Supping With Alex
From a memoir in progress
© 2002 Dave Archer / All Rights Reserved
Alex Horn had "simian palms." That is, the palms of his hands were flat and devoid of the lines fortunetellers read. Ron Russell asked him about them once and Horn answered, "This is my gift.”
In 1965, Russell’s painting studio was in a barn next to Robert de Ropp’s organic garden on Sonoma Mountain Road near Glen Ellen, California, on the site of what is now Sonoma Mountain Zen Center. Ron was studying the Gurdjieff work under de Ropp — one time student of Ouspensky — and author of Drugs and the Mind, among many other books. Friendship with Ron grew after he left de Ropp’s group, and the two of us had become members of Alex Horn’s Gurdjieff group, known to us as The Group.
Without using his name, Robert S. de Ropp, in his book Warrior’s Way, The Challenging Life Games (Dell Publishing, NY,1979), describes Horn as “a certain bearded Jew of rather formidable presence.” Also, “an outrageous con artist,” a “ringmaster,” a “Diablerus Minor,” a “Lesser Shaman,” and a “little Rasputin."
No love lost there.
In the next breath, de Ropp refers to us, Alex's students:
“Here were cultured, educated Americans, most of them with college degrees, concealing under a mask of sophistication, a level of suggestibility and credulity that would have disgraced a savage. He had his followers mooing like cows, braying like donkeys, barking like dogs and mewing like cats. He had them walking around bare-assed and dangling enormous phalluses between their legs. He had them wearing labels that read, “Special Asshole.” He had them rolling around naked in sex orgies. He had them fighting, dancing, drinking, fucking. He had them accepting teachings about man and the universe that were such unadulterated nonsense even a child could hardly have believed them.”
Robert was right. We did run around bare-assed some, although I never saw anything resembling an “enormous" phallus, and believe me, I would have noticed. Nor did I experience any sex orgies, although there was a night when a couple of hundred of us danced nude around a fire and women with pots of warm oil went about rubbing the men down. I suppose that could qualify. Still, people weren’t having sex in front of each other. Feasting, drinking, carousing and dancing, yes. Certainly there was sex in the bushes. I “made love” with my girlfriend Nancy once (as quietly as we could) in a room crowded with sleeping people. It was dark. I remember a lot of snoring. Drunken bad manners, really. The Group drank alcohol like a Gold Rush bar on strike night. Trysts were mostly private, however.
De Ropp also wrote that Alex referred to him as: “the motherfucker.”
I don't know. Me thinks me hears Maestro Popocatepetl belching molten lava at Señor Ixtaccihuatl. In the year or so I was with The Group, I do not recall ever hearing Horn use that particular pejorative. I could be wrong. White people didn't use that word much back then, even though in the early '60s Lenny Bruce had planted the "motherfucker tree" with a smack-powered post-hole digger, the fruit, shall we say, had yet to fall. Well, then ... Rick Barton said "motherfucker" every other word, and he was whiter than Prince Philip. I don't know.
Anyway, Alex Horn definitely seemed to have more than mere charisma in his “simian” handshake. And, “Little Rasputin” or not, in retrospect — like de Ropp himself — Alexander Francis Horn stood decidedly apart from ordinary folks. That much is certain. Even decades later, he remains utterly rare to me. I have never met anyone since, even slightly like Alex Horn. Never. Nor is he apt to turn up anytime soon lecturing at a “Whole Life Expo."
I simi-reluctantly pushed my way into The Group, mostly from social pressure (my friends and lover wanted to do it), not to mention my Norwegian father's love of Limburger cheese with smoked oysters and warm buttermilk: that is, my rank curiosity gene.
The only “elixir” of consciousness I’d had up until then had been Sandoz Laboratory LSD in glass ampules along with the sex life of a wino. In 1966 I was not seeking anything apart from drugs, magic, art, and friends for answering life’s underpinning questions. And I was not, as de Ropp suggested, a cultured, educated American with a college degree. I was a twenty-five year old drug and alcohol, “self medicating” bipolar, working very hard to hobble through a recent psychotic break. And, if that wasn’t enough, I was an iron-ass-closet-queen. I didn't really care a thing about awakening from dreams, American or otherwise. As a Beat artist, in fact, I considered dreams my forté. I had never heard of the notion of “higher teaching” or “School.” An idea both intriguing and disturbing. At least from hints I managed to extract from Martin, our only friend already in The Group. For sure, I did not want people telling me what to do, and I sensed something of that sort coming, and didn’t like it.
Horn's following expanded by the formation of new groups. The first group, I am told, took time off in the beginning to find good jobs so everyone could pay the "Work." Then, as he was joining the second group, mutual friend, Martin van der Kamp, invited my lover Larry and me, along with a few of our friends to join the second group. Then the second group brought in a third, and so forth, giving us a membership at its peak of around three hundred. Martin recruited us mainly with this question: "Are you happy with the way your lives are now ... honestly? Because being around Alex will change that." Of course, we were ambivalent about "happiness." I mean, who knows at twenty-five if they are happy or not? As compared to what? Twenty?
The Group was described to us as a fast moving train. That if we did not jump on board NOW, we would miss our chance at something miraculous. A meeting in a San Francisco Victorian was presented as “it” for us. We were given an address, a time, and told that if we wanted in, to be INSIDE before 8:00 PM sharp, since once the door closed, it would not open again. We procrastinated, of course, until the last second, then hit the streets running after buses across town with minutes to spare, along with Larry and our friend, the late Ken Schooner — the spark plug in this whole thing. It took three, really: myself to drag my feet, Larry to wonder, Ken to ignite us. Then running up some stairs and literally shoving through the door, as it was being pushed closed. Ken and Larry shoved in first, then pulled my arm, half-second to spare. My life has always been like that. Now, don’t get me wrong, I wanted in, too. Still, I had been raised “Elvis” close to my mother, a woman repelled by groups. So I grew up with it. Why would a guy raised like me want to hang out in a group of seventy people mooing like cows, braying like donkeys, barking like dogs and mewing like cats?
Simply put, Alex Horn was mysterious and brilliant in every way. He even looked brilliant, with an Einstein forehead surrounded with dark, thick hair, brushed straight back. His physical superiority was hard to miss. Chiefly, the man was extremely active day and night. A tireless example of whatever work he chose. And there was nothing he liked better after an IMPOSSIBLY difficult day’s work, than partying all night with his students — smoking, drinking, feasting, dancing, and bedding the women. Hey, the guru gets the gals ... or guys.
Merely being in the vicinity of Alex Horn was to feel a man alive in the moment, fully present yet confidently disinterested, as if focused beyond the horizon. Many students were certain he could read their thoughts.
Coming from the sophisticated theater world of New York, Alex Horn didn’t need telepathy. He simply checked our shoes and t-shirts, our stories, brags, omissions, lies, fears, skills, weaknesses and strengths. These were blatantly telling. Also, an elite began to form around Alex almost immediately, and out of that elite grew a subtle spy network. My job was to figure out who they were, and stay away from them. My psyche was set up that way from living in the closet.
The first group began at a party in Ron Russell’s living room in the small house he shared with his then wife Anya, off Sonoma Mountain road on the rim of the Valley of the Moon.
