silver dollar. Its shell was not even hard. I bought it at Woolworth’s. It lived in a clear plastic basin, smaller than an LP, with an artificial palm tree perched atop an elevated area meant to resemble an island. I brought the turtle to school for some reason. I don’t remember its name. I used to take it out and pet it a lot. When it died, Mrs. Dunne told me I’d petted it to death.
And that’s been with me ever since, the fear I’d pet everything to death.
See, I kind of stole Jeanne from her husband. That is, our eyes met after one of Alice’s classes and we spoke, on 9th Street, on the way to the Yaffa Cafe, with the gang. I told her to meditate.
After that, we took to walking through Tompkins Square Park. Spring was coming out of the earth. It became a kind of joke that we were in love. We never said it to each other, but my friend Sheila saw it in my eyes.
One day Jeanne threw her arms around me, just before she rode off on her bicycle. I was elated.
I knew she was married — she wrote a poem thanking him for doing the dishes — and I met him at Alice’s reading at the 63rd Street Y: a lanky, older-looking guy, artist type. She loved him, I could tell.
So I was surprised when she called me at my parents’ house one Sunday. “This is Jeanne.” I’d never given her my number.
“Scott and I have been having trouble lately,” I remember her saying.
She asked me to sleep with her and started to cry. I said stay with your husband, you’ll have the same problems with any man. Maybe we could just go to the movies? We wrangled affectionately. She hung up finally.
When she moved out, she asked me again. I walked around for a week, full of this question.
Kevin, one of the friends we made at Faslane, did two-month tours on submarines: twenty-six men in an area the size of his living room. The advantage was you could wear anything you wanted. (You never washed either.) One guy wore striped pajamas all the time. Another wore a top hat and tails. One guy dressed in a Batman costume.
One time there was a big mystery: all the peanuts were gone. Throughout the tour, little mounds of peanuts would appear in unlikely places: the middle of the engine room. The peanut thief was never discovered.
Kevin left the Navy after they had been practicing torpedo attacks all day in the Irish Sea. You don’t actually fire, but an observer boat calculates the trajectory from where you pretend to fire, and tells if you hit or missed. A yellow flare signals a miss, green a partial strike, two reds a hit. They fired, the red flares went up, the whole boat cheered — and Kevin turned to the guy next to him and shouted, “How many people do you think we just killed?” except the room had gone quiet the moment before. The silence went deeper.
The commander invited him into his room for a chat. “Are you sure you’re cut out for this life?” he asked.
“No,” Kevin said.
I spent a week wondering, is it adultery to sleep with Jeanne? and asking all my Jewish friends.
Jeffrey, my oldest friend, said no, absolutely don’t do it.
Sheila said it sounded very exciting.
I asked John if I could use his apartment and he said sure.
Then I did it and went around asking the rest of my Jewish friends if it was adultery.
Eli, the Jewish yogi, said, in a McDonald’s on Third Avenue, that it wasn’t adultery but that flirting with her when I knew she was married was morally questionable.
I had started referring to her as the Adulteress, and I stopped. I trust Eli.
Then one day, at her suggestion, I called Scott.
He sounded just like her. He kept starting sentences and not finishing them. Finally he said, “I guess what I want to do is just cry” — and he cried. I didn’t know what to say. Should I apologize for stealing his wife? Tell him I’d been in his position? That it wasn’t really my fault? I remember being very calm.
He told me about being at the beach by himself, out on a jetty, and a bunch of sparrows flew by and he thought, “Even here, the sparrows.” And I thought, “Jesus Christ, the rest of his life this guy’s gonna hate sparrows.”
At the Aviemore Youth Hostel. Where is she?
I thought of getting a job on a farm on the way and never calling her — but the closest I got was asking a farmer if I could use his toilet, and him pointing me toward town.
She told me she got a ride from the mother of Qaddafi’s dentist and I laughed so loud everyone in the room turned to look.
I wonder if he has a lot of cavities.
What frightened me was all through our talk in the playground I was looking down at some rowan berries in front of us, thinking, “How can they be so red?” There was one near her foot and I thought, “If she crushes that, our relationship is over.” Then she crushed it. I couldn’t believe it. I stood there staring at it.
Jeanne was in the Group. She found it within a month or two of her move to New York in 1978. She joined quickly, and had two “mates” before Scott. One was a young guy named Mark — cute but unreliable. The other was Louis — he played the piano. They got along miserably, but she drew a loving cartoon about him that she still has. She and Louis broke up, and Louis and Scott became a couple — but they were even more miserable.
Jeanne wanted Scott, so they got together. Then a week later she didn’t want him anymore, but she stayed with him.
Everyone had a mate in the Group, mostly heterosexual but occasionally not. There were thirteen in the Group. Stanley had two mates. Stanley founded the Group.
Stanley was a Jew in his fifties who was once renowned as a Beat poet. He was a man of many enthusiasms. For a while he was interested in spirit guide meditation, and the Group did that. He corresponded with David Berkowitz, the Son of Sam, and agreed with him — Berkowitz had been misled by a malevolent spirit. (That’s why they discontinued the spirit guide meditation — too many malevolent spirits.)
The idea was that since everyone gets bored with their mate eventually, you have sex with other people. I think they had some kind of rotation with each other. (I’m afraid to ask about a lot of this.) They also had sex with people they met on the street, people they were trying to recruit into the Group.
She once said, “We’d meet people on the street, bring them back, talk for a few hours, then flip coins to see who would sleep with whom, and go off and have sex. We’d get to sleep around 5 a.m.”
