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The Clash of Civilizations
Now You Must Pay
by Jose Chaves

This is the year you drop out of college and will come home to find your bedroom is no longer your bedroom. It will have been converted into a "Yoga Room," complete with massage table, futon and a mini-shrine to Jesus. Your mom will hang upside down in something that looks to be an ambulance stretcher, as she listens to a tape of sea noises and a smooth talking Latin telling her to think of herself as beautiful and healthy as a pink dolphin. You want to leave so as not to embarrass her, but before you can exit, she
tells you she's glad your home and that she knows the tape sounds corny, but then asks if you've ever heard of a sick dolphin. You don't answer. She will unhook herself from the stretcher, unfold the futon that will be your bed until you get a job, and tell you not to make any plans for Saturday.
     This won't be a problem since you don't have any real plans for your life which is why you are back home.
     You unpack your bags waiting for your mother to give you a lecture. You know your mother thinks you drink too much like your father, but there is no lecture, only a plan on Saturday she won't explain that has you worried since the last time she had something planned you were failing the eighth grade. She picked you up after school for a trip to Denny's and tried to tell you why you were failing. She drew a pie graph on a napkin in which each slice represented a different aspect of your life. She drew very small slivers to represent your school, God, and family while over half the pie represented your social life. Then she re-drew the graph to show you what your life should look like all of the pieces being equal. "Comprende?" she asked, hoping Spanish would help. You told her you understood, but since the only thing you liked about your life in the eighth grade was your social life, you told her you had no intention of re-cutting your pie. You put a bite of pancake in your mouth. She grabbed you by the arm and whispered so the waiters wouldn't hear, either you re-cut your pie, smartass, or I will re-cut it for you. You said you would try, but when your grades didn't improve the next quarter, there was no trip to Denny's, just a surprise visit to your bedroom one evening in May when your mother calmly informed you that you were grounded forever.
     On Saturday your mother wakes you at six in the morning and tells you to rise and shine. You ask if you're going to Denny's, but she doesn't get the joke. She tells you it is a surprise. You are afraid she might be taking you to an alcoholic's intervention like your Grandpa went to when you were nine. All you remember is your entire family sat in a circle crying as you told everyone about the night you smelled smoke and turned on the kitchen light to find him cooking eggs in his saggy briefs. He had charred a skillet of yolks into a small fire and your sister had to put out the fire with a glass of water and send him to bed arguing that no one ate breakfast at midnight. You remember your grandfather yelling something about having to eat biscuits in great depression before passing out cold on the bed.
     As you pull onto the interstate, your mother asks if you are still drinking. Yeah,
you say. A little. A little is your polite way of telling her that you won the 5th annual
Kappa Alpha keg chug contest by up chucking foam in a garbage can until you where
empty enough to go back for another round. She asks if you know you've got alcoholism
on both sides of your family. You tell her you know. You have heard the story a million
times. You tell her you have an eighty percent chance of becoming an alcoholic. She
tells you the risk is like loading a six shooter, and you finish her story by saying, yes, and
you load it with four bullets then put it to your head. She looks at you in a sad, motherly
way and asks why you would want to tempt fate. You tell her you don't fucking know
because whenever she presses you on the issue you feel like you're still twelve years old
and she's still trying to re-cut your goddamned pie.

You didn't feel any better when you park at the Marriott hotel in downtown Seattle and your mother pays a woman in a white robe two hundred dollars cash. You ask if you are there to see the Moonies. Your mother asks what you take her for then tells you that you are there to see a Guru of very high ranking. She tells you to keep your mind open and you might leam something. You don't know what a Guru is, but you imagine it is someone like the guy in Oregon who was arrested for conducting big tent orgies and owning a fleet of brightly painted Rolls Royces. Your mother says a Guru is a spiritual guide. You feel like you need a drink. You walk around the hotel ballroom looking for another colored face, but the only people of color are the Guru of very high ranking and the wait staff. While you wait for the Guru to arrive, your mother escorts you to a table of fresh fruits and organic cheeses, then instructs you to eat up so that she will get her money's worth.
     The Guru of very high ranking is a bald, soft-spoken man. You are in the mood to call him Baldy. Baldy sits on a throne festooned with flowers and is flanked by attractive young ladies in long white gowns who fan him gently with a giant feather. You try not to picture them naked. You are afraid Baldy has mind-reading powers. Baldy bows to the crowd with his hands folded and says something in another language that sounds a lot like "now you must pay."
     Everyone says the same back to him, but you; Everyone sits cross-legged on the little blue mats provided by the seminar, but you and your mother who have what your mother calls chronic inflexibility. So instead you prop yourself up with a pillow like you do when you are going to watch television in bed.
     Baldy tells you to make the om sound which is the breath of the universe. He tells you that the om will synchronize your body and mind. He tells you that the om is sacred, but as you start to om, you think it's the most ridiculous thing you've done since you were paddled by a grown man at your fraternity. That is, until you begin to notice that the entire room is suddenly in tune and the very earth is vibrating beneath you like and you start to feel something so close to spiritual that you are saddened when your nostrils start to bum and you realize that—despite his peaceful stance-the man oming next to you has just broken wind. He is a tall man wearing a pair of silk shorts so thin they act as a fanning agent and force you to bury your face in your pillow for clean air. Your mother nudges you with an elbow, telling you to behave, as if you are the one who is disrespectful, but the stench is so strong neither can she keep a straight face and must bury her face in her pillow to keep from laughing.
     You are relieved when the chant is over and you and your mother can quickly
move your mats to the other side of the room, as Baldy informs you that he will begin
now with some very basic stretches. He then proceeds to wrap his legs around his head
like a dueling cobras while folding his arms into the shape of a dollar sign. While doing
this, he tells you that the pain is a messenger. He tells you to invite pain into your homes.
But when you pull your leg an inch toward your head, before you can invite pain in, he's
already knocked down your front door, punched you in the face and pissed on the carpet.
Your mother didn't look like she was enjoying Pain's company much either and after
trying to touch her knee for twenty minutes finally she lays back on her pillow and tells
you that from now on she is just going to work on deep breathing. You tell her that is an
excellent idea.

