This is the first installment of “Independent Full Gospel Hour,” sequel to the short-lived “Sunday Morning Gospel Hour,” whose pastor proved to be too delusional and too prone to flashbacks into his youthful experiments in spiritual awareness, to stay on schedule. Our brand new pastor, Reverend Mike—a different flash of identity in the same old soul (you know how that goes)—is back from recovery, rarin’ to go, and remains (as you probably realized) the world’s foremost living radical pantheist.
Yoga class was cancelled yesterday morning due to icy roads. So since I don’t have any late-breaking metaphysical bulletins to report, the cosmic clash of East and West, Hindu vs. Radical Pantheist, will give way to perhaps less exotic fare in this first installment of “Independent Full Gospel Hour.”
(I say “perhaps” because, in all honesty, I never know what fabulous ancient ruins I’ll encounter in my splendid little journeys down the paradisial streams of consciousness, delightfully snaking through this errant child of God’s mental wilderness. But who knows? It may turn out to be as pedantic as the everyday imperial mindpulp now haunting the cyberlands of our fascist social Matrix. Now that’s some boring doodoo—the cheery propaganda pablum of ever-grinning post-ironic imperial broadcast scribes.)
(You can probably tell we don’t get cable.)
I actually couldn’t go to yoga class anyway, because my cat, Elizabeth, was stuck up in our walnut tree. We had been freaked that, since we hadn’t seen her around the night before, her absence at breakfast was bringing reality to the very gates of our worry (I actually get that from my mother; I can be ten minutes late getting to her house and she’s already got me with half my fingernails removed by some sadistic Arab somewhere. I’m glad I meditate as compensation. She’s a Republican, as if you didn’t know).
Anyway, I’m coming in the back door from wandering the spread on my morning chores round, when I hear this plaintive cry, and I know immediately it’s Elizabeth. (All the cats have different voices, and each breed its own dialect. But cats rarely will allow a human to hear their real language, which they only speak openly in their own company. I’ve only overheard it twice in my life (I will never forget the time they suddenly realized I was listening, and they immediately shut up; that was spooky). It is truly a fascinating tongue. You can hear snips of it when they’re trying to talk a bird into flying into their mouth, but that’s pretty simple stuff, really—equivalent to “Here, birdy, birdy.” Their true language is hieroglyphically complex.)
So I hear Elizabeth’s cry, and I immediately answer with her name, because I can’t tell where the cry came from. I first thought it was under the house. She cried again and I answered again, because now I knew she was outside. She cried a third time and I thought—what the you-know-what?—because this time it sounded like it was coming from midair—which made absolutely zero friggin sense to my customarily Cartesian analytical thought processes. You know what I’m talking about.
I whip around to re-establish my sense of reality and of course the sound is coming from the tree—what cat hasn’t been in a tree?—and who should be up there, raggedy wet and as pissed-off as I’ve ever seen her (a pretty monumental statement; you can ask any of the other cats), my own darling Elizabeth.
Now there was a certain anomaly in Elizabeth’s predicament, in that she doesn’t usually venture that high in a tree. And at the very moment her feline AWOL status was cresting in my now-feverish mental surveillance of her possible whereabouts, her surprisingly elevated appearance had an undeniably serendipitous and magical effect. If my relief hadn’t been so total, and my concern for her immediate welfare so intense, I would have laughed.
I rushed in the house and yelled to my wife that Elizabeth was in the walnut tree, and then ran back to the shed to get my 32’ extension ladder. I thought about the wild frightened look I’d seen in her eyes, and decided to grab my long woodstove gloves for the effort, too. I knew that if I did manage to get a hand on that little orangy ninja, I was in peril of some serious laceration without protection. No matter how much a cat loves you, if she’s scared, she’s wildly scratching with some truly razor-sharp weapons. Not a comfortable companion, dancing fifty feet above the ground on thoroughly icy branches.
I raised the ladder extension as high as it could go, but she was about twenty feet further up, and the trees of the majestic walnut family tend to spread their limbs wide, with few auxiliary branches cluttering the graceful reach of their arms.
Before you get too alarmed, and picture me writing this in a local hospital bed, my meat puppet swathed in plaster wrappings, with several limbs hanging on steel cables, I should tell you something about myself: I grew up in a tree.
It was an oak, maybe eighty feet high and about a hundred years old, I figure in retrospect. It was in the front yard of my parents’ house, where I would climb down to sleep at night, in an isolated rural suburb of Alexandria, Virginia. I didn’t have any playmates my age living close by, and the sight my legally-blind mother wouldn’t let us out of there in that wilderness was of predictably limited range.
So when I tired of the chatter of my little sisters, and had run out of creative new ideas on how to tease them even more unmercifully, I headed to the oak for a recharge. Looking back, I think that, with the possible exception of an intellectually clever Franciscan nun, that oak was my earliest spiritual mentor in this incarnation. I spent many a summer afternoon resting cradled in his arms, wandering the landscape between the material world and dreaming, listening to the breeze stirring cosmic secrets in the whispering leaves. Unlike the walnut, the oak branches out sufficiently to give a lanky little Druid a congenial enough structure to scamper around in its branches in a remarkably carefree manner, that would have struck terror in the heart of my worried mother had she been able to see me that high.
