The Ganga is a Local Call

I'm now at Santosh Puri Ashram in Haridwar.  I took the train, and at Haridwar, and took pictures of some monkeys on the train platform.  One of them beared her teeth and tried to grab the shoes hanging from my bag, but I stepped back and she stopped.  I walked across the street from the station, had a pratha with cheese and a chai with no sugar and a lime soda, put stevia in them both.

Took pictures with some engineering students, one who graciously kept me company, although I did not ask him to.  Indian boys want to be nice to you though you haven't asked them to.
I took a rickshaw to the ashram, but they told me it was full.  A man with very long but well-groomed ear hair was the only English speaker.  I said "hello" and they said, "no hello" so I said "Namaste, hare om."  And they said, "Namaste."  I told them about Mandakini and how I had emailed her, and then I realized it was the wrong ashram.

They pointed, and I walked and walked, asking for directions every few minutes to this small ashram with my over-packed backpacks in the midday sun.  I got closer and closer it seemed when I hear two bearded sadhus singing bajans inside a gated home.  "Ram something Ram" was all I understood.  I let myself past the gate, shed my bags and shoes, bowed, and sat in the little room where they were playing a harmonium and drum, passing the melody back and forth.  I lovingly ignored the thoughts in my mind suggesting I should leave and also suggesting I should stay for as long as possible.  After a while I began to hum along with them.  After a longer while I realized they were singing "Sita Ram Sita Ram" and began to sing with them.

The singing became very pleasurable and I began to smile in my heart, and also thinking of Jai Uttal and Aharon.  After some time, they spread out a mat, interrupting the chanting to point it out to me that I should sit on it instead of on the cement.  When I felt it was time to leave, I got up, and they motioned for me to give some money.  But because they hotel only took cash and the rickshaw driver had no change I had nothing but 500 rupee notes left.  I motioned that I had nothing but bowed in gratitude.  Then I remembered I had a dark chocolate pretzel and a granola bar from the airplane, which I didn't eat because I'm not having white sugar.  I gave them the sweets and walked back out of the gate.

I walked to the next door and realized that ashram was next door to Santosh Puri Ashram.  Guru Mataji's daughter, Mandakini, greeted me and showed me to a room.  We talked about our friend Erin, who suggested I might come here if I was looking for a peaceful and secluded ashram.  Erin left only two days ago, and they said she mentioned to the people staying here that I would be coming.  Very kind of her.

Some people were going to the River. Stephania from Italy told Mandkini she was going and asked if she should take the dogs with her.  The dogs were too hot for a walk, so she went alone. Though I hadn't slept much in 48 hours, I wasn't so tired, and I wanted to go to the Ganga as well.  I walked along the path a passed a number of sadhus in the woods, speaking only briefly to one younger man with matted hair folding an orange robe, who asked my name and told me he is called Gopi.  Then I saw the three other foreigners from Santosh Puri wading in the Ganga.  It's so dirty in Varanasi that I didn't dare go in, but here is much closer to the source, and people aren't creamated and sent into the river.  There's very likely less defication here too.  I mean, if you're not allowed to go in the river and leave your shoes on, it follows that you shouldn't go in and leave your shit there as well.

I slowly walk into the water with my clothes on.  The riverbed is silty, a smooth mud, and I slip on it, falling in up to my shoulders.  Blessed by the Holy Ganga.  I hold my nose, relax my knees, and dunk my whole self in.  It's dark brown and big river plant parts are floating past us the whole time.  This is because it rained heavily yesterday.  I climb out and Antoine ask Krishnabai, who looks very familiar to me, "How long were you in Oregon?"  "We were there four years."  Osho was in Oregon for a few years, and I immediately assume this is who she was with.  They continue talking and I ask if it was Osho.  She says yes, and then I ask if she knows the American man I met in Tiru on my first trip here, who told me he was with Osho for twenty years.  "Yes, very well." she says.

