Baba Ji mentioned he would be travelling for five days in Punjabi towns giving satsang, and wants us to come with him. However, the good doctor believes that in order to have positive long term results, these treatments should be consistent. We’re disappointed but we understand. Happy day. Doug’s daily sessions with Dr. Sharma have provided much relief. It’s wonderful to see him feeling chipper and more like his old self. Once again Baba Ji invites us to travel with him. I pack clothes for five days. We’re good to go when I hear a knock on the door: it’s Jasbir with a message from Baba Ji telling us the trip has been postponed. Okay. I unpack our clothes, but just when I’m ready to work in the brickyard there’s another knock on the door. Jasbir stands in the doorway with a grin on his face and says, “Well, are you ready?” I answer, “Ready for what?” He replies, “Baba Ji leaves in ten minutes for his satsang tour. He will pick you up in five. Be ready.” He walks away then turns back to me, and says, “Get moving!” We can’t be late. I hardly have time to pack more than one change of clothes; clueless as to how long we’ll be gone. Baba Ji and his driver are in the front seat, and us in the back. I honestly think I finished my first book travelling in the back seat of his SUV. Hard to believe we’re travelling with Baba Ji to his many satsang centers. Everywhere we go he is greeted like the great Saint he is. We spend the night in Ludhiana at the home of Tarsem Singh Bhullar who opens his home to Baba Ji whenever he gives satsang. Baba Ji knows I want to buy gifts for our friends in America. He tells his driver to take me to a little shop no bigger than a closet that sells unique handcrafted gloves, caps and Indian shawls I would never find anywhere else. When I return, Doug is outside waiting for me, “Jen, hurry up, get in the car. They say we’re in for a surprise. We’re going to the main satsang center.” We go on another speed-o-drive through the streets of Ludhiana. The moment we walk in, a door opens behind the dais where Baba Ji sits, when a swarm of little children rushes through with their hands over their heads holding pencils for him to bless and help them make good grades. There must be at least two hundred who want his special blessing. The closer they get to Baba Ji, the quieter they become. It’s easy to see he loves children and intends to stay until not one is left. What a wonderful experience to watch him laugh with these kids as he blesses their pencils. What a moment. In the morning we come downstairs where prantas, chapattis and chai are being served. To stand back and watch three or four Punjabi women prepare an Indian breakfast for Baba Ji in a small kitchen is something to behold.
I’ve gone from a scrappy kid wondering when I’d get to China digging a hole in the backyard with a spoon, to being a Hollywood starlet, then to Broadway and the high life, to the present. I’m a very pregnant crazy lady with two little kids and ten hours out from a long, hot cross country drive across America in my old Chevy. I can’t sleep for all the memories running through my head. If there was ever a time for a mind boggling quote from Dylan or a sobering passage from Moby Dick, that rambling classic with a point I never quite grabbed by the tail – this is it. Oh, and just in case I forget to mention it, with so much going on and all, my future looks like zip, and what really happened to J.D. Salinger? The big day is here. Insomnia is driving my mind nuclear reliving every piece of minutia from my birth to the present. It’s 3:00 a.m. and I can’t sleep. I’ve cried so much, I’m alarmed at the amount of snot one person can lie in without being glued to the pillow. How did it all come to this? Seems like only yesterday, I was a rising Broad- way actress with successes under my belt. I can still hear the knock on my dressing room door, the stage manager giving me the last call, “Showtime Jennifer! It’s a packed house tonight.” As usual, I’m so terrified before going on, I can’t remember the first line. But the moment I step onstage, my jitters long gone, I vanish into character and I’m fine. It’s make believe time. The thrill of playing before a live audience is better than dope. I’ll be driving straight through the Mojave Desert from LA to New Jersey, no doubt my three year old kicking the back of my seat all the way asking, “Are we there yet? Mommy, I have to go.” If Romie kicks hard enough, with my luck I’ll go into labor and have this baby next to a cactus. I can’t sleep for stressing over the future – no husband, no money, no job, bills to pay and three kids to raise. How will I do it? All these years I’ve supported myself as an actress. What am I supposed to do – squat on the sidewalk and sell pencils out of a shoe box? My choice is either fall back into my old, destructive ways or wrap myself around a future I know nothing of. Being clueless at thirty is a bitch. Why cry over the “Sperm Donor?” He makes love like shoveling spaghetti with both hands. Lots of women have husbands who cheat. You could monitor how often they drop their pants by putting a metronome up their ass. They don’t fall apart like me. The ones I know marry wealthy men, and find it convenient to ignore their over active libidos. They compensate by shopping on Rodeo Drive until they pass out, then to spring shows in Paris, then to Milan, having affairs along the way, and thanking God for revolving credit. For some men, the more submissive the wife and mother, the less appealing she is as a woman; the sexual attraction and challenge no longer exists. Like a hound chasing a fox: hound chases fox, hound catches fox, hound kills fox, hound