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(Or, Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the muddy water.)
© August 2001
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“Is there anything I can do,” he pleaded to no one in particular. “Anything?”
“Well,” considered Spielmeister, “There is one thing. ”
“What, anything…” Gregor interrupted in desperate hope.
“…there’s this Shivasasna tournament being held way over in Bikramistan.” He pointed a spidery thumb over one shoulder. “In seven days time. The grand prize is ‘Everlasting Happiness’. But I warn you, the journey is arduous and fraught with danger.” He turned and slyly whispered to a nearby aide, “and we’ll be covering every minute of it live.” Then, turning back to Gregor, he added, “Even if you do get to Bikramistan safely, I fear the temperature there is way to hot for the average lotus and one that isn’t firmly rooted in muddy water stands no chance at all. Besides that, all of the contestants are world-class shivasana masters. It’s no place for a rank amateur like you.”
Gregor was devastated as he heard this. Shivasana had been his natural state this past year. Indeed he had become so very attached to this activity that he practiced it every day without fail. He currently considered himself a master equal to none. Except, and he had to acknowledge this single weakness, his preference was to perform this pose in his own little pond as opposed to some hothouse in front of a crowd where, he feared, most certainly he would wilt in no time. Anyway, how, he wondered, would he get there at all? Lotuses, especially when they are out of water, are not particularly renowned for their mobility. They are, after all, plants.
Perhaps the spider took pity on him, seeing him so despondent when he heard the news of this challenge. Perhaps he was just mocking poor Gregor. More likely he was thinking of his next production when he proposed…”We can give you a map, a compass and a three day supply of muddy water. After that, you’re on your own.”
This hardly helped to perk up the little guy and he cried himself to sleep right there on the shore.
“May I touch you?” were the next words he heard.
“What choice do I have?” he replied dejectedly. “I’m a lotus out of water and couldn’t stop you if I tried.”
“Just a formality,” said the voice. “I’ve never actually met anyone who said ‘no’. That’s why I ask in the first place.”
A moment later, Gregor felt the pitter patter of a multipede tiptoeing over his leaf. It was a caterpillar in a psychedelic color scheme and it was dragging a water pipe. The bug curled himself around the pipe and lit up.
“Hey,” Gregor protested, “no smoking on my leaf!”
The caterpillar considered this for a moment and then grinned a caterpillar-type grin. “Gregor,” he explained patiently, “we’re in Montana, not California. Here smoking is a legal activity.”
“Not what you’re smoking,” Gregor argued.
“It’s okay,” replied the centipede, “it’s medicinal.”
“That’s California,” said Gregor, “not Montana.” Meanwhile he began to feel the effects of the smoke and, if nothing else, it took the edge off the conversation.
“They tell me you have to get to Bikramistan,” the caterpillar continued, “My condolences. It’s a long way off and not a very pleasant place once you get there. The ruler is an evil yogi who likes to turn up the heat.”
“They are having a contest there, that I have to win if I’m ever going to get back in the muddy water,” Gregor said with resignation. “And I’m a lotus. I can’t move on my own. I have to be transported. Someone has to help me. Give me support.”
“Well, you’ve come to the right place,” said the centipede from behind a cloud of pungent smoke.
“Why would you help me?” Gregor asked skeptically.
“Because I’m your Fairy God Insect,” the caterpillar announced.
“God Insect! What the hell is a God Insect?”
“Now watch your language,” snapped the caterpillar. “We bugs are getting a little pissed off that we get no respect around here. Do you know that there are more bugs on earth than any other living creature? And when it comes to respect, we get none at all. We just get eaten, squished , stomped on , sprayed and swatted. We get called ugly, fat and nasty. You wanna talk about discrimination and injustice! So just shut up and don’t look a gift bug in the mandibles.”
“Sorry,” said Gregor and he breathed a sigh of resignation.
“Apology accepted,” replied the caterpillar. “Now, down to business. Here,’ he held out one of his many hands, displaying two white pills.”
“What are they?” the wary lotus inquired.
“Pills, fool, Ain’t you got a life?”
“Well, actually,” Gregor admitted, “not much of one. All we do most of the time is float. Lotuses don’t take pills, per se, unless I’ve missed something. What am I supposed to do with them?”
“Since you don’t have a mouth,” the caterpillar noted, “I suggest that we dissolve them in some of that muddy water Speilmeister gave you. And you can suck it up your stem.”
Gregor was taken aback by the raw language and his leaf turned a couple shades greener. “Now, why would I ever want to do that?” he responded.
“So you can change, of course,” the caterpillar replied with much impatience. “You can’t very well get to Bikramistan as a lotus and I sure as hell am not going to carry you, so you are just going to have to change into something that can walk.”