We walk back to the ashram together, and I'm still not tired.  In the library I send an email to my parents to tell them I've arrived safely and where I am.  The shelves are full of books in different languages, and the one that pops out is titled, The Way of a Pilgrim.  I pick it up.  Where have I heard about this.  It's by a Russian man in the nineteenth century who sets about on a journey to learn the practice of incessant, interior prayer.  J.D. Salinger places it in the trembling hands of Franney in Franney and Zooey.  I placed Franney and Zooey in the hands of RM.  On Independence Day, July 4th, 2006, an hour before we saw the fireworks, on the steps of the Maritime Apartment complex in San Francicso, he told me that he had read The Way of a Pilgrim while traveling in India these past seven months, and this might be more than a coincidence that we are reading Franney and Zooey together.  Though we parted ways several years ago, strands of our conversation are still finding their other end and turning out to be incessant loops.

I'm still not tired, and after dipping in Ganga, I pick up The Way of a Pilgrim and sit with a guy outside the gate of the ashram.  He is building a set of steps out of bricks and dirt, sandbags, wire, and old pieces of wood and concrete.  Since the path to the Ganga is not ashram property, it's illegal to make a proper stairway, but the path is difficult to traverse and Mataji has asked him to make something a bit more sturdy that the monsoon won't wash away so easily.  I sit and read The Pilgrim while he chain smokes and builds and I feel both an affinity for him and a desire to help construct the stairs.  He says it's his third trip to India and he has stayed for almost a year the past two times.  He had lots of complications in his home country; his mother fell ill, but he found himself counting the days until he was to return in January and finally decided he couldn't wait any longer, that no matter what happens, he's coming here in May.  I tell him the same thing happened with me, and I had to come now.  He remembers Erin, "Covered with tattoos?" "No.  Tall, curly hair."  "Oh, yes.  Black hair.  Very strong and clear internally.  She does astrology."  "Yes."  I tell him how Erin suggested that it would be astrologically fortuitious for me to travel immediately instead of waiting, and then get back to working on my career punctually on July 31st.

He and I agree that the West is materialistic, and he says subtly that the stars might not know better than my internal guidance.  He suggests that if I want to be in India, I should focus on India, and see how I feel then.  We agree that we shall see.  I feel judgment that my internal compass is not louder and stronger like his or like Erin's.

A woman here wears a white cotton sari, and she reminds me of someone I met at Anandashram, on my last trip here.  I found myself at Anandashram because during a medicine journey my guide played a bajan sung by Krishna Das, and was in tears at the ecstacy of God Realization.  I asked Krishna Das after a concert about this prayer, and he told me this song is sung day and night, incessantly, at a place in Southern India called Anandashram.  On my first trip here, I went to Sivananda Ashram upon the suggestion of a friend I  had met, and I write a little bit of comedy about my trip so far, which I get up and perform for the two hundred yoga students and the swamis on talent night.

One fellow there, a fellow Jew now living in Boston, lived at Anandashram for several years, and he tells me, yes, go there and you can chant Sri Ram Jai Ram day and night.

At Anandashram, Thuli Baba is making a rare appearance, and I just happen to arrive while he and his devotees are there, though I have never heard of him.  A devotee of his invites me to attend his satsang, during which we chant the Rhibu Gita and receive the prasad of his his left over food.  It's not really left over, it's more like they make food for him and he gives us each a bite from his plate, and this is very holy.

I fell asleep after reading and awoke to hear the chanting of Arti.  At dinner last night, K has just bought a new handloomed thick white sari because she is headed north to Badrinath to the holiest city in India, to be with her Guru.  "We are not averse to the cold up north, and we are very ready to be out of this heat."  I ask the name of her Guru.  She says he is not famous, and I think, well, I don't even know the Gurus who are famous.  "His name is Tuli Baba."  "I met Tuli Baba at Anandashram.  You must know M!"  "She is a good friend of ours.  Babaji gave her a new name, Gagi."  "I thought you reminded me of her.  You must also know C, who is now in San Diego and came to my house in Oakland a couple of months ago to give a satsang."  "Yes!"  K says that her name came from Thuli Baba, after the Mother of Anandashram.  

This morning they served chai and fresh homemade bread and butter made from their cows' milk.  S and Mandakini are talking about herbal medicine and Erin's astrology reading for S.  A new woman keeping a vow of silence has arrived, named L, and she's wearing a shirt that says Omega.  I tell her how my father was a sort of acquaintance of Stephan, the founder of Omega and how we used to attend retreats there when I was a kid.  We get up, and she hugs me, which is a surprise, and I hug her back tightly.  I give her some of my neem oil, and she silently says thank you.  I'm hoping it will rain soon.