I was not there.
The following comes from Ron.
Friends and neighbors, drawn to his house for the evening — by rumors of a teacher lately arrived from New York via the Southwest — were happily smoking pot and dancing to rock records.
During a momentary lull in the party, Alex spoke up, saying, “You think you’re in heaven, but you’re really all in hell, and I’m the only man here who can tell you how to get out!”
Then held forth, answering every question with unwavering nerve and charisma — thus transforming the loose gathering into a core group of proto-followers, then and there.
That same night, much to his considerable horror, Ron’s wife walked up to him and said, “I'm leaving you tonight to go live with Alex in San Francisco because he is a conscious man and you’re not.” And, like the Little Red Hen, she did. Anya walked out of their home on Alex’s arm, got into his car and drove off with him into the mountain fog.
My friend was left churning, inconsolable, enraged, and curious. As he put it, “What the does this guy have that he can waltz into my house and leave with my wife?”
The following week, Ron attended the next meeting Alex held in San Francisco. Also, as related by Ron: the meeting included people at the original party meeting, plus invited friends. The turnout was large. Ron brought along a gifted clairvoyant. He wanted Anya back, of course. And he wanted to remain neutral to any mass hypnosis or “Coyote power” Alex might use to control The Group. The plan was for Ron’s friend to “drop” a sort of mental bell jar over the two of them, a psychic duck–blind, if you will, in the middle of fifty or so people in a Victorian living room stripped of furniture. Which he did.
All seated on the floor faced an empty folding chair at one end of the room, evidently awaiting the Main Mass in more ways than one. Alex entered quickly, glanced over the crowd; then, pointing at Ron’s friend said, “That is an interesting trick you’re doing, but we have no use for it here. Get out!”
Seconds later, Alex hopped between people, grabbed the fellow by the shirt front, then began yanking him through The Group, into the hallway, then down to the head of a staircase, then — wham, bam — actually pitched the guy down a flight of stairs! Amazing, audacious, brutal, dramatic, and very Alex Horn, at the time.
And Ron was hooked. He simply had to find out what the hell was going on.
Alex had a James Joyce jaw that cupped his mouth like a ceramic bowl. When he spoke, whether lecturing or answering questions, his tone radiated total authority. Frankly, he frightened both Larry and me, living as we did in fear of what might happen if The Group knew we were not only gay, but lovers. Alex came off fundamentalist concerning the “proper” roles for men and women. Women did women’s work, men did men’s, period.
Common homo americus ...?
Who knew, or wanted to know.
Once at night, at an outdoor meeting with a big fire, I found myself near Alex, something I avoided. I had excellent liquor hidden in my jacket — D.O.M. Benedictine and Brandy. Flashing him the bottle, he said: “Let’s go ...,” abruptly leading me into the bushes where we guzzled the whole bottle down together, away from the others. We didn’t talk, we drank. I was attracted to him the way certain small birds clean the teeth of crocodiles.
Horn walked on stout legs, with unmistakable intention, always seemingly headed somewhere. He sported a tight, muscular pot belly and stood with feet apart, hands resting on his hips like a Samurai truck driver. The immediate space around him always “openly” private, as though cordoned off with invisible police tape.
At a meeting, a student once asked Alex why he chain-smoked Pall Malls.
“Smoking is beneficial for this Work! Tobacco contains hydrogens that are needed to grow a soul.”
Later, studying what were called our “Work books” (perhaps Nicoll’s Commentaries), I found tables of hydrogens, all impossibly dense for the guy who took three years of typing to avoid algebra.
Once at a meeting in a school room, I gave Alex a book of lino cuts I’d done with Rick Barton saying, “Here Alex, this is my payment for the month.”
No,” he answered, “this is a gift.”
It was a wet San Francisco night, lightly raining, and the school room windows were completely fogged. Halfway through the meeting Alex turned the affair over to us and walked out of the room with my “gift” tucked under one arm. A few moments later, I glanced toward the windows, where I discerned the shape of my teacher standing outside, his blurry face and shoulders filling one of the window panes. Then he reached out with his “simian palm,” and to my surprise — since I assumed the window was fogged inside the room — wiped a clear oval shape on the glass. Then he moved his face into the oval and looked directly into my eyes from thirty feet away. Then Alex bared his teeth, and reaching up with his index fingers pulled his lower eye lids down, while crossing his eyes and simultaneously pulling up the corners of his mouth with his thumbs, until finally sticking his tongue out at me, and holding this for about three heartbeats, pushing and pulling his tongue in and out, staring directly at me. Then left. No one else in the room saw him. It scared the shit out of me, but I liked it. I only told a couple of people about it.
Alex used to say we were not in the “Work,” meaning, of course, the Gurdjieff Work. Most of us paid little attention. Repeatedly, he described our endeavor as a small “preparatory school" at best. Saying that if we worked exceedingly hard on “growing being,” one of us — MIGHT — join the “Real Work” ... someday. I took this “one of us” to mean him. I think a lot of us did. And there came a time when I wanted to sacrifice for him, to push his evolution, because he was already the most evolved among us. Aren’t they all.
Once at a rented boy scout camp in the Feather River Canyon, looking like refugees in a Red Cross shelter, at least a hundred and fifty of us were jumbled on the floors of several rooms sleeping. I happened to sleep in the same room as Alex, and fairly close to him. By mid-morning, except for the two of us, everyone else left the room. I was on the floor. Alex was on a large folding table in a sleeping bag flat on his back with no pillow, arms straight by his sides like a corpse laid out in a body-bag. This was the only time in a year that I ever saw Alex sleeping. For that matter, I never saw him yawn, stretch or look the slightest bit tired. Since no one else was in the room, I lay across the way observing him for some time. He did not seem to breathe. There was no visible rising or falling of his chest, simply none. At one point, sensing that somehow he knew I was watching, I got the creeps and left.
As well as meetings in The City, we also had use of a farm on Sonoma Mountain Road near Glen Ellen. It was next door to the ashram of rival Gurdjieff teacher, Robert de Ropp, whose large organic garden was actually on the same property Alex was using, an awkward situation considering de Ropp’s students had defected to Alex. Eventually, after a year, The Group raised money and bought a large ranch with a house and swimming pool on Red Mountain, on the opposite rim of the Valley of the Moon, part of the Mayacamas mountain range. Until that happened, however, we had all of our outdoor meetings at the farm on Sonoma Mountain.
The ranch was also home to Martin van der Kamp’s first winery, a small shed with large barrels on racks and a wine press sitting just outside. Before Alex arrived on the scene, Larry and I had often been guests in Martin and Judy’s basement. It was on one of those trips, in fact, that we helped the Van der Kamps harvest and crush grapes for their very first vintage. I also produced the first wine label for Martin. Actually, “harvest” is the wrong word. We stole the grapes from a farmer’s field in the middle of the night. I was drunk, cutting bunches of grapes and singing “Old Man River” at the top of my lungs when the sheriff came. Silver-tongued Martin convinced the cop I was only “calling to nature.” Martin hasn’t stolen another grape in well over thirty years, and his wine is now served at the White House.
The first big group Gurdjieff weekend took place in 1965 at the place on Sonoma Mountain Road by a large farm pond, in an idyllic setting. The gathering was designated by the first group as a “Work weekend” and everyone was expected to be there.
