Friday, August 31, 2007

Butter Boy

Tales From the Vault: Men I have known

So it’s been brought to my attention that I left a few stories out in my attempt to disperse dating advice to the boys at Flashbacks. However, these stories are truly amazing stories – stories that cannot be summed up with one short, snarky comment amidst a sea of snarky comments in some random blog. No, these stories stand on their own – they must be treated with the respect they deserve. And so I have decided to pull these tales from the vault in all their glory.

Tale # 1: Butter Boy

Yes, you read that title right. It says Butter Boy. God help me, but that really is right.

Hmmm, now how should I begin this story? Firstly, I think I should probably protect Butter Boy’s privacy by not referring to him by his real name. Not that I think it will matter much, as anyone who knows anything about my or his high school dating experiences will know exactly who he is the moment they hear the context of the story – but still, I should try, right? From here on out we’ll call him Butter Bob. Why? Well, I like alliteration, for one. All those B’s put together get me feeling poetic, I must confess. And hey, why not? We’ve got to call him something, and Butter D – oops!, close call – is out of the question lest I run the risk of libel accusations.

Ok, here we go…

Once upon a time I was a senior in high school, and I had a boyfriend named Bob who I’d been dating for about a year and a half – a long, long time in the world of high school relationships. Now I was a very, very cool high school attendee because I had a pager. For you young-uns out there, a pager was a little device you would strap to your belt loop or pocket and people could call the pager and leave their number. Then the pager would beep and their number would appear. You would then know that the person at that particular phone number wanted to be called. This was pre-cell phone technology, and at the time it kicked ass. Not everyone had a pager, you know – mostly just drug dealers and rich kids. But I had a pager. I was officially cool.

So this one night I was hanging out with a friend at her house when my pager beeped at me. I looked at the number on the pager and it was Bob’s phone number followed by 911. You know how nowadays kids have all these fancy codes when they text message? Well back in the day 911 was a fancy pager code that meant, “Call me right now! I have an emergency!” Normally you’d receive a 911 page and return the call to find that the person paging you was out of peanut butter, and could you please pick some up, or maybe they were feeling paranoid about the fidelity of their significant other. Not exactly emergencies, in my opinion. So I called Bob back at his house feeling slightly annoyed and wondering what in the hell could possibly warrant a 911 page.

This time, however, Bob sounded like he had an emergency. He was sobbing into the phone and I pretty much figured someone had died. In between sobs he proceeded to tell me that he hated himself and he didn’t want to live anymore and that he was going to go ahead and kill himself now, if that was alright with me. Which, of course, wasn’t alright with me. So I hung up the phone and rushed to my car and drove to his house at approximately 25 miles over the speed limit and hoped I didn’t find major pools of blood when I arrived.

I walked into Bob’s house and there was nobody home. I have no idea where his parents were, but neither one of them was there. Bob had a brother, but he was living in Grand Rapids at the time and so he wasn’t home either. I wandered through the house until I found Bob in the bathtub, unharmed but naked. And greasy. Very, very greasy.

Keep in mind that all this happened when I was 17 years old. I was not skilled in the art of negotiating with suicidal people. I’m still not skilled in that art, and it’s been nine years. In fact, I don’t ever want to be skilled in that art. All I could think to do was to take away his razor and wash his hair. Lame, I know. Wash the suicidal guy’s hair! That’ll help! But it was so damn greasy, so I just started washing it. As I washed Bob’s hair I talked to him. I honestly can’t remember much of anything he said. I think I was in shock or something. But I remember not understanding the grease. God, it was everywhere. His hair was greasy, his body was greasy, the water looked greasy, there looked to be greasy streaks on the tub. Lord, thinking of it now, it’s no wonder he didn’t slit his wrists – I don’t know how he would’ve kept a hold of the razor with all that grease.

So finally I broke down and asked him about it. As I washed his hair I asked him what the hell was up with all the greasiness. And, Lord help me, this is what he said:

Bob: I *sob* needed to be *sniffle* cleansed and purified.

17-year-old-me: (not comprehending whatsoever) uhhh, ok..??

