Friday, July 24, 2015

Close Encounters Of The Rasta Kind

It was just supposed to be a trip to the local swap meet... that's all.

Through the misty haze of time and space, I recall it was either 1981 or 1982, hard to know for sure, but definitely somewhere in that vicinity. Waaaay back... before I'd met The Artist, before my then Soon-To-Be-Ex-Wife dumped me and all my belongings on the curb in front of our apartment building, before my counseling-inspired epiphany about WTF was going on in my life that was making me such a miserable and depressed wolverine.

On yet another tense Saturday morning, I'd convinced the STBEW that it would be a good idea for me to take our Awesome Daughter (then 3 or 4 years old) for a mellow morning stroll at the Foothill Drive-In Swap Meet in Azusa (CA).  I really just needed a little daddy/daughter time away from the apartment, away from the anger and hostility, away from her cigarette smoke choking up the place, away from... reality.

So there we were, me and the AD, her just barely holding my hand, straining ahead with excitement as we walked along the long aisles of furniture and clothing, tools and stacks of old Playboys, knick knacks and used underwear, the excreta of so many garages and storage rooms and exasperated lives that needed some extra cash. The sun had just popped over the high peripheral walls of the drive-in, but the cool of the morning still demanded our hats and sweaters and cups of coffee or hot chocolate or whiskey, if you were so inclined.

We meandered along each aisle, criss-crossing back and forth from one side to the other, one hump to the other, stopping at some booths and passing others by, focusing on stuff that I didn't want or need but was interesting to look at. Natch, the AD was drawn to the used toys and headless dolls and anything shiny and pretty and light enough for her to grab and show me, shouting "LOOK, DADDY!!", putting a smile on my face as only she could.

At the end of each aisle, more people selling their stuff were lined up along the high walls, taking up the periphery with a vengeance, begging us to see their piles before doing a u-turn into the next long aisle. Of course, we always looked at their stuff, because they were there, and we were there, and it was a way to kill some time on a Saturday morning because there was no tension, no unspoken words of derision, no snarky comments, no fucking cigarette smoke.

About half-way down the asphalt grade, we passed by and stopped in front of one booth along the vengeful sidelines. There were lots of books and records, some interesting clothing,  furniture and other household stuff, like so many other booths. What pinged me was the music... it was reggae music, that much I knew, but I had no idea who was singing a tune about not rocking his boat. After a moment, I glanced at the seller and noticed his long brownish-blonde dreadlocks, which were something of an anomaly at the time.  The more I looked at him, the more I realized that... hey, I know this guy!

He was selling something to another dude, finished up and walked over to where me and the AD were hanging around when I realized exactly who he was.

Me:  "MAX (not his real name)... is that you?"

Him:  "Oh wow... Bob, is that you?"

And that's how we began our Close Encounter of the Rasta Kind.

Max and I had been classmates all through grade and junior high school, sharing the same teachers and pre-teen schoolyard angst that was so much a part of growing up in the 60's. We'd also been fast friends and belonged to the same Boy Scout Troop, with countless camp-outs and hikes and shared scouting experiences between us. He lived only a few blocks from my house, sharing a home with his older sister, Mom and Step-Dad.  I knew it was his step-dad because his Mom had a different last name, and his folks were always really nice to me because I used his house (along with several other friend's homes) as my hideout when my own jail grew too stifling and scary.

Max loved music like me, but he was far more in-tune with the musical context and meanings than I was. His room, a place where we hung out quite a bit during junior high, had black walls and psychedelic fluorescent posters and black lights and incense burners and lots of Beatles posters on the walls.  He was smitten by the whole Sergeant Pepper phenomenon, and we'd lounge on the floor, listening to vinyl records spinning, incense burning, curtains drawn, black light on, day-glo colors bouncing on the walls, dreaming of pretty hippie girls. He introduced me to music I was barely aware of, music that would become integral to my life's journey:  Cream, Doors, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Steppenwolf,... and The Beatles, he always played The Beatles.

As we grew older and started high school, we drifted apart as childhood friends always do, me to my hot-rod cruising and Drama groups, him to the crew that hung out in a notorious walled-in area of our campus called 'The Patio' where all the stoners and hippies gathered, smoking cigarettes and daring the narcs to bust someone. We never friended again, our lives rocketing in different trajectories.