The idea was total honesty (that’s why Stanley’s booklet was called Stop Lying.) If you were completely honest, you could overcome all the conflicts that arose. When Stanley was there, everything worked. He had a way of balancing out conflicts. Jeanne one time implied that he was her guru.
Stanley believed in the Reichian theory of the primacy of the orgasm; he believed that people exist to give each other pleasure. But in the period Jeanne knew him — and of course had sex with him — Stanley was essentially impotent. Later he became an insomniac, developed a mysterious, undiagnosed disease, spent a year in Saint Vincent’s Hospital, and died. This was not long after Jeanne entered the Group.
After Stanley died, the Group lost direction. Everyone was supposed to take care of the person with the greatest need at any moment, and it was too hard. Everybody was in love with somebody else but you could never quite have them. And jealousy never gets easier, Jeanne says.
She wrote once that the most satisfying moments were crying on someone’s shoulder.
Stanley died because they were too dependent on him, she believes. If Stanley were alive she would still be in the Group.
My best friend, Miami Steve, met the Group. His brother Larry was involved with them when he lived in New York City in 1976; he liked the idea of getting laid. He took Steve to them. “They were all these droopy, depressed people who thought they were so much better than everyone else. And the guy, the leader, was just into power,” Steve told me on the phone a few months ago. “He looked me in the eyes and said, ‘I can help you. Will you join us?’ It was sick. It was really sick.”
Jeanne actually says horrible things like, “I need to feel my body more,” things one vowed one would never have a girlfriend who said.
She had sex with hundreds (thousands?) of people. She said she once tried to count them and failed. And though she emphasizes that the sex was often mechanical, for years she got to sleep with anyone she was attracted to. You can tell she thinks it unfair she can’t now.
Ananda Marga has a belief that one should marry a fallen woman and raise her up, and I feel like I’m doing that — teaching her monogamy — but I wish she’d renounce her past, or at least admit that Stanley was a bastard as well as a saint.
I started to make you a card, + I suddenly realized I’ve been frozen. With regard to you, emotionally frozen. Since when? Maybe since we got to Faslane. Why? Fear of losing you? Remember how much I loved you? I feel like a shadow of that now. I can’t remember what it felt like; I remember I loved you more than anyone, + now I’m half-turned away. How do I turn back? It would hurt so much to lose someone I loved as much as you. Somewhere underneath, I still love you, although I’ve somehow convinced myself I don’t. I have to dig it out.
She cried and said she “felt a lot” when she wrote it and I got angry and said I was expecting a nice funny card for our anniversary, like the one she made for Louis. “You’re always putting me in this situation,” I told her. “You’re always in love with someone else and making me think, ‘If you’re good enough I’ll stay with you.’ ”
And she hung her head and said, “I feel stupid,” which angered me more.
While in the Group, Jeanne would go up to people on the street and ask, “Are you in a relationship? How do you deal with jealousy?”
Then if she was attracted to them, she’d ask them to come home and have sex.
(“You looked them in the eyes and asked them to have sex with you?”
“Well, usually we’d look at the ground.”)
“I’ve been thinking we won’t stay together forever,” Jeanne just said.
“Sometimes you feel . . . insubstantial to me. Although a lot of the time I feel insubstantial to myself.”
(Sparrow and Jeanne, broke now, take jobs picking fruit. John, a fellow worker, offers them rides each day to the orchard.)
Perhaps ten times a day I have these auguries: “If this plum falls, our relationship is over.”
I had her and John sit up front coming home today. They acted like nervous teenagers on a date. She ate one of his sweets (a bad augury) and I sat in the back. I felt like a pervert who hires guys to fuck his wife.
Jeanne told me more about the Group today, in a big uncharacteristic torrent leaning against the apple bin. When Stanley was alive, they’d all go over to his house almost every night. They’d talk for hours about their feelings, then choose who to sleep with. “We were encouraged to express a preference, but if two people wanted the same person, they would flip a coin.”
“Did you ever have, say, eleven people together?”
“No, the most we ever had was five. We tried six once.”
“How was it?”
“Great for about five minutes. But we rarely did more than three. Four is hard to coordinate; if two are doing something, the other two have to do something.” She looked at me. “So what do you think of my checkered past?”
“It seems almost innocent when you talk about it,” I said. “And kind of foolish. Just a bunch of people chasing their tails — or chasing each other’s tails.”
But now, writing this, it seems horrible, almost satanic. I feel how Jerry Falwell does — that as Rome falls, people run around screwing as much as possible, and call that Enlightenment.
I met Pablo Picasso in my dream last night. He had this theory artists become famous because they have striking names; he attributed his own renown to that. (“You mean like Salvador Dali?” I asked. “Yes,” he said.) I tried to tell him that all the so-called great artists I’d seen really were great, and I’d never found a minor artist who was as good, but he dismissed this — he wouldn’t even listen to it. He had that bull-like sureness one associates with him.
I found this book, Tell Me Why, in our room. It explains everything: the first newspaper was published by Julius Caesar in 60 B.C. (Acta Diurna); every year two million people die of malaria; one rarely stammers before the age of five; during sleep the only muscles that don’t relax are the ones that keep your eyes closed; and the honeymoon comes from the practice of stealing the bride by force. (“That’s kind of what we’re doing,” I told Jeanne.)
We’ve been fighting a lot. I’m angry about her attraction to John. Everywhere we go she gets obsessed with some guy. Then I panic, cling to her, and she treats me with contempt. I explode, and we leave.
She wants this other man, though she knows rationally she’ll never get him. I’m the other man; she got me, now she wants the other other man.
We were high up some Damson trees — thirty-five feet. On the ladder I shook with fright.
If I were a true devotee I wouldn’t be afraid to die, I thought.
