Thursday, December 31, 2009

03:44 The Savage Detectives



The Savage Detectives
Roberto Bolaño


While in his early forties, Chilean author Roberto Bolaño discovered that he had an incurable liver disease that would ultimately prove fatal; precisely “when?” was unknown. After this diagnosis, Bolaño seems to have turned away from his previous life as a combative enfant terrible and spent his remaining years focusing on ambitious literary works including The Savage Detectives, which details the failure of a literary movement made up of combative enfants terrible.

The above is not intended as gossip but as context. Bolaño’s life is discussed in detail in the excellent introduction by translator Natasha Wimmer. Knowing this, it’s hard to read The Savage Detectives without thinking of it as a roman à clef or perhaps a parody of Bolaño’s life. One of the main characters is named Arturo Belano, for example, and his misadventures seem to follow a pattern similar to his creator’s.

The overriding theme is failure, the wasted potential and the directionless lives of middle aged men whose youthful dreams never paid off. The book is made up of three sections; the first, “Mexicans Lost In Mexico,” is perhaps the most enjoyable. It consists of diary entries by Juan Madero, a teenager who has fallen under the spell of a loose collective of poets called the Visceral Realists, who are defined less by what they stand for and more by what they dislike. As I live in a country in which poetry is irrelevant and literature is just another entertainment option among many, it’s heartening to read about characters who take poetry so seriously that they get into brawls over it. This is the “youth” section of the novel, which captures the joy of discovery, the excitement of new ideas and the mixed blessings of being accepted by those older than you but also dragged into the soap operas of their lives. Juan’s coming of age tale, however, ends abruptly with a cliffhanger. His absence and the lack of any explanation is keenly felt in the second section “The Savage Detectives.”

This is the longest section of the novel and consists of first person remembrances by those who encountered Belano and his fellow Visceral Realist Ulises Lima in the years after “Mexicans Lost In Mexico.” It’s an oral history (similar to George Plimpton’s biography of Edie Sedgewick) about a literary movement that produced little in the way of literature because its founders were too busy discussing it rather than writing. Love affairs, jail terms, dead-end jobs, political turmoil: it’s all here and at length, which makes the breadth of this section problematic.* It seems churlish to say “Can you cut your life story down a little bit cause I’m getting a bit bored” to a terminally ill man, but I think the novel would have been stronger had this section been edited. I was talking to a friend of a friend who was having the same experience with the book: he loved the first section but was stuck in the long second part.** However, at that point I had finished the novel and could tell him the payoff at the end was worth it, just as in Joyce’s Ulysses you have to slog through the novel’s two most tedious sections before you can reach the transcendence of Molly Bloom’s monologue at the end. Arturo Belano and Ulises Lima’s final tales include moments of grace for each man, and one of the most moving depictions of the selflessness of true friendship I have ever read.

The final section “The Sonora Desert” functions as an epilogue, returning us to Juan Madero’s diary and explaining what happened after the cliffhanger at the end of section one. It also provides closure to one of the storylines in section two and relates an “original sin” that explains the end of Visceral Realism as a movement and why Belano and Lima were doomed to lives of failure.

There’s much in The Savage Detectives that’s impressive. Bolaño is address a variety of life’s basic experiences by examining the day to day stories of a number of characters. He doesn’t overdo either the contradictions between stories or the distinct voices within. Even living as failures, the experience of life, with its attendant joys and sorrows, comes through. The book is also very funny.




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* This is the first book I wished I read on a Kindle. I didn't take notes while reading and the ability to instantly SEARCH the text to access the myriad character names, places and incidents would have been a godsend.

** My nephew had the same reaction. While reading "Mexicans Lost In Mexico" I impulsively bought him a copy, thinking that, as he was going through some of the same things as Juan Madero, he would love it. He did, but then got bogged down in the second section's various monologues.

The Book I Read

My 2009 new year's resolution to read 44 books over the course of the year ended in dismal failure. In fact, I don't have a final count, but I know I did not even accomplish half my goal. Oh well. At least I can take comfort in the fact that I liked a number of the books I did read this year and will be posting about them in the days to come.

I'm not going to even bother setting a goal for 2010 for several reasons:

One: I have several big books this year I'd like to finish and I just don't see how I'm going to tackle Against The Day or The Complete Stories of JG Ballard and stay on a reading schedule.

Two: I have a couple of projects in mind for the coming year that will severely cut into my reading time. This means, of course, I'll probably read more in the coming year than I have in a long time because I am Mr. Contrary. Best way to get me to do anything is to tell me I don't have to do it.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Unfortunate Headline of The Day

Clueless Star Brittany Murphy Dies

It took me a moment to realize that she was in a film called Clueless. I know it's a Sunday before Christmas and a huge snowstorm has hit the northeast, but was no-one around to proofread or copyedit this?

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Tales of Uncle Chuck


My uncle Chuck's funeral was this past weekend, and Lyle Lovett summed up my feelings in a song he wrote over 15 years ago:

I went to a funeral
Lord it made me happy
Seeing all those people
I ain't seen
Since the last time
Somebody died

Everybody talking
They were telling funny stories
Saying all those things
They ain't said
Since the last time
Somebody died


I served as a pallbearer, honored to be asked. Pallbearers pay their respects to the deceased first, then wait in a room while the other mourners say goodbye. While waiting in the room, my cousin Chip told several stories about his father that I thought I would post, as I think they're too good to be lost in time.

My uncle was born to a wealthy, or once-wealthy but still pretending, family. He had a habit of getting expelled from the private schools in which he was enrolled, and it was during one of these enforced vacations that, rather than immediately tell his parents he was thrown out of school, Chuck decided to enjoy his freedom for a while. As a way of evading truant or police officers who might question what a teenager was doing driving around in a convertible all day, Chuck asked a friend whose late father had been a doctor to forge him a note saying that he had the measles. The ruse worked for a while until the unexpected happened: Chuck came down with the measles. Going for treatment, the inevitable questions came up: how does one get the measles twice? and how does one get treated by a doctor who's been dead for a couple of years?

I also heard the story of how my uncle messed up his nose. Apparently, he and some friends were having an impromptu kegger in the woods. They didn't have a tap but weren't deferred. They instead popped the cork and then poured all the beer from the keg into a small metal tub, dipping their cups into it punchbowl style. But the police raided the party and everyone scattered, with Chuck putting the tub of beer in the back of his convertible.

