Have you ever met a celebrity in real life? Who was it and how did your paths cross?
What seems to fascinate some people is how I crossed paths with Paramhansa Yogananda, and my personal impression of him on the occasion. It was a long, long time ago, as you might imagine (he being now at least 50 years gone from this Earth).
It happened in the early summer of 1945, my first year out of high school, in San Francisco. I was working for the Harry McCune Sound System, handling audio equipment for public occasions (a trainee, actually), and my assignment that afternoon was to set up and monitor the equipment at the Scottish Rite Auditorium then located on Van Ness Ave. off of Post Street. I had no knowledge whatsoever of who the speaker would be. It was just a job to be done.
I piled the necessary equipment into a three-wheel motorcycle and buzzed the mile or so to where the hall was, and set it up barely a half-hour before his scheduled talk. The only problem was that I had to be in the direct audio range in order to monitor the sound, and there was no provisional space for that. So my only option was to use a small table forward of the stage, between it and the audience seating.
There were only 30 or 40 people in attendance, in a hall that could have held hundreds, because he wasn't at all known in those days. I, myself, had never heard of him, and was somewhat put off when he came onstage from behind a curtain: a dark-skinned middle-aged man in a long gown or robe, who had long black hair, like a woman! This was, of course, long before the time of hippies and I had never seen a man with long hair. He looked, in fact, more like a dowdy grandmother, to me, than any sage. With no smile, either on his face or in his voice, as he began his talk. But it was just a job, as I say, and I merely stuck to my monitoring duties.
However, he threw me a curve. To begin his lecture, he wanted everyone to stand and join him in deep-breathing exercises. I had no idea whether that included me, or not. I wasn't really part of his audience, yet I was sitting there between him and them, unavoidably conspicuous. What should I do . . . participate or just stay seated? My only concern was to be as inconspicuous as possible. But I had to make a commitment, at this point, as to how it was best done. And heaven help me, I made the wrong choice.
Chalk it up to my callow inexperience: Fearing that I might otherwise seem to insult him, I stood up with the assembled audience and began the deep breathing exercise that he led them into. After a couple of deep breaths and arm-sweeps, he paused amidst the process and gave me the most foul glare imaginable, and I could hardly help but grasp its meaning: SIT DOWN!
Totally chastened, I did so. It was an entirely wordless confrontation, that 'meeting' with the Paramhansa, but hardly an uncommunicative one. Eye to eye, something momentous was transacted. And to this day, I wonder how that may have affected my life, which has been one of extended departure from various societal norms, though not without a good deal of attendant satisfaction.