Monday, July 4, 2011

I heard there was a secret chord...

I'm a few days late with this, but it's been a busy weekend. And you don't even read this thing anyway, so shut up, you.

I have had the pleasure of being within spitting distance of three of my personal heroes in my life. (In terms of famous-type people. I have plenty of everyday heroes I see regularly. Hello there, you peoples. You're alright by me.) The first was ten years ago, when I saw George Carlin in Atlantic City just a few months before 9/11. A friend and I drove the four hours from Worcester and got sit in the third row and see him do a bit on the end of the world that he wouldn't do again until years later, when we all finally realized that entropy and gallows humor were still funny, terrorism be damned.

The second was in 2008, when my wife and I saw Tom Waits at a club in Dallas during his "Glitter and Doom" tour. Another four hour trip. The place was miserable, hot, and the lack of any actual seating meant we were pressed up against the stage by a crush of bodies the entire night, but it was amazing nonetheless. And the third was Friday at the Paramount Theater in Austin (this time driving only a little over three hours) when we saw Tim Minchin.

I stumbled on Tim's unique brand of madness via The Friendly Atheist, where a commenter had posted a link to "If You Open Your Mind Too Much, Your Brain Will Fall Out (Take My Wife)." I knew then that this weird Aussie with crazy hair and no shoes was someone worth some serious attention. I got hold of everything I could one way or another (illegal downloading is wrong, kids. You wouldn't download a pizza, would you? Actually, I totally would. That'd be some serious Back to the Future II shit, right there.) over the course of a few weeks, turned my wife and a few others on to him, and slowly developed a tiny obsession. Very few people espouse the worldview I hold in such a clever, thoughtful and razor-sharp way. Even fewer can do it while making me laugh.

We got decent enough seats, at first, a few weeks ago. It was a relatively small venue, so there'd be no "bad" seats, per se, so I was ridiculously excited. Then my amazing velp (Vaginally Endowed Life Partner, for those of you who don't share my quirky passions) surprised me with 2nd row center seats that the theater had just happened to release on the day she checked their site on a whim. Fate? Not bloody likely. But an awesome stroke of luck nonetheless. And so, I was left practically turgid with antici...pation. This also left us with a couple of extra tickets, which we gave to some friends we'd been visiting. They'd never heard of Tim before, but after one song we'd got two more converts. This reinforces what I've been saying to you people all along: You should like the things that I like, because they're good. And the things you like are terrible. Stop that.

After a drink at a trendy Japanese restaurant (one of Austin's main natural resources, apparently, bested only by hipsters. Coincidence? I dunno. Post hoc ergo propter hoc might be in play there, but it's really hard to ignore.) across the way from the theater (we found out shortly after that Tim had most likely been there only moments before we were. I've gotta work on my stalking skills. Apparently, I'm a bit rusty), we shuffled in. The seats were better than I'd hoped for, and Tim came out with a couple of "Oh hey, guys. Didn't know you were here. Well, best get to my piano," sort of head nods, and went immediately into "Rock and Roll Nerd." Things went a bit fuzzy for me after that. There were so many of my favorites, for sure. Getting to hear "Storm" performed live may be one of the highlights of my year. Before I knew it, more than two hours had passed.

I'd heard and knew every lyric for every song beforehand ("Obsession," remember? Check your DSM IV.), but I still laughed genuinely until it hurt. He looked a bit exhausted at the start (simply an affectation or not, I don't know, but it seemed genuine), but he still played his heart out and rocked our fucking asses. And, in Texas no less, (Austin's still Texas, no matter what they like to tell you there) he sang "Thank You God," and "The Pope Song." Short of a sing-a-long to "I Love Jesus," I couldn't have asked for more.

He ended with two encores (three, if you count "Second Encore"). The first was "White Wine in the Sun," one of the most beautiful Christmas songs ever, and one that hits particularly close to someone who now lives thousands of miles from home. Absolutely amazing, and I'm not too proud to admit I teared up a bit. But the best, for me, was yet to come.

The last song of the evening was a rendition of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah." Already one of my favorites and one that my wife and I danced to at our wedding (the Jeff Buckley version, which was the one Tim did), this sent us completely over the moon. One of my fellow attendees put it best outside of the theater shortly after, saying something like "Only Tim could get a room full of a thousand atheists to sing along to "Hallelujah." During our harmonizing, Tim remarked "Oh, that's delicious." As one of my fellow "angry-feeters" put it, "Why yes, Tim. Yes it was." 

