The day I’m scheduled to interview
Deepak Chopra, I awake with a sore throat and soaring fever. I immediately call
Chopra’s assistant to tell her I’m coming down with something.
No matter, she assures me. “Deepak is the healthiest person in the world. He
hardly even sleeps! He just meditates. So as long as you feel up to it, we welcome
you in whatever shape you’re in.”
So I go, spreading germs to the valet, the doorman and hotel guests on the tiny
elevator up to Chopra’s room at the Mondrian. Everyone, including Chopra’s lithe
and cheery blond assistant, Erika DeSimone, keeps a sensible distance. But Chopra,
dressed in black but for his multicolored reading glasses, immediately extends
his hand. I warn him that I’m contagious. He doesn’t relent.
“The most sterilized countries in the world have the highest cancer rates,”
he says. “We live in a Disneyworld environment; we’re not challenged every day
by the normal so-called bacteria and viruses that inhabit the ecosystem. I believe
every exposure is an opportunity for the immune system to learn.”
I shrug. “So I guess you think I’m supposed to be happy that I even have
Chopra, the man who has successfully shrink-wrapped Eastern philosophy for a
generation of audiobook-seekers on their morning commutes, looks out the window
at the gorgeous sprawl of West Hollywood and smiles.
“You should be intensely grateful,” he says.
Chopra’s handshake is reassuringly decisive, and at 58, he looks just as described:
fantastically healthy and fit. His body is compact and taut, like a lifelong
tennis player’s. His tea-colored skin shimmers. He does not retreat from eye
contact but neither does he force it on you; he has an air of comfortable wealth
and Bill Clinton–style charisma. As he starts to talk, I suddenly feel much
Chopra, in town to headline a Renewal Weekend, tells me how his new book, Peace
Is the Way: Bringing War and Violence
to an End, is inspired by Mahatma Gandhi’s expression,
“There is no path to peace; peace is the way.” The book departs from the self-help
spirituality with which he has become, for better or worse, associated: In other
words, it has nothing to do with getting rich or avoiding aging. It concerns
the “tangled hierarchies” between world leaders and terrorists and Westerners’
attitudes toward killing and what he calls “acceptable slaughter.”
“We say, ‘Oh my God! How uncivilized — they behead!’ But how about the fact
that we press a button from 25,000 feet above sea level, killing women and children?
Whose slaughter is more civilized?”
Earlier, when I had been on the verge of describing Chopra as speaking out against
war, his assistant had sweetly pre-empted my gaffe. “For peace,” she said before
I finished my sentence. “He’s speaking out for peace,” because one of
Chopra’s takeaway messages this time around is that the fight only fuels the
“Explicit enemies,” he says in carefully measured tones, “become implicit allies.
For example, just for a second think, where would George Bush be today without
Osama bin Laden? Nowhere. He should be down on his bended knee and say, ‘Thank
you, Osama bin Laden!’ He should have a portrait of Osama bin Laden in his office
and say to it each day, ‘You made my career!’ ”
Chopra went on to tell me about how he got Larry King to question his sexism:
“ ‘Larry,’ I said to him. ‘How come God has been hijacked by men? This is one
of the reasons we have war, because God is a Dead White Male.’ ”
Chopra lectured me on how the emerging democracy in the Middle East will turn
against America, and how poverty creates terrorists. Chopra insists that as
each of us goes through a “personal transformation,” world conditions will change.
“The book,” he says, “is about you becoming an agent for peace through
your internal transformation.”
Perhaps my Claritin-Sudafed cocktail has worn off, but at this point, I start
to think: I know all this. The conversation has turned in the direction of so
many New Age seminars in which the lecturer serves up time-tested ideals as
revelations. The only thing radical about Chopra’s anti-war message (it is,
after all, just that) is that it comes from a man who got Bill O’Reilly to confess
his love for Gandhi.
I, however, have had enough of personal transformation.
“I’ve changed and I’ve changed and I’ve changed,” I tell him.
“I’m a vegetarian. I meditate. I volunteer for stuff. I teach yoga . . .”
“But there are not enough of you.”
“So what am I supposed to do to create more?”
“You don’t. You don’t, you don’t.” His voice softens. He comes down off the
“You hang out with people like yourself and increase that critical mass through
media, through information technologies, through education, through music, through
movies . . .”
His voice rises again.
“You market peace,” he says, “the way these guys have marketed
guns and marketed Marlboro cigarettes and Coca-Cola.”
“Yes,” I blurt.
“Look,” he continues. “I can go to any part of South Africa and I can buy Marlboro
cigarettes. I can go to the remotest part of India where I can’t get water but
I can get Coca-Cola. We have to market peace and sell it with the same commercial
zeal and enthusiasm — and the technology and the resources — that these guys
have used to market guns. We’ve got to brand peace as an idea and sell it better
than Calvin Klein can sell his underwear.”
“There’s our story!” DeSimone blurts out, as if she hasn’t heard it before.