Trying to stay ahead of the cops, Chuck took the highway's curves at high speed. From the driver's seat, he reached back to steady the tub and keep the beer from spilling out, only to crash and smash his face against the windshield and break off (?)/ cut off (?) the end of his nose. He then dropped his nose in his cup of beer and drove to the hospital to see if they could reattach it. At the hospital, they put the nose in a sterile metal cup until ready for reattaching. This was in the 1950s, so plastic surgery was still fairly primitive, and from that day forward, Chuck had a nose that was always "off." Something else he had from that day: the metal cup from the hospital. It was used as the bathroom cup for many years afterwards.

"What?" my cousin Chris said. "I drank from that cup and it had his nose in it?"

"That's what he said."

"Keep in mind," my cousin Bill said "our father liked to embellish. A lot."

RIP, Uncle Chuck.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Sometimes








Sometimes it's just easier to post photos I've taken than try and write something new.

Monday, November 23, 2009

The Best of 00's (Intro)

To be honest, I wasn’t even thinking about the fact that this decade is ending until I saw the Onion’s AVClub summing up the last ten years by picking their favorite tv shows, albums and movies. Years ago, when my friend Troy’s Cheeky Monkey website was a collective effort, Troy actively sought year-end “best of” lists from his friends, including a decade overview in 1999. The most difficult thing about those lists was avoiding repetition. How many times could I say I liked “The Sopranos” before seeming like I liked little else?

Things have changed. This has been a strange decade and not just for culture. The Bush administration’s unnecessary war in Iraq in the wake of the terrorist attacks of 2001 had a paralyzing effect on this country and its culture. We became the land of magical thinking: if we conform and don’t question, then we’ll be safe and we’ll win the war and the troops won’t be harmed. If you do anything else, then the terrorists win. This attitude wasn’t just about politics. The post-9/11 timidity seemed to influence all media. Anyone who challenged this mindset fought an uphill battle just to be heard. Not an ideal atmosphere for creating interesting work.

The other major influence on culture in the 00’s? You’re looking at it right now. My blog? Yeah, right. No, I was referring to the internet. With its immediate access to almost anything, mainly video and audio (text seems to be lagging behind, thank God), the internet has changed the economics of show business, helped put record and dvd stores out of business, and altered how we think of and experience entertainment. Two examples of how downloading from the internet has changed how I experience entertainment. Two weeks ago, I saw the tv show Glee for the first time. I liked it. Within a week, I had seen every episode save one, either by downloading or watching on the official website. Previously, when I discovered I liked a show, I would have to (old school) wait for re-runs and plan my life or vcr around them or (new school) borrow or buy dvds of episodes I missed. The difference is one of time. Then I had to wait; now I have easy access and instant gratification. I still pay for much of my entertainment and have justifications when I download something for free. The fact that I even care makes me a bit of a fossil.

A better example concerns Jacques Rivette’s movie Out 1. Long considered a holy grail among cinephiles, the movie seems made for obscurity (it’s French, it’s 13 hours long, there are very few copies of the film, a new print hasn’t been struck since the early 70’s, etc.). I had resigned myself to never seeing it and only reading about it in books. Then, in 2006, it was announced that the film would be showing in New York and in London. The New York screening quickly sold out. I began planning a trip to London to see the movie, but before I booked my airline tickets, a second screening was announced in New York in March 2007. I went, liked the movie, and accepted that it would be the only time I would see it. Two years later, I found a copy on the internet complete with subtitles and downloaded it. It’s now on my hard drive; I can watch it any time I want. From impossible to see to once-in-a-lifetime event to something I own (for free) in the space of two years. That’s how the internet has changed things.

I think this easy free access to whatever you want has fragmented culture and entertainment to an unprecedented degree. There is no more mainstream, the center could not hold. This in itself is not necessarily a bad thing, particularly if you live in times during which the mainstream sucks. When Michael Jackson died earlier this year, it was said that “there would never be another Michael Jackson,” meaning “there would never be a pop star that big.” To which I reply “Good!” If it saves me from having to hear his shrill threadbare music again, hooray! I would rather live in a world in which the mainstream has crumbled and I can find Out 1 or Deltron 3030 online than be stuck with a monoculture that doesn’t interest me at all. However, this fragmented culture doesn’t seem to produce anything that speaks to or explains our current times. Everything exists on its own terms, pursuing its own goals. There was a lot of work from the last ten years that was very good, but it’s hard to think of much that was great and even harder to think of anything that addressed the times and expressed what it was like to be alive during them.

Looking over my list of favorites from this decade, there’s little that couldn’t have come from an earlier decade. We often heard how this was a golden age for television, and while there were many good shows (sometimes it seemed like too many), nothing from this decade impresses me as much as The Dick Van Dyke Show or The Prisoner or Monty Python’s Flying Circus, shows that aired over 40 years ago, and are both of their time and transcend it. With few exceptions, there’s been little in the last ten years that does this.

Eventually I will post my list of favorites from the last ten years, but first I had to explain how difficult it was coming up with such a list.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Up On The Roof

Last night my friend Lysa and I were having a drink in the bar of a swanky new hotel downtown. After checking out the bathrooms in the basement, we decided to see what the roof was like. Well, there was no roof deck or public access, but the doors were unlocked so we decided to go ahead and see what the view was like, at least until security came up and dragged us off.

They never did.

Below are some iPhone photos of the view.




Along those lines, this past summer, I was hanging out with friends when one of them, Kevin, suggested that we go see the view from his roof. "They were refinishing and tarring the roof earlier today, but I think it's dry by now." His building was in Hell's Kitchen so we were surrounded on all sides by the skyscrapers of NYC, illuminated by white lights that compensate for the stars you can't see from the city.





I love these views of the city, so much that it kept my mind off the fact that it was difficult to walk around on the roof because the tar wasn't, in fact, 100% dry. We walked around with the grace of Frankenstein's monster when he is first off the operating table, and my friend Kevin hoped that perhaps his building's super wouldn't find out who it was that messed up the roof, a hope dashed after we noticed the trail of tar shoeprints leading to his apartment door. Actually, we looked back and saw there was an extra set of footprints belonging to Jesus that seemed to disappear during the difficult times of our lives. When we asked Jesus how He could abandon us during our times of trial, He said "perhaps you guys shouldn't have gone up on the roof. You are really in trouble."

Monday, October 05, 2009

Oy Vey

During my dream this past Saturday night, Groucho Marx told me that no-one in my generation had produced anything of any real worth. I checked with several other people in the dream as to whether he was kidding or not, but ultimately concluded that he was right.

