The first indication that my life was about to change was the engine in my Cadillac El Dorado blowing up in Shreveport, Louisiana. I was at the end of a road trip taking orders for waterbed products. I took a bus back to Kansas City.
The second was when I learned that while away, my friend Charlie, my parakeet, had been killed by the cat that belonged to my friends who were house-sitting.
Charlie was a real character and he used to fly out of his always-open cage and land on my nose to wake me up in the morning. That’s what did him in. Charlie had been given to me by Scottie. Scottie was my oldest friend, not that I had known him the longest, but he was over 60. I was in my early twenties. He had named Charlie after Charlie Parker, a personal friend of his. Scottie was into Jesus, Jazz, going to the horse races, and smoking pot.
The final straw, however, was that my apartment was broken into. The thieves took my stereo and speakers but very fortunately left my album collection. I could either fight or let-go and go with the stream. I decided on the latter and endeavored to get ahead of the curve.
Soon, everything that had any value, which wasn’t much, really, had been sold. It mostly consisted of the records and two Chinese rugs. The money was going to Europe with me. I was leaving behind my interest in a business that I had built up over the past two years. I wasn’t even going to tell the other principals involved; they could have what was left. I was concerned that I might be persuaded to change my mind.
We had been applying for an SBA (Small Business Administration) loan in order to take our waterbed frame manufacturing business to the next level. We were getting orders, I had brought back plenty, but we needed capital in order to produce at a level that we made money on our sales. When the SBA loan fell through, I knew that meant we would have to drop back and punt. But I was burnt out. I had had a nervous breakdown at 21. I was drinking 10—12 cups of coffee a day and smoking three packs of cigarettes. If this was life, I wasn’t interested. I was ready to chuck it all in and go to Europe with whatever cash I could assemble and see what happens.
Six hundred dollars is what I would be landing in Luxembourg with after buying a cheap Icelandic Air flight. The last ride I got, hitchhiking to New York was with the equipment truck for the rock band Seals and Crofts. Here was the first sign of what lay ahead. Seals and Crofts were into Baha’i and the driver of the van was a devotee of the young Guru Maharaji.
Soon, I was lying in the grass on the side of the road waiting for the sound of a car so I could jump up and stick out my thumb. The destination for the day was not known only the direction; in the meantime I was feeling the ground beneath my back, smelling the green grass and listening to the sounds of the birds flying nearby. I was reminded of Saint Francis.
Here, in stark contrast, was the difference between becoming and being.