hunts for another fox. The Sperm Donor is never home. I doubt he even knows how fast the kids are growing. I closed our joint bank account today. What I took is barely enough for this trip, the hospital bill and rent for a small apartment once we arrive in New Jersey. That’s if we make it to New Jersey. Just saying those two words makes me run for Imodium, and what’s wrong with me? I always make the same mistake – jump first, and look afterwards. I’m home late tonight. I worked overtime on a Gunsmoke. Thanks to Arness it took forever to hear, “It’s a wrap!” This house looks like a tornado just passed through, popcorn all over the floor, the kids eating Wheaties out of a box, and our latest addition, my husband’s five year old from a previous marriage racing from room to room wearing a Batman cape, his school uniform still not washed for tomorrow. The Sperm Donor is sprawled out on the couch watching Mod Squad, oblivious of the circus going on in front of him. Working all day, then coming home to a nightmare like this would push anyone over the edge. Some things never change. I shift to high, make dinner, wash and iron Willie’s uniform for tomorrow, and do a quick tidy-up. Afterwards, I bathe the boys and tuck them in for the night, knowing full well they won’t go to sleep unless I read to them. I sit on the edge of the bed, and begin the next chapter of Wind In the Willows. They love the Badger. I still have ten pages of new dialogue to memorize for tomorrow, get five hours of sleep, be at the studio at 6:00 a.m. in makeup, and pray to God I don’t have bags down to the floor. I can’t keep up this pace. If I don’t step back from my career our home life will be in worse shape than now. There’s not enough room for two careers in this family. Let him have it. It’s what he wants. Something is wrong.How long does it take to answer a simple question, and what’s wrong with me that I can’t confront him? The two of us stand in this small kitchen that looks out over the mountain, his back facing me as he pours himself a second cup of coffee when I finally say, “You leave mornings, and don’t come home until dawn.” Moments of silence pass. He continues to sip his coffee and stare down at the floor before he finally turns around, his dark eyes focused into mine and replies matter-of-factly, “I don’t love you anymore. I’m done.” My response is frozen in silence that so reverberates in my ears that I’m deafened to its clamor. My breath pushes me to smart-ass, flippant silent retorts, “You’re done? What about me and the kids? Are we done too? When you leave the house each morning, I make you a brown-bag lunch with fresh banana bread sandwiches, the crusts cut off the way you like. My paycheck goes to you after every job. I’ve all but given up my career for you. We have two children, another on the way, and now you say you’re done?” I listen to my unspoken thoughts coming through this mealy-mouthed person I hardly recognize. I’m unable to speak because there are no words left to come right out and say, “How many hours can one man spend at the Actor’s Studio? I know damn well what you’re doing and who you’re doing it with.” The Sperm Donor wastes no time describing his passionate feel- ings for her, and the futility of living one more second trapped in a loveless marriage. He talks to me like I’m not in the room, and explains in great detail how good it is to finally let it all out, that he’s not the type man to live in shadows. I can’t catch my breath … I’ll stop breathing if he doesn’t shut up. Still unable to speak, I grab both kids by their hands and run along the narrow, weathered path alongside Aunt Lowee’s house, a brick missing here and there, the smell of Eucalyptus guiding me like a silent friend to the top of the mountain that overlooks dark clouds of gray smog hovering over East Los Angeles. I can’t stop crying for the uncertainty of our future, for having wasted so much of my life, for the baby growing inside me, and for Willie, his five year old son who just came to live with us and misses his grandparents. Several weeks ago, he mumbled something about a new project he was working on with some actress at the Actor’s Studio West. When I asked about her, he casually mentioned a name I immediately recognized. The exact same feelings of rage and jealousy welled up in me again, precisely the same as I had experienced twelve years ago. As soon as I heard her name, I knew I’d lost him … and remembered the first time I saw her face. Twelve years earlier in Hollywood, long before I moved to New York and met the Sperm Donor, a friend gave me an article he’d cut out of the newspaper about a beautiful actress who worked in Elvis Presley films, as well as B-movies. It showed her photograph along with details of a large sum of money she inherited. It wasn’t the money. It was the recognition of her face that filled me with jealousy, feelings out of proportion to the situation. So many times I’ve asked myself why I reacted like that to someone I didn’t know. She looked like every other starlet in Hollywood, as opposed to me who was somewhat offbeat compared to the Barbie Doll look of the sixties. I threw the paper back and snapped, “This has nothing to do with me.” Ironically, as quickly as those feelings of anger entered my psyche, that’s how fast they left. That incident still puzzles me. Perhaps my reaction was a premonition of events to come – although I’m not into crystal gazers, psychics, telemarkers hawking spirituality, fake gurus and all the other scams to support their mansions. What difference does it make now? I’m beginning to sound like those women in supermarket tabloids next to the check-out. If