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Archive for July, 2009

Rachel’s take on fundamentalists at the heart of American political power is so spot on that I only want you to check it out. I’m having a little trouble with video links today, so if the link isn’t working, just cut and past the url below:

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/26315908/#31931319

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Dog Day Afternoon

Yesterday afternoon, about 12:45, I’m walking back from the neighborhood church that I’m studying, with Arielle, my undergraduate summer research assistant in tow. We’re chatting about the sermon we just heard, in which, among other things, the preacher asserted that “mystery,” in this particular section of Colossians, translates roughly as “shut your mouth.” Mystery, in other words, meaning God’s mysteries, should leave us speechless. “God shows you something big that you don’t understand,” he told his audience of true believers, “you shut your mouth.”

So we’re walking, and we come up on Denver Fire Station #3, a small facility in Five Points Historic District. I walk or ride my bike by that station all the time, and often the firemen are out–throwing a football, doing pushups, barbecuing, whatever. I feel like I practically know these young handsome fellas.

Today I see that they’re all kind of huddled around something, and one guy is standing up watching. Some split-second activity occurs in my brain: First I think the object inside the huddle is a person lying on his back, but then I realize it’s too small to be a person, there aren’t any legs or arms, and they’re doing some kind of CPR on it. Their faces are serious, but it doesn’t look like an emergency. Oh, it must be a CPR drill, and that beige, inert thing is a sandbag. They’re practicing, going over their skills.

“Hey, I think he’s breathing!” I call out, picturing the sandbag coming alive under their masterful CPR.

A couple of the guys pushing on the “chest” look up at me blankly. So does the guy standing.

“God, those guys have no sense of humor,” I say to Arielle as we continue down the sidewalk. “Jeez, c’mon, it’s a sandbag. Lighten up.”

Arielle is a very deadpan person. Wicked smart, but she tends to speak with little affect, working the ironic college student vibe. “That was really insensitive,” she says, in the same tone that one might say, “you have a leaf stuck to your shirt.”

“Right,” I chuckle. “The poor sandbag. Maybe I made those guys feel bad about having no sense of humor.”

“That guy might have really loved his dog,” she replies. But almost in a tone of, “that guy might have really loved his dog, the way dumb people love their dogs.”

“What dog?”

“The dog that they were trying to save, obviously.”

“That wasn’t a dog. It was a sandbag.”

“It was a dog. They were doing CPR on the dog.”

“Are you kidding?”

“Why would I be kidding?”

“Oh, shit. Oh my god.” And the whole thing hits me: what a complete and utter idiot I am, making that comment as some guy’s dog is clearly not breathing. No wonder everyone looked at me like that. They were thinking, What? Why? Why would you say that right now? Oh, fuck. I didn’t see the legs or tail, and assumed it was practice–oh my god. My ego shrinks to ant size.

We’re halfway between the fire house and my home. I obsess for the next five blocks about how I have to do something to make it right. At home, I race online trying to find an email or phone number for Fire House #3, but no dice. I call the fricking fire commissioner and leave a voicemail. Arielle’s pretty much laughing at me.

“That’s it,” I say, “we’re going back so I can apologize. Then we can get some lunch. And perhaps I can resume living.”

“What? Why should I have to go?”

“You can sit in the car.”

“Great.” Not only have I made her sit through a two-and-a-half hour evangelical church service–and, mind you, she’s Jewish–but I’m dragging her back to the site of my public shame, and hers by association.

We rush down to the station, and no one’s outside. So, in the spirit of genuine apology, which I have been studying and teaching a fricking class on for the last year (a class Arielle also took), I humble myself at the door and wait for someone to answer the bell. A long minute passes and one of the guys opens it. Sees me and looks…I can only describe it as sadly disappointed. Two of his buddies show up behind him and also clearly recognize my stupid ass.

“Hi. I just wanted to apologize. For saying that stupid comment. I thought you guys were practicing on a sandbag, it was a stupid joke, and–is the dog ok? My friend told me it was a dog and I felt so horrible, I just want you to know that I would have NEVER said that if–”

“The dog didn’t make it,” Handsome says. “He just stopped breathing for some reason and his owner brought him over here.”

