In 1968, I was working at an ad agency on Madison Avenue and living on the Upper East Side when my girlfriend Barbara came home one night and announced that she was going to study yoga. A friend of hers had told her about Rudi, and she was eager to meet him. I must have walked by his store a thousand times before I met him, but I had never thought to go in.
So she called Rudi, and he told her to come down to his store, which was on Seventh Avenue in the East Village, right next to the Village Vanguard. I came along with her. It was late afternoon, and the shop was completely packed with Asian art and antiques. Rudi talked to us for a while and described his work. He gave us the double breath technique. He asked us to wait with him until class started that evening, and we did. After he finished work, we took a cab with him to his house.
So we went and had our first class. I was sitting there in the back with my sunglasses on, and I remember looking up and seeing two Catholic priests in the first row. They had their black clerical attire. I thought to myself, “If they’re here, there’s definitely something going on. What would they be doing in a place like this?” After class, when it was time to leave, we hugged Rudi, and I said, “I don’t know if I’m coming back.” Barbara said, “Well, I am.” Then I decided I would come back, too.
We came back the next night and the next, and after a week we had become regulars. Part of it was because there was something happening, I wasn’t completely sure what, and part of it was social, because immediately we met some really nice people that we became close to very quickly. Barbara was very good at making friends, and I was not as fast, but I went along. We met people like the owners of Serendipity, a very famous restaurant—Calvin Holt and Stephen Bruce.
Bruce and Blanche Rubin were getting married a few months after we met Rudi, and they did the whole Jewish wedding at Rudi’s house. I thought at the time, “Isn’t that sweet.”
When Barbara and I decided to get married, Rudi invited us to use his place. We were married there in September 1969, without the Jewish ceremony. Our ceremony was conducted by a Universal Life Minister, and it was very beautiful. Rudi let us have both the wedding and the reception there, and he bought us the cake at Ferrara’s, the famous Italian bakery in Little Italy. Barbara’s parents and family came, and they were totally freaked out by Rudi’s place. They were Russian Orthodox and Polish Catholic, and they had never seen anything like it before in their lives. My family came too, and my father, an Orthodox Jew, was a bit leery, but my mom loved Asian everything and thought it was great. My brother Howard was the best man. Rudi was so gracious to everyone through the whole thing.
Barbara and I went to California on our honeymoon, and we kept in touch with Rudi every day, and sent donations as we could. When we came back, we went to class constantly. Occasionally Rudi would invite us upstairs afterwards to his apartment. This was before he started having people around him all the time. One evening we were watching television with Rudi and Barbara was sitting on the couch with him. Rudi took Barbara’s hand. After we left, Barbara said, “I have never felt so much heat coming out of somebody’s hand. What’s going on?”
Once in a while Rudi would have a poker game upstairs. We’d all be sitting on the floor, and every time he had a bad hand, he’d put his foot on somebody and they’d jump, and his cards would go flying. We’d have to re-deal.
Some nights he would sit and work with us after class for a while. Eventually he’d say, “Okay. That’s enough. Turn around and watch TV.” So we’d watch TV. His favorite shows were the Dick Van Dyke Show and the Avengers.
Once he left us in the middle of class, pointing to Michael Austin to finish the class for him. We found out later he went to the hospital with food poisoning. He had eaten at Luchow’s, the famous German restaurant on Fourth Street.
Rudi had an eclectic circle of friends that included theater people and artists. I remember walking into his living room one day and seeing Alan Arkin sitting there.
One night I was throwing a surprise birthday party for Barbara at Serendipity. I invited a lot of people, including Rudi. As we were having dinner, Rudi would put his fingers in the water glasses and flick water at people—a way of transmitting shakti. It was a wonderful night.
It was up at Big Indian one weekend that I first met Michael Shoemaker. I saw him walking around with Rudi, and I thought he must be somebody important. Then I got to know him a bit before he was sent to Bloomington.
When my brother came to my wedding at Rudi’s, he was only 15 years old. A few years later, he had come up to visit us in New York and we went up to Big Indian. Rudi had big bonfires in a pit, he’d throw everything in there—money, poetry, whatever we were attached to. Howard (now Swami Prakashananda) saw all this. Eventually, I got a call from my mom asking if I thought Rudi would let Howard move up to the Farm (as she called Big Indian). I went down to the store the next day to ask Rudi, and Rudi said, “Get him up here now.” So Howard took a bus up from Virginia, and that was that. That was a few months before Rudi passed away.
One day I went home from work, thinking I wanted to get out of New York City, and said to Barbara, “Let’s move to Big Indian.” She said, “You go and ask Rudi if it’s okay.” She knew what was coming. I went and asked Rudi, and he said, “Absolutely not. You’d last about a week there.” I quickly realized that he was completely right.