**

Today,  I went out to sit and read Pilgrim by the steps to the path to the Ganga.  A band of monkeys came and hopped past me.  A and S were going to the River, so I followed them.  On the way, a herd of cows, apparently led by no one, were crossing the River…  probably twenty of them waded in and about halfway they would begin drifting, over their heads, diagonally toward the other side.

The current would carry them quite far, and then they each reached the bank and would begin walking again.

The river was rushing pretty fast, so we found a spot where it was calm, and some Indian guys about to go swimming pointed out a snake in the water.  I was scared, saying "Om Namha Shivaya", but crossed this little tributary behind S anyway.  We waded into another part of the river and it was incredibly refreshing.  A couple of young guys asked if we would take a picture with them, and I really didn't want to but feared it would be very rude to say no.  "One snap?" they said.

A. took a picture with them, and then it seemed to be our turn.  They waited an awfully long time for us.  I sat in the flow of the river, imagining what these guys would do with their picture of them standing between two white women in wet clinging clothes.  We very gently said we'd prefer not to.  Ok they said, and it was a relief.

S. decided to go back, and we followed her.

On the way, A told me a joke:  "There's a swami, and he goes to Rome to meet with the Pope in the Vatican.  They talk about God and spiritual matters.  'Dis gold phone  hotline for God?' 'Yes,' The Pope says.  'I talking God?' The Swami speaks with God for a minute, hangs up, very happy.  The Pope says, 'That'll be $3000.  We have to pay for the calls… it's long distance.'  Some years later, the Pope is in India and meets the Swami at his ashram.  The Pope sees the swami's phone, says, 'God call phone?' 'Yes.' He talks for 30, 40 minutes, and swami says, '20 pace.' The Pope says, 'Only 20 pace?'  The swami says, 'Local call.'"

Osho Speaks about Laughter (part 5)

[Finishing the story from the last blog] "So for the first time, the two monks spoke and said, ’We are laughing because this man has won. We were always wondering as to who would die first and this man has defeated us. We are laughing at our defeat and his victory. Also he lived with us for many years and we laughed together and we enjoyed each other’s togetherness, presence. There can be no better way of giving him the last send off. We can only laugh.

But the whole village was sad. And when the dead monk's body was put on the funeral pyre, then the village realized that the remaining two monks were not the only ones who were joking, the third who was dead was also laughing. He had asked his companions not to change his clothes. It was conventional that when a man died they changed his dress and gave a bath to the body. So the third monk had said, 'Don’t give me a bath because I have never been unclean. So much laughter has been in my life that no impurity can accumulate, can come to me. I have not gathered any dust.

Laughter is always young and fresh. So don’t give me a bath and don’t change my clothes.' 

"So just to respect his wishes, they did not change his clothes. And when the body was put to fire, suddenly they became aware that he had hidden some Chinese fire-works under his clothes and they had started going off. So the whole village laughed and the other two monks said: You rascal, you are dead, but you have defeated us once again. Your laughter is the last.'"

The last post on Osho tomorrow.

Osho Speaks about Laughter (part 4)

"The second type of laughter is when you laugh at yourself. This is worth achieving. This is cultured. And this man is valuable who can laugh at himself. He has risen above vulgarity. He has risen above lowly instincts – hatred, aggression, violence.

And the third is the last – the highest. This is not about anybody – neither the other nor oneself. The third is just Cosmic. You laugh at the whole situation as it is. The whole situation, as it is, is absurd – no purpose in the future, no beginning in the beginning. The whole situation of Existence is such that if you can see the Whole – such a great infinite vastness moving toward no fixed purpose, no goal – laughter will arise. So much is going on without leading anywhere; nobody is there in the past to create it; nobody is there in the end to finish it. 

Such is whole Cosmos – moving so beautifully, so systematically, so rationally. If you can see this whole Cosmos, then a laughter is inevitable. 

[A story] "I have heard about three monks. No names are mentioned, because they never disclosed their names to anybody. They never answered anything. In China, they are simply known as the three laughing monks.

