Gurdjieff Meets Buck Owens
by Dr. Derek Lamar, QM21.com
The 99 miles to Bakersfield from L.A. was a trip I would make often. Usually my wife Nancy went with me but once I had to go it alone to seek out property for the new, yet to be, school. Of course I immediately met up with Joe Sparks. He had already told me many things about the workings of Downtown Bakersfield. He took me to the Insight Bookstore where I met Orville and Melinda Elkins who would become close friends over the ensuing years. I spent much of my time skarfing up used books. There was a plethora of Joel Goldsmith books there in the used book section that had just come in and I think I found about 12 hardbacks and a couple of soft covers we didn’t have. WOW!!! Already an incredible beginning for what would always be a “Mystical Journey.”
(Above: Insight Books bldg. Above right: "99 coming from L.A.")
We drove around looking at “For Rent” signs but not knowing the town or what was up from down it was pretty hit and miss. There was a house on Chester Avenue that oddly ended up being rented by a “fortune teller.” I guess it just had those kind of vibes. Also Joe had a friend I had already met named Barry Haggard, a cousin of Merle’s, and who was working for the fire department at the time. Barry, as it turned out, lived across the street from a two-story house on Baker St. which was vacant and seeking tenants. I met with the owner but being with Joe with his long black hair and “Goth look” I think that perhaps the owner was a little put off by the whole meeting.
(Above: house on Baker. Above right: "fortune teller house" on Chester Ave.)
I continued my search on my own the next day and as I was driving down 18th Street I saw a building which was empty of furniture and looked like it must be for rent. It was on the street but had some apartments in the back that adjoined the building. I knocked on the first door I came to and a woman named Francis Kindig greeted me. I told her I was interested in the building up front and she invited me in. I told her what I wanted it for and that began a winding road of discussions and stories that would draw us closer together almost immediately.
(Left: bldg. once Kindig Realty on 18th Street)
Francis told me her father was a Realtor in his day and that the building had been their Real Estate office. Its hey-day was probably in the 30’s-40’s when so many Hollywood film stars would come to Bakersfield and vacation in the mountains and the Kern River. There was no Lake Isabella back then so Hollywood visitors had the challenge of hiking. Clark Gable, John Wayne, Roy Rogers, Tom Mix and others were often making their way into the hearts and cash registers of the locals in those days. Being a real estate man, Mr. Kindig, was a mover and shaker of the day and could always help out-of-towners with their trips and accommodations.
(Far right: SRF - Self Realization Foundation Lake Shrine on Sunset Boulevard almost at the beach.)
Francis had been married to a service man during World War II but he was killed in combat. She had pictures of him on her mantles and tables and in some ways her living area was like a shrine to a lost love. She never married again. She reminded me of Miss Havisham of “Great Expectations.” She was lonely but loved to visit and talk. She told me about how after the war she was still young and enrolled in U.C.L.A. However after a short time there and discovering all of the things to do in the area she came upon the Self Realization Foundation Lake Shrine on Sunset Blvd. There she met the actual Paramahansa Yogananda and became a student and companion spending more time there rather than taking classes at the University. I am sure she received an incredible education and her spiritual needs were met during that time. This would have been sometime between 1945 and 1953. She told me she continued her spiritual studies in Bakersfield and told me a strange story about this Greek man who she knew in Bakersfield who had studied metaphysics and it drove him crazy; one day he laid his head down on the railroad track. Apparently he moved on as well.
(Below left: Ontological Learning Center as it was in 1987)
I talked with Francis about her building and was going to rent the front offices but not thirty minutes later after leaving her home I discovered a vacated business on the same street directly across from Mexicali Restaurant. It actually was perfect. It had a waiting area, a counter, two front offices and a hall that led into what would be the lecture room, a large back room and a bathroom. I met with the landlords and leased the space immediately. It was around 2000 sq. ft. I let Francis know I wouldn’t be using her building after all and she was fine with that. She promised to be at the opening of the school but when the time came she had broken a front tooth and didn’t want to be seen in public. She got that fixed and later she couldn’t come because she had broken her arm. It was a sad situation but like Miss Havisham she simply became a prisoner of her past lost love and didn’t want to venture further than her garden and her small home.
(Far right: Ontological Learning Center on 18th St.)
The next day I would leave for Los Angeles and make immediate plans to move all of our belongings to Bakersfield and do what had to be done with the school. In the meantime Nancy was busy packing boxes. All that would be left to do was rent the truck and make that famous “99 miles from L.A.” trip. Our plan to move only required a building. We knew the location but now we had actually signed a lease and gotten the keys. That having been accomplished everything would begin to unfold. We would be staying in the back of the school until other arrangements could be made so we didn’t waste time traveling back and forth.
