1. Second Avenue
A turquoise crumb.
Her sleeping cashew body.
A pink flag on lower Broadway.
A red dot. third eye. dot om. on Astor Place.
On the mental map of our quavery Lower Manhattan.
We went everywhere on our bikes.
Amanda was afraid I’d be hit by a car and killed. She thought I was too aggressive. Dipping. Dodging. Wheedling through cars at intersections.
I thought she was too slow and spacey. We plugged along at her speed. Pulled apart by our natural paces.
Riding along together she’d put her hand over mine where I held the handlebar. We’d ride along like that.
Clues are always there from the start. Glimpses. Revealing later reality.
The eulogy in the introduction. Encoded eyes. The book in the leaf.
But you never believe this great new love will ever end.
Any more than you believe you might die.
On water. Love.
The old RamAnanda was a funky old place with purple sweating walls. Dark. Grungy.
Rows of bodies undulating in unison. Twisted into crazy pretzel knots. Everyone breathing together.
Eyes roved around the room. Met and glanced away. Or were fixed in that impersonal zone of yogic concentration. Not too fierce, not too soft
The teacher’s voice led you through the class. One asana
to the next. The basics. Refinements. Assisting you now and then. Maybe. Hopefully. The touch everyone craved.
Up the broad stairs on Second Avenue between 9th and 10th Streets. Between an Irish pub and a Brit theme bar. Those red telephone booths outside. But no phones.
You pushed the buzzer. The door was shared with a Thai restaurant nobody went to above the British place.
Someone upstairs let you in. The lock clicked. The door gave.
Inside it was like a haunted Victorian mansion. Wide creaky old staircase on the right. Maybe a bike locked to the bottom of the banister.
Or someone’s dog leashed to the chunky newel post. Sitting there in serene doggie meditation.
The stairs cut left at the top. There on a stool sat a cute barefoot girl in cut-off sweats. Beastie Boys tee shirt. A space ship on it.
She calmly checked you in for class. Face friendly. Hair a raggedy blonde helmet. The cash register was a Batman lunchbox.
This was Amanda. So named by her Marin (California) mom thirty-three years before. Feet together at the front of your mat.
A loose cluster at the top of the stairs before class. Or at prime time the line swelled. 6:15. Weeknights. 10 a.m. and noon on weekends. Spilled halfway down the stairs.
Regulars heyed. Hugged. Chatted. Newer people took it all in. Smiles. Hands-in-prayer greetings.
The sixties smell of incense. The chanting at the end of the class finishing up in the room.
Loose cotton Indian outfits. Shaved heads. Sanskrit tattoos. Street ink. Piercings. A diamond bindi stuck onto (into?)
some girl’s forehead.
These things gave the place a cult-like feel. To the outsider.
Though most of the people didn’t seem soft in the head. This wasn’t some strange beaming cult.
It was a mixed bag of downtown New Yorkers. Lost and found fringe dwellers. Among the accomplished. Committed denizens of the art ghetto demi-monde.
Habituated urban animals. Stray cats. Epicene dudes. Cute scared squirrels. Lone wolves.
That giraffe supermodel. Creature-mouthed. Careful-eyed. Tiptoeing tally in. Gingerly among the mats. The supine others.
Half-naked. Seals on our rocks. Prone. Limber. Endangered species. Protected. Safe here. Spent survivors. Starting again.
Innocent upstarts. Fresh-limbed lambs to the slaughter.
Players. Strangers. Fond familiars. Merging.
The famous and the smudges.
It was mostly women.
That little peek of thong showing above low-slung waistbands.
Where did they all come from?
The characters converged around the om
We kept coming back. Happy to have found this place. This practice. There was definitely something to it. This peace. Yoga means union. Union of body. Mind. Spirit. Your lower self with your higher Self.
The teachings at the beginning of class sometimes seemed hokey or stupid. All matter is music.
Something to be endured to get to the actual practice. Everything is imagined.
Selections from the Yoga Sutras. Yogash chittah vritti narodahah.