We were in New York when Rudi decided to bring Muktananda over. We donated some money to help him, but Rudi footed most of the bill. He told us, “Be warned. This is a complicated man, but he’s very powerful. I’m bringing him over for your benefit.”
Bruce Rubin and Beau Buchanan were going to make a movie about Muktananda’s visit. We were going up to Big Indian one weekend when they were filming, and it was the first time that Rudi gave shaktipat. We were all out on the front lawn, and Rudi started to work with people. This captured the cameraman’s attention, and the footage is in the film. Rudi’s dentist, Jack Light, was out on the lawn. He was a big guy and must have weighed about 200 pounds. Well, Rudi touched him and he fell right into Barbara, knocking her over. It’s in the movie.
Now, Muktananda didn’t like this because the movie was supposed to be about him. So he got all in a huff. Bruce, to his credit, sat up all night waiting outside Muktananda’s room for Muktananda to wake up so that Bruce could apologize. When Muktananda got up, he blessed him.
We were in Europe a year later when we got a postcard from someone saying that Rudi had left Muktananda. Rudi had had enough. Muktananda had put him through hell. Muktananda would say, “These people love me and they get nothing. You don’t love me and you get everything.”
I remember one story, among many, about Rudi that I like. I wasn’t there, but I heard he was coming back from Big Indian one time in a car with some students. He had been on a fast, a grape diet, because he was working with someone with cancer. The car got a flat tire, and across the road from where the car stopped was a pizza stand. Rudi said, “Well, it must be God’s will,” and went over and got a slice of pizza.
At some point Rudi decided to write a book. I walked into the store one day, and he said, “I have a title for my book. What do you think?” And I said, “Well what is it?” He replied, “Spiritual Cannibalism,” and my mouth dropped open. Then he explained what he meant by it, and I said, “Oh, that’s great.”
Barbara took dictation for the book. She would go down to the store after work and sit there and take shorthand. Rudi just talked, stream of consciousness (obviously a superior consciousness), and Barbara would come home and type it up. She’d bring it down to the store the next day. On Sunday mornings, we would go over to his place, and he would have breakfast, bagels and cream cheese and lox. He would talk to the group that was there. Barbara took everything down. She put the whole book together. She got pregnant while she was working on it, so our daughter was absorbing all this material in utero. Every time he said something profound, the baby would kick and Barbara would tell him. Rudi would say, “Oh, that must have been really good. Let’s keep in it in the book.”
Barbara’s work was finished and she had the baby in December 1972. Rudi came to the hospital and was going to name the baby, but I screwed that up. I went down to the store a few days later to apologize, and Rudi yelled at me. He did give her a middle name, though—Om.
The afternoon before Rudi died, I was at the store attempting to retouch a thangka for him. I knew nothing about thangkas but had bought all these paints because I thought I could do it. It turned out I couldn’t. As I was leaving, I said goodbye to Rudi before he left for the airport. It was the last time I saw him.
That night, we were home in the evening, and Barbara was on the sofa nursing Tania. All of a sudden she jumped up and screamed. I asked what was the matter. She said, “I just had the most horrible feeling. “ I said, “Oh, really. I wonder what it was about.” And the next morning, we got the call from the Cheryl Subkoff that Rudi had died in a plane crash.
That night I went to class and Michael was teaching. He had to make the announcement that Rudi had died. That was heavy. The next night I went down to Rudi’s place, and the people that had been on the plane with him had come back. They still smelled of aviation fuel and burnt fuselage. They had spent the night on the mountain with Rudi’s body. Stuart and Beau carried the body down the mountain the next morning.
Barbara had said at one point that she thought Rudi was getting ready to pass on. Rudi told us after class on a few occasions, “I’ve given you enough work to last several lifetimes.”
After Rudi died, we stayed in New York for two or three years and then moved to Texas. Buford was leading class in New York. John Mann stayed at Big Indian and continued to run it. After Rudi’s mother passed away, Rudi’s brother David took over and continued to liquidate the inventory.
After a few years in Texas, Barbara and I were divorced. I stayed in Texas for 17 years to be close to my daughter, and then I moved to San Francisco. I started coming to Portland after the ashram moved there from Cambridge, and I knew it was where I needed to be. I moved to Portland in 1998 to live at the Movement Center.
Rudi’s mother, Rae, was a force to be dealt with. She thwarted a burglary in the store once by yelling at the gun-waiving guy and telling him to get out. She was wonderful, and she made the best kugel I’ve ever had. She loved my daughter. I would bring Tania down to the store. Rae even came down to visit us in Texas once.
I remember Rudi being extremely gracious to us. I certainly wasn’t his best student, but I was around a lot. I’m eternally grateful for the experience.