And they did only one thing: they would enter a village, stand in the market place and start laughing. They would laugh with their whole being and suddenly people would become aware. Then others would also get the infection and a crowd would gather. The whole crowd would start laughing just because of them. What was happening? The whole town would get involved. Then they would move to another town. "They were loved very much. That was their only sermon, their only message; that laugh. And they would not teach; they would simply create a situation.

Then it happened that they became famous all over the country. Three laughing monks. All of China loved them, respected them. Nobody had ever preached in such a way that life must be just a laughter and nothing else. They were not laughing at anyone in particular. They were simply laughing as if they had understood the Cosmic joke. And they spread so much joy all over China without using a single word. People would ask for their names, but they would simply laugh. So that became their name – the three laughing monks.

Then they grew old. And while staying in one village. one of the three monks died. The whole village became very much expectant because they thought that when one of them had died, the other two would surely weep. This must be worth seeing because no one had ever seen these people weeping. The whole village gathered. But the two monks were standing beside the corpse of the third and laughing – such a belly laugh. So the villagers asked them to explain this."

Come back tomorrow for the end of Osho's story!

Osho Speaks about Laughter (part 3)

"A joke moves in two dimensions. First it moves in a logical dimension. You can conceive it. If the joke goes on logically to the very end, it will cease to be a joke; there will be no laughter. So suddenly the joke takes a turn and becomes so illogical that you cannot conceive it. And when the joke takes a turn and the result becomes illogical; then the expectation, the tension that was created in you, suddenly explodes. You relax. Laughter comes out.

Laughter is the relaxation. But tension is first needed. A story creates expectation, suspense and tension. You start feeling the crescendo. Now the crescendo will come. Something is going to happen. Your backbone is straight like that of a yogi. You have no more thoughts in the mind. The whole being is just waiting. All the energy is moving toward the conclusion. Suddenly something happens which the mind could not think of. Something absurd happens – something illogical, irrational.

The end is such that it was impossible for logic to think about it. And you explode. The whole energy that had become tense inside you suddenly gets relaxed. Laughter comes out through this relaxation. ”Man is bored. Hence he needs laughter. The more bored, the more laughter he will need. Otherwise, he cannot exist.

Thirdly, it has to be understood that there are three types of laughter. The first is when you laugh at someone else. This is the meanest, the lowest, the most ordinary and vulgar when you laugh at the expense of somebody else. This is the violent, the aggressive, the insulting type.  Deep down this laughter there is always a feeling of revenge."

Up next, Osho describes the other two types of laughter…

What if your fancy liberal arts college had a preschool extension school?

College Preschool Extension School Course Catalog

    Haveli College Preschool Extension School (HC PES) classes commence this spring. Here we have compiled a sampling of course descriptions.

    EXPERIMENTAL SCHOOL OF EXPERIMENTAL INTERDISCIPLINARY EXPERIMENTALISM

    ESEIE 103 TOPICS IN AESTHETICS: THE SAND CASTLE (prof TBA)

    In this proseminar, we will examine the sand castle and its predecessor, sand. We will take a survey approach to the history and technique, and end with a focused study of the drip castle, the moat, and found object placement (along with Freud's modification to this technique: found object displacement). Special attention will be given to the practical applications of the sand castle. There will be a $50 lab fee, for sand. Prerequisite: Public Accounting. Class will meet once a week for a hundred and twenty minutes, and students must attend the weekly sea-lab. Enrollment is limited to 15 students. Thursday 1:20-3:20

    EXPERIMENTAL SCHOOL OF GENERIC INTELLECTUAL EXPERIMENTALISM

    ESGIE 238 PLAYGROUND THEORY (prof TBA)

    In this course, we will examine complex notions of 'play' as it relates to the first-grader in terms of socioeconomic background. We will look at studies on working-class first-graders and first-graders of color at the 'play'ground which show a recent trend for an increasing sense of upward mobility, especially when near the ladder to the slide. Readings will rely heavily (but not too heavily) on Scooter B.'s Derridian reading of Morrison's 'Heterosexism and the Seasaw'. Also, we will look at the queer subtext of Foucault's 'Critics of the Tire Swing: What Matters Who's Swinging', in which Foucault shifts the mode of questioning from 'why are we dizzy?' to 'who is getting dizzy?' and 'on whom are the Dizzy hurling?' Finally, we will examine the 19th century colonization of the swingset by second-graders, and look at its' effect on playground structure (a post-structuralism of sorts). Prerequisite: at least one course on Topics in Aesthetics. Enrollment open. Tuesday and Thursday 1:30 to 2:50