When we arrived, all newcomers, myself and Larry included, were “instructed” by first group members to strip naked, then handed paper signs to wear lettered: “Special Asshole.” Each sign was the size of bumper sticker and hung on our chests from strings around our necks. Stripping nude for me was awful, and I wanted to leave. This was it. Worse than the whole f’in reason for not joining anything.
Suddenly, about twenty feet away, stood my friend Ron Russell dressed in a nun’s habit — a fine one at that — in which a large hole had been cut in the crotch area, exposing his genitals. The shock was dumbfounding. I was aghast. Like us, Ron also wore a sign, only his read: “Mother Superior.” I’d sure never thought of Ron as “mother” anything. My friend was to me, a mountain of heterosexual Truth, Justice, and the American Way. I figured this was some weird test the first group was foisting on him, not unlike what was being foisted on me.
So I sidled up to him and whispered, “okay Ron ... what is this shit?”
He only chuckled darkly in return, answering in a flat tone devoid of human promise, “ ... you’ll find out.”
Now I was sick with fear, my knees fluid, stomach too — head spinning, ready to barf. Dick for days, bobble-heading in the sun, double-nuts clanking. DON’T LOOK! Naked milling man-crotch. SHIT!!! And here stood one of the only people I thought I knew in the first group, seemingly warped beyond toleration. I wanted to go fast. I expected something from Ron, anything, some brotherly note of calming approval from my “cool cat” artist friend.
Ron was gone.
Recently, Ron reminded me that he had been acting a prescribed “theater” role that day and that, as a one time member of the Actor's Workshop, he thought he’d done a fairly good job under the circumstances. Hell, you know, I more than agree. It wasn’t his idea to wear the nun’s habit and stand around looking like that. He’d been “assigned” his role, no doubt, by: Gurdjieff COMMITTEE queens. There were a lot of committees around. I did everything to avoid them.
This was a group that, except for recruitment purposes, you never spoke of belonging to. Period.
Expulsion from The Group, possibly including a stairwell flight to go along with it, then shunning on the street, oh yea, not to mention “dying like a dog,” as Alex always warned. And, of course, foremost on every apostate’s Beat brain: Alex Horn, himself. You don’t tug on the Minotaur's cape. You don’t spit into the wind. You don’t pull the mask off the ole Lone Magus, and you don’t mess around with HIM.
And this group was all about HIM, not us. We kissed ass or hid. Later, and not that much later either, he had his volunteer Kick-ass Kommandos who would knuckle your pussy for ANYTHING (like saying something stupid), let alone betrayal. The violent confrontation quotient in The Group far outdid Synanon.
Back at the lake, everyone in the first group was dressed in some bizarre way; and it didn’t take long to realize they were not only being hard on us, but also each other. Except for a few men and women dressed normally, and barking occasional orders, everyone else was wearing strange garb. Martin hobbled about aimlessly on crutches, followed by his wife Judy, hollering at him. Every few minutes he would stop, then turn around slowly to face her from three feet away. And then, sweet Judy van der Kamp, the woman I loved from so many woodland hikes, funny stories, good weed and great dinners, would haul off and slap her husband across the face so hard you could feel it sting from clear across the lake. I mean, WHAP! I cringed to see it. "FUCKIN' ouch!" I thought. “What the hell is going on here? This is nuts and I hate it. And if Martin and Judy are doing that, what are these hippy carpenters going to do to me?” After each horrendous slap, Martin would turn and hobble away on crutches again, while Judy continued to follow behind, yelling her head off.
Alex was led around everywhere sitting backward on a donkey.
I felt dumped off at the Styx.
Larry whispered something to me, and we were ordered by some snapping turtle with tits to: "Shut up! No talking!"
God, Larry was beautiful that day, standing there with perfect ballet body nobody was supposed to see except me, for crap sake! Sporting the Glory of Ganymede, all glowing there in God’s own golden sun, now forbidden, of course, swinging in the wind, useless as the Liberty clapper with no Bell. “Run Larry, let’s run ... fuck these fucking people ... wine, drugs, art, Chan, North Beach, art museums, Chet, Janis, the Avalon, fucking the night away, window washing whole hotels ... run ...”
Yea, right ... run from my own tooth pockets, with my shriveled little balls tinkling behind me like those wimpy glass wind chimes you see in Chinatown that you want to reach out and crush in your mighty Morphin’ Ranger fist. Those balls.
So fine, we were fifty or so white-skin-nude-comers with “Special Asshole” signs around our necks milling in the mud at the edge of a lake when a couple of burlap babes from the first group started shouting orders at us.
Alex really brought out the best in people.
They split us into two teams, then began eagle screeching at us to play "tug-of-war" across the Styx with a very long rope. Right then, we should have hung those witches. We had the rope. The first group of at least fifty people sat on the grass hooting insults at us like a mob of Walpurgis wannabe's sucking it up for "G". The teams were evenly matched and eventually locked in stalemate. Suddenly, all members of the first group leaped up and ran howling to the opposing team, thus yanking us into the lake.
I thought, "If I'm a 'special asshole', what the fuck are they?” Under my tongue, of course, you know, hacking the manly loogie here and there.
Then we were clambering up the muddy lake bank: and the Gurdjieff Gerties start howling again.
“Fuck ‘em,” I thought, and dove into the lake, swimming toward the spot I sensed people would soon be gathering, wondering what might happen to me for such flagrant self-expression. Hey, before they considered any chastising, first they would see how superior I was, indeed a "special swimmer.” For proper effect, then I displayed my full glory fag ballet Australian crawl, the same one I'd perfected in high school. Fuck these people. Time for some queer-crawling, indeed. It had been the only thing in sports I’d ever done well. Let’s face it, water is swishy. A stroke so perfect and powerful even my psychopathic football coach used me as swim class demonstrator. Reaching the shore I hoped for, “Wow! Can you ever swim, man,” which I intended to answer in my Miss Kristopherson voice, “aw ...”.
Instead, I was confronted by Ron Russell, no longer a nun, looking at me from the window of a beat up pickup truck.
“So, you swam back, huh?”
“Yep, I can swim, huh?”
“Where’s your ‘Special Asshole’ sign?” Glancing to my chest, then onto the lake, there it was, a small white rectangle floating near the middle.
“ ... out there,” I pointed.
Ron looked at me weirdly and said, “You really are a special asshole, aren’t you?”
My friend was a stranger. I did not know him. I did not want to know him. I was a wino. I wanted to go back to North Beach, to be unhappy again, and drink 52 cent a quart Red Mountain Burgundy in the afternoon sun and sing in the street with Janis Joplin. “When the deep purple falls, over sleepy garden walls, and the stars begin to twinkle in your eye---eyeeee-eye-eye ...”
From then on in The Group, I lived to never, ever, EVER draw attention to myself, which might have worked well except I drank like Jim Morrison.
Anyway, after the tug-of-war, members of the first group began arranging a spread of food. No one called to get dressed but a few of us began to dress, and the rest followed. Still by the lake, we all sat on the grass enjoying bread, fruit, cheese and wine.
