Thursday, February 23, 2006


“I shut my eyes in order to see.”
Paul Gauguin

As an adolescent and I think this is true of a lot of kids, what I really wanted was to disappear, or step off the planet to return only when there was no one around to notice. Actually, the return trip wasn’t an issue. I would have been happy with a one-way ticket. Before I reached drinking age, fourteen in my case, books were my escape, and most anywhere I could be found I’d either be reading or would have a book within easy reach. Books have remained a constant, but after fourteen alcohol, and then drugs, became advanced means of escapism, but the problem with books, alcohol, and drugs were they kept you bound to earth, and I was aiming for something short of suicide, but a little more spacious than bedrooms, bars, or backseats. I wasn’t sure what, but I was ready for whatever presented itself.

Adolescent escapism is supposed to end with the end of adolescence, but my desire to shuffle off to some unreachable place lasted much, much longer.

The Stickman was an Army buddy of mine, and as a devotee of Paramahansa Yogananda was a card carrying member of the Self –Realization Fellowship and practiced Kriya Yoga. He kept the details a secret, but used to trance out in his top bunk. His trances were deep, and once, before I knew what he was up to I thought he had died. I panicked as I guess a friend would, shook him awake, and upset him to no end. I didn't realize that tranced-out people should be treated gently. Well, I didn't realize he was tranced-out. Like I said, I thought he was dead. The more mysterious the Stickman kept his practices; the more I bothered him about revealing them to me. One night, both of us drunk - a common occurrence - he decided he'd break the rules and teach me a meditation and chant.

We were sharing a home off base in Gelnhausen, Germany, so had no fear of anyone disturbing us. We sat on the bedroom floor. Stickman managed the Lotus; I just sat with my legs crossed. The breath technique was easy enough - in through the nose, hold, out through the mouth - and the chant, which I no longer remember, had something to do with the Goddess, or the Mother. I entered the practice quickly and completely. Whatever time passed I don't know, and I don't know if my eyes were open or closed, but I had the distinct picture of the room - myself seated on the floor, and myself in the opposite corner in a seated position, but hovering in the air near the ceiling in a perspective that was like looking through the wrong end of a telescope. A great energy seemed to flow between the two me’s, and though there was no movement except my breath it seemed as though we were hurtling through space - or space was hurtling past us. It was a highly charged experience - a "rush" in the language of the times. I don’t know how long I was gone, but at some point I heard Stickman calling my name. The sound was traveling through a lot of space in order to reach me, and though I couldn’t ignore it I did my best to disregard it. I was determined to stay out-there. Stickman eventually applied a cold towel to my neck, and forced my self back onto myself. I fell over, and Stickman patted my face and repeated my name over and over. I mumbled something like, "No, no, I don't want to come back," but come back I did, feeling remarkably sober, but drained. Stickman was quite frightened. After I'd finally snapped back from wherever I'd been he flipped and went on and on about how he should never have taught me the technique, and about how I could have left permanently and ended up in a mental hospital; and he made me promise I'd never try the techniques again.

Whatever the disassociation was, I liked it. The great feeling of energy passing from my seated form to my hovering self and the experience of "beyond-ness" was hugely exciting.

I never went back to the chant, I've never remembered it, but I did practice the breath for some little time after. The breath without the chant didn’t get me out-of-body, but did give me a tremendous erection. When I told Stickman about the priapic experiences he thought I was mocking him and took offense. I took great pains to assure him I wasn’t making fun, but he didn’t want to hear it. Stickman went back to his secretive modus operandi, and I went on to the dynamite grass I was getting through the mail from my friend in Vietnam, and the hash we were scoring in Frankfurt.

I have gotten out of body since, though, and without the assistance of drugs.

It’s not that I’d slip in and out on a regular basis, but there were a few occasions when I’d find myself walking down the street with – well, me. As soon as I’d notice I’d come back together again. It was odd, but not unpleasant. It’s like déjà vu, but instead of thinking you’ve been here before, you see yourself being here - now. There are suddenly two of you. I also used to hear my name being called. I’d look around and find no one there. Whatever was going on, my brain chemistry was functioning, or not functioning, in interesting ways.