Bob: I needed to a- *sob* a-anoint myself with oil.

17-year-old-me: (still not getting the connection) ummmmm…ok….

Bob: But- b-b-but we didn’t have any *sniffle*

17-year-old-me: Soooo?

Bob: So I used butter.


I kid you not, folks, he slathered his entire body in butter in an attempt to cleanse and purify himself so he didn’t have to die. And he tried to tell me I was crazy.

Its okay, you can laugh. I’m laughing right now, actually. I have to, or I’d just lose my mind.

First of all, what religious text says that suicidal people should anoint themselves with oil so they don’t have to kill themselves? Because I’ve never read that text. And I’ve read a lot of whacked out religious texts. This particular boy prided himself as something of a Bible scholar and I’ve read that puppy from cover to cover not once but twice. If there is a magic formula that cures suicidal impulses with oil or butter in the middle of Galatians, I just plain skipped over that chapter. Can you imagine it – “And thou shalt anoint thyself with oil so thou doesn’t have to slit thine wrists – thus saith the Lord” Come on, Bob. If you’re going to be one of those scary, ritual obsessed Christians, at least get the rituals right.

Secondly, butter does not have oil in it. Last time I checked, butter is a dairy product. Oil is, well, an oil product. So, Bob, you anointed yourself with milk. Way to go. Next time at least consider going with margarine.

So you’re wondering how the story ends, right? Well, mom and dad came home from whatever function they were attending while I was washing the grease out of Bob’s hair in the tub. At 17 I was also not skilled at explaining to somebody’s parents why I was sitting in the bathroom with their naked, greasy son so I bolted for the upstairs and curled up in the fetal position in Bob’s room, crying, for the next hour. His mom came upstairs and tried to find out what had happened and to comfort me, but to no avail. There were simply no words. I mean, how do you tell somebody’s mom, “hey, I hate to be the one to tell you this, but your son slathered himself in butter so he wouldn’t kill himself and I was just trying to wash it out of his hair”? In fact, I never spoke a word of this to anyone until I was in my twenties – 24, I think. It took that long to accept that I really had seen Bob slathered in butter and to formulate the words to express it.

As for Bob’s dad… well, I didn’t see him at all that night, but it was reported to me that the only thing he had to say on the subject was ‘use a condom’. Classy.

So there you have it – the tale of Butter Bob.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

I will not be like those concubine whores!

Random memory:

I am probably nine or ten years old, which means that my sister Velma is probably seven or eight years old. My mother, father, sister and I are sitting at the dinner table eating supper and dialoguing about what we might want to be when we grow up.

Velma: I want to be a prostitute when I grow up!

Mom & Dad: (choke on food)

Me: (choke on food and giggle because I know what a prostitute is)

Mom & Dad: Honey, do you know what a prostitue is?

Velma: Yep, it's a lawyer! A female lawyer! I want to be a prostitute when I grow up!

Apparantly the little girl down the street was having some difficulty distinguishing between a prostitute and a prosecuter.

Either one would be fairly ambitious for a seven-year-old, if you ask me.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Polaroids From the Dead

I’ve just finished Polaroids from the Dead by Douglas Coupland. I don’t know what it is, but I can’t read Coupland without very serious introspection. I suppose it’s a good thing. Generation X produced not only an awareness of my own takeaway stories, but a movement of storytelling within my community. Hey Nostradamus! made me revisit my feelings surrounding the Columbine School Massacre and come to terms with some very ugly things inside of me. Now Polaroids from the Dead has sent me into a slightly unhealthy Kurt Cobain obsession (which, knowing me, will be forgotten in about three weeks, so don’t worry too hard) and has me trying to figure out exactly where I fit in generationally.