Last night I dreamt I was at the Museum of Modern Art and there was an exhibit on the top floor that I wanted to see, but to get there, I had to go through an exhibit about the Holocaust which included exact reproductions of the train cars, sorting areas and shower rooms. I kept looking for another way to the top floor but couldn't find one and didn't have the heart to ask the staff members "do I have to see the Holocaust?"

Friday, October 02, 2009

Today's Headline

Ted Williams' Severed Head Reportedly Abused In Cryonics Facility

Well, if you don't want your severed head abused, maybe you shouldn't send it to a cryonics facility in the first place.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

The Smiths In Cross-Stitch

Somehow it just makes sense.



Thursday, September 24, 2009

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Way We Live Now

An acquaintance of mine (I avoid using the term "Facebook Friend" ever since the teenage son of one of my Real Existence Friends told me "You don't know how funny it is hearing an adult call someone a 'Facebook Friend'") updated his status this afternoon by noting that it was the anniversary of his father's death. Several people commented, writing that they were sad or sorry, but among them, there was one comment that was, in its entirety, and I quote:

: (


Really? Someone mentions how sad they are over the death of their father, someone who meant so much to them, and your response is a sad-faced emoticon? You can't even take the time to type "so sorry?"

I envision a day when we will only communicate through emoticons, a day when they will act like our typographical moodrings to quickly let everyone know how we feel. Orwell was too optimistic when he wrote about language being reduced to "double-plus good" in 1984. On the other hand, perhaps the depth of your feelings can be summed up by a colon and a parenthesis.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

What Amazon.com Really Thinks Of You

It's always nice to find out what Amazon.com and their algorithms think of you. This morning, in the "You Might Like" section of my amazon page, was a recommendation for a book I had never heard of titled Nothing is Strange with You by James Jeffrey Paul. Thinking perhaps is was some sort of self-help book or perhaps guide to esoteric knowledge, I began to read their description:

A young man kidnaps his own nephew and makes him his servant and sex slave.


Thanks, Amazon. I'm looking forward to tomorrow's recommendation The Dos and Don'ts of Restraining Orders.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Last Friday

Last Friday I stopped in my favorite dive bar Grassroots for a drink after work. It's the perfect place to read and chat with the bartender and drink pints of Brooklyn Lager for $3 a pint. At one point, I got up to put music on the jukebox: Nina Simone, Charles Mingus and (out of character for me) the Rolling Stones.

But when I got back to my seat at the bar, I saw that this girl had take my seat. I stood by her, stared at the chair and then stared at her, waiting for either an explanation or an apology. Neither was offered. She just plunked herself down in my chair, and what was worse, had moved all my stuff one seat over to the left. What was really incredible is that she had taken the trouble to place all my stuff in the exact same position it had been in: beer glass, magazine, reading glasses, even my shoulder bag on the floor. She had arranged them exactly as I had left them....

They were exactly as I had left them, of course, because I had been sitting one seat to her left the entire time. Nothing had moved or changed. When this realization hit me, a moment later than it should, I stopped staring and sat in my chair. There was no way to explain what had happened without sounding even more stupid ("You'll never guess what I thought!"). Staring at her with an incredulous look without saying anything was awkward enough for one happy hour. No point in making the situation worse.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

02:44 Columbine



Columbine
Dave Cullen


When I was young, one of the reasons I always looked forward to going to my Aunt Juleann’s house was the fact that she had a hardcover copy of Helter Skelter, Vincent Bugliosi’s account of the Manson Family murders and his memoir of successfully prosecuting them. For a time, as soon as we got to my aunt’s house, my sisters and I would race to that book, whomever was lucky enough to get there first got to pour over its creepy crime scene pictures in blurry black and white with the mutilated bodies tastefully cut out, leaving an eerie ghost white blankness where the victims had been. The only comparable objects of fascination were the Sears and JCPenney’s Christmas catalogues that arrived every autumn.

Since then, every true-life crime book I’ve read has had to compete with Bugliosi’s luridly fascinating tale. Dave Cullen’s Columbine is written with a novelist’s skill, such that, while I had the book out of the library, all I wanted to do was read it until I was finished. It’s a book that reminds you of what you had forgotten and corrects what you (and the media) got wrong. Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold weren’t loveless loners but had friends and girlfriends. They didn’t “snap” and decide to walk into school and shoot people. Harris had planned it for over a year and it was actually supposed to be a bombing, which, if it had worked, would have resulted in a death toll in the hundreds. The inspiration wasn’t lonely school shooters, but terrorists like Timothy McVeigh.

Why did they do it? Cullen’s answer is so simple you can’t help but try to reject it. Harris was a psychopath. Dylan Klebold was suicidally depressed and turned his rage to the outside world. That’s it. No inciting incident, nothing specific provoked the attack. The attack on Columbine happened because the boys conceived it, planned it and carried it out. It happened because they made it happen.

Cullen’s chilling debunking of Columbine myths takes an ironic turn:

Dylan was heavy into school stuff. Eric, too. They attended the football games, the dances, and the variety shows and worked together on video production for the Rebel News Network. School plays were big for Dylan. He would never want to face an audience, but backstage at the soundboard, that was great. Earlier in the year, he’d rescued Rachel Scott, the senior class sweetheart, when her tape jammed during the talent show. In a few days, Eric would kill her


Written ten years after the shootings, Cullen is able to jump around in time, highlighting victim’s lives before the shooting to give you a queasy sense of suspense, which contrasts with stories of survivors after the shooting as they try to put their lives back together. This structure also gives him the opportunity to address diverse topics such as the rivalries among local religious groups, how false memories are created, and the way the human brain can re-wire itself after a trauma. It’s not just about the shootings.

As mentioned, Cullen’s explanation of the crime is that Eric Harris was a psychopath who hated the world and wanted to destroy some of it, and Dylan Klebold was clinically depressed, wanted to die and eventually agreed to take as many people with him. No Trench Coat Mafia. No victims of bullying getting revenge. Cullen finds plenty of evidence of pathology in Harris’ notebooks. Sometimes what seems like pathology may be the typical thoughts of a teenager. Harris seems constantly amazed at how well he is able to play the role of whatever adults want to see and how easily adults are fooled. Seems like a typical teenager, though other excerpts from his journals are chilling.

After reading Columbine, I was curious to see what other readers thought. I went to the reader review section on amazon.com and was amazed at the hornet’s nest lurking there. There were a number of angry reviews from those for whom Columbine is simply the story of bullied boys lashing out. They believe it should only be discussed with the goal of eliminating bullying from our schools, which is a noble goal but probably about as realistic as peace on earth. At least they have a goal and a hope that human behavior can be improved. If Columbine is just the story of resourceful psychopaths, how do we prevent it from happening again?