Thursday, June 30, 2011

So you wanna live in paradise?

I'm seeing Tim Minchin in Austin tomorrow. And my amazing wife has procured 2nd row seats. I really don't have much else to say. This is the most fantastic news I've had in awhile. A full, gushing report is sure to follow.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

And the gods go begging here...

It's certainly been awhile since my last post, and for that I apologize, both to anyone that reads this blog o' mine (there can't be many, certainly, but there may be one or two. I'll call you guys Daves. Sorry, Daves.) and to myself, for a writer must write to be called a writer. Otherwise, (s)he's just one of those overly touchy intellectual types that enjoys nothing more than correcting the use of "your" and "you're" on cork board notices and sleeping on the couch after using the word "actually" one too many times in the presence of his or her spouse. Anyway, off to the races we go, firing on all cylinders, and mixing our metaphors like so much jell-o pudding!*

I promise, dear readers, that I'm not intentionally using this medium solely as a sounding board for my confusion with and dislike of religion, however much to the contrary it may seem these days. I want to tell you all about the wonderful book or movie or cartoon show I'm currently super into (I plan on filling PAGES, --or...rows or columns...however one gauges space on these things--just on the awesomeness of  H. Jon Benjamin -fellow Worcesterite and irreverent mad genius-  and Archer some time soon, I promise), or rant unintelligibly for far too long on just why the Ninja Turtles were better than Thundercats (hint: read the titles. Seriously, they're NINJA. TURTLES. That is all. For now.), or why it is pancakes are almost always better in memories than at breakfast, I really really do. But...well, I live in Texas these days, and even here in Houston where it's relatively hip and progressive, there are lots more churches than, say, museums or record stores ("Same thing," I hear you say. Shut up, you kids. With your damn...Pac-Man.) or cool dive bars. By a terrifyingly wide margin. So, I'm exposed to a lot more of that good, old fashioned "My God can beat up your God" religion than I care to be, and it tends to steam my broccoli something fierce a lot of the time. So, here we go again...

I work in some aspect of the service industry (let us leave it at that for fear of prying eyes), and a week or two ago, a semi-regular customer of mine came in. As I'm helping said gentleman, who really seems to be a genuinely nice dude as far as I can tell, he notices my wedding ring. He asks me how long I've been married, striking up small-talk while waiting, near as I can figure. I tell him, and we chat for a bit. Erelong (that's right, I said it), he gets a little personal, and I get a little cagey, honestly thinking he may be hitting on me (I'm a good-looking, personable, slightly fey kind of guy, it's happened before). He then proceeds to ask me, "So, are you a Christian?"

Now, I've been asked this question many times before in many different situations, and it's always uncomfortable. But I'm a lot more at peace with and proud of my theological choices than I used to be, so I don't hesitate anymore; "No, I'm not," I say. "I was raised nominally Christian, but I haven't been one in any sense for a long time." (or something along those lines. I really don't talk that poofy during idle chatter, I swear.) Dude then says "Please don't be offended," (Here it comes, I think), "but would you mind if I prayed to God and asked him to bless your marriage? I feel like I'm being called to do so." Threw me a curve ball with that one; when people ask if they can pray for me, it's usually to fix my funny walk. But, as I've said before, I don't mind being prayed for so much as being prayed at. And I told him so, to which he replied "I hear ya. Most people who think they know God don't really know anything." I agreed with him 100% on that one. So basically, I said "Knock yourself out, man. It's no skin off my nose." And he did, right there in a commercial setting, he asked God to bless my wife and I. I thanked him for the kind words and he went on his way. And that, I thought, was the end of that. Of course, by now I ought to know better.