There were a few other more profound experiences.

When I was at the Goodman Theater, and the Art Institute of Chicago I studied improvisational dance and performance art with a wonderful instructor – Tom Jaremba. Tom’s work moved around the fringes of mysticism, (I guess that would be the fringes of the fringe,) and he attached a great deal of importance to the spiritual aspects of dance. Addled as I was, I was sold on just about everything he had to say, and was willing to take things as far as they could go. Dancing into a trance – letting the spirit take you – seemed like just the thing. Get out far enough, and who knows where you’d end up. Dance was a great vehicle for transcending the physical, and the possibility of leaving the body and not necessarily ever coming back.

One year Tom took it into his mind to create a major work based on Christian Mythology. (When I told my uncle, a Catholic priest, about this he remarked that there were no myths in Christianity, myths were the province of other religions.) Tom’s intent was to get from Creation to Resurrection in an hour and a half through the media of music, dance, and projected visuals. Part of the creation sequence was an Adam and Eve/relationship section. I think we went from representations of energy into human form when paired off, and the improvisational task was for us to create/discover one-another. A lovely concept. I paired off with a woman, and we worked through our improvisation by placing hands on each other in very slow, concentrated time. Our bodies were as engaged as our minds and much like my event with Stickman, I slipped right out of myself. My “astral body” hovered above the two of us, and it was as if that entity were directing the dance. If there was a guiding spirit involved, it was Eros. The departure and return took seconds, but they were transcendent and profound. Then I was back, the dance continued without a pause, and I didn’t loose the thread of activity.

The thing about these experiences is you can’t have them and be the same person after. You can’t leave, come back, and remain unchanged. If nothing else, I had to wonder who else was scurrying around unseen. I’m also a little less skeptical about bi-location than I would be without these experiences. According to all reports, Jesus was able to pull it off, and there are tales galore about yogis traveling around without a lot of inconvenience.

One other event was born of another meditation practice, and included a shot of “white light.” Well, “meditation practice” is an exaggeration. More like a meditation one-night-stand.

The Chicago Reader was a local rag, and after the Village Voice, one of the first free weeklies on the streets of any city. Back in those days it was sort of a middle-class alternative paper. It didn’t have the edge of the underground press, or the fine mixture of reporting, arts, and sleaze of the Voice, but it did list activities the Sun Times, or Tribune wouldn’t touch. The activity that caught my eye was a weekly meditation session at an apartment in my neighborhood. I decided to check it out.

It was a walk-up, so I did. I knocked; someone let me in, and led me to a living room without furniture. The walls were lined with people sitting cross-legged. It was dark, not even a candle. The only light was leaking from the next room. I sat myself down, and after a few minutes the “moderator” asked for people to share a poem, prayer, or practice.

When my turn came around I offered a chant I’d learned the previous summer in Vermont.

“Om is the bow,
The arrow is my soul,
Brahmin is the arrow’s goal.”

The tune was simple, and easy to teach. The entire room got into it, and just before it ran its course there was an incredible explosion of white light that caused not a ripple, but must have done something to the aether as we all seemed to lift out of ourselves, and even the room seemed unmoored. My witness was from my seat, but in a way that my vision encompassed the entire room, so I was both witness and participant – the telescope affect again. Not strictly out of body, but not strictly earthbound either. I caught a look at the moderator and he was jaw-dropped and looking at me like something really special strange had just happened. I was amazed, myself, but nothing was mentioned.

When the moderator announced we were done for the evening there were no thank you’s, hand shakes, or see-you-later’s. People got up from the floor, milled around, or filtered out. I filtered out.