it’s a long wait, I’ll take one off the rack and give it a quick look. If I read about one more female who attempts suicide over a failed marriage, I’ll pull the plug on myself. I can’t stand whiners yet much as I hate to admit it, that’s what I’ve become. “Yeah you are, so shut up!” “I’m not. Am I?” “Does a bear pee in the woods? “What kind of man abandons a pregnant wife and two kids?” “The one you married stupid, now shut the hell up!” “How will we live? I have no money.” “Stop watching As the World Turns.” It’s as though two people live inside me. One like sand in an hour glass, moment by moment drained of self-worth, crawling through each day begging to be punished for everything I’ve ever done in my life. But the other more predominant one is a hard-edged, spirited fighter who laughs her way out of every impossible predicament. Dammit, I may cry, I may bitch but I won’t fall under the train. There’s got to be more to life than getting married and having babies – even a career. I remember having a close friendship with a powerful presence as a child, but somewhere along the way I lost it and I don’t know why. I’m fighting for my life, for that lost girl I only vaguely remember; one buried so deep, I fear she may never be resurrected. I fight not to fall into the depths of a mental abyss so intense, I might never recover; the ugly face of ambition rides me like a horse frothing at the mouth. Three lives depend upon rising from this quagmire of self-loathing to reinvent the person I began life with. I still talk to a God I can’t see, and I still can’t shut up. I know there is something powerful in me, something outside myself, otherwise how could I have survived the past thirty years? Where’s my damn tissue? Blowing my nose is the only constant in my life. I always feel secure in one good blow on anything outside of my Hermes, God forbid. Dear God, Dorothy, Sam or whatever your name is, May I shake your hand for giving us Oil of Olay and Kleenex, or do you prefer Puffs? Store brand? And the big winner hands down is … ta dah: Puffs Sincerely lost in East LA … P.S: Need sleep fast
I have big days and small days. Today is a small day. I woke up this morning with my throat feeling like sandpaper. Nevertheless, I walk to morning satsang, and afterwards to the shed to make chapattis, peel garlic, and chop cilantro with other women.
Sadna’s bone structure reminds me of women in the days of Caesar. She wears an Indian style scarf on her head, covering a mane of hair so raven-black it has blue highlights. She is quite beautiful in her own way. Sadna is at once shy, mischievous, and tough. Indian women have no problem showing affection if they like you. I recall something Maharaj Ji said about the differences between Indian and American families. He could spend two hours talking to satsangies in an American home, and leave without knowing anything about them. On the other hand when he visits Indian homes, he knows everything in five minutes. Sadna’s responsibility is no small job as she begins early each morning. She usually sits next to me to make sure I make each chapatti just right. We find a way of communicating; sometimes we chat through a translator, other times through mime. Doug says we are totally outrageous. I tease Sadna, “God forbid you don’t have your daily chapatti.” She wears an Indian style scarf on her head, covering a mane of hair so raven-black it has blue highlights. She is quite beautiful in her own way.
Chapatti to an Indian is chicken soup to a Jew. She laughs then answers, “Ja thade li ek Coke.”
Translation: Or Coke to you.
What I wouldn’t give for one about now. I’ll miss her when we leave.
A busload of 125 village people just arrived in a covered truck to lend a hand in the brickyard. They come only for the love of Baba Ji. Their lives are simple, and their acceptance of whatever he gives them is much appreciated. They love doing seva because they know who Baba Ji is. They are simple folks with a deep understanding of this Mystic path. I love being around them. By afternoon I have a full blown cold, sore throat, fever, and a nose that honks every five minutes. I vaguely remember telling Doug I needed ten minutes to rest. Maybe I’m having a dream, but call me crazy if there’s not a carload of kids in our room all whispering shhhhhhhh, and thanking him for the do-dads he bought them. Omg, they want to give me my daily Punjabi lesson. Doug tells them it really isn’t the time. While all this is going on, I begin to daydream about an elderly Indian woman I saw this morning tying rupees in her chuny* same as my grandma used to do. They lived in a poor Mexican neighborhood where the ice cream truck came by daily in hot summer months. My grandpa would yell from the other room, “Lily, loosen up the change from your apron. Some of those little “peckerwoods” out there don’t have money for ice cream. You know the ones.
At 5:00 my fever breaks. I bundle up and sit in the garden drinking a cup of chai Shanti makes for me. I marvel at how these flowers grow in winter. It’s no mystery Indian roses bloom in cold weather for Baba Ji. Summer heat is ungodly, monsoon very wet, and Punjabi winters cold. These people survive with no complaints. By the time we walk upstairs to see Baba Ji, my nose is a small leak compared to the waterfall this afternoon.
These people take each day as it comes by saturating themselves with service to Baba Ji. In so doing, they don’t have time to worry about security down the road. They laugh, they work hard, they love their children, and keep their focus on Baba Ji. As a result, they get more out of life. I’ll keep them close to my heart after we say our last goodbyes.
