1 The Odd Crasher
Summer, 1980. Boulder. Twilight. The Tuesday Night Poetry Reading. All of Naropa Institute has turned out.
Spiritual pilgrims, poetry freaks, and the odd crasher are milling around Sacred Heart of Jesus school on Mapleton Hill, waiting for the doors to open. Ordinarily, this eclectic collection of beings would be sufficiently dazzled by the spectacular views from Naropa's leased lamasery and the prospect of seeing, hearing, and perhaps touching the leading lights of the Beat Generation. This evening, the prayer-pillow clutching crowd taking in the entire city and the iconic Flatirons formation rising above Chautauqua Park seems downright mesmerized. Something is out there, something once-in-a-lifetime surreal—the sunset is ablaze with volcanic particulates.
Skyborne evidence scattered from Mt. St. Helens' explosive eruption a thousand miles away is a real icebreaker. Pairing has already begun. It'll only intensify at the after-party. Confronted with irrefutable proof that the world can end at any time, why not squeeze in all the decadence you possibly can while you still can? It would be stupid not to, and this prime cross-section of intelligentsia professes to be anything but. I couldn't have picked a better night to attend my first Naropa function after living a stone's throw from their sanctums ever since the early 70s.
When an ash cloud is hovering over your city, and you can hardly take your eyes off it or the fellow seeker you're chatting up about it, it takes something truly exceptional to change the subject. Something like a black stretch limo swinging onto Mapleton, heading your way. Naropans catch a glimpse of it out of the corners of their eyes. They track it rolling from background to foreground. The peculiar craft slows to a halt, idling alongside an already tingling crowd. Who could it possibly be?
An officious-looking liveryman exits the driver's door. He takes two showy strides toward the rear door, yanks the handle with a ceremonial flourish. A polished Oxford emerges, a calf's worth of pinstriped pants, then a hunky figure steps out onto the sidewalk, imperially surveying his domain. Gasps and sighs.
"It's The Regent Ösel Tendzin!"
Striking an imposing figure in an immaculately-cut business suit, the mustached thirtysomething is quickly surrounded by admirers. Less exalted disciples rush forward, hoping against hope for the briefest brush with his pure virgin wool vestments. They're outfitted in get-ups more humbly fashioned from all-natural materials—linen drawstring pants, leather sandals, Indian-style cotton tops. Nothing synthetic for this crowd—concern for the planet goes a long way toward improving one's tantric possibilities.
Tendzin is magic. He's magic because he's been personally appointed by His Holiness Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, the Karmapa, to succeed him—an honor no westerner has even been considered for, much less received. Rinpoche is an 11th generation reincarnated Tibetan lama whose regal probe, it is told, is constantly engorged with blood.
Ösel Tendzin soaks up the adulation. He closes his eyes. He bows his head. Naropans close their eyes. They bow their heads. It's some kind of silent prayer. Tendzin raises his eyelids. Naropans raise their eyelids. He scans the crowd. Adoring faces stare back at him. He begins walking in my general direction. He's looking my way. Is this Regent dude making a beeline for me? Now he's in my space. Places his hands on my shoulders. Gazes into my eyes. Beams a beatific smile. Everyone wishes they were getting this treatment.
"You—you are going to attain your spiritual goals. Whatever you envision, you will achieve. You are a special person."
"Oooooooh" the crowd exhales in approval.
Speechless. Well ... I'm simultaneously flattered and utterly baffled, emphasis on the latter. Did Tendzin even know that I was the only one there who wasn't a Naropan? Can't say for sure. What I can say with absolute certainty is that not only wasn't I striving to attain any spiritual goals, I couldn't even name one. I'm really wanting to believe the "whatever you envision, you will achieve" pronouncement. That would mean that scoring with a Naropan babe later that night was not only possible, but done-deal achievable. I could only hope Tendzin really was all-knowing. He knew enough to have his own limo, proof positive that he'd aced his Manifestation exam. More confounding was what exactly made me a special person based on a heretofore unknown form of instant aura analysis. I dunno. Is it really special to be the only being there more psyched for the after-party than the recitation itself?
Other souls who weren't overthinking it like I was gawked as if a halo had suddenly appeared above my head and I'd sprouted angel wings. Further ruminations were interrupted by the metallic clang of 1950s locking crossbar doors opening.