During my second year of college, I shared an apartment in a Washington DC suburb with two other students. Early into the spring semester, one roommate broke up with his girl friend. He became extremely depressed and stopped attending classes. His academic situation became so tenuous that he was ordered to see his advisor. The professor gravely informed the student that, having missed so many classes, it would be very difficult to pass any subjects. In fact, by the rules of the university, because of the large number of cut classes, he had received what they called “technical” failures in every course. There was one loop hole, however. The university had foreign study arrangements with a school in Quito, Ecuador. Classes had only just begun there. Since my buddy was a Spanish major, this was the perfect solution. He immediately purchased a plane ticket and soon left for South America.
That left me and my remaining roommate with a serious problem. The two of us could only barely afford the rent on our apartment split three ways. We started advertising in the newspapers under ROOMS FOR RENT. This was a further financial drain. Since the semester was well under way, there was really no market for student housing. To make matters only worse, we now had to deal with a constant barrage of phone calls from eccentric and peculiar persons seeking rooms.
Until one bright spring morning. I received a phone call from a postal worker who lived right around the corner. His brother, Gerry, was living with him and his wife. Their apartment was too small to comfortably accommodate three. Gerry was practicing for a typing test in order to qualify for employment with the Federal Government. This was the perfect opportunity for us all.
Gerry was a slight, personable man with a well trimmed red beard. A fine conversationalist, he had opinions on Pynchon, Camus, Yoga, vegan diets, and almost anything else.
After several days of settling in, Gerry started practicing typing with a vengeance. He told us that he was not going to allow his intellect to be dulled by mere rote and repetition. He was not going to just practice — he was writing a novel! We were all going to be in it. Perhaps, after the royalty checks started to roll in, he would not have to do secretarial work after all! Gerry worked almost around the clock on his book project sleeping fitfully.
At this point in time, I favored black, Engineer brand, “motorcycle” boots and denim jackets for attire. My remaining original roommate, Charley, was always conservatively and neatly dressed. I guess because of my disheveled appearance, Gerry was at least slightly leery of me. He was constantly trying to be friends with Charley. This was ironic, for I did not care what Gerry did, as long as brother brought a rent check on the first. Charley, increasingly anxious over Gerry’s antics, actually wanted to evict him. As a daily ritual, Charley would find me on campus and relate some new Gerry escapade. I would have to calm him down and gently introduce the hard reality of the matter to him: we needed the money.
As time wore on, Gerry’s typing output slowly diminished and sleeping increased. Eventually the novel writing came to a halt. Gerry would now spend the day wandering around the Georgetown section of DC dressed in a white suit and a turban.
At this time, Ram Dass was holding lectures in DC. Posters were everywhere displaying the serene countenance. I did not know anything about Ram Dass. (Later I learned quite a bit about Dass, Leary, Kerouac, et al.). Gerry was very taken with the posters.
One day, Charley came looking for me in the library. I instantly realized that Gerry must have pulled a really wild stunt. All color had drained from Charley’s face.
“Do you know what Gerry wants to do?”
I was now less concerned, for the action was securely in the future tense.
“No, I haven’t seen Gerry all week.”
“He wants us to make up posters and paste them all over DC. They’re going to read, ‘No, Not A Phoney From India — An Honest To Goodness AMERICAN Guru!’ He wants us to bring people into the apartment for readings and lectures.”
I laughed uncontrollably. I left Charley and went to see Gerry. As I walked in the door, Gerry met me, somewhat sheepishly.
“Did you see Charley at School today?”
“Did he say anything about my idea?”
“What do you think?”
“It seems like a real money making proposition.”
A wide grin that would challenge that of Ram Dass spread across Gerry’s face. He had his first disciple, albeit by the back door.
“Gerry, I’ve got one problem though. Why would anyone pay to see you?”
“Why, I have magic powers.”
“Like what, for instance?”
“I can read minds.”
“I have to think this over, Gerry. I’ll see you tonight.”
I left the apartment and went back to school. I met two friends, Tom and Peter. I told them about Gerry. We were nearly incapacitated by fits of laughter. Gerry was acquainted with Peter, but had never met Tom. As a joke, we decided to try to convince Gerry that he actually could read minds. We would “test” Gerry, confirming his every pronouncement. Peter, Tom, and I met Gerry at the apartment that evening.
“Gerry, Pete here wants to get in on the ground floor with your idea. He wants to check it out a little first. We met this kid in the cafeteria. We want you to read his mind.”
Gerry turned to Tom, “CONCENTRATE!”
Gerry, in his white suit and turban, sat on the floor in a lotus position. He put the palms of his hands to his temples. Softly, he chanted a mantra. Suddenly he looked up. “You’re thinking of a penny — a bright, new, US penny.”
Tom expressed a look of pantomime incredulity. “That’s right! I can’t believe it! That’s just what I was thinking about!”
“Now Gerry”, I said. “This might be one of those million to one freak occurrences. Let’s try it again.”
Gerry again turned to Tom, “CONCENTRATE!”
Gerry in his white suit and turban again sat on the floor. He again closed his eyes. He again put the palms of his hands on his temples. Softly, he, again, chanted a mantra. Suddenly he jumped up screaming, “I’m a phony! I admit it! I’m a phony!” Gerry then ran out of the apartment.
We never saw Gerry again.
Several days later, Gerry’s brother met me outside of the apartment. He wanted to know what I had done to Gerry. I started to tell him about Ram Dass, about the white turban, about posters, about lectures, about mind reading, but before I could finish he just wandered off, face completely blank.
Years later, at a point in my life when I took my religion seriously, I told someone who was interested in the Sikh faith about Gerry. I remarked that now I regretted my cruel jest. She replied that I probably did him a good turn by bringing him back to reality.