Baba Ji’s driver is waiting for us in Amritsar. I’m so happy to be here that I smile and greet him. “Mera sir dukda.” Sunny is a handsome young man who goes out of his way to help with our luggage. He has a funny sense of humor, speaks perfect English and smiles at my attempt to speak Punjabi and says,
“Jennifer you just said you have a headache.”
He laughs and tells me not to worry, that I’ll learn a few important words in no time. Once our luggage is in the car, he tells us that Indians have been pouring in since yesterday. Baba Ji will come tonight for his birthday celebration. It’s late, and we’re barely going to make it; no time to waste in Amritsar. I feel my heart begin to race. The drive from Amritsar to Dera Tarn Taran is an experience I am seriously not used to. There are no traffic regulations, just drivers on suicide missions, and motorcycles weaving in and out with no sense of right or left lanes. Three people huddle together on a motorcycle and weave around a buffalo standing dead center in the road. He can’t make up his mind about why he’s there or where he’s going. Indians love to beep their horns which confuses the buffalo even more. I imagine myself lying on the roadside dead as a doornail. Tarn Taran is a small rural town where Baba Ji lives along with residents who work here. Busloads of Indians who arrived the day before seem happy to sleep outside in sub-zero weather just to be near him and pay their respects to this great Saint. I notice some without hoes wearing only thin shawls around their shoulders. They don’t seem to care. More busloads from nearby villages are just arriving. The moment we drive through the gates I hear a groundswell of voices singing shabds of love and devotion. The air is electric with song. I feels a sense of relief as though I’ve come home again. Baba Ji is greatly loved by all. Whenever he travels to give satsang, the Indian hotline lets everyone know when he’s about to drive through the front gate. No matter how exhausted he is, he makes time to hear the children sing shabds he taught them at a very young age. Afterwards, he gives them candy prashad. It is something to behold.
It is a humbling experience to see what Baba Ji has done to welcome us. On a small table is a lovely arrangement of flowers from his garden; a box of Indian candy; a bowl of apples, oranges, and bananas. It is a cozy room, approximately 12X16 feet with a heater, bed, and bathroom. Perfect for meditation. He has gone to great lengths to make our stay a happy one. We quickly revive ourselves by splashing water on our faces, put on extra shawls, lock the door, and walk to the Bhandara Hall. Before entering we take off our shoes, find a spot in the back and sit cross legged Indian style, men to the left, women to the right. Satsang is held in this room each morning and evening. The floor is made from polished buffalo dung and covered with some type of matting. Overhead there is a tin roof with tarpaulin sides anchored with rope to keep wind and rain from coming in. I see small birds huddled together on top of tenting posts. Once again, I hear a crescendo of shabds. Everyone looks in the direction of Baba Ji who now walks who now walks inside on a red carpet assisted on each arm by sevadars. It is impossible to put this moment into words. The sudden silence is deafening in the presence of this great Saint. Once again the room is alive with shabds, more importantly the beautiful radiant face of Baba Kehar Singh Maharaj who gently motions the crowd to quieten down. In silence his head slowly turns from one side of the room to the other. He is giving darshan to each of us”
I received your letter so full of love. You are so important and loving for me that I cannot mention it. What you are doing and have done for Guru is more than sufficient. I am very much pleased that you are coming here. I anxiously await the both of you. One line in your letter impressed me very much. I love to read it again and again, Mye tuhanu bhot pyar tey yaad karde han.” At the bottom of his letter, Baba Ji added, “Main vi tuhanu bahut pyar te yaad karda han, main tuhanu udeek raha han.” Translation: I also love you very much, remember you, and am waiting for you.
I have no idea what Baba Ji meant when he wrote, “what you are doing and have done for Guru.” His letter reflects a loving heart for one so undeserving. He is the Beautiful Father loving his daughter.
Baba Ji invited us to be his guests on December 26 for his Bhandara Birthday Celebration at Dera Tarn Taran. It is fifteen minutes from the Pakistan border and a short distance from the Himalayas. Finally, I’m going to India, and today we depart on British Airlines. In a few days Dera Tarn Taran will be teeming with people. We cannot miss it. Our friend Mike will drive us to the airport. My suitcase is packed with wool leggings for cold Punjabi winters. I am so looking forward to this trip I can hardly breathe. I’ll believe it when I’m strapped in my seat. Doug, on the other hand, is his usual calm, collected self. The weather forecast is awful. I’m more than a little concerned about this.