Sometimes the Sanskrit without translation. But you'd hear it all again and again. Yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind. Bhagavad Gita
. Other spiritual texts.
Followed by explanations. A personal story. Rambling associations. A sermon. Everything is vibrations..
They often went on too long. But there was almost always something good in there. Om is the ace of all sounds.
Some redeeming kernel of insight. Fresh outlook. Illumination. Om is the sound of God.
Some of the talks were really good. Be the mountain. Whether the sun shines and plants grow and rivers flow all over you.
The practice at the beginning was broken down. The different asanas
. Each distinct. Doable. Easy. (Seemingly!) Or shrouded in stormclouds it rains and snows and floods and everything freezes and dies.
Like words. Phrases. Lined up one after another. As when learning a new lexicon. Like these words. Cleanly drawn. Clear clauses. Start simple. Shoulders relaxed. Exhale. Gaze straight ahead. The tip of your nose.
Easy at first. To follow. Digestible. Some difficult. Awkward. But do-able.
Exquisite intro alphabet. Of this elegant intricate body language. Mind. More.
You repeat and refine the basics. Assimilate. Until you get them down.
They grow. On you. In you.
The teachings became integral to the practice. You felt you were enacting the teachings. Be the same still mountain self and mountain peace no matter what the external conditions.
Working them into your body.
Clearing the way.
Instead of just thinking about these things.
Or not even.
Letting the life knot soften.
The bright headlight moon races our car in and out of the trees without moving. Over the water many melted
moons slide along in a wobbly connected body of mercury moonspill separating and coming together between
grasping branch fingers.
Mum grips the steering wheel as if to keep it from vibrating or coming off, her mouth set. Her Tanzanite ring she wears for fancy occasions stands out like a relic or talisman from a different life or world. The diamonds catch the white moonlight, blue over the black water. Almost home, Dad asleep in the front seat, chin to chest, passed out.
Mum was driving us home after a Fourth of July beach party across the harbor. Boats, fireworks, families. Rowboats full of ice and beer, bar inside, buffet, music by the pool, smoking on the beach. Cherry bombs, firecrackers, the odd, too-loud M-80 explosion. Sister Kate wasn’t old enough to drive yet, but old enough to get what was happening. I was, too, almost, but so also didn’t. Welly was oblivious, between us in
the back seat.
The radio I remember was on because I remember Mum turned it off in a minute. It was the summer of
that song, Everybody here is outta sight..
But that song wasn’t on. It was WRKO (Boston), the song, I’m sure,
was that long Queen song, like an opera song, I used to sing, whispersinging, in my mother’s ear sometimes.Mama! Just killed a man..
The car clung pleasantly to the lineless road pulling us smoothly homeward over the little hills and contours, familiar in your bag of bones body swaying slightly away from the curves. When I was little I’d lie down in the back seat and guess or know where we were from the fleeting trees or a gap of sky or lamppost.
Mum drove pretty fast, like she was pissed. (As in pissed off, not pissed like Dad, as in wasted.) But her face, from the side, from the back seat, was more like the moon that lit it, impassive and central and floating along without moving, than like Mum pissed off. So if there was tension there in the car, it’s gone now.
The practice was a lot more than the intense workout. Or the scene. That drew a lot of people there in the first place. The practice had its magic. Like any workout.
But unlike any other workout. It was way more.
You felt this was a beautiful thing to be doing. Not just with your body.
But with your life.
The teachings worked their spell. Subtle. Yet powerful. Not just in your mind.
But in your emerging subtle body
The real (inner) life. Within your ordinary (outer) life.
You felt really good after practice.
In and out of your body. Mood becalmed. Mind clear. Anxieties allayed. Evaporated. Sweated out of you. For now.
You left there feeling a certain vital something. Something you knew you needed. Everyone needed. The world needed.
Not to mention all the scantily clad babes padding around the place.
This amazing roster of New York’s hottest.
Doing downward-facing dog.
Rows of them. Around you.
Take your pick. You wish
Butts thrust in the air.
Performing all kinds of showstopping positions. Unabashedly.
