Thursday, July 1, 2010

Yoga Sells (Out)

7:30 a.m., Monday, June 21

I began last week at Mind Over Madness, the Times Square Alliance's annual Summer Solstice Yoga event. That's Douglass Stewart in the Yellow t-shirt, leading the class, and there I am, third yogi from the left, wearing all black. My warrior two should have have been deeper, but hey, it's Times Square. Apologies to the photographer. I nabbed this from the official website, and am looking for a name to credit. Please don't sue me. It would be a waste of effort, and you don't want to see me ugly cry. Namaste.

The event was awesome. The sun was bright. The sky cloudless. The Times Square neon was brighter than the day itself, and that is just as it should be. Douglass -- a new teacher for me -- was extraordinary. He built the class around the fact that, on the solstice, the sun is at its zenith, and asked us to open our hearts as we moved from asana to asana. Standing there in the vast open space of Times Square -- loved by me since my first visit with Mom at the age of seven -- there was nothing between me and the light, and the more I opened my heart in each asana, the more my surroundings melded into a kaleidoscope of brilliance (and commerce) but mostly energy. I felt the yoga.

Kudos to the organizers. The event was flawlessly handled. Sound and crowd control, security, ticketing, distribution of swag -- brilliant. There wasn't a false note, and because of that, we were all able to breathe deep and feel secure at the crossroads of the world. The class wasn't easy. Even better. And the corporate sponsors were mostly yoga studios and yoga companies. Douglass read a brief sponsorship blurb -- mercifully brief -- and we moved on to our practice. That was the reason we were all there, after all.

Then there was Flavorpill's branded-within-an-inch-of-its-life Yoga on the Great Lawn.

5:30 pm, Tuesday, June 22

Epic fail.

I was so looking forward to being one of 10,000 yogis and yoginis to practice together on the Great Lawn.

The event was HEAVILY promoted. Shoved down my e-gullet, it would be fair to say. I registered the first day for a "chance" to "win" a ticket to this record-breaking event. I don't give a damn about record books, and I doubt many yogis do, but Flavorpill was all worked up by the Guinness Book-ness of it all. When, a few days before the event, I heard that I'd "won" a place, I was invited to bring three friends. Translation: we don't have enough people.

The day of, under threatening skies and the pull of inertia, I received a 5 pm update. I paraphrase: "Come to the park, yogis! Those clouds above are a mirage. It's the revenge of the pilates people. It's not going to rain. We have a drummed up weather report that says so! And by the way: DO NOT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES BRING YOUR OWN MAT!"


There was no way I was going. Rainclouds, my impending trip to Vegas, and irritation about something unrelated had me horizontal. Then my friend Quilty came downstairs and began pushing all my buttons. He knows yoga always makes me feel better. And he used the magic words: gift and bag. So off we went to Central Park West and Yoga on the Great Lawn. I assume.

We never saw the great lawn, actually. We were on line at the 81st Street entrance by six o'clock. Except the end of the line was already at 83d. By 7 pm, when the class was supposed to begin, we were still JUST INSIDE THE PARK ENTRANCE! Nowhere near the event. The unsupervised but polite, fit, and heavily-tattooed queue snaked along pathways as far as the eye could see. We barely moved. There were no helpful Flavorpillies with walkie-talkies to give us updates.

The only way we could tell how far we were from the Great Lawn was by mentally triangulating our position with the Jetblue helicopter hovering midway over the park. How do I know it was a Jetblue chopper? From all the impatient yogis streaming out of the park with their free Jetblue promotional yoga mats. There is nothing more centering than practicing yoga on a mat that reminds you of narrow airplane seats, interminable airless runway delays and the use of alien toiletries because your brand doesn't come in a 3.5 ounce container.

While we waited, I assume the sea of "complimentary" Jetblue mats was arranged on the Great Lawn for the benefit of the photographer in the chopper high above, shooting an ad, teeming with extras bought for the price of a piece of molded rubber. I was getting cranky.

It began to drizzle, then rain fat, sloppy drops. Still no Great Lawn. Not even close. And then, out of nowhere, a Flavorpillie appeared, waving her arms as if calling off an airstrike. "No more mats! Go home! The Parks Department called it."

