by Julie Long
Maharishiville is the story of California weatherman OWEN MARTIN, who can’t predict the atmospheric pressure he’ll encounter when he decides to return to his childhood home in Iowa, which he left after his father died. Thinking he’s moving back to the simple life his father intended for him, Owen is stunned to learn that Martinville has become a Mecca for meditators, and the MAYOR is scheming to turn the family farm into a New Age theme park. Making matters worse, Owen is attracted to the mayor’s levitating daughter TRISHNA instead of the down-to-earth girl he hand in mind. In a town where old beliefs and open minds are clashing like warm and cold fronts, Owen gets caught in a veritable tornado. In the end, he realizes that he can calm the storm and bring the town back together, but he must accept that even the simple life has its compromises and complications.
Here are the first 50 pages — I hope you enjoy the read!
Most weather systems travel from west to east over the United States. The reason for this is the westerly winds — one of several fairly constant winds circulating the upper atmosphere of the Earth as nature tries to equalize air pressure. The warm air at the equator rises. The cold air at the poles falls. If the Earth stood still, the upper air would travel toward the poles and the surface air would travel toward the Equator. But the Earth is spinning, and the force of the rotation bends the wind to the right. So whatever is brewing in the west travels east.
Being a weatherman in San Diego is, I have learned, an oxymoron. There is no weather in San Diego. Not what a Midwesterner would call weather, anyway. It rarely rains (the windshield wipers on my truck were broken for a year before it became an issue), it never snows, and there hadn’t been a thunderstorm in all the time I’d been living there. Every day at noon, I stood in front of the camera and forecasted the same thing: “seventy-five and sunny.” You may think that sounds like paradise, but it was beginning to feel like my own remake of Groundhog Day. It was the day after Christmas, for crap’s sake.
Who could blame me for deciding to mix it up a bit, show the viewers what real weather was? I clicked the map over to the Midwest to highlight the twelve inches of snow that Santa had brought the kids in my home state of Iowa. Behind the camera, Kevin tried to warn me that Wiley was in the control booth. Wiley is of the firm opinion that people who live in paradise only want the weather for paradise. According to him, they do not want the three-day forecast for Des Moines and a detailed explanation of the slow-moving cold front crossing the Hawkeye State.
Long story short, I didn’t get the promotion to the nightly news slot (that went to weather-babe Brianna). Instead, Wiley flung his clipboard at me, called me farmboy and told me to go back to EastBumFuck, Ohio. (People in paradise are always confusing Iowa with Ohio or Idaho.)
So I decided to. Go back to Iowa, that is. Only not because Wiley fired me. Or not only because of that.
“Is this because you didn’t get laid last night?” Kevin asked me the next day as I cleared out my desk. The contents of my moving box was sparse: a photo of the youth basketball team I’d coached (the team itself sparse), my backup on-air tie (clip-on), a chew toy I’d bought for Stella (which she’d already out-grown).
From the doorway of my tiny cubicle, Kevin shot a Nerf ball over my head and into the mini-hoop I’d velcro-taped to the top of my filing cabinet. I swiveled my chair, reached up and yanked the hoop off its perch, the velcro giving way with a satisfying rip. I handed it to Kevin. “A token of my appreciation for your impeccable taste in women. Or lack there of.”
He’d set me up on another blind date with a friend of his latest girlfriend. This one had sounded promising when she suggested we meet at a diner called Blue Plate. I’d grown up in diners. Burgers with the guys after our basketball games, Saturday morning pancakes with my dad, the never-empty cup of coffee — plain old coffee, not this five-buck grandefrapalattechino crap. But Blue Plate turned out to be a new bistro with a retro theme, a faux diner decked out with booths and fixtures from various real diners that had closed because they weren’t hip enough. The meatloaf special was caramelized tofu with cilantro mashed potatoes. The tuna melt was seared Ahi on flatbread with a dollop of goat cheese. And my date. The only thing natural about Sienna was her organic-no-processed-carbs diet. Teeth Chiclets-perfect and bleached blue-white. Breasts ballooning out of her tank top. Voice like, so affected. I’d gone home alone (again) and ended up spooning with the dog (again).
“Dude, that’s just sad,” Kevin declared. He peered into the box to see if there was anything else worth pilfering.
“Oh it gets sadder,” I informed him, tossing in a container of dental floss as if to prove my point. “This morning, the dog farted up my nose.”
I’d fallen asleep with Stella tucked under my chin and sometime during the night the bulldog pup had shifted position — a fact I became instantly aware of when silent-but-deadly gases traveled directly into my nose without dispersing into the atmosphere, shooting me awake like some sick form of smelling salts.
While Kevin found this hilarious, dropping the net and ball and doubling over against the partition, nearly taking it down with him, I remained focused on the significance of the event: I was thirty two years old and the only female in my bed was a dog — a farting dog. I was the sole Martin male left to carry on the name, and the rate I was going it would die with me. In frickin’ seventy-five-and-sunny San Diego.
That dog fart up my nose managed to clear out my brain. Every issue I had — the lack of weather, the lack of a job, the lack of a love life, even the lack of a damn diner and enough kids to coach a basketball team (what’s the deal with soccer, anyway?) — directly related to San Diego and could, therefore, be fixed by moving away from San Diego. There was also the recent news about the farmhouse to consider. My ancestral home, the heart of my family — the heritage of the town itself! How could I not spare its demise when all that was required was to be a warm body inhabiting it? Sure, you could argue the validity of a dog fart as a decision tool, but the moment Stella passed that gas was the the moment I knew I was moving back to Iowa.
Kevin recovered his composure and tried to reason with me while he peeled off the piece of velcro attached to the file cabinet. “Owen, seriously man. What is there to do in Iowa besides pick potatoes?”
“That’s Idaho, idiot. Iowa is corn.” (Remember what I said about people in paradise?) I grabbed the Nerf ball from the floor and chucked it at his head.
He waved me off without turning around. “Whatever. The point is, it’s just a bunch of land.”
“You act like I’d be living in the Australian Outback.”
He looked over his shoulder. “Now that would be cool.”
Cool was the last thing I was looking for. California offered plenty of that. There was wave after wave of new fads to catch; people rode the crest of one until it flattened out and then they caught the next one. My mother was no exception. From the minute she’d dragged my teenaged ass to California, she’d embraced every new thing the coast had to offer — from the Goddess Workout (“You belly dance with bright sashes to unleash your feminine empowerment”) to Reiki healing (“Let me lay my hands on you”).
Well I could’t surf and I was tired of swimming against the tide. After fifteen years on the West Coast, the corners of my squareness were still sharply evident. Why had my mother been able to adapt and not me? As she so succinctly put it: “Owen, sweetheart, I’m from the Midwest. You are the Midwest.”