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Mr. Hearing Strikes Again

I was talking to my friend Troy about the usual things: work, music and friends I haven't seen in a while.

"How's Ron?" I asked.

"Oh, I guess he's alright, except he broke Val's heart."

"Oh no. What happened?"

"I don't know. These things happen. Accidents happen, things break, things catch on fire."

This seemed a little cavalier, especially when talking about a good friend's breakup. Even for Troy.

"But he broke Val's heart?"

"No! His boat caught fire!"

If anyone reading this ever meets anyone from the band Guided By Voices, please tell them that while I enjoyed seeing them in concert, I really would like my hearing back.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Begin Counting The Hours

People who know me might find this hard to believe, but I don't really think of myself as a complainer. Along those lines, I don't see this blog as the forum for airing what complaints or woe-is-me's I do have: that's not why this blog was created and it's certainly nothing I'm interested in perpetuating.

Having said that, this has been a shit week and I, for one, will be happy to see the end of it. When did it begin? When my mother called me last Saturday to inform me that she has been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes and that one of my sisters was going into the hospital for surgery? When I learned that J. G. Ballard, one of my favorite writers, had died of cancer? How about when I was yelled at at work for doing my job? I had not been yelled at like that, like I was a child, in such a long time I can not remember the previous occurrence. One of the advantages of not having a girlfriend is that I don't have someone yelling at me on a regular basis, so I've sort of forgotten what the experience is like.

Those were the various beginnings to a bad week. It continued: work was very busy, I felt almost punch-drunk at night, my sister had her surgery (I was concerned), I saw a friend go through a tough time, everything and everyone seemed to be suffering from a pre-spring neurosis or upheaval. A co-worker and I joked each day about having a liquid lunch and even though neither one of us did (to the best of my knowledge), it was a comforting thought.

So I'm counting down the hours until the week is over and I can just stare into space this weekend, hit reset and hope that next week is better. We'll see. Tonight in a bar I overheard two asshole businessmen make fun of the idea of working for a non-profit. I know that's sounds trite and cliched, but it is true. On the other hand, while walking home, I saw a toddler in a stroller get excited when he saw a bus. Happily, his enthusiasm was contagious.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

40 Days of Lent: Day Forty

Sights

Not Graffiti Murals, But Drawings On Paper Plastered On Walls In My Neighborhood


Sadly, even more transient that graffiti murals.





Sounds
The other day, my boss' wife was in the office. She walked over to my desk and said "I hate orange shirts." I nodded, a little confused because no-one in the office was wearing an orange shirt, but said "oh, yeah." She repeated herself "I hate orange shirts!" I kinda shrugged, and while I agree, I couldn't understand a) why the bothered her so much and b) why she was telling me. She then presented a number of receipts and medical forms, and I finally understood that she was in fact saying "I hate our insurance!"

Amen.

Hope you've enjoyed this Lenten season. Sunday, I get to begin cursing again.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

40 Days of Lent: Day Thirty Nine

If life's for living/ what's living for?
from "Oklahoma, USA" by Ray Davies

One of my pet theories, as far as I know unproven, though I really haven't done the research on that point, has to do with the way human beings will create meaning for their lives as a mechanism to keep existing. To wit: the reason we create reasons to live is so that we will continue living. I don't believe this is a conscious decision but something wired into our brains by years of evolution, a psycho-biological feedback system. It's as if the brain realizes that without a reason to live, the entire organism (the person in question) will fall into despair and eventually die. An individual can die from depression or despair if they neglect eating, sleeping, or bascially taking care of themselves. To prevent this, the brain will create meaning, even if it is harmful or a complete lie, so that the individual will continue to eat, sleep, breathe, and continue the fundamentals of life. Anything will be believed so long as it keeps the person functioning. What matters is keeping the individual alive; the belief systems or personal mythology their brain creates to keep them living is secondary.

This explains why people can live for years with outlooks that might seem self-defeating or negative. It's not what their values are, only that they have values that keep them functioning. The bitter man who lives only for revenge, the alcoholic who lives only for happy hour, the soldier who is willing to die for his country: all their minds have adopted belief systems that may eventually destroy them, but until then give them a reason to continue living. As I said, this mechanism isn't conscious. People think they believe things because they have thought about them and determined them to be true. But I say that people would believe things anyway: that the mind creates belief systems, narratives and personal myths just as sweat glands produce sweat, as a way of regulating behavior and ensuring continued existence. The mind creates meaning to keep the body functioning, which in turn provides the material that keeps the mind alive. The goal of all this activity is simply to keep existing for its own sake. Or, more likely, exist until you produce offspring, then protect and provide for them until they are old enough to produce their own offspring.

The world doesn't inspire meaning within our brains. Our brains naturally generate meaning and use the world as its raw material.

Monday, April 06, 2009

40 Days of Lent: Day Thirty Eight

I know that I skipped a few days, or rather, had three days in which I was unable to post. Spirit willing, but flesh is weak and all that. Actually, the flesh wasn't weak, but my internet connection was. I was staying at a friends' country house for the weekend, and didn't feel like writing and posting on my iPhone. This past weekend was about relaxation and hanging and re-hanging and re-re-hanging blinds.

Happily, this year is one of those years in which Lent runs longer than 40 days, so I will be able to make up the missed days before Easter. With that in mind, here's a nice picture of the Martyrdom of 10,000:

Thursday, April 02, 2009

40 Days of Lent: Day Thirty Seven

Lake of Fire

I recently watched Lake of Fire, a documentary about abortion in America. The movie takes pains to be balanced, though in my biased opinion, it's not hard to side with those who admit that, unfortunate as abortion is, it would be worse to remove the control over her body from a woman and insist that she carry a child she doesn't want to term. The pro-life side in the film seems close-minded and controlling (why are all these single men so obsessed with telling vulnerable women what to do) and while the pro-choice side completely disregards the fact that it is a human that they are terminating, at least they acknowledge that it is a bad situation without any easy answers.

Yes, it is a human that is being killed. There are some graphic abortions in the film (thank God the director used black and white rather than color) and despite pro-choice propaganda, what comes out of the mother is not just a clump of cells. In fact, the doctor has to piece together the aborted child to make sure it is all there. Otherwise they need to remove whatever is left in the mother's body. So we see scenes of arms, legs, part of a head with eyes being reassembled in a metal pan. It is horrifying, which is the point. This is basic mammal biology: big things prey on and kill little things. It's not fair and it's not nice, but as Noam Chomsky wearily points out in the film, it's hard to take the opinion of those who obsess over unborn babies seriously when they don't seem to have the same concern or compassion for the suffering of other human beings who live in poverty or political repression.

