Inappropriate sharing, incomprehensible ramblings, uncalled-for hostility: yup, it's a blog.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Religious Rights

First of all, Waffles, our dog, feels the need to clean whatever surface upon which Greg and I have sex.

Perhaps we're bad parents. Perhaps we're bad trainers. But whenever sexual acts come to the natural end, and the involved parties disperse to clean off or straighten up, Waf emerges from wherever he's been hiding to sniff and lick and inspect.

It is his instinct, just as it is our instinct to poke and prod at bodies. Take them in. Pound them in.

Hard to say which is more gross: our instinct, or his.

Slippery slope.

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Recently, a friend told me that I don't get religion. I don't understand the moral value of religion, nor do I get the societal importance of it. He said this because I stated the only reason religious groups fuck around with charity is because of the mess religious doctrine creates. They're trying to fix their own mess.

The conversation went something like this:

"You didn't grow up with Jews, did you."

"I grew up across from the only temple in town. Dad wouldn't mow the grass on Saturday just because."

"Because what?"

"Because it seemed the polite thing to do. If religion didn't say You can't have birth control, think of all the work that wouldn't need to be done in Africa."

"Well, apartheid. Think of all the good the religion did to undo that."

"Why did apartheid exist in the first place?"

"Nederlanders are bastards."

Slippery slopes. It's not just for heathens.

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About the Jewish temple across the street from where I grew up: I was beaten to a pulp in the parking lot when I was 10. True!

Friends and I were goofing around, and I made a wise-ass remark, and some kid took it the wrong way. The kid jumped on me, and held me down, and repeatedly punched me in the mouth.

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I've said much worse things since then. No one has tried to punch me.

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Religion. My friend is probably right. I don't get it. I don't understand how normal people fall for it.

There's this ritual thing, of course. Bris, communion, ramadan,  baptism.... whatever the ritual, it seems counterproductive to the actual process of Deity-worship. Not to say I don't respect the effort--I am terrible with process and usually just look for the quickest way to an end--but all these ritualistic habits seem a bit much. Does Ash Wednesday truly afford one entrance to heaven? Snake-handling--is it a religious rite, or is it a parlor trick? Leaving an empty plate for Elijah--religious act, or just an excuse to disinvite an unwanted guest?

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Waf hides when sex happens. Which is a good thing--it is a private action between one or two or more, and we'd all really rather the dog not be up in our business. I feel the same way about religion.




Friday, July 6, 2012

Zen and the Art of Hoping the Maintenance Guy Knows What the Hell He is Doing

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The Coney Island Cyclone is a roller coaster that opened in 1927, when most people weren’t expected to live past the age of 45. Since most riders were already resigned to their early deaths, designers of the Cyclone were not much concerned with comfort, or user experience, or safety.

Instead, the designers were more concerned with word of mouth, to get people in line and to fill the coffers. After riding the Cyclone, one might work out the business model of the original Cyclone owners, Jack and Irving Rosenthal. The business model: The more people we put in the hospital with twisted spines and shattered pelvises, the more people will talk about the Cyclone, and the more people talk about the Cyclone, the more people will pay to have their spines twisted and their pelvises shattered.

A few years back, Greg and I took my little brother Alex to Coney Island. We went not long after the park had opened for the season, so there weren’t many people around—which means the good people at the Cyclone let us ride the menace several times in a row.  No waiting. Sit right where you are, sirs, and we’ll just shoot you around again. And again. And again.

Let me be clear: It is a fun roller coaster, if you drift into a Zen acceptance of mortality and fate upon being strapped in by the flimsy lap bar. As the track throws your caution to the sea breeze coming in from the Atlantic, the ride can be a thrilling and visceral test of your own will to live. You need only to relax a bit to allow your body to be thrown clear of the tracks and out into space. If you have even a slight desire to see the end of the ride, you will tense each muscle in your body, clutch any surface connected to the car, and trick your mind into thinking it is fun to be slammed, slapped, yanked, dropped, and propelled around like a loose sock in an unbalanced washing machine.

So yes, despite the brutal savaging of our bodies, Greg, Alex and I rode the Cyclone three or four times in a row.  It was fun.

It was also not without consequences. In 1927, when the coaster was built, America was more of a God-fearing nation, and did not believe in pleasure without pain. The Cyclone is a monument to that time: Enjoy me, the Cyclone says, but know that you will regret your enjoyment.

No wonder the same time period gave us Prohibition and the rise of J. Edgar Hoover.

Alex, in his late teens at the time, suffered only minimal collateral damage—in that his collar was bruised from slamming into the side of the car. Greg limped around for a few days from where one of the smaller hills of the track threw him full-force into the lap bar, then shoved him back into his seat. I’ve always had a bad neck, and the numerous runs around the Cyclone track undid years of chiropractic visits. Couldn’t turn my head without wincing for several months.

So naturally, when visiting Coney Island again yesterday, I couldn’t wait to get back on the Cyclone.

That’s a lie. I could wait. And I did wait. I insisted on saving it for last—but I insisted on riding it all the same.

Here’s the thing about the Cyclone: it is not passive amusement. And I’m not talking about the line-waiting or the hefty ticket-per-ride cost; the actual experience of getting into a car, strapping yourself down, and hurtling along a 80-plus year old track is different than going to Six Flags, say, or even a State Fair, and riding a roller coaster. In those more modern venues of amusement, one may be a passive participant—the rides are smoother, the harnesses stronger, the seats more cushioned and protective.

You can sit back and pretend you’re in danger even though you know you stand a more than reasonable good chance of exiting the ride without consequence, as if you’d never ridden at all.

The Cyclone leaves evidence of your amusement. You feel it in your joints for days after. Your skin reminds you of just how much fun you had by displaying bruises. Your muscles remind you of how badly you want to live to have more joy because they are in so much pain from clutching on for more life as you hurtle around the wooden track.

Yeah, Thoreau can toddle off to the woods to remind himself of living. I’ll take the bone-crushing, harsh-God treatment of the Cyclone.

Which is to say, maybe I’m old-fashioned: as much as I’d like to believe pleasure should come without consequences, I also believe that pleasure for pleasure’s sake quickly leads to laziness, complacence, and an inability to appreciate that moment when you’re suspended between the lap bar and the seat just before your pelvis crunches into the bar that is quickly followed by that moment your tail bone is slammed down into the seat again.

After the Cyclone, I was ready to enjoy the more sedate New York Aquarium. It takes brutal confrontation of permanent injury or even more permanent death to help one appreciate the other creatures scuttling around on the same planet.

We're all in this together. Humans, I think, are the only ones who need reminders of this.

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