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.

Puff the Magic Prophet

October 20, 2010

Mescaline is: “An alkaloid drug, C11H17NO3, obtained from mescal buttons, which produces hallucinations. Also called peyote.” (Definition provided by Urban Dictionary contributor, Adict).

This hallucinogen is obtained from cacti and special beans. I don’t know if mescaline producing cacti grow in the Middle East, but I assure you beans belonging to the Fabacae family are a prevalent food source in Middle Eastern diets and, based on his extremely bizarre visions, I’m going to guess Prophet Ezekiel fancied this particular food group.

Ezekiel learns he’s a prophet after four creatures with human-ish forms appear before him. Each of these forms has four faces — a human face, lion face, bull face and eagle face — four wings, straight legs, hooves (like a bull) and four human hands under each wing. Wheels with eyes sit next to them and there’s additional detail about subsequent wheels and fire, but it’s too confusing for me to explain. Despite Ezekiel’s descriptive efforts, I cannot imagine how these things moved or what they looked like.

I’m reading a Bible with pictures, drawings really, sometimes they’re helpful, sometimes not. This is the one place where I could really use some imagery but for some reason, the creative team behind my edition of the Bible thought it more valuable to include a drawing of a man shaking his fist in the air than the quad-faced roller derby creatures.

So, I’ve had to improvise. This is a little amateurish, but this is what I picture.

Oh, the eye wheel.

I’ve heard it’s difficult to explain hallucinations. I suppose it’s like explaining dreams, which is why I’m going leave Ezekiel’s second vision of God to the imagination.

In all seriousness, I’ve always wondered how a person becomes a prophet and, more importantly, how people believe that person is a prophet. Prophets claim to have seen God in some form or another but plenty of people claim to have seen God. They see his image in toast, concrete and candy bars. Others claim God reveals himself through substance induced hallucinations. One guy founded an entire religion based on four golden plates allegedly bestowed upon him by God’s angels. Another man convinced 39 people to kill themselves because, after a near death experience, it became apparent to him that he was one of the two witnesses in the Book of Revelations.

Who gets to decide what is a hallucination; an idol; a dream; a message from God; or a joke? What, really, is the difference between someone who sees a four-faced, four-handed creature and someone who sees Jesus toast? Talking stuffed animals? Golden plates?

I find this all very confusing but make no mistake, prophets lead horrible lives. Forecasting death, cannibalism, fire and starvation is an intense, thankless job. Poor Jeremiah nearly lost his mind. Ezekiel, was much more matter of fact in his role as bearer of bad news. I don’t think he was insensitive, I just think he had a little something-something to get him through the night.

Make no mistake, if God ever reveals himself to me, forcing me into a life of prophesying, my food pyramid will consist entirely of mescaline…or beans.

Stopping Point: The Book of Ezekiel 25-48

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