StreetLegalPlay by Kyle Thomas Smith

Greenhorn of Africa (Part Three)

Posted in Uncategorized by streetlegalplay on October 14, 2009

A New York Navel-Gazer Looks at Botswana, South Africa

and Mozambique by Way of London

By Kyle Thomas Smith

Part Three

3:00 pm – 6:30 pm

old elephant

3 ½ hour safari.  King-sized elephant w/ penis dragging like gimpy third leg.  Johnny informs us elephant = old.  Says male elephants kicked out of herd to wander alone in old age.  Nature has it that they roam slow & alone, chomping on trees; gradually, molars fall out, can’t masticate; die of starvation – all nature’s plan.  Elephant moseys in front of jeep.  Barely notices us.  Drags trunk, sways head, plods along, outcast from herd after all these years.  Looks like he accepts lot, tho, along w/ imminence of own demise – unlike us humans (hell, I’m even wearing Neutrogena Age Fighter hydrating lotion).

Herd of Zebras Tubu Tree

Drive along.  Roll over more bushes.  Sidle up to herd of zebras, standing in fan formation so if lions spy, they can stump them by running in separate directions in alluvial black and white.


See baboons share same space w/ them, as do impalas.  Buffalo &  wildebeest too.


All potential victims, strength in #’s.


Only, young impalas safe.  Baboons might decide to kill for kicks.  Johnny relates torturous story of young impala cornered by chimp who terrorized it for hours before killing it.  Ask him to stop imitating impala’s fearful cries.

sunset tubu tree 1

Wonder how Johnny does it, living here all his life.  Knows nothing else.  Crickets & frogs sound like thunder.

sundown almost down

Seriously detoxing from NYC now but don’t miss in least.  Exquisite African sunset flames across horizon @ ~ 5:30.  Johnny pulls over into grassy patch, scouts out region.  All clear.  All exit jeep.  Some excuse ourselves behind bush to heed nature’s call.  Funny how same behavior would spring us into police station in Manhattan.  Can take off jungle hat now sun’s going down.

drink with Julia

Johnny opens jeep’s grill & takes out mini-bar stocked w/ beer & wine.  Julius, Julia, Graham & Giles have chardonnay.  I opt for St. Louis Lager from Kgalagadi Brewery in Gaborone, Botswana.  When you thank Johnny for drink, he says, “Pleasure.”  (No, it’s more like, “Plesherrrr…” like Cat Woman.  Quite sexy.  Been hearing that a lot around camp – heard it in Jo’burg too.  So much more sensual than “You’re welcome.”)  All standing w/ drinks now as sun goes down b/h African wilderness, where grass looks like parched stalks.  Graham says he’s lawyer, not barrister.  Didn’t know there’s difference.  Lived in England briefly, taught @ University of Warwick before returning to Australia, finishing teaching career & opening private practice.  Julia volunteers @ Melbourne Zoo; a biologist by training but takes lots of Continuing Ed classes @ U of Melbourne – far-flung courses like Paleontology, Ancient Greek Culture & Civ, & History of Mesopotamia. Renaissance lady.

Discuss American politics.  Still feeling everyone out.  What do they think of Obama?  Offer praise, see if they nod.  They do.  Graham says all Australia was hooked on 2008 U.S. electoral campaigns – & even before that, when Barack & Hillary were in blood feud.  Sarah Palin’s absurdity was plain as day to whole world, couldn’t fathom her appeal in US.  Tell them we’re stuck w/ her now; wish we could just have Tina Fey’s impressions instead.

Julia & Graham speak of enormous relief that fell over Australia when Obama won.  Told them I’ll never forget where I was, watching CNN on tenterhooks w/ Julius in our library, historic!  Easily one of the highlights of my life.  Both Julia & Graham’s sons recently graduated from U of Melbourne; like many Australians, lived @ home while in college; one would come home from school every afternoon, run to turn on CNN to see new dev’ments in US politics.  Am always fascinated by how every event in American life becomes world news.


Talk about attacks from right.  Tea Parties, for instance.  Boston Tea Party was re: “No Taxation Without Representation.”  These people have plenty of representation in congress.  No president since Lincoln has incurred this amount of fury, not even Nixon, who got out while the gettin’ was good.  Could it have something to do w/ Obama’s color?  Most on right are smart enough to deny it, but nothing rings truer to me.