“People have criticized me for the last 25 years,” Chopra goes on. “They’ve
said, ‘You’re selling spirituality.’ And I say ‘Thank GOD I am!’ First
of all, in America I’m not going to apologize for being successful. I’m not
selling pornography. I’m not selling cancer-producing substances. I’m selling
something that’s useful to people, and I’m going to outsell the other guys.
I’ve made that my mission. Unless we can market peace as an attractive, sexy
idea that can permeate our collective consciousness, we’re never going to have
“Right on,” I say.
Confident that I’ve been converted, DeSimone interjects. “I know you want to
meditate before your lecture tonight,” she says to her boss protectively.
“Yes, I have to go,” says Chopra.
“Thanks for your time,” I say. “And I hope you don’t get my cold — I mean, I
hope you already have the antibodies to fight it.” —Judith Lewis
The Unpleasant Fates of Personal Crap
Heading inland Saturday afternoon, the soft thick
friendly gray clouds thin out and dissolve into loud blue California skies glaring
down at the gray roadside rock quarries of Azusa. Northeast of the pit mines,
where the 210 meets the 605, I find trouble at an estate sale in a warehouse across
the street from the dog pound.
What I do wrong, apparently, is use the term “recording device,” as in “Damn —
left my recording device in the car. Be back in a second.”
Immediately, I’m surrounded by tall white patriots.
“You can’t go in there with a recording device,” says one.
“No recording devices of any kind,” says another.
“No video cameras allowed inside,” says another someone else.
I say, “It’s just an audio recorder, so I can talk to myself. That’s my job.”
And the several someones simultaneously say, “No recording devices!” and block
What could be inside that would warrant such security? Yellow-cake uranium? NORAD
overstock? As I understand it, it’s just garage-sale stuff, accumulated by director
Tim Burton and actress Lisa Marie during the ’90s, when they were a couple.
“Look,” I tell the sentries. “I’m not a terrorist, and I don’t have any drugs
or weapons on me. I just want to talk into my recording device about what I see
inside. It’s just like writing notes, but faster. It is okay to take notes, isn’t
it?” I place my notebook on the table and they gasp, as if it might explode.
Someone says, “You’ll have to talk to Lara.”
Someone else shouts, “Lara!”
Another someone else shouts, “Lara!”
Lara arrives and takes me outside to talk. Lara Ott, Lisa Marie’s attorney. Ott
is reasonable and kind. Not only does she grant me entry, but also a short interview.
“These are Lisa Marie’s personally owned items,” Ott says. “They’re either items
that were personally owned by her, or had been owned between she and Tim years
ago. [Tim] is not in charge of the sale. Lisa’s in charge of the sale. These are
things that he does not own now. These are things that Lisa owns now that are
her property or had belonged to the two of them in the past.”
“Thank you,” I reply. “And do you know why she’s selling her stuff?”
“You know what? It’s a personal decision she made to separate herself from a very
painful part of her past, which involved her breakup with Mr. Burton.”
“Thank you,” I reply. “And do you know why we’re in Azusa?”
“This is where the storage facility is maintained.”
“Oh. Okay. Thanks.”
Unfortunately, Lara does not escort me in, so once again I’m left alone with the
sentries, now trying to explain how I’ve been given official clearance.
“Lara!” Lara reappears and verifies my non-terrorist status; I sign and print
my name in the register and, under the sentries’ distrustful glares, enter the
It’s a big gray cinder-block room, full of crap. Crap on tables, hanging crap,
crap in bins. But since it’s crap that belonged to paparazzi targets, it must
be important, so there are 20 or so citizens rummaging through it. I begin sharing
the inventory with my loyal DS330 digital voice recorder.
Costume jewelry, $150; more costume jewelry, $200, $100; heart-shaped sunglasses,
can’t see the price tag; horizontal file cabinet, $350; clear plastic storage
bins, $1 each.
Sanford E. Cohen of Estate Sales L.A., author of the event’s press release, apprehends
me pleasantly and offers to talk into my recording device. Cohen runs down the
good shit, most of which sold the day before: “Tiffany & Co. yo-yos that were
Tim and Lisa’s personal yo-yos. Clothing. From top designers. Prada, Gucci, Louis
Vuitton. Murano glass. Fortuny lamps. The Fortuny lamps are hand-painted silk
lamps from Italy. These two hot tubs are $11,000 a piece. A lot of modern furniture
. . . Is this the kind of information you want?”
I don’t know, but before I can answer, some white woman with enormous glasses
“You missed it!” she exclaims. “You missed it! You missed the zoo yesterday!”
“Here! This was a zoo yesterday! And you missed it! You should’ve come yesterday!”
“Sorry,” I reply. “I was at a different zoo.”
“Yeah,” says Cohen. “Yesterday it was an absolute zoo. All the way from the cashier,”
he points, “over to the mannequin, over here, people in line to pay. There was
a line out the door, to the street, and to the right. It was a zoo of people in
here. A two-time Grammy winner paid $4,000 for a dress. That was the most expensive
one item yesterday.”