“White light” was a common phrase back in those druggie days, but I never heard anyone define it. The Velvet Underground had an LP out called, “White Light/White Heat.” The lyrics to the title tune seemed to describe a Kundalini Yoga rush:

“White light, White light moved in me through my brainWhite light, White light goin' makin' you go insaneWhite heat, Aww white heat it tickle me down to my toesWhite light, Aww white light I said now goodness knows”

Master Subramuniya, a “western master” of something, but I can’t quite figure out what, calls white light “Eftya,” and defines it as a “brilliant transparent clear white light as seen during deep contemplation.” He says it’s the “brink of the absolute,” an evocative phrase that implies the stepping off place to Nirvana, but doesn’t really mean anything at all – at least as far as I can tell.

I’ve never been back to that white light place, and getting “out-of-body,” got subtler and subtler as time went by. In Santa Fe I was able to sit at a height and picture myself sitting on a mountain across the valley, passing energy from one body to another, but those events were more visualizations than out-of-body experiences. I’ve also had the experience of time stopping – once I lost an entire half-hour performance. I remembered starting and ending, but nothing in between, but I think those are common to intense activity.

The last and most profound out of body experience occurred about ten years ago in the aftermath of a major automobile accident. I’ve written about it as item 8, here,

“Treacherous Angels”

I’ve found all these trips to be interesting and amusing, though according to various sources not that unusual. As part of the unfathomable mysteries of the universe they’ve made me feel like a citizen of eternity, and I’m pleased to say I’m no longer interested in stepping out. I’d prefer the next shuffle were the big one, and that it not happen for awhile.

“Why be nostalgic for eternity? You’re in eternity now.”
Allen Ginsberg

Thursday, February 16, 2006


Tracers flash
like falling stars
behind your eyes.

Sand grasps
at ankles
to hold you back.

You lumber,

And Yassar's arms
are open wide.


His Coma

A tide of blood
Behind his eyes.

Mouth filled
With stones.

The whirlwind.

Central nervous system intifada…

What you reap, Yassar.

His Wife


He’s yours.

Weave your grief,
Guard the cocoon,
Protect the husk,
Even as his gangsters
Fly to his side.

His Funeral


Under the tent

Suits and dishdasha


While in the sun

Lies Yassar,



A roiling mob
And shooting,
Always shooting.

Yassar’s coffin

A storm of noise.

And then,


Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Niagara Follies

In the summer of 1971 Jack Kerouac’s vision of a “rucksack revolution” came true as thousands of young Dharma Bums hit the road hitchhiking around America, and I was one of them

I was in some sort of emotional bankruptcy having blown my chances at a college education, my future with the alternative education project that was foolish enough to hire me in the first place, and my relationship with my girlfriend. I had an invitation from my friend Ping Chong to visit him at Goddard in Vermont where he’d be collaborating with Meredith Monk, but that wasn’t until August sometime. I had time to kill, and that was the whole point – killing time.

And it was a perfect time to hit the road. The middle-class was sprouting hippies, flower –power had gotten enough publicity to be seen as more benign than scary, public opinion had completely turned against the Vietnam War, and people were willing to pick us up out of both curiosity and care. Some people wanted to know what made us tick, others thought they could enter the adventure by offering a ride, and a few others felt parental and wanted to keep us safe for the stretch of road they were driving. It’s not that there weren’t whackos out there, but somehow the US, and for sure Canada seemed safer back then, and hitchhikers develop an ability to read an offer before getting into a car. Anyone with any sense knew that if a driver looked at all shifty you could say no to the ride. One ride not taken was from a fella who offered to get me wherever I wanted to go if he could just give me a blow job. “Uh, no, thanks, think I’ll just catch the next ride.” At least he made his intentions clear.

In early July, after a series of high adventures that got me from Chicago, to Louisville, (see item 4 in “Treacherous Angels,” and then up to Erie, PA, I had a hankering to head out for Niagara Falls, NY, and then into Canada. Somehow I got my mom to drive me from Erie to Niagara Falls. I can’t imagine what I said to get her to agree, nor can I imagine the pain and worry I put her through, but kids aren’t famous for caring about their parents, and I wasn’t going to be stopped anyway. It might have given her some comfort to know that I at least got to Niagara Falls safely, but I’m sure it was cold comfort. I could kick myself now, but then – the road beckoned.