"No more mats?" This was me.

"No more. Go home." A woman ahead of me emitted a "What?" of disappointment. The Flavorpillie hugged her.

"We don't need a hug. We want our mats!" Quilty. Pithy as ever. The chick shrugged and evaporated. The crowd began to disperse, heading toward CPW, since, apparently, the middle of the park was "too dangerous." Quilty and I looked at each other. There was no need for words. We headed for the Great Lawn.

Allow me to digress for a moment. We had freakin' reservations! We jumped through hoops to get our bar codes. We were way early. How can it be we never even got to see the venue? I can only assume from what I saw next that there were two or three chokepoint entrances to the Lawn. In keeping with the Jetblue theme -- one was cavity searched for foreign mats -- i.e., mats sans corporate logos -- then handed the swag and ushered through. The bottleneck was for the sponsor not the yogi. I call bullshit.

When Quilty and I reached the entrance, there were still thousands of mats. Box upon unopened box of them. One dude was handing them over a snow fence into a spray of outstretched hands. We moved to a calmer person standing beside a head high stack of boxes.

"May we have our mats?"

"No more."

"What about those?"

"They're for charity." (And by charity, they mean the encore event in September. We grabbed mats from the righteous dude a few paces back, then forged ahead for the Flavorpill-stamped gift bags. We'd earned them after 2 1/2 hours on line. We'd been duped, and we wanted our pound of yoga coupons. But they, too, were for "charity." And the cute cardboard boxes filled with chocolate muffins from new carbon-free restaurant Otarian? Dear Otarian -- you should know the Flavorpillies left your swag out in the rain to be destroyed. We grabbed a few, though, and they were delish.

But the worst were the people manning the barricades. I confronted one of them with "We waited on line for 2 1/2 hours! We deserve at least a mat!" -- by the way, I said this as attendees were passing by with -- literally -- four or five mats per person. The alleged yogini 's reply was an insipid smile and "Have a nice day!" I went into a fugue state at that moment, but the bit of my reply I can remember consisted of "Bite me!"

When Quilty and I finally stumbled out of the park clutching our cheap mats, I stepped off the curb into a whirlpool, a vortex of surprising suck. My treasured peacock-patterned Haviana flipflop floated off my foot and under a moving car. I dove after it, narrowly avoiding death, as my other flip flop floated away, to be rescued by a similarly soggy stranger.

We found subway seats across from an obvious tourist in polo shirt and khaki shorts, holding ten mats. I'm sure he was taking them home to the orphanage he runs in Cabrini Green.

Wet and irate, Quilty and I emerged from the subway looking like Flavorpill's Most Wanted. At the turnstile, a slim, black clad woman spots our mats and asks us how "it" was. We launch into a duet -- ranting against the corporatization of Central Park, the Selling of Yoga, the disorganization and disinterest of Flavorpill... When we calmed down, she asked us for a swipe of our Metrocards. She was crazy. We just thought she was vegan.

That was our yogic moment. We laughed hysterically all the way home.

The past week, I've read many self-congratulatory articles by Flavorpill and the other event sponsors. They are patting themselves on the back for breaking the yoga record. Paging Bikram Choudhury.

I'm going to say it right here. Yoga on the Great Lawn SUCKED. It was a lie, a sham, a debacle -- and the rain had nothing to do with it. There were more yogis left outside the Great Lawn than actually made it to the field. Hey, but as long as Jetblue got their shot....

But my week's not over yet, friends.

Saturday morning I flew (Jetblue, sigh) to Las Vegas for the Daytime Emmys. I was part of the team nominated for Best Writing for As the World Turns. Despite the comically unfair nominating procedures, I'm always proud to be there, because I'm proud of much of the work I do, even if nobody knows I do it, which is, more often than not, the case in the soap genre.