Today, the gentleman comes in again, and I greet him, and we chat a bit once again, and he asks how life's treating me and how my wife is doing. Now, under normal, polite small talk rules, this is a perfectly nice thing to ask, but I know and he knows that he really isn't interested in how we're doing simply to be nice; he wants vindication of his prayer. And as much as I don't believe in curses or bad juju, and as much as the twisted little place inside me thinks it'd be hilarious to say "We're not so good, dude. My wife recently died in a circus-related accident and I just found out that I have advanced syphilis. The smell was terrible in both situations," on the minuscule chance there may be something to it, I don't want to bring down that kind of fury on us. So, I settle for "We're great, man, thanks for asking!" To which he replies --with the kind of self-satisfied smirk I reserve for when I get less than half the questions on an episode of Jeopardy wrong-- "I had a feeling. That's great to hear." I should have let it go there. But something in me has to get the last word in these types of encounters, even if it's just LITERALLY the last word, and even if that word is "Garbledina." (if you have to ask, it's better that you don't know). So, I said "Thanks for the good thoughts!" with a tone of finality and turned to go about my business. He then said "You're welcome, of course..." pause for effect..."but its more than that."

Of course I sussed out what he was implying. I'm an expert at reading people, after all. I'm like Tim Roth in Lie to Me. (or so I assume. That show seems just...just awful.) That, and it was about as subtle as a drunken frat boy asking a co-ed what she's interested in while he's actively trying to remove her bra. "It's more than that. (read: GOD IS SO AWESOME, ISN'T IT GREAT THAT HE ANSWERED MY PRAYER AND MADE YOUR LIFE SO AWESOME? YOU SHOULD AGREE WITH ME!!!!!!!!!!!!)" Give or take a few exclamation points, for sure. And it's that implication, one I've heard quite often, that gets my goat (And it was my last goat, man! What if I need that goat for...strategic goat purposes?! I know its a misquote, but I can't think of one with sheep.).

Of course our lives aren't better because we've put in the effort, it seems to say. Things aren't going well because I work long hours to ensure we can pay our bills and have nice things and my wife didn't get an awesome new job because she's an intelligent, creative person who impressed her interviewers; who spent years learning her craft and who operates regularly on levels I can't even begin to understand. No, that's just silly. It's because some people made mumbled requests to an ill-defined creator who, as luck would have it, is the right one to ask out of literally THOUSANDS that have come before and since. Duh.

Let me now address the generality of people who try to convert me (or anyone else, for that matter) with these sorts of arguments: I am not an atheist by choice. At least, not in the sense of "I think I'll wear flannel today and also not believe in god." (I won't do either of these things for the same reason, incidentally: They just don't look good on me.) It is the end result of a process spanning much of my life. I believed for a long time, I truly did. I even thought about being a priest for awhile, I was that committed to it. But somewhere along the way, I started thinking truly critically about the whole thing. And at every turn, it just didn't make sense to me anymore. It became a tattered flag that was waved around by people (many of them lovely, caring individuals) who couldn't see how many holes it had in it. And it fell apart when I tried to grab it again. And I did try, again and again (I still have some accoutrement from my Wiccan phase, my last silly venture into the supernatural. Meh, I like incense well enough.). Eventually, I realized there was nothing left of it for me and I found meaning elsewhere. All around me, strangely enough. The world and the universe it lives in are as fucking awesome as they ever were, only now I don't thank a god for it all, I'm just amazed at how insanely lucky I am, how lucky we all are, that things came together just so. And I want to figure out as much of how that happened as I can, because it's fascinating, and because it led to me sitting here typing this, and it led to the beer I'm going to have in a moment, and the Jaffa Cake I'll enjoy with it. And the wife I'll fall asleep with, and the corned beef we'll have on St. Paddy's day, and so on and so on...It's the coolest mystery of all, only it's not the "moves in mysterious ways" kind of mystery. It's more like Cosmic Clue; you can figure it out if you've got the right evidence ("The Gravitational Singularity did it in the Planck Epoch with the Big Bang!"). So, to sum up, generality of bible-thumpers: I'm an atheist because I have to be, in order to be true to my own brain. You won't change my mind any more than I'll change yours. So please, stop trying and let's just enjoy all this awesome stuff together.

As a little post-script, since I know I come off really harsh on religion and the religious a lot of the time, I'd like to say (yet again) that I have absolutely nothing against people of faith. Many of you I know very well, many of you I like, some of you I love very much. You are my friends and family and sometimes that really cool old guy I saw at Target one day, the one rocking a fedora and a flame-tipped cane who is more bad ass than I can ever hope to be. I enjoy laughing with you, arguing with you, and generally just being alive at the same time you are. I take the religious as I take anyone else: one by one, and based on their actions. And most of you are just fine by me.

