Opening Chapter of the Saga of the Molly Lama and St.Paula of Gramercy Park as told by Molly Cheshire:
I’ve only just met her, but you can see there’s something special; a light about her. She has an unearthly quality to her so I took the liberty to canonize her on the spot. I’ve always wondered what a real saint would look like. Most of us never get the chance since we have to wait till Rome confers the honor posthumously. I’m hoping that if I hang out with someone in the zone I’ll catch their energy and reach enlightenment: that place beyond men, beyond money, beyond misery, and my life will be complete.
I am still trying to fathom Paula’s involvement with the world of crime, and with all my East Coast education, I finally conjure a banal halfway intelligent response: “What exactly were you doing at San Quentin prison?”
Not completely unaware of the absurdity of her statement, she smiles and says, rather matter-of-factly, “I was teaching the warden and his wife how to meditate. ” She then elegantly places a forkful of linguini into her mouth. “Aha” I sigh, now this is a concept that slots in to a place that I can understand.
“I had just finished teaching at the ranch,” she says.
“Light cocaine busts and non-armed robbery.”
“I see,” I say with a certain lack of conviction. I take a sip of my wine as I consider the concept; you never know what goes on at those ranches. In Nevada it’s prostitution; in California, incarceration. I am still having a hard time visualizing St. Paula with a horde of hardened criminals. Her angelic voice alone seems so out of sync with a life of crime and yet you never know. Ted Bundy, that dashing serial killer from the 70’s, seemed to be such a nice young man.
She says, “There are different strata of prisoners. At that point, I was up to rapists and serial killers.”
“Oh really?” I find myself replying somewhat idiotically. But what else do you say when confronted with this kind of information?
She smiles and her big, baby blues widen. She laughs as she recalls. “They were such nice guys!” I raise my eyebrows. This woman is either totally naive or she has some heavy-duty guardian angels.
“I didn’t know they were serial killers and rapists.” Ignorance is… nay maybe bliss is ignorance . Frankly I am astonished by this perilous approach to prison administration.
“They didn’t tell you?”
“Not exactly... Once when they gave me a tour, I accidentally wandered off and I was in a room full of photographs. Big photos. Bodies killed with pencils. It was the instruction room to teach the guards about what really goes on inside. I actually had a spiritual experience. I just tuned into the souls of those men and I could see that, even though society considered them bad people, and they had had dreadful deaths, I could feel the intensity of their souls in experiencing life so extremely.”
I am still digesting the idea of using a pencil as a lethal weapon, but a few years later we found out that box cutters allegedly brought down the World Trade Center... So even though life on that edge might bring you closer to the infinite, the suburbs are looking better all the time.
Now Paula gets up on her soapbox, and says, “And now we spend more money on prisons than universities. $100,000 a year per prisoner! Supposedly we have more people behind bars than Russia or China. We showed that by teaching TM, we were saving the state millions of dollars because the prisoners weren’t coming back.”
“Wow, that’s amazing. What did they say?” It’s always cheers my heart to know that something actually works. I had no idea that meditation, much less Transcendental Meditation, was being taught in prison. Paula looks a little crestfallen and says, “They said nothing. People were making money at building prisons so why would they rock the boat?” This smacks of a conspiracy theory to me, but you never know it could be true.
As Paula warms to the topic, her voice rises as she recalls, “I realized that for me to continue to do volunteer work for a system that didn’t really care about rehabilitating people was idiotic and that I was sicker than the inmates I was teaching. I felt I was worth $40 an hour, which was a lot of money in the eighties. That was the beginning of the end for me with TM. I couldn’t keep giving myself away and if the only language this world understood was money, then I wanted to learn that language because I wanted to communicate. I wanted to connect effectively. When I told the warden I wanted $40 an hour, he said, ‘No’, and I said, ‘Goodbye’.” Her face is a little flushed from the charge she still has after all these years. The air crackles in the silence. As an afterthought she says, “Then again, even after I turned 30 thousand into 5 million, the money didn’t make the connection either.”
“5 million dollar?” For the second time in less than five minutes, Paula, makes my jaw involuntarily drop open; just as I was getting used to the idea of her fraternizing with hardened criminals. Somehow it’s easier to envision her as a blissed out socialworker than a corporate magnate.
She elaborates for my overburdened brain: “In the late 1980s, the government cracked down on the ATT phone monopoly. And at that point cell phones were coming on the scene. So the US government gave every citizen the right to bid for the building of their own cell tower, as long you could provide an architechtual plan, which was the main investment... I thought it would be fun to be able to walk and talk on the phone at the same time. And I’d always wanted my own telephone company. Back then everyone said ‘Who needs cell phones when there are public phones everywhere?’ So even though my friends and family made fun of me, I went ahead and put all the money I could raise into entering these government lotteries that paid off big time.”
I am impressed. She was there at the ground floor of the cellular boom. Being on the cutting edge can be a double-edged sword. No guarantees. Now twenty years later, it’s hard to imagine life before our little handy pocket computers.
“So how did you make it happen?” She pauses to reflect.
“Oh, we tried everything. I even took all of the investors to see Ammachi.”
“She’s the hugging saint. A major institution in India. She has hugged millions of people.”
I laugh at the visions of perspective clients in their Wall Street suits wading through a sea of saffron and ask, “What was their take on her?”
“They loved her, some of them were ex-TMers so they knew a good thing when they saw it and how to maximize the opportunity.” I guess these weren’t the investors I had in mind. I hadn’t reckoned on the Northern Californian New Age variety. Paula says, “I had also bought the deluxe model of pyramid from Fred Bell, that wacky guy at all the New Age Expos who walks around with a pyramid on his head. Amazingly enough he’s a genius. His great uncle was Alexander Graham Bell and Fred started working for NASA at 16. The bottom line is that we tried everything and then something finally clicked.” I have to laugh at her unorthodox, but highly effective approach.
Later I did a little research and according to Dr. Bell, pyramids supposedly “block the effects of negative energies and radio frequencies.” I think there’s a lot more to it than just that. For example, when I was meditating in the great Pyramid I had a vision that it was a portal for space travel, just like in the movie “Stargate,” and except my vision happened a year before the movie was released (maybe the idea was just floating around in the ether). James Spader’s character, the renegade Egyptologist, even promotes the theory of John West, our much awaited mutual friend and host, that redates the Sphinx, but alas no royalties for our hero, and once again John is doomed to fame but no fortune. In any case, my sense was somehow the shape of the pyramid acts as an intensifier.
I am still intrigued by the success of Paula’s implementation of all these seemingly esoteric ideas and ask, “Something must have worked. What worked the best?”
“I don’t know exactly. But I also know that success doesn’t always look like what you think it will.” Before I can find out what success really looks like, John Anthony West, the man himself sits down at our table and says, “Sorry about that. I had some things to take care of for tomorrow.” John looks like the quintessential archeologist, permanently clad in khaki pants, light blue button down shirt, brown suede vest, khaki jacket and, while on location, a pith helmet. His close-cropped beard and mustache, streaked with gray, completes the just-off-the-dig look.