I left California on the first of February, boxes in the back of the truck, bulldog in the front, and the windows cracked to counteract her SBDs. Two days later, I crossed into Nebraska at dawn. Dark, dormant farmland waited to be brightened by a new batch of snow, due in the area in a couple of days according to the local station I tuned in. The land stretched endlessly on either side of the highway, cornstalks picked clean and cut down. I watched the sun break the flat horizon line and realized I hadn’t seen a true sunrise in more than a decade. In California there’d been too many townhouses clustered around mine — towers of stucco and red-tiled roofs — to ever allow me such perspective. Trying to find a place there where earth met sky was like trying to find a Town Square. In that sprawling metropolis, it simply didn’t exist. But here the land met the heavens in every direction, with only the occasional silo breaking the plane.
I stopped in a diner (a real one) and ate a hot roast beef sandwich with gravy and mashed potatoes, and a slice of banana cream pie. When I filled up at the gas station across the street, where “pay at the pump” meant the old guy in greasy coveralls, he eyed my eight-year old Ford and thanked me for buying American.
I’d officially arrived in the Midwest.
I rolled into my old hometown four hours later on a half-tank of gas and an empty stomach. I slowed the truck at the stoplight where the highway turned into Main Street, one of the two main roads in town. On the right was the IGA grocery store. Across from it sat the McDonald’s. (When the Golden Arches came to town the summer I was sixteen, it was a huge deal: the town’s first national chain.)
I was hungry, but I wasn’t about to settle for fast food when Aunt Esther would have at least a plate of leftovers waiting for me in the farmhouse fridge. She and Uncle Phil had a choir concert tonight or they’d have invited me to eat supper at their house. When I called her from the road she’d informed me that she’d been over to clean the farmhouse, drop off some groceries and leave the key under the mat. Aunt Esther had doted on me since I was young. She’d marvel to my mom at how much of her pot roast and pies I could eat (“Marlene, don’t you feed this boy?”). I always knew Aunt Esther was showing up her sister-in-law, but hey, food was food. Now I was looking forward to more of her home cooking.
But then I remembered that our town had a delicacy you couldn’t find outside of the Midwest: the Maid-Rite sandwich. Like a sloppy Joe without the tomato sauce, a Maid-Rite was just salty browned beef on a bun — but its greasy simplicity was delicious. Now it felt like I’d been craving a Maid-Rite for the last fifteen years.
I slowed the truck, trying to remember exactly where the restaurant was. I inched along, mouth watering, eyes scanning the storefronts. There, I recognized the big front window, the way it angled in to the door. But instead of the simple red block lettering on the glass, there was this loopy purple script: “The Healthy Hearth.” And beneath that, words that made my mouth go dry: “A Vegetarian café.”
A vegetarian restaurant in the middle of Iowa? This was a state where the ad slogan “Beef: It’s what’s for dinner” was taken as gospel. No wonder the sign on the door was flipped to CLOSED.
I must have the wrong building, I thought, and I gently pushed my foot on the gas as I continued to watch for the Maid-Rite.
“Watch it!” someone yelled.
I slammed my foot on the brake, sending Stella tumbling to the floor of the cab, and looked forward to see a body standing in front of my truck. A kid in a pink jacket with short spiky hair banged her hand against the hood of the truck. I threw the gearshift into PARK and hopped out.
“Are you all right?” I rushed around to the right front bumper.
“You almost ran me over!”
She flattened her free hand to her chest and I noticed two things beneath her unzipped jacket: First, she was wearing a name tag. Second, she had fantastic breasts (okay, so maybe I noticed the second thing first). Small, but perfectly shaped. She wasn’t a kid, I realized, but a petite woman, lithe, like a ballerina.
“I’m really sorry —” I glanced at the name on the tag, “Trisha.” I looked to her face and was met with green eyes nearly the color of spring grass.
“It’s Trish-na, with an N.” She tapped her name tag then raised an eyebrow. “Maybe that’s the problem: you need glasses.” Her tone was somewhere between a barb and a tease.
I bent down to retrieve the shoulder bag she’d dropped. As I stood, I surveyed her body, looking for injuries, I told myself. She wore some sort of tights that showed off her toned legs, and a clingy top that wrapped around a slim waist. She was waif-like and sexy at the same time — the opposite of the sporty buff babes in California.
“Are you sure you’re not hurt?” I asked as I handed her the bag.
“Are you sure you’re licensed to drive?” she quipped.
“I guess I deserve that. I wasn’t watching the road.”
“Well,” she bit her lip, “since we’re being honest, neither was I. I was running late. Am running late.” She started walking backwards. “I’m always running late.”
She was smiling now, and I smiled back at her. Out of habit, my fingers moved to the crown of my head, trying to flatten my cowlick. (“You may have the face for TV,” the stylist at the TV station had once told me, “but your hair has other ideas.”)
“I was looking for the Maid-Rite,” I told Trishna. “Did it move?”
She stopped and her smile vanished. She looked at me as if I’d asked where to find a slaughterhouse. “That place was gross. Thank goodness it’s gone.” She scrunched up her nose, like the smell of it still lingered.
“I happen to love the Maid-Rite,” I said. “Everyone does.” I didn’t know why I felt the need to defend myself.
She put her hands on her hips. “Obviously not everyone, or you wouldn’t find a vegetarian restaurant in its place, would you?”
“Well, if you don’t mind my saying,” I nodded toward the building, “this place doesn’t seem to be doing much business.”
She rolled her eyes. “We close from five to seven.” She zipped up her coat and started across the street. “Come back later and you’ll see how busy it is.”
“No thanks,” I told her. “I think I’ll stick with meat.”
“Try a tofu burger,” she called from the far curb. “You’ll live longer.”
I opened the truck door and Stella, who had scrambled back onto the seat, barked at the woman. “You tell her, girl.” But I saw the dog’s nub-tail wiggle like crazy as she stared after her.
“She’s not for us, Stella.” I climbed in the truck and slammed the door. “Even if she is kind of cute.” I shifted into DRIVE. “She probably feeds her dog a vegan organic-no-processed-carbs diet.”
Dusk settled as I continued down the street. I could still make out the white bandstand in the middle of Town Square, where a carousel of Santa and his reindeer had circled during the Christmas season when I was a boy. Further down Main Street I passed the old Dickson mansion, its lavender-painted turrets now nearly covered by the treetops. For its small size, the town had a prosperous history, boasting a college and several manufacturing companies in addition to the surrounding farms. Academia, industry and agriculture had provided a diversity that’d always kept the town healthy, if not exactly growing.
I continued past the shaded houses that lined Main Street, past the wooded park where Dad took us to roast wieners and marshmallows in the fall, past the ball field where I played Little League. Then I turned right at the old roller rink. Soon the paved road gave way to gravel.
