What not to do in Tucson: A date with the Hare Krishnas

By Gabe Joselow
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday, April 29, 2004

Ahh, the First Amendment. God bless its reliable and unquestionable iron-cast authority, its sweeping wing that protects the smallest and frailest voice. This sacred and anointed decree, treasured by Republicans, Democrats and third parties alike, protects without prejudice every American's right to practice whichever religion he or she chooses; and in a truly broad and ironic stroke, it also protects my right to make fun of those people.

This week, I was taken to a little place called Govinda's, 711 E. Blacklidge Drive. I was told there would be a very cheap buffet and a friendly atmosphere, but that I might have to dance to get my food. That's because Govinda's is not simply a restaurant but a kind of Hare Krishna compound, equipped with a gift shop, a macaw parrot and an alter or two. Before the Sunday night feast to which I was privy, I was told I would have to dance with the Krishnas.

Now, you all know who the Krishnas are. George Harrison was one, and those people that wear cream and orange robes and sing at the airport are too. And that sleepy guy on campus who hands you a book that you don't want that looks like a fantasy-adventure novel and tries to make you pay for and talks to you for-fucking-ever when you're trying to get to the Modern Languages building is one too - in fact, he was there.

My editor and another co-worker of mine took me down there and, just as they promised, people were dancing around inside the alter room. Now here's where I was tricked. I thought I was supposed to go dance with them so that I could get fed, when in reality, I was just intruding on their service.

Lesson No. 1: You got to bow down to the alter when you first walk in. I only know this because I didn't do it and everyone else did. It was the quickest way for me to show that I didn't belong there.

I moved to the back of the room and looked around. There was a lot of incense burning, people were dancing and there was a call and response going on. Of course I didn't know the words, but they seemed to pretty much be "Go Harry, Harry. Go Harry, Harry. Go!" (I wonder if the Ramones were Krishnas.)

Lesson No. 2: Turn off your cell phone. Mine rang right in the middle of the hoedown and didn't help my reputation at all. It also threw off my groove.

Lesson No. 3: Don't kiss the flower. Every once in a while, somebody comes around with something for you to touch, to spray on you or to bang, and you are supposed to react in a certain way. Well, the guy came around with a flower and I wasn't paying attention to what other people were doing. So I didn't know if I should eat it, or take it or what. So I kissed it, really hard, and the guy took it away from me really fast. I think you're just supposed to smell it.

That was about it for the ceremony, except when we had to put our heads down and pray to the graven image of their lord Krishna, who was prominently displayed as a dude in a winter hat under a parasol with or without a Corona in his hand; I'm not sure. If there is a God, I know I've thoroughly confused him.

Now if you think I'm just trying to make the Hare Krishnas look nutty or stupid, you've missed the point entirely. The point is not that these particular people are weird; the point is that religion itself is weird. If you don't believe me, try someone else's on for size sometime.

And as far as religions go, the Krishnas aren't that weird. I mean, it's not like they're scientologists, those freaks.