No surprises in Niagara Falls. I’d visited with the family on other occasions, and I didn’t really know what I was doing there this time. It was a jumping off place (no pun intended,) but I was totally aimless and didn’t know what or where I was jumping to - motion was going to be the story of the whole summer.

As Niagara wasn’t offering much except falling water I decided to head out to Toronto which was only 70 miles away, and a big city. I figured about three hours hitchhiking time which would get me into Toronto with enough daylight to figure out where I’d sleep that night. I got back on the road and hit the jackpot with my first ride. A kindred soul by the name of Paul picked me up and offered a ride to Toronto, and a place to spend the night. His only plan for the day was to pick up his buddies, and a case of beer, and drink the afternoon away. I thought that was a pretty good plan, and we set out to execute it.

His friends were waiting, the beer was just down the street, and we spent the rest of the day drinking and driving. Paul seemed to be good at it, and into my fifth or sixth beer I couldn’t have cared less.

We all managed to catch a buzz, picked up another case, and drove to the communal house Paul called home.

We got to work on the second case of beer, and Paul’s housemates, another guy and two gals, joined us. Somebody put on some rock and roll, the party moved into a higher gear, I started putting the moves on one of the girls, and we ended up in her bedroom – more of a storage room/cubby, but perfectly adequate for what we had in mind. Before we got too far along the door banged open - it was the other girl. “What are you doing with my sister!?” It was a rhetorical question. “Leave her alone! She’s too young for you!” I had no idea they were sisters, and not the foggiest how old she was, but our private party came to an end with younger sister in tears, and me back in the kitchen smoking some pot. I was too loaded to stand, so I took a chair in the middle of the kitchen figuring no harm was done and we’d party on. Older sister came out and went into a rant. She plopped herself onto my lap and started in with, “You want to get laid? Why don’t you try someone your own age? Maybe you’d like to spend some time with me?” She was filled to the brim with anger and alcohol. I was filled with alcohol and embarrassment, and gave her a push off my lap. It was a little too much of a push. She ended up sprawled on the kitchen floor. The party turned very quickly, but thank god these were all peace lovers. Instead of murdering me, which is what I thought was going to happen, Paul stepped in and ushered me to the front room where he grabbed my backpack and led me out the door with, “We just can’t have violence here.” He was oddly apologetic, but I was banished to late night Toronto with no idea where I was, and barely able to walk a straight line.

I shouldered my pack, picked a direction, and before long found myself in a lovely European sort of park. But something was strange. It was late, yet all the park benches were occupied by single men. Heads were turning in my direction. Oh... I had literally stumbled upon a Toronto hotspot and it wasn’t to my taste. Another time, maybe, but this time I felt like I was in a candy store and I was the candy. Again, god-bless the Canadians for their good manners. None of the gentlemen came on too strongly, and I navigated my way down the path and out of the park without incident. To this day, though, I can't figure out why those lonely guys didn't just hook-up with each other instead of sitting around waiting for some Bambi like me to come through.

I don’t know how long I was on the street, and still had no idea where I was, but I came to another park that was blessedly empty, and decided to cash it in for the night.

The park was flat and open and didn’t offer much in the way of seclusion, but it was dark, and there was a hedgerow that bordered the sidewalk. I scrunched up as close as possible to the hedge, used my pack as a pillow, and for safety’s sake unsheathed my Buck Knife. I fell asleep, or more like passed-out, half sitting up, with the knife grasped in my right hand. It was my first test in sleeping with one eye open. You can’t sleep with one eye open, and even if you could I don’t think you’d see anything. If nothing else, it was a lesson in metaphor.


Oh, shit. “Huh, what?”

“You want some breakfast?”