One Easter a few years back, I decided to swing by the old home place for a visit, on my way to my sister’s for holiday dinner. When I crested the small hill just by the house, I discovered that from the gravel driveway on, they were widening the rural lane into a six-lane suburban artery, and my old and dear friend lay there slaughtered and dismembered on the ground. I cried and I cried and I cried.
Anyway, back to the story…
I had asked my wife to come out and watch me with the first two digits of 911 already dialed on the cordless, just in case. I had rested the top rung of the ladder near a fork in a secondary trunk (rather precariously, I hesitate to confess—but you already know how testicular the inferior half of the species can be sometimes). Elizabeth was about twenty feet farther up a ten-inch limb that I could access by hopping onto the nearest fork.
When I did that, I discovered how much ice the previous night’s freezing rain had left on the branches (poor Elizabeth, I thought, looking up at her in her soaked bedraggled frightened state). There weren’t any more branches between me and her, but I figured if a Polynesian can scale a palm, a Celt can certainly clamber up a walnut. So I hoisted myself up to the point where I made a nest of both my gloved hands, just above a bend in the limb a few feet below Elizabeth, and mentioned to my wife down below how icy the branches were.
At that point of rest, waiting for Elizabeth to decide whether she had enough courage left to creep down the few feet she needed to, to reach safety, I looked down to see how my wife was reacting to all this. When I saw the half-crazed, half-fascinated look in her eyes, it reminded me of a lesson I’d learned in my shoulder-length hair days, but whose knowledge had some time ago ceased to have any practical utility: nothing warms a woman’s drawers quite like dancing in a tree.
Gentlemen, if you, as I do, appreciate the exquisite craftspersonship of the tantalizing lips of a skilled fellatrix—and what a randy one of you has not, in some fleeting flash, savored the imaginary sensation of former Senator Mary Landrieu’s full and luscious labios moistening your very own distinguished member?—I doubt there’s a more effective attractant to wide-mouthed beauties than a little skillful tree-dancing. Just a word to the wise, boys. Those over 75 or so—the age of the guy who taught me carpentry—generally need not apply without a Viagra scrip (the fountain of Organization Man youth).
(Cripes, my wife is going to cut my dick off when she reads this (is that a bad word? It’s not supposed to be in front of “cheney,” even though it is. Otherwise, it’s just a harmless Anglo-Saxonism, in my book). I better wear her chastity belt to bed tonight and hide the key. That way I’ll wake up if she tries to break in, that fancy Japanese paring knife clenched in her angrily gritted teeth. Being male by gender, I prefer my baloney unsliced, thank you very much. You think I’m radical, you should try hanging out with some radical feminists sometime. That crowd of Harpies could shrivel an obelisk.)
Where was I (profound question, indeed)? Oh yeah, up in the tree with Elizabeth. I’ll try to wrap this up, because I haven’t even reached the main topic of this week’s Gospel Hour. But I figure it’s okay to extend the sermon slightly this week, since most of the primitives stayed home, grumbling about how I’m trying to turn their Lord and Savior—a man I deeply, deeply respect—into a cartoon Mohammed. And most of the rest of you are usually half-asleep in the pews by this time anyway. So I’ll just ramble on a bit more.
Elizabeth inched her way down the limb to within a few inches of my gloves, then suddenly jumped over to a branch about four feet away, and scampered out to the very thin end, where she immediately wailed her horror at finding herself in an even more precarious circumstance. But it was honestly a relief for me, because at that point she was only about twenty feet above the ground, and I knew that cats had landed on their feet unharmed from seven-story falls.
My wife had called our elder daughter, who does a lot of animal rescue work, and she had suggested putting a bowl of food at the base of the tree—which made a lot of sense, given Elizabeth’s sure hunger. And since the spousal suggestions that I return to Earth were growing perceptibly more sternly insistent (you learn to pay attention to these sorts of things if, like me, you value domestic bliss), I went ahead and slipped on down the limb, stepped down the rungs, and went in to eat breakfast. A surprisingly few minutes later, as I contemplated mouthfuls of oatmeal in front of the computer, Elizabeth nonchalantly strolled into the office, pretending she wasn’t embarrassed.
I put down my bowl and went and got a towel and dried her off. Last night, when she wanted to sit in my lap at supper, while we listened to my hero Garrison Keillor spin his fanciful and treasured tales, I let her sit there this time, and she sat very still, and I could still feel the trauma throbbing in that poor little kitty’s heart. She’s tough though; she’ll get over it.
Now all that was merely an introduction to this week’s true subject--my first (and likely, only—but not for the reason you may think) visit to the monthly Hampshire County Tea Party meeting on Friday night. I wanted to give you, with the cat story, a preliminary introduction to my sometimes unorthodox mental cosmos, with this important clue: I seem to be one of those people with a chemical deficiency in their brains, the daredevil types who feel most fully alive when they’re in danger.