“I used to be able to do that,” Gregor recalled, becoming nostalgic for those halcyon days when he was a businessman.
The caterpillar seemed to know what he was thinking. “You can be anything you want, except a businessman,” he announced. “If I were you, I’d pick some animal form that, much like yourself, asks stupid questions. Something people, especially, would want to stay away from. That way you’d stand a better chance of getting there. The way is quite dangerous, you know.”
Gregor thought for a moment. “How about a lawyer?”
The caterpillar brightened. “Good choice. Quick, now suck up this pill and make a wish to become a lawyer. But be sure to save the other pill. You will need it to change back into a lotus when you get to Bikramistan. You’ll have a much better chance to win a Shivasana contest as a lotus than as a lawyer. If you lose it,” he shuddered, “you’ll be stuck as a lawyer for the rest of your life,”
Gregor took the caterpillar’s advice and soon turned into a portly fellow with grey hair and an appropriately vulture-like stoop.
“Perfect,” said the caterpillar as he hopped on Gregor’s new shoulder. “Now, let’s get you a three-piece suit. I know just the place.” He directed Gregor over a nearby hill to the shop of the Mad Haberdasher. Soon he was fitted out in blue serge, wingtips and a red and blue striped tie with a gold tie clip, pocket watch, suspenders and a brown leather briefcase.
“Which way to Bikramistan?” Gregor asked of the Mad Haerdasher, in his best new lawyerly voice.
The fellow twitched his handlebar moustache. “You can go this way and you can go that way. There are lots of ways to get wherever it is you want to go. Some ways are safer, some are more hazardous, some shorter, others longer. Can you be more specific as to what it is you are needing?”
Gregor was flustered. “Well, er, which way would you go?”
“I wouldn’t,” said the Mad Haberdasher.
“I mean, if you were me,” Gregor clarified.
“I’m not, ” he replied, “and wouldn’t have any idea what I’d decide if I were you but if you were me and I had to get to Bikramistan, I’d follow that blue yoga-brick road over yonder.” He tilted his head in the direction of the path to which he was referring.
And so Gregor set out, with his God Insect on his shoulder, along the blue yoga-brick path, a cloud of smoke trailing behind.
By and by, he entered the land of the Hummus, a tribe of suicidal guerrillas who lived in a forested labyrinth known as the Tiger Woods. Almost at once he was confronted by a band of these fierce tribesmen, led by the massive, evil Tabouli, holder of a 6th degree black belt in the martial art of Tofu. “I’m going to turn you into a mound of baba ganoush,” he menaced.
After some negotiations, Gregor reached a settlement that included the collateral benefit of a very hungry caterpillar having a lot less to smoke in that pipe of his, but they managed to go on their way. Eventually, they came in sight of rocky crags enveloped in blustering storm clouds. Through the maelstrom they could just make out the grey stone towers of Bikramistan. Gregor’s knees began to buckle.
“Steady,” advised the caterpillar. “Shaky knees are not very lawyerlike.”
Gregor entered the city and signed up for the tournament. (And I have to say that his confidence was shaken a bit when he learned that the losers would be stuck there, forced to take yoga lessons, taught by high school gym teachers, for the next seven years.)
The next morning, the sun struggled fruitlessly to break through the dark blue billowing clouds. Gregor rose to much trepidation and soon joined the vast crowd that was headed for the arena where the tournament would be held: Capitalism-dot-com stadium, a newly built park named after the largest agra-industrial conglomerate in all Bikramstan, although it was built with public funds.
Imagine the scene. A crowd of many thousands pushing and shoving for the good seats, multicolored pennants flying from the heights, with slogans like: “discipline,” “attachment,” “judgment.” Hawkers in the stands shouting: “eyebags, sticky mats, blankets, bolsters, bolster equivalents.” And there was the spider, his production company filming the whole thing.
After a while, a trumpet fanfare quiets the throng. Then, strains of the triumphal march from Aida with the voice-over of Placibo Domino. A procession commences. First, the shivasana champions from many lands enter the arena. They are fat and greasy, like Sumo wrestlers and they are dragging their blankets, each with a unique logo: “Sleepytime Teas, Serta, Nestle’s Cocoa,” The fans go wild. Nearing the end, the three greatest champions make their entry.
First, the current world champion, blank-faced, head-shaved, his ample stomach covered with buttons spelling Qwerty. He is leading a mouse on a leash. It is General Protection Fault, who, it is rumored, is able to shut down indefinitely at a keystroke.
Next, a massive fellow the size of a refrigerator truck rolls in. It is Web Van Winkle who, legend has it, can maintain a pose through any distraction, including an economic crisis.