Gay Wedding Homer

Still more feeling out to do.  Time to bring up marriage equality & cast out any doubts re: whether Julius & I are partners.  Must get this est’d if we’re to make friends.  No one seems fazed.  Say Australia has marriage equality.  As natural as sunset/daybreak to them.  Wish same for us.

Drink with Julia and Giles

For however dynamic our conversation w/ Graham & Julia, Giles captures my attention most.  He barely speaks word unless we direct our ?’s/remarks to him.  Late 60s, white walrus mustache, puts on dapper windbreaker as temperature chills.  Like elephant, lost molars too; jaw not as dexterous as used to be, takes long time to answer ?’s, also seems to stutter – wonder if this stunted Giles’ social life.

Eleanor Rigby 1 Lonely

Turns out, tho Australian, Giles didn’t know Graham or Julia before coming to camp.  Came alone, dreamed of going on safari for decades; saved up for it.  (Me: opportunity just fell into my lap.)  Retired from job as accountant for shipping co.  Born in India, father = British official, but family moved to Australia.  Has distinct “Eleanor Rigby” vibe.  Comes out in course of conversation, he never married.  Don’t know if he’s “confirmed bachelor” of yore (w/ all attendant implications) or if he was just too shy to talk to women or too unconfident to feel he had anything to offer.  Has 2 sisters living near where Graham once taught in Warwick, England, but doesn’t like England, so he doesn’t go see them; only went to London once & found it gray, depressing.

Again, when we don’t address him directly, Giles hangs his head & seems to fade into grass behind him, so we all do our best to include him.  Comes out Giles used to go on lots of trips by himself.

Humpback Whales Alaska


Went to Alaska & Antarctica to see birds, penguins & whales.  Wants to travel more but economy hasn’t come back & hasn’t recouped losses from modest retirement investments.


Watching Giles, I’m inundated w/ waves of sadness.  I know loneliness, know how much it hurts; before Julius, I knew all too well what it was to live solitary life; sometimes worry, if something were to happen to Julius and/or to us, would my only option be to wander off like old elephant until legs buckle & I expire?

old elephant

Giles & Graham = ~ same age but Giles doesn’t look to have as much time left.  Maybe b/c he’s found less to live for: doesn’t have life companion or 2 sons like Graham.  Will his funeral be like E. Rigby’s?  (Sometimes worry mine will.)  Will his 2 sisters come down for it from England?  (My siblings prob’ly wouldn’t bother.)  Or will they not visit him in same way he doesn’t visit them now?  Earth swallows people like Giles up in time.  They pass thru anonymously & vanish.  Still, I’m glad they’re alive.  Been long time since seen such self-effacement.  Not everybody has to be fame-seeker.


Tubu Tree at night

Candles & torches blazing all around camp.  Justin calls me over, points out hyena on nighttime hunt.

hyena at night

It looks up @ us, scurries into thick of trees.  Go behind bar, pour myself glass goblet of Malbec.  Stand @ edge of deck.  Full campfire burns in stone circle below.  Look out over fields.  Impalas gone.  Must’ve scurried away when saw hyena; am sure they know other predators on way to dinner too.

Shaman Third

Justin & Jacky ask us to come to dinner table, announce surprise.  Lights go low.  Singing, stomping, clapping emanating from log ramp off to side of dark dining-room entrance.  Language is prob’ly Zulu.  (At least, I think that’s tribal language here.)  Enter main room.  Long tribal dance ensues, chanting & call-and-response, all that, imagine it’s anthropologist’s dream.

Shaman Surreal

Soon shaman in heavy mask, frippery – frightening as faces of Tibetan protector deities – dances in front of us w/ staff decked w/ feathers, beads & seashells.  Lots of yelling, stomping, cackling.  Gets rise out of us.  Singers & dancers file out.  Presenter explains, in local tribes, when a man (says, “a man,” but might/might not apply to women) is afflicted with illness, he will dance full-out until he reaches state ecstatic enough to let in healing spirits.  What if he’s too sick to dance, tho?  Presenter leaves before I can ask.

