Authors: Marco Vassi
Tags: #Fiction, #Erotica, #General, #Romance
For Richard Curtis — Minister and Midwife
I truly attained nothing
from total unexcelled enlightenment.
— Gautama Buddha
Life is an omen.
— Frank Gillette
“Are you . . . searching?”
For a moment I thought she might be mocking, but her eyes were clear. Her name was Joan, and she was the secretary to the director of public relations for Encyclopedia Americana. I was immediately intrigued. I leaned back in my editor’s chair, appraised her in my best astral Valentino, and said, “Yes, you might say I am searching.”
“Ah,” she said, and walked out of the office.
She was the most interesting woman I had ever met in an office. Of all the workers there, she was the most totally self-possessed, seeming always on the edge of some amusing secret. I felt an uncomplicated animal passion for her, and for several months had been ravishing her up and down the corridors of my imagination, flinging her across my desktop, ripping her skirt and blouse to shreds, forcing her with my throbbing manhood, until the fires of refusal in her eyes liquefied into yearning.
Outside of my fantasies it was nothing like that. I was the editor of a sixteen-page piece of baroque reportage called Encyclopedia News, and each month I filled the space with exhortations to SELL MORE!, and inspiring stories of salesmen who had sold six sets in one week! I was housed in a private cubicle on the nineteenth floor of the piss-yellow Americana Building which squats over Lexington Avenue on Fifty-first Street. And at night I read the literature of alienation and suffered the psychic suffocation which came with contemplating my current condition, the daily lie to myself which told me I ought to go to work, the death-in-life subway ride, the overwhelmingly oppressive air and vibration of midtown Manhattan.
I was a slum kid on the rise, fulfilling my parents’ expectations of college degree and respectable office job, escaping the eight hours of daily manual labor my father had spent forty years at. But there had always been something occult in the way I went about things, for I was always ready to give as much weight to the potential as to the actuality of any given circumstance, knowing intuitively that the environment is as much defined by my perception of it as by any objective qualities it may possess.
Three days later, Joan came into my office again. She waited until I put down my pen, had turned to face her, and then spoke. “Do you know . . . Gurdjieff?” she said. I wanted to impress her, but all I knew about Gurdjieff was a short jumbled conversation Bob Wellman and I had had one night, during which he referred to Gurdjieff as a Russian mystic. “Oh, yes,” I said. “He’s a Russian mystic, isn’t he?” Her response was sheer silent disdain. I trembled inwardly. She arched one eyebrow and said, “Well, actually, he’s neither a Russian nor a mystic. But no matter.” And quickly turned and walked out of the office.
The window blind slipped a gear and came crashing down to the sill, in the process decapitating a small cactus plant I was growing there. That night I went to Washington with Conrad, a fellow editor who was going on a tour of the southern territory; I was to spend three days going out with salesmen to get a feel of how they actually worked, supposedly to make my writing more realistic for the men. I spent a night with an old Estonian pirate named Peter, and the evening was highlighted when we moved in on an Italian tailor, who spoke almost no English, and browbeat him and his wife for over an hour. The man had a two-year-old daughter, and Peter was trying to convince the cat that unless he bought a set of encyclopedias, he would be condemning his little girl to a life of ignorance and poverty. He pulled out all the stops, and did the entire pitch including a ten-minute résumé of man’s recorded history and climb up from savagery to the conquest of space. He grew so eloquent that I was ready to buy a set myself. The tailor understood very little of the account, but being Italian, he was swept away by the sound of the rhetoric. He wrung his hands and vowed his eternal desire to buy a set of encyclopedias but pleaded, “I don’t have enough money.” Peter then proceeded to show him that it would only cost “pennies a day.” They wrestled for a long time until, with a gesture worthy of Verdi, the man strode to a table piled high with clothing and shouted, “I have to work all night just for food enough for my family. Please, I can’t buy the books.”
Peter leveled him with a cold glance. “All right,” he said, and in his voice I heard defeat. “All right, if you won’t make the sacrifice for your child . . .” And he gathered up all the charts and contracts and sample volumes, packed slowly and deliberately, and walked out without a backward look. I followed him out, and no sooner were we five feet from the house than his shoulders straightened, his step got brisk, and his face lit up. “Well,” he said, “every one you lose means you’re that much closer to the next sale.”