“Good thing I’m not,” and climbed back down the ladder.
I just finished Dante’s Inferno. Some big surprises: the bottom of hell is ice, not fire, and the worst sinners aren’t people who sodomize infants but guys who sell secrets to the Russians. (And why is hell full of Italians?) Time and again it’s proven — the best writers write out of personal venom.
(Jeanne departs for Wales, leaving Sparrow to spend Yom Kippur in Glasgow.)
The Peace Camp, right now, is nine people in the Communal Caravan who’ve finished playing cards and eating “pieces” — sandwiches. I like it here, and all communes where you can retreat to your room and read two hours, then enter the parlor and hear Kitty tell jokes. “How do you know if there’s an elephant in the refrigerator? Elephant tracks in the butter.”
Jeanne and I are fighting to see who’s in charge of the relationship; neither of us likes to lose. I love her and I’m happy she’s off meditating in Wales. I just finished Dante’s Inferno — great book, if a bit ghastly. I look forward to starting Purgatory tomorrow.
Louisa says I should write a book about my Yom Kippur trip to Glasgow, so here it is.
I got a ride to Helensburgh last Sunday. Waiting for the train, I read the new book about Marilyn Monroe, with a never-before-seen photo of her after the autopsy. She looked like an attractive monkey.
Then the Airdrie train came and I rode to Queen Street Station, half-reading the Purgatorio.
I was surprised, when I got there, to see a bearded man forming words alone on a bench — a Madman of Glasgow. Pigeons flew inside the station.
I waited under the destination board for a man with two children; everyone looked like the editor of The Jewish Echo. I worked up the courage to ask a gray-headed man with spectacles, a nose of consequence, and two lads, if he was from The Echo. (The man on the phone sounded younger.) As we shook hands, the kids fought behind us, and one of them started to cry. Mr. Schwartz picked him up, and I shook hands with the other: Marcus, a nine-year-old in an A-Team T-shirt.
“This is Jonathan,” Mr. Schwartz said. Jonathan turned to me and smiled. We started walking to the car.
“Are you a sailor?” Marcus asked me.
“No,” I said. “Where did you get that idea?”
“My father said you were.” Suddenly I realized there’d been a misunderstanding. I’d said I was in Faslane and my benefactor assumed I meant the naval base.
“No, I’m sort of the opposite of a sailor,” I said. “I’m at the Faslane Peace Camp. I’m protesting the sailors.” The father heard this, too.
At this point the kids ran off to look at a howitzer shell standing by a bank.
“Why are they always drawn to bombs?” Mr. Schwartz asked, and we followed.
But the shell had been made into a collection box for a hospital, and he gave the kids four coins to put in. Each one rang a little bell. He’s a good man, I decided.
In the car we spoke, as the children fought in the back over a war comic. As I gave him each continuing revelation I saw his face drop: I was traveling to India, I wasn’t going to break my fast tomorrow because it interfered with my yoga practice, I work as a telephone solicitor. “Oh yes, I’m a vegetarian!” I added.
He described the various synagogues of Glasgow, as he had over the phone.
At home, the boys showed me the house, a fake-Spanish villa with wall-to-wall carpeting. Marcus showed me every drawer in the dining room and what was inside, and Jonathan, who was four, led me to my attic room and demonstrated that he could hide completely in the hamper of my bathroom.
On the way to his brother’s I learned about the great act of Charles Schwartz’s life. When he was forty, he married a twenty-year-old non-Jew.
“Are you sure you want to do this?” he’d asked her. “When I’m sixty you’ll be forty.”
“I know what I’m doing,” she’d said, and she was right. They were happy together.
One day when she was thirty-seven she felt tired. Three weeks later she died of leukemia. This was two years ago.
“You never know what’s going to happen in life,” said Mr. Schwartz. “The youngest was two; he never really knew her. The oldest took it very hard.”
Funny, it seemed the other way around to me.
We reached his older brother’s house, another brand-new Better Home And Garden. His sister-in-law, a schoolmarmish woman, welcomed us.
“So you’re in the Navy,” she said.
I explained the error.
“I need to have a word with you in private,” she said to me. I followed her to the kitchen. She indicated two bags of Kosher Instant Vegetarian Food, with seductive color covers, from Israel. After some deliberation I chose the pasta.
“Now we understand each other,” she said. She was one of these middle-aged librarian types who’s outwardly hostile and inwardly a flirt. I liked her fine.
We returned to the living room, and her husband, who looked like the first Mr. Schwartz, entered.
“I understand you’re in the Navy,” he said.
“No, he’s with the people who are making a lot of noise for peace,” Mrs. Schwartz said. Her husband laughed a little.
They asked about my plans, and I explained that my girlfriend was at a Buddhist meditation retreat in Wales and I had to be back to go to court on the twenty-ninth.
“Is this what you want to do with your life?” she asked.
“Live at Peace Camps?” I laughed. “I hope not.”
“Have you ever considered getting a job?” asked Mrs. Schwartz.
I liked her, but she was no Mary Poppins.
Mr. Schwartz’s other brother and his mother arrived, and we sat down to dinner. For some reason this one looked less Jewish than the others.
“You’re suffering from a misconception,” I said, and explained the truth.
It turned out he designed heating systems, “including the one for Faslane,” he said with faint embarrassment.
The mother was ninety-four and hard of hearing. Our host would tell her he’d visited a friend who was doing fine, then in a lower voice tell Charles the friend had had a heart attack.
The conversation turned to mustaches and she said to our host, “I didn’t know you had a mustache.”
“Mother, I’ve had a mustache for thirty years!”
“I didn’t know.”
She had thick glasses and ate slowly, like me. Everyone else ate tremendously fast, because we were behind schedule.
