El Porton, Bogotá, Colombia

3:15 p.m. to 4:15 p.m.

Notable Matter:  Foreign animal head (oxen?), canteen, horseshoe and bull fighting paraphernalia above bar.

Describing a dive bar to someone living outside of the U.S. is difficult. Not because class division doesn’t exist – it does – but because independent retailers and restaurants are the norm, not the exception. A dive bar in the U.S. is a neighborhood bar everywhere else. Like our dive bars, they tend to be dark, lack windows and fill with interesting characters but they’re not competing with chain restaurants and flashy facades so they don’t slide into the category of slightly sketchy.

It’s no secret that Americans fear Colombia. The only thing we know of it is drugs and violence. Thanks to U.S. intervention, again, in Colombian policy and the acceleration of Mexican cartels, Americans view Colombia more favorably than before but when compared to what we’re comfortable with – large, shiny, safe, new things – it remains a dive country.

I wasn’t afraid to travel to Colombia but I didn’t want to go to a dive bar alone. I could handle the unknown city, but feared the unknown bar. I thought I might get kidnapped, which is not only stupid but extremely egotistical as there’s nothing about me or my life that would be of any value to a kidnapper in Colombia or anywhere else.

I planned to travel to the south side of the city, an expansive mass exiled from all tourist maps, with some natives to check out some dives as described by me and interpreted by them, but those plans fell through. I almost used this, two attempted purse snatchings and a small run in with the police as an excuse to can the Colombian dive bar experience but then I would have lost to fear and we can’t have that.

Toe First

I walk past El Porton, a small white building with a large door blocking the crooked hole serving as an entrance, and grab a safe lunch special at an American looking French sounding restaurant. When I leave, I give myself a pep talk. I’m on a side street in the middle of the city. I’m tired of being on guard 24/7 and weighing my commitment to church and alcohol. Is it more important to follow through on the blog or remain sober for the three mile walk home?

El Porton is across the street from an old bull fighting stadium, one I wouldn’t have gotten into if I hadn’t poked my head through a crack in the door and grabbed the attention of a police officer. One I wouldn’t have had to myself if I’d snubbed my curiosity. I remind myself Bogota is a city, that as long as I respect it I’ll be OK. I walk into El Porton.

I fall into the bar because like the rest of the country, the steps are surprising and uneven. The tables are white, plastic, covered with red and white checked table cloths. The table numbers are written on the white wall in black marker or crayon. The room is long. A young woman comes from the back to take my order. I assume it’s a family business. Mom follows the girl and yells to dad when I ask if I can take pictures. For some reason I obtain manners in foreign countries that I don’t have at home.

The walls are sparse, signed bullfighting photographs with curled edges huddle near the door and behind the bar. The family doesn’t understand why I’m here but we don’t talk so it doesn’t matter anyway. I stare at a poster. Looks like a harmonica man is coming to town. I watch the military or the police or some other protective force patrol the street outside the bar. These protectors are everywhere, including the parks where drugs are sold. I wonder what, exactly, makes people feel safe.

Fear is necessary response, but a wasted emotion. I wish more people would challenge fear of the unknown. It would be great if we examined what we fear before moving onto what we know. It’s interesting to think what would happen if church goers and administrators had to talk to atheists, Buddhists, etc. before studying the Bible.

Sympathy for the Devil

October 26, 2010

Here’s a christian favorite: “The Lord works in mysterious ways.”

He sure does. I dozed off during today’s reading. I blame Gog, a man with an interesting name and dull tale. When I woke up I thought, “What the hell am I going to write about today? All I’ve got is Gog.”

To stay awake during the rest of the reading, I turned on Pandora and wouldn’t you know, the first song was “Sympathy for the Devil” by the Rolling Stones. When I finished reading, I got an email from a reader about Stones’ front man Keith Richards quitting the Bible in 2008 because “it was boring.” Coincidence? I think not. God wanted me to find inspiration in the devil.