One can desire only that which one has tasted, and while I was desperately sick of my job, of the city I lived in, of the entire flat, tedious round of meaningless daily existence, I didn’t know what else to do. Everything I tried was only a minor variation on the theme, a palliative for the moment. New York has many toys for its slaves to play with. And yet, there had to be more. For my entire life, I have known that there was more. Not in the way of possessions or life style, but in the way of understanding, of knowing. At the time, the psychedelics were beginning to hit the public eye, and the phrase “expanded consciousness” was filtering through society. But I wasn’t ready for LSD; it frightened me.
When I returned from the trip to D.C. I found a slip of paper on my desk. It was from Joan. It read, “The Psychology of Man’s Possible Evolution, by P. D. Ouspensky.” I bought the book on Friday, and read it on the bus to Bennington, where I was having a pornographic love affair with a very romantic and slightly nymphomaniacal girl of nineteen. I was, at the time, working desultorily toward an MA in psychology at the New School, going three nights a week to take notes and scream inwardly at the cosmic obtuseness of the teachers there, each of whom scurried like a white mouse down the end corridors of some inane specialty, getting to know “more and more about less and less until finally they knew everything about nothing.” I was coming to the great realization that the study of psychology could not take place apart from an understanding of life as a whole, and to talk about theories of projection was not worth a thousandth of a single insight during which one fully and materially experienced the fact of how one projects. So when Ouspensky began by dismissing all of Western psychology as childish, I felt that I had found my man.
I understood the book merely on the intellectual level, except for one experiment he recommends, which is simply to look at the second hand on one’s wristwatch for two minutes, all the while maintaining a single awareness: the fact of one’s existence. Of course, I couldn’t do it, and the lesson was not lost. “You are asleep,” Ouspensky was saying, “and your so-called waking life is the blind stumbling of a sleepwalker. You prate about consciousness, and internal unity, and will, but you are as far from these as an ant is from the snow-covered mountaintops.”
“I’d like to know more,” I said to Joan when I saw her next. She looked at me approvingly. “Can I go to bed with you?” I asked. She smiled and I couldn’t tell at all what the smile indicated. “Try this,” she said, and wrote down, “Meetings with Remarkable Men, by G. I. Gurdjieff.” I picked up the book that night, and expected a rush of high-level intellectual force, for this was, after all, written by the Master. Where the Ouspensky book had merely piqued my interest, this work blew my mind. Gurdjieff came across as a drinking, brawling, ballsy madman. In a flash I saw the difference; it was the Jesus — St. Paul split all over again. Gurdjieff’s ideas were epiphenomenal to his life, while with Ouspensky, who was a Russian, life was just the stage upon which ideas could develop. I communicated my enthusiasm to Joan, and after I had waxed out for a few minutes, she took a deep breath (her breasts rising beautifully on her chest) and said, “You’re ready for In Search of the Miraculous.” For a moment I thought she was going to clasp my hands, but she seemed to restrain herself. “If I read this, then can I go to bed with you?” I said. This time her smile was encouraging.
Within a hundred pages of Ouspensky’s Gospel, I saw the light. Once again I was converted to a system. The man had the gift of unerringly articulating every one of my secret visions and half-felt intuitions. I became a true believer, and could hardly wait to get to work the next morning, to see Joan, this oddly disguised Beatrice who was introducing me to a strange journey through myself. “It’s fantastic,” I shouted when I saw her. She retained her cool. “I want to know more,” I said. “What do I do next?” She seemed to come to some deep resolve inside herself and then said the words which were to permanently change my life. She said, “I’ll speak to my guru.”
Now, this was at a time before the term “guru” had become associated with the Maharishi, Satchidananda and Yogananda Brothers Psychic Circus. The word struck a chill in my heart, and I conjured images of austere old men in Tibetan caves, whose eyes burned with the unbearable vision of truth. Since I rarely study a thing unless it has some fervid following in one circle or another, I had no knowledge of the Eastern semantic, and had no precise understanding of what a guru was, or did.