I had matzo balls in milk broth, which was horrible, incredibly roasted potatoes, the Israeli fast food (which was tasty), and a slice of Spanish melon. (They said I was the first American they’d seen refuse ice cream.)
Toward the end of the meal, the mother announced she was prepared to die.
“I don’t want to live to 100,” she said with some vehemence. “I’m ready to go now.”
“We’re going in five minutes,” the younger son said, and we all laughed.
The meal ended, my Mr. Schwartz and his older brother did the dishes, as the sister-in-law helped her grandmother, a mysterious woman one never saw, to the toilet. I cleared the table and heard the men talking. “Some days there’s no problem and some days . . . ,” Charles said. I gathered he was talking about the children.
Mrs. Schwartz The Younger put on a pretty red spinster hat and we all raced off to services, her husband honking the horn for us. Each of Mrs. Schwartz’s brothers goes to a different synagogue.
Immediately I recognized everyone at the Glasgow New Synagogue: the Bad Taste Upper Middle Class, wearing their foxiest outfits to Kol Nidre, the solemnest night of the year. I’d been looking forward to hearing Hebrew with a Scottish accent, but the rabbi was Greek, and sounded Italian. He had a large belly, and at times the whole thing seemed like vaudeville: “And-a so I ask-a you-a to look-a inside yourselves. . . .”
The audience was conspicuously and lamely silent, looking at their watches. I wished I was in an Orthodox shul amongst a bunch of moaning men in long beards.
I called my parents and learned they’re coming to England or France — wherever I am — on Christmas.
The separation from Jeanne is easier than last time. Though the thought that she’ll run off with a virile Buddhist has crossed the threshold of my mind, I have refused to give it a home.
My biggest fear is she’ll want to be alone.
She’s in a youth hostel in Chepstow, just over the border in Wales. She told me last night, “It struck me that I really do love you and have nothing better to do than spend the rest of my life with you.”
Last night I read the Notebooks of Camus: “The moral is that we never realize for which crime we are punished.”
I reached journey’s end: the Ashburne Guest House. A nondescript man with a mustache answered the door.
“I believe my wife reserved a room for me.”
“Yes,” he said vaguely, looked at a list, and took the keys for number 6 off the board. In the room was no one and four beds.
“I thought she’d already arrived?” I asked.
“Oh, perhaps. I’ll go check.”
I sat four minutes. The door opened. “I’m sorry. She’s in number 1.”
She opened the door with a laughing smile — tall, in a too-big sweater, her eyes keener than I’d ever seen them. “You’re here!”
I put down my bags and we hugged, awkwardly.
“We should carry pictures of each other so we can make sure it’s the same person.”
“Buddhist psychology is so fascinating!” Jeanne explained. “The idea is you’re constantly getting these sensations — pleasurable sensations that you want to continue and painful sensations you want to avoid. They begin inside of you, but eventually they reach the surface. They normally kind of dissolve away, because all experience is transitory, but if you hold on to them, you push them back inside you, into your unconscious, and they become sankaras, and you have to experience them again. The trick is to catch them when you first recognize them, and realize they’re transitory, and not hold on to them. It’s hard, but I’m just starting to get it.”
I cried at her devotion to the practice.
Now for the bad news: our meditations are utterly incompatible. We sat together ten minutes and she got up. “I feel like this bright light is shining on me. It reminds me of when my father used to take home movies.”
In London, I feel very close to America. I feel if I’m not careful, if I slip on the floor, I’ll be back in America. And I don’t want to be in America. For one, I’ll be embarrassed I never got to India.
And I like being an expatriate. It’s glamorous, and funny. You walk into a neighborhood with your pack on your back and within two days you’ve found the post office and the library and you’re lamenting gentrification with the locals.
I told Pavitram that Chogyam Trungpa looks rather ordinary — a chunky Tibetan in a suit — except that he gives the impression of weighing a thousand pounds. Pavitram said, “Baba’s like that. He’s like the Himalayas walking.” Another time he said, “Imagine all the letters from a page slipping off the bottom — that’s your mind, normally. Well, Baba pulls these letters out of your mind and sets them out, like when you’re laying out a newspaper, in columns. You could say, ‘He reads your mind,’ but it’s not exactly that.” And he made a sound like a vacuum cleaner.
I’m afraid to go in therapy, afraid I’ll shout at her, “You’ve been a millstone round my neck since the moment our eyes connected on East 10th Street!”
Counselor: Please explain the difficulty, Mr. . . . Sparrow.
Mr. Sparrow: We’ve been traveling through Britain four months now. Everywhere we go she tells me she’s infatuated with someone, and exactly when she wants to sleep with him. Finally it culminated in Cheltenham, when she was in love with our one friend, who drove us to work every day and found us new places to live, and who was consistently sarcastic and abusive to me. We decided to have a talk with him, get things “out in the open,” which resulted in him inviting her to Glastonbury the weekend after I’d gone.
Then she went off to meditate for two weeks at a Polish Boy Scout camp. After that we got back together. She says she’s “not in love with me.” I told her romantic love isn’t everything; she’s supposed to be a Buddhist now. We spend a lovely day together, singing in the rain, hitchhiking. The end of the day, in a loft bed in Bristol, she tells me she’s still not in love with me. I get angry, we make up. We have sex, great sex. The next day she looks at me like I’m Tyrone Power. The next day she tells me she’s thinking of going on to India alone.
If she doesn’t want to be in a relationship, fine. I’m sick of convincing her to be with me. I’m sick of being her minister/healer/dog!
Counselor: And your side, Mrs. Sparrow?