Before boring Gog, I read “The Valley of Dry Bones.” Anorexics existed during Biblical times (many people nearly fasted themselves to death in the name of the Lord) but this valley is full of bones, no flesh, no organs, no fuzzy faces. Bones.

God breathes life into these bones, thereby creating new humans. How, might I ask, does this exclude reincarnation as a possibility for Christians? What if God screwed up and breathed souls into animals or trees? I’d like to delve into this topic, but I’m brain dead and it’s almost Halloween so let’s get back to the devil.

All God has to do is breathe life into bones. The devil, on the other hand, has to personalize purgatory for every sinner. That, my friend, is quite a task. I am not bothered by the prospect of spending eternity in inferno. Extreme heat is not on my Top 100 List of Irritations. When I go to hell, the devil’s going to need to customize a chamber for me, Ivy Hughes, and it should include the following:

Old people eating liquids

Barking dogs

Morbidly obese people in motorized scooters

Snakes

Politicians (there’s some overlap here)

Glenn Beck and his stupid university

Bjork

Mark Zuckerberg

Raw chicken

Those are just a few samples from the list I’ve been compiling for about a year and that’s just me. My husband’s chamber would include wet socks, mismatched socks, Oprah and unsolicited contact with bodily fluids.

Imagine how many people are in and will go to hell. Imagine customizing purgatory for each and every one of them.

In “Sympathy for the Devil,” the Stones say the Devil “stole many a man’s soul and fate.” Imagine managing all of those stolen souls? The Devil only gets one holiday — Halloween — so make sure it’s a good one.

The Rolling Stones : Sympathy For The Devil (live) HQ

Stopping Point: The Book of Daniel

*We’re adding faces and opinions. Thursday our first guest blogger, Laura Talley, creator of the Redheaded Skeptic, will contribute to ThumpMe. If you’re interested in contributing or have suggestions for contributors/subjects, please leave a comment or contact me at ivy.hughes@gmail.com

I don’t understand why so many people remain “friends” with their exes. Even if that person is a good person what, exactly, is the value of the friendship?

Five years after my wedding (anniversary is Oct. 9, cheers!) and halfway through the Bible and I think I’ve figured it out why I have no desire to hold onto those who scooted through and ran out of my dating favor. I live my life according to David’s son, the Philosopher, an influential and often morbidly pessimistic man who doesn’t allow for clinging to what was and grasping for what may be. He’s the closet the thing the Bible has to a Buddhist and he’s second only to Job in my heart.

The Philosopher is a bit grim. The heading, “Life is Useless,” tips off his musings on the complete meaninglessness of life and our miserable fate as human beings, but when his edge is removed, he and I are completely on par.

The Philosopher talks about four basics ideas that I would say, set the foundation for how I live my life:

1. “Everything that happens was determined long ago.”

2. There is no way for us to know what happens to us after we die.

3. The same fate comes to both good and bad.

4. All we can really do while we’re alive is do the best we can and be happy.

The Philosopher takes this to mean that God has laid a miserable fate on us but, for the first time in my life, I’m going to push back with optimism and suggest something is allowing each and every one of us to experiment, play and experience for a finite amount of time. This is a gift.

I try to live in the moment. It’s a struggle. I imagine it always will be. But I believe I am much more capable than most of finding peace in life because I also find peace in death. Incidentally, I do not believe in heaven and hell or God or Satan as defined by the Bible. My belief is linear. I am here now, I’ll be here as long as I’m supposed to be, I’ll be as good as I can while I’m here, I’ll be as happy as I can while I’m here and then I’ll die. Done.

If more people adhered to this idea — and it is not a negative one, hence my commitment to enjoy life —would organized religion start to fall apart? If humans were less concerned about where they came from, what they’re meant “to do” and what will happen when they cease to exist in the frame in which they recognize existence, would they spend as much time reading the Bible? Looking to a higher being for guidance and assurance of things they can’t control? Really, I’m curious. I’m enjoying this read and the Bible provides a lot of good insight into human nature, but it’s really hard for me to hold onto the greater thing — in this case, God — when the thing itself is right in front of me, soon to be behind.