In the safety of this place.
Fertile field of budding yogaholics
Beach Blanket Bingo. Kama Sutra!
Little bleats and moans.
Who could resist?
Whatever got you there. (As Scott put it.) It’s all good.
(Inane motto of the nineties.)
Ultimately the practice was its own reward. You were on the path. Determined to stick with it. Or already addicted.
Plus there was that certain someone who took the Wednesday 6:15 class with Jonquil… Inhale. Arms over your head.
This was at the very end of the millennium. Tummies exposed. Maybe a piercing winked in a belly button. Fleshy hooked fishy. Bending over.
Fishtail diving under the waistband. Top of a flowery tattoo branded on a lower back. Upper butt dual assets.
Alluring advertisement. Stamped invitation to get in there. Juicy peach.
Holy hidden buttonhole Batman. (Brahman.) (Bad man.
The top and bottom few buttons of shirts undone. Reveal the tummy. Abdominal girl-curves. Hips.
Bell bottoms were back. In hip-hugging solidarity with this long-neglected erogenous zone. Super-sexy. Finally freed.
The delicious belly swell. Pelvic cheekbones. (Parenthetical.)
The new jeans were on the rise. Engineered. Suddenly everywhere. Overnight.
The first generation with an eight- or ten-inch folded cuff. As if they appeared too suddenly. Grew too fad-fast.
Braids were in. (Always cute.) Twin tails. Flapping on a bike.
Swinging in rhythmic Rollerblade velocity. Bodies bells in different parts of the city ringing toward each other.
The yoga nation in downtown Manhattan rode bicycles.
And didn’t eat meat (much).
And they didn’t care about money. (Just worried about it!) (Both the yoga-poor and the superrich.)
Or read the paper. Really.
(It’s all bad
. A would say.)
They were onto something else. Living in the moment. This new path.
They’d leave their shoes at the door. (Egos, too. Supposedly.)
Sit on the floor cross-legged. At potluck vegan dinners in little apartments.
They went to India. Exhale. Hands beside your feet..
The road dives down in a tricky tight turn to the right where I wrecked a car not too many years later, the wall
was fine, made by Italian immigrant masons, nice serif bookends, between them the long sentence curve along the back of the beach at the back of the cove. The road follows the wall, the wall follows the road. The opening in the middle has heavy green wooden double doors that are always open except during big storms. So you can see the beach and cove fleetingly when you pass by there. The sound of the car’s engine louder against
the near wall lifts away for that split second you pass the opening and instantly returns.
Without saying anything Mum stopped the car there, as if dropping something or somebody off at the opening, which framed the cove, the moon wiggling in molten slow motion on the water in her four-or six or eight-headed train, beyond the harbor, the headland houses bunched in the dark blanket of trees, their lights spilling golden drips, brush- tip touches, strips, melted over the water.
Mum got out of the car, without explaining what she was doing. With an expression and manner I’d seen in her face and bearing before, but not often, she looked at us with a kind of eerie smile. Kind of kidding, kind of not, her eyes full of emotional meaning and moment. But not heavy, but light, to cherish and impart, as if this were the last time she’d see us, and we, her.
It was the expression she wore sometimes when we were little, scaring and entertaining us in bed at night. Once, in summer, in her airy, see- through nightgown, hair teased out with her brush to an electric, frizzed dandelion glow around her head, she was part fairy, part witch. She danced around in slow spooky circles, the room dim, arms doing this underwater thing, hands weaving, and when she got near the end and closer to us the witch part got stronger, her expression less fairy and more menacing, the thin, not funny smile not funny. “Stop it, Mum!”
And she answered, sort of purred, not joking, her voice as gauzy and ghostly as her fl oating nightgown, but dead serious, “I’m not your mother.”
“Did you call?” Amanda asked the next person in line.
Beefy bald guy. Falling-down pants. Big baby. Massive head. Already sweating.
“Uh, call?” Dude didn’t know the system here. “Uh, no ---“
“You should call and sign up at least an hour before class, “ she explained. “Class is full, but I’ll put you on the waiting list.”