You wake up from a dream involving the naked assistants, a potato, and three vats of bacon grease to a vision of your mother wagging another slice of organic cheese in your face. She tells you to pay attention because its time for the question and answer period. A gray-haired man in a red Fila jumpsuit raises his hand to ask if enlightenment and capitalism are compatible? The crowd chuckles, as if this was an inside joke. But Baldy responds very seriously saying that capitalism is like everything else and you either do it with right mind or you don't. He says, so if you say today you will make money and that is all, then that will be all. But if you say today I will make money so that I may rejoice in the abundance of the universe, then so shall it be.
     The red jumpsuit replies that if he has understood Baldy correctly he should no longer think of his Mercedes Benz as a status symbol, but as a humble chariot of God. Some people laugh, but Baldy just smiles and tells him that that is the right idea before his eyes twinkle and everyone goes Ahhh, as if they've got something you didn't.
     The next question is from a woman holding an Evian water bottle and wearing a Sergio Tachini sports bra who says that she's been doing Yoga for over three years now, but doesn't feel like she's grown spiritually. She says she's improved her flexibility, but she still yells at her kids and gets stressed at work. Baldy twinkles, then tells her that life will always have obstacles, but work and play are a matter of perception. He asks when he is sitting there if he is sitting there is he working or playing? He doesn't know. You think about the hundred dollar tickets and feel like he should know the answer, but the woman just says she gets it and sits down.
     You want to know what she got.
     Your mother looks like she is enjoying herself, but you feel ripped off, angry and depressed. You know that you are drinking too much and that it probably has something to do with some kind of pain probably relating to your father and you know that your mother is just trying to find a more effective pie analogy, one that you will understand. f But as you look around at everyone hanging on Baldy's every word, you realize sadly fi that no one can help you, not your mother, not the pink dolphins, not even Baldy, no matter how brilliantly he may twinkle. You feel sad and alone and last question comes from an old man in the back row who asks how we can be free from suffering. You teel like Baldy is looking at you when he says that asking the question is half the battle, but the most difficult half is really wanting to let go. He says that most of you are so comfortable with your own suffering you don't want to let go of it. But those who are ready, simply let go.
     There is a moment of silence, the Baldy bows for the last time.
     When you get back in the car, your mother asks what you thought of it. You don't want her to feel bad for spending so much money, so you focus on the cool cheese table and the deluxe pillows, then you try to change the subject by asking if she could believe that one guy farted. Your mother laughs, give you a sheepish look then tells you that it was no one guy who farted, it was she, and now you laugh because you know that she is lactose intolerant and is chalk full of organic cheese. You ask her what she thinks and she tells you that she really likes the style of Yoga and wants to go back East and study with this organization. This makes you mad, mostly because you didn't get anything out of it, so you can't believe anyone could. You ask her if she didn't think it was a bit of a sham. You tell her you think paying a hundred bucks to listen to anyone is a sham, but she says she thinks the Guru had a lot of good things to say. You say, yeah, but it reminds you of the time your grandpa found out your mother had gone to see a psychic and he told her that she was a fool because he too had psychic powers and then charged your mother twenty bucks to tell her the future. Your mother now laughs because she remembers. Then your grandpa closed his eyes and predicted that your mother would now be twenty dollars poorer. You are both laughing now and you tell her you think that a Guru is like your grandpa. You are happy that you have explained your position as best you could, but you drive the rest of the way home without saying much else
     That Spring your mother goes back East to study at the organization affiliated with Baldy. A month later she comes back to tell you that she had an excellent time, but there had been quite a scandal and Baldy had been driven out of the organization for sleeping with one of his disciples. When she tells you this, for a moment you will feel like you've won some small victory, but you won't quit drinking for many years to come, as you too still have a lot of suffering yet to do.


All Poetry & Nothing ButClash of CivilizationsEC ChairFeatured PoetsForeign DeskGalleryStage
Hedonism: Theory & PracticeLetters & GlossolaliaArt of MarriageMoney TalkPets & BeastsZounds

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