I think woman have an interesting relation to abortion, which is that it is unfortunate, but it's just one more d*mn thing that they have to put up with in this world. This is brought out in the final sequence in the film, in which a woman goes for an abortion, admitting that it is just not the time for her to be having a child. After the procedure, she confirms that she made the right decision...and then breaks down and cries. But it's the men who are actively pro-life that amaze me. They don't just seem to worry about women having control, though there is part of that. Listening to the men in this film get emotional as they talk about how they have to save the babies, and obsess over the innocent babies, a different dynamic seems to be present. The men seem to be hung up on being heroes - life has given them little other opportunity to save anyone or make a real difference, so by preventing abortions, they think of themselves as having saved human lives. Trying to help others is certainly not a bad impulse, but the fact that it is so misdirected (not to mention misogynist) is truly tragic, especially when it manifests in murdered doctors and destroyed women's health clinics.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

40 Days of Lent: Day Thirty Six

More About The Forever Family

In this post, I mentioned The Forever Family, one of the cults found in my hometown in my youth, along with my parents' reaction: "stay away from them!" In the comments, my sister Erin admitted she wasn't aware of them (she's lucky enough to have been too young) but said that a google search turned up the following article from Time Magazine:
-----------------------
Where Are the Children?
March 1, 1976
For several years they have been a fixture of downtown Scranton and Wilkes-Barre in the old hard-coal country of northeastern Pennsylvania. They wear pins that say GET SMART, GET SAVED. Abstemious, straitlaced, pushy in their missionary piety, they work the streets, buttonholing teen-age passers-by with provocative zeal.

They are members of the Forever Family, a youth-oriented evangelistic group. They say they espouse a return to a primitive "New Testament" brand of Christianity. With apparent success, they forbid drinking, drugs and premarital sex. Thus far, they may have made more enemies than converts. Their hard-driving proselytizing has led to arrests for harassment and obstructing sidewalks. Lately, they have had vigilantism to contend with as well. On Feb. 12,.four carloads of teen-age toughs invaded the sect's center in Wilkes-Barre and went on a rampage. They tossed furniture, spread garbage, and broke most of the windows in the place. Two days later, other raiders devastated a Family house in Scranton and roughed up Kevin Hoppes, 24, "guardian" (area coordinator) of the group's "lambs" (members). The Family had other troubles. Police hauled in member Steve Gattuso for getting a 14-year-old juvenile offender to stay in the Wilkes-Barre house for two nights without the knowledge of his parents, thus violating terms of the youth's parole.

But all this is minor compared with the accusations of at least eight area couples whose teen-age sons and daughters have disappeared. Like the parents embroiled in battles with Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church (TIME, Nov. 10), they claim that the sect has stolen their children from them. The Family says it knows nothing about the missing youths. Leader of the parents is Scranton Salesman Donald Fetterolf, whose 17-year-old son Eric left home last Aug. 21 and is still missing. The latest to disappear is David Harris, 15, of nearby Tunkhannock, whose mother thinks that he joined the Family because he talked of being "born again" and "Roman Catholics don't talk like that."

No Figures. Beset by bad publicity, the Family has changed its name to the Church of Bible Understanding. No one knows how badly the group has been hurt by the attacks. Hoppes refuses to offer figures on the size of his flock, which includes residents in two communal houses and a fluid nonresident constituency. The Family, incorporated in 1974, has centers in 15 cities in eight states and, according to tax records, is headed by one Steward Traillis. Strangely, Hoppes claims he knows nothing about the man.

Reaction of mainstream clergy to the Family is mixed. Leonard Heffner, a United Church of Christ pastor in Scranton, feels that parents these days should be grateful if their kids are involved in a group that concentrates on Bible reading rather than something worse. But Msgr. James Timlin, chancellor of the Scranton diocese, warns youths not to be "taken in" by the zealots' "easy and simple solutions to very complex problems."
------------------------------

A few things about this article I love. First of all, "old hard-coal country of northeastern Pennsylvania." By the time this article was published, the coal mines had been closed for decades. Perhaps I'm being nostalgic, but my memory of the Wilkes-Barre of my youth is that it was, for a small town, a fairly cosmopolitan place. Not compared to Paris or Milan, perhaps, but certainly compared to much of America and the hometowns of friends of mine. Secondly, I love the "rampage" of the "teen-age toughs." They "tossed furniture" ("that ottoman would look better over here!") "spread garbage and broke most of the windows." While unfortunate and annoying and I certainly don't want anyone coming to my apartment and doing the same, the entire passage reminds me of comedian Bill Hicks' comparing American gangs (Guns!) with British ("This weekend, some hooligans knocked over a dustbin in Shaftesbury!"). Finally, I love that the pastor prefers that impressionable kids are involved in a cult that focuses on bible study "rather than something worse." Granted, my opinion is biased, but I think potheads sitting in front of a tv and giggling are less harmful to themselves and society than any religious cult.

The article did answer one of my questions: whatever happened to The Forever Family? Did they decide to disband or just sort of fall apart? No, they just changed their name to The Church of Bible Understanding and continued with their cult activities. I tried to find more up-to-date info, but sadly, the search engine for Wilkes-Barre's Times Leader website is so primitive it doesn't recognize that words within quote marks should stay together, so that searching for "forever family" brings up any article that features either word, including obituaries and stories like "Life Lessons from Mom" and "Feds Urge Prison For Track Coach." The Scranton Times-Tribune has a good article from 2003 about the Church of Bible Understanding found here. Not surprisingly, many of the characteristics of the church and its leader, Stewart Traill, can be found in other cults, whether it is the Lyman Family or the Scientologists.

Two surprising things: one, the Church of Bible Understanding is affiliated with the antiques store Olde Good Things, which I've been to, and it's - uh-oh - a great store. A really great store, actually. Secondly, according to wikipedia, the COBU was parodied on the Seinfeld episode "The Checks,' providing another example of that oft-heard New York expression "it's just like that Seinfeld episode..."

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

40 Days of Lent: Day Thirty Five

Holy Mary, Mother of God!

This past weekend, the following comment was left by Zoo under a post over three years old about my visit to the Prado Museum in Madrid and my surprise at images of the Virgin Mary squirting her breast milk in people's faces:

Zoo said...
Hi Bill, this is an area that interests me greatly as I am writing a PhD dissertation concerning breastmilk as a cultural artifact. However I cannot get the crisis link to work? Brings me to a home page, but does not provide an article? I would love to cite some of this, but obviously need proper reference details to do so...