Suddenly, one of the crow sisters from the first group jumped up and started cawing, “Some of us are smoking pot! Fuck that hippy shit! We’re here to wake up! That shit puts you to sleep! Throw it away or you're out of The Group!”
Martin and I were sitting together. He whispered, “I’ve got some great hash in the winery.”
“Better go throw it away ...” I ventured.
Even as the Furry Gurdjieff Brothers, it was inconceivable to us that anyone would actually throw good dope away. Especially after being ordered to do so by a person we would have bayoneted during a war, you know, so we could have sex with her dead body. On our short walk to the winery, I was finally able to ask Martin some questions. For instance, why was Ron’s dick hanging out of a nun’s habit, and why was Martin on crutches and Judy slapping him so hard? He explained, Judy slapping him as an exercise having to do with breaking away from something called “Chief Feature,” known in the Work as the central flaw in any individual that all of their other flaws revolve around. That Judy’s “Chief Feature” had to do with her being timid, therefore she was having to yell and slap him. That his was arrogance, therefore being slapped worked against that. That “Chief Feature” must be attacked and rooted out, and it wasn’t easy.
No shit. I just wanted out.
Martin explained that these exaggerated behaviors were "work exercises." Wake up calls. The Gurdjieff notion being, that we are all slaves to sleep. We sleep in bed at night, sometimes dreaming, then rise in the morning “awake,” but in fact have only entered another dream, the one called "waking sleep." That the activity of daily life is hypnotic illusion. We are sleepwalkers dreaming we are awake, lost in illusion, wasting our lives. With right intention and conscious exercises (and a whole lot more), it is possible for some people working together to facilitate moments of awakening, and through years of concentrated work, awaken to their ultimate human birthright, a finer, higher level of being and consciousness, one in which they might even attain the power to spiritually survive death.
Throwing away the hash, Martin and I smoked pipe after pipe until you might say, we had spiritually survived complete zonkification. In the small dark winery, my Marty looked like a fucked up ferret. I quickly slipped into a state of grinding paranoia over getting caught and thrown out of The Group, even though I wanted to be thrown out of The Group. Always a better doper, Martin was in good shape, reassuring me that no one would notice, and finding humor in our ridiculous situation that can only be described as "deep and meaningful." I was afraid to leave the winery, but we couldn’t stay there all day. Although looking back, I can't imagine anyone would have missed us. The Group was big. We could have locked the door from the inside and stayed there drinking fifty-five gallon barrels of wine. Damn good wine too. Finally, giddy as girls we stumbled out the door into the bright sunlight, directly into the path of Robert de Ropp on his way to his vegetable garden.
Oh my god ... just shit on a stick ... amen.
Dom da dom dom ...
Nothing like running into Maestro Muggles himself!
I mean, Mary Jane, Mary Jane, ask me again and I’ll tell you the same: Robert S. de Ropp, author of Drugs and the Mind, legendary drug researcher who’d been granted tons of marijuana by Anslinger and the US Government in the l940s, for decades, arguably, the single most knowledgeable psychoactive drug researcher in America!
And here we were, ripped to the tits standing in front of the man, grinning like a couple of escaped dolphins from Sea World.
Blinky and Tweety ... my god ...
A handsome man in his fifties, trim, fit, grasping both a rake and hoe over one shoulder, he wore a large straw hat, jeans and a chambray work shirt. De Ropp looked Martin up and down like a yogi drill Sergeant about to order vipasana. Somewhat nervously, Martin introduced us. De Ropp then, using the one big eye in the middle of his forehead, looked deeply into Martin’s morphing mentality and asked, "How are you Mar-r-r-tin?"
“Good Robert, good ...”.
That was a bit much for de Ropp, considering that until Alex Horn had arrived on the scene to steal every one of his students, Martin had been one of them.
De Ropp said, “Did I ever tell you the Sufi story of the man who wanted to live with a bear?”
“Ah ... no Robert, I ah ... ah ... I don’t think so ... ah ...”
“Once there was a man who wanted to live with a bear. The Sufi master said, ‘Why do you want to live with a bear when you can come with me and learn the way?’ But the man was stubborn and the master could not change his mind. It was winter so the man went up the mountain and moved into a cave with a hibernating bear. He soon noticed how pesky flies were landing on the bear’s nose, so he spent the rest of the winter waving his hand over the bear's face to keep the flies off. Toward Spring the bear began to rouse a little. He opened one eye and realized what a nice thing the man had been doing all winter. Then, finally, the bear woke up, and feeling especially good from the best winter sleep he'd ever had — and wanting to pay the man back for his kindness, picked up a big rock and smashed all the flies off the man’s face.”
Then the grand gardener looked between us, turned and continued marching toward his field. Within twenty feet or so, de Ropp stopped and turned back sharply, then in the voice of Machiavelli himself, shot directly into our weasely little hearts: “If you sup with the devil, have a long spoon.”
Turning away then, still holding rake and hoe at arms, the master marched off to Zen war among his beloved cabbages and squash. Toshiro Mifune could not have done it better.
“Alex is the bear,” I hissed, “the devil?”
“Whew ... Robert’s heavy!”
That first country meeting lasted from Friday afternoon until late evening on Sunday and established the pattern for all weekends over the next year, plus. Every Friday afternoon students car-pooled all over the Bay Area and off we'd go. Larry and I lived in North Beach, in San Francisco.
There was unrelenting pressure within The Group that, unless recruiting, never to talk about what we were doing to anyone on the “outside" ... while, of course, earning money to pay “the Work.” The most I ever paid “the Work” at any one time, and sometimes with months in between, was $150, and “the Work” never asked for more, except once. I suggested fifty dollars. Alex said, “No, for you a hundred.”
From the beginning cameras were banned. Until nearly a decade later, when Alex Horn got a write-up in the San Francisco Chronicle, The Group was essentially invisible.
My year was many things: a brutal awakening to self-awareness that I am not sure could have happened for me any other way, considering I was "street crazier than a rabid monkey" at the time, the stress ordeal of my life, the gut wrenching straight / gay crisis of my life, a down and out whang-dang-doodle of a party, a feast of theatrical magic making, and more. Much, much more. The acme adventure of a lifetime for one: sailing the Pacific Ocean as a crewman on the Goodwill, the world's largest-fastest schooner. (See Goodwill article now posted).
We also planted fifty acres of grape vines by hand, a mammoth undertaking. I had my first adult relationship with a woman — what a mess that was, a beautiful mess — and sang in a group.
All of the hundred or so men played Capture the Flag at midnight once, in the mountains, then at sunrise, dressed in drag (yes drag, from boxes of dresses picked up at Salvation Army and Goodwill), then exploded sticks of dynamite to get their attention, and ran screaming down a hill to surprise the women.
I loved the crazy stuff like that. I loved the feasting and drinking.
I hid out once (ha!) under several tables, like a ninja, at a big event we had at a boy scout camp on the Feather River. I was even wearing a black robe with hood, since I had been an “actor” in a play we had done the previous day. The Crucifixion of Christ, that is. Well, it was Easter. We built crosses and everything. Anyway, I was sleeping off a horrendous drunk while everybody else, except the breakfast kitchen crew, climbed a mountain in the middle of the night for Easter sunrise, which I thought was a terrible idea. At the "Sunrise Breakfast" that followed, I ended up sitting at the head of the table. The table was long. Perhaps twenty tables end to end. There were hundreds of people in front of me. Along with breakfast, every six feet down the table stood a bottle of whiskey for Irish coffee. Well, you know what happened. I drank about three coffee cups of Johnny Walker, then took a couple of splashes right out of the bottle, and all hell broke loose.