“Almost home, girl,” I told Stella, and she pressed her face against the side window. I cracked it so she could get a whiff of her new surroundings. The air was crisp and cold and seemed to tease us forward. A log fire burned somewhere in the distance and its smoky scent mixed with the sweet wool fibers of my father’s barn jacket that I’d pulled from storage.
I turned into the gravel drive of the farmhouse that my great-great-grandfather had built. The clapboard house, complete with a wraparound porch and a storm cellar, was just as I remembered. A little smaller, perhaps, and the porch a bit saggy, but still the same welcoming yellow, soft and warm like sun through an old garage window. My father had chosen the color. That same summer he’d taught me how to paint.
The porch light glowed, and through the kitchen window I could that see that Aunt Esther had left the light on above the stove. But other than that, it was lifeless. It sat empty of renters and in danger of being sold, maybe eventually bulldozed. In the name of progress, history would be erased were I not moving in.
On the right side of the drive sat the outbuildings, the barn and toolshed. Towering behind them were two silos and a corncrib. And beyond that lay a thousand acres of fertile land that’d been farmed for five generations. There’d been no suggestion from my uncle that we sell off the acres (if you were fortunate enough to own land in Iowa, you damn-well kept it). But in my mind, the homestead was just as valuable as the farmland. The house I’d lived in with my parents, the little ranch-style on Maple Street, had been sold when mom and I moved. The same with Martin Drug, the pharmacy my father had operated. The farmhouse was the only home I had left in the only place I’d ever belonged. And I knew, if he were still alive, my father would never have sold it.
I stood by the truck, stretching my shoulders while I let the dog wander, sniff and do her business. She chose the wooden utility pole on the side of the drive, and I took it as a good omen that the basketball hoop still hung there (though the net was long gone).
I took in a deep breath. Though cold filled my lungs, the February air was still heavy with the richness of Iowa soil and trees and all things deeply rooted. I was home.
When I was a young boy, my father liked to share with me various weather rules of thumb. For instance, if a jet airplane doesn’t leave a visible trail, you can be fairly certain it won’t rain the next day. If it’s snowing hard enough that you can’t see with your high beams on while driving, you can figure the snow is accumulating at a rate of at least an inch per hour. If you feel a chilly downdraft when you see an approaching thunderstorm, the storm most likely will break overhead instead of blowing over.
These are not myths. Here’s a weather myth: Cracking your windows during a tornado will equalize pressure and may save your home. In fact, it’s a useless waste of time — time you could be using to get to a safe place. Myths and folklore, like six more weeks of winter if the groundhog sees his shadow, are not reliable. (The groundhog, by the way, has only been correct 25% of the time over the last half-century.) But a rule of thumb, by definition, is based on experience.
Midwest living has its own rules of thumb. Particularly in a small town. The most exciting thing happening on a Friday night is the high school basketball game. When you sit down to a meal, the main ingredient will be meat and there’ll be a good chance the salad contains Jell-O. And when you’re ready for marriage, you’ll find a nice, down-to-earth girl who believes in the same things you do.
These were the rules of thumb when I grew up in Iowa. They were the rules of thumb I was counting on now that I’d returned. I’d never wanted to leave in the first place. My father certainly wouldn’t have.
Of course, I should have remembered another rule of thumb, the one about going home again: namely, you can’t. Not really. Not even when the hometown is named after your family. And especially not if that town is Martinville, Iowa.
The next day, I stood on the steps outside the First United Presbyterian Church at 10:45 to meet my aunt and uncle. Through my frozen breath I surveyed the impressive stone structure. The arched red doors with black iron hinges, the foot-thick walls, the buttresses and bell tower seemed to communicate a welcoming that was both protective and stern. Sort of a “Glad you’ve finally returned, Owen Martin, we trust you’ve been on your best behavior.”
Except for weddings and an occasional Christmas Eve service, I hadn’t been to church in more than ten years. Most of the churches in San Diego had been nondenominational, and enough little things were done differently that I could never really feel at home. I’d find myself standing when no one else did. When everyone else stopped the Lord’s Prayer at “the power and the glory,” I would keep going with “forever and ever.”
But back in Martinville, in my old church, it was like I had never left. When I turned to the people behind us to shake hands and say, “Peace be with you,” an older woman said, “Why, you’re Bill Martin’s boy!” Pride swelled inside me as if I was twelve years old again. Had my dad lived long enough for me to finish adolescence, maybe that pride would’ve given way to resentment as I struggled to become my own man and step out of his shadow in our small town. But I’d only been sixteen. I’d not yet tired of his attention and influence, of being his son.
Instead, it’d been my mother who I’d resented for uprooting us, for insisting that I belonged with her out West just because she didn’t feel she belonged in Martinville anymore. As an adult, I can understand how she felt suffocated, assigned the role of the Widow Martin, as my grandmother had been assigned before her. And yes, in California she’d blossomed out of her grief (boy had she blossomed). I didn’t begrudge her that. And when she’d announced on Christmas Eve that she was getting remarried (I sat patiently though the entire “Arthur will never replace your father” conversation), I was happy for her. But I was also happy that she didn’t need me in California anymore.
The church hadn’t changed, and neither had my aunt and uncle. Aunt Esther still wore her hair and dress June Cleaver-style. Uncle Phil was gray at the temples and then some, but still sported a full head of hair. Now more than ever he reminded me of Fred MacMurray on My Three Sons, cardigan and all.
After church we headed to my uncle’s house for dinner. Delbert Fulton joined us. The Fulton farm was adjacent to the Martin farm, and Delbert had run both for as long as I could remember. The relationship had started with Delbert helping out after my grandfather died, and continued when my dad and Uncle Phil chose professions other than farming. Even before he became a widower, Delbert was considered part of the Martin family.
When I walked into my aunt’s kitchen, the smell of ham and scalloped potatoes greeted me.
“Owen, you can get the butter out of the cupboard over the toaster,” Aunt Esther said.
This was the only helping she would allow me to do. I set the butter dish on the table next to the plate of white bread. It was the little things like this — bread and butter at every meal, the butter stored at room temperature to keep it soft — that I hadn’t realized I’d missed.
It was a dinner scene I had often participated in as a boy. And though my father’s presence was still missed after all these years, I felt proud to be grown and home and sitting in his chair. We passed the peas and swapped stories. Said we couldn’t eat another bite and then polished off the second helping my aunt heaped on our plates. I pictured looking in on this scene from outside through the window: the warmly lit room, the family gathered around the table. It was a Norman Rockwell painting, and I was a part of it.
And then, over chocolate cake, the paint began to chip.
Delbert asked me what I hoped to do for work in Martinville.