“Oh my god. I’m so sorry.”

“Not your fault. Just bad timing.”

“Man,” says one of the other guys, “Your ears must’ve been burning.” So, clearly, they’d gone inside after the death pronouncement and talked about that bitch with the vicious mouth.

“I tried to find your number or email to call you and apologize, but I couldn’t so I just came down here,” I offer lamely.

“No, this is much better. We appreciate it,” Handsome smiles. “And we told the guy to come back and see us, so if he does, we’ll pass it along.” The other guys look like they might forgive me, eventually.

I slump back to the car. Arielle’s laughing from the passenger seat.”You killed the dog,” she mutters, in her flat affect. “You killed a dog right after church.”

Pretty much.

Next mystery I come upon? Keeping my mouth shut.

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R.A.

Hmm…what could this post be about, or who?

Ralph Abernathy, one of the architects of the American civil rights movement? No, not him.

Roseanna Arquette? Rosanne Arnold? Rachel Allen, celebrity chef?

How about Random Acts of God, or Random Acts of kindness–which are, I suspect, Random Acts of God .

Or how about Rheumatoid Arthritis, a random act of biology. With which I have recently been diagnosed, via blood tests and six months worth of what appear to be symptoms. I suppose all this will be clearer in a week after I visit the Rheumatologist for the first time. But for now, well, it kinda sucks to be typing this, on more than one level. Because my wrists and certain knuckles on my hands have been killing me. And before that it was a shoulder sequence that got me to a doctor. And before that, weird goings on with my knees. And before that, really painful elbow stuff such that I was often icing my joints during lulls at the bar. Not to mention some rather annoying bouts of fatigue, that I was just chalking up to a busy lifestyle.

I thought at the time, well, maybe this is just what happens after you turn 40; your whole body goes into some kind of tweak pocket of weirdness. But, no, your joints, as it turns out, aren’t supposed to start aching for no obvious reason. Apparently my immune system has begun to rebel and launched a vigilante campaign on the various spaces where my bones meet up. R.A. is an immune system disorder, not a regular form of arthritis. They don’t know what causes it–a little bit genetics, a lot of mystery, and exacerbation or flare ups linked to stress, lack of sleep, and life’s general bummers. It’s not like what happens when your old softball injuries finally add up and you start limping around in the morning. It’s systemic, and the worst case scenarios are not pretty. But from what I’ve gathered so far, it’s pretty rare to get to worst case scenarios with today’s meds for it. Mostly, I’m told, they can control it with a category of drugs called DMARDs, which are basically low doses of chemo.

Are you fucking kidding me? Chemo?

Whatever; here’s a link if you want more info. I waver between being relieved that there was, in fact, something behind all these Random Aches I’d been having over the last year; being pissed that this is happening to me so suddenly; knowing it’s all going to be ok and I’ll figure it out; and wanting to bawl my eyes out and then go to sleep for a couple weeks.

I’m sure I’ll be writing about it more. Mostly I figured I’d put it out there, as a way to start looking it in its Ratty Ass face.

The bright side is that Grandpa has begun referring to me as Rheumatard Arthur-itis. Sweet.

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Rodeo

I grew up going to rodeos. Every July, from the time I was about 7, until 14, we moved into our van, the Ford Econoline outfitted with a foam mattress in the back and two moonroofs and headed off to Cheyenne. Kind of a strange thing to do, especially after we’d moved to the beach cities of Southern California where suburban tracts had taken over every inch of former ranchland and the only broncos around were made by Ford. But my dad was and is a cowboy, in his own way, and the Cheyenne pilgrimage a way to reup his membership.

The ride was long, especially since Daddy was often driving straight through, stopping only for fuel and coffee. But it made me fall in love with the West. I’d sprawl out on my sleeping bag, singing along to every note of the old school country masters: Marty Robbins, Tammy Wynette, the Charlies (Rich and Pride), Hank Williams, Dottie West and, of course, Dolly. I’d marvel as we drove straight into the mighty thunderstorms across Utah and Colorado, slipping through charcoal curtains of rain bristling with lightning. I sketched the rolling foothills of the high country and gazed at the beautiful outbuildings of ranches handed down through generations. My dad tells me I used to be able to name every breed of cattle by sight, but I’ve forgotten most of them.

