At five after eight the shuttle to the university’s campus had yet to arrive. Torrential rain fell outside my hotel’s window, and there was no number to call to check whether or not I had transportation to the day’s events, which were to begin at nine-thirty with a videoconference appearance by John Hagelin. Breakfast, my schedule informed me, was from eight to nine-thirty. An endless series of nondescript white cars passed in front of the hotel, and then finally a small yellow school bus skidded around the corner. A few moments later a fit man with a white mustache appeared in the front door of the hotel. “You waiting for a shuttle?” he asked. The driver, it turned out, was a gym teacher at the local high school, and the school bus was the chariot of choice for the girls’ tennis team he coached. He had accidentally left the top hatch open overnight, so almost every seat was covered in water. After he dropped me in front of MUM’s Student Union, I hoofed it around to the entrance, which was in the back of building, a Vedic quirk it shared with many of the MUM buildings I had seen thus far.
This breakfast would be my first taste of the university’s much-vaunted all-organic vegetarian cuisine. The three steaming rows of heated trays at the far end of the room looked promising from afar, but their contents were sparse and baffling. Two held liquid – one brown, the other white – and then there were some few scrapings of what could only be oatmeal. Then there were two empty trays, and after that one half-full of hash browns. There were also long plates of muffins and scones and vast bowls of the type of fruit salad you find at McDonald's: cantaloupe, honeydew melon, canned pineapple and red grapes. A large heated tank of was optimistically labeled ROOIBOS and LEMONGRASS but proved to be empty. There were barely twenty-five people in the room, and almost no food. Breakfast had been in session for twenty minutes. I scraped up some oatmeal and topped it with the white liquid – warmed milk – and felt silly for expecting scrambled eggs.
After consuming a meal that needed little chewing (hash browns, oatmeal, water and a banana) I headed over to the Henry Ogden Clark auditorium. I was an “overflow” attendee, having registered late and at a great discount, and as such was supposed to watch the live events on a screen in another room. When I attempted to cross into the overflow room, however, one of the amiable Fairfield police officers milling around told me that it was likely I would be seated in the main auditorium, as it seemed there was enough room for everyone. Thus I began the wait that I would regularly engage in, watching blue-badged “Guests” and green-badged “Visitors” (I never quite understood the distinction between the two) pass down the hall while I waited in orange-badge steerage.
Eventually I was ushered into the room and settled on the same bleachers at the back of the room I had perched on the night before. Robert – hereafter “Bobby,” as Lynch called him – Roth took the stage and delivered another effusive introduction, this one for Hagelin, whom I learned had worked at several prestigious physics labs with acryonym names, such as CERN, and had been the Natural Law party’s candidate for the presidency in 2000 (somewhat less impressively, Hagelin appeared in the films What The Bleep Do We Know and The Secret). The physicist’s visage appeared on two large screens on either side of the stage, a golden map stretching behind him and the words “Raja New York” printed beneath his torso. Balding, with kind blue eyes, he looked exactly like the fellow in the Napster logo.
I am ill equipped to properly summarize his talk, for although he continually mentioned that he “didn’t want to get too technical,” the lecture involved several slides of physics equations, indecipherable charts, and a hand-drawn illustration of some sort of bubbling. To be very short, he explained the scientific proof of the existence of consciousness and of the unified field. Hagelin did not strike me as a charlatan but rather as a man wholly preoccupied with his work, and possibly somewhat blinded by the excitement it gave him. When the audience was invited to ask questions of the physicist, each questioner was projected onto the large screen as they spoke. A young man wanted to know what dark matter had to do with the unified field, and a woman was curious about the fact that many great meditators chose to “drop” their bodies and live solely in the blissful consciousness. Their voices shared a tentative quality and Hagelin’s warm responses visibly softened their worry. Dark matter had no light of it and was not part of the unified field, although it was a natural part of the universe. One could leave their body, but there is so much bliss and joy in life that no one need depart before they were ready.
After the physicist was bid adieu with much fanfare, Roth trilled praise for Lynch and the director appeared on stage. Long lines had already formed behind each of the microphones, and many of the questioners looked strangely similar: men in their late twenties or early thirties armored in nondescript baseball caps and faded heather gray t-shirts, women with a single quirky item of clothing – a red leather jacket, spike heels – to compliment their organic outfits. One called Lynch Dave, some called him David, and most called him Mr. Lynch. They thanked him at the beginning and the end of their queries, and they tried to sneak in a second question when he’d answered their first. They shook and wrung their hands when they spoke and smiled. All of the questioners reached toward David Lynch with their whole bodies, as if they wanted to embrace him, to be nearer to his person.
“Where do you get your ideas?”