“It’d be a shame to waste your education in meteorology,” my aunt said. “Your father would’ve been so proud of you, Owen. I do hope you’ll find something in your field.”
“If I can’t find anything right away,” I said, “maybe I’ll go back to school, take a couple classes.”
I noticed a glance between my aunt and uncle. “What?” I asked around a forkful of cake.
“You mean classes at Roo U?” Aunt Esther said.
“Esther, now, that’s none of our business,” my uncle said.
“Well, he brought it up! We’ve been avoiding the subject and I think we should go ahead and get it out in the open.”
“Get what out in the open?” I took turns looking at the three of them. Delbert held his tongue but my uncle finally sighed his consent and with that my aunt leveled a glare at me.
“Did you or did you not move to Martinville to become a Roo?” Aunt Esther asked.
“What’s a Roo?” I asked.
“You know, a guru. TM and all that other New Age nonsense the Maharishi made up.”
Delbert saw my confusion. “TM is short for Transcendental Meditation.”
“See?” Uncle Phil said to my aunt. “He doesn’t know about it. How could he? You never told Marlene.”
I put down my fork. “Never told my mother what?”
“It’s not the kind of news one likes to tell the world, Phil.” My aunt pursed her lips.
An uneasy feeling crept over me. “Could we back up a minute? I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Well then,” Uncle Phil said. He wiped his mouth with his napkin then carefully smoothed the cloth on his lap before he continued. “A few years after your mother and you left Martinville, Dillard College closed.”
I was stunned. “Why?”
“Hellbent on increasing enrollment, the dean relaxed standards, and the college lost its accreditation. It went bankrupt and closed its doors.”
“Why didn’t you tell us?”
Delbert busied himself adding cream to his coffee.
“It was quite an embarrassment, as you can imagine,” Uncle Phil said, looking down at his lap. “For the citizens of Martinville, as well as the faculty.”
Aunt Esther touched his arm. “You have nothing to be ashamed of, Phil. You always held your students to high standards.”
“But if you haven’t been teaching at Dillard,” I said, “what have you been doing since then?”
“Well, we hated to relocate,” my uncle said.
“The Martins founded this town,” Aunt Esther chimed in, as if I didn’t know our family history. “Our entire lives are here.”
“So, I’ve been teaching classes at the community college in Carver. It’s not a bad drive.”
But the cut in salary must hurt. I should buy out their share of the farmhouse, I decided. I’d bring it up to Uncle Phil later.
I felt badly they’d kept all this a secret from Mom and me, but I wasn’t exactly surprised. Mom and Aunt Esther weren’t close (to say the least). I thought about how communication between our families had steadily declined over the years. Their Christmas letters became cards with a quick note about the weather scrawled across the bottom. Of course I never bothered to write back (guys weren’t expected to, right?). And yet, they’d welcomed me home with open arms.
“What about the Maharishi?” I asked. “What’s he got to do with this?”
Delbert explained that the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi — the one the Beatles hung out with back in the 1960s — had purchased the entire campus, lock, stock and barrel. He opened the Maharishi University, or “Roo U” as the locals call it.
“Why would he choose the middle of Iowa?” I asked.
“He got a complete college campus for four cents on the dollar,” Uncle Phil said.
“And a place to do his brainwashing where it wouldn’t get national attention,” Aunt Esther added.
“Now, Esther,” Uncle Phil said. “Brainwashing is a pretty harsh word.”
“People actually come to Martinville to go to the school?” I asked.
“Oh, the Roos flock here,” Aunt Esther said. “Not just students, either.”
“Martinville has become a sort of Mecca for New Agers,” Delbert said. “It started with Transcendental Meditation and it’s expanded to encompass an entire Maharishi-inspired lifestyle.”
“Maharishi marketing scheme, is more like it.” Aunt Esther huffed. “The man isn’t even alive anymore but they put his name in front of anything and the Roos will do it and pay top dollar for the privilege.”
She began naming things, counting on her fingers the Maharishi’s areas of influence: Education. Nutrition (that explained why the Maid-Rite closed). Medicine. Architecture. Then she held up her thumb.
“And the newest and worst thing: this Maharishi ‘City’ they incorporated by Roo U.”
A city for Roos? I tried to clarify, to catch up with the things she was venting. But Aunt Esther was like a steam engine picking up speed and she wasn’t about to stop for me.
“It’s not enough they’re taking over our town? They’ve bought up the best homes along Main Street. You’ll see what they’ve done to them. And they run retail shops on the square! Selling ‘healing crystals’ and hemp this-and-that — I think they smoke that stuff, because a lot of them look very spaced-out.”
“Esther,” my uncle chided her.
She stood up and started clearing the table. My slice of cake was only half-eaten but I’d lost my appetite. Aunt Esther was stacking her good china like she was breaking each plate over someone’s head.
“They’re always running stop signs and causing accidents. One of them jumped the curb and hit a flower pot — a pot that the Ladies Auxiliary paid for, mind you. But will they be held accountable for the replacement cost? No, sir-ee. Not since The Meditating Mayor weaseled his way into office.”
“Martinville’s mayor is a … a Roo?” I asked, getting comfortable with the term.
Uncle Phil nodded. “But Mayor Wallace is also a successful businessman.”
“You mean shifty businessman,” my aunt said. “I’m telling you, that man is not to be trusted.”
As my aunt carried the dishes into the kitchen, Uncle Phil turned to me and lowered his voice. “She’s still a little bitter about Dillard College closing and likes to take it out on the New Age community.”
From the kitchen, Aunt Esther shouted. “And oh! The traffic every morning and evening!”
Traffic? In Martinville?
“All of them rushing to get to those two hideous golden domes they built to meditate in.”
“Why, some of them say they can levitate, do you believe that?”
Back at the farmhouse that night, I stumbled on the stairs, my size-twelve feet too big for the century-old steps. Stella struggled with them, too, their steep rise and shallow depth throwing off her gate. Finally she gave up and sat on the fourth step grunting until I picked her up and carried her.
In the squeaky old bed tucked under a handmade quilt, I couldn’t sleep. Stella dozed soundly, her snores grinding like a semi-truck downshifting on the highway. I stared at the room’s sloped ceiling. Its downward slant seemed to reflect the turn my little back-to-the-simple-life plan had taken.
I’d thought I’d left all the New Age crap back on the West Coast. I thought I’d moved to normal old Martinville, the way it always was, the way my dad and I had left it.
But I was mistaken.
I’d moved to Maharishiville.
I quickly learned that Martinville had become a town of polar opposites. Old fashioned and New Age, Regulars and Roos. Both factions existed side by side, though they kept mostly to themselves. Which was fine with me. I certainly had no reason to interact with the Roos. I didn’t know any of them and they didn’t know me.