Tubu Tree dining room

Host explains we’ll be following Botswanan tradition in camp tonight: women must serve men dinner.  Julius & I look @ each other in terror!  Guy’s lucky no American women heard him say that!  Remembering my former boss Aurie Pennick.  Tradition or no tradition, if she heard guy say that, he’d be wearing dinner! Yet Julia & Jacky comply w/ “just-this-once” kind of ceremony.  Julius & I thank women profusely, fearing for necks as our culture has taught us.


Dinner consists of Bogobe (porridge); Seswaa (meat dish); Chicken Stew; cabbage; sweet potatoes; lamb; lots of rice and lethodi beans.  Ask dietary restrictions b/f meals (come to think of it, so do Canadian restaurants).  Told them no venison (feel bad for poor deers); no pork (don’t like); no lamb (poor lil lambs); no rabbit (cute as cats, can’t have it).  All well-prepared, tasty.  Dessert: Flan & vanilla pudding.


Learn a lot re: Jacky & Justin over dinner.  Both in 20s, been married 18 mos.  Met working cruise ship sailing both American coasts.  Jacky = from Afrikaans area of Pretoria, S. Africa.  Justin = from Edmonton, Alberta, Canada; of Irish/English descent.  3 wks after meeting @ work, both got assigned to separate ships, separate routes.  Both tried negotiating w/ co.; couldn’t get terms accepted, both resigned to be together.  Following wk, Justin proposed in JFK airport, Jacky accepted.  Flew to S. Africa.  Say they eloped, but Jacky’s parents = witnesses @ ceremony, so have to check definition of “elope.”  Went back to Canada.  Tho known for open-door immig. policy, wouldn’t let Jacky into country even as Justin’s wife.  Had to prove 2 or 3 yrs. of marriage.  Went back to S. Africa.  Gov’t wouldn’t recognize marriage, even after legal ceremony few months before.  Had to prove more time t/g to live there too.  Went to Mozambique.  Got bad jobs in hospitality industry.  Quit.  Heard re: Botswana.  Work @ camp 7 ds/wk; get 1 mo. vacation every 3 mos.  Meantime, meet fascinating guest from all over world, like us!


Find out from Justin that Edmonton = only city in world w/o rats.  I’m from Chicago & live in NYC, so don’t know rat-free feeling.  Told him we were in Alberta, Canada in July.  Met up w/ Julius in Calgary where he was working for 5 days.


Not impressed w/ Calgary, where stores close by 5 on wkdys, but then went to Banff & Lake Louise.  Some of most spectacular sites on earth!  Showed pix on Iphone.

banff landscape

Lake Louise

Justin said Banff & Lake Louise = popular tourist destinations.  Said I never heard of either before going.  Americans don’t hear a lot re: Canada & it’s damned shame.  Incredibly impressive country: people kind, gentle – not bent on “making it” like we are in NYC or LA – no gun problems,


the Toronto police dogs are beagles for Chrissake!

Nighty Night

Hearts Champagne

Only 9:30 pm but we’ve seen all sights for day.  Rest of guests turning in.  Julius & I head back to cabin.  Complimentary champagne bottle sits waiting w/ 2 champagne glasses w/ sugar-frosted rims & sugar-valentines on front.  Julius & I dim already dim ceiling lights & uncork champagne.

August 25, 2009 – Tubu Tree Camp, Botswana

African Sunrise Use

Morning – 3:30 to Noon

Wake up @ 3:30 to get writing/meditation done b/f 5:30 wake-up knock on cabin door.  (No big deal.  Don’t have to report to work, so…) Julius wakes up w/ knock.  Both shower & I rub sunscreen even on unexposed parts – not taking chances.  All gathered round bkfst table ~ 6 am.  Choice of wheat biscuits; Oatmeal; Wheaties; Special K; Strawberry Yogurt; Peach Yogurt; Granola; orange juice, papaya juice, milk, coffee, tea.

Johnny already @ camp for while.  His home’s nearby, left late @ night, back to work @ 5am.  Same w/ rest of staff.  Hospitality = huge work but still better than 80 hr/wk in Midtown law firm.