Why, if a relationship has run its course, does either party hold on to it? Some of my friends say it’s because they don’t feel any resentment toward their ex. Others say it’s because they like the person. But what is the point of putting effort behind something no longer relevant? Why hold onto things that used to be or place hope in something intangible that may never be, such as an afterlife?

I love this quote from The Philosopher:

“This is all that I have learned: God made us plain and simple, but we have made ourselves very complicated.”

Stopping Point: The Book of Isaiah

Freshman. Those cute, idealistic 17 and 18-year-olds that falsely believe a college acceptance letter is an invitation to four years of freedom, experimentation, sex and some education. (Five years seems to be the norm). Watching them bumble around campus makes me feel old — the boys are, for the most part, hairless and concave — but they also bring me back to the Bible.

Many factions of the religious community are desperately trying to bring young people back to the church (If you need “facts,” click the USA Today link and Crossexamined.org). In fact, this weekend marks the annual National Back to Church Sunday, which seeks the obvious — increasing congregants.

Some people think liberal professors, outside influences and parents are to blame for the fleeing youth. I made my own uninformed judgments in “Dusting Off the Pew,” but really, we all just need to chill out, read the Psalms and watch college students. We all return to our roots. We’re all boomerangers. Some boom to God, others boom to parents but the four-step process is essentially the same.

1. The Separation

Man leaves God. Kid leaves parents. Both feel the same. They just have different experiences.

Psalm: “All of my bones are out of joint; my heart is like melted wax. My throat is as dry as dust and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth.”

(If you do not understand how this relates to college, please view the video below).

Psalm: “Because I have been foolish, my sores stink and rot.”

(“I was wasted” is a poor excuse)

Psalm: “You love to hurt people with your words, you liar!”

(Texts from Last Night)

2. The Discovery

Like the man in the psalms, college students also explore. They trend away from Christianity and harp playing and toward Buddhism, hallucination and guitars.

Psalm: “Indeed every living man is no more than a puff of wind, no more than a shadow.”

(Keep puffing)

Psalm: “See what happens to those who trust in themselves, the fate of those who are satisfied with their wealth — they are doomed to die like sheep.”

(Facebook?)

Psalm: “I will never be deflated.”

(Enjoy your senior year)

3. The Revelation

Biblically, this is when the fallen tear their clothes and stop washing their hair.  Academics refer to this as “graduation” or “defeat.”

Psalm: “Wake up and punish the heathen.”

(Get a job).

4. The Return

One is back to God, the other is back in the basement.

Psalm: “I have trusted in you since I was young. I have relied on you all my life; you have protected me since the day I was born. I will always praise you.”

(Can I please live here until the economy rebounds?)

Psalm: “I cling to you, and your hands keep me safe.”

(I need food and gas money)

In some capacity, we all return to our roots be it location, religion or politics but as my mother would say, be careful what you wish for.

“…a survey of last year’s college graduation class showed that 80 percent moved back home after getting their diplomas, up significantly from the 63 percent in 2006. The CollegeGrad.com survey of 2,000 young people showed that seven in 10 said they would live at home until they found a job.” — Huffington Post

Boomerangers: Meet College Grads Who Have Moved Back Home (VIDEO)

(College graduate Sarah Allen talks about life at home. Worth watching.)

Church leaders. Do you really think you can accommodate an 80 percent increase in congregants? How big is your basement?

Stopping Point: More Psalms

Editor’s Note: This particular entry is loosely based on my experiences  at the University of Colorado, which ranked No. 11 on “Princeton Review’s Top Party Colleges for 2010.” Whoop! Just kidding. It’s a fiction tale based on the formative years of my CU sorority sisters.

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