    EXPERIMENTAL SCHOOL OF EXPERIMENTAL SOCIALISM

    ESES 189 NAPS OF THE THIRD WORLD (prof TBA)

    This couse will take a critical look at napping conditions in Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, and Central America. Our focus will fall on the 1976 nap revolt in Chiapas (a. k. a. 'The Gweat Wevolution' or 'El Napo Grando Stoppo') during which thousands of four-year-olds attempted a coup on Naptime. The dubious coup crumbled around 3 pm when several of itUs foremost leaders fell asleep. What was the deeper significance of El Napo Grando Stoppo's failure? Is there a common thread between this and other unsuccessful attempts? Texts include Naps are for SapsGoodnight Moon, and Dr. Seuss's The Sleep Book. There will be positively no sleeping in class. Enrollment is open. Tuesday and Thursday 12:50 to 2:20

    EXPERIMENTAL EXPERIMENTALISM EXPERIMENTALIST EXPERIMENTS

    EEEE/ESES 278 DOCTOR, HOUSE, COWBOYS, AND INDIANS (prof TBA)

    This course is cross-listed and will be team taught in order to combine a theoretic background on social programming of archetypal make-believe narrative and a course in creative writing. After examining various texts on make-believe, imaginary and fantasy play of the post-toddler, students will be guided through a process of hypnosis and drunken free-writing sessions, uncovering hitherto hidden truths about our own childhood. Especially important in this course will be the concept of 'false memory'; I think it's a crock. In the beginning, we will rely heavily on some of the lesser-known (read: stupid) writings of Carl Jung ('Let's Pretend!') and Sigmund Freud ('I Like Little Boys' and 'The Natural Tendency Toward Incest'); each day we will try to use Frued less and less until we no longer need him at all. Prerequisite: Successful completion of Psychoanalysis. Limit 25 students. Tuesday and Thurdsday noon to 5:00 

Osho Speaks about Laughter (part 2)

If you ask the question, "What is the meaning of it?", you will feel meaningless. And when meaninglessness is felt, one will be bored. Animals are not bored. Trees are not bored. Rocks are not bored. They never ask what the meaning and purpose of life is. They never ask; so they never feel it is meaningless. As they are, they accept it. As life is, it is accepted. There is no boredom. Man feels bored. And laughter is the antidote. You cannot live without laughter; because you can negate your boredom only through laughter. 

You cannot find a single joke in primitive societies. They don’t have any jokes. Jews have the largest number of jokes. And they are the most bored people on the earth. They must be bored; because they win more Nobel Prizes than any other community. During the whole of the last century, all the great names are almost all Jews – Freud Einstein, Marx. And look at the list of Nobel Prize winners. Almost half the Nobel Prize winners are Jews. They have the largest number of jokes.

And this may be the reason why all over the world Jews are hated. Everybody feels jealous of them because they win every competition. When you cannot compete with someone, hatred is the result. Jews must be feeling very bored. So they have to create jokes. Jokes are the antidote for boredom.

Laughter is needed for you to exist. Otherwise, you will commit suicide. Now try to understand the mechanism of laughter and how it happens. If I tell a joke, why do you laugh? What makes you laugh. What happens? What is the inner mechanism? If I tell a joke expectation is created. You start expecting. Your mind starts searching for what the end will be. And you cannot conceive the end.

More from Osho coming up…

Just Call Me Mario


3-177
So I wrote this story back in 2005, and recently remembered how much I love it.  Added a few details and re-posted it here.  It's all true.

~

I get a desperate call from my acting teacher in LA about an acting job.  Truth be told, it's my first gig ever.  I don't know what the job is yet–all I know is that I don't have to audition.  So it either has to be an adult gig or a wearing-a-giant-animal-suit-to-sell-something gig.  Fine.  As long as it's not both.