Jacky & Justin eat w/ us.  Justin is learning Afrikaans in case they ultimately settle in Pretoria.  Watches Afrikaans soap opera to learn.  Wretched but useful show.  Not much TV reception in Tubu Tree but sometimes get DVDs of TV series.


Graham & Julia suggest Madmen.  Julius & I have been renting Madmen discs.  Characters such despicable, sexist, hypocritical assholes but can’t stop watching.

Betty Draper

Talk about my grudge ag. Don Draper’s WASPy wife, Betty, who somehow got thru life w/o learning words “thank you.”  Julia feels Betty =  far more anguished & complex character than I do.

Salvatore Use

Oh, and gay character, Salvatore Romano, so unpersuasive!  Tell everyone, “He walks around like Liberace & he doesn’t think people are gonna notice?!”

Liberace Use Instead

Jacky tells me she’ll remember me forever for that one line alone. Just calls ’ems as I sees ’ems.

safari jeep

Head out on 3 ½ hour safari w/ Giles, Julia & Julius.  (Graham stays behind to read mystery novels & unwind before presentation he’s giving @ labor conference in Sydney next wk.)

giraffe with tick birds

See giraffes that have tick birds feeding on them.  Giraffe chomps on leaves, never minding birds.  See wildebeest, impalas, baboons, zebras, elephants.


Have to admit, patience wearing thin.  Fail to see why we have to stop 20 mins. to observe elephant that’s same as last one.  But everyone else  = enraptured.  Am to some extent but keep thinking should be more.  Wish I was more like Julius.


He looks up every one of 10,000 birds in Sibley Birds of Africa book. We see fish-eagle, storks, ostriches, herons, ibises, African darter, & malachite kingfisher.

fish eagle





African Darter

malachite kingfisher

Hard for me to stay glued to nature after lifetime focus on modern media and self-analysis.

picnic botswana

Am grateful when we head back to camp.  Roaring through crackly sun-bleached grass.  Stop @ shady picnic area where Botswanan staff greet us w/ another song.

Graham also standing there w/ glass of guava juice.  Came along w/ Justin after putting good dent in book he’s reading.  Lunch set up.  Omelet option, bow tie pasta, chickpeas, green salad w/ peppers, sausage.  I choose pasta, chickpeas, salad.  Have another St. Louis Lager.

mj hyland

Ask Graham re: mystery novels.  Says they’re light reads, entertainment, welcome distractions.  I used to have high standards for lit.  Now I see even writing a book as creditable feat – unless your name is Rush Limbaugh or Anne Coulter, in which case, don’t bother.  Graham tells me he was once supervisor of associate named M.J. Hyland, said he used to tear up her law briefs & tell her she couldn’t write.  Says joke was on him, tho: she ended up getting shortlisted for Booker Prize for Carry Me Down.  Made me feel better.  I once had colleague who impugned my writing abilities.  He got fired but still want to hear he’s licking latrines in hell.

Mention that I read Malcolm Gladwell’s The Outliers. Gladwell contends that one only achieves proficiency @ craft after 10,000 hrs of practice.  Mozart started @ 7 but didn’t begin writing great symphonies til 20.  Most compelling, tho, Gladwell talks about how Beatles went to Hamburg as somewhat mediocre musicians.  Hamburg strip clubs, where they played, made bands play for 8 hr shifts.  Gave Beatles ample practice: over period of 4 yrs in Hamburg, they did 1,200 shows.  By time returned to Liverpool, they’d developed unprecedented sound.  If they’d stayed in Liverpool, tho, they wouldn’t have had as much practice.  Without Hamburg opp, they wouldn’t’ve become gods they were, acc to Gladwell.

Julia talks about how she’s part of 3 book clubs.  Keeps her in practice as reader.  Unlike so many book clubs, members in her group finish & discuss books in minute detail.  Asks if I’ve read Steve Toltz.  I cringe in bitterest envy.  Yes, I have.

Kings Canyone

Graham starts saying we should one day go to Kings Canyon in Australia, whose valley is accessible only by helicopter.  In fact, when they went, helicopter had to do all sorts of Evil Knievel stunts to make it down narrow cleavage.  This = enough for me to decline; say had hard enough time on charter flight to Okavango Delta.  Graham goes on re: Kings Canyon.  Waterfalls = luscious but w/ crocodiles.  In 1960s, American actress visited, got drunk & decided to swim from one bank to another, giggling & hiccupping as she did her strokes.  Crocodile nabbed her=end of her career/life & forest ranger’s license.  Vacation spot sounding less desirable by minute.



