A guy I’ve been taking yoga with for several years died last week. A little memorial sheet was taped up on the door of the studio where the class we took is always held. It had a greenish photocopied picture of him and a little obit underneath it. His name was Ron, and like me, he was always a little early so he could get the spot he wanted. Once in a while we exchanged a few sentences while we waited, mats slung over our shoulders, while they pretended to clean the floor between classes. I never knew his name until the little obit on the door.
I was totally shocked. Not that he seemed in the pink of health or young or anything. Surely he was the most out of shape guy at the studio, and certainly not an advertisement for the wonders yoga can do to keep a person trim, fit and full of beans. I was next to him once in class. He huffed, he puffed, and he sweated profusely. He never made it through an entire class, he left anywhere from a half hour to an hour into it. There’s another man like that, who I used to practice with–a pretty well known agent–who also left early. He, on the other hand was totally fit, even ripped. Clearly the agent had places to go and promises to keep. One always got the feeling with Ron that he had nowhere to go in a hurry.
You’re supposed to take your own Savasana if you leave the class early. But I never noticed whether Ron or the ripped agent did that or merely rolled up and sneaked quietly out without final relaxation. All the other complicated poses in yoga are meant to prepare you for Savasana, which translated from the Sanskrit, means Corpse Pose. Savasana is also preparation for your own final resting pose when you leave this life.
I’m guessing Ron was closer to 60 than forty, though it’s hard to tell. He was bald, he was overweight, he wore this stupid little cloth tied around his head, and he always took his shirt off, and now that I’m thinking about it, he man-scaped. He had a fringe of grey hair but nary a hair on his body. Why am I only remembering that now? Probably because I didn’t want to know all that much about Ron. And too, as I think about it, I realize I cultivate yoga friendships with people who are in better shape than Ron. Which means I’ve learned absolutely nothing all these years at yoga. Still, it’s hard being a woman, and it’s hard getting older. Especially hard in LA, the world’s undisputed leader in shallow, superficial values.
According to the obit, Ron was an artist. It didn’t say, what kind of artist, though I’m imagining he painted. I’m guessing I wouldn’t have liked his paintings. Though you never know. The obit also stated that his two children pre-deceased him. And those donations should be sent to the Clare Foundation. That I’m also guessing is what really killed him. It could also explain why Ron always looked sort of sad and out of it. Clare is a get sober house. We used to live a few doors down from it when we first moved to LA. Drunks from there used to lie on the grass in front of our apartment and always made me even more homesick for New York than I already was.
I’m not sorry I didn’t get to know Ron any better, but now that he’s gone I miss him. I asked our teacher and she too misses him. As do the people at the front desk. We feel, because it’s impossible not to, how ineffable it is to be here one minute and gone the next.
When I went to the studio yesterday to take class, the obit was already down from the door. When Mr. Iyengar died, they kept the picture up and a shrine going for at least a month. But I’m guessing a dead student is a real bummer and not the best advertisement for a studio that is always clamoring for more students and building new locations right and left.
Ron dying like that also made me remember a mystery I was writing not that long ago, that I never finished. When I was cleaning off my desktop recently, I relegated it to the graveyard known as “In Progress”. It was called Savasana. And it began with a dead body showing up at the end of the yoga class during final relaxation. I had figured out who the detective was, her voice was coming along really well, as was her relationship to her mother, who I knew was my favorite character the second I started writing her. I remember how she felt about her boyfriend; she was crazy in lust with him. It was set in East Hampton, a place I regard as my spiritual home. I don’t know what made me abandon that mystery after a hundred and fifty pages.
I guess like Ron, I could only show up for half my mystery, I didn’t have the stamina to see that particular book to its conclusion.
When people speak of Ron they remember he was soft spoken, that he came early and left early, and that he always showed up for his practice.
It’s all any of us can do, show up. And breathe. The rest as they say, is not our business.
I had a run in with a neighbor Sunday morning. She lives in this huge condo nearby, the kind that takes up every square inch of land space. She and her husband are the most resolutely American residents within blocks. Our contretemps has been brewing for a few months, ever since Henry growled at one of her little dogs.
