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Mystical Journey

99 Miles From L.A.

by Dr. Derek Lamar, QM21.com

At the point of leaving my position teaching at the Thomas Institute of Metaphysics in Los Angeles I was immediately hit with the question of “what now?” I knew I needed my own place to teach but where would that be? No money essentially. Didn’t own property or an actual business. I was still occasionally doing graphic design out of my apartment when clients would call but that was not going to pay for a “place” I could teach.

My wife and I were managing an apartment building in West Hollywood but things were changing with the landlord. There was talk of rent control in the West Hollywood area and rents were going up. It was clear the landlord wanted us to move out because they wanted to raise our rent and ours was currently an exchange for services but that was going to change. So I needed to teach somewhere and yet now we were going to have to move. At the same time a new influx of design work was coming in which meant money that we were desperately going to need. Suddenly my parents showed up and offered to buy us a new car. Things were definitely falling into place. (Far right: Apartment building in West Hollywood)

We went for a walk during this time and on our walk past a Hebrew school and they had all sorts of used stuff sitting in their trash area: a large chalkboard and one with a cabinet. Perfect if we were going to open a school. Duh!?! More fasting began again as well as personal “inner work.” Our goal: “To find a place to teach, a “Center” of sorts, money to begin and operate, new housing, an answer to our needs, where to go, what to do, etc.”

(Below: Bodi Tree Bookstore.            Far right: Joe Sparks and Robin Dixon in 1985. Next pic: Joe Sparks today. Below those: Pic of Used Section of Bodi Tree.)

A couple of weeks later while doing the usual “book search” at the Bodi Tree I met a young man in the used section of the bookstore. His name was Joe Sparks. Some of you may know him from the rock band “Burning Image” back in the 80’s here in Bakersfield. I think they have done some reunion performances since then. Joe was with friend Kevin. Joe, being intense, standing in the Gurdjieff section, seeming to be at a loss, is why I ended up speaking with him. He was into the concept of “Shocks” and the whole Gurdjieff thing. I told him with a smile I was a Fourth Way Teacher, which intrigued him to say the least. I was still not sure where I was moving to at this point. In my notes I see that I was checking into paying for a post office box in Beverly Hills. But a couple weeks later I again ran into Joe Sparks at the Bodi Tree. This time he was with his then girl friend Robin Dixon, fellow band member Paul Burch and friend Jason. Joseph and I began corresponding… no internet yet… this was 1985… and soon I knew that we would be moving to Bakersfield. Joe said that they needed something like that there and a lot of people would be interested.

(Below: G. I. Gurdjieff)

Joe and I continued our letter writing, occasional meetings at the Bodi Tree bookstore, sometimes seeming like clandestine cold war East European rendezvous’s in the dead of night with a splash of Armenian, Russian, or Greek music in the background… scene to fade… I called Joe, Joseph, but his birth name was actually “Joe.” I don’t think he liked being called Joseph. Of course it was done with affection. That probably annoyed him even more. The point is was I ignoring who he was and playing him like a broken balalaika in hopes I could relive myself through him or pretend that he was the key that would unlock some mysterious door. Well, as fate would have it, he did unlock the door to Bakersfield for me.

(Below: Burning Image band experiencing Reunion Madness. Below far right: Burning Image in 1986.)

Actually Bakersfield was the last place we would have gone. Nancy’s family was in the Bakersfield area so in a way it was the LAST place we would have gone if it had been our choice. But we left such choices up to the gods even though it took an incredible sense of objectivity and willingness to passively pursue and actively follow such seeming incomprehensible clues as to whether or not we were right in our choices that were not our choices. Meeting Joe began the treasure map of the next journey, but soon things starting to fall into place. We began to hear the name “Bakersfield” mentioned on the radio a lot it seemed. We gathered up packing boxes outside of businesses around town to begin packing our things. Several boxes at one place were from a business whose address was located in Bakersfield. We were watching a game show on TV and the main contestant was a martial arts instructor named Eric Nolan whose practice was in Bakersfield. Coincidentally the lead guitarist in the band I performed with in the 60’s was Dennis Nolan and I didn’t run into that name very often. Late night radio, Open Mind with Bill Jenkins (pre-cursor to Art Bell), reported that it was raining frogs in the Southwest portion of Bakersfield. It continued like that affirming that our interpretation of where we were being led was an accurate one.

(Below: Datsun 510 Hatchback)

Got the “new” car. It was a 1981 Datsun 510 hatchback. We both had had VW’s so this was like a sportscar to us. Really nice. Low to the ground and took corners really well. The corner we were turning now would need reassurance and a sense of confidence. I picked up Joe at the Bodi tree. We got in the car and I drove us to a canyon in Hollywood called Bronson Canyon. Nancy and I had been there in 1982 around the time that the movie “Mysterious Two” had been filmed. It was the story about Marshall Applewhite and his wife Bonnie Nettles. Years later, you’ll remember, in 1997 he and his followers in the group known as “Heaven’s Gate” committed suicide. But not knowing that at the time ...LOL... I thought it would be fun because so many movies, old westerns, horror classics, sci-fi thrillers, Star Trek and “Mysterious Two” were filmed on this location.

Bronson Cave Hollywood Film Shots... (a) Cave face (b) inside cave looking out back (c) VHS of "Mysterious Two" movie filmed in part in Bronson Canyon at the cave, (d) shot of "the Two" at cave entrance with elaborate curtain hung over opening.