We arrive at the Philadelphia airport only to be told they are experiencing storms all over Europe. Great, just great. They say the runways in Germany, France, and England are iced over and our flight is grounded. Oh please, these people have got to be kidding. Doug calls Baba Ji in India to explain our dilemma. The airline suggests we take a flight out of Philadelphia tonight that lands in Paris. Typical French reasoning suggests that it’s not too dangerous to slide a plane onto the Paris Airport runway during a snowstorm, but c’est la vie, sliding out to India is a firm no. So why worry when we’ll have five days to shop and enjoy Paris until the storm passes. This gives them enough time to get out their blow dryers and clear the runways along with our missing Baba Ji’s birthday celebration. This can’t be happening. If we agree to this, we’ll arrive in India long after it’s over. I know the weather is treacherous, but there has got to be a way. This man can be really maddening at times. Doug explains his concern to Baba Ji over a bad telephone connection. He’s worried we won’t arrive in time for his birthday celebration. Silence prevails at the other end of the line. After an excruciatingly long pause, Doug says tomorrow afternoon there is only one flight available out of Philadelphia to Detroit that connects to Switzerland that connects to Delhi. Okay, what’s the catch? We have to fly coach from Philly to Detroit. This is a concern because of his cervical spine issue. The seats are so close together his legs will be pushed into his esophagus. Anyway, he tries to make a case to Baba Ji that he can’t fly coach since he’s paid for non-refundable business class tickets. By this time, I’m so nervous I bolt to the women’s restroom to find an empty stall. I sit here a few minutes in an effort to focus on simran, a mantra of five holy names given to me at the time of initiation. My mind is going ballistic. I finally calm down, close my eyes and begin to focus on Maharaj Ji’s beautiful face. I slowly repeat the five holy names, pull myself together, and pray that this night ends on the upside. When Doug sees me walking towards him, he puts his hand over the telephone and whispers, “Where were you? I can’t hear Baba Ji for the static.” Suddenly the line is okay. Like the parting of the Red Sea, Baba Ji’s answer is crystal clear, “Ehh chhoti kurbani ha, ki tusi mere janamdin di party te nai rehna chahunde ho.” Translation: It’s a small sacrifice. Don’t you want to be at my birthday party? This makes Doug laugh. He quickly answers,
“Nothing will keep us away. We will be with you on your birthday.” As luck would have it, someone is with Baba Ji to translate our conversation.
I’m in New York trying hard to find work in the theatre, and coming up against a brick wall wherever I go because my Hollywood credits mean zilch in this town. So what’s the first job I get? I finally get a chance to perform comedy on a DuPont Show of the Month starring Art Carney, Walter Matthau, Frank Gorshin, Jonathan Winters, and yours truly playing the female lead. But the most difficult job is to survive working with some of the best funnymen in the business, each attempting to upstage the other – especially during breaks. We rehearse in old lofts, anywhere the studio can find that’s cheap. Laughter is what keeps me going. he most unpredictable comic to work with is Art Carney – scary too, because he forgets his lines, yet he’s so right for this part the producers cast him anyway. The director can easily cover for him by writing his dialog on cue cards, or anything with a surface including the ceiling, on the underside of an actor’s hand including my own, on a chair cushion, on a butt, not mine, anywhere and everywhere. How great was he in The Honeymooners with Jackie Gleason. I’m crazy about Walter Matthau. During our weeklong rehearsal period, each day I look forward to having lunch together, just taking a break from it all. We eat at a diner around the corner from where we rehearse on the Lower East Side. He describes in detail the struggles he’s faced in his life; gambling in particular, almost destroyed him. As I listen to Walter, my thoughts go to all the people in my professional and personal life who’ve suffered through drinking, gambling and drugs. Addiction is no respecter of persons. People only see the glitter of show business; so far, I’ve never met a genuinely happy person. As for me, happy and sad aren’t issues. I don’t analyze my life. I’m in the flow of it trying my best to hang on. To be cast in quality shows, and tutored by some of the best comedy actors in the business is happiness enough for now – that, and paying the rent. Finally after so long a time, I’m beginning to luck out. But you never know, up one day, down the next, here today, gone tomorrow – that’s show biz. People are clueless when they say actors who perform dramatic parts have a more difficult task than those who perform comedy; the truth is quite the opposite. Great comics usually make great dramatic actors if they get a halfway decent director to reign them in. The personal lives of most comics are riddled with sadness. OK. So I am just an understudy to the understudies but so what? Come on. This is my big break. It’s 1963 and I’m actually sitting in a real dressing room in a real Broadway theatre, in a real Broadway show. One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest stars Kirk Douglas as Randall Patrick Murphy and Gene Wilder as Billy Bibbitt at the Cord Theatre. Being called at the last minute to replace an actor who was just run over by a bus is my worst nightmare, but this job pays the rent with enough left over for acting and dance classes. May these understudies live forever. We share a dressing room many flights up. Am I in heaven or what. Whoo! Whoo! If an actor is lucky enough to perform at the Cherry Lane Theatre, it’s as close to Broadway as it gets. Many great playwrights and directors came out of this small theatre in Greenwich Village, along with industry people who cover new plays and scout for talent. I’ve just been cast in a new off Broadway play, The Dutchman to open soon at the Cherry Lane.The producers are quite savvy in their bold decision to showcase new actors, directors and playwrights like Harold Pinter. I love to sit in the wings and watch other plays in rehearsal. Down the road I’d like to direct, but for now this is where I’ve always wanted to be. It’s not the money because off Broadway only pays scale, at least for me. It’s belonging to something grand, something bigger than life. I’m judged by what I produce, not where I was born or what I look like, and surely not for the size of my boobs. I lack self-confidence, except in performance when I’m no longer me. My one and only psychological epiphany, the result of visiting a psychiatrist for two years, is that I don’t need one. I always feel more comfortable being someone else, someone outside myself. Truth is, I have