I really like my neighborhood. One can actually walk to restaurants, there’s a street scene, even a trendy cafe around the corner with hipsters and fabulous coffee. If Little Osaka weren’t so unremittingly ugly and treeless and it was easier to come and go between the hours of 4 and 7, I would love it. The majority of my neighbors speak foreign languages: Japanese mostly, though there are Russians, Chinese, Filipino and Polish denizens, and I’ve gotten to know many of them through walking the streets with Henry. What I’ll never understand is why here, where all the Japanese gardeners once lived (and where there are still nurseries taking up square blocks of space), there is such a dearth of attractive yards? Other than the Buddhist Church, which has a beautiful Japanese garden in front of it, almost nada elsewhere.
Henry’s growl wasn’t unusually aggressive, and he didn’t bite or even go nuts as he sometimes can. But he wasn’t friendly little Henry as he always has been with her and her dogs. He showed a little temperament and teeth as dogs, especially terriers, are want to do. And that did not sit well with my neighbor. Every time she’s seen me since “the growl,” she has taken to scooping up her little canines and sighing, “I don’t want to upset Henry, so we better go now.” Then she crosses the street as though she’s scared.
Now, a little about my neighbor.
She’s blond and once upon a time she was a babe, but she doesn’t know that time has passed. She has very nice legs, her favorite color is pink, and she is terrifyingly cheerful.
“I’m scared!” is what my husband said after he met her the first time. “She’s not going to be your new best friend or anything?”
I’ve always been careful in front of my neighbor to keep a lid on the profanity. After all, she advertises her Christianity and her numerous acts of charity. She and her husband, whom I call Don Giovanni, are always appearing on the sidewalk, dressed up, announcing they are going to church or a steak house. One is not allowed to kvetch in their midst. If you said to her, “Did you hear those helicopters last night?” leaving out the descriptive “f” before the helicopters. (Ask anyone who lives around here. A war zone often descends on Little Osaka for hours at a time. It may be the traffic copters, it may be the paparazzi copters, whatever it is, the circling brigade always begins at bedtime), she would respond, “Oh it was a little noisy for a few minutes. I don’t mind at all!”
Her husband looks like a blond, going-grey version of Elvis Presley (in his disco days) and he is the biggest flirt imaginable. When she first moved in, she was with an enormous man, so wide he practically took up the entire width of the sidewalk. He claimed to own her building. Then one day the large man disappeared and Don Giovanni was intro’d as “my husband.”
“What happened to the fat guy?” my husband asked for months. “You think she iced him?”
Another thing: She’s always telling me she loves me. And before “the growl” it was a “we love you!” referring to her dogs. Being me, back then I told her I loved her, too. I was raised to please, after all. But unlike her, I know I’m angry about it.
It’s pretty well known that serial killers have in common the fact that they are males, they are tattooed, and when they were young, they have a history of torturing and killing animals. Suburban dog owners, by contrast, while often tattooed, also use their animals to express their own unexpressed hostility.
And so it came to pass Sunday morning, very early, my neighbor and our three dogs ended up on the same side of the street. It was the height of the Santa Ana that’s now, thank God, abating. The temperature was near ninety in the morning, the humidity 11% and the wind was blowing. Henry had been refusing to go outside, except to do his biz, for days.
I walked over to her and the little doggies and she scooped them up protectively to her bosom.
“I don’t want to upset Henry!” she said once again.
“Henry’s not upset,” I snapped. And he wasn’t. He seemed happy to see my neighbor and her dogs.
“You’re upset,” I told her. “And you’re blaming it on my dog.”
She smiled beatifically. “I don’t want to upset Henry. He’s a little temperamental.”
“Henry’s not upset! You’re upset! Don’t blame it on my dog.”
By now the little doggies were squirming in her arms. And I was truly pissed. She appeared to be well meaning. She appeared to be well-mannered, but she was hostile as all hell. In fact, much like the southern ladies of my childhood. For fifty cents, I would have tied Henry to the nearest banana plant and throttled her.