Julys were full of fantasy. I dreamed of riding a beautiful Palomino or a Paint mare across fields of wheat. Of lassoing calves in buckskin chaps and pulling my share on round ups. Of marrying some beautiful cowboy with working hands and a cute butt in Wranglers. I loved how my face looked under a straw cowboy hat. When Daddy told stories of his years working ranches in his twenties, I listened with keen attention. I believed him when he’d talk about buying some old ranch someday, but that never happened.

And at least for those rodeo weeks in July, I was fiercely jealous of ranch girls like these. I wanted to be them:

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Take a closer look at the detail of fancy ranch girl rodeo wear. Freaking awesome. Check out “Katy’s” custom chaps.

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I met one of these ranch girls once. Her name was, no kidding, Brandie Western. She was the beautiful, chestnut-haired daughter of a big wig rancher outside of Cheyenne and I don’t know why but she kind of took me under her wing one evening at a barbecue her dad invited us to. I got to ride her horse around their private arena and she showed me all over their land. In retrospect, I had a massive crush on her. We became pen pals for a couple years and, as I recall, she was “fixin to marry” her boyfriend by the time she was about 17. That was way beyond anything I could relate to at the time, and my jealousy subsided.

These pics are from a little rodeo in Evergreen that Katie’s cousin runs. His family has been providing stock to rodeos all over the West, and they do it well. Look at these gorgeous bulls.

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Rodeo is a culture all its own, and it still has a little bit of my heart. These photos are an expression of that.

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Mystery Men

I’ve been wanting to tell you about the amazing men who took my Political Forgiveness course this summer, and what they taught me about men and boys that somehow I’d forgotten. So I’m going to do that, but let me start at a moment from earlier this summer that, for me, is where the story really begins.

1.

Tom, my Lithuanian friend, and I are setting up the bar for another big wedding. All the servers are around, the floor manager, the events sales gal, and the food and beverage manager. I’m wiping down my station and suddenly get a whiff of something nasty. “Whoo,” I mutter, “must be something rotting under there.”

“Could be a dead mouse,” says Taylor, the Food & Bev guy (who is also my 22 year-old boss, thank you very much.) “There are a couple of traps under the bar. We’ve had issues lately.”

Needless to say, I am not up for pulling out any trap with a putrid and dead mouse in it, so even though I mooj up and happily accept the vast majority of the “guy jobs” that come with bartending, I pretty much insist that Tom take this one.

Tom gets on his knees and pulls out a metal trap, about 2x7x5 inches. I make myself busy at the other end of the bar, staying as far away as possible. So do the female servers. But the guys edge over to Tom in quiet anticipation. He opens the trap, looks in for a few seconds, then goes, “Dude, check this out: there’s one mouse, and he’s still alive. And one tail! One guy ate the other one. Cool!”

So: groans from all the women. Kate says, “Oh God, that poor mouse.” Ann goes, “I know; think of how horrible, to have to eat your friend to survive. It could have been a family member.” And so on: the women are anguished with empathy for the surviving mouse, the horror of the situation.

Meanwhile, the guys are figuring out what to do with the still (barely) living cannibal mouse, who has apparently earned their respect. They decide to let him out in the alley, given all he’s been through. (And why we all assume it’s male is another question.) But, as it turns out, in the alley the mouse doesn’t move at all, and is barely breathing. Taylor solves this brief dilemma by throwing a sandbag on him, putting him out of his misery. A misery, we might note, that Taylor effectively created in the first place. But I suppose it’s better than a mousetail martini.

Following the event, the guys roll out a bunch of stories about animals they wounded, killed, or watched perish when they were growing out. The women look at the men like they’re crazy. Kate, Ann, the other female servers remark that we can’t think of a single girl any of us knew who got a kick out of killing things. But we all knew boys who did; most of them lived in our families. How many times did I see my brother sizzling ants under a hot microscope?

2.