Soaps ARE the stories. Whether you like them or hate them doesn't matter. The viewer is reacting to the stories, and the stories are written by writers. The actors are playing characters conceived by writers. In fact, characters endure while the actors playing them often move in and out of the roles like relief pitchers in the world's longest baseball game. Roles make stars. Writers make roles. And when a wonderful actor inhabits a role, and adds his or her magic to the text -- it's alchemy. (Colleen Zenk Pinter, I am talking about you.) I admit, there are some dreadful soap writers out there. But without dedicated, skilled, passionate writers as well, the genre would have died out long ago.

Unfortunately, in most cases the daytime writer is treated like the mentally-challenged cousin who can't be taken anywhere because she likes to hump table legs while singing the National Anthem. Of Russia. The lobotomized Kennedy. Tennessee Williams' retarded sister. The pregnant thirteen year old altar girl.

So imagine my unbridled joy when I check in at the hotel, and the nice young man with the Emmy credentials points me toward the Gift Suite! Finally! My friend/fellow nominee and I are escorted by a youngster with a walkie-talkie toward the golden door. "I'm bringing in Cheryl and Leslie from As the World Turns," she broadcasts. I stand a little straighter.

We reach a table staffed by youngsters with lanyards and clipboards. There is an audible buzz coming from the swag room and -- even better -- people I do not recognize -- people who are definitely not soap stars -- are coming out of there with bags FULL of Lululemon Yoga Wear! My favorite! And being just unemployed, I can't afford to buy it anymore. The swaggees are laden with shopping bags of all shapes and sizes, but all I see are the Lulus. I feel appreciated.

Until I realize none of the doorkeepers will look at me.

"Where are you from?" they ask again, as if I have said, "The planet Gallifrey. My Tardis is parked outside." (Dr. Who reference.) They pretend to scan their lists, but their eyes glazed over back when I said "We're nominated writers." And then they said it.

"The gift suite is for talent."

Profound humiliation does not begin to describe the feeling -- the shrinking, spreading feeling of being a puddle of stinky, fly-covered diarrhea blocking an Upper East Side sidewalk on a sweltering New York City afternoon. I was Carrie at the Prom. I don't know what Cheryl was doing because it was all I could do to stand there, ears buzzing, cheeks burning, eyes welling with angry tears.

I didn't try to make the youngsters feel better at my expense the way I would have a few years ago. Instead, I made it worse.

"Are you saying, we're not talent?" Our perky escort began twirling her lanyard and babbling about being responsible for the Lion King company all week. How they were going to be in the show and -- can you believe it -- they would have to leave the Emmys and go do the Lion King right afterward! Isn't that awesome? No. The Lion King isn't on TV, much less on Daytime, but , being "presenters," I'm betting they got their Lululemon.

But hey, why advertise on a writer's ass? It's always in the chair. EXCEPT WHEN IT'S IN YOGA.

After barring the door, lanyard boy spoke slowly and clearly -- as if to a deaf-mute -- "I guess you can go in and look around, but you can't take anything." Thanks, but I'll head over to the waterboarding suite instead.

I've wondered if this anger makes me a brat, a whiner, a greedy, petulant bitch? But it's not the free stuff that's the issue. It's the inequity. It's the ignorance. It's the unabashed playground-level cruelty. It's the ghettoization of the writer - the very engine of the genre. I get it. Mine is not the ass that will be photographed -- or maybe it is, but you deem it unacceptable. There are days when I feel the same way. That's why I do YOGA.

Thank God, I do. On the mat, I've learned, like the lotus flower, to seed myself. And survive.

Being turned away from the gift suite was indescribably painful, burdened, as it was, with eleven years of soap opera baggage. Those who have encouraged me know who you are, and I love you for it. And the As the World Turns company was, more often than not, an exception to the rule. But this dis from a stranger in the name of yoga made me cry. Great, heaving, stomach-churning sobs.

And then I picked up my pen and got back to work. In my new favorite Zobha yoga pants.


David Handelman said...

Being an insider who is turned away as an outsider plays to the insecure impostor complex inside all of us. Or should I say outside?

Quilty said...

New Yorkers now face one of their greatest challenges: resisting the privatizing of our public parks. Flavorpill we know your dirty little secret and it is the opposite of a sun salutation!