"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Monday, June 20, 2011

Buffalo Boy II–Chapter 1

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When Buffalo Boy, aka David Martin, left India he felt untethered – his spiritual umbilical cord to the Great Primal Being had been cut, and he was now adrift.  His parents had taken him back to the United States where he stayed at home, played with the cat, and built a makeshift shrine to Lord Siva in his room.  He was profoundly unhappy.  “He is just feeling poorly”, said Mrs. Martin to neighbors who wondered why he never left the house.  “His nerves, don’t you know.  India weakened them”.  Most people had no idea of what India was really like, but fragments of The Black Hole of Calcutta got pieced together with the hare-lipped children they saw on television and the rather shaky and watery return to civilization of the Martins, so weakened nerves was certainly the least that one could expect after two years there.  The Martins of course did not tell the neighbors about David’s transformation (“reincarnation”, he insisted) into Buffalo Boy, his schizophrenic escape from the mental hospital, and his near deification by the Gujarati community.  They rightly assumed that they would never understand.  Neither did the Martins.  “India is such a strange country”, Mrs. Martin would often say to her husband out of the blue.

He was officially an extern from a private mental clinic in Dubuque, getting outpatient counseling.  He still persisted in some of his habits.  When his parents weren’t looking he ate out of the dog dish, shat in the backyard under the maple tree, then scraped dirt over it through his legs.  Early on in the rehabilitation process, he often escaped to the cow pasture nearby, and was found naked and smeared with cow dung; but gradually he became more and more socialized and sane (healthy as we say today), consistently wearing his clothes, speaking and not barking or mooing, eating at the dinner table with a knife and fork, and even walking upright to the mailbox. 

Even when he was pronounced whole and nearly back to the David his parents knew and loved, he felt empty and alone.  He missed warmth and companionship; and OK, it had been with buffalos, but the primal animal need was still there.  He began to keep up with his Peace Corps friends, young men who had gone off the rails like he had, been repatriated under supervision, and kept under a similar wacko watch.  Through this network of untethered, zany Volunteers, he learned of the Church of Spiritual Renewal, a Millenialist cult located in the far north of California in Humboldt County.  The Church welcomed all comers and had a religious philosophy that accomodated everyone.  Its guiding principle was that spiritual “elevation” could come through the intercession of any holy ancestor; so Moses, Mohammed, Jesus, the Buddha, Lord Siva, Joseph Smith, and any number of lesser saints, reformed sinners, and enlightened priests were in the pantheon.  This was not too different from Hinduism according to which you could pick your own particular incarnation of the Deity – Siva, Vishnu, Ganesh, Kali, etc. – and pray to him/her to release you from the Wheel of Becoming.

The Church of Spiritual Renewal (CSR for short, or “Scissor”) was perfect for the legions of disaffected youth in the country.  For those who wanted direction and guidance, there were The Mother’s Ten Commandments.  For those who needed space and time to follow their own instincts, there was Her Ten Threads of Being.  The Church provided not only spiritual guidance but employment counseling.  It was founded on extremely conservative economic and social principles, and while Ayn Rand, Nietzsche, Hayek, and Milton Friedman were not in the Pantheon of The Elevated, they were certainly acolytes.  Individual enterprise was highly valued, and no one was allowed to mope.  This activism fit the overall ethos of the Church and guaranteed that there would always be sufficient incomes for generous tithing.

Buffalo Boy made his way West and was welcomed with open arms by The Mother and by the congregants of the Church.  There was something familiar about him – a sense of longing and desperation – that they all recognized.  He would fit in just fine.  Within a day he had a bunk and was initiated into the religious and secular routines of the congregation.

The Mother asked what work he would like to do.  He was puzzled because for so long he had done nothing; but then he had an illuminated thought – he received Peace Corps training as a poultry farmer.  He had chosen this vocation because he had always been fascinated with chickens.  They were so stupid, hunting and pecking, squawking, bobbing and jerking, and finally flapping up to their perches in the henhouse where they settled their fathers, squirted out the last spurt of the day, and all went to sleep at the same time.  So chickens it would be.