enough ego to make up for my low self esteem, words coined by my psychiatrist to keep me the The Dutchman is a two character play written by Le Roi Jones a.k.a. Amiri Baraka, a central figure in the Black Arts movement, and stars Robert Hooks and me. The fact that we improvise some of the dialogue he wrote may account for his uptightness most of the time. It’s not unusual for actors and directors to improvise in rehearsal as the text doesn’t always translate into the performance of it. We improvise the script to make the dialogue flow in a more realistic way. Many professional writers and directors encourage this method as a means of character development. Bobby and I work well together. His easygoing nature, coupled with a good sense of humor makes him fun to work with. I’m probably the only actress in New York he hasn’t hit on. Our relationship is strictly professional. “Bobby the Babe Magnet” describes him to a T. I’ll miss him when the play completes its run. Tonight’s opening of The Dutchman is electric with anticipation from the producers on down. We get rave reviews. I’ve hit the gravy train for sure, as it is the first play of its genre to be presented on stage. A psychotic white girl uses black, racist street language and provocative body moves, to seduce a middle class black student on the subway. He, on the other hand, tries to contain himself and avoid being killed by her. This is an incendiary two character play and the reviews reflect it. The Village Voice has awarded The Dutchman an Obie for being the best new play in 1964. I receive the World Theatre award for best actress in this same play. Well go damn figure me winning that. My career in New York has finally given birth. The role of Lulu is the most challenging part I’ve ever tackled. Not long after opening night, the famous director Elia Kazan drops by the Cherry Lane to check out my performance. He is one of the most sought after directors in both theatre and film, having to his redit such films as On the Waterfront, East of Eden, A Streetcar Named Desire, Viva Zapata and Splendor in the Grass along with founding the Actor’s Studio with Cheryl Crawford and Robert Lewis in 1947. Oddly enough, I learned the technique of method acting when I was five years old. Early in life, I discovered how to dive within and create imaginary characters to camouflaged myself – a ploy to keep from stuttering. At the same age I began to read body language. Had I known Kazan was in the house, my usual panic attacks would have accelerated to the point of informing the producers I had a brain tumor and couldn’t go on. My new understudy would have dropped dead, because much of what Bobby and I do is improvise off each other. Two weeks later after much back and forth between the Cherry Lane management, my agent and Elia Kazan, the two of us begin work. We rehearse eight hours a day in a loft on the Lower East Side, before the first dress and light rehearsal with the original cast members at the Lincoln Center. After the Fall, a play written by Arthur Miller, and directed by Kazan, is based upon the life of his deceased ex-wife, Marilyn Monroe. I’m being rehearsed to replace Barbara Loden in the lead role of Maggie, four performances a week, while still performing The Dutchman at the Cherry Lane. Do I have what it takes? That is the question. I reassure myself Kazan would never have chosen me had he not seen a spark of something. Still, there are so many talented actresses in this town including Barbara’s understudy, Faye Dunaway. Why me and not her? What does he see in me? I find this rehearsal period unsettling, and plagued with doubts I won’t do justice to Kazan, or to the memory of Marilyn. I’ve done so much research on her life, on her temperament – still, I’m unable to find her center, that defining motivation in her life that colored her. On top of all this, I’m wiped out from rehearsing eight hours each day for After the Fall, then performing The Dutchman at night plus matinees on Saturday and Sunday. I’m insecure about everything. One day when I’m beating up on myself as usual, I realize these are the very feelings Marilyn Monroe lived with her entire life. There was the movie star Marilyn, a persona she contrived in order to achieve the maximum desired results her fame demanded. In addition was the neurotic Marilyn whose insecurity never allowed her to triumph over her childhood, her marriages, her career, anything of importance. When Marilyn didn’t get her way, she forced those around her to prove themselves by their acceptance of her unprofessional habits, specifically her chronic lateness on the set that so often held up costly productions for long periods of time. She fell in love with men she considered better and smarter than her. All this, and so much more was Marilyn Monroe. Diving within the character is always the first step in preparation for a role. This type development equates to understanding what drives that individual. Every human being wants something. To this day, the abuse I experienced in early childhood colors everything I do. I’ve protected my personal demons for so long a time, that to peel off layers at this juncture is akin to being skinned alive. Still, this is the process I follow with Kazan in the development of Maggie. Each day at the end of rehearsal, I feel depressed. The greater my depression, the happier Kazan is with my performance because he’s getting results. In rehearsal today, Kazan gives me an uncharacteristic pat on the back. In the same breath he urges me to join the Actor’s Studio without delay. He thinks I have a great future on the Broadway stage as well as film, and makes a point of saying he has plans for me in the future whatever that means. I’ve learned to take what people say in show business with a grain of salt. Another thing I’ve discovered about Kazan, is that whatever he says is always measured for the affect it will have on my performance, otherwise known as “the means justifies the end” result. He urges me to utilize my own life experience to breathe life into Maggie. He surprised me the other day when he confided one of the reasons he cast me in this role, was that I have the same vulnerability and sense of loss Marilyn had. Doesn’t sound like much of a compliment but at least now, finally, I’ve something to work with. I have my own sense of unworthiness, of going through life feeling unwanted. Now that my personal fears have come forward, I’m as miserable as Kazan is thrilled over my discovery. There is a coldness about him that only looks to the end result. It is to that end he can be ruthless. I’ve blocked out so much of my life. Working with Kazan forces me to remember things long forgotten. I’m not sure it’s worth it. After rehearsal each day, I go to a neighborhood bar for a couple of martinis, then walk the rest of the way home wondering where the joy is. At the end of a day, the only words that come to mind are, “Maybe tomorrow will be better.”