My knowledge of the East came from the three years I had spent in Korea and Japan, working as an electronic spy for the U. S. Air Force. I had, after drunkenly enlisting one afternoon during the doldrums of my sophomore year in college, been sent to Yale’s Institute of Far Eastern Languages for a year to study Chinese in an intensive course. For seven hours a day, forty of us raged and giggled our way through the Mandarin lexicon, learning to hear spoken Chinese at a faster and faster rate, and finally in dialect and through heavy static, so we could spend the following few years hunched over radio receivers, trying to hear obscure messages being passed by inscrutable pilots winging over the mainland of China. The advantage was being able to spend all that time actually living in the Orient, learning about the civilization through osmosis.
The drawbacks inhered in the work. Since what we were doing was ostensibly a secret — although huge radio antennas sprouted from every square foot of the compound — we could have no uncleared guards working to protect us from raids, which from time to time did occur. At one point I found myself on a low hill on an island in the Yellow Sea, on the 38th parallel and just two thousand yards from the North Korean shore, standing for four hours, with the winter wind whipping down from Manchuria at thirty degrees below zero, staring into pitch-blackness past the glare of searchlights and over a barbed-wire fence. I held a rifle which had frozen to my fingers, and each second I wondered whether there might be an “enemy” just about to put a bullet into my forehead.
Four days later, Joan approached me. “My guru has asked that you write her an autobiography.”
I was bemused. “How long should it be?” I asked.
“As long or as short as you wish,” she replied. Suddenly, I saw her lying on her back on a red rug, her fingernails digging into the fur, her face screwed up into a mask of pleasure-pain, her legs straining to open wider and wider while her cunt surged toward me. I became momentarily dizzy. “Do it as quickly as you can,” she said.
I wrote a one-page sketch of my life that was a masterpiece of fatuousness, although I thought it was quite clever at the time. I assumed an Olympian stance and described the major incidents of my life as though they were diversions I had chosen for my pleasure. I gave it to her and waited a week. I spent a lot of time wondering whether the guru might be impressed with what I had written. It seemed to me that I was a most interesting and unusual person, and that if the guru were worth her salt, she would immediately welcome me into the inner circle, whatever that happened to be. Part of me was also amused that the guru was a lady. I had come across the phrase “male chauvinism” in Engels, but hadn’t yet realized how much of my attitude was embedded in that particular posture.
The day came. “She will see you,” said Joan. She handed me a slip of paper with a name and phone number. It read, “Mrs. R. 688–4319.” Joan said, “Call her,” and walked out.
The first five phone calls I made were exasperating. At times she sounded drunk; at other times she seemed not to remember who I was; and then she would surprise me by sounding outrageously intelligent. Her mood would change from politeness to irascibility. Once she said she didn’t have time to talk to me and then hung up. By the sixth time I was genuinely angry, and when she attempted to put me off again I shouted, “Well, you’re the one who asked me to call. When can I see you?” She answered in a calm, reasonable tone of voice. “Come on Tuesday morning at ten thirty.” And she gave me the address.
Oddly enough, on the day she agreed to see me, I received a call from a man called Sweeney, who wanted to offer me a job with the Reader’s Digest. Although I despised the publication, and saw it as the final step in the ultimate degradation of thought in our time, receiving the offer turned me on. He invited me to the Princeton Club for lunch, and I went through all the changes involved in working my way up a stream of absolutely superficial people. In my forty-dollar Howard suit and sixty-nine-cent tie, my dollar-fifty haircut, and inability to understand much of what was written on the menu, I was clear game for the doorman and deskman and maître d’ and waiter. Sweeney spent almost two hours pumping me of every bit of information I had concerning Americana’s educational division. I saw fairly quickly that he was less interested in my qualifications than in what I could tell him about a rival’s mode of operation. But I was disgusted enough at myself, and pissed off enough at Americana, to tell all. This was a scene that was to be repeated later when one of the senior vice-presidents of a large ad agency, who happened to be the father of a friend of mine, asked me to find out all I could about Americana’s advertising scene, since he was going to make a bid to steal the account. That time I spent a number of hours late at night Xeroxing documents and rifling through correspondence. Once again, my sense of drama obscured any business advantage, and my payment was no more than a lunch at the Four Seasons, during which I handed over the documents.