The Guru’s Segway • 26 August 2007

Sitting in the MOMA café two Fridays ago, thinking about Helvetica, when the yoga people call. I’d left voicemail at the Dharma Mittra center days earlier, asking if they’d take a west coast irregular at the long Saturday night intensive. Thought I’d received the silent no, and meantime had made plans to be at the PuckBuilding (interestingly enough) on Saturday night, for a reception that would collect my favorite score of sociologists.

Mmmm. Priority conflict. For about two seconds. I clearly enunciated all my credit card information to the caller, confident the hipsters at the next table were less smart than they looked.

Next night, old men on the street in GramercyPark were doing approachable old-man things, but rather than ask for directions I trailed a giant purposeful yogi a half-block north, moving quickly. Very many good tattoos fresh enough to refer to this phase of his life rather than (like mine) one previous, but both earplugs and dreads so large that he’d been working on them awhile. He was warriorish, and suggested I was in for a break from Santa Monica diamonds and matched Lululemon. He took the stairs two at a time, which I couldn’t follow without making a racket. And besides, I stopped at the first landing to check out the guru’s segway.

Then climbed in to a long thin room full of summer evening light and vegetarian sweat. People were politely staking claims, tucking glasses and cell phones into a bookcase full of Danskos.

Mister Plugs and I were early, but the last two of maybe 40 to arrive. I was glad for that, setting up at the back of the room where’s there’s a solid floor, rather on the front 2/3 that is covered with faded rose shag that could be as old as me. Right above my mat, 15 feet up, was a disco ball in an angular skylight. Ad-hoc feng shi.

To the right (beyond a tattooed over-50 man who had a strong war-veteran-ness about him and who would make repeated comments about my hamstrings as we worked toward yoga nidrassana) was an altar featuring Jesus, Aurobindo, Yogananda, and I think Hanuman. (Nidrassana-man would feel far less lecherous hours later, when the whole thing deteriorated into an ecstatic-chanting, posture-striking mess of bodies.) I only tend to care about altars if they contain a candle I can use to balance. But this altar interested me because it brought parts of my neglected heart together: never has the Jesus-Yogananda association been so clear. This would be the first time that my old relationship with the Jewish carpenter would seem at all relevant to my yoga practice.

The large window out over the street was crowded with more of this hindoo-hippie detritus of what Dharma Mittra (Dharma? Mittra?) later said was his forty years in this space—during which his first segway, and before that 14 bicycles, have disappeared from that stoop on the stairs. (All of this karmic payback for horses, and perhaps one elephant, he stole in past lives. He is glad to give up segways to settle his score.) In the window, plants only a mother would love, glass ornaments of rainbows, dusty candles, and a giant metal OM looking down oven the intersection at 23rd and 3rd.

We crowded in on the pink shag, looking up at him and up at the OM, and made the intonation for a very long time. Across the street a young man pulled off a tie (on a Saturday?) and dress shirt, and I thought of Edward Norton in Fight Club. Did this young capital- lackey know what he was getting in to when he rented the place? We OMed and OMed. I thought about the cardsculpture stacks of citrus fruits at the stand down below, wondered if we were creating a comedy streetscene by dislodging them.

Then, drawing in a little closer, I started to see the people around me: 30s, professional, uptight, white. Possessing triceps. I fit right in.

This was not what Mister Plugs had led me to expect. No surprise it would take this group a while to open up to the ecstatic yogachurch Dharma Mittra wanted to conjure.

But here it is paragraph ten and I haven’t even set eyes on the man’s face yet. We haven’t even taken the first sun salutation (or the second, in which he’d nonchalantly instruct us to take pincha from downward dog).

Looks like I am recounting this at the pace to which I have to slow down in order to remember it, now that it’s more than two weeks past. I’ll try to speed this thing up and offer a proper workshop review. Later.