Thou Shalt Not Judge

January 12, 2011

Long Branch Bar, Laporte, Colo.

3:40 p.m. to 4:52 p.m.

Notable Matter: Plastic shot glasses, “I swerve for Shem” bumper sticker

I lose faith in humanity and then I fall in love with it.

The Long Branch Bar. No windows. Few cars. Sign on the door says, “Wet Floor.” I walked in. I hate to admit it, but I was reticent. Not because my dad said, “I know a guy who got shot there, be careful,” but because I didn’t know where to go.

U.S. citizens can’t move without signs. They’re everywhere. Step here. Don’t smoke here. Wipe your feet here. Unload here. Sign here. To the left of the entrance was a long hall similar to one I walked down in college that led to a drug den, a place I didn’t expect to be and feared I would never leave. To the right, the back of the bar.

Gray hair, no teeth, a Poudre High School sweatshirt (my alma matter) flanking acid wash jeans, the bartender smiles, motions me to the back of the bar and around the counter. I walk down the bar, drag the only free stool close to a man with a handlebar mustache, thick hands, Carhartts and teeth blackened by tobacco.

“Don’t sit there,” he says.

“Why? Is it broken?”

“No. No. I’m just giving you shit. You have to be able to take some shit.”

“I can take shit.” I  sit.

The bartender asks for my ID, probably thinks I’m an undercover cop prepping for a sting. The man with the mustache me helps her find my birthday. “Girl, there’s no way you’re that tall.”

“I am. Promise.”

The ID comes back. The man says, “Michigan. Well, I know where to find you when I stalk you!”

“If you want to drive that far in the winter to stalk me, go for it.”

This is why I love dive bars. No one takes themselves seriously and no one ever reads me their resume.

First 15 Minutes

The man’s wife sits next to me. Sweet lady, kind eyes. They have four kids. Their youngest daughter, 24, is in Kandahar, Afghanistan serving her first tour. She has two more to go. She puts packages together for men in the field, wrapping food, water, clothing and ammunition in “puffy stuff that looks like honeycombs” so when they drop the packages at night — always at night — the ammunition doesn’t explode.

The woman hasn’t heard from her daughter in weeks, says the U.S. pays the Taliban to protect the communications towers, that one must be down. Even though guard dogs sit in the mess hall, her daughter eats outside. The mess hall was bombed. She’s afraid.

“How did your daughter seem the last time you talked to her? Was she OK?”

“She was OK the first three months. But that was the first three.”

“So how do you distract yourself from thinking about her every minute of every day?”

I drink.”

Love

I don’t want to give the impression that this couple is depressed, forlorn. They’re kind and funny and real. They want what everyone wants — safety, a happy family, a job, shelter, love.

They’ve been married for 33 years. Not only do they enjoy each other, they love each other. He kisses her, talks about the cute blonde he met at the army base. It’s amazing to watch.

Of course it wasn’t always that way. They lived in Kentucky for several years. He worked nights, she worked days. Life was hard. Four kids. Backwards community. Few neighbors had septic tanks. One of the neighbors did his business over a 5-gallon bucket. When the bag under the bucket filled, he threw it on top of a hill.

It was rough on the kids. Their peers would only play with them if they went to the same church. They didn’t go to church. They lived in a dry county, drove two hours for booze. The Baptists didn’t approve but somehow made peace with the bootleggers who sold alcohol and drugs to the kids.

The man and woman left. Then their kids left.

“All of a sudden you don’t know your husband. You just have to learn to fall in love again.”

Religion

She grew up Catholic. He wishes she’d kept her faith. She has…sort of. Went to church on Christmas, usually prays at home.

They agree we won’t win the war. It’s religious, no hope. He searched for spirituality years ago, settled on the Mormons.

“You know, that whole have-a-bunch-of-wives stuff is a bunch of crap. That’s like five percent, less than five percent. Do you know what they do? They give 10 percent of their income to the church so when you’re in trouble — no job, financial problems — they take care of you. It’s about family.”

We talk about aliens, things greater than ourselves, reincarnation. He suggests we could be one large ant farm someone’s watching, occasionally releasing us, sometimes killing us.  I’ve never though of it that way.