Until we met again at the Foothill Drive-In Swap Meet.

It was a great reunion, he so glad to see me with my daughter, me so glad to see him looking so weird and wonderful, with his freckled face and crazy dreads. We stood there, talking and talking, my daughter happy to play with some toys and sitting on the carpet, shouting "HELLO!!!" at all the grownups passing by.

Him:  "You daughter is so beautiful... you are truly blessed.  I hope that someday my wife and I will be blessed with a young one like yours."

He and his wife were living with (I think) her Mom, trying to scrape together the dough for their own place, so he was here selling reggae records and tapes, Rasta hats and clothing before it was cool, personal items and the detritus of a life in flux.  I felt a sense of happiness at being with him again, my old friend, there with my daughter in tow and a sea of humanity swirling around us, buying crappy shit and shitty crap.

Him:  "Hey man... wanna toke up?"

Me:  "Here? Now? Won't we get, you know... in trouble?"

Him:  "Naw... this place is totally cool, everyone here is just enjoying the vibe, don't worry."

So he pulled out a fattie, lighted it up and we stood there, sharing some weed on a Saturday morning at the swap meet, enjoying our cosmic reconnection, feeling like we owned the world. Eventually he started telling me more about his musical spiritual guide, Bob Marley, whose music he played almost non-stop that morning, music that had grabbed my attention to begin with. With the buzz in my head and the sun in my heart (I was so high!), I felt like I had connected to the music, for the first time really taking in the reggae beat and the sun-shiney songs speaking about oppression and salvation and redemption.

I bought my first Bob Marley record from Max right then and there, titled 'Kaya', which displayed a gigantic burning roach surrounded by pot plants on the album cover.  Perfect.

After about an hour, I knew it was time to head off and leave him to his selling.  We hugged and traded phone numbers and promised that we'd get together again.  As the AD and I slowly walked away, my head turned to glass and my hand filled with my daughter's hand, I felt like it was OK to leave this place and head back to the adult prison I shared with the STBEW.

Max and I never got together again.  I called him a few weeks later but the number was disconnected, so he likely had moved on to another space and place. Soon enough, my own life came crashing down in front of the apartment, my crap strewn all around me, sitting on the curb, lucky to have a borrowed car that I could stuff with my stuff and roll on down the road to... somewhere else. Gone was my married co-habative life, my beautiful daughter, any semblance of normalcy.  I became a semi-vagabond, scratching for places to stay, a couch here, a spare bedroom there, sometimes even sleeping in my borrowed car parked in a friend's driveway, too ashamed to ask for shelter.

But it got better. I got better.

I tossed away so many things during that time of flux, but I kept my stereo, my tapes, my records... and my copy of 'Kaya'. My devotion to reggae music and Bob Marley, sown at that swap meet, began to grow into a forest of one-ness with the world, that beat pulsing with my own heart, speaking to me as a catalyst to always be upright, always be moving, always be seeking better things. To this day, I've quietly thanked Max for his musical stewardship and introduction to Bob Marley's world vision through his music, and it has always left me inspired and invigorated to live my life to the fullest.

Robert Nesta Marley died in 1981 from complications of an aggressive cancer that was secretly taking over his body until he noticed a lesion under his big toe, a symptom of a much larger problem, and he rejected traditional medicine for a holistic approach.  Sadly, it did not give him comfort, and he died right around the same time that I discovered him via my good old school friend Max. It's humbling to imagine what Bob's life would have been like had he survived his battle with The Big C, but it's also a fool's errand to speculate like that.  He's become iconic... a musical and spiritual Kahuna, speaking to us all from beyond the ether.  Maybe that's how it was always supposed to be.

But wait... there's more.

Fast-forward to this very year of 2015, to a world of instant digital gratification, social media, Twatters, Snapfucks, Instapoo, FecesBook... all of the digital media we crave with a mindless fervor that makes us think it's OK to cruise the freeway at 80mph while looking down at a text on our device (not me... never me, I swear). As so many do, I look on FecesBook for old friends, school chums, scouting mates, people I knew and liked and loved and cared about.  One day on a whim, I typed in Max's name and BOOM... there he is! I messaged him, waited a few days and sure enough he responded, shocked yet extremely pleased that I thought enough to find him.