A couple weeks later I have assigned the first paper for my intensive summer course, which has only four students in it and one auditor. Three of the students are guys in their early 20s. The first assignment is to write about a personal event in which forgiveness was or is a challenge, to identify obstacles to forgiveness, and to imagine what a forgiveness and/or reconciliation process might look like in that context. (They write this before they’ve had a chance to read any forgiveness models, and then they write an expanded version of it that they present at the end of class.)

Here’s what came back:

P. wrote about how on a visit to Ireland, the land of his fathers, during his semester abroad in Madrid last year, he got attacked outside a bar in a small village by two drunken locals. They pounced on him while he was just standing waiting for his friends to come out of the bar. Beat him for being American, told him to “go back to killing in Iraq.” Took out a few of his teeth, broke his nose in six places, left him a bloody mess. He had to get out of Ireland with help of the U.S. embassy in order to receive decent health care. And yet his reflections on the experience were full of empathy for these “guys from a small town who didn’t have any of the opportunities I have.”

S. is a former Air Force Academy cadet discharged when he broke his back during a training. He met the love of his life in San Diego, and after surviving some long distance, ultimately proposed. They were planning to move to Notre Dame where he’s been accepted to law school and begins next month. But only two months ago he discovered that she was cheating on him during the engagement. His heart, and his faith, were badly wounded, he wrote, and he was struggling to figure out if there was any possibility for reconciliation, which she wanted. He honestly wasn’t sure of the next step, but he did know that praying helped. “I bawled my eyes out several times while writing this,” he told me in the email that accompanied his paper. “So enjoy.”

H. is an articulate and smart young man I had in another class last year. He has a significant stutter but always musters impressive courage to speak in class. He told the story of how his stutter emerged around age 4 after his mother, struggling with mental illness, checked herself into a mental hospital for awhile, entirely upending his stable world. The scar of the experience was one thing, but her guilt about it as he grew up and the stutter persisted was worse, he told us. She nagged him about it, always trying to fix it so she wouldn’t have to be reminded–which, of course, only exacerbated. “My mom is the person I stutter around most,” he shared in his final presentation of his story and the model of reconciliation he’d come up with. “I love her, and I forgive her. She’s a great person. She did the best she could. But it would really help if she could forgive herself.”

If you saw the final presentations these guys did, you’d’ve wept, as I did. The connections they made between their personal pain, their struggles to transcend it, and the other, larger contexts they learned about, like childhood sexual abuse, Rwandan genocide, the Holocaust, the efforts to repair a wounded South Africa were incredible. And these were all “manly men,” big, straight, confident guys. Turning themselves inside out with beautiful vulnerability.

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3.

Katie and I went to watch the movie Princess Bride at Red Rocks with several thousand other dorks on a starry night. We met Jacob, the 6 year-old next to us, a spitting image of his blue-eyed dad. All through the movie when a battle began Jacob would worry: “Dad, is someone going to get hurt? Is that guy going to die? Is there going to be blood???” Jacob was not having blood, or gore, or people hurting each other, so with every scary scene (and the movie is a spoof, mind you) he’d hide his face behind his hands and quake until it was over. He wasn’t traumatized; just not up for blood. As we were packing up he bid us a cheerful adieu: “Hope to see you again sometime,” he told us.

So.

Boys boasting about killing animals. Boys suffering with pain and abandonment. A six year-old holding his own against Hollywood gore (and his dad loving him for it). Young men expressing their hurt, their shame, their empathy. In a space that they are rarely offered in this world where men aren’t supposed to feel such things. Where men are running the wars.

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Fresh Start

Welcome to the new first entry of my relocated and hopefully more user-friendly and aesthetically facelifted blog site. I may be toying around with the look for awhile, so bear with me, but for now I’m keeping it simple.I’ve heard good things about WordPress and after sniffing around a bit on the net, it seemed promising and much friendlier for the things I’m wanting to do with the blog.

If for some freaky reason you’re new to Moojinorbit and want to know what the hell a “mooj” is, here’s a link to the very beginning, at the old site where it all began a few years ago.

I’ve been loving the new Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ28 I got for my birthday this year, so I’m thinking of posting more images. Get ready for that.

Alrighty then: Onward!

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