“Who is anyone to say we’re the smartest beings?”

He has a point.

I tell him I’m not looking for religion, just humanity.

“Girl, as long as you follow the basic rulesthe 10 — you’ll be fine. You don’t have to be a great person. You’re not a bad person. You’re just a person.”

I am. So are they. The woman hugs me when I stand. She smells like soap. I don’t want to leave.

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Stand in an elevator facing the people, not the door. Be middle class, refuse an education. Stare. Be honest. Don’t mow your lawn. End a conversation because it’s boring. Loaf. Say what you mean. Wear flip-flops to meetings. Follow your dreams. Deviate.

Last week I spent about 30 minutes staring at a German schizophrenic. He was sitting across from me on a train to the Dusseldorf Airport. Everyone else avoided him, presumably because they understood his shouts and murmurs, which must have been offensive as everyone moved away from him immediately.

He asked me if I spoke English. I pretended I didn’t giving both of us the freedom to gawk. He smelled, as homeless people tend to do, but as I’ve said before, I have this smelling thing. Good or bad, it’s an unappreciated sense. We’re taught not to stare at people particularly people who are down on their luck, those we’re taught to ignore. But because I was in a foreign country and incapable of understanding this fascinating man, I was uninhibited by the social norms that would have turned me from him at home.

I’m catching up on my Bible reading, just whizzed through the Book of Hosea and the Book of Jonah. Hosea is a softie who does everything God tells him to do including staying with a cheating wife, and Jonah does what he pleases but eventually goes back to God. Why do they do this? Because they’re supposed to. They’re told to go back to God. It’s the thing to do. It relieves guilt, consummates loyalty. It’s the norm.

So anyone who adheres to norms gets a pass but who creates those norms and why do we follow?

I don’t know who creates them (sociologist please), but we follow them because the repercussions for breaking social norms are difficult to endure. In some cases, the pressure expounded on these social outliers is so great it leads to suicide.

Unfortunately norms are homogenizing, they keep us from entertaining what we want to do and encourage us to criticize those who do differently.

I’m young(ish) so I’m supposed to network. I hate it. Listening to uninteresting, self-righteous professionals talk about their accomplishments is torturous. All I ever want to say is, “You’re uninteresting and I hope I never spend one more second with you even if you are one of the most ‘successful’ young professionals in the region.” But that’s rude. So I don’t network. I keep my mouth shut, fall in line.

Yesterday I watched “Meet the Press,” which always causes heartburn. Sen. Jim DeMint (R/Tea Party-S.C.) was asked how to right our country’s debt so we don’t have to raise the $1.4 TRILLION debt cap (shiver). Does he want to raise taxes? Cut spending? He said we can do both but refused to explain exactly how that might work. Due to time constraints, what have you, he got a pass.

We take this stuff in stride, take our grievances to the ballot box — what a joke — and accept these non-answers. I’d like to go live with a suggestion to waterboard politicians — a small incentive for details — but I don’t because of the kickback. The last time I said something moderately controversial in a blog titled “Please Just Shut the F%*& Up,” a narcissistic Midwestern mayor got himself in a tizzy, complicating my job for about a month. (If you’re interested in this piece, let me know. I’ll send you an email.) On this one, the personal repercussions were minimal, but because I cantered outside of the norm and spoke my mind rather than following the path of the “objective journalist,” I couldn’t access resources I needed. Really? Because of an opinion? Perhaps a new(ish) idea?

I give major props to columnists and individuals who put their opinions out there without any excuses. Since we’re so politically correct and hold so tightly to this idea of being normal, this is a rarity. We don’t like to rock the boat or confront the mighty social norms.

So, did Hosea and Jonah profess loyalty to God because it was easy? Is religion a norm? Do people do it because it’s easy, because they’re afraid of social repercussions? Before getting defensive, think about it. Do what I do. Tell people — without apologizing — that you don’t believe in God or go to Church. My guess is that the person will either pity you or try to save your soul. It’s uncomfortable. It’s not normal.

(Interesting side note: “Are Independent Thinkers Mentally Ill?”)

