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Beforezen by Miriam Bobkoff

4-16-14 - Miriam Bobkoff's blog of years is coming to and end.

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In January of 1965, I left Miami and went to San Francisco on a Greyhound bus--3355 miles, three days and three nights. At some point in the trip a young woman named Marina Kaplan became my seatmate. She was from Argentina, her family history included having fled from Germany, the books she was carrying were all European editions of this European authors in original languages. She was older than me, incredibly sophisticated and existentially anguished, and when I got off the bus she was the only person I knew on that side on the continent.

I moved into a faded stuffy residential hotel for women up on Sacramento Street, the Rose Court Hotel, for a month, until I had a job (at an insurance company down on Market Street) and an apartment lined up. Marina moved into Emmanuel, the Jewish girls' residence club on Page Street, which was eventually to be bought by Zen Center. I used to go to Page Street and have supper in the dining room with Marina and her roommate Serena. Serena was pregnant, unwed, being kept at Emmanual by a Jewish social services agency until it was time for her to go to the Florence Crittenden Home for Unwed Mothers and give up her baby. Do I need to point out how very far away in social time early 1965 was?

From Emmanuel, Marina moved into East-West House, Claude (now Ananda) Dalenberg's household out on Geary Street. I think the other principal in the household at the time was someone named Breck (or Brett?) whose interest was mainly in the simple living side of things, as Claude's was in Buddhism. She told me all about it, the famous people who sometimes came there, the connection to the Zen Center on Bush Street, and so on. I went to supper there, too, a couple of times.

Later that spring, Marina brought me to Sokoji. Here's what I remember: we had zazen instruction from a very tiny little Japanese man, and we saw a slide show of photographs of two tall Americans at some temple in Japan. Do I know who any of these people were? Well, only by deduction. I think the slides were of Grahame Petchey and somebody, maybe Baker-roshi. I think the person who attempted to adjust my posture as I sat there hideously uncomfortable in my came-straight-from-work-downtown-1965 straight skirt and stockings must have been Suzuki-roshi.

Well. I admired Marina a great deal, and was quite stirred up by the idea of finding a religious practice. I put my name on the mailing list, made a small donation. But it seemed so, well, foreign. Oh not possibly Japan, I thought; and read a lot of Catholic mystics for the next year or so because at least it was Western. That didn't seem plausible for me either--I'd been awfully Jewish before I stopped believing in God. So over time I let the question drift away. I went to live in a commune in 1969, the Free Print Shop. We used to deliver our intercommunal newsletter, Kaliflower, to Page Street after it became Zen Center's. I remember the shaved heads of students in the kitchen, where we hung the newletter. Ate a supper or two in that same dining room in those days too.

All of which explains how I was brought to Page Street before it was Zen Center, and met Claude, and (probably) met Suzuki Roshi, all in 1965, ten years more or less exactly before I fetched up on the doorstep of Zen Center in April of 1975 and began to practice mostly by accident.

I don't remember what became of Marina. Claude (Ananda) might know.

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