But as divided as it had become, Martinville was still a small town. Uncle Phil had mentioned my moving back to the teller at his bank, who told one of her friends, who told her boyfriend, who told his sister, who happened to be the secretary for the principal of Maharishi High School.
Yes, there was a Roo high school on the campus of Roo U. More surprising, the school had a girls’ basketball team, and they were about to lose their coach, who had to have surgery. All this I learned from my first visitor to the farmhouse.
I was shooting baskets at the outdoor hoop. Stella was rebounding for me. (To the untrained eye this looked a lot like her head-butting the ball across the gravel until it rammed into something, often my shins.) There was barely a dusting of snow on the ground but the air was cold and dry, freezing her slobber onto the ball. I used my thumbnail to flick it off.
A dark grey Caddie eased up the drive and stopped just shy of the basketball hoop as if that was its regular spot. A trim man unfolded himself from the vehicle, buttoned his blue overcoat over his pinstriped suit and introduced himself as Mayor Corbin Wallace.
The Meditating Mayor thrust a gloved hand out to me. I tucked the ball under my left arm and stuck out my right.
“Owen Martin,” I said as I shook his hand, noting that a bit of the frozen slobber ended up on the expensive leather stretched across his knuckles. This was followed up with a smear of snot to his overcoat as Stella sniffed her hello.
“I suggested to Principal Skutter that I pay you a visit,” the mayor said as he wiped off the snot with his gloved hand. “I like to welcome folks to Martinville, on behalf of the Town Council.”
“I’m originally from here,” I said. “I’m not sure I qualify for an official welcome.” Would I hear from the Ladies Auxiliary next? I glanced down the driveway, half-expecting to see the Welcome Wagon.
“I’m aware of your history, Owen,” the mayor said. “You were quite the basketball player in high school. That was long before my daughter and I moved here, but I’ve heard all about it. Have you ever coached?”
“YMCA youth teams in California.” It had been a pitiful league, actually. A few of us transplanted Midwesterners had managed to scrounge up some interest, but we’d barely had enough players for six teams. The soccer fields, of course, were packed.
He filled me in on the current situation with the team. “If your schedule in Martinville allows it, the principal and I were hoping you’d consider stepping in as interim coach. To see the girls through the remainder of the season.”
Next to playing pro ball, coaching was my dream job. Granted, I’d rather it be at a regular high school, but at least the team was having a winning season, according to the mayor. The girls must not be too spaced out (contrary to what my aunt said). Still, the prospect of mingling with Roos on a daily basis caused me to backpedal. Not to mention the job prerequisite he mentioned.
Stella pushed at my leg, requesting the ball. I turned to the basket and lifted the ball to shoot. The muscle in my outer tricep gave an odd pinch as I released, causing the ball to wobble on the rim before it dropped in. Stella gave chase as it bounced into the frozen grass.
“Think about it,” the mayor told me before I could say no. “It’s just a few weeks of coaching. You wouldn’t be locked into anything longterm, should you not be planning to stay in Martinville for long.”
“What do you mean?” I looked at him. “I’m not visiting, I moved here.”
“Oh.” There was surprise in his voice, along with something else — disappointment? “I thought perhaps you were here to settle your family’s estate, facilitate the sale of the farm.”
I laughed. Like the children’s game of “telephone,” where information is whispered from ear to ear and ends up completely wrong, the small-town lines of communication had veered significantly off course.
“I’m not here to sell the farm,” I said.
He paused over the news and then said, “Have you considered the matter?”
“The matter?” There was no matter. The only concern had been the farmhouse sitting empty, which I’d solved.
Stella herded the ball over my foot and up against the porch steps, where she tried to bite it. Luckily, it was too big for her to sink her teeth into.
“Perhaps Phil discussed the option with you?” the mayor asked.
“You know my Uncle?”
“We’re acquainted, yes. I’ve indicated to him that I’m interested in buying the Martin land.”
Ah, now it was clear why he was the guy paying me a visit instead of the principal.
“You mean, if we were interested in selling,” I clarified.
“Which we are not.”
“So you say.”
My uncle had no doubt told him the same thing, since Uncle Phil hadn’t even mentioned their conversation. But the mayor didn’t like my uncle’s answer so now he was trying me. I was beginning to see why Aunt Esther didn’t like this guy. Her words rang in my head: “Not to be trusted.”
I walked to Stella, who now had both front paws on the ball like some kind of circus act. I nudged her down and picked up the ball, tucking it under my arm. Playtime was over. I turned back to the mayor. “If the farm being for sale is somehow conditional to the coaching job, you can take both offers off the table.” And shove ‘em.
He raised his hands as if to stop the idea in midair. “I assure you they are two entirely separate offers.”
I stepped onto the porch and looked back down at him. “Well, I’m only considering one,” I said and then, just to be clear: “The coaching job.”
The decision required careful deliberation and trusted counsel: beers with Smitty at the only bar in Martinville city limits, the Do Drop Inn.
The bar sat one block north of Town Square, on a side street that was more like an alley. I wasn’t sure if it was a city ordinance or unspoken agreement in small towns that kept alcohol consumption tucked away from public spaces, but either way, walking into the Do Drop Inn made me feel like I was slinking into a strip joint in broad daylight. Or maybe the feeling was due to the fact that Smitty and I had spent much of our teens trying to pass for legal age to drink at the Do Drop (and getting bounced to the curb).
Now I walked right in without even a glance from the bartender, who, once my eyes adjusted to the dim light, I recognized as the guy who had once confiscated my fake I.D. (Fifteen years later and he still sported the same comb-over). I scanned the half-empty room until I spotted Smitty at the bar, lanky frame hunched protectively over his beer. His look hadn’t changed since high school: plaid shirt rolled up above his elbows to show off his biceps, hair long enough to touch his collar, with the just-rolled-out-of-bed look the girls always liked. Smitty was still single, so you could argue that the look was still working for him. Or not.
“O!” he shouted (Smitty had always called me by my first initial). He stood and shook my hand. “Man, took you long enough to get your ass back here!”
We hadn’t spoken in nearly a decade, but it was like I’d never left. I guess that’s how it is when you’ve known someone since the third grade. We built tree houses together. Stole our first kiss from the same girl (Missy Daniels, fifth grade). Rode our bikes all over town in middle school, then rode the bench together our freshman year of basketball. (“There’s no ‘I’ in team,” my dad had lectured when we complained. And Smitty answered back: “Yeah, but there’s an ‘M’ and an ‘E’.”) Then we both shot up several inches and made starting positions our sophomore years, he as guard, me as forward. Dad nicknamed us the Dynamic Duo.
Now Smitty ran a construction company, getting plenty of residential work from the Roos remodeling old homes and building new ones to conform to a Roo version of feng shui he said they called Maharishi Vedic design.