“Before entering we take off our shoes, find a spot in the back and sit cross legged Indian style, men to the left, women to the right. Satsang is held in this room each morning and evening. The floor is made from polished buffalo dung and covered with some type of matting. Overhead, there’s a tin roof with tarpaulin sides anchored with rope to keep wind and rain from coming in. I see small birds huddled together on top of tenting posts. Once again, I hear a crescendo of shabds*. Everyone looks in the direction of Baba Ji who now walks inside on a red carpet assisted by sevadars on each arm. It is impossible to put this moment into words. The sudden silence is deafening in the presence of this great Saint. He walks with some difficulty up the steps to the dais where he sits Indian style. Various sangats have sent tiered birthday cakes, now lit up to be shared with everyone.
Once again, the room is alive with shabds, more importantly the beautiful radiant face of Baba Kehar Singh Maharaj, who gently motions the crowd to quieten down. In silence, several times his head slowly turns from one side of the room to the other. He is giving darshan to each of us. An Indian lady leans over, taps me on the shoulder and points at two Indian men waving their hands in our direction. They motion for us to follow them to the dais where Baba Ji sits with a white shawl around his shoulders. He is looking for us. Doug protests when they lead him to the stage where Paramjit Singh, Achok Pabbi, and several others are seated. He gestures for Doug to sit beside him. I’m invited to sit with his family in front. Indians love to celebrate when it comes to Baba Ji. It is hard to describe the sense of joy within the walls of this spiritual community. I just know how grateful I feel to be in his company. Once the festivities are over, Baba Ji sends word for us to visit with him in his personal quarters. We walk up the steps, remove our shoes, and wait outside his door.
A young man who tends to his personal needs smiles as he motions for us to come in. Baba Ji is sitting behind a desk with a wicker basket of oranges to give as prashad, a space heater to warm his legs, and stacks of letters in need of reply.
He has arranged for Dr. Sharma, an expert in human physiology and spinal manipulation, to give Doug daily acupressure treatments during our stay. In one corner of the room is a chair he redesigned to massage his arm and leg joints. Baba Ji is full of life even after 20 hour work days, advanced age, and poor health. I am so happy to be with him again. What can I say that he doesn’t already know? He glances over at me, smiles and says,
‘Jado mai Jennifer nu vekhada ha, tan main vekhada ha ki chup hai ate ikalata hai.’
Translation: When I look at Jennifer all I see is silence and loneliness.As we get up to leave, Baba Ji gives us prashad. We stand before him, fold our hands and offer our gratitude for his love. He suggests we rest tomorrow from jet lag. Much has been planned, including the famous Golden Temple in Amritsar. He is so proud of India’s history; more importantly his predecessors on this spiritual path. I sit quietly, lost in his darshan, as Baba Ji and Doug speak together as old friends.”