Mrs. Sparrow: We decided when we came together to be frank with one another — he wanted that, or so he said. I’ve never committed adultery, never even touched another man. All I did was tell him my thoughts, and he told me his. He told me hurtful things, too. He doesn’t like to talk about it. Just as I was starting my meditation retreat, he told me about how many women he was flirting with and how big their breasts were.
Mr. Sparrow: But you can understand . . .
Counselor: Excuse me, Mr. Sparrow.
Mr. Sparrow: Sorry.
Mrs. Sparrow gives Mr. Sparrow a piercing look.
Mrs. Sparrow: We always worked everything out. How could I not tell him what I’m feeling? And I felt that we were getting closer and closer — taking risks with each other — and suddenly he shut down.
Mr. Sparrow: I got tired of her crying on me all the time.
Mrs. Sparrow: I wanted him to cry on me. I liked him confiding in me.
Mr. Sparrow: That’s what you said, but you were too fucked up most of the time even to take care of yourself, let alone me.
Counselor: If you’re so angry at her, why don’t you leave her?
Mr. Sparrow (breaking down): I’m too proud. I want revenge. I want to try again. I don’t have the courage. I’m confused.
Counselor: I see.
Mrs. Sparrow: I knew he wouldn’t be able to handle it.
Mr. Sparrow glares at Mrs. Sparrow.
Is it fair to endlessly retreat from her and tell her, “Wait for me”? This is how I lost Marianne. But when I see her it’s worse.
The choices seem to be periodic fights that eat my guts and a fight that never ends.
Mom and Dad,
I worked two days this week as a walking ad for cab drivers at Waterloo Station. You wear this full-length composite sign, which looks at first glance like it’s full of quotes from the Book of Revelation, plus another sign coming out of your shoulder advertising The ABC Book of London, which my boss was selling stacks of until a cabbie denounced it on TV. Plus a ragged coat and shoulder harness on which are mounted receipt pads, car cloths, dashboard tidies, coin dispensers, NO SMOKING IN THIS CAR PLEASE signs, three varieties of stick-on clocks, pad-holders, badge-holders, and clips. Around one of my wrists are three cab bags and around the other two pouches; clipped to my sign is a chamois cloth. And, of course, Taxi magazine — that’s the main thing I’m selling.
I stand in the middle lanes by the taxi stand, under a crenulated glass roof, shouting, “Taxi magazine!” Cabbies stop and say, “You sure grew a beard fast,” or, “What is this, a takeover bid?” because for years they’ve seen Falkirt, a German-trained psychoanalyst, in this position. Unfortunately, as I’ve now told several hundred people, he strained his knee in a bicycle accident and was ordered by his doctor to work less. A few asked, “Are you a student?” — the usual query I get here. I’m not sure if I really look like a student or if the British just like to assume the best about a person.
Once I assured them Falkirt would return, they’d happily buy a pad of receipts — another handy five pence for me.
A few of them let me into their private lives. One told me he loved to go to military bases and look at bombers. Another told me why he drives a cab: “You work in an office every day, always with the same people, you get to know them too well. Their problems become your problems, and I already have my own problems!”
A couple of Jews befriended me. One was an Israeli and gave me a toffee. The other was a type of cabdriver that already fascinated me: an elderly man in full suit and tie. “I became a cabdriver by mistake,” he confessed. “I have a B.A. in music from Cambridge and a B.S. in photography from Portsmouth. In 1950 I was earning the equivalent of £3,000 a week composing music!”
“So why did you become a cabdriver?”
“My wife thought it was a more reliable profession.”
I’m worried I’m not in love with her. Ever since she told me she wanted to leave for India, her body seems like a coat. It doesn’t draw me, except when we’re making love, which has been “hot,” as she says. And she thinks my dick’s gotten bigger.
Yes, traveling is its own career. Suddenly no one gives you looks like, “What are you doing sweeping the floor in a gymnasium at your age?” and instead says, “Don’t you realize you’re doing what everyone dreams of?” Certainly if one is going to be a failure one might as well be a failure in motion.
Yeah, I’m in London, trying to get rich in the First World so I can spend it in the Third World buying things made in the Second World, but it’s all going wrong — the money, that is. Lost it in a phone booth (sixty pounds!). But the life’s pretty okay: frost on the window (the inside of the window), but plenty of time to write, and for some reason the novelty of double-decker buses doesn’t wear off. I find myself hoping for the death of Reagan but then I think, “Gee, you don’t even believe in killing gnats and Reagan’s life is worth as much as a gnat’s,” and besides, then you have to wish for the death of George Bush and the Speaker of the House and on down to people like Alexander Pike (the principal of my high school). You ask for my correct political analysis: the Third World will rise up and save us with inefficiency and devotion, the cures for the twin evils of civilization (money and sex). Now can I be in the movies?
We broke up for twenty minutes. “Which idea are you trying to give me?” I shouted into her face, and she walked away.
“I don’t know what to say. You know, I’ve been thinking about all this a lot and I’ve had a lot of stray thoughts ’cause I have a lot of conflicting . . . It’s really. . . .” I stopped writing her words down.
Today she’s 90 percent sure she’s going to India alone. She’ll meet me there, but she may sleep with someone else. Then she changed that; she won’t. When we’d broken up I thought, “I’m happy for her.” Fancy that. “She does have courage.” Fancy that.
I hope her lovely hair falls out.
I hope she reaches nirvana — fast.
I’ll be okay. I just need a drink. Waiter, the usual.
All the dicks to her are singing: you are lonely and we are, too.
Yoga is not prison, but it will, all the same, help you pay for your crimes.
Pain, well, I remember it. Nowadays I just feel bliss. Pain, as I recall, felt like hunger — only more localized?