Stopping Point: The Book of Micah

*FYI, I’ll be publishing Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. I need to make up for last week’s absence.

The Prickly Psalms

September 1, 2010

When I was about eight and my sister was getting comfortable riding a bike sans training wheels, my mom took us for a bike ride. My sister was slowing me down so after a few blocks I, Ms. High and Mighty reigning from the seat of a pink and teal Schwinn, began imitating my sister, largely focusing on her stability efforts. As I swiveled in front of her — one handed mind you — I laughed and taunted. Then I hit an uneven piece of the sidewalk with such force that my handle bars inverted, a consequence that went unnoticed until I stopped crying, accepted the massive hole in my knee, started riding again, approached a stop sign and tried to brake. Unable to find the brakes in time, I sort of toppled onto the grass.

My sister was horrified. She didn’t even laugh though I would have doubled over had the same happened to her. She felt bad but I blamed the crash on her anyway, accusing her of using special mental powers to knock me down.

Now of course, I don’t believe my sister willed me to fall off of that bike. At that point in time she was too sweet to do something like that. Today she might will it. Not because we’re falling away from each other, but because she’s an adult. Trained to be polite, I believe we adults are much more prone to waste time making enemies by hoping bad things happen to random people. For some reason we think it’s OK to us our intellect to hurt people.

These first 20 psalms are morose and, in my opinion, a real insight into how much time adults spend holding onto negative energy. In these psalms we don’t know who is speaking to God (it seems to be a fill in the blank situation), but this person continually asks God to punish his enemies. Can God protect him against his enemies? Kill his enemies? Punish his enemies and at least three additional generations of enemies? I’m sorry, but if you’ve got God’s ear, why go on and on about enemies? How can a person have so many enemies and what the hell happened to world peace?

When I started this blog, I couldn’t think of anyone I consider an out and out enemy. But that’s because my definition of enemy was too narrow. Yesterday I was nearly run over by an individual who was biking in my tiny little bike lane on the wrong side of the street. I glared at him and then moved to the inside so he could pass, but he followed suit so I had to swerve again to avoid a major collision. As I zoomed by I thought, “I hope you get hit — not hurt — just shocked, by a car, maybe another biker.” In that moment, that poor guy who may have been British, drunk or high, became my enemy.

I doubt a child would have acted similarly. They probably would have laughed and moved on. I cursed and wasted 20 minutes of my own time willing destruction.

It’s bothersome that the unnamed person in psalms 1-20 has so many enemies, but I think I understand how it happens. Potential enemies are everywhere. Customer service rep. Check. Mailman. Check. Cyclist. Check. Hippie. Check. Barking dog. Check. Etc.

When I fell from that Schwinn I immediately got what I deserved. Eye for an eye. But when are all of my enemies’ ill wishes going to fall down on me? I suppose that will be the day I revisit psalms 1-20.

“Lord, please protect me from my enemies. Hide me in your wings. Oppose them. Punish them. For now, they are upon me.”

Stopping Point: Psalms 21-41

Oh Black Water

July 26, 2010

As mentioned in my last blog, I took a weeklong hiatus from Thumpme to visit various people and places in Colorado. As expected, it was the mountains —not Bible study — that encouraged me to examine the possibility of something greater than myself. Because I wasn’t in a church and haven’t “accepted” God, I’m pretty sure my nature-based spirituality doesn’t count in the book of organized religion.

True to this project, I did attempt to experience religion as defined by the Bible. While tooling around my hometown I tried to give confession at St. Joseph’s church, an edifice I’ve always admired but never entered — or so I thought.

When my best friend and I walked into St. Joe’s, she reminded me that we’d fist visited St. Joe’s when we were seven. It was our first solo trip to Old Town Ft. Collins, an independent milestone I’d been seeking for months. Our only instructions: Don’t talk to strangers; look both ways when crossing; get home by dinner.

Our parents didn’t say a word about throwing a handful of black raspberry candy into the holy water at St. Joe’s. I thought it was simply hysterical when the water turned black, but my friend was mortified and dragged me out of the church.

