The Heart of the Matter
May 08, 2020
Vinny from Brooklyn


So there I am, in 1988 or whatever, sitting in my office in Brooklyn (and when I say "office", I mean the too small second bedroom in my funky, railroad apartment) when the phone rings. Since it's a business day, I figure it's a business call, but it's not a business call. It's a guy with an Australian accent -- Ray Belcher, to be more exact, Prem Rawat's Production Manager calling all the way from Fiji in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

Ray explains that Prem has just asked him to call me. What? You gotta be kidding! Prem asked Ray to call me? Huh? I mean, the last time something like this happened was...let's see now... like never. But Ray wasn't kidding. He was serious and, with very little segue, asks for my fax number so he can send me a 24-page transcript of one of Prem's recent talks -- what devotees, from India, at that time, commonly referred to as "satsang" -- holy discourse.

My mission, Ray tells me, is to read the transcript through the eyes of a street smart guy from Brooklyn -- somebody with no concepts of who Prem Rawat was. But not just read it. Critique it. Apparently, Prem wanted to know what people really thought about his message -- not just appreciative, head nodding students of his, but regular people on the street.

A few minutes later, the 24-page fax comes through and I start reading, looking for words and phrases that didn't play all that well on the streets. You know, spiritual stuff -- stuff that wouldn't go over all that well at the local pizzeria.

I could feel Joe Pesci rising from deep within me. DeNiro, too. And the entire cast of the Sopranos.

So, after a cappuccino, I write up my street smart response to Prem's talk through my alter ego, Vinny. You know, badabing, badaboom Vinny. Yeah, THAT guy. Then I email it to the still very Australian Ray Belcher.

m on air2.jpeg

A week goes by. Then Ray calls me again.

"Hey, Mitch," he begins. "I got your commentary. Thanks for that, mate, but it seemed a bit heavy to me. Too rough around the edges. Could you write up a second draft and soften it up a bit?"

"Sure Ray," I reply, not really sure where I missed the boat, but happy for the chance to be of service. So that's what I do. I write up my second critique. "Vinny Lite", you might say.

Actually, I thought my first draft was better, but, hey, what did I know? Maybe Ray knew best, right? I mean, after all, Ray was a lot closer to Prem than I was. He worked side-by-side with him, every day. Me? I sat in the mezzanine and talked to Prem maybe every seven years or so. And rarely for longer than a minute.

So I stay up late and rewrite the thing, softening it up just like Ray asked and email the whole kit and caboodle in the morning.

Three weeks go by. The phone rings. It's Ray again, explaining that he gave my Vinny-infused commentary to Prem. But not the second, lighter version I had so diligently edited. He gave the first -- the too heavy, inappropriate version.

Suddenly, I'm not feeling so good. All I can see is Prem reading it and cringing, forever associating me with its off-putting content and disrespectful tone.

"I am totally screwed," I think to myself. "I can't believe Ray gave him the first draft! What was he thinking? I see myself on the permanent bongo list, never again being allowed into any of Prem's events. I have butterflies in my stomach. My butterflies have butterflies.

Then Ray, savvy filmmaker that he was, paints the picture for me in no uncertain terms.

"There I am," he explains, "in a small room with Prem after handing him your first draft. He's totally focused on reading it. Totally. He doesn't say a word. Nothing. He's just reading it with great concentration. And I'm just standing there, across the room, watching him. A long time passes. Then he looks at me."

"This is absolutely right," he says. "This is what people actually think."

I don't remember the rest of my conversation with Ray that day. I don't remember what I did after I hung up. All I remember is his last sentence reverberating in what was left of my mind: "This is absolutely right. This is what people actually think."

Suffice it to say that my Vinny-from-Brooklyn experience deeply weeded my garden of concepts. My spiritual persona dissolved. My left brain left the building. My shoulders relaxed. In their place? A pepperoni pizza for my soul and a renewed respect for just how committed Prem Rawat is to finding out what he wants to know.

Photo #1: William Krause, Unsplash
Photo #2: Courtesy of TimelessToday

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at May 8, 2020 03:26 AM

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