When my life is under threat, I immediately enter this zone of steely calm that is a stark contrast to the usually cheerful parenthetical swarm I have fluttering carelessly around in my head. Nothing like impending death to focus the old attention span, I say.
And that’s kind of how I felt when I stepped into the Bank of Romney Community Center (we try to cooperate with the money-changers here in the hills, because on a local level, they’re usually very nice people). I had my trademark silver peace sign dangling from my ear, and the Tea Party meeting was already in progress—just as I wanted it.
As always happens when someone walks into a meeting, everybody looked at me—which gave me all I needed to scan the crowd for concealed-carry nervousness, incipient insanity or harmful intentions. I didn’t see anybody who could easily beat me, although there were a few angry types and a bearded red-haired guy with some serious biceps. It was predominantly men in the room, as I expected at the Tea Party (which seems paradoxical when I think back to my little sisters’ tea parties, which I hated attending), but fortunately, the guy who seemed to think he was the toughest and looked at me the meanest was a big man, but he was a few years past his prime and looked to have gotten a little soft. So I went over and sat a couple of empty seats away from him.
As soon as I could think of one (and I don’t recall what it was, because the content really isn’t important), I leaned over and asked the guy a question. He had been staring at my peace sign in a somewhat menacing fashion, so I figured I’d better act now.
This is a trick I had to rather urgently teach myself at a cold and isolated elevated subway station in Harlem, New York, about 2 o’clock one dark wintry morning some years ago. Since the Gospel Hour is turning into the Gospel Week and a Half already, I won’t tell you how I managed to be in that unusual situation. The important information is that within minutes after my dangerously singular arrival on the platform, I was joined by a mixed-gender Hispanic gang who decided to stand just a few yards away. And even though I don’t exactly speak Spanish, I was able to detect a Latin rumbling that the boys were giggling about taking a certain ‘60s flashback opportunity to demonstrate their physical prowess for the ladies. I knew I had to act quickly.
Time to play the Holy Fool, I thought.
I turned around and looked right at them, and then walked confidently up to them. They seemed surprised.
“How long do you have to wait for a friggin train, in New York City, of all places?”
They all looked at me, wide-eyed, and then looked at each other, and exchanged a rapid-fire, quiet consultation about what the you-know-what is going on here? I thought I heard the word “loco” followed by a question mark.
“I mean, what do our taxes pay for?” My righteous sense of indignation about the money I, a mere average melanin-deprived citizen, was giving to our common enemy, the US government, was as palpable as I could friggin make it.
They exploded in laughter, and I started laughing with them, and then we were all laughing and looking at each other, and they could see in my eyes that I meant them no harm (Mahatma Gandhi called his variation on this tactic ahimsa, Sanskrit for “harmlessness”). We started trying to talk to each other, but since their limited English and my limited Spanish provided no more than (as you’d expect) limited communication, after a few more minutes of chuckles, I moved over to my own space on the platform, bidding them “Gracias.” I made sure I was far enough away that, when the train arrived, my slipping into a different car would seem as natural as a cloud.
It makes me a little nervous to hang around too long with a bunch of rippling Latin gangbangers with my own limited bilingualism, no matter how much they may seem to like me at the moment. In some situations, the ability to interpret very clearly what someone else is saying becomes critical (I hesitate to say “a matter of life and death,” because I don’t like to think too hard about some of the perilous pickles I’ve usually inadvertently found myself in. Sheesh).
Anyway, back to the Tea Party…
The big guy, unsurprisingly, looked surprised, and then seemed immediately flattered that I, an obviously deranged leftist, should have such residual respect for a guy wearing a yellow “Don’t Tread On Me” scarf that I would seek his wisdom, and he immediately settled into the role of my confidant. I secretly de-activated my ahimsa light saber, sheathed that valuable weapon for its next use, and started listening to the meeting.
There were about thirty people in the room, sitting facing a guy standing at a podium, who used this bipedal stance to dominate the meeting. The older couple who had invited me to this meeting at our “Gasland” screening a few weeks ago were sitting front row center, cute as a couple of apple dolls (the male, of course, a rather manly and vigorous apple doll), and they turned around and smiled sweetly at me.
They couldn’t have placed themselves better to suit my strategy, because everyone saw their smiles, and at whom they were aimed. I knew that there were a number of melted hearts in the room besides mine, which would make anything I did—I didn’t know what—easier.
The podium guy, who several times mentioned to the audience that the rumors that he had started this local Tea Party to further his own political ambitions were entirely unfounded, was talking about how the self-identified non-partisan Tea Party could elect a Republican in this year’s special election for West Virginia governor.
As the back-and-forth went on, I began to realize that, beyond the walls of cognitive dissonance that are the hallmark of the archetypal political right in any age, there was an astonishing correspondence between the cluelessness of this audience about the true anti-democratic nature of the present American government—the enforcement arm of the New World Order that has been consolidating its power for the last fifty years—and the cluelessness of most of my fellow progressives.
This was an audience of people flailing at their own powerlessness. In empathy, I decided to help the Tea Party get organized.
To be continued…