Pickled lips a little o.
“Don’t worry,” she added sweetly. “I think you’ll get in. Check with me at five past. Do you need a mat?” Inhale. Look up.
6:15. Rush hour assailing the city. Full swing at the yoga center. Like being on the subway.
Mostly women. Familiar and not. Lots of people know each other. Hugs. Heys. The chatter. The hum. (Om.)
The party hubbub and din.
Milling bodies. Crowded club. Wall to wall people.
Crammed in the banistered passage. At the top of the stairs. In the coat and shoe room. The narrow corridors. Waiting for the changing rooms.
The three tiny louvered bathrooms. Side by side. Like the Brit phone booths down on the street.
The sort of kitchen area. The chain of lesser rooms. Leading to the big room.
Steadicam curiosity nosily penetrates the dim. People lined up against the wall. Sitting. Squatting. Like an audition.
Waiting to get into class. Get a good place. When the 4:00 lets out. The placid stream.
Poached faces float by. Blissed-out. From another world. Wrung-out. Blessed by those carousing endorphins. The calm rush. Shakti.
How do you go from not knowing anyone. To knowing almost everyone?
You show up. Don’t look down. Let nature take her course. People blend. Human nature. Divine? Souls merge. Grow together. Glow together.
People were happy to see each other at RamAnanda. Like friends everywhere.
But here the social climate also had a strange chill. You sensed by degrees. Especially for a place that preached love. We are all One. We are not separate beings. We are all the same.
And for a place that espoused satsang
. Hanging out with like-minded people.
I.e. People on the spiritual path. (Sadhana
). Other yoga people. (Yoginis!
I.e. Keep coming to class. (Keep paying.) And to the workshops. Group meditations. Chanting. Kirtan
Certain people didn’t say hello at RamAnanda. It was weird. Aside from normal friends greeting each other. Girl-women girl-laughing.
But with some insiders it was the cold shoulder. Many.
Why? Was this a yoga thing?
They would glide by you without a glance of recognition. Let alone a nod. A smile. A measly little hey
What was up with that?
This after you’d chatted many times on your mats. Practiced together. Chanted together. Assisted each other. When class went to the wall. Or broke up into partners.
It took me a little while to figure it out. Let alone accept. This chilly vein. Running through an otherwise warm and uplifting place.
The frozen vapor trail left in Jonquil and Frankie’s astral wake. Crystalized in the adopted attitudes of the adopted underlings.
Frankie and Jonquil couldn’t look you in the eye. Like normal people. And say hello.
Many didn’t notice or care. Most just practiced at RamAnanda. And got on with their lives.
Maybe noticed Jonquil and Frankie were a little weird. East Village yoga hippies. But whatever.
But some were more deeply involved. Attached to Rama as a home hive. Almost cult.
Where friends all came buzzing (omm-
ing) together. Big replacement family.
There were lots of stray yoga chicks out there. Guys too. But mostly gals. From broken families. Scattered lives. Looking for guidance.
For meaning. For a guy. Looking for a home. Of the heart. Looking for love.
Jonquil would say Looking for God
Jonquil and Frankie walked through Ananda looking down. They wouldn’t look you in the eye or say hello.
So the inked and pierced flock of RamAnanda chickies also padded around looking down.
Shy. Or beginner-minding their own business.
Wouldn’t look you in the eye. Wouldn’t say hello. Like this was cool. The yoga way to be.
Amanda walked around with her face tipped slightly upward. Like a satellite dish. Receive the vibe. Slightly upward-facing face.
She’d look you in the eye. Smile. Send out good vibes. Ready with a wisecrack. She’d say hi. She didn’t buy into that weird coldness.
Socially anyway. A people person.
But of course she was caught up in it. The whole neurotic human web. She worked for these people.
She had worked for them for years. They were in charge. Her sort of surrogate remote parents. Aptly apart. Coming and going.
She was always there. She ran the place. In her bare feet. Exhale. Jump back.
Excerpted from om love by George Minot. Copyright © 2012 by George Minot. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.