First, I stood and dinged my glass with my spoon to get everyone’s attention. It worked just like the movies. This is what happens when you are hiding but you drink like Jim Morrison. I addressed The Group (so I was told later) with several jokes to a good response, believe it or not. People were laughing like hell. I don’t know what I was saying. Remember, I had not climbed with them and it had been a “Work climb,” and they didn’t know I hadn’t climbed, and if they had known they would have gotten really pissed off at me and probably beat me up. Call it redemption through mayhem. I began running around whispering things in people’s ears. This got old fast. People yelled at me to sit down, and I took on the whole group, challenging them all to fight. The late Dr. Gil Roberts, a member of the National Geographic American team that climbed Mount Everest, was standing on the other side of the table yelling at me, and I leaped over the table and attacked him. Food went everywhere. Bam, we hit the floor. He pinned me. I tried to bite him in the leg.
“Look,” they yelled, “the sissy’s trying to bite!”
So a crew of men picked me up, carried me to the door and threw me outside into a thick bank of snow, then walked off disgusted, yelling, “You’re out of The Group! Don’t come back, asshole!”
I lay in the snow insane with rage at myself for having blown it. I’d gotten my wish at last, and I felt terrible about it. A friend came out and got me out of the snow and into a shower room, where he forced me to strip and be pelted with liquid snow to sober up. It half-way worked. The Group members who drove me home told me to shut up, every time I spoke. I was utterly despondent for days. My friend Ken Schooner told me I should go back and take my lumps. He told me about a meeting. I went. People stayed away from me. They wouldn’t sit near me. Some told me, “You’re not welcome here ... you’re out of The Group ...”
Alex entered the room, taking a chair in the front, facing us. Quickly he glanced over the room, stopping on me. I figured he would attack me. No doubt about it. Instead, he gave me a big wink while mouthing the words, “welcome back,” and that was that. I was back.
I stayed sober for two months after that, the longest I’d ever gone without a drink since high school. Until the day Alex handed me a bottle of wine and said, “Here, have a drink. You’re not an alcoholic, you only think you are.”
From Alex we learned self-awareness — he called “observing eye” — practicing what he called "The Stop Exercise.” Anyone in The Group could instigate STOP anywhere, anytime — during a meeting, watching a play, acting in a play, cutting weeds, planting vines, eating supper, dancing ... anytime.
The complete exercise was “STOP! ... SEPARATE! ... PHOTOGRAPH!” with a moment between.
The notion being, that the “stop call,” coming as it always did — as an “outside shock”— afforded the sly opportunity to “separate” from whatever mechanical activity one might be caught up in at the moment, awakening for a flash of conscious awareness. That, in fact, we are never actually “doing” what it is that we think we are doing, wholeheartedly, with full attention. Every STOP! caught me in thoughts unrelated to what I was actually doing. The Group gave me self-awareness. I absolutely did not have that before these exercises.
The STOP! rule: whatever you are doing, freeze instantly, even if it means say, picking up a hunk of firewood, therefore, being off-balance. In cases like that, a righteous STOP! would mean falling on your face. So be it, however awkward, freeze and SEE: raking, painting a fence, dancing, singing, telling a story, especially thoughts and motivations. I still hold vivid “photographs” of hundreds of us working in the fields, planting grapevines, frozen like peasants in a Bruegel painting.
One night, many months into the experience, Alex was speaking before The Group when he said: “Homosexuals have no chance in this work!”
He might as well have cut my hamstrings with a machete.
Leaving was unthinkable because all of our friends were there, and by then The Group had become our life. I mean, I'd “bought the Gurdjieff farm,” by then. Lost all perspective. I was an unmitigated Alex follower, period.
Anyway, later in The Group, when it surfaced I was gay, things turned ugly fast. Alex wasn’t there at this mess, but I don’t think he would have “protected” me. What happened is, I was goaded into picking the man I was most attracted to, then jeered into pretending (fully clothed) to butt–fuck him in front of a bunch of people while they insulted me with, “... faggot!” and the like.
This was the death of a thousand cuts. Mock execution. Flogging with lead laces. Brand, brank, bilboe, cuckstool, Spanish boot, and it drove me over the edge of civilization; and IT TOOK ME THIRTY YEARS TO EVEN BEGIN TO RECOVER!!! So, thanks guys, oh ... and gals, for going Lord of the Flies on me. You helped me so much that day. And not really knowing one thing about me, either. But hey, don’t feel too bad about it. I would have done the same to you. Hell, I did.
“Look at yourself,” they yelled, “Fag scum! Queer!”
And guess what. Torture won. Such was the pain inflicted, then RELEASED back into “belonging” again, I vowed to go straight. To that end my acting job rivaled Sir Laurence Olivier. In fact, I “manifested” the role to such a degree I actually "fell in love with" and paraded beautiful Nancy on my arm, like some goon sailor on a two-week leave. I even believed it myself. And, oh how “they” loved and approved of me then. And, oh how I loved and approved of myself then.
Before my torture day ended though, mob rule reined again when it was revealed that Larry and I lived together. I regret to this day my cowardice in becoming one of Larry’s torturers and not taking my lover’s hand and simply walking off the ranch right then. I was gone by then though, deconstructed, if you will.
A couple of hours after my ordeal, I was approached by one of Alex’s elites, a guy named Bob Lindner. I always tried to stay away from him. He told me that he understood that Larry and I were lovers and this wasn’t going to be easy for me, but that I needed to be part of the work “we” were about to do on Larry. That is, a select group of sixteen people including me. From me he needed clues that might help us “open” Larry up so he could get some real work done. Any secrets I knew that could help shatter his self-image would help. Larry’s “Chief Feature” was imagined to be self-righteous smugness.
I didn’t see it that way. Actually, Larry was a great guy. Loving. Caring. Friendly. Inquisitive. Curious. Humorous. Intelligent. Easy going. Well read. He wasn’t smug, just self-assured. Larry was so well adjusted in fact, he actually had real boundaries. Imagine that. He also did not drink to excess like me. And was generally even tempered and pleasant to be with from day to day. I told Bob they would have a hard time because he was actually a pretty together guy and, quite unlike me, was quite satisfied being homosexual. Bob kept probing. Finally, it was decided that if Larry wouldn’t face the “sickness” of being queer, then we would resort to physical alternatives to get him to reach a response level capable of “breaking through his Chief Feature” and working against it. This was (and is), of course, utter crap.
Bob told me to prepare to take over the “work” on Larry at one point. I remember him looking me squarely in the eye and saying, “This is not going to be easy for you, David, but you have to help him.” That I was the guy who not only knew him the best, but who was going to be able to “help” him the most, in part, because of the “help” I’d gotten for the same thing earlier in the day.