“It’s some strange shit, O,” he told me after we’d settled in at the bar. “A beam of light needs to be able to pass from one end of the house to the other. I’ve built houses with glass block in closets and staircases so the light energy could flow through.”
In the mayor’s home, Smitty’s guys had to work in their stocking feet and weren’t allowed to bring their lunches inside if they contained any meat.
“The Meditating Mayor,” I said, “seems like a dick.” I relayed our conversation about him wanting to buy the farm.
Smitty shrugged. “He’s a schemer, yeah. But that’s got nothing to do with him being a Roo.” He took a swig of beer while simultaneously dipping a hand in the bowl of bar nuts sitting between us. He swallowed. “The Roos are wacky, but they’re all right.”
“Maybe,” I conceded. But that didn’t mean I wanted to be their basketball coach. “What do you care what they do off the court?” He tossed some nuts in his mouth, chewed briefly and then washed them down. “Besides, maybe all that meditating makes them good. They’ve got a rivalry going with Martinville High.”
And I’d be on the wrong side. Great. But it would be sweet to coach a good team — any team, for that matter. God I missed basketball.
“There’s just one catch.” I stared into my mug like I’d never seen carbonation before.
“What? You gotta practice in the levitation domes?” He elbowed me in case I didn’t get the lame joke. I raised my head and watched him reach for the nuts again. He polished them off, his beer hand at the ready to complete the maneuver.
I squinted against the reality I was about to share. “I have to take an intro course in Transcendental Meditation.” I lifted an eyelid to witness Smitty’s reaction.
He snort-laughed mid-swig and shot beer out his nose and all over himself, which only made him laugh harder. While he recovered, I spun my stool around and slumped back against the bar. I’d have to sit through a two-hour lecture and then a few days of learning the technique, an hour each day.
“Come on, O.” Smitty patted my shoulder with his wet palm and then flipped his hand over to dry the back side, too. “It’s probably just a formality. They can’t make you meditate.” True. I took some relief in that fact and swung back around to grasp my beer. Before I could raise it, Smitty reached in front of me for the other bowl of peanuts. “So take the course, go through the motions and forget about it.” He tossed an entire handful of nuts in his mouth and chewed.
I took advantage of the break in the action to finally lift my beer to my mouth. I let the liquid cool my tongue before I swallowed. “You really think I should take the job?”
He nodded until he could clear just enough room in his mouth to answer, sarcastically. “You got a better offer?”
The answer to that was no. I’d already inquired at the major stations in Des Moines but none of them were in the market for a new meteorologist, even one from a bigger market like San Diego.
“Jobs and women,” Smitty said as he hunched over his beer. “In Martinville, you take what you can get your hands on.”
“Speaking of,” I said, “how are things in the latter category?”
“I do all right but it’s slim pickins compared to high school.”
“Gonna be slimmer now that I’m back.”
“Ha!” He hiked the sleeve of his shirt up and flexed his bicep. “Are you forgetting how much girls like a man with some muscle, O? You best hit the gym if you want any chance at all.”
“You seeing anyone?”
“You know I can’t be tied down — except literally, of course.” He elbowed me, pleased with his pun. “There’s this Roo who pretty near did just that. Trishna.”
The girl I’d almost hit with my truck had that same unusual name. “Is she short with short hair?” I asked. “Works at the vegetarian diner?”
“That’s her. She also teaches yoga, classes but individual sessions, too. Therapeutic stuff. Kind of like physical therapy. My back was killing me a couple of jobs back so I went to see her. Man, O, she had me in positions I didn’t know a body could go.”
“On or off the yoga mat?”
He sighed. “Unfortunately, just on. I used my best lines but she wouldn’t go for it. But I’ll tell you what: she really fixed my back.” He twisted from side to side to prove it. “To tell you the truth, I’ve been kind of wishing it would start acting up again so I could go back and see her. She’s hot.”
“Hotter than Connie Kerchief?” I tossed out the name of my high school flame. The conversation spun into an old but still heated debate over who was worthy of being included in the Top Ten Hottest Chicks from Martinville High.
I called the principal and took the job. I told my aunt and uncle I was doing it for the money (they couldn’t argue with the common sense of that) and I didn’t mention a word about the required TM course. But driving to the lecture, I felt nervous. Like I should have told someone to send a search party if I wasn’t back by supper.
I turned the truck between two stone pillars at the main entrance of campus. To my left were the golden domes my aunt had lamented. The low round structures with shallow domed roofs sat like two giant cymbals reflecting the sun. At least my class wasn’t held in one of them. I’d been told they were reserved for advanced meditators.
Along with the domes there were a few other new additions to the old-world architecture I remembered. Three two-story buildings, each blinding white and shaped like a giant Lego, the rows of windows perfectly symmetrical. I decided this must be the Vedic design stuff Smitty had talked about. They were too big and bulky for the spaces they occupied, yet the entrances were simple porticos and the center of the roofs were marked with cupolas that looked too small for the structures, like knobs put there to lift the tops off. The entire affect gave the feel that the buildings were simply walls with nothing on the inside. As if a giant crane had picked up shells from the faux-building factory and set them over top of the original buildings.
I was pleased to see that nestled under the trees to the right of the drive, Lenhelm Chapel still stood. One of the stained glass windows had been broken and covered with plywood, and the bushes lining the steps needed trimming. But the Gothic stone structure remained stoic. I wondered if people still got married there, like my parents had.
I parked in the first lot I came to and walked down the sidewalk that curved through campus toward the student union. There were a few students walking between classes. They were clean cut and dressed casually. I couldn’t find a white robe, long hair or beard among them. I tried to detect a blank look in their eyes, like the Harikrishnas at the airport in Los Angeles, but the eyes that met mine were only tired from a day of classes.
The basement of the student union was set up for a lecture, though only a few of the seats were taken. There was a middle-aged woman, an older guy in chinos and a plaid shirt, a couple of younger people in jeans and T-shirts. I took a seat in the back.
After a few minutes, an awkward-looking guy in a cheap tan suit stood and introduced himself as Jeff. He described Transcendental Meditation as a simple, natural technique utilized for twenty minutes each morning and afternoon. It was brought forth in the 1950s by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Jeff pronounced Maharishi as “Ma-HAR-shi.”
“TM raises our consciousness and brings us to a state of awareness of enlightenment. There are four benefits to TM: the development of our full mental potential, perfect health, ideal social behavior and world peace.” (And I thought I was just going to learn how to relax and lower my blood pressure.)
The next two hours were filled with more kinds of idealistic statements, backed by assurances that everything had been scientifically proven: TM increases IQ. TM reverses biological aging. Group practice of TM reverses negative trends in society. TM can provide invincibility to our nation.