I hate women. They smell bad. Unless they’re smelling good.
That’s the problem with women: they’re always smelling bad or good — as opposed to men, who simply smell.
So why do I like her? I like that frozen look of pain when I stick my cock up her butt.
I’m a terrible bowler, but I don’t keep trying to bowl. Why do I keep trying to have girlfriends?
And sure enough, I petted her to death, like all the others.
When I was a boy:
I was bit by a monkey.
I was bit by a duck.
I got my head stuck between the bars of a fence.
I touched down at the bottom of a swimming pool and got a fishhook in my foot.
I went through a period of praying next to my bed at night for the members of my family. I’d seen Dennis The Menace do it on TV. I got Anna to do it, too. One time Grandma saw us, in Scranton, and told us it wasn’t Jewish.
God bless Jeanne, keep her from harm — particularly from me. May she find what she seeks, everywhere. Watch over her; give her a hint from time to time. Teach her how service works. Let lots of people see her sweet heart. May she find her work, and work hard.
We just travel in a circle. There is a sort of perpetual motion to it. Maybe we could patent it in Rube Goldberg form: he puts penis A in vagina B, she begins to cry into handkerchief C, which pulls open trapdoor D. He falls through into pit E. He swears revenge, throws spear F up through trapdoor, onto target G, which causes noose H to loop her around neck I. She cries, “Help! I’m dying!” He ascends ladder J to save her. They kiss. He puts penis A in Vagina B. . . .
Odd how two people can start out in love and after a while they hate each other.
If I tell her, “Be true to me in India; do not sleep with Ye Other Men,” she’ll resent me. If I say, “Sleep with anyone,” I’ll hate her — smash in her face when I reach Dharamsala.
The beauty of the ego is it can weep as much over a fried egg as at the death of its mother. It’s always saying, “This will save me — if I can just get this egg to turn over.”
In this age, one must pray for prayer; for the ability to pray.
Anyway, a lot has happened since I wrote: I peed on her and my parents came.
It was Christmas and we were alone and I turned to her and said, “I’ve been thinking; maybe I should pee on you,” and she said, “That’s funny, I’ve been thinking that, too,” and I said, “I guess in the bathtub,” and she said, “Yeah,” and I said, “We could bring up the heater,” and she said, “Okay,” and I brought up the heater but there was no outlet in the toilet — you know, the British don’t worship the bathroom like we do — so she said, “We could run some hot water in the tub,” and I said, “It’s hard to have sex in water,” and she said, “We’ll keep it low,” and I said, “Okay,” and we climbed in and I stood over her and she started to fondle my thighs. She was kneeling and the water washed my feet. It was hard to do. If she touched my penis it’d begin to stiffen, and then you can’t pee; and it was cold, and it’s hard to pee in the cold; and I’m not used to peeing standing up, because Ananda Marga says not to. Besides it’s hard to pee in front of someone, let alone on someone.
My parents called later. They’d arrived that morning, slept till 3. They sounded drunk.
Macs and pals, Estelle and Bob, et al,
Mom and Dad and I have been keeping up a killing pace of tourism these last four days. We saw Breaking the Code and Ivan the Terrible; I fell asleep in a room full of Raphael’s cartoons in the Victoria and Albert Museum. I don’t know which I enjoyed more, taking a hot bath or eating pizza. (Okay, I miss the U.S.A. a little.) They’re pretty charming, and hip, those old progenitors of mine, but between finding them restaurants every few hours and keeping them from being transformed into Cubist still lifes by passing buses, I’ve got my hands full.
The great moment was when Mom and Dad came to the squat where I live, helped break up crates for the fire, drank with us. It was a touching bohemianism-across-the-generations gesture. (I wanted to take them to Marx’s grave, but Dad got cold feet.)
Happy New Year! I kissed her at midnight; somewhat unorthodox for Ananda Marga. She was wooden and shrunken-looking, how she is when we fight.
Dad told me a joke the other day, near Picadilly Circus.
“This guy from Brooklyn goes to visit this Texas rancher and the rancher tells him, ‘My land is so big I can get in my car and not get across it.’ And Moishe says, ‘Y’know, I used to have a car like that!’ ”
And Dad stops and laughs on the sidewalk, delighted, wagging his head from side to side, letting his cane dangle. Then he repeats the punch line, just to make himself laugh some more.
Yesterday at Kim Leuh, Mom tried to tell the Chinese waiter how the last time she ate in a Chinese restaurant she broke out in red splotches. But Dad shhhed her in time.
Dad told me jokes from the comedian he saw on TV the night before.
“ ‘God loves atheists,’ he says. ‘No, really. God loves atheists. Because atheists never ask Him for anything. All the religious people say, “Give me a car. Give me a TV.” But the atheists never ask Him for anything.’ ”
We both stopped and laughed, near Picadilly Circus, both our canes dangling.
Next to the Thames, outside the toilets, Dad asked me in a confidential tone, “Is there a tax on breasts here?”
“Not as far as I know.”
“Because I’ve never seen so many flat-chested women in my life.”
“Must be the recession.”
We stood on a bridge over the Thames, watching the water go by. The Thames is a beautiful river. It was just past dusk. I felt this love coming from them.
Maybe they’re gurus, I thought, gurus in drag. Mom appears scatter-shouldered and Dad seems absent and deaf, but maybe it’s just a front.
My mother said:
“Promise me you’ll buy glasses.”
“Don’t sleep in any farmer’s fields. You know how farmers are. And you were telling me about this guy who was killed in a field? . . .”
“I’m through shopping.”
“Don’t you want to take a bath?”