Bullies couldn’t get Larry to fight. They tried everything. Humiliation. Shoving. Body blocking. Unexpected hits from behind. Insults. Larry was bothered, but holding his own. So they made him get on his belly on the ground, and Lindner put his knee in the small of Larry’s back, then put his arms around Larry’s neck and pulled him back into the most unholy position imaginable, just short of bone snapping. I was utterly torn between kicking Bob Lindner in the face and letting him continue to “help” Larry.
“How do you like that, pussy, huh ... want more? ... huh ...”
Lindner then looked up at me and said, “He’s yours,” and let Larry up. Now the two of us were pressured into fighting, circled by a group of catcalling men and women. I can still see their faces and those straight cocksuckers wanted blood. Group thinking ran along the lines: “real men fist fight.” Real men just "beat the queer" out of each other. Something like that. I don't know. Shit happened. We “became” Alex. We “became” his penchant of throwing people down flights of stairs, for publicly exposing worst fears and weaknesses.
In spite of how angry Larry was, we did not want to fight each other. We punched around a little. It wasn’t good enough for them. The people were screaming at me to HELP him, which meant PUNCH him. Then I “accidentally” broke my sweet lover's pudgy nose. And he got so mad, he just hauled off and beat the fucking crap out of me. He reached up and felt his nose and said, “You broke my nose you son of a bitch!,” then started kicking. Larry was trained in ballet. Never fight a guy who's trained in ballet. Because my lover danced all over me in his Red Wing work boots. Oh yea. Larry Treadwell kicked my ass from fence to shed and back again. Good for him. I mean that. I deserved every well-placed kick in the guts he gave me that night.
After the fight — after Gil Roberts “scrunched” Larry’s nose back in place with a crude tweak and a lot of manly laughter — I broke off our relationship for good, thinking we were supposed to “go straight.” Larry tried to talk me out of it. I wish I could say he succeeded. We were expected to simply change, period. Then, of course, to prove the change to The Group by overtly courting women, spitting loogies here and there, and walking funny. Especially walking funny. Like we had steel reinforcing rods up our ass and were stomping aluminum cans. Our reward? The acceptance of our cult peers.
Alex said homos were no-gos. He had his reasons. I remember something about "true inner Work" being possible only when a man and a woman work together because of the physical, emotional, and intellectual POLARITIES, blah-buddity-bla-bla. Alex also said NOT to listen to him. And he said NOT to listen to him a lot. Half the time, I didn't. I'm not making this up. The Group was always part loving family, part lynch mob. Both the best and the worst ticket in town.
See, after I “bought the ‘G’ farm,” I loved knowing the Work was also known as “The Sly Man’s Way.” That as a member, I had a near obligation to bend societal rules, indeed, avoid them completely because they were mechanical and represented death. In the beginning was the word, and the word was: SLY.
Today, I see it as brilliantly seductive and quite psychopathic.
Even though most of The Group’s “action” was in the Sonoma area, as mentioned before, I lived in North Beach, about an hour away. One late Sunday night after an astonishing Work weekend, I ended up late in the Coffee Gallery bar near my studio. My friend Terry Wadsworth had a stool open next to him and bought me a drink saying, “So what’s new with you?”
“I’ve been at the greatest party, man!” I say, “I mean, just fucking incredible, man!”
“Me too!” says Terry.
“Oh yea,” I go on, “we cooked a pig in the ground for three days and feasted and drank wine and danced naked around a huge fire, chanting.” Terry began to look at me funny, so I really heaped it on, “and I swear to God, man, beautiful chicks came around with oil and rubbed us down while we were dancing! You would have loved it!"
“I did!” Terry answered. “I was there!!”
Wide-eyed, he described everything exactly as it was, explaining how he’d been on a neighboring farm and heard our commotion and saw the fire glowing over some hills; so he hiked, then crawled through weeds until he got as close as he could; then ditched his clothes, went down the hill nonchalantly and slipped into the dancers, got an oil rub, picked the sexiest woman he could attract and headed off into the bushes where they screwed like animals on espresso; then went back to the dance for more.
A little later Terry noticed a man, I took to be Alex, giving him the EYE, as if to say, “Who the hell are you?” Terry left.
So, I told Terry about The Group and tried to get him to come to an introductory meeting, but he passed with a simple, “naw ... groups aren’t my style.” And that was that. Terry, my great musician friend, who died before his time, had no interest. Sometimes, when people I looked up to as much as I looked up to Terry Wadsworth did not share my “enthusiasm” for The Group, I would begin to question everything about it to myself. I hadn’t really wanted The Group either. These experiences were few, however. Most of my friends never knew I was involved.
I remember the joy of running into people from The Group, say in public, on a busy street corner perhaps, then us standing there looking into each other’s sparkling eyes, jabbering Work jargon in a state of Gurdjieffian bliss because “we” were so privileged to be awakening! We were better than the dull sleepers moving around us on the street. And it was good to know we were better. We were not supposed to feel guilty about being better. We were holders of the Secret! They were not. And we loved it! And we were full of shit!
We were locked in “True Believer” syndrome. Period. I could not have avoided Alex Horn from reading Eric Hoffer’s book before I heard about “School.” However, reading Hoffer's book years later was more than enlightening.
A telling encounter with Alex came a few weeks after Larry and I fought, on a night in San Francisco when The Group sent Alex away from a meeting, then struggled for hours to come up with forty thousand dollars for a down payment on the ranch we called “Red Mountain.” Alex spent his time a block away in a Haight Ashbury hippy coffee shop called The Drog Store Cafe. This was, by the way, at the peak of the hippy period. (Aside: I went for coffee during the fund raising — me sneaking off again; even after I “bought" the Gurdjieff ideas, I tried to avoid the people — and was surprised to witness Alex point to a sign behind the counter and say to a hippy waitress, “No, a refill is fifteen cents. You owe me a dime.” I was stunned. How could my teacher possibly care how much coffee cost, while his students were raising forty thousand dollars to hand him?) That night, The Group wheedled, cajoled, blamed and shamed each other for hours, until a pile of checks, cash and promissory notes, representing the full amount, lay in a mass in the middle of the bare floor of Armenian Hall.
I was sitting cross-legged on the floor with Martin van der Kamp and Ron Russell. A runner was sent to The Drog Store, and soon Alex returned to the hall. A celebration exploded. The Krishnas had nothing on us for exploding celebrations. At one point, I looked up to see Alex Horn running across Armenian Hall straight for me. Then he dropped into this home-run slide, turning onto his back while sliding over hardwood until, ker-plunk, his big Buddha head landed in my unworthy lotus lap. Such a great move, in fact, it got a cheer.
I glimpsed Larry seated on a chair about twenty feet away, watching. Alex reached up and pulled me down from the back of my neck and gave me a big wet kiss on the lips. Not a porn kiss. A “brother, we just won the war!” kiss. Then smiled and said, “You're not a homosexual, David. You only think you are.” I hate to admit this now, but back then, I lit up with so much cult pride I must have looked like one of those winners on “The Price Is Right.”
Gurdjieff Special Today! — Oooooo: Stepford Boy!