He used phrases like “pure happiness and bliss” and kept saying that TM is very innocent, charming and simple. “It’s like brushing your teeth. Anyone can do it.”
Jeff described transcending as an inward dive. “As we think on a mantra, the mind is naturally drawn to the quiet TM state, which is charming to the mind.”
If I kept practicing, according to Jeff, TM would eventually take me into deeper and subtler levels of consciousness until I reached unity consciousness, where all desires are spontaneously fulfilled. So my team would be sinking baskets from mid-court, nothing but net.
When Jeff finally finished, he said in order for us to learn TM firsthand he would need to conduct a brief personal interview. Then we would return tomorrow for our personal instruction in the TM technique, followed by three subsequent days of verification and validation.
The fee, by the way, was $2,500. I was floored. Shouldn’t enlightenment be free?
“Don’t worry, Owen,” Jeff said before my personal interview. “Your fee is being waived by the school, as part of your compensation for coaching.”
The personal interview was nothing more than asking if I was on any prescription drugs, had I ever been in psychological counseling and did I have any health issues? No to all. Now that I wasn’t so nervous I grew bored. I lifted my arm to rub the back of my neck, and felt a pang stab my upper arm. I must be stiff from sitting. If TM was the cure-all this guy said it was, it’d better be able to alleviate muscle aches.
Jeff told me that when I returned the next day I should bring a couple of pieces of fruit, a white handkerchief and some flowers. I didn’t ask why. We could go on a picnic for all I cared. I just wanted to get this whole thing over and get on to coaching.
I grabbed my jacket and he walked me to the hallway. He called to someone rushing by.
“I’m late,” she yelled over her shoulder. She had a tattoo on the back of her neck.
“Just say a quick hello to the new girls’ basketball coach,” Jeff said to her.
She stopped and pivoted, her dangly earrings brushing against her neck as she stepped toward me, smile broadening, ready to welcome. Then, just as quickly, she looked dubious. She dropped her hand to her hip. “You’re the new basketball coach?”
It was the girl I’d almost hit with my truck. The one Smitty had talked about.
“Have you two met before?” Jeff asked.
“Not officially,” I said. “I’m Owen Martin.” I stuck out my hand. She reluctantly shook it, her delicate fingers surprisingly firm in my grasp. “Trishna, right?” I asked her. “I remembered the N.”
What, did I want brownie points for getting it right? Actually, yes, I did. For some reason I wanted Trishna to like me. Maybe because she’d shot Smitty down.
“Trishna and I are roommates,” Jeff told me.
Trishna checked her watch.
“Owen starts the TM course tomorrow,” Jeff said to her as she started walking backwards.
“That’s good.” She nodded. Was that a smile or a smirk? “He could use a little mind-opening.”
The next day, Jeff and I entered a little room, dimly lit by a single candle sitting on a low table. He signaled me to take a seat on one of the two bolsters positioned in front of the table. He sat on the other one.
I looked at the table and realized it was set up like an altar. A piece of orange fabric covered the top of it. On it sat the candle and various little metal pots of incense and herbs. He motioned for me to place my flowers on the table, along with my oranges tied in the handkerchief. Leaning against the wall was a large painting of a man sitting, enveloped by his robes and long hair. Next to it was a smaller picture of a man I recognized as the Maharishi. Had I just made an offering to these guys?
“I’m going to introduce you to an appropriate sound, or mantra,” Jeff said, “and then instruct you in the technique to use the sound to go to a quieter place. It is very simple. You need to follow the instruction in a calm and innocent way, with no effort.”
I nodded. I was all for applying no effort to TM.
“I have chosen a mantra for you, to help you focus your attention away from random thoughts. It is, sharim.”
I repeated it.
“Correct. But recite the word in your head, not out loud.”
He told me to make sure I was seated comfortably. Since my knees were up to my ears sitting on the little ottoman, he suggested I move to a folding chair, with my feet flat on the floor, my back against the back of the chair.
“Relax and remain calm and innocent,” he said.
There was that word again: innocent. I willed myself to be innocent and avoid thoughts of pornography, drugs or crime.
“The instructions you have to follow are very simple.”
Again with the simple. Did he think I was stupid?
“You’ll close your eyes and repeat the mantra for twenty minutes.” He would let me know when the time was up. I was not to worry about how I felt or if I was doing it right. “Okay, you are ready. Close your eyes.”
I did and Jeff said sharim over and over, rather quickly. After a bit he said it more softly and more softly until he stopped. “Go on thinking it by yourself,” he whispered.
Sharim, sharim, sharim. I thought to myself. It rhymed with Kareem, as in Kareem Abdul-Jabar, and my thoughts jumped to basketball. With some effort, I brought them back to sharim. Sharim. Sharim. Sharim.
I went on like this. Mind focused, then wandering, then refocused on sharim. Sometimes I pictured the word flying toward me as I thought it. Once in a while I’d have this sense that I lost time — like when you drift asleep and something wakes you up and you’re not sure whether you’ve been out for a minute or an hour.
“All right,” Jeff’s voice drifted in. “You can stop.”
He had me rest for a few minutes, sitting quietly, not thinking the mantra. He said this was very important. Otherwise I might feel nervous or too excited. Some people got headaches if they didn’t rest.
Don’t think shirim, I told myself, which of course was the same as thinking the word. Shit. Think about something else – the first thing to come to mind. Trishna. Jeff had said they lived together. What would she see in this dork? Wait, he’d said they were “roommates.” If they were together he would have introduced her as his girlfriend. So they weren’t a couple. But Jeff probably wants to be. Sneaky bastard. Wait, what did I care? Trishna wasn’t my type. The girl had a tattoo. Kind of kinky. She was cocky. And cute. She’s a Roo. Oh yeah, that.
After the rest, Jeff asked me questions. How did I feel? Fine. Was there any moment of unpleasantness? No. Did I feel sleepy during the meditation or now? Nope. Did thoughts disturb me? Only the ones about Trishna. I guess I could say meditating had been peaceful, but other than that, I hadn’t felt anything. I told Jeff this.
“Many people say that at first. Don’t worry. Whether you feel relaxed or nervous or nothing at all, it does not matter. It is still working.”
The rest of the sessions that week were held in the outer room. No altar. Four of us students sat in chairs to meditate. After each period of meditation, we discussed how we felt. One woman felt refreshed. An older man said he felt strange and didn’t like it. He’d taken the course as a way to connect with his son, who he said was very into the “movement.” Two of us said we had brief moments when we felt light, kind of tingly.