Twenty-one years later I decided to confess, but when I approached St. Joe’s confessional I was met with a sign that said: “Confessional Hours 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.” I couldn’t stick around for varying reasons (namely Sunshine, Ranger and Skinny Dip) nor could I attend the Sunday service (again, Sunshine, Ranger and Skinny Dip), but today I called the church asking for some sort of guidance regarding my impulse. Explaining my quest to the church secretary was a bit difficult. She was polite, but after my explanation she said, “You want to turn the holy water black?”

“No, I already did that. I would like to talk to someone about the implications of turning holy water black. Is that a sin and can I be forgiven?”

My call was not returned. A little Internet research suggests individuals have been using holy water for black satanic rituals. I can assure you that’s not what I intended with my black water however, I doubt I’ll be “forgiven” for this tiny infraction. Unlike God’s revered David, I am not cruel, have not disregarded half of the 10 Commandments (I’ve only hit four), murdered anyone or, most importantly, accepted God as my savior.

Like David I had a little brain fart regarding my indiscretion, but God likes David because David likes God so it’s OK for him sweep it under the rug.

After God forgives David, David sings a little ditty completely void of his blunders. He says:

“The Lord rewards me because I do what is right; he blesses me because I am innocent.

I have obeyed the law of the Lord; I have not turned away from my God.

I have observed all his laws; I have not disobeyed his commands.

He knows that I am faultless, that I have kept myself from doing wrong.

And so he rewards me because I do what is right, because he knows I am innocent.”

It seems that sins are insignificant as long as the sinner has accepted God and confessed in a church. If I had accepted God and waited until 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. to confess my 21-year-old sin rather than drinking and hiking in the mountains, would my black berries go unnoticed?

I know “accepting God” takes more than 15 minutes, but I can’t understand these general principles. Please explain this to me.

Stopping Point: The First Book of Kings

Touchdown!

June 16, 2010

I initially found this section fraught with uninteresting detail. With the exception of the 10 Commandments, this portion of Exodus is like participating in a Broadway rehearsal. Wear a rope here, gold there, rub bull blood there, don’t walk here, offer here, waste wine over here – far too many details for my attention span, an affliction to be broached when a certain medicinal trailer moves through Lansing.

I started this section with the 10 Cs but since they’re revised later on, let’s get straight to the nut of my new affection for the Lord. Orgies and alcohol.

After the yada yada yada blah blah blah about robes, tents, lamps and whatnot, the people, who are left to their own devices because Moses is with the Lord working on wardrobe, “… sat down to a feast, which turned into an orgy of drinking and sex.” Yes please.

The people had this orgy before a homemade golden bull calf alter, which  prohibited by the 10 Cs where the Lord SPECIFICALLY tells his people not to worship anything – idols, metals, Gods, what have you – other than himself. The amazing part – and the reason I may relax my resistance against the Lord’s rules – is that the only thing about the situation that pisses him off is the gold-bull calf.

“So the Lord sent a disease on the people, because they had caused Aaron to make the gold-bull calf.”

I can’t blame the Lord for getting a little peeved. Everyone has their own idea of proper orgy ambiance. The Lord just happens to dislike bronze and all other metals.

“Do not make gods of metal and worship them,” he says to Moses and his people.

This prohibition may explain the recent destruction of Ohio’s Touchdown Jesus. The structure was made of plastic foam and fiberglass over a steel frame. Unfortunately for Touchdown, steel is an iron alloy. Goodnight Jesus. My reading has yet to bring me to Jesus so I’m unsure as to whether he is amenable to metals. If he is, it would appear that the burning of Touchdown Jesus was a man made event, not a punishment from God.

If you are unfamiliar with Touchdown Jesus dirt eating incident, please check out the following video.

Version one of the 10 Cs makes sense until the Lord lists his addendums. If this then that. If this then that THEN this then this, then this. It’s like reading a Senate bill. The “do not desire” component of the 10 Cs is antithetical to human nature and American culture. If we did not desire, would our economy be collapsing and would we be at war?

The 10 Commandments round deux is fine, but the details about the lamp stand, the covenant box and the making of the Lord’s tent is just tedium. Basically he adds more bronze. Men.

Stopping Point: Leviticus

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