Depending on whose idea you hear about the cutoffs for Generation X and Generation Y, I don’t technically fit into either. Most of the materials I have come across include those born from 1961-1976 in Gen X and those in the high-school class of 2000 the beginning of Gen Y. More liberal accounts have Gen X ending with those born in ’81 and Gen Y beginning with those born in the late 70’s. I was born in mid ’81 and graduated with the class of ’99. Who the hell knows where I fit? I’m too young to identify with a lot of key Gen X issues – like the recession going on when a good chunk of them were ready to enter the work force and the ending of the cold war – and I’m too old to identify with a lot of Gen Y culture – constant text messaging, Robot/digital pets, YouTube (I still have no clue how that works!). On the other hand, I do identify with some significant issues / events / media from each Generation – the death of Kurt Cobain & grunge music, the O.J. Simpson case, The Perks of Being a Wallflower.

Whatever. I’ve decided to name my own Generation – the I-Don’t-Freakin-Know-Where-I-Fit-So-I’m-Going-To-Put-Myself-Wherever-I-Damn-Well-Please Generation. I’ll call it something ridiculous like the Last Generation of Saturday Morning Cartoons Worth Waking Up Early For or Generation Green Day. Those of you born between 1976 and 1982 can submit suggestions and cast votes, if you like.

Anyhow, that’s not the point of this. I’ve somehow digressed.

What I really want to tell you about today is Polaroids from the Dead and my most recent Coupland-inspired introspection. Here’s an excerpt from the book – it’s in the section about Deadhead culture:

“Skye says, ‘Dad, you always complain people my age never protest about anything, but the first moment we even try to make a peep, you ex-hippies are the first to slam us, saying we’re nowhere near as passionate or effective as you were in those fucking sixties. Make up your minds. Stop making us have to subsidize your disillusionment with the way you turned out.’”

This got me thinking about protesting. First off, it has been noted that it’s not a good idea for me to protest. I’m so far out of balance that protesting leaves me perpetually pissed off, moody, and withdrawn. It’s not very good for me or anyone around me. But I suppose if that random voice in my head which may or may not actually be God was persistent I would protest and try to keep my moodiness out of it.

But when I thought about this more I realized I wouldn’t even know what to protest. Consumer greed? Our lack of investment in people who are being wiped out by genocide? The depersonalization of society? Disconnection? Excess pride masquerading as independence? The rigidity of the modern church?

I don’t even know where to start. These are all things that I think are important – all things that I think contribute to a general decline of our society. I mean really, people waiting on sidewalks for 5 or 6 or 7 days to purchase a $700 phone is not good for our society. It’s a symptom of consumer greed and an indicator that we feel entitled to have whatever it is we want, at whatever cost it takes. It is not good for us. If World War III breaks out, how many consumeristic brats who have been spoiled with the ideology of entitlement are going to do any sort of decent job fighting for the freedom of a nation that is something beyond their immediate selves?

Answer: None.

There’s no motivation. There’s no sense of duty to anything other than their own wants and desires. Yes, it’s an extreme example, but it says something about the climate of our culture. What it says may be ambiguous, but it definitely points to NOT GOOD.

Same thing with the rest of those things on my list. If we sit back and let governments and rebel groups commit mass genocide while we’re fully aware of what’s going on and while we happen to be the superpower of the world, what does that indicate about the collective conscience of our society? How is the depersonalization of our society not bad for us? How is it at all healthy to be so totally disconnected? And on and on and on. I don’t even know where to start.

But here’s the thing…

Even if I knew where to start…. well…

Where would I even protest?

One of the challenges of my generation (whatever generation that is) is not just what to lobby for (or against) but where to lobby. In 1969, if you were pissed about the Vietnam War (conflict, I mean, the Vietnam conflict) you marched your ass down to Washington D.C. But tell me, where should I go to protest consumer greed? With whom should I register my complaint? Maybe I’ll start with the retail industry. Too big? Maybe the advertising industry. Still too big? Maybe I’ll just start with the masses and try to convince them they don’t need so much stuff. Hmm, still too big? The issues aren’t cut and dry anymore – it’s not an issue of war or no war. One of our greatest challenges is that we care about abstract, internal issues that cannot be easily regulated by any one approachable entity.

You see, it’s not that I’m part of Generation Slacker (ooh! Good name!) or that I just don’t care or refuse to give of my time. It’s that I don’t even know where (or with whom) to start.