“Everyone has the potential to discover the inner field of Pure Being, which is Pure Bliss,” Jeff said. “The mind flows to ever more refined levels of thought, until it becomes completely silent and at rest, yet fully awake inside. The mind makes direct contact with Being. This is Transcendental Consciousness and can happen several times during a twenty-minute meditation. The mind comes out enlivened with the bliss and peace and energy of Pure Being. And you’ll carry this bliss into your daily living.”
The soft, cheerful way he said this made it all sound so idyllic. A little naïve, perhaps, but certainly harmless. I doubted I’d ever meditate again — it was more useless New Age fluff — but if other people wanted to spend their time and money on TM, it was of no concern to me. I’d done my required course and now I could get on with coaching.
I paused outside the row of metal doors and took a breath. Savoring the moment, I told myself, though I was really trying to calm my nerves. This was it, my first day of coaching.
I’m not trying to make a bigger deal out of it than it is, but coaching girls’ basketball in Iowa is, well, a pretty big deal. Iowa is the only state in the nation where girls’ basketball has been played continuously for more than 100 years. Long before Title IX forced equal opportunity for girls sports. Iowans didn’t need a law to get behind girls basketball. It’s always been popular. It’s always been supported. When I was in high school, the Martinville girls’ team drew as big a crowd as the guys’. When the girls had won a slot to the state tournament, the fans had rushed onto the court and lifted the coach up on their shoulders.
For a few seconds, I let a similar highlight reel of possibility run in my head. Then I shook it off and yanked open the door to the gymnasium, sending an ear-piercing squeak ricocheting off the cement walls and up into the rafters.
No matter the gym, no matter the town, a basketball practice offers up its own distinct blend of sensory stimulus. The smell of rubber and wood. The blur of bare arms and legs in movement. The chirp of shoes on the court. And floating above it all, the echo of dribbling basketballs — an unrhythmic thunking blended with tinny pings and the bang of the backboard.
The girls were arranged on the court doing a jump-shot drill, lined up twelve feet out from either side of the basket, six on each side. They took turns shooting, rebounding their ball and passing it to the next player in line, then returning to the back of the line. I was impressed at their initiative as well as how many shots were being made.
When the girls noticed me approaching, they stopped the drill and the dribbling and moved into a semi-circle around me.
“Hi everyone,” I said. “I’m your new coach. Owen Martin — Mr. Martin — Coach Martin, I mean.” So much for not sounding nervous.
I stumbled through a little pep talk about how we weren’t going to let their coach’s surgery sideline their season. And I smiled to myself when I managed to work in one of my father’s favorite encouragements: “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.”
“Okay.” I clapped my hands. “Let’s get started. It’s going to take some time for me to learn your names. So let’s start with a two-line layup drill and shout your name when it’s your turn.”
As they cycled through their turns at the basket I silently repeated their names and some descriptor I might memorize to tell them apart. Becky the blond. Jennie with the jewelry. Jackie: pony tail. Marika: pony tail. Crap, half of them had pony tails.
I was glad I only had to learn their names and not the intricacies of the game. Iowa girls’ basketball used to be played six-on-six with an offense/defense divided court. But in the ‘90s it finally switched to five-man, full-court press, making the game identical to what the guys play.
We ran a bunch of drills, some sprints and then a scrimmage. Marika (with the muscles) and Caitlyn (curls) were standouts but all the girls were all good. Attentive. Focused. Skilled. I led with positive reinforcement, went light on the criticism and correction — mostly because they didn’t need it but also to help them relax with their new coach. Within an hour I could feel us all loosening up, growing more comfortable with each other and building a connection. It wasn’t just their team now. I was a part of it. It felt great.
I saved the free-throw drill until the end of practice. In a game, the most critical free throws are at the end, when players are exhausted and concentration slips. I divided the team into two groups and told every player to shoot ten free throws.
“You’ve each got to make eight of ten before you can leave.”
There were some glances between the girls, and then at the clock on the wall. I looked, too. It read 4:45. We still had fifteen minutes. If they’d assumed their new coach would go easy on them with a short first practice, they were wrong.
“Eight out of ten,” I repeated and blew the whistle.
The girls began to rotate, taking their turn at the line for ten shots. Marika missed the first two and barely made the third.
“You’re rushing,” I told her. “Slow down. Envision the ball’s trajectory before you send it flying.”
I turned my attention to the other basket. “Caitlyn, you’re not following through with your arm. No wonder your shots are falling short.”
Had I finally uncovered the team’s weakness? I couldn’t believe it was something as basic as the free throw. I grabbed a ball and walked to the line, dribbled twice and then prepared to shoot.
“Envision the arc. Follow it through.” I bent at my knees and sent the ball toward the basket, my hand trailing its trajectory as the ball sailed through the basket. Nothing but net — that, and a stab of pain in my arm. What the hell was that? I rolled my shoulder to shake it off but not before remembering I’d felt that pinch before. During TM training. And, before that, in my driveway with the mayor.
The girls resumed the drill but had apparently lost the ability to focus. I caught a few more glances at the clock.
“You’ve got someplace better to be than working on your free throws?” I shouted over the dribbling balls. “Because they very obviously need work.”
I noticed a hand raised. “Um, Coach?” At the sound of Caitlyn’s voice, the other girls stopped shooting.
“What is it?”
She looked at Marika, then back at me. “The thing is, Coach. It’s almost time for evening Sidhi.”
“We’ve got to be in the domes by five o’clock,” Marika added.
“You’re frickin’ kidding me,” is what I wanted to say. When I was their age and playing ball, the team was Priority One. We didn’t leave practice early — hell, we assumed we’d be staying late. And if you had other extra-curricular commitments — band or student government or whatever — it was understood they got whatever small amount of time you had leftover. Maybe it was true that TM helped these girls be focused and play well. But maybe letting it become too much of their lives was also the thing that was holding them back from a championship season.
The girls were looking anxiously at me, like they all were about to pee their pants and needed my permission to go to the restroom.
“If you’ve got to be in the domes by five,” I told them, “then you better start making your shots.”
They muffled their groans and resumed the drill. Keeping their focus when the clock was running down was exactly the kind of pressure the girls needed to be able to play under. But I wasn’t sure how the dome thing worked. Was it mandatory? If I made them late would I be reprimanded by the principal? Would the girls be sentenced some kind of TM penance? I felt myself soften.
“Four out of five,” I shouted over the din. “We’ll make it four out of five. But just for today.”
They met the goal by 4:55. As they rushed toward the locker room I shouted after them. “Good practice, everyone. Have a good … uh … Sidhi.”
In a matter of seconds they were gone. The door to the locker room slammed shut after the last girl left, reverberating into the empty gym. And then there was silence. I stood there for a few seconds and then headed outside to my truck. Walking amidst the meditators flowing toward the domes, I was acutely aware that whatever affinity we’d shared on the court, off the court these girls played for an entirely different team.