The next day I’m sitting in a secret back room in the Metreon, a giant new mecca of capitalistic bliss, full of movie theaters and food courts and stores where they sell cologne for young men at the beach.  The place smells like popcorn, expensive electronics, and Drakkar Noir.  I've been asked to put on a foam suit with a 65″ waist, strap-on boots five times the size of my feet, giant white gloves I have to hold on to by clenching the inside fabric in my fists, and a very large fiberglass head attached to a football helmet, out of which I have about 10% of my normal vision.  My "handler" tucks in the character's "neck skin" inside my foam suit. 

I am a method actor.  That morning, when I learned my assignment, I’d decided to explore my character.  Just who is video game character Super Mario? (Strange guy with mustache?)  What is he passionate about?  (Killing turtles?)  What motivates him? (Saving the princess?) WHAT MAKE HIM TICK? (Gold coins?) I am getting in touch with my inner brooklyn Italian plumber (except that I’m on the inside and he’s on the outside–maybe it's more like Mario getting in touch with the Inner Alicia…). But so what does a middle-aged video game plumber say and do and think?  On the way in my car I’m trying him out, “I’m a mario! I love-a da princess! Princepessa I’m-a comin! I fix-a you toilet!  Just gotta kick a deese turtles and eat-a some magic mushrooms!" (Maybe we have more in common than I thought?) But I’m not allowed to speak, so I figure I’ll channel this character information directly into my body movement.

The event is a ceremony called the Walk of Game.  Video game inventors and their characters are receiving lifetime achievement awards.  I run into a technology commentator Adam Sessler, who I used to work with at TechTV. Turns out he’s hosting the whole event.  "What do you think I am supposed to do, as Mario?" I ask.  Sessler bounces his head and says, "Bounce, wave, shrug your shoulders."  Ok, that's easy.

Not easy.  Once I zip up the 40 pound suit, I can’t reach my feet to put the shoes on.  My “handler”, a PR guy from Nintendo who is late and dressed in a brown leather jacket, ties my shoes for me.  I am getting paid handsomely for this is a last-minute gig. I have never done anything remotely like this before. Handler dude tells me I need to be very animated and wave a lot. Presumably, because I seem to be quiet and he looks worried. But so we get out in the open and one of the “game girls”, a cute Asian girl in a short, white skirt, is guiding me, holding my “arm”, keeping me from tripping over small children. We line up to receive awards. As we approach the stage, someone shouts, “MARIO’S NOT REAL.” and I throw up my arms in response (I’m contractually obligated not to speak) and get a big pre-show laugh.

A live pianist begins playing the Super Mario theme song. “Dana-nana-nana… dana-nana-nana…” They cue me, and I walk out on stage with my Game Girl.  She makes me feel more like Mario.  I bounce, wave, and shrug to the music, and the crowd loves me hamming it up.  About a hundred cameras (it’s only press people in the audience) are flashing their bulbs. No kidding.  Turns out Mario is one of only five people and/or characters being honored in the First Annual Walk of Game ceremony. Mario gets a star on the Metreon Walk of Game.

This suit is hot and heavy inside (does that make me live “action”? ha ha). We walk over to uncover the stars and take photos. People are jumping in, one after another, next to me to take photos. We pose. I put a foot out for style.  I shake hands.  Just standing in this thing is a chore.  We didn’t use the ice packs they recommend.  It's getting hotter and hotter inside here.  Today we’re serving BAKED ACTOR from the Mario Oven. My sweat.  The sweat of previous Marios.  The heat from the lights. I’m way above my target heart rate. But the worst part, the velcro from the boots (which are constantly slipping off my feet) is rubbing against my shins, grating my skin, and the raw skin is mixing with the sweat to create a pain of moving I can only be thankful for because it’s distracting me from the weight of the costume.

Despite the impediments, I am actually having a blast. I–which is to say, Mario–am famous.  For about an hour. It’s nothing to do with me, but still, I’m making it all happen. I’m dancing, doing all these great moves which I know must be hilarious for people to see Mario do.  Moves from SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER, Eminem videos, my circus show… It’s all fair game. Cameras keep flashing, so I keep posing. I develop a whole repertoire: bounce, disco bounce, hands on head, pat tummy to the beat, raise roof, shake hands, left foot out, arms in circle a la Mr. Sandman backup singers, knee down fist up power chord rock stance, etc… What does Nintendo think of my interpretation of Mario? Will public the conception of disco Mario seep back into the minds of the developers, creating a dialectic whereby the next Mario game has just a little hustle in his bounce?