What’s that line from Smells Like Teen Spirit? Goes something like,

“I found it hard, it was hard to find a well, whatever, nevermind”

No-freakin-wonder. My whole community sees this ugly stuff, we just wouldn’t know where to go with it. We open our mouths, then we think for a moment and close them again. You ask what we were thinking and all we have is, “Never mind”. There’s nowhere for me to even go with this. I’m Generation Nevermind.

The greatest asset my generation has is the freedom to choose to live our lives in ways that reflect our values. I have nowhere to go with my complaint of consumer greed, but I have choices about what I purchase, how much I purchase, the kind of ownership of things I deem necessary. I cannot stop the kind of raw division I see in the church between the command to love and the rejection of ‘sinners’, but I can claim the same God and choose to love wherever I go. I cannot stop people from allowing technology to disconnect them, but I can choose to live in community and to invite others to live in community as well. My lifestyle is coming in line with my ideology more every day.

My lifestyle is the single greatest tool for social change that I possess. My lifestyle speaks for all the places where I feel strongly and can’t find the place for my voice. I don’t know how much good it will do. I don’t know how much my choices will influence others. I can only try. I can only hope that something that is beautiful inside of me will infect the people I see every day. I am the generation who will have to change the world by the way I live each day – the Conscientious Generation – Generation Beautiful Infection.

Your lifestyle is the single greatest tool for social change that you possess. What kind of changes are you inspiring in your world?

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Takeaway Story #3 ~ *Would You Like a Blanket?*

For more on takeaway stories, click here:

Takeaway Story #3 ~ Would You Like A Blanket?

Ok, here goes…

Once upon a time (which was actually sometime last year) I went down to Freimann Square to eat my yogurt and read a book on my lunch hour. It was sometime in the fall – right around the time of year when it starts to get fairly cold, but you don’t really believe that it’s cold until you stand out in it for awhile – maybe mid-November-ish. So I was sitting on a bench in the park eating my yogurt and I was getting pretty cold. I hadn’t brought a coat because, as I’ve mentioned, I didn’t really believe it was going to be cold. But it was. I sat there and tried to focus on my book, but it’s hard to focus on much when you’re cold. Also, my body kept engaging in this random stop-start-stop-start shivering like some sort of wacked out whole body Tourettes or something.

Anyhow, as I sat there with my book and my yogurt I noticed a man sleeping on the park bench next to me. Being the brilliant person I am, it occurred to me that there was a good chance he was cold as well. True, he was a little better equipped than me – he had a coat, at least, which was draped over his body - , but still, it was mid-day and I didn’t anticipate it getting any warmer after sundown. If anything, I figured it would get colder. Now I’m not an expert on homelessness, but it did not appear to me that this man was sleeping on the park bench because it looked like a good nap spot. It looked like he could be there all night. I thought to myself that if he was there all night he was going to get mighty chilly before morning.

You know how sometimes a thought gets in your head and you don’t know how it got there? And you know how sometimes when that thought gets lodged in there, you can’t do anything about it? You simply have to do whatever the thought is telling you. You just have to. There’s no explaining it, but you are powerless not to. Well, this thought entered my head that I should give this man the blanket in my trunk. And once the thought took hold, there wasn’t a whole lot I could do about it. It got lodged, and I just had to get that blanket. Problem was, when I went to the trunk, there was no blanket. I don’t know where the blanket was, but it was definitely not in my trunk. It was also not in the back seat of the car, the front seat of the car, underneath a stack of books, or under the seat. The ever-elusive blanket was nowhere to be found. There was nothing I could do.

I went back to the park bench and finished my yogurt. I moped. I had random shiver-fits. I felt sad about the man sleeping alone and cold on the bench next to me. I moped more. Then a new thought got into my head from seemingly nowhere and took over where the last one left off. This new thought told me that I had to – had to – come back to the park that night and give away all my extra blankets. “Okay,” I told the random thought, which may or may not have actually been God. Then I stopped moping, gathered myself up, and went back to work.