You know aging sucks but survival is good — because if you live long enough, you actually figure out what happened decades earlier when your Fool’s perspective was one foot over a cliff. When you’re older, it’s both feet, so you just “get it.” In spite of all the AARP propaganda around these days, there’s nothing good about aging at all. Which is why the little that is, is damn good. Otherwise I wouldn’t hang out much longer. I really do love the intrigue and dark musing involved in figuring things out though — later. And this is most definitely — later. Finally KNOWING. Sweeping away the chaff.
I KNOW THIS: years of child sex abuse combined with a brutal circumcision at age five gave me a raging dick fetish, and that’s about it right there. Borderline “glory hole queen.” Fine. And I know Alex and everyone else who was supposed to be so Gurdjieff-brilliant missed that about me, completely. They humiliated me for being queer, but they missed all my "real stuff" by miles.
After Alex’s kiss — for Larry’s eyes, right guys? — my lover stood up and walked out of The Group, and I have never forgotten the look on his face. That awful mixture of betrayal, anger, and haughty self-respect. Larry had courage and heart. Good man. Alex might just as well have shot him in the guts with a pistol.
I wish I could report here that I jumped up and left with him. That I dropped Alex Horn’s head like one of de Ropp’s turban squashes. Because I sure would have done that, in the beginning of The Group, that is, when Larry wanted to be there more than I did. By then, however, I was a full-fledged cult coward. Members who left were shunned on the street.
I shunned Larry and will always deeply regret that.
Later, fist fights increased until they were common. Broken noses, black eyes, even broken bones. And speaking of de Ropp, his words echoed, “... the bear picked up a rock and smashed all the flies off the man’s face.”
The Group was thinning. People were "encouraged" to leave.
At one point, Alex proculated: “Hear ye, hear ye, henceforth all unwed wenches WILL be married within 30 days, or pack thine Volkswagen buses and be gone forever. So sayeth the King.”
So much for “those” women.
I left The Group by way of the road of lost men, moving for economy to a sleazy hotel in San Francisco's Tenderloin, a place so infested with roaches, I actually poured pints of liquid poison out of cans into every crack, then lived there breathing that concentrated crap, in search of a new persona.
What I got was Travis Bickel.
I remember robbing a sex partner one night, at the point of a Buck knife. Outrageous! I’d never done anything like that before. “Sailor, sailor, home from the sea, better not hang with the likes ’a me ...” I was a bad pirate. Friends in The Group who cared about me found me and slipped notes under my door. Notes to return. I moved again, filled with guilt for months, drinking heavily. At the supermarket, former “close friends” glanced away avoiding eye contact. I felt dirty. I was dirty. And boiling with anger.
I met and married Michaelle around a year after I left The Group. She knew nothing of Gurdjieff. In the next five years, we had two children, and I am most sad to say my family suffered as a result of my having been so twisted in “G”. For ten years after I left, I still felt the IDEAS were valid and pushed them on others, which, of course, everyone highly resented. For the first few years, I was intolerable. You know, telling people they were asleep. I drank as much before Horn as I did after, but before I was annoyingly exuberant, not often violent. After The Group, I was violent and abusive. Period. One of the reasons I loved meetings was we drank. And cigarettes. My god, the cigarettes. At a meeting of two hundred people, there might be twenty or so gallon jugs of wine going around.
Alex Horn’s take on the Gurdjieff ideas encouraged their practice through confrontation of weakness, humiliation, amoral goal setting, screaming, physical fighting and more. This was all supposed to be for a good end.
From the bottom of my heart then, for all time, I apologize to my family. I know I can never make it up to you, Michaelle, River and Forest. Still, I am sorry. It took many years to outgrow Post Alex Stress Disorder, and you did not deserve it.
Twenty years later, I found Larry listed in the San Francisco phone book. He was happily living in a long-term lover relationship and graciously accepted my apology, saying he had followed my career in the media and was proud of me. We spoke of having dinner together, the three of us, yet never got around to it. I wish we had. Because when I attempted to find him again, alas, I could not.
The Group was a rowdy bunch, seeing humanity as asleep, therefore available for personal use. In a sense, we put ourselves very much “outside humanity.” After a few beers, our attitude ran along lines not unlike that of the Moonies and their idea of “Divine Deception”:
“Okay, we’re not fully awakened yet ... but, unlike you, we’re in School. At least we know there is such a thing as 'The Ray of Creation' and are striving to make understanding. Compared to us, in fact, you are so asleep we need not even abide by your common folk laws. If you are a sheep farmer, for instance, and we have need of one of your sheep for a particular 'conscious aim' of ours, it is okay then if we crawl through your fence in the middle of the night and take your Ba Ba. Of course, we could pay for the hefty bugger but hey ... we’re in a hurry and our group aim is more important than your personal boundaries."
“The few good men and women, those on the way to higher consciousness, you see ... ahem — us — privy to esoteric knowledge as we are, which you are not, and in fact are not supposed to know about ... we, actually ... MUST ... do ... as ... we MUST ... do. (Thank you, Captain Kirk.) Unless, that is, a certain unconscious 'mechanical meat-machine sheep farmer' happens to be, after all, awakened and merely masquerading as a certain unconscious 'mechanical meat-machine sheep farmer' ... but there’s little chance of that since Gurdjieff teachers take every chance they can to stress how few awakened beings there actually are, or ever will be, anywhere on earth."
“Therefore, slipping through your fence and helping ourselves to a sheep or two is not really stealing. Well, okay ... call it ‘conscious gloming’ if you will. Besides, we intend to put the animal to a higher purpose, one a mere sleeping farmer could not understand. That is: we have made your lowly mutton the star of our highly passionate Passover play, our 'Play of Abraham,' in which we intend to express the true, esoteric meaning of the Bible, hidden as it is from so many, yet revealed to us striving Gurdjieffians through our non-Gurdjieffian teacher. Hey, this sheep never really belonged to you anyway, really. Sure you raised it, cared for it, paid for it with your time, money and attention, but you are asleep, so you are just like it is. Besides, after the Jewish members of our group cut the animal’s throat, they intend to mark the door of our new house with blood for Passover, then roast the meat and feast all night on it, which makes it all okay ...”
You see the problem.
The notion being, that a "CONSCIOUS AIM” once stated is always MET with “Denying Force” that must be overcome in order to attain success. Our aim (presenting the “Play of Abraham,” with its need for a living theater prop) was stated and worked toward for overcoming “Denying Force,” and thereby “growing being.” BEING was defined as an almost physical wisdom or understanding, the result of collecting what are called “higher hydrogens” — still with me?
Suffice it to say that once an aim was stated, when something got in the way of its accomplishment (Denying Force), the clever or "sly" student could fight it, leap it, dig under it, go around it (grab a sheep in the middle of the night and run), gain entrance in disguise, and lie ad infinitum. For a student Working toward a “conscious, stated, Work Aim,” there were no rules.
The sheep story is true. I was there. We men (one hundred or so) were having a “camp” in the mountains. We were sleeping under a huge rented tent with all-night fires, Capture the Flag male bonding games, and much more. Meanwhile, the women stayed “home” (back at the ranch) and did women’s things, like making quilts and comparing notes on what Alex had them do in bed. Anya confirmed the latter.