“What about the couch?” (A couch used in Burton’s Ed Wood had been
advertised on Cohen’s Web site.) “Wasn’t that $10,000?”
“Twenty thousand,” says Cohen. “That hasn’t sold yet. But I had one dealer who
spent $10,000, on clothing. I had another, uh . . . person of notoriety who spent
$12,586, and I had another well-known person who spent $17,000.”
“Why, that’s $39,586 right there,” I reply.
According to the Tim Burton Collective’s Web site, when Burton heard about the
impending sale, he issued the following statement:
“It recently came to my attention that a warehouse sale, claiming to include ‘previously
owned’ items of mine, is scheduled to take place. Allegedly, these items include
props, memorabilia and costumes from various films I have directed, as well as
some drawings of mine that were private gifts — never meant for public display
or purchase. Since I have not been contacted by the sellers, it is important to
note that I can in no way vouch for the authenticity of these items. I am completely
against the selling of personal items in such a public way.”
California King mattress pad, $50; Lisa Marie’s — at least I hope it’s Lisa Marie’s
— teddy for $10; more teddies, corsets; drafting table for $2,500; toaster oven;
Marantz receiver; barbecue utensils; blow dryer; old stereo components and telephone
parts; sleigh bed . . .
I find Cohen. “How much is the bed?”
“The sleigh bed sold to a lady in Florida. She called me up. She saw me on the
Internet. And I sold it to her for $1,750,” says Cohen.
“And actually,” Cohen goes on, “we also . . . Somebody flew in from Texas. He
bought some artifacts. And somebody flew in — somebody sent their representative
— from London, and they bought some artifacts as well. Just FYI.”
I buy no crap. A tape deck for 30 bucks is tempting, but supposing it didn’t work
. . . I shudder, hoping the sentries will let me out empty-handed.
Return of the Arcade
You enter by navigating past beefy security guards milling in front of the adjacent closed restaurant. A large gorilla towers overhead, preparing visitors for the Donkey Kong–induced ecstasy to come. The sounds of spun Jamaican ska hit the ears along with a smoky smell just as familiar to the West Indian island. Cigarettes rule the packed dance floor along with gutted Dutch Masters, Phillies and White Owls in the hands of Silver Lake refugees, sloppy geeks, Persian gangsters, metal castaways, hippies, thugs, Japanese B-Boys and the sassy girls who love them. Ringing the tiny, smoke-choked room are jewels from a 1980s childhood. From Playboy pinball to Centipede to a sit-down version of Spy Hunter, complete with gear shifts, oil-slick buttons and vibrating crash effects, nearly every stand-up video game from the golden years has been dredged up like a dream too good to not wake up to. “Love conquers all!” shouts the bartender, also the owner, before planting a wet one on his girl. This could be their home, a scratched refrigerator sitting modestly behind them, posters on every wall, half of the room shuttered with a curtain and 100 complete strangers using their bathroom. Chocolate doughnuts and cupcakes satisfy those with the munchies while also infusing the room with a sense of caring. Three-dollar Red Stripes, Coronas and mixed drinks sweeten the already sugary deal. The owner and his girl, two ex–New Yorkers, deny involvement with the similarly themed Williamsburg attraction of the same name but don’t deny its inspiration. For most late-20s slackers, hackers and jackers, the only thrill that beats destroying the liver and brain comes from destroying skyscrapers in a game of Rampage, neighborhood windows in Paperboy or Glass Joe’s glass jaw in a round of Punch-Out. Sadly for many of us, the endless adolescent hours spent feeding quarters to arcade games at ’80s pizza parlors went up in puffs of high-grade ganja smoke in the ’90s. These days, most people prefer their home-based Xboxes to dingy arcades rife with stalking Mohawked teens stealing one’s scratch for another round of Dragon’s Lair, but maybe not for long. Barcade is no four-eyed festival of the agoraphobic PC Bangers endemic to Koreatown, but, rather, offers the chance to play stand-up classics while interacting with the opposite sex and maintaining a cool stance when coaxing out your inner nerd. The mysterious owners of Koreatown’s Barcade have sought to reunite nostalgic gamers of yore with the hard-partying ways they’ve developed since graduating into a sea of sheepish jobs and low wages. The place resembles a speakeasy/house party more than a bar or an arcade, though it is pleasingly both. Well hidden on a second-floor loft, it is only open one night a week. The good news is you can still find patrons going at one another in four-person rounds of Gauntlet well past a typical bar’s last call. Most people are introduced to Barcade by friends who don’t want to go home yet, or they hear about it through word of mouth. A guy straight from the deepest bowels of Burning Man, braids glittering with beads and found objects beneath a jester hat, blows by some Ramones look-alikes and the fattest couple I’ve ever seen bumping and grinding on the dance floor. Kindness and camaraderie abound, showing how a little play goes a long way. If you can find it, eat, dance, be merry and beat BRENDA33’s high score on Joust. Only this time with a cheap beer and anything else you can get your hands on. Tron has nothing on your new virtual reality. —Hadley Tomicki