We've traded some messages, filled each other in on our things, and it sounds like he's still neck-deep in the musical world, managing reggae bands and promoting concerts.  His dreads are still natty, his face is still freckled, and like me he has some miles on the odometer that have given us both the patina of experience. I made it a point to remind him of our chance encounter so long ago, and how important it was to me then and now. He thought that was pretty cool.

Will we hook up again any time soon?  Hard to say, but we've reconnected again, through time and space and across the vast gulf of our own individual lives. And one thing is for sure: we both still have a deep and sincere love of Bob Marley and his music, a love for reggae that connects us in ways that nothing else can.

I hope that someday, I'll be able to imbue my Grandson with the seed of the Rasta musical spirit, so that he can swim in that ocean of connectivity to the world in a different way than his peers. I feel confident he'll have the same Close Encounter that I did, all those years ago.

Lead image, gracias de; Bob Marley 'Satisfy My Soul' video, muchismas gracias de

Friday, July 10, 2015

The Point

Funny how things work out sometimes.

I'd been writing an essay for almost a month about my serious issues with The Bible, pondering why so many Amerikkans use a book from the Bronze Age as the benchmark for their lives, and why IMHO it makes no sense to do so in our modern society.

I'd done extensive research, re-acquainted myself with both The Bible and Darwin's 'Origin of Species', and developed what I felt is a strong indictment on the capacity to place any stock whatsoever in The Bible's ancient myths, fables, parables and tales. Although I knew my carefully measured words might incite anger and hostility from family and friends, I always write from my head AND heart and refuse to pull any punches.

Then just a few weeks back, our infamous Supreme Court handed down two sane and intelligent opinions: the first saving the Affordable Care Act from yet another a nonsensical partisan challenge, the second granting first-time equality status to same-sex marriage in all fifty states. After the horror of the racist murders in Charleston, South Carolina, Barry's amazing eulogy for Reverend Pinckney, and the long-overdue formal denunciation of the Confederate Battle Flag, the week ended with a flourish of jurisprudence, democratic process and civil morality.

And right on cue, the Religious Conservatives went into full-tilt spittle-flecked vein-popping nuclear meltdown mode.

Based on their universal derision of the SCOTUS decision on the ACA, you'd think they were ready to impeach and/or lynch the liberal justices, that Chief Justice John Roberts was being blackmailed by the Usurper Black Man Probably-A-Muslim Non-President, and that a pogrom of anti-religious sentiment was being fostered to lock up Believers in re-education camps underneath shuttered Wal-Mart stores that weren't already being used for the impending overthrow of the Republic of Texas.

But that was just the appetizer.

When the decision legalizing same-sex marriage was announced, I was astonished at the vehement reaction by those same patriotic Religious Conservatives. As usual when things don't go their way, they screeched about losing their religious freedumbs, and that our nation would cease to exist as a beacon of morality and be plunged into a dark cavern of forced gay marriages leading to the spectacle of dogs and cats living together, or something to that effect.

What really got my attention was the unhinged hysteria, threats of political retribution and physical violence against any and all who choose to side against them on this issue, all in the name of their pissed-off omnipotent Sky Wizard:

"God is still very much at work! He's still very much at work, and He will not tolerate this. While the president is decorating the White House with the rainbow colors, lighting it up... which, by the way, an unbelievable affront to God. Do you understand really, that the rainbow, has it been so perverted, and so co-opted, in this country, that people listening and they don't understand that that was God's sign to mankind that he would never destroy the earth again by flood?  And he destroyed it because of the things that men were doing to each other! And so you take his symbol and you use it for a sign of sexual behavior that is ungodly, unallowed, the boundaries, God says 'No, no, no,' and you take his sign, and you think that you're rewriting the laws of nature? That the creature is telling the creator how it's going to be? And you think that's not going to have some consequence? No, my grief is for you because you don't understand what you just did! You don't understand. Now to get more practical about this, the terror threat against this nation has gone up exponentially." 
Sandy Rios, American Family Association

"Same-sex 'marriage' is not the ultimate issue, it is a stepping stone. The real issue is the Obama administration's dogged determination to eliminate anything and everything that stands in the way of the President's radical agenda. Silence dissent. And to do that, you punish speech - and belief. Orthodox Christianity's truth doesn't change, and as long as we remain tethered to this transcendent, unchangeable truth, we are a problem for them. If you can't change it, you must eliminate it. Which is what they are seeking to do. With the Supreme Court ruling to redefine marriage, things are going to get rough for Christians in America." 
Tony Perkins, Family Research Center