The sheep had been “consciously glomed” from a farmer not far away and was being kept near the tent, tied to a post, for use in the play which was to be presented to the entire group later. In the morning, I was the one who happened to discover that the sheep had been injured by the dogs during the night. I had a Buck knife and wanted to cut the suffering animal’s throat. The dogs had pulled its wool off in big hunks, along with much of its skin. The injuries were severe and the sheep was weakened from loss of blood and trauma. I got out my knife and suggested what should be done, and why.
“Well, I don’t know,” someone said, “you know it’s supposed to actually be sacrificed during a play later today.”
“This is bad though,” I answered, “this animal is dying, look how weak it is.”
“You’d better ask Alex,” someone else offered.
Alex wasn’t around.
I almost put the animal out of its suffering, then didn’t.
I should have.
Later that morning, during the play, “Abraham” slit the sheep’s throat while it was tied on a pile of logs on top of a stone altar. The animal wasn’t dead yet. The fire was lit, and The Group sat and watched in horror as the sheep struggled in the flames for a few minutes while it died. I was ready to leave the group.
A few days later, an entire meeting was devoted to the incident. Tempers ran reasoned to seething. People threatened to quit. I spoke of my experience and what I should have done. People yelled at each other. Anya challenged, “What is this sacrifice shit! Does this mean now I’m supposed to go home tonight and stick toothpicks through my goldfish! Because I’ll quit!”
Alex didn’t really answer many “sacrifice” questions, to my memory, letting others have the meeting. The factions of which were mainly: “Work” vs. a suffering animal.
Finally, the elderly caretaker of our rented meeting room, a fellow who was there in an office off the main room, and not at all in our group, heard the commotion and came out. Someone explained to the gentleman what was going on, and he was asked for his opinion. A rare moment, indeed. Asking an “outsider.” Silence prevailed as he reflected, finally saying, “When I was a boy on the farm, if you had an animal, a horse, for instance, and it broke its leg or something like that, you had to put it out of its misery as soon as possible, so it wouldn’t suffer needlessly.”
He put us all to shame.
Nearing the time I left The Group, a young man (one who had endured seventeen major operations in his youth and who lived in a body that was literally wired together inside), was held in a room all night against his will and beaten by other men, and I mean beaten in a way that because of his condition could have resulted in his death. Alex was by then turning much of his "teaching" over to favored students and things were degenerating fast.
At a full group meeting one week later, the victim displayed uncommon courage in standing to denounce his beating. He said he was leaving The Group, yet he wanted to thank us. Just a few words into his sentence, a cacophony of jeers drowned him out. I shrank in shame. He walked out. The room fell silent as we listened to the sound of his steps in the stairwell, then the sound of the door opening below and finally clicking shut. All eyes moved toward our teacher. Finally, in a voice filled with concern, someone nearly whispered, “What will happen to him?”
“He’ll die like a dog,” Alex answered flatly, matter-of-factly, then immediately returned to his lesson.
Well, right there see, in leaving the way he did, that young man had more integrity in his colostomy bag than our whole group combined. Our real teacher walked out the door that afternoon, and we were so blind we missed the lesson. And the young fellow did not die like a dog. I knew him later in the arts — happily married, with several children, he built a beautiful home for his family by hand, from the ground up.
I left The Group — and Alex was rid of me at last. Ha!
Later, Alex wrote plays which I saw performed ... and performed, and performed. They were long. Due to mental illness, however, and in spite of the considerable time my ex-teacher allowed for mentation, I simply could not understand even ten minutes of either production — in fact, the only “suspension of disbelief” I found possible was wondering if Alex Horn understood them himself.
Be that as it may, the man certainly WAS aware of everything going on in his group, and let it be that way for his own reasons, right or wrong.
The Gurdjieff Work, also known as “Fourth Way Schools,” upholds teachers with direct lines leading back to Gurdjieff and Ouspensky, among others. Teachers who are “officially” acknowledged to have studied the “real Work” with the “right people.” In published statements, the "Fourth Way" disavows Alex Horn as a legitimately connected teacher.
Yo, my Gurdjieff teacher wasn’t a real Gurdjieff teacher.
What I want to know is: was Gurdjieff a real Gurdjieff teacher?
Because I did study the Work books and materials for many years, eventually rejecting them for my own reasons. For one, Gurdjieff himself did not seem all that “conscious.” The man drove his Citroen around Europe like Mr. Toad in Wind in the Willows, until he crashed and very nearly killed himself. Students have wondered if Gurdjieff’s accident was perhaps a "conscious smashup,” if you will. Please, the guy drove like a nimrod, plus he drank an unholy amount of the strongest coffee and liquor every day.
Mothers Against Drunk Drivers would not have approved.
Ouspensky mirrored Gurdjieff, saying awakening was next to impossible.
Ouspensky and Gurdjieff ended at odds. According to de Ropp, Ouspensky’s final years degenerated into paranoia.
De Ropp also wrote of there being little chance of awakening.
According to Kathleen Speeth in her book, The Gurdjieff Work (USA / J.P. Tarcher, 1989), near the end of his life, de Ropp gave up the Work for Zen. Tragically, the same "Law of Accident," that evidently drove Gurdjieff’s Citroen, led de Ropp’s kayak into a fatal Pacific surf.
Each of us had our own experience with Horn.
In my two years, he personally treated me well. I could never figure out why, really, always expecting someday he would crash down on me like a boulder in a landslide. Perhaps he would have if I had stayed longer. My experience, though, was of Alex being friendly toward me, actually seeming strangely protective at times.
I know, too, that Alex's personal methods of confrontation and violence led ordinary folks to morally, spiritually, emotionally, intellectually and physically abuse each other, gravely, while calling it something else, most often: Work shocks!
As to ending up with stacks of Oriental carpets and money from his students, I don't even consider that. It’s none of my business. He was fair to me and my friends. There was no set price. Everybody made their own personal deal with him. If Alex bought a carpet off what I paid him, it was for a playhouse. Evidently, some wealthy people gave him a lot of their money. Hey, the guru always gets the goods and goes. The odds are with the house. That’s why he’s the guru. Any person living today, especially from California, who does not yet understand that simple truth ought to be required to deal cards in Reno for a year.
Nobody made me go or stay.
To this day, Martin van der Kamp berates me: “I just hate it when ex-students put Alex Horn down today! Alex was a lightning rod! An iconoclast! If you hang out around a lightning rod, you’re going to get burned! But look at all the good you got out of it! Where’s your gratitude?!”
Okay Martin, calm down. I worked hard on this, and it’s as “balanced” as I can make it. You're right. Nobody is all bad. And yes, after Ron and I left The Group, we teamed up and painted with lightning! Millions of volts of electricity cracking around us! Nine foot electric arcs flashing into wet paint! (see: davearcher.com). And when you recruited us, you were right about one thing: Alex Horn did change our lives. Some for the worse, some the better. That’s for sure. I also know (through the ‘G’rapevine) that many students were badly burned. One couple I knew there is still so damaged over what happened, they won’t talk about it thirty five years later.
And yes, many others went on to do exciting work in the world. That is true.
Perhaps the best thing I got from Horn was a brand new shiny B.S. Meter with a lavender wrist-strap and a glow in the dark dial, including a lifetime warranty. Damn accurate, too.
Thank you, Alex.
NOW I’m a regular walking Sly-Detector.
Copyright, Dave Archer, All Rights Reserved