Done w/ afternoon safari.  Someone new @ camp, reading novel called The Gargoyle in lounge area.  Introduce ourselves.  Olive-skinned man named Alan.  Says he’s a pilot who brought honeymooner couple in on one of the propeller crafts we flew in on; too dark to fly out, so has to spend night.  Ask what book’s about.  Says it’s about porn star who finished shoot & drives along California mountainside, blind drunk.  Bottle of bourbon on lap falls to car floor; reaches down to pick up & drives off cliff.  Car thumps all over jagged rocks, catches fire, which spreads w/ help of dribbling puddles of flammable bourbon.  Rescued from wreck, covered head to foot w/ 3rd degree burns, paralyzed from waist down.  Porn-star looks gone (turns out it was str8 porn, tho, where guys = seldom attractive), has death wish (as if he didn’t have one right before accident).  Plans to hoist his wheelchair on ledge of one of top floors of L.A. hotel, climb back into chair & get slobbering drunk; put his head through noose suspended from window-cleaner hook outside window; stick shotgun in mouth; light another bourbon bottle on fire on lap; & pull trigger after budging chair off ledge.  This way, sure to die dramatically; looks grotesque as gargoyle, so might as well fall like one from ledge, plus, while on fire = bound to commit posthumous arson & take others w/ him, which = one in eye of meaningless universe.  Only, he meets woman outside hospital who claims to be clairvoyant & past-life regressionist & says she’s had many lives w/ porn star.  The Gargoyle explores her putative memories along w/ her attempts to nurse amoral pornographer back to health & moral sobriety.  After giving rundown of book, Alan politely excuses himself & goes back to reading w/ wolfish relish.  Says all pilots in region are slavering over Gargoyle & passing it around.  Doesn’t sound like book for me, but still want to read since feel need to develop wilder storylines in my own fiction.

Tubu Tree dining room


Camp no longer risking Amazonian attack by asking women to serve men @ dinner.  Now all go up buffet-style.  Spread similar to last night: steak, lamb, Bogobe (porridge), spinach, steak, carrots, zucchini, celery.  Every now & then, Botswanan woman does shrill tribal call.  Wish she would stop.  Drinking more Malbec.

miracle on hudson

Talk more to Alan.  Says was pilot for Continental Airlines in Houston.  Wound up in same trick bag as most pilots in this economy.  Fewer fliers = fewer flights & less intriguing routes.  Felt call to come to Africa to fly.  Came on vacation, asked around re: pilot jobs, got one in Botswana.  Fiancée = flight attendant, still in Houston.  Salary in Botswana doesn’t cover cost of mortgage back in Texas, so had to sublet.  Fiancée cashes in discount ticket & frequent flier miles & meets up w/ him every couple months in Jo’burg.  Somehow make it work.

Confess to Alan fear of small-craft planes.  I’m no aviophobe but I’m only used to large commercial carriers.  Alan looks down, nods, can’t tell if he’s annoyed or sympathetic or both.  Refer to Miracle on Hudson & how I flashed back to it when our own pilot mentioned having to negotiate bird traffic.  He responds by giving detailed account of how that kind of twin-engine failure = extremely rare.  Also, of all emergencies pilots must prepare for, that is last on list & not enough hrs in day to learn.  Reassures me worst could happen in such scenario on charter flight = windshield bathed in bird blood; wipers would slap away.  Also, chance of engine failure & crash landing = chance of bottom of car falling out on routine drive down highway.  Also, most pilots for safari camps = highly experienced & used to work for major airlines, but, for whatever reason, came to live in bush. Feel better re: next series of flights.

Back in Cabin

scrabble win

Kick Julius’ ass in Scrabble, mostly b/c I spell “ox” & X is worth 8 points.  Fanciest word I use in whole game = “agog.”  Sleep soundly after whoop-ass.