Thanks to all for the wonderful discussion.


The Bill she is referring to is my friend Bill Sebring and the crisis link she mentions is, sadly, inactive. This is one of those posts that had a lot of great comments, but I think it's worth reposting Bill's, especially as the source seems to have vanished in the virtual air.

bill said...
John, all,

Unfamiliar with this, but stole some text from Crisis (!) which I reproduce here (and includes a St. Bernard reference):

Contemporary with the Madonna of Humility, comparisons between the humble mother's flowing breast and her redeeming Son's bleeding heart yielded a startling type of composition known as !the Double Intercession. Mary and Jesus stand on either side of God the Father, Mary baring her breast, Christ touching His wounded side. Mother and Son beg mercy for human supplicants, the dying, the plague-ridden, or the world at the Last Judgment. In some examples, we see Christ's blood and Mary's milk poured out to relieve the souls in purgatory. The Madonna even squirts out milk to extinguish purgatorial fires in a painting by Filoseti dell'Amatrice (1508).

Before they were suppressed by the decorous reforms of Trent, these images supported an astonishing range of piety. The medieval craving for physical contact with the divine took satisfaction in reports of lactation miracles.

While St. Bernard of Clairvaux knelt in prayer, a statue of Maria Lactans came to life and bestowed three drops of milk on his lips. St. Gertrude the Great nursed the Baby Jesus and Blessed Angela of Foligno nursed at Christ's side. Lidwina of! Schiedam saw Mary and her attendant virgins fill the sky with floods of their milk. In legend, suckling the Virgin or living saints brought healing and blessings.

Religious allegories celebrated lactation. Mary was the maiden in the garden who gave suck to the unicorn-Christ, the innocent victim hunted by men. Ecclesia, Sophia, Caritas, and sundry Virtues were shown as nursing mothers.

Popular devotions centered on relics, pilgrimages, and patronages that would assist breastfeeding women. Because Mary's body had been taken to heaven, her prime relic was her milk. From early Christian times people scraped chalky white deposits from the Milk Chapel in Bethlehem, a cave where Mary was believed to have spilled some of her milk. Mixed with water, these samples became the countless relics of the Madonna's milk that are still widely preserved in Europe.

Even Charlemagne had a specimen mounted in a jeweled talisman. France alone boast!ed at least 46 milk shrines, but the most famous in the West was Walsingham, England, established in the twelfth century. Pilgrims reached it via a road called the "Milky Way."

For critics, this was rather too much of a good thing. A century before the Reformation, St. Bernardine of Siena quipped that Mary must have given more milk than a hundred cows.

Although Trent caused some dubious relics to be discarded, it failed to shake Hispanic interest in the nursing Virgin. Maria Lactans images remained popular, including such curious ones as a colonial painting of Our Lady of Belem from 18th-century Bolivia, in which drops of the Madonna's milk turn into blood-red rosary beads.

The Spanish cult of Nuestra Señora de la Leche y Buen Parto (Our Lady of the Milk and Happy Delivery) was brought to St. Augustine, Florida, in 1603. A small chapel built in 1918 still stands on the original shrine's site. Thank!s to the popularity of that title, Mary has become the informal patroness of the nonsectarian La Leche League for nursing mothers.

Active milk-shrines still exist in France, at Crèe-lait in Nantes and Bon Lait in Persac. Bretons seeking ample breast milk process around a huge, decorated mound of butter each summer at Notre Dame-du-Crann.


As I said, I was unable to find the original article, but while doing a google search, I did stumble on the webpage Mary Lactans: Mary As A Nursing Mother from which the below images are taken. Given the fact that I was raised Catholic in America, the abundance of such images is surprising, to say the least. Less surprising is that most of the images come from the 16th Century and before.








Monday, March 30, 2009

40 Days of Lent: Day Thirty Four

It always amazes me when I hit the home stretch in posting every day for Lent. When I first begin, I think "Oh God, I only have two or three ideas to write about." Then, in what seems like no time at all, I'm up to Day Twenty and I think "Okay, half-way there, but what am I going to write about for the remaining almost three weeks?" Suddenly I'm up to Thirty and I think "wait, I didn't write about half the things I was planning to." Oh well.

A collection of some odds and ends:

1. Today's Malaprop Overheard In The Elevator At Work
"When things go good, they're leaping like fish in a barrel to take credit for it."

2. Oh, Good. Oh, Darn.
After writing here about the cultural interest in the occult that culminated in the success of The Exorcist, I was interested to see this article in the current Believer: A Devil-Obsessed Conglomeration of Christian Misfits: How The Exorcist, by most accounts the scariest movie ever made, has become completely unscary. I don't agree, but was curious to hear the author's contrary opinion. Unfortunately, the essay isn't very good. Snarky, lacking in insight or context beyond the author's experience and family, it can be boiled down to "I don't believe in the devil; therefore The Exorcist is not scary." Funny, I know a number of non-believers who get seriously freaked out by The Exorcist. Whether you believe or not, I think the movie is such a well-crafted example of horror cinema that I'd be very curious to read a good essay on why someone feels it has become completely unscary. This isn't that essay.

3. Final Installment of 1871 New York Times Article About The Execution of John Hanlon, Child-Killer
Hanlon's Last Days
There being no intention to take advantage of the writ of error in the case, and the appeal made by Hanlon's spiritual advisers for a respite not being pressed after the Governor's first refusal to listen ti it, the condemned man could do nothing but prepare for death in his miserable way. He frequently expressed a readiness to meet his fate, and his demeanor was so collected as to warrant the belief that he would behave at the last moment with the same firmness that he exhibited during and at the termination of the trial.

Last night, after his sister had left him, he read prayers until 2 o'clock this morning, when he retired and slept soundly until 5 o'clock, when he arose apparently very much refreshed from a long fast of seventeen days, during which time noting has crossed his lips except a trifle of bread and water. This morning he manifested the utmost composure, and joined earnestly with the clergymen in the devotional exercises connected with the preliminary ceremony to the hanging. At the scaffold, while the noose was being adjusted by the Sheriff, and the white cap placed over his head, Hanlon fervently ejaculated,* "Jesus forgive me. Holy Mary intercede for me<" and continued repeated the same until the drop fell. Father Barry, at the time the drop fell, was kneeling on the steps leading thereto, fervently praying. In order to prevent the prisoners in the cells witnessing the hanging, pieces of leather were placed over the holes.