Mom wears this floppy blue fake wool hat, she’s fat and talks all the time — she’s a definite “talk first, think later” type. “Don’t I look younger than I am?” she asks. (She’s sixty-three.)
“You don’t look younger, you act younger,” I tell her, and she laughs.
Being around five-year-olds much of her adult life has had, let us say, a certain effect.
Dad: “My personal feeling is that you’re not making the best use of your year, just floating around Europe. If you really think Baba has something to tell you, if you think he’s more than an ordinary person, you would go there now, and then write your book. Baba’s giving personal contact now; that’s what gives you a personal relationship with the guru. He may not be still doing that in the summer. Your desire to see Baba doesn’t seem that strong.”
“See, I read this book, The Divine Comedy, and in it Dante goes on this voyage, and finally comes to God. And that’s what I’m doing; I’m traveling to God.”
“Yes, but Dante had some kind of vision before he wrote the book. That’s why I’m saying: go there first, then write the book. People read books because they feel the author has some deep understanding of the world. That’s exactly what you get from seeing Baba.”
“Well, I don’t think everybody reads books to get the Big Answer. I know I read books to find out what’s going to happen. That’s why I’m reading Huckleberry Finn. I want to find out if Jim is going to stay free or not. And this is a situation of suspense, too: I’m heading to my guru. What will happen?”
“All you’ll put in the book is your confusion, and people don’t want to read about someone else’s confusion. They have their own confusion.”
Not only was this house standing during the French Revolution, but a hundred years before. I wonder what the people in this room thought of it: “Good idea, that French Revolution.” Did it topple the local Duke? Did it take two weeks for them to hear about it? Did they think, “That’s something far-off in Paris?”
It strikes me I don’t believe Baba’s the Lord of the universe. First of all, it’s unprovable. If you say, “If you’re Lord of the universe, end it,” and He raises his hand and ends it — well, it could be a coincidence. But how can a person be Lord of the universe? And also have hemorrhoids? (As he does.) You mean he controls every blade of grass that grows on every planet? One guy? Or is all that on automatic and he just has to do miracles and earthquakes and like that? What exactly does the Lord of the universe do?
I’m lost, here in Purgatory. My friends keep telling me: “Go to India now!” and I’m dawdling, looking for something to do. This book seems lost, too. In my meditation I rush up to her jungle habitat and she embraces me. “I love you, Sparrow, but it’s not going to work out.” I turn right around then, coldly: “Saddle the llamas, Sabu. We’re moving on.”
Or I ask her, “How many men did you sleep with?” “Only six,” she says, with her teenage giggle.
Should I cheat on her? But what if she’s faithful to me? Baba says give each error its opposite. Even if she sins I should be chaste. But aren’t I sick of that philosophy?
I’m in France, living in a house that predates Voltaire. In the rain the wood and stones are beautiful, and in the sun, the sky is — pale. My “work” here is to bag up raw sugar and spiced almonds.
Now that we’re adults, I can say, “I’ve been meditating twelve years.” I feel like I haven’t made any progress. (I mean it helps my concentration, my eyes are brighter, I think it improves my reflexes, I’m neater — but you can get most of that from doing exercises from The Reader’s Digest.)
My latest girlfriend took off for India three weeks ago, and I’m thinking how I was with her: gallant at first, then possessive, always the Hero — till she got sick of it and left.
That’s why I’m going to see Baba.
Krishnamurti says at one point you can’t open the door. The best you can do is clean up your room and wait for the door to open, by luck. I like that.
“Born Too Young: Diary of a Pilgrimage (Part Two)” [Issue 182]
“Born Too Young: Diary of a Pilgrimage (Part Three)” [Issue 183]
I’ve always wanted to do this — to write a shrewd, devastating rebuttal to a letter writer, like they do in The Village Voice. Now, on a train from New York City to Staunton, Virginia, I may do so. The problem is, I agree with these letter writers; the whole thing is scandalous. (To make matters worse, my parents have a subscription to this magazine!) I think The Sun made a mistake printing it. Or I made a mistake writing it. Or perhaps my biggest mistake was living it. But I certainly didn’t intend to live it. It was, like most life, something I backed into.
By the way, I spoke to Jeanne and she says I begged her to pee on me.
And when did I say I was enlightened? Huh? (Though I did grandly define “karma” and “dharma.”) Isn’t that the point of the title, “Born Too Young”? That I, or everyone, is born twenty years too early, and by the time we’re thirty-two we’re dumb as a twelve-year-old?
Shouldn’t we all be stopping this war instead of arguing like this?
We’re switching from an electric to a diesel engine now in D.C. A boy in front of me who’s about two has been saying, “Choo choo,” over and over for about three hours. Now his mother is tickling him and he’s gurgle-laughing. He is cute and very boring, and I must publicly apologize to everyone I have cutely bored with my book.
My spiritual advisor, Dada Daneshanandaji, read the Stevensons’ letter, said, “Uh oh,” a number of times, and advised me, somewhat cryptically, to write a short response. I suppose he thinks I’ll appear statesmanlike so that the Stevensons will seem hysterical. Well, I refuse to be statesmanlike! If anything, I will be more hysterical than they! I demand my own execution! I demand my writings be burned! I refuse to be level-headed about this!
I have a message for Sparrow: don’t be discouraged by the criticism. I am a woman of fifty-one and my perspective is not as harsh. Your critics exhibit truth but no humor. I loved your travel installments, and when I read your travails with Jeanne, I thought, “Oh, dear, Sparrow has some way to go with women — he’s blowing it bad.” But I also feel that your questing soul will mature — eventually, the pain of unconsidered action will bore you. At least you had the courage to be uncomfortably honest about the angry confusions in your heart.
