Dealing with Rowdy Guys at TassajaraI think it was maybe fall of 1968 during a seven day sesshin that four young loud guys came walking into Tassajara. I met them on the road coming in up by the shop and let them know that we were closed for a meditation retreat. They were inebriated students from a Catholic college. The one who set the tone and did most the talking for the group was hostile and vocal. He asked questions like What's this Zen thing here? Do you have women? Can we fuck them? Do you know karate? Why can't we go to the hot baths if you guys are all meditating? Do you think you could stop us? The only words of his I remember exactly are those from the strange phrase, "Do you mean you're telling us to make our bird!?"
Silas Hoadley and Norman Stiegelmeyer came up from the zendo. Silas calmly deflected the hostility by talking to the group of guys in his low key non confrontational style. The hostile guy was not retreating. I started to bond with the one I thought seemed to show some signs of being embarrassed by what was going on. Norman started talking to the hostile guy who was still incensed that they were being asked to "make our bird!" Silas shifted his attention to the other two who seemed ready to fight or leave depending on which way the angry leader went.
Norman was an artist and teacher from the San Francisco Art Institute who'd been sitting with Suzuki Roshi for years. He was lanky, friendly, eccentric, and came across so differently from other people. His movements were sort of jerky and he frequently seemed to be amazed by whatever was happening. And he was fearless. I could see that his presence was throwing mister itchin-for-a-drunken-brawl off balance. At one point he asked Norman, "Do you Zen people believe in god?" Norman scratched his head, turned it from side to side and replied, "Well gee, let me think. No, I don't guess we do."
The ring leader looked startled. He took a step back. "What? Did you hear that guys? They don't believe in god! Let's get out of here! Let's get out of here!" As he ran back up the road he kept yelling, "They don't believe in god!" and his friends followed him out. I think he was more afraid of Norman than the no god thing. Back to the zendo for the rest of us.