Buffalo Boy lived very happily at the Church compound for two years.  He felt spiritually renewed, physically healthy, and for the first time in a long while, optimistic.  He was, therefore, particularly receptive to The Mother’s call for evangelism – to go forth in the world and convert the faithless.  He immediately thought of returning to India.  It was the holiest and most devout place on earth, so converting Hindus would be like getting them to change toothpaste.  They already brushed their teeth, so why not buy a brand that would give them extra whitening and cavity protection?

He wrote to Mr. Shah of Shahnagar, the Shah Bombay Temple, the curator of Hindu pornography, and his benefactor.  Shah, like most devout Hindus, would be very receptive to any kind of spiritual experience.  “There is no such thing as idolatry”, David remembered Shah saying.  “Doesn’t matter if you worship carburetor of Ambassador car, all is One, all is God.”  He paused and continued, “In fact carburetor is very good thing to worship.  Is essential for flow of nourishing fluids, mixes basic elements of Liquid and Air, pumps like heart of Holy Cow.  Yes, I have convinced myself.  I will worship carburetor.”

Shah was delighted to hear from him.  The people of Shahnagar still venerated his image, the old photo hung in the panchayat office.  The Gujarati community still talked of his holiness.  Buffalo Boy’s naked wanderings through the streets of Bombay were no different than 10,000 sadhus before him, and his rantings, fulminations, and imprecations to God were signs of being on a divine pathway.  He would be most welcome, and the Shah Ashram could be the home of the Church of Spiritual Renewal.  The Mother loaned him airfare, and he headed off to Bombay.

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Shah met him at the airport, hugged him and said, “Well, no worse for wear.  Thin but aerated, very good for system.  Fat prevents aeration and porous being.  Spirit has trouble exiting body to visit God” 

Shah didn’t look any different, perhaps some greying at the temples, but fit and with the same black, lustrous eyes and slightly unhinged look.  They crowded into his Ambassador, the same car that he had had when Buffalo Boy lived in India. “Waste not, want not”, said Shah.  “Even shitty Ambassador car deserves respect”. 

The trip back from the airport took forever since Shah had to visit all of his shrines and temples.  “I am like sales rep for monkey wrenches”, he said.  “Must visit retail outlets and check on inventory.  Not tools in this case, however, but souls”.  We visited large shrines with elaborate altars, fountains, and gardens; and small shrines, no more than a tent over a lingam and a harmonium player.  The priest in each and every one bowed and scraped when Shah showed up, touched his feet, namaste-ed, and garlanded him with sweet jasmine flowers.  “My people love me”, he said.   He checked the books – this was only really important in the major shrines where there were many priests to be paid, many faithful to be tapped for offerings, and small community programs to be administered.

The trip in from the airport had not changed much in ten years.  The culverts had been installed, but the nasty potters’ colony still festered on the hillside just outside of Juhu and the Mosque.  There were still herds of rancid, foul-smelling goats, the shit smell of low tide, and the choking smoke of diesel exhaust; but for Buffalo Boy this was all perfume, ambrosial scent, floral bouquets.  He was back in his beloved India, and nothing could sully his his first day.

Mrs. Shah was the same reserved, gracious, and attentive woman she had been ten years before.  Age had done nothing to dim her quiet flame.  She still moved like a graceful nun in a convent, padding in bare feet across the marble floors with only a whispered rustle of her sari.  She smiled shyly and offered Buffalo Boy some tea and sweets.  She certainly must have been amazed at the transformation in him, for the last time she saw him he was still trussed up in the back of a pickup truck on his way to the asylum, smeared with buffalo dung, matted hair, suppurating sores, and layers of black dirt from head to toe.  She was delighted in the change and saw something more serene in him.  She assumed that the same wild search for spiritual ecstasy had been tamed and he was now willing to adopt more traditional ways to enlightenment.   He went to bed early, for they were to proceed to Shahnagar early the next morning.

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