“Own your own shit,” I told her, “you phony.”
She gasped. She clutched the dogs even tighter to her bosom and then she turned and fled into the leafy front of her condo leaving me seething on the sidewalk in the Santa Ana. Over her shoulder she cried out, “I love you!” Christ-like.
The hot wind was in my face; it was horrible out. Henry did his biz and then he pulled me home. I’m glad I spoke up. I felt empowered and bold and all sorts of other marvelous stuff. And thank God I didn’t say, “I love you” back.
Love. Hate. I felt it then, how they were flip sides of the same thing: a really powerful emotion. I’m sorry I swore at her, however. I should have expressed myself in a more literate fashion.
Now in addition to having a bad dog, I’m the usual potty mouth.
You can’t win.
My husband is in between gigs right now. If you are married to a man in the film business, that means he is home, making phone calls, having lunch with his friends who are either working (short lunches) or aren’t working (long lunches). Henry loves it during these times, because he gets even more walks, ball throwing and playing tuggy than he normally does. If husband doesn’t get another gig in the next few weeks, we will invariably go through the “I’m never going to work again!” thing I can totally relate to. I feel the same way whenever I finish any project.
I’m in my little room with the door shut, but I can hear husband and Henry at the front door heading out. I hope they do some running for both their sake.
I’ve been trying for years to get my husband to start exercising. I mean serious exercising. “Hire a blonde trainer with big boobs!” said a practical friend. I have some misgivings about the big blonde idea, given that my last novel was about a woman who basically replaced herself with a younger—yes much larger busted—version of herself and lost her old life.
Do I want to lose my life?
Yes, right at the moment I do. But I also know these feelings pass. That’s the great thing about being a grown up, even a reluctant one. Feelings pass.
I also know that the reason I have to exercise is related to the fact that I had a sad and traumatic childhood and wasn’t allowed to work any of it out in my body as one must do, if trauma is to be processed and gotten rid of. I was a swimmer, and even set a record back in the dark ages, but my mother made me quit when I got my period, which rather put a damper on my athletic career. It also happened with high jumping, broad jumping, and all track and field related activities. I’ve remembered all this because recently I’ve started jump roping again. And jump roping is so hard your whole life passes before you, like it’s supposed to right before you die. It’s almost like being on the couch getting shrunk, only one is jumping. This is especially enjoyable for me because I do a lot of yoga and one is constantly admonished not to be thinking during yoga. But I can do whatever I damn well please while jump roping because just to get through a couple of hundred jumps is huge, at least for me it’s huge.
Probably if yoga was a mandatory practice in all schools and boys and girls were taught to breathe and stretch there would be less crime, better grades and the sexes would not, from an early age, be so polarized. For years I’ve wanted to write a novel where the yoga teachers and body workers were at the top tier of the wage earners, and the arms dealers, big biz power brokers were scraping to make a living. What would the world look like, in such a scenario?
I have no idea, which is why I haven’t been able to write that novel.
I have promised not to hurl myself onto the gender inequality bandwagon yet again, but when I was growing up, boys were encouraged to exercise their demons (and their sex drives) via organized sports. And girls were told to go put their feet up when they got their period and given cramp pills. I remember those yellow cramp pills to this day. My mother and I used to call them daffodils. They had a downer, an upper and a pain killer. Daffodils indeed. We always had a big bottle of daffodils in the kitchen. Probably my brother took them too.
Thank God some things have changed. Still, and this is a big still, these days, adolescent boys are encouraged to sit still while the pharmaceutical industry is making zillions off the ADHD thing. And girls while “allowed” to exercise without appearing un-lady-like are somehow subconsciously still being discouraged from speaking out and doing well at school. The statistics back me up.
Boys sit still. Girls shut up. It’s a no win situation for everyone. A weird world we live in. If I didn’t know better, I’d think this is some kind of giant mind control experiment. But who is behind this? Or is it just more of the same old, same old?