More Bronson Cave Hollywood Film Shots... (e) old western, (f) Star Trek: Captain Picard and Beverly Crusher, (g) scene shot from back of cave with Enterprise hovering nearby. Below (h) Invasion of the Star Creatures, (i) cave was used as "The Bat Cave" in Batman, and (j) scene from the original Invasion of The Body Snatchers.

We talked about Gurdjieff, the Fourth Way and what the student/teacher relationship meant. I was probably too insistent and Joe wanted to talk and tell me all these great things and have fun. I probably should have listened more. Of the many things I learned from my Teacher it is how important listening is for other people. In our excitement it sometimes is hard to remember things that aren’t about you.

Just before New Year’s at the end of 1985 we held a class at Joe’s apartment. Joe invited all of the friends he had who he thought might be interested. There were probably about 20 of us there in Joe’s strange Gothic apartment with things hanging from the ceiling and musical instruments and amplifiers everywhere. The talk was called “Self-Observation / Consciousness.” It seemed to go well. Jan. 11, 1986 we celebrated Joe’s 21st birthday. I got him a bottle of Armagnac: the liquor that Gurdjieff was known for drinking all of the time. Joe and I made plans for other events and he set up some lectures at the old Beale library. The first one was on Jan. 10, 1986 titled “Gurdjieff Had A Student Who Had A Student”, The second one was on Jan. 19, titled “Ontology” and Jan. 26 was the third titled “Metaphysics and The Bible.”
(Below: Beale Library 1986 and Ontological Learning Center flyers)

There was some fall-out from the Christian community who did not think it was appropriate that the library allow these lectures to take place and then pulled the “they aren’t non-profit” accusation, but the library had already agreed to allow us to hold our lectures there so they stood behind that. But the complaint was written up in the Californian and that was our welcome to Bako in the 80’s.

This was all inspiring to Joe, at least as a promoter. From here he went on to get author Robert Anton Wilson to make an appearance and give a lecture in Bakersfield, which I missed, but I was able to attend the arrival of Timothy Leary who agreed to Joe’s invitation. Leary gave a lecture/class and was there to promote some new software that continued the sort of Tune In, Turn On, Drop Out anthem and to always “Question Authority.” Everyone seemed to have a good time. Later that evening Joe had a party at his house with Leary attending and he and I had a chance to talk about the Fourth Way School I was starting there. Although to some Timothy Leary was an outrageous individual he actually was a very quiet and non-effacing individual. I am sorry we didn’t have more time to talk about the implications of the classes we were going to present.

Left: author Robert Anton Wilson                 Right: Dr. Timothy Leary

In the meantime I would have to rush back to West Hollywood and do whatever I had to do to be able to move to Bakersfield. I had some design obligations but seemingly out of the blue an old client contacted me and suddenly I was involved in a Mickey Rooney project that involved creating a vitamin company for mail order using the “Mickey Rooney” name and likeness. My client, David Hersh, had met Mickey Rooney on an airplane flight during a business trip and immediately took the opportunity to present Mickey with the proposition of putting out some sort of product. At the same time I got some more graphics work from business partners of Hersh who were located in the same suite of offices. They ran Perma Plastics, Inc., which produced several different products, but in the early days they specialized in those Styrofoam ice chests you would see in Thrifty Drugstores (Rite-Aid). At this time Billy Gottsegen, one of the owners told me his daughter, Lisa, was getting married to Dustin Hoffman. I had met Lisa and had done some work with her brother Lee on similar projects. The big joke around the office was the famous line from the film The Graduate, which Dustin had starred in, regarding the phrase: “There’s a great future in plastics.” Suddenly Dustin is marrying the daughter of a corporation that produces plastic products. I guess you had to be there. (Above left: Dustin Hoffman in The Graduate and a pic from 1982. Above right: Mickey Rooney's Vitamins)

Well, with everything packed and all of my contractual obligations finished we rented a U-Haul truck and my friend Adam in his little white Honda, and me in this seemingly huge truck, made our way down the highway on the “99 Mile Journey.” My memory is a blank as to the trip except that I remember at one point needing to speed up and when I pushed my pedal to the metal it was like I was introducing my sandal to sand on a beach on a hot day. Nothing. It wouldn’t go any faster. I couldn’t understand it. I could continue to push my foot down on the pedal but nothing would happen. I got Adam’s attention and we pulled over when we could. I told him what I was experiencing and he explained the sad story of the “governor” and how companies protect their trucks from going “too fast” by instituting this mechanism so you just “CAN’T GO TOO FAST.” Well hell’s bells…  I don’t think I was even going the speed limit. It seemed like about 50 miles an hour. Going uphill I didn’t notice but once we were over the ridge I thought, “Okay, now we can get this baby going!” Sorry.. no can do. At least I hadn’t broken the truck. However the last thing we put in the truck was the King sized foam mattress and we had just enough room to stand it up and close the doors. But it was so tight that as soon as the doors were closed, bolted and locked we heard an odd noise. It seemed that one of the upper hinges on the door had popped. Oops! Well no one noticed when we turned in the truck so I figured that the hinge was probably already broken, right? Maybe the “governor” did it.

(Above: U-Haul Truck... pretty close to the one we used. Far right: My friend Adam today. Also entering into Bakersfield on California Ave.)

Saga continues: Gurdjieff Meets Buck Owens

Derek Lamar leaves Los Angeles to walk the streets of Bakersfield...

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