Scenes Outside The Prison
What was a matter quite unusual during executions at the prison, a very large crowd of curious people assembled in the street before the front of the forbidding-looking structure. There was not one but knew he could by no means obtain a view of the tragic scene, for the stratagems resorted to in the past, when the execution took place in the prison yard, in climbing trees that stood back of the rear wall, and in clambering on to high roofs on the street opposite, from which just the top of the scaffold could be seen, were all rendered futile by the change of the customary location of the instrument of death from the yard to the northern corridor. The Mayor ordered a large detail of Police to the scene to prevent any disturbance of the peace. Lieut. Smith, of the Seventeenth District, was in command, and had out his entire force of fifty men, in addition to details from other districts, making the aggregate force seventy. This great number was far from being actually needed, but was in compliance with a formality which custom had established.



*Really unfortunate choice of words, given the context.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

40 Days of Lent: Day Thirty Three

More About My Namesake The Child Killer

Continued from yesterday, the article from the February 2nd 1871 edition of The New York Times.

The imperfect evidence then gleaned pointed so strongly toward him that he was arrested and held for a hearing, but from want of sufficient testimony it was found necessary to discharge him. With unusual effrontery the suspected man stood his ground and continued his business as if nothing had happened. This unusual course, which but few guilty men would have had the nerve to carry out, diverted suspicion from him almost entirely, save in the minds of the few officers of the law who were engaged in working up the case. Had he had but sufficient self-control to have kept him from acts similar to that which ended in the murder, he would probably never have been discovered. As it was, the imperfection of the evidence made him feel in a short time perfect secure, and he was less guarded in his actions. He even boated that though he had been arrested, the crime could not be proved upon him.

So he continued his criminal course, until he brought up in prison, to which he had been sentenced for a term of five years for attempting to commit an outrage on a girl of ten years old. He called himself then Charles E. Harris, but his assumed name did not hide him from those who had all along suspected him of the child-murder. After he had been in prison a short time an alderman, who had taken much interest in the case identified him, and then together with the officers and with the consent of the authorities, a plan was inaugurated, with the consent of the authorities, to convict the man out of his own mouth. A fellow-prisoner, convicted of a crime of somewhat lighter hue, was confined with the suspected man, in the hope that the story of the murderer would be unfolded in private to the companion. The sequel proves that the temptations of boon companionship and he horrors of the heavy secret were too much for the guilty one. The story must be told to somebody, and told it was.

The fellow-prisoner is taken into confidence for the sake of lightening the weight which the inhuman man is unable alone to carry. Bust so hardened is the criminal that the story, when once begun, is told boastingly as if it was the greatest of exploits. The story thus told is confided by the fellow-prisoner to the authorities in the hope of a pardon being granted to the informer. But the story in this form is of no practical use. It comes directly from a criminal and through a criminal. But it is important, inasmuch as it gives the clue to work upon, and the direction in which to work to complete the chain. Then the detectives go to work in earnest. Every item of the confession is thoroughly sifted and inquired into, and outside evidence is found and produced (then an easy matter) to corroborate every part.

When the chain is a complete whole the Grand Jury is notified and a true bill is found against John Hanlon, the barber, who is brought from prison and re-tried. Then it is that the damning story comes out in all its horrid particulars. The lustful man with evil intent disguises himself, thus preventing effectually his identification afterward. He seeks some one on whom to gratify his passion. He walks the streets on a quiet Sunday evening and finds the little child, whom he entices or compels to go with him. He hills her, unintentionally perhaps, in the accomplishment of his designs, but unintentional killing under such circumstances is murder in the first degree.

Having killed her, he puts her into the cellar of his house and coolly goes to bed as if nothing had happened. He makes several unsuccessful attempts to get rid of the body. He keeps the dreadful thing in his possession for the whole of one day and two nights, all the time pursuing his business as usual, while the neighbors are everywhere hunting the lost child. At last he succeeds in getting rid of it. In the early morning of the third day he deposits it in a slimy pool in an open lot, hoping, like Eugene Aram, that the waters will cover it. The waters do not cover it. Almost immediately it is found, and the search for the criminal commences. He stands it al and even continues in his evil courses. He is arrested and put in prison for a minor offense. Here he convicts himself f the greater. He takes his trial, and a fair one it is....


to be continued

Saturday, March 28, 2009

40 Days of Lent: Day Thirty Two

Another John Hanlon, Hanged Man

The following is from the February 2nd 1871 New York Times. My friend Colette discovered it by doing a google search for my name and "hanged man." Happily, this blog comes up first. The below article is third, and then some links to John Hanlon, New Zealand hippie folksinger.

Execution of a Murderer

John Hanlon Hanged Yesterday in Philadelphia - The Legal Number of Witnesses Only Present.

Philadelphia, Penn., Feb. 1. -- Preparations for the execution of John Hanlon were completed yuesterday. The gallows had been erected within the corridor of the prison building in anticipation of bad weather, and also to secure entire privacy, which could not be the case in the prison yard, as some buildings in the neighbordd overlook the inclosure, and many previous executions have been witnessed from roofs and tree-tops. Hanlon bid his wife and relatives farewell yesterday, expressing himself ready to die, and had no expectations of a respite. After the religious ceremonies, Father Barry said that Hanlon had nothing to make public, but wished to return thanks to the officers of the prison and the inspectors and keepers. Hanlon then stepped to the front of the platform, and in a firm and distinct voice said:

"To those who have ever injured me or have ever done me any wrong, I forgive them and ask God to forgive them; and all whom I have injured in any way whatever, or against whom I have had any ill feeling, I ask their forgiveness and God to forgive me."

The execution took place at 11:18 this morning. The law limiting the number of witnesses was strictly enforced by Sheriff Leeds. His body has been given to his relatives for interment.

The Crime.
The murder of the child, May Mohrmann, for which Hanlon was hanged, was committed on a Sunday evening, nearly two and a half years aago. At the time no one but the guilty man knew that the foul deed had been done. The mother of the child and the neighbors knew that she was missing, and supposed that she was lost and would soon be found again. It was not until the Tuesday morning following that the city was startled by the news that the dead body of the little girl, who was only about six years old, though large for her age -- not old enough, at all events, to incur the serious displeasure of any human being -- had been found in a pool of water in an open let near her former residence in the upper part of the city. The appearance of the body made it very evident that she had been most horribly murdered under circumstances of the most fiendish atrocity....

For some time after the discovery no clue could be found to the murderer, though public opinion, especially in the immediate neighborhood, was at a high state of excitement. Suspicion pointed to the man John Hanlon, who kept a barber-shop on Fifth street, a few doors from Diamond.