When my husband (who will from this point be known as ‘D’) got home from work I asked him if he’d like to go give away our blankets to homeless people tonight. I even said please to further entice him. He gave me that look he has – the what the hell did I get myself into when I married this crazy chick anyhow look – the same one he gave me when I took him to the SPCA to get Dingo, in fact, if you happen to know that story – and said, “But what if they rob and kill you?”

I gave him my look – the why does everyone expect me to be so fucking balanced?! look, and said, “Well, then I guess I’ll be broke and dead.”

He was not amused.

After much bartering which included promises about the whereabouts of my purse, the length of time I would be out, and the wearing of durable running shoes, D agreed to prowl the park with me. We gathered up the blankets together, making compromises on what to keep and what to give away. We left the house with three pretty heavy duty blankets. Not those fleece throws or anything, but good, heavy, comforter-type blankets. I have no idea why we had this magnitude of spare blankets, but it’s what we found, so we headed out.

First we went back to the park. There was not another living soul in that park. I don’t think there was even a squirrel there, it was so quiet. I started to question the random thought that had brought me there. However, D was encouraging and suggested that we head over to Headwaters Park. Surely there would be someone at Headwaters Park who needed a blanket, he assured me. After all, the park is like a mile long with all kinds of dark corners people might want to sleep in.

We roamed the park for the next half hour or so, but the only people we found were two teenagers on rollerblades. Wearing coats. We couldn’t do anything for them. Feeling discouraged and somewhat pissed off at the random thought for dragging me out here all night without supplying me any blanketless homeless people, I wanted to go home. But D said he thought he saw some people over at the bus station and that it was surely too late to still be waiting for a bus. I considered this. He was referring to the city busses, so it certainly was too late for them to be running. We decided to walk by the bus station on the way back to the car. Turns out, there were people sleeping there. There were three of them – just the number of blankets we had. However, we’d left one blanket back in the car because it was hard for us to carry all three of them all the way around the park. One man at the bus station had a blanket, so we decided to give the other two blankets to the two guys who didn’t have anything. It was all nice and good and we gave the blankets away and headed for the car.

When we got to the car we had huge internal debates over whether to head back with our remaining blanket and give it to the man who already had a blanket. He might not need the blanket at all. He might really need it. For all we knew, his blanket had holes or was worn thin. What to do? We decided to head back to the bus stop. When we got there, there was a new man sitting alone, looking very lonely and very, very homeless. I approached him instead of Mr.-I-already-have-a-blanket with blanket #3. This is what ensued:

I asked the man if he wanted a blanket. He nodded yes. I held the blanket out to him. He didn’t move at all. He just looked up at me and stared. I started unfolding the blanket, figuring that maybe I could put it on him. He just sat there and stared. I got the blanket all the way unfolded and reached down to put the blanket around him. I got him all covered up in it and looked back at him. He was still staring. His eyes were the saddest eyes I’d ever seen. I reached to him and I hugged him and told him to take care and hopefully have a better day tomorrow. When I looked at his eyes again, he was crying.

This man never said a word to me. Not one word. He never moved except to nod that he wanted the blanket. That was it. But there was something in him that told me he hurt – that told me he needed that hug – it was something in his sad eyes.

I left the bus station with D and thought about the man for a long time. I thought about the way human contact is so precious – about the way the man had cried when I hugged him. I thought about the way I felt so connected to life – about how kindness is so powerful. When I went to the bus station that night, I gave a man a blanket. A stupid blanket. I didn’t change his life – I didn’t give him a place to sleep or a house to call home or a family to love or food to eat. I gave him a stupid blanket. But I cling to the hope that I maybe gave him a little something more – maybe hope that things can be better – maybe just a glimmer of faith in humanity – maybe just a little spark in his tired heart that was reminded what it was like to be loved for a moment. And when I left the bus station that night, I had gained something, too. I learned right then that I just need to listen to the random thoughts in my head more often – that I shouldn’t let fear rule me so much and that when I feel led to love somebody in some way to just do it, already! It was a practice in obedience, showering me with grace. And when I left the bus station I marveled at the beauty of human touch and the power it has to draw us out of ourselves and into another.

This story is about a night when I learned a little bit more about what its like to be alive and human and in a constant state of growth. This is my takeaway.