This new life was great. Except the guilty scab on my conscience. Oh my God I am heartily sorry for having run away. Have mercy on my soul. And Karen, who had returned to Maine when hurricane Anna pounded the South Carolina coast, changed the phones at home to an unlisted number to prevent me from talking to my son and daughter. Guilt sucks.
A storm had also hit the Fratelli home. When I couldn’t reach Karen, I called Martha who explained why my old phone number at the house was out of service. “But Doctor Fratelli, the tropical storm in the Carolinas isn’t why Mrs. Fratelli came home.”
“Three days ago my son Jimmy was mowing the lawn at your place after dinner and the same man who’d come crashing into the office looking for you drove up in a Cadillac convertible. When Jimmy told the man he didn’t know where you went or anything, he lifted Jimmy off his feet by the shirt, asking him if he was sure. Jimmy was so scared he and Sally moved out. So I called Missus Fratelli and she got back home yesterday.”
“Jesus H. Christ.”
“Sorry, Martha. I know how you are with the Lord’s name. Is Jimmy okay?”
“No harm done, but who is this man? Are you in trouble Doctor?”
“How are the kids?”
“I guess everything is okay, but Missus Fratelli didn’t give me the new phone number. All she said was something about lawyers.And that I’m supposed to send her an email if anything comes up at the office.” Martha ran on for another minute with clinic business.
“What’s the balance of our account as of last Friday?”
“I think we can keep the doors open, Doctor. I mean the patients who have kept their appointments are okay with Doctor Anderson, but there’s plenty of no-shows who only want you to treat them.”
“Martha, you’ve done a great job. I’m really sorry about Jimmy. I’ll make it up to him when I get back.”
“When’s that, Doctor Fratelli?”
“I can’t say. I have to figure out a way to take care of Arthur, the man who’s been mucking things up.”
The pay phone went dead. I stared at the coin slot, not breathing very well.
“Hey Swami.” Someone behind me called. “We’re waiting to use the phone.”
I walked towards the bus stop to catch a ride to the meal hall for lunch. Veronica spied me, and fish-tailed her car to a stop, tires squealing as she pumped the brakes. There was no place to hide. She waddled over, the smell of coffee and cigarettes a big improvement to her usual foul breath.
“Angelo, I’m glad to see you doin’ a good job on the Honey Platoon. But now, with the increasing security problems, we got to ask visitors to either take vows or leave the commune.”
“Plain and simple, Angelo. You gotta wear the beads and show GuruJi that you’se one of us.”
“Tomorrow there’ll be an initiation ceremony after morning meditation. There’ll be a bus to take you to GuruJi’s. Be there or hit the road. You got that?”
“Yeah,” I sighed.
I scrubbed off any lingering Honey Platoon smell under a hot shower with plenty of scentless shampoo someone had left in the communal bath house. I couldn’t use just any shampoo or soap as I prepared for my ceremony. I had been lectured by a Dutch woman who seemed to have been born humorless. I mean, get serious folks. Anyway, the woman dryly taught us the facts of life.
“GuruJi is sensitive to scents, so if you are in the same room with him, you must pass through a team of sniffers who will pull you out of the hall if they catch even the suggestion of any herbal oils or soap or shampoo. If you want to stay in the commune, keep your smell sterile.”
Scott came by and loaned me some better looking clothes to wear to my initiation. Everyday a dozen men and women at Le Ranch took vows as disciples. A hall had been built adjacent to GuruJi’s mansion for the initiations. He could spread the light from the comfort of home. By the time I showed up I had been searched, sniffed and threatened about violating the rigid line separating the master from the disciple. And drilled by a German who could’ve been a veteran of the Cold War not to ask questions, not to sneeze or cough or even breathe in the general vicinity of the living embodiment of truth on earth. By the time I knelt before GuruJi, I worried more about screwing up the infraction code than losing my precious ego.
But the mysterious power GuruJi wielded stilled my mind. The chatter had disappeared, the moment zinging with electricity. My breathing settled like a mountain yogi’s. I was composed but not controlled. This was like nothing I’d ever experienced before. I mean, even at sea with mountains of ocean tumbling across my foredeck, shredding my mainsail and burying my prayers in shrieking wind wasn’t more intense than sitting quietly before GuruJi as my walls crumbled. I’d spent a lifetime building them around my heart. And his eyes ripped right into me. The funny thing is that I wasn’t frightened. It was more like relief. You know, like when you yank a splinter from a pulsing infected finger. The pus oozes and the pressure eases.
This was all happening while the big guy spoke to me.
“This is your new name: Swami Prem Angelo. Prem means love. Angelo is the angel hiding behind the devil of your mind, your ego. Love will heal the wound, that scar which has separated the heart from your life. Prem Angelo, you will be a prince of love, no longer will you need to carry this burden of the conqueror. You can let go. Your struggle is over.” GuruJi hung the rosewood beads around my neck. “How long will you be staying with me, Swami?” I couldn’t answer. Being this close to him, his eyes burning through my skull, left me paralyzed.