"This ruling is not about marriage equality, it's about marriage redefinition.  This irrational, unconstitutional rejection of the expressed will of the people in over 30 states will prove to be one of the court's most disastrous decisions, and they have had many. The only outcome worse than this flawed, failed decision would be for the President and Congress, two co-equal branches of government, to surrender in the face of this out-of-control act of unconstitutional, judicial tyranny. The Supreme Court can no more repeal the laws of nature and nature's God on marriage that it can the laws of gravity.  Under our Constitution, the court cannot write a law, even though some cowardly politicians will wave the white flag and accept it without realizing that they are failing their sworn duty to reject abuses from the court.  If accepted by Congress and the President, this decision will be a serious blow to religious liberty, which is at the heart of the First Amendment."
Mike Huckabee, Former Governor of Arkansas, current Presidential candidate

I've had just about enough of this ignorant, fanatical bullshit.

I've had it with Christian zealots trying to claim that they alone are the arbiters of what is and isn't 'Constitutional', when they freely admit that their belief in God and The Bible is more important to them than The Constitution and Man's Laws.

I'm done with these religious fanatics who obviously have little if any actual understanding of how our three separate branches of government are supposed to work, separately and together.

I'm sickened at the notion that supposedly-educated adults will try and frame serious and important social issues within the context of their faith-based mysticism.

Here's what disturbs me the most: these religious fanatics... the Rios', Perkins', Huckabees... are the same ones who are always issuing threats against anyone they don't agree with. Fire, brimstone and damnation. Second Amendment Remedies. They love guns (you know I'm right), and are the first to use insults and eliminationist rhetoric, veiled or overt, to push their agenda forward. They claim they have their God's blessing and approval, so anything and everything they do is for His glory, and therefore acceptable.

See that image at the top of this essay?  It asks you to explain the difference between a Christian Warrior and a Muslim Jihadi.  The explanation is:  THERE IS NO DIFFERENCE. They are both totally fucked in the head.

When religious fanaticism and zealotry take over a person's brain, heart and soul, they become society's worst enemy, doesn't matter which society or country.  When they no longer place Man's Law above their chosen God's Law, they're already dead and in their respective heaven, they just haven't left this mortal coil yet. I've said more than once that I fear a violent Christian uprising in this country far more than I do anything that can be mustered from the Middle East, because the Christian fanatics are already here, and they are armed, baby!

On (almost) every continent around the globe, the fires of sectarian wars and death are raging, all in the name and honor and glory of one deity or another.  It's a sickness, this ability to give up your humanity for some faith-based cause that promises immortality if only you suspend your free will and sanity. It's Hutus against Tutsis, Sunnis against Shias, Muslims against Christians. It's totally insane, yet they keep killing each other over their faith.

"My God's bigger and better than your God, and I will kill you to prove it."

Ignorant. Infantile. Immoral. Insane.

"The true civilization is where every man gives to every other, every right that he claims for himself."
Robert Ingersoll, political leader, orator (1833-1899)

I love how those who are dead-set against same-sex marriage refuse to equate it as a civil right, as if the struggles for Black Americans to survive and thrive was somehow different. Here's a few choice comments being used frequently by those who hate the idea of same-sex marriage:

"It's unnatural."

"It's contrary to God's will."

"It's about illicit sex, not committed relationships."

"The majority of Americans oppose such marriages."

HA!!!  Fooled you... these are the exact quotes that good, decent, God-fearing people said about interracial marriages back in the day, back during the most recent national struggle for civil rights of people to live their lives the way they chose. In fact, you can take ANY derogatory statement about same-sex marriage being spouted today, replace the words 'same-sex' with 'interracial' and you have a verbatim message as used by those God-fearing regressives who felt our country would fall into the Godless abyss if the coloreds were allowed to marry their lily-white virgins.

But that's not really The Point of this essay.  Here's The Point:

We have a growing Christian fanaticism problem in this country, a far greater threat to our democracy than from any nascent offshore extremists. 