HAIR at The Public Theatre’s Shakespeare in the Park and “Pseudo-Lysergic”

Posted in Uncategorized by streetlegalplay on July 26, 2008

So, Charles Isherwood of The New York Times had his misgivings about The Public Theatre’s 40th-Anniversary Production of Hair at Shakespeare in the Park, but, methinks he was just being his usual contrarian self. Especially in the wake of The Public’s watered-down Hamlet this summer, Hair was a tour-de-force of high dimension.

A high dimension albeit not the highest, let’s just get the downside out of the way first. I’ve always found the first few scenes of Act I to be Godspell-silly with their Romper Room antics and Muppet Babies, hippy-skippy sing-a-longs. The social taboos of long hair, drugs, and free love pale beside the follow-ups of punk, Studio 54, crack babies and the AIDS crisis. The Nude scene could probably even make prime-time TV in the 2000s. But, then as now, we are a nation stumbling under the weight of a criminal war and the environmental ruin presaged in the song “Air,” so there is a certain currency to Hair’s staging today.

The pluses far outweigh the minuses. The performances resurrected an era, which, while it preceded my birth, also – through its music and images – helped form so much of my consciousness and so many of my political, social and spiritual ideals. To depict Washington Square and Central Park, the Public set out astroturf before the bandstand, where the prodigious musicians were swaddled in Age of Aquarius, Stevie Nicks drag. The gorgeous Will Swenson embodied Berger, the New Jersey drop-out, in all his grungy idealism, just as Bryce Ryness did with the swishier character of Woof whose questionable sexual orientation The Public did not disguise. As a matter of fact, The Public did a delectable job of simulating center-stage daisy chains and sideshow gay make-outs for an age that’s jaded enough to take it. The dry cunilingus was a salient ornament to the polemic “Sodomy,” which Swenson deftly reinterpreted before the crowd. These upgrades kept the show from disintegrating into pure nostalgia.

Mick and Keith 1975

Mick and Keith 1975

(By the way, the poster that Claude hands Woof (not the one above but something like it) of Mick Jagger was from 1975, eight years after Hair was first produced. Mick had already gone from a hippy to a glam god. That was one little directorial anachronism, but I guess you had to be Stones-aholic like me to catch it, so no harm done.)

Jonathan Groff played Claude Bukowski, the protagonist who experiences the greatest identity crisis and risk of any member of his Tribe. He’s the Polish Catholic boy from Flushing, who walks around with an English accent in front of his assimilationist parents, who are all too proud to hand him his draft card when it comes in the mail. Tony Award-winning Groff (Spring Awakening) may not be able to boast Swenson or Ryness’ magnificent bodies (he performed with his shirt on the whole time), but his voice filled Central Park with every bit as much bravura soulfulness as it did the amphitheater where, as far as I could tell, everyone sat enraptured.

Speaking of voices, good God! Dig that Patina Renea Miller on “Aquarius” and Saycon Sengbloh on “Four Score and Seven Years Ago”/”Abie Baby”! These were divas to the nth-degree. I’m hoping to God that I see them in more productions around town.

Naturally, Act I sparked all sorts of audible compare-and-contrast-then-and-now conversations by the concession stand at intermission. Some greenies asked why we don’t have the same wave of protest against Iraq today. Well, the most obvious answer is that we don’t have the Draft today, so young Americans’ lives aren’t as directly endangered. Secondly, we’ve seen how the hippies were too stoned to stop the war and how, on balance, those trippy zombies didn’t end up wearing so well ten years down the line. One only has to watch a few Bally’s commercials to understand that, for better or for worse, self-preservation appeals to today’s culture in ways that it didn’t to the Flower Children.

Last year, though, I did a review for Edge Magazine of Peter O. Whitmer’s Aquarius Revisited: Seven Who Created the Sixties Counter-Culture That Changed America, where William S. Burroughs rails against people who claim that the Sixties didn’t accomplish anything: “They don’t seem to realize that [in the 1940s], four-letter words did not appear on printed pages…the idea that a Mexican or a black or a queer was anything but a second-class citizen was simply absurd.” But Burroughs also said, “The 1960s stuff about solving the world’s problems through peace and love and nonviolence – I said then that the only way to give flowers to the police was in a pot from a high window.”