Finally, the current women’s champion of the WWF, Lady Doe, the princess of Shiva, enters. She is borne into the ring, prone on a litter, hefted by four muscular fellows in loincloths and shower caps.
They say she can stay in shivasana forever, or at least until she is kissed by Prince Smarmy. Only that will arouse her. But for that to happen, he would have to fight his way through her formidable four-man tag team.
A silence falls over the crowd as the dark yogi of Bikramistan, the Baron Tricky Nastier makes his appearance. He grabs the mike and screams to the crowd: “Let’s turn up the heat!” A wild, hysterical screaming commences.
The rules are simple. The one who holds the pose the longest, without going to sleep, wins (and is rewarded with Everlasting Happiness.)
“Now?” Gregor asks. “Is it time for the second pill?”
“Yes,” the caterpillar agrees. “Now.”
In the moment Gregor is transformed back into a lotus he bumps into one of the contestants. “Watch your asana, buddy,” he snaps.
Like All-England cricket test matches, the competition drags on into the third day. There are now only four contestants left, General Protection Fault, Web Van Winkle, Lady Doe and, you guessed it, a lowly lotus walk-on. The crowd has thinned noticeably. Then, as in many contests, the unexpected happens. The mouse wanders onto the General’s bare stomach, touches the wrong button and puts him to sleep. “It’s an illegal operation!” a judge from Macroslop rules, and he’s out of the contest.
A short while later, a couple of Marshals from Bankruptcy Court enter the arena with a Writ of Liquidation and slap the cuffs on Web Van Winkle. He breaks his pose as he is hauled off to answer to his creditors.
Time passes and Prince Smarmy can contain himself no longer. The urge to arouse Lady Doe is unbearable and he dashes out of the stands. He slams one of the bodyguards over the head with a metal folding chair. He grabs a second and twists his abdomen around like a barber pole. The third lunges, but the Prince parries successfully. He deftly lifts his femur into his opponent’s pelvic floor, putting him out of action. Seeing the futility of resistance, the last guard hangs himself by his feet. The crowd goes wild.
Smarmy swaggers over to Lady Doe and plants a big wet one on her puss. “You dog!” she shrieks. “You downward facing dog!”
“But I’m hot!” Smarmy explains.
“Well, I’m cold,” she replies. “Very cold.”
It’s all over. Gregor is the only contestant left in his pose. Tricky Nastier presents the prize: Everlasting Happiness. Spider directs his cameraman in for a close-up. All lights are on Gregor.
It turns out that Everlasting Happiness is the trademark for the Baron’s franchised yoga studios and Gregor has actually won a lifetime membership, good at any one of his 400,000 authorized locations, Sundays, holidays and special event days excepted.
“But, but…” Gregor protests, “all I ever wanted was to get back into the muddy water.”
“No can do,” sniffs the Baron. “I deal in happiness, not pond scum.”
“Now that I’ve won,” Gregor whines at Spielmeister, “you promised I could get back into the pond.”
“Oh…yeah…I guess I did,” the arachnid reluctantly admits. “But things have changed. The ratings on the show have tanked and our sponsors just pulled the plug. Seems the Yoga Tournament drew fewer viewers than a PBS special on plant supplements. Cut the lights!” He calls to his crew. “We’re outta here.” As he struts off toward his stretch limo, he calls back to Gregor over one of his many shoulders, “Have your agent call my agent.”
“I don’t have an agent,” he cries. “Got another pill?” he asks his God Insect.
The bug shakes his head. “You don’t need another pill. You won the contest. You’re the best practitioner of shivasana in the whole world. Your leaf will be on a cereal box by next week. Don’t live in fear. You’ll be just fine.” He sticks one of his thumbs into the bowl of his pipe and tamps down the fire. “Have a nice day.” And he waddles off.
With nothing else to do, Gregor closes his eyes and returns to his pose. Soon, almost like magic, he imagines cool ripples gently pulsating under his leaf and then feels his stem settle into moist, comforting mud. Indeed it has all the feel and smell of his pond. He decides to take the caterpillars advice and to not be afraid. The next thing he knows, he is blinking at the morning sun of another ordinary morning at the pond and floating as he always has done and he realizes that he has returned to his own true nature and that he was really at home in the muddy water all along.
Gregor the Lotus tee shirts, coffee cups, water bottles and other fine Gregor ™ products are available in the lobby.
Be sure to watch the HBO made-for-TV Gregor the Lotus™ movie: “Gregor in Muddy Waterworld” staring Bruce Willis as Gregor, co-starring Robert Downey Jr. as the caterpillar and Charlton Heston as Baron Tricky Nastier, coming soon.