To be continued, though I'd just like to point out that I wish newspapers were still written like this.

Friday, March 27, 2009

40 Days of Lent: Day Thirty One

St. John Evangelista by Albrecht Durer

First he has a vision and eats a book, then he's cooked alive in a pot.




We really are lucky to live in a time when Durer's incredible engravings and Shakespeare's plays are available for free on the internet.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

40 Days of Lent: Day Thirty


One of the things that I remember from my childhood in the early 1970s was the resurgence of the occult and interest in weird belief systems, a side effect of the youth movement. Everything was open for experimentation: economic systems, living arrangements, politics, and gender roles, so why not religion? Being raised Catholic, anything occult was seen as threatening. I imagined it all as Satan in disguise, like the wolf in grandma's clothing in Little Red Riding Hood, lying in wait to trick the unsuspecting, or even worse, the non-traditional.

It probably reached cultural critical mass with the release of The Exorcist in 1973, but one of the reasons that movie was so successful (lines around the block in major cities almost from the first day it opened) was that the public had been prepared by several years of living through a rich, creepy time when Ouija boards were sold in toy stores, Dark Shadows was a popular soap opera, and witchcraft manuals could be found among the paperbacks in drugstores. Despite the current popularity of book series about vampires and wizards, the difference between now and then is that now, relatively few people believe in an occult system (despite the New Age and old superstitions). Back then, people really believed. Or so it seemed to my eight year old mind.

Believed enough to join cults, and it wasn't all peace and free love. A book from that time, Mindfuckers: The Rise of Acid Fascism, gathers together articles about cults from Rolling Stone magazine. The Manson Family is the most (in)famous group covered, but there are also articles about the Lyman Family and The Process Church of The Final Judgment. The book's subtitle makes plain that drugs were a major factor once people discovered just how useful drugs, particularly hallucinogens, were in controlling others.

In my hometown, I remember there was a group called The Forever Family, and I was warned that, if anyone from The Forever Family tried to make contact with me, get away from them. I don't know if they truly were any kind of threat or if they were just silly hippies. Watching a documentary about the 1960s recently, I was struck by the fact that, what we think of as the 60s - the social upheaval, the protests, groovy outfits and nightlife - was an urban phenomena. City life. In small-town and rural America, any deviance from the norm was feared and suppressed. There's a reason why Easy Rider ends the way it does. A group calling itself "The Forever Family" in Wilkes-Barre at that time was a threat, in not to way of life, then at least to peace of mind.

When I first began working at WaldenBooks after college, my manager said the smartest thing she ever did was expand the occult section. This was in the early 1980s, and while Wilkes-Barre often seemed about seven or eight years behind the times, the popularity of occult books had more to do with such beliefs becoming private and personal, individual superstitions rather than part of the culture at large. The time for large-scale experimentation in religion had passed.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

40 Days of Lent: Day Twenty Nine

Monsters!



Yes, I planned to post something different today, something about apocalypse psychology, catastrophizing on a grand scale, but then I had a very busy day at work and went out for drinks afterwards with my friend Jackie at this nice wine bar on the East Side (Sophie's on 50th Street - you should really try it) and we go into a long conversation about people we work with and even some people we don't work with anymore (because you can get laid off but that doesn't mean you're going to escape our gossipy tongues) and then our friend Kevin joined us and we got into a BIG argument about capitalism which apparently Jackie and I lost because I've checked and the capitalist system is still in place.

Monsters!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

40 Days of Lent: Day Twenty Eight

Moments of Happiness

They're almost always unexpected and go by too quickly. You don't realize them until they've passed, but everyone has those moments that, in retrospect, they realize they experienced true happiness. I'm quite lucky in that I've experienced many such moments, but here's one that comes to me:

Driving from Wilkes-Barre, PA to Baltimore, MD with my sister Ann and my niece Lowery. We had a cassette of Jesus Christ, Superstar playing on the car stereo, and Ann and I sang along with the entire album while on the road. Ann can sing, I can not.

I smile involuntarily every time I think about it.

Monday, March 23, 2009

40 Days of Lent: Day Twenty Seven

My Favorite Religious Rituals
In no particular order

1. Passover Seder
I particularly like the idea of using food to symbolize historical, cultural and spiritual events. The fact that some of the food is not meant to be enjoyed but to remind the eater of suffering is sadly lost on people like me who like bitter herbs and bland flat bread. The only Seders I've attended were those at my friend Steve Gutin's, where the question "Why is tonight not like any other night?" was inevitably answered with "Because tonight Aunt Esther is going to lose her place if anyone strays so much as one word from the evening's prepared materials." Other nights, she was just generally confused. I miss those nights.

2. Getting Ashes on Ash Wednesday
Don't know why, but getting dirt smeared on my forehead, being marked for the day, appeals to me. This past Ash Wednesday I had so much smeared on my forehead it looked like I was getting ready for a minstrel show.

3. Blessing of the Throats on St. Blaise Day
St. Blaise is one of the 14 Holy Helpers, a group of saints who protect against illnesses and everyday difficulties. Blaise is the saint who protects against throat ailments and infections. On the Sunday closest to February 3rd, the Blessing of the Throats is offered after mass: the priest holds across your throat two unlit candles that have been tied at the bottom and mutters a short prayer. Afterwards you'll probably overhear someone say that they had a sore throat but now are starting to feel better. It's such a strange ritual, which is probably part of its appeal.

4. Saying "God Bless You" After Someone Sneezes
It's just polite.


Yes, I realize this is a fairly short list of rituals.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

40 Days of Lent: Day Twenty Six

Powerful Fresh Breath / Powerful Message



Another gift from my friend Kris - a pack of Testamints Gum. Each pack has 12 pieces (one for each apostle), although Kris admitted that this pack was a little light because her husband took some.

Each pack come with a quote from scripture on the back - mine is John 14:6 (Jesus answered "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.")

Kris said "You'd be amazed what you can find in Texas." True, however, a quick internet search revealed that the company that makes Testamints is actually based in Hackettstown, NJ.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

40 Days of Lent: Day Twenty Five

A Gift From My Friend Kris


"You still collect stuff like this, right?" asked my friend Kris.

A Last Supper lunchbox? Oh, yes indeedy.

Friday, March 20, 2009

40 Days of Lent: Day Twenty Four

Prayer Circle in Louisville Airport

I wasn't quick enough with my camera, but this is the aftermath of a prayer circle I saw in the middle of the Louisville airport. I guess some people are really scared of flying.