“Nothing to say, eh?” he smiled. “Good, that is the first step. You must give up the questions. Then the mystery will slowly reveal itself. Stay here for as long as possible.”
I could only nod. It was a pathetic show. I had a dozen questions. Why were we here in the desert with a string of angry women running the place as if every decision was only to determine who they could piss off? Sure, a city was being built, but it was in spite of the matriarchs, not because of their clear thinking and management skills.
What kind of madness had taken control of my life? What was I thinking, kneeling before a guru? Why hadn’t I had the brains to drive off the property in my Porsche after I got fired from the Safety Patrol for saving a drowning Indian? I should’ve left Le Ranch and got busy with forthcoming apologies to my estranged wife. And go straight to Mr. Padula with a payment plan which would include keeping my bones intact so I could work off my gambling debt. How could I explain turning my back on my problems to genuflect before a guru? To take a spiritual name? My mind couldn’t find the logic to piece it together.
And at the same time, I didn’t want to figure it out. The moment was supremely satisfying in some way my mind could not explain. This was not an experience which I could file in the proper compartment of my brain. And I couldn’t even find the clerk to file the experience.
A timelessness flashed.
Then I was cresting the timeless. It’s not that I was gone in some altered state, staring blankly at GuruJi. No, I was clearly present at his feet. My heart opened, capable of comprehending the wordless message, the Divine. Was this a sacred transmission? Was I being initiated into the holy? Nothing I could say or think at the moment could come close to putting it into a perspective that was part of my previous life.
“Angelo,” GuruJi said. “Your mind is churning like a paddle wheel on a Mark Twain riverboat. You are welcome to speak. Speak, my new sannyasin. Talk to me.”
I looked to my immediate right. The German who’d briefed me on protocol narrowed his eyes threateningly. My rectum puckered and my nuts shriveled from the wordless threats he silently mouthed if I dared disobey his warning about speaking to the Master. But I took a deep, slow breath like Deva would’ve done. I started to feel my center. The German’s icy blue eyes didn’t seem to affect me. I found the courage which had given me the balls to take on the pounding North Atlantic in a few dozen gales and one mother of a hurricane. What, the guy’s gonna take me to a Nazi oven and fry me for disobedience?
“GuruJi,” I found myself speaking the unspeakable. “Do I have to obey your girls everyday?” I held my breath, waiting for an angry Zen whack.
“Which girls?” He raised his eyebrows.
“Them which provokes.”
“Ahhhh, now I see. You have met your resistance, Swami. Yes?” He smiled, looking at me with a cunning seen in madmen. “If you are willing to surrender to their authority, if you can allow the internal argument to drop away, you can slowly watch the ego mind fade. With this opening it is possible for something new, something fresh to grow. Be patient. Be aware. You will see.” GuruJi giggled as he patted my head.
But I had no idea on how to surrender. So far it had seemed like the ultimate abandon of reason. Say yes to Veronica and her crowd in the name of enlightenment?
I’d entered the belly of the whale and was about to be engulfed and ingested by the inner workings of a system about which—despite my around-the-world-travels—I was clueless. What had happened to my mind was nothing to prepare me for my next adventure in Guru Gulch. But no matter what else was coming down, I was not going to eat Veronica’s shit.
Since GuruJi had arrived in the USA, he had strictly adhered to a vow of silence, at least in terms of public speaking. Maybe his lawyers had advised him to take the Fifth Amendment not to incriminate himself politically. It didn’t do much good. Like Deva had said, Hell and damnation were the threats shouted by the locals. And their call to arms was backed up by their duly elected county and state representatives bent on keeping the growing cult from taking over county politics.
GuruJi was more an armchair philosopher than a Gandhi who’d walked the earth in a simple loin cloth, leading a country in revolt against British Colonial rule. Our GuruJi sat in his custom designed easy chair to support his painful low back and read a few books everyday. He chose to allow Le Ranch to be run by a squad of crazed women. The supreme dictator of Le Ranch and all its daily nuts and bolts doings, the right hand woman of the Guru through whom all orders from on high do come, was one notorious dragon lady. Sal, in her burgundy Stetson, had proclaimed to the land agent selling the property that the newcomers were here to provoke God. Why had GuruJi given his commune to a woman who seemed determined to start a range war with easygoing cattle ranchers from day one?
After my initiation, I was ushered to the exit. Fresh arrivals on my level didn’t come in contact with the inner circle but I caught a glimpse of the infamous Sal on my way out GuruJi’s mansion where I’d just been flying the astrals. I guess you could say that I’d made contact with the birthplace of the all. Maybe I was just hyper alert or still buzzing from contact high with the old man.
The expansion of my exalted state of mind was like snorting a hit of nitrous oxide you’d get from a dentist. I just couldn’t stop laughing at myself. What a stupido! I’d been worried about protecting my self esteem. And defending this ego story was the very source of my suffering. The joy of allowing the burden of a personal story to drop was like nothing I could have ever dreamed.
It was like sailing across Casco Bay without the weight of a wooden hull slowing me down. I was the wind, I didn’t need the boat. The July desert heat burned my forehead as I floated out of GuruJi’s, but my spirit was unaffected. What a high.