The climate in Little Rock gets worse by the day. Christian preachers don’t let colored people in their churches, and the few that do make them sit in roped off sections in the back where no one can see them. If God knows everything, then he knows how fed up I am right now. He could have stopped all this hate between whites and coloreds. He didn’t. He could have stopped our soldiers from being killed in the war. He didn’t. So I made a deal with him: if he doesn’t bother me, then I won’t pester him anymore. It’s not right to call myself a Christian when I’m mad at him half the time. All my life I’ve tried to love Jesus same as Mama did, but I don’t and I’m not proud of myself for it. I feel so let down these days wondering why someone like him isn’t around here now. If God gave people a teacher back then, why can’t he give me one now? But when I say things like that, people look at me with that “shut up” look on their face, then comes ten quotes from the New Testament. Why should I believe them when they can’t give me one good reason for claiming Christian whites are better than Christian negroes. If Jesus wasn’t a racist, why are they? I have serious questions no one can answer outside of the usual stock answer, “Little lady, just read your Bible every day, have faith, and everything will work out.” Well, maybe that answer is enough for some people but not for me. And another thing, how come every question I ask always ends with them saying I’m sitting in judgment. Is wanting to know the truth same as judging others? I’d like to believe they know what they’re talking about, but when I heard some preacher cheated on his wife at the drive-in last Saturday, and him with his hand in some girl’s blouse, his tongue halfway to Memphis down her throat, and breaking the same ten commandments he preaches on Sundays, I thought to myself, “What’s the Gospel done for him?” I know all Christians aren’t like this but it’s enough to turn me off. I ask the same question over and over: what’s the point in bring- ing someone to Jesus and getting them baptized, when you don’t let coloreds in your church? Another time, I asked the same minister why God bothered to make me in the first place. I asked him where I lived before I was born, where I’ll go when I die, and what kind of God makes war? He just looked at me like I didn’t have my head screwed on tight. I should have asked him what he does on Saturday nights. I’m fed up asking questions no one can answer, like where my grandpa went when he died, like who decides what’s to be born an animal, or a blade of grass, or a human being. Another thing, where do my thoughts go when I die? Where’d my old dog Laddie go when he got hit by a car and died? We buried him out back. I can’t stop wondering about things like this. The Christian Science people are sincere, but they can’t answer my questions either. I only go to church because it makes Aunt Lowee happy.
When we were on the plane, a Sikh fellow sat down beside me, glanced over at Baba Ji’s picture in one of his books I was reading and asked,”Sister, do you know him?”I answered,”Yes I do.”He proceeded to tell me how miserable both sides of his family were because after five years of marriage his daughter had not become pregnant. He continued,”Sister, will you see Baba Ji soon?”I answered in the affirmative.He replied,”May I ask you another question?”By this time I was clueless as to where he was going with all this.I answered not realizing what his question would be,”Sure, why not.””Would you ask Baba Ji to give my daughter a baby? I would prefer a male child.”He was upset to the point of tears, but good grief no way was I going to do this. I finally told him if an opportunity presented itself, I would relay his message to Baba Ji. Several weeks later I told Baba Ji about the request. His answer was swift,“Je oh viakti kuch mahatavpuran chahunda ha te usnu ethe aana chahida ha, usane khud menu puchhya hai!” Translation: If the man wanted something that important, he should have come here and asked me himself! That ended that.
Lots of jazz musicians work in clubs like The Hot Kitty Cat, a well known strip house on Sunset Blvd. Billy was one of them and talked the owner into hiring me as a waitress. I’m nervous about working in a place like this but we’re broke. Lucky for me, someone just quit and I’m hired on the spot. The owner orders me to wear stiletto heels, black mesh hose, devil red lipstick, a bustier and shorts so short men felt free to pinch my ass before I have the chance to knock the bejesus out of them. These horny, old men think I’m for sale. I hate working here but I have to pay the rent. Billy shoots our paychecks wherever he can find a healthy vein in his arm or leg. Today the electric was shut off. Several days pass before I finally get the hang of this place. For me to get a tip all depends on how well I play the game. I’m a fast learner when it comes to playing games without being touched. The dressing rooms for strippers are located backstage, directly across from where the bartenders make drinks; they never shut their doors. I can’t help but see what these strippers do in front of the bartenders, waitresses, or anyone else who has the bad luck of being condemned to working in this X rated hell hole. I don’t have a temperament for this crowd. The Hot Kitty Cat, one of the most popular night spots in Hollywood, is packed every night with famous, as well as not so famous, male actors, producers, directors, and men trying to grab a cheap thrill. Some try to get it on with the waitresses by sticking a large bill down their boobs. If one of them tries that on me, I’ll knock him to hell and back. I can’t stand much more of this place. Tonight, as I’m going through my usual drill of wading through smoke and tables so close together that I’m amazed at the balancing act I’ve learned carrying oversize trays of drinks to balding horned toads, I bend over to serve a large group of white haired men, when one old man grabs a handful. I’m so mad I purposely drop the tray of drinks as hard as I can on his bald head, as glasses of booze crash down, scattering here and there in the most unlikely places, staining their Rodeo Drive suits and ties, while at the same time strains of “What the hell you bitch!” and “Someone get this bitch out of here!” are heading straight to the owner’s ear. I don’t care. Good. Do me a favor and fire me! I’ve had enough of this hell hole! All my pent up anger shoots back “Kiss my ass, you sons of bitches! I’m calling your wife and telling her where you are and what you’re doing! I’m out of here and kiss my ass again!” Heads are turning. People are beginning to enjoy the little side show coming from the table of men and me, rather than the strippers. Here she comes. The owner is heading my way. I turn to her and shout, “Keep my paycheck and buy yourself a new face!” Then, I take off my high heels and throw them as far as I can back into the crowded smoke filled room. So long hell! I’m out of here!
An excerpt from Tharon Ann available in paperback and Kindle.