“I am a filmmaker, and I have been working on some projects, and I was interested how you motivate people into working on your ideas.”
“Sometimes I have an idea, and I get so excited about having caught the big fish that I can’t cook it. Do you know what I mean?”
“I have watched all of your movies, and I have to say that I like The Straight Story the best. I feel that you have really captured the feeling of the Midwest. I wanted to ask if you lived here before you made that movie?”
To this last, Lynch answered: “No…The Straight Story is the only one of my films that I did not write. At the time I was going with a girl named Mary [Sweeney, Lynch’s editor of many years and the mother of his son Riley, born in 1992] and she had a friend named John Roach from kindergarten, and they were working on a script. I lived in Madison, Wisconsin in the summers, right on the water. And they talked about it, and I wasn’t interested, but then when it was done they asked me to take a look. And then I decided I wanted to do it.”
A woman asked how he planned the color in his movies. Lynch said that he did not, but admitted that it was an important aspect of his films: “Frank Booth wouldn’t exactly wear pink.” Blue Velvet’s titular villain came up in other questions; a man wanted to know how Lynch “got such amazing performances out of actors, particularly Dennis Hopper in Blue Velvet.” In almost every answer, Lynch repeated his conviction that an idea, once properly caught, contains all of the specifics of an art project. No element is left to fate of decision; the idea comes fully formed, a little homunculus waiting for incubation. A woman explained that she was an English teacher from Fairfield and asked if Lynch could please explain what Mullholland Drive was about.
The director smiled. “When I was making Eraserhead,” he answered, “I had no idea what it was about. And I thought about it and thought about it, and at this time I was reading the Bible. And one day I found a line that explained to me exactly what Eraserhead was about.” The audience held its breath. “But it doesn’t help for me to explain what the idea means to me. Your reaction is more important and interesting.” A young man with a bleached crew cut and several long strands of prayer beads hung around his neck explained that he had come to David Lynch Weekend the year before, become interested in TM, and was now hoping to attend the school itself. “Things have really gotten better for me,” he told Lynch, smiling. He wanted to know what was the name of the book that had encouraged Lynch’s artistic goals as a young man.
“I’m really happy to hear that,” Lynch answered, beaming, and then named The Art Spirit by Robert Henri again. Lynch took at least five minutes answering each question. He gestured in his inimitable way, wiggling all of the fingers on one or both of his hands like the fronds of an undersea plant. He was patient with the questioners even when they interrupted him or tried to prompt him. Then it was time to ask Donovan questions, and Lynch was led offstage smiling.
The first guy up to the microphone looked to be in his early twenties, and had bleached a random hank of the hair behind his ear. His question was almost incomprehensible and involved something about the politics of Donovan’s performances. He spoke meanderingly for over three minutes, when Donovan crisply interrupted him, saying, “I think I know what you’re talking about, yes.”
Another man addressed Donovan with “Brother, I too am a singer-songwriter, like you.” And then the guy with the bleached hair and the prayer beads was back. “Will you play ‘Ferris Wheel’ tonight?” he wanted to know. Donovan did not project the boundless goodwill that Lynch had; he seemed somehow miffed about the whole situation, as if nobody in the auditorium was giving him his proper due. He gave long, considered answers, however, complete with encouraging if stretched smiles at the end.
We filtered out to lunch, held in a gym shaped like an airplane hanger across the way from the auditorium. There was more food to be had than at breakfast, but it proved disappointingly bland: veggie burgers, a sort of cream of mushroom soup, steamed cauliflower and carrots, and boiled squash. Aside form a pair of regulation-issue plastic salt and pepper shakers – the pepper shaker and pepper itself a dispiriting shade of beige – no seasoning was offered. I was impressed with the strict delineation of waste – biodegradable forks and knives in one bin, food in another – and with the claim that all of the food was organic, and much of it locally grown – but this was the type of mushy, tasteless meal that made people hate vegans. I felt faint and cranky, wishing there was some damn coffee somewhere, and too full of bland starch to try the ice cream being served out of a large white cooler at the center of the gym. When I tried to leave the lunchroom via some open doors at closest to my table, an MUM employee told me that I had to leave through the entrance I had come in.
I was beginning to recognize certain Vedic restrictions in MUM’s campus architecture. In addition to the nifty pagoda-like structure atop several of the buildings, cars could only enter the campus from one direction. The man who told me that I couldn’t exit the building from that direction wore a natty tan suit on his thin runners frame. His hairline was receding somewhat, but otherwise he looked younger than I somehow knew he was. The restricted doors, piles of bland vegetables and eerily healthy men with eager smiles underscored TM’s reputation as a cult in my head. But I gritted my teeth and went out another door.