(Below left: entering the lecture room of OLC.)
Back in Los Angeles I met with my friend Adam and he agreed to help me load the truck. As soon as we arrived in Bakersfield we were hit with high 90’s temperature. Sometime on the radio they said it was 100º. Actually not bad except it was only June. We parked in front of 606 18th Street and began unloading. The offices were in pretty good shape except that a good cleaning top to bottom would be in order as soon as Nancy looked at the place. The biggest job was cleaning the ceiling tiles, and that seemed interminable.
(Below right: viewing the doorway of the lecture room.)
The layout truly was made to order. In fact I would call it a “metanoia.” A “metanoia” is a change in consciousness or a miracle or an answer to “prayer” that manifests in the physical realm: something which is so perfect you know that something else took place for this to happen, especially when your belief system says: “There are no accidents.” The front area was complete with built in storage and countertops for a coffee maker or teakettle or snacks. Perfect for an “Opening” to take place. There was a counter with shelves built into it that would be great for a lot of used books which we had intended on selling. I opened the business as a school and as a bookstore. We made sure everything required for our business license was handled in advance so we wouldn’t run into red tape later on.
(Below left: again, lecture room of OLC.)
We didn’t have a lot of financial backing for this project so we intended on using one of the front offices to sell my massive record collection. Most of it was made up of collectable Beatle records and other related British bands and some Elvis stuff which certainly had its market in Bakersfield. I didn’t collect Elvis per se but I had done a lot of mail order work for an Elvis-Beatles mail order company in the past so a lot of those types of samples would come my way. The other office worked out great for me because it was almost like a recording studio complete with a window to the actual lecture room in which classes would be given and recorded on reel to reel tape. At that time this would happen on my giant Sony tape recorder. It finally died a sad and slow death as it deteriorated in my closet over the last few years even though I wasn’t using it. I think the biological counterpart would be analyzed as “clogged arteries.” It was very gummy and the pulleys and the belts or gaskets were just deteriorating in the silence of the lambs.
(Far right: seeing inside office of OLC from lecture room window.)
The lecture room was basically square and would hold the 50 metal folding chairs I bought from a local church. The guy in charge of the chairs said I could have them for $1 each but that they might take 50¢ each. I didn’t want to haggle since I thought $50 was a great deal. The padded type folding chairs were $10 and up at that time and I didn’t want to spend $500. Of course apparently filling 50 chairs was wishful thinking on my part. In fact when the school was set up and the fire department came to check out the facility they made it clear I could not have that many chairs or people in the room other wise I would have to put in an emergency fire door in the back and other safety features which could simply be avoided by having only 30 chairs or thereabouts in place.
Immediately we began selling our records and other collectable paraphernalia such as posters, ink stamps, books, magazines, and some Star Trek items. I still have a couple of “Close Encounters” posters in perfect condition… might be worth something. I also still have tons of those records so let me know if you're a buyer. LOL
In order to get customers at that point we started running classified ads in the Kern Shopper. This required a weekly visit to their office at the old Buck Owens studies there on North Chester Avenue. One day I pulled up and got out of my car and who was also walking toward the studio other than Buck Owens himself. How cool. I approached him and introduced myself and told him how we had come from Los Angeles to open a school there in Bakersfield. He was very friendly but not used to entertaining strangers in front of his studio on a hot day so our visit was short but memorable. Being a Fourth Way Teacher one begins to realize how certain states of consciousness have their affects on the people around them. In this manner I use poetic license to describe this as “Gurdjieff Meets Buck Owens.”
(Below left: G.I. Gurdjieff, founder of the Fourth Way School concept)
Buck would continue to be an odd part of my life as I would meet people who knew him or who also had connections with Buck, his friends, his family, his influence on what was once a small town. One of my customers for the Beatle Records was none other than Jenny Gia. Understand this was 25 years ago so the Blackboard did not exist except as a memory of that infamous “Blackboard Club” in Bakersfield where Buck Owens worked and performed with many other country favorites including but not limited to Billy Mize. So the irony is amusing. Jenny of course was a Beatle fan and certainly a music connoisseur. Years later she would be working at the Kern Shopper and I would be production manager for a competing mail house and I would hire her to do work in the art department. It is a small world and a small town but still it is “mind unfolding” and everything works in its own time and with clockwork precision as the reflections and out-picturings appear and disappear and revolve and meet you coming and going as you catch a glimpse of yourself occasionally in the eyes of a stranger that you will meet again on the road to knowing yourself.
Saga continues: Ready To Do "The Work"
Derek Lamar now walking the streets of Bakersfield...
Return to Blackboard cover page.
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