That was unexpected, but through my hung-over, half-drunk blur I could see the guy standing over me. He was older, clean, and smiling. Oh, Canada.

“Yeah, I would.”

He extended his hand, “Lemme help you up.”

Considering I was sprawled with a knife in my lap it was a brave offer, but considering the state I was in I didn’t present much of a threat. When I stood up the knife fell onto the ground - so much for armed and dangerous.


I sheathed the knife, stashed it in my pack, and followed him out of the park. Wherever we were, it was wake-up time, and the diner about a half block away was doing a good business. We got a table, and the coffee started coming.


Pall Malls. Not my brand, but I was out.

“Can I buy you a pack?”

I was a little surprised at the guy’s friendliness but didn’t question it. I was getting used to the random favors of the road. I took him up on the offer, got my own brand of smokes, and enjoyed breakfast. Hung-over as I was I still went the whole route with pancakes, eggs, and ham on the side.

“I’ve got to do something, but then we can pick up some bootleg and have a few. Wanna come along?”

Of course I did, but “Why bootleg?”

“It’s Sunday.”

I was inhabiting a Kris Kristofferson song without even knowing it.

“Here’s the deal. I’m going to go check out this flophouse, and I want you to stand outside and let me know if someone’s coming in.”

Two and two not equaling anything, I said, “OK.”

It was a short walk to the flop, two floors of apartments, or rooms, and my partner left me out front and went in to do his business. About fifteen minutes later he came sprinting out holding a gym bag.

“Not much, let’s go!”

Two and two still beyond my reach, “OK, let’s go.”

We hustled down the street, around the corner, and down a few more blocks.

“This is my place. Come on.”

It was a large, old house, with a wrap around front porch. We walked up the stairs to the second floor, and he unlocked the door to his room. It was clean and comfortable looking, with a large brass bed, a sink, dresser, and easy chair. The window led out to a flat roof, and there was a lot of sunlight filtering in. We sat down on the bed and he handed me the gym bag.

“Have a look.”

I unzipped the bag, and he was right, “Not much,” a t-shirt, a pair of sneakers, and a can of spray-on deodorant. Not exactly what I’d call loot.

“Let’s have a drink. I keep a stash just in case, you know?”

He pulled an unlabeled bottle out of his dresser and handed it to me. There were about four swallows left in it. I looked at it.


“Oh, OK.” I took a pull and my sinuses ignited, swallowed and my head caught fire, it was as close to drinking kerosene as I ever hope to get, but I kept it down.


“Yeah, it takes a little getting used to,” and he polished it off. “Look, you stay here, grab some sleep, and I’ll get us some more. Got any money?”

I did, but certainly didn’t want to let on how much, “Couple bucks.”

“Gimme a buck and I’ll be right back.”

“OK.” It was my day for “OK’s.”

My partner, whose name I never did get, left and the door locked behind him. As I sat back down on the bed shouting started with a new voice leading off:

“You son-of-a-bitch, where’s my money!”

“Fuck you, asshole!”

Scuffling, a thud, a pause, and the new voice, subdued, “God damn it.” And that was the end of it. I waited, heard nothing, slumped back on the bed, and was out for hours. I don’t know how long, but the light had changed, and was looking like late afternoon. I got up, climbed out the window to the flat roof, and decided there was enough daylight to make an exit.

I felt like I owed my partner something. For what, I don’t know. He’d been kind, even though he’d enlisted me is some petty theft – and I do mean petty. The slate was probably clean, but I didn’t feel like I could get away without leaving something behind. I’d packed a floppy jungle hat that I’d picked up at an army surplus store and that seemed like a good, useful thing to leave so I dug it out and left it on his pillow.

I opened the door as quietly as possible, stepped into the hallway, and there was “new voice,” hanging in his doorway, holding a baseball bat.

“Where’s Jack?”

“Don’t know. I’m leavin’,” and I was out of there - fast.

After a little wandering around I came across a flyer for a rock festival that was going on somewhere near by...

I hit the road…