Sometimes I start giggling to myself about how heavy this costume is and I'm just trying to hold it all together, and I can make out the sea of cameras.  It would be so funny if Mario tripped and fell onto Sessler, or started humping the leg of Sonic the Hedgehog or the inventor of Halo, or touched the tit of a Game Girl, or if he hit on Gavin Newsom (our San Francisco Mayor). So at the party afterward gavin takes a picture with mario, and he whispers to me, “you know you and I have spent a lot of time together… indirectly.”  Whoa, Gavin. What is it about puppets that make people confess things?

My handler dude sees me start to wobble, and realizes I’m about to pass out after three hours in the MO (Mario Oven).  He says I did a great job and he’ll pay me for an extra half hour.  I take off my head.  The heat wafts up from inside the suit.  You could unseal envelopes with the steam floating past my chin. I leave in plain (sweat-soaked) clothes, my face beet-red, walking past the hordes of people who moments before were yelling “my” name. I feel like a superhero after a change in the phone booth. Inside I have this exciting yet totally inconsequential secret, and there's nothing to do with it.  People walk past me like I'm just another human.  I want to yell, “I WAS THAT GUY YOU LOVED! I was Mario!” But instead, I walk peacefully back to my car.  I go home, put some ointment on my shins. And keep my secret (for a little while).

I wonder, once in a while, who else is wandering the street, freshly emancipated from their own Mario.

Solo Performer and Comedian Bill Santiago Interview

image from assets.nydailynews.com Alicia Dattner> I remember you'd been performing for a year when I first started and we met… How did you start doing comedy?

Bill Santiago> I had friends that were interested and got me hooked. But it appealed to me right off. Say what ever you want to say. Use your wits. Get people to see things your way. Laughter. Applause. What's not to like?

AD> What was your motivation to write a show about dancing?

BS>Whenever I'm dancing I have this inner monologue going on, about about how well it's going or not, all the characters out there that you see and meet and dance with, whether I just nailed a move, or someone's foot, the constant frustrations and occasional moments of unparalleled joy, and the simple human interaction of being that close to someone you don't know and trying to synchronize. Plus how obsessive people can get about their dancing, and how far it's come, the Latin dancing, from the way that my parents danced, how people are taking it now to a ridiculously Cirque du Soleil level that is frankly laughable. 

And the way the different people dance the different dances, and how each dance has its own tricks and personalities, salsa, versus tango, versus bachata, versus samba, versus flamenco, versus cumbia, versus merengue, and on and on. And the teachers, my God, they're all such crazy gurus! And the whole process of learning, how you have to train yourself to absorb these movements into your own being, and how thrilling it is to be learning. There's a lot there. 

The quest to become the dancer you'll never be and enjoy yourself as much as possible along the way. It's a comedic gold mine, really. And combining standup so closely with dance is new for me, allows me to be physical on stage, and look for the humor in the physicality as much as in the words. And I get to work with super musicians, and invite people from the audience to come up on stage and dance with me. It's very interactive. It's always a different show, you know.

AD> What's your favorite thing about dancing?

BS>My favorite thing about dancing is the connection that you have with where you come from, this music stirs that in you, and the escape that you have from everything else in your day, in the periphery of the present. I love that when you're dancing nothing else matters, and if you're lucky you can let go, and maybe connect with someone else in a very unique and beautiful way. But it's high stakes because there is a lot of pride on the line, that's the stuff of funny. 

image from www.speakoutnow.org  AD> What's your favorite thing about comedy?

BS>My favorite thing about comedy is whatever latest the line I am working on to perfect, or idea that I am trying to get traction on. When it works, when I finally get it to gel and I hear the laughter, it's very satisfying. I like that bulls-eye feeling. It's also nice when people remind you that you are doing good work, that it has affected them, that it matters, that they want to see more and that you are appreciated. 

AD> How would you classify what you do? Is it standup? Is it solo performance? Is it something else?