We have a segment of our population that believes their version of Christianity is more important and vital than The Constitution, which they really don't even understand or comprehend.  We have a portion of our society who, although they've never actually studied and/or understood the framework of our democracy, have decided their religious indoctrination trumps their civil responsibilities. To them, God's Will overcomes Man's Law, and that's a dangerous mindset to have. It is literally the same exact philosophy that allows ISIL jihadists to destroy ancient artifacts, murder innocent people and threaten the stability of the entire Middle East. Their God rules, an they will PROVE IT WITH GUNS.

The two women pictured above are one in the same... they are both brainwashed religious warriors, unashamed to glorify violence as their pathway to immortality.  Their skewed views on faith allows them to justify violent religious insurrection. There's no other way to interpret the visual messages.

They are both terrorists.

"Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition!"

"Allahu Akbar!"

Ignorant. Infantile. Immoral. Insane.

Although I choose not to cede my free-thinking mind over to religious voodoo, I revel in the notion that people in this country are free to believe whatever they choose, or not to believe at all, just like the First Amendment states:

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

So when the fanatics like Huckabee, Santorum, Gohmert, Graham, Perkins, Hamm, Rios, Cruz, et al ad nauseum, make statements that our nation should be ruled by Biblical Law instead of Constitutional Law, they're fomenting insurrection... sedition... treason. They're stating their intention to establish a theocracy, and are not shy about threatening civil disobedience and inciting their followers towards violence to reach that goal.

Ignorant. Infantile. Immoral. Insane.

But it doesn't have to be that way... honest! We must simply choose to be the opposite of what they are, which is:  Intelligent. Mature. Moral. Sane.

Several years ago, The Artist and I visited the 'Body World' exhibit at the California Science Center, a somewhat controversial display of self-donated human bodies that had been subjected to a process known as 'plastination'. Essentially, this process replaces the tissue and blood with polymers that maintain the integrity of soft structures, allowing the body to be dissected without decomposition and that lovely aroma. The exhibit included dozens of adult and child cadavers, showcased in a radically beautiful format that allowed us to see the skinless inner workings of the human body almost exactly as they are in live beings.

We learned that the originator of the exhibit, Gunther von Hagens, first presented the complete bodies with no external facial features, but that people had a hard time relating because they were displayed without the facial features the skin provides.  To counter that off-putting visage, he began to leave the lips, eyebrows and nose on the faces, which immediately made the bodies much more pleasant to view, and therefore accessible to the viewer.

"I've got you under my... oh, wait a minute."
As we walked through the amazing exhibition, I had an epiphany about the bodies: even though we knew people from all over the world had donated their bodies to be plastinated, it was impossible to discern their race, because they all looked the same without the skin! I got excited about the notion that it was a perfect metaphor to counter the divisions we humans seem to have between each other based on our religious beliefs and skin color. You know, the very divisions that typically lead to ethnic and sectarian strife, hatred, violence and bloodshed.

We are all the same under our skin.

It's the same with our minds.  No one is born a racist... a homophobe... a religious fanatic... it's all learned from someone else. If we're going to survive as a species, we must learn that it's OK to have a deeply-held faith and live your life according to the precepts of that faith. However, that faith must be counter-balanced with the knowledge that every single person alive is unique and operates under a different set of principles, some that are agreeable and some that aren't.  It doesn't make them bad or evil or wrong, just... different.

As a species, we must learn to accept those differences and revel in the idea that as different as we all might be in our philosophies, our minds and bodies are all exactly the same under the skin... there is no difference. In this country, we must adhere to our co-owned heritage of The Constitution as OUR laws... all of us, believers and non-believers, and never allow religious doctrine or dogma to take precedent over our most valued values, the ones we co-own. Together.

"It is well to remember that the entire population of the universe, with one trifling exception, is composed of others."
John Andrew Holmes, american politician, poet (1773-1843)

Of course, sure as my head is shiny and bald, there are going to be certain people who will read this essay and automatically assume that I advocate for the destruction of their religion, to suppress their faith and quash their religious freedom. Their reasoning is faulty and misguided, but they will hold fast to those concepts because they are blinded by their faith, a requirement to maintain such a naive view of our varied and complex world.

The secret to casting off the shackles of intolerance and ignorance, of religious fanaticism and sectarian hatred, is to be a human being who loves every other human being equally and without reservation.

To be Intelligent. Mature. Moral. Sane.

That is the difference.

That is The Point.

Lead image, 'Inherit The Wind' and Neil Young 'Imagine ' videos, gracias de; Body World image, gracias de