Incidentally, today's title is a lyric from Tom Waits' "Hoist That Rag." It's a wonderful meditation on the realities of being a soldier, but I think the title of the song and the specific lyric tie in nicely with my "tattered flag" metaphor of a few paragraphs ago. I know they say that if you have to explain it, you didn't do it right, but give me a break, I'm proud of it.

*For the record, I love serial commas almost as much as pudding. Both lend a sense of civility to any occasion, both are delicious, and you should relish any opportunity to put either one wherever you possibly can. Especially  Even your pants.

Monday, January 17, 2011

We're just f**king monkeys in shoes...

Despite much of this rambling, silly, dark and twisted space of mine giving evidence to the contrary, I'm a big fan of the human race. Admittedly, we are, at least physically, far from the most interesting animals on the planet. Sharks have all those rows of teeth, for example. I've just got the one row, and it doesn't even deal with jerky all that well.Tigers, zebras, moths, and loads of other kinds of animals have natural camouflage so perfect, you'd swear it had to be fake, while I could never seem to last more than five minutes into a game of hide-and-seek.  I've seen a horse relieve itself (with both a wee and a two-sie) quite comfortably while running at full speed. If you find me pooping while sprinting, it's a safe bet I'm anything BUT comfortable. It means I'm either being chased by a maniac or have recently made a very regrettable decision on where to have lunch. Even cats have a third eyelid, a fact of which I am happily ignorant most of the time, because eeew. And yes, I do realize that many, many animals have this trait, and we primates are the freaks for lacking it, but one of the benefits of being a dominant life form with the ability to communicate via language is that we get to decide what's gross. More to the point, I get to decide, since I'm better than you.

All the stuff I learned from Animal Planet aside, we humans are still pretty kick ass. We have the aforementioned language skills, so we can speak to one another of the wonders of the world, beauty, truth, and the disgusting, painfully sexual things we're going to do with each other's more attractive siblings and/or parents. We can write stuff like books and greeting cards and scrawl said disgusting, painfully sexual things on men's room walls. We have opposable thumbs (so do most primates, by the way), so we can hold tools and build neat things like houses, pianos, coat racks, chainsaws,  theater sets, skateboard ramps, burning crosses, and so on.

We are, each of us, full of incredible potential from the moment we realize that the world around us reacts to our presence, and that realization arms us with the knowledge that we can do stuff.

And we are aware of our own fragility on a level no other animal quite seems to reach. And that makes us both wonderful and terrible. It causes us to be cruel and kind, both of which are fascinating, one of which is sad (except the kid from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. That dude was kind AND sad.). For a lot of reasons, it is this awareness which makes us the most uniquely interesting creatures on this planet to me. Even more than platypi (though not by much. They're ducks covered in fur with tails like beavers and they lay eggs and are STILL mammals! Because fuck you, that's why.)

Yet, despite all the potential and all the fantastic abilities we possess, we mustn't forget our humble origins. We share a common ancestor with apes and monkeys some brief few million years ago, and with all mammals some few dozen million more before that. Go back a little further, and we magnificent creatures of the land were all fish-thingies with screwed up flippers that happened to be good for getting out of the water for short periods, away from other fish-thingies that wanted to eat us, up onto land where we could fornicate like crazy with all the other weird-flippered proto-fish-thingies. On and on, back to the first set of molecules that smashed itself together in just such a way, creating the first proteins, laying the groundwork for all that DNA we enjoy so much.

Look even a little closely at ourselves, and it's really not hard to spot the places we've come from. We wear clothes like peacocks wear feathers. We groom ourselves  like cats (well, some of us do; I personally haven't shaved in days.)  and fight like dogs over territory. We want to be warm and full, comfortable and safe. And we want to hump like crazy, just like every other living thing in existence (my asexually reproducing homies excepted, of course. Rock on, you funky amoeba. Err...Amoebas. Amoebee?). And really, it's that which makes us so goddamn rock. We can build a skyscraper, fly to space, make long distance telephone calls, write poems, tell great drunk stories, etc. etc. etc, and we still...well, we still just want to eat and sleep and have a place to call our own, so we can survive long enough to, you know, hump like crazy. We're just as connected to our furry brethren as they are to each other, and to us. In the words of someone who put it better than I just did, well before I did it, "We're just fucking monkeys in shoes."

Fuck I love boobs, though...