I almost bought a dress today. I was on my way to yoga. I spied it in the window of a small shop on Montana that was having a 75% off sale and thought it had possibilities. But when I went back after class, (having wiped myself down carefully in the loo post class) and tried the thing on, it was a no-go. On me, that schmatta cried out for binoculars, old Birkenstocks, and maybe some hat purchased at a sidewalk sale of a camping store. When I told this to the proprietor of the shop, she really lost her cool and did a deep guffaw confirming that I was right.
Not that I have anything against bird watching, I watch birds all the time, but I don’t want to look like a birdwatcher.
I don’t like dresses. I don’t feel comfortable in dresses; I don’t think I look right in dresses. Though I do own one sort of dress that I adore, and wear it only sparingly because I don’t want it to wear out. It’s not really a dress, but a long stripe t-shirt that falls exactly right. My dear friend Lydia gave it to me after I admired hers. It’s from Muji, that Japanese store, and she sent it to me in the mail from England wrapped around a picture of her darling daughter Martha, at age about 13 months, when she was still very bald and baby-like. I keep Martha’s picture on my altar and Lydia’s t-shirt dress on my best silk hanger. They are two of my favorite things.
Driving home from yoga, I thought about the dress issue. Why do I eschew them?
When you wear a dress, you are vulnerable. The wind can blow it up, you can fall down, some creep can come up behind you late at night when you are out walking your dog, and unless there are black tights underneath, like it or not, there you are in your underpants.
It happened to me my first day living in New York as a young woman. I went out on the street in a pretty skirt and blouse, and wham, the first guy I encountered grabbed my tits and stuck his hand up my skirt.
Thank God, he didn’t get more than a feel.
In case readers are interested, I do not wear the pants in my relationship with my husband. I do not wear the pants, and never did, in my relationship with my son. And I certainly don’t wear the pants in my relationship with my little dog, Henry. Men boss me around all the time. My husband has been trying for years to get me to clothe myself in a more feminine mien. His latest war with me has been over yoga pants that bag in the ass. He’s thrust his credit card at me on numerous occasions. “For the love of God,” he said. “Go out and buy yourself some yoga pants that don’t bag in the ass.”
Nothing I like better than a pair of baggy ass pants.
Mothers have to watch out for the welfare of their little boys. Of course they do. There are creeps out there who want nothing more than their equally vulnerable flesh.
But sorority girls are not getting sorority boys drunk, giving them drugs and raping them on college campuses. There is no culture of rape perpetrated by a league of women on vulnerable men.
People are always messing with girls. Think about who gets raped in Congo. Married off before puberty in certain Middle Eastern countries, and divested of their pleasure centers (isn’t the term lady parts, just so tacky?). And, how can I not think of a certain segment of the male population (with the cooperation of their female cappos), who are trying to control the goings on underneath the skirts of women here in this country.
It’s always been clear to me that when you wear a skirt you are asking for trouble. The kind of trouble that you don’t get into if you just wear pants all the time.
Though there are the exceptions. I’m thinking of this very strange man I used to hand my husband’s shirts over to every week. I purchased a hundred bucks worth of discounted dry cleaning cards because I felt sorry for the door-to-door salesman. This was years and years ago. It’s still a family joke, those dry cleaning cards I got talked into. The man who ran the dry cleaning establishment and was always behind the counter was bald; he had some kind of scalp condition. He was overweight and he had a Marine Corps tattoo on his forearm. This creature had on a flowered dress every time I went in there to use up my dry cleaning cards. His thick white hairy legs stuck out from under the dress. Think of Popeye The Sailor Man with dandruff, a hundred extra pounds, wearing a dress–and you’ve got that guy behind the counter. But of course, being a big burly man, no one was going to mess with him. Myself, I was scared to death of him.
But show me a woman and I’ll show you someone who once upon a time was tried to take advantage of whilst she was wearing a skirt.
I am overstating the issue. And understating it. And the truth lies somewhere in the middle. In the meantime, I’ll zip it up, and keep on wearing pants.