One of the things that amuses me most about the hippies are their concepts of meditation and all their woo-woo talk around it. I have been a meditator for over ten years and I’ve never found it to be about “mystic crystal revelations,” levitation, and astral projection. In fact, most of the time, it’s searing, boring, frustrating. A regular practice of meditation requires tremendous exertion (and it’s worth every pang). Clearly, most of these people didn’t have a daily practice.

I even wrote a short-memoir piece about my old, Sixties-inspired take on meditation called “Pseudo-Lysergic.” I’ll even post it below.

But, before I do, let me exhort you to see Hair! It is intoxicating and sensual. You’ll be so electrified, you’ll stand up screaming out of your seat, if not jumping on stage to sing and dance (a permissable act) by play’s end.

And now, “Pseudo-Lysergic” by Kyle Thomas Smith:


(read at The Interdependence Project, September 2006)

By Kyle Thomas Smith

This morning, after I meditated, I took the subway and reflected on how the experience of meditation is often similar to the one you hear on the “Revolution #9” track of The White Album. Riots, parades, protests, peccadilloes, fires, bombings, orchestras, orgasms, sci-fi scenes – all rising and falling, ebbing and flowing with each inhalation and exhalation, each coming and going of breath – rising and falling – like the emcee’s mantra: “Number 9…Number 9…Number 9.” Incidentally, Charles Manson envisioned the apocalypse happening to the same tune. I shudder to think that my mind is joined with his, but, if we’re all interconnected, interpenetrated, and interdependent, then I guess mine would have to be. But, by the same logic, my mind would also have to be linked with those of the Beatles, both dead (like John and George) and alive (like Paul and Ringo).

The Beatles were the ones who first turned me on to the idea of meditation. I was 12 years old and watching A Current Affair. They had a special on the spiritual practices of celebrities. They flashed to a picture of the Fab Four, where they were all propped up, cross-legged, on cushions and surrounded by a harem of British blondes in a genie-bottle room. The narrator said: “At their creative peak, The Beatles explored eastern religions, studying Transcendental Meditation with the Maharishi.” This scandalized my parochial schoolboy mind.

My family was Catholic of Irish descent. You didn’t leave your religion. That would land you in hell as sure as pre-marital sex or masturbation would, neither one of which I’d attempted yet, apart from a few feels. The Beatles started out as Liverpool Protestants. That afforded them so much more freedom than I knew, growing up in the archdiocese of Chicago. Protestants had flouted Rome’s authority long ago. They were not bound by the same rules as I. They were free to explore. Oh, how I coveted their freedom! On the sly, I asked around the neighborhood and heard that meditation could be used as a substitute for LSD. I didn’t want to do drugs and end up like the burn-outs in the park, but I did want to trip, so this was good news.

That was 1987, the summer Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was first released on CD with the sales slogan, “It Was 20 Years Ago Today,” commemorating the album’s 20th Anniversary. My brother Kent bought it the same afternoon it hit the racks. At the time, I didn’t know what meditation was, but I sensed it had something to do with what I was about to start a habit of doing: cueing up my brother’s Sergeant Pepper’s CD and closing my eyes as I leaned up against my bedroom wall, never stopping my mind from wandering into a pseudo-lysergic trance.

Well, that was just shy of twenty years ago to the day. On the F train out of Brooklyn this morning, I put my hands in a Cosmic Mudra, breathed deeply and contemplated how much has changed for me since then. Today, I’m a member of a Buddhist sangha. Formal meditation has become the mainstay of my everyday life. I’m a writer. I live in New York. I’m openly gay. I never even had to drop acid or become a burn-out or a Mansonite to acquire this freedom, just as I’d suspected.

But, then, meditation is not what I’d suspected. It’s not a means of escape. It’s a means of presence. You train in keeping your mind from wandering by bringing it back to the vacuous narration of the breath – over and over and over again. Once, I would have considered anything that curbs imaginative transports to be nothing less than fascist. But now I see that, in the present moment, to which our breath binds us back again and again, there exists a kaleidoscopic experience – more luscious than Strawberry Fields – that you never would have had if you’d allowed your mind to go too far afield. So, my thanks to the Beatles for loosening my shackles, giving me vision and starting me on this path. And my love to the Interdependence Project for helping to fine-tune my vehicle and for accompanying me on this most meaningful of journeys.