BS>It depends on the project that I am working on, the particular show. The "Funny of (Latin) Dance" show is way beyond standup, but standup is the basis of my approach, I apply that skill, those chops to this new topic, and hopefully renders an entirely new kind of show. 

AD> Anything else you'd like to share with us?

BS>I'd love to share some of the spontaneous magic that happens on stage when I invite folks from the crowd to come up on stage and dance with me in this show, but you are just going to have to come out and experience it for yourself.

Bill Santiago performs all over the country.  Go see him. 

-Alicia

Michelle interviews me on Laughter Yoga

So I got a call last weekend when I was in LA from a youngster named Michelle doing a report on a topic of her choosing: laughter.  She was charged with interviewing an expert on the topic, and it was fun to talk together.  I asked if I could post the paper she wrote, and she said yes:

I slowly walked into the hallway and turned the knob on the door leading to the teacher’s lounge. I was tightly clutching my cell phone as I sat at the table rearranging my papers again and again. I got up and started pacing as Michelle, my classmate, reassured me that it was going to be fine. The blend of leftover pasta, soup and banana filled my nose as I nervously looked around for any excuse to put this phone call off.  I finally came to the conclusion that there was no excuse and I just have to conquer my fear and get it over with. My fingers shook with terror as I carefully typed the ten digit phone number wondering if it was a cell number or office number. This number belonged to Ms. Dattner, a laughter yoga instructor and comedian in San Francisco, who has toured the world bringing smiles to people’s faces. I figured she would be the perfect person to talk to for information on laughter.

After we got the introductions out of the way I started to breathe normally again and I relaxed my tensed up shoulders. She started by telling me about her laughter yoga class. Ms. Dattner started her own club that has breathing exercises based on yoga techniques but also laughter incorporated into the class. When people told her about laughter clubs she was so intrigued that she immediately wanted to become a laughter yoga instructor. Since she is also a comedian, laughter is in her blood and it comes very naturally for her.

Laughter yoga is used for relaxation as well as relieving pain. “When I have a really good laughter session, I feel more present and I feel way less pain and stress. … [Laughter is] way more effective than taking an Ibuprophen.” Ms. Dattner believes.

Ms. Dattner claims that laughter has changed her life. She finds herself laughing just for the sake of laughing. Laughter gives us adults a feeling of playfulness that you lose as you grow-up. The way she keeps that feeling in her daily life is by doing her job. Her comedy and laughter yoga reminds her to laugh. To incorporate laughter in her daily life she is even thinking about holding a daily class on the internet.

By this point I was completely relaxed and comfortable with talking on the phone as she started to explain that at first most people think that laughter yoga is just plain weird. Although that is just a first impression, for most people that is their only impression. Ms. Dattner admits that it is a little challenging finding pupil but once someone goes and tells people how great it is, the word gets around. She says that a lot of interest is attracted over the internet. Laughter yoga originated in India and is a huge thing there. Some schools have even adopted it into their morning assembly. It won’t be long until laughter yoga takes over the world as the universal way to relax and release stress and tension.

This was the first time I got to hear one person’s opinion about laughter. I could tell that she genuinely loves what she does and she truly wanted to help me. At every pause in the conversation she would fill the space with either laughter or some sort of noise to let me know that she was thinking of more to say.

Our conversation winded down but this was the most powerful and touching moment. One word inspired me, it’s simple yet meaningful. “Kids naturally laugh, and that is one thing that no one can take away from you…ever. “My advice is simply, not to stop laughing when you get older” Ms. Dattner remarks. I came away from that interview with pages of notes but only that remark planted in my brain forever, and it will stay rooted in my head just as a reminder for me when needed.

Because my topic is laughter it has really changed the way I look at life. I laugh at any possible opportunity, and I am more conscious in observing the things that make me laugh. This interview was so uplifting because she (Ms. Dattner) has made a career out of something she loves.”I’m inspired to teach things I want to receive” Ms. Dattner states. I make others laugh in hope to get some chuckles back. The reason why I chose laughter as my I – Search topic was so I could have an excuse for doing something I love for two and a half months and call it schoolwork. I aspire to have the same principals as this very inspirational leader that I got the honor of talking to.”