Thursday, June 2, 2016

I Was Donald Trump's Yoga Teacher

No one had thought to warn me that a baccalaureate degree in humanities was unlikely to prove much of a door-opener, career-wise. Within a couple of months of graduating from Drexel, I was applying for burger-flipping jobs at McDonald’s, and not getting them, I suspect because my earlier (sophomore year) food preparation experience had been at Jack in the Box, much hated by McDonald’s because of the enormous popularity of the Jack’s television advertisement featuring the preternaturally adorable African American child, Rodney Allen Rippy, later to become a welfare cheat and looter.

Down to my last $100, I hit on the idea of teaching yoga. The state of Pennsylvania required no special certification, and a lot of former classmates who’d earlier thought it fashionable to profess interest in astrology, numerology, and the I Ching seemed, as they entered adulthood, interested in all things Indian, the Ravi Shankar kind, and not the Sitting Bull. I figured that if I affected great seriousness and serenity, and suggested that my students try to arrange themselves physically in weird ways, I might be able to pull it off.

And I did. Within a couple of months, my Third Eye School of Yoga had been featured in Philly! magazine and attracted enough students for me to keep myself in ramen, Sprite, and the not-very-potent, but very inexpensive marijuana of the day.

One of my most avid students was a tall, strikingly good-looking recent graduate of the Wharton School, Donny. He wasn’t very limber, but nonetheless very popular among his fellow students. He was humble and very shy, and confided over herbal tea one afternoon after class that what he really wanted was to join the Peace Corps and teach sub-Saharan Africans to start their own businesses. I remember on one occasion his blue eyes filling with tears as he told me, “All I want is to help people, especially those less fortunate than I.” I think that might have been the moment that I fell in love with him, even though by that time I had become engaged to Brad, the Flyers’ Zamboni driver.

We began seeing a lot of each other, Donny and I, on nights the Flyers were playing home games. When we weren't volunteering at local food banks and homeless shelters, where Donny would entertain the unfortunate far into the night with his guitar, we would go see foreign films at the local art house. Donny was rather more excited than I about such exemplars of the Iranian new wave as Abbas Kiarostami, but in a month I’d told Brad that we were two very different people, and probably doing each other no favors contemplating a married future. Donny couldn’t stop fretting about how Brad would cope with my decision. “I can’t bear the thought of anyone being hurt because of me,” he said, his eyes brimming anew with tears. I thought at the time that I probably would never meet a sweeter, more empathetic man, as I’m not sure I have.

You know how these things go. His property developer dad’s forbidding him to join the Peace Corps effectively killed the part of him I loved most, and we drifted apart. I swallowed my pride and contacted Brad, only to discover that he’d married a young woman who worked in the Flyers sales office. Having been bribed handsomely by his father to join the family business, Donny, meanwhile, anonymously bought first class airfare to India for all his fellow yoga students, because that’s the kind of person he was. I realized it must have been he only after reading a profile of him in the New York Times magazines some 17 years later.