Your literary style is unique and fresh, and your sense of humor off-the-wall wondrous.
Go elsewhere and give us some more adventures!
As for Sparrow [“Born Too Young,” Issues 181-183], well, Buddhists ain’t Buddha, and Christians ain’t Christ, and it’s good to be reminded of the mess we all have to work through. Religion is human, and it doesn’t exclude men who piss on women and acknowledge the pain of it. Denial’s illusion, ain’t it? Thank you for letting us remember that the proto-saint is crawling up through mounds of rottenness and shit, not standing there by the microwave holding a vacuum cleaner with a self-righteous smile. Sparrow is an honest man, and so he gives other folks the willies.
“Born Too Young: Diary of a Pilgrimage (Part One)” [Issue 181]
Thanks, Sparrow, for your courage, or stupidity, in letting it all hang out. You don’t seem to hold too many illusions about yourself — you write as you honestly experience, and there are few people who can do that.
I came home late last night after a retirement party for a friend. I was happy and tired. Your magazine was in the mail. Standing in my kitchen, I started to flip through it; I ended hunched over the counter for half an hour before I decided to make a cup of tea and read by the wood stove. I went to bed and read a bit more. And just now I woke up and finished the first part of Sparrow’s tale.
Thank you for kind and gentle Sparrow, who made me laugh out loud; for Ram Dass and his humanness; for Dan Barker’s gardens.
What a great magazine!
I love The Sun. I can even put up with some of the interviews you run just to read Sparrow. Sadly, what other magazine would publish him? Can you see a spread in People: “Likable Eccentric Says: I Was Born Too Young”? No. No.
Do you ever talk to him? Or does he just leave a big sloppy Bic-written manuscript on your doorstep and vanish? I picture him as a little wisp of steam rising off the concrete. I love his writing. It’s one of the few spiritual journeys I’ve read that sounds like a real spiritual journey: confusing, frustrating, grubby, with irritating people and enough sex to drive everyone crazy. Keep publishing that man. I’ll buy his book when it comes out. I’ll buy a bunch and give ’em as gifts. I’ll make the single good bookstore in Texas order a crate. If he comes to Dallas I’ll buy him macrobiotic enchiladas.
Read some of your readers’ letters . . . some of them just smoking mad. Why on earth would anyone take offense at your magazine? Are these folks just crouched and quivering like Dobermans looking to be pissed off? The Sun is a flashlight in a dark time.
I was amused by the uproar caused by Sparrow. I have to say I was surprised that he peed on his wife, and even more surprised that he told everyone about it and then included his picture. So he makes a lousy traveling companion. He laid trips on his wife and made her meditate and made her practice monogamy and thought she was an idiot. But that’s the point — we think we’re doing one thing, we think we’re on the road to Enlightenment, but really we’re being assholes. His jealousy, his dependency, his fears — these were weaknesses that he was revealing to us. How can people be insulted by that? I was not demeaned, disheartened, infuriated, humiliated, or violated by his words. I credit anybody who can write such things in a magazine read by his parents.
I was also surprised by the criticism of Hella Hammid’s cover photograph [Issue 182] of the pregnant belly. I’ve been pregnant, and I’ve worked with midwives; it never occurred to me that you might be trying to degrade women or pregnancy by using that photograph.
If there’s a problem, it doesn’t rest with the fact that Sparrow wasn’t nice to his wife, or with Hella Hammid’s photograph, but with the response they received. Our culture has produced people who can’t tolerate the feel of natural textures, the scent of natural smells — people who create artificial worlds in which to insulate themselves, who can’t tolerate natural images, who can’t tolerate stories about the human condition. It’s all the same can of worms, as far as I can tell.
I hope you continue to resist the “correct” line; I hope you continue to offend the true believers. I hope you keep giving us Sparrow’s stuff.
Please accept the enclosed thirty-dollar check for a one-year subscription to your wonderful magazine. I hope you’ll make sure I get Issue 182 so I don’t miss the next installment of Sparrow’s adventures.
I work in the magazine industry here in New York City, so I’m always reading magazines I haven’t tried before; it’s rare that I’m so thrilled by one. The Sun offers an unusual combination of artistic and intellectual rigor and spiritual depth. I don’t remember the last time I read a magazine where so many stories rang true. Congratulations to your editor and the rest of your staff. I look forward to more.
Concerning Sparrow’s “Born Too Young: Diary of a Pilgrimage” [Issue 181], the tendency to depict women as objects permeates American culture. Disrespectful and demeaning messages about women are always disheartening and infuriating, but it is even more appalling to find such misogyny in one who praises himself as an enlightened and egalitarian “thinker.”
Why would Sparrow, who regards even a gnat’s life as sacred, take such sadistic pleasure in his wife’s “frozen look of pain”?
Sparrow spent time in a peace camp in Scotland protesting acts of aggression, and yet he never questions his own propensity for violence (“. . . I’ll hate her — smash in her face when I reach Dharamsala.”)
The act of urinating on his wife is degrading to them both. How would he feel if the roles were reversed? Why does the man always violate the woman? Just reading the passage is humiliating.
So to Sparrow, the one who says women “smell bad,” we say, you stink! You wrote, “I’ve been meditating twelve years. I feel like I haven’t made any progress.” We agree. You haven’t.
P.S. to the editors: Where was your judgment? What were you thinking? Please don’t insult us by crying “artistic expression.” It is shocking enough that Sparrow wrote this rubbish, but it is even more shocking that you had the poor taste to publish it in your magazine of presumably enlightened ideas. If we’d wanted to read sexist trash we’d have bought a copy of Hustler. An explanation and apology to your female readers is in order.