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America Essay Pt IV The Big Cross & The Hairy Hand
America Essay Pt IV The Big Cross & The Hairy Hand
The morning finds me driving through the endless Texas flatlands. Through miles and miles of straight-arrow highways that are lined on each side by tall corn stalks.
In Texas they don’t go for any of that commie-public radio nonsense. The only things I can find on the dial are hellfire and brimstone preachers screaming that Armageddon is nigh upon us. “God hates America,” they enthusiastically proclaim. The previous day’s horrors are all due to homosexuals, abortions, and other assorted perversions that the city of sin revels in.
I had to admit that I’ve done bit of reveling in some of those same sins they were likely referring to. But boy, Allah was out to get us, Christ had us in his crosshairs, one could only assume that Moses, Buddha and Krishna must be a little pissed off at us as well. America was in deep shit according to the holier‒than-thou mindset.
I suppose given the cataclysmic events that had befallen us that we could only expect such behavior from backwoods evangelists, but I felt exhausted by their venom. I tried to be amused by their over-the-top diatribes, but soon flicked off the radio in disgust.
I am so sick of hate and prejudice and intolerance. The dream the hippies once proclaimed of a world that lived in peace and harmony only brings a bitter taste to my mouth.
As we begin the new millennium hate rules the day. And sadly, it was all brought into being by flag-waving politicians and religious fanatics pointing fingers of accusation. Meanwhile the whole lousy bunch of them were busy lining their pockets with silver and gold. And of course with petro-dollars gleamed from the profits of Texas oil wells and kickbacks from corrupt Saudi princes. As Hitler wisely advised to all hopeful fascists, you have to give the people someone to hate.
When I was a small child I witnessed a race riot in our nation’s capital. We were at the zoo and my father was eager to leave, but I wanted to see the giant sea turtles. As I peered through the chain link fence and dreamed of riding heroically on top of one of the poor creatures, the sirens began to wail. My father seemed to panic.
“I told you we have to get the hell out of here. Now get to the car.”
By the time we got out of the parking lot it was utter chaos. The only white people to be seen where the police and firemen. Entire blocks seemed to be burning. I saw a black man walking with his body covered with a blood-soaked towel. A woman chased a man down the street screaming as she tried to beat him with a mop handle.
“Don’t look at anyone,” my father warned.
I sat frozen with fear, staring straight ahead underneath my mother’s arm. As we searched for the shortest route out of the city, on every block someone seemed to yell, “Hey white face!” at us. I had never known this kind of terror before.
“Fuckin’ niggers, they’re just like a bunch of animals,’ my father cursed.
“Oh dad, don’t use that word,” my much older at 16, big sister pleaded.
In my child’s mind I thought that things like this didn’t happen in America. It was a shock and an awakening. I didn’t really understand what it was all about, but even at that tender age I knew that whatever the hate was that these people expressed by calling us ‘white face,’ and my father expressed by using that ‘N’ word, I wasn’t a part of it. I didn’t make any sense to me and I wanted nothing to do with any of it.
I liked people. It was that plain and simple. Besides, I thought Christie Love was kind of pretty. And sometimes her white slacks and tight tops made me feel a little embarrassed, although I didn’t understand why.
About this time I noticed a sign on a telephone pole that read “The biggest cross in America. Turn right 2.3 miles.”
The biggest cross in America? How could I say no to that? Soon the cornfields gave way to a clearing and with a quick right turn the cross came into view. I pulled off and got out of the Blazer. It was a perfect morning. The skies were crystal clear.
I walked up to the gargantuan crucifix and looked straight up. “Damn, that is one big cross,’ I thought to myself. I sat on one of the railroad ties that marked the parking spaces and meditated on the beautiful weather and why there were so many big things in America. Already I had seen a big cross, a big peach, a big shoe, and more than one big hot dog. And what was more perplexing was why I couldn’t resist pulling off the highway to look at them, look at them for about 30 seconds before I lost all interest.
A red van pulled up and a bald, round faced priest got out and began doing his morning absolutions. He nodded to me with a warm smile. His face radiated kindness, not a hint of judgment.
Often when considering political candidates I wonder if I met them whether they would like me personally. I somehow imagine that no matter who you are, the simplest peasant or the mightiest tycoon, that Bill Clinton would sit down and have a beer with you, and be genuinely interested in the details of your life.
Judging from his public statements, if I met George Bush and he knew the sordid secrets of my life he would condemn me to the fires of hell. But more likely he would smile to my face then condemn me with the contempt of a spoiled frat boy once my back was turned.
Meanwhile the priest was picking up bits of litter left by yesterday’s tourists with a peaceful smile on his face. He reminds me that sometimes you meet Christians who actually embody the best ideals of that philosophy. People who live with peace in their hearts and have good will towards all they meet. People who would never be the one to cast the first stone.
When I have had the good fortune meet one of these rare pure-spirited Christians, I have always made a fast friend. What they responded to above all else was mutual respect and good will towards others. I could be Satan in black jeans, but if you showed yourself to possess these basic virtues they would never speak a word against you.
One such friend of mine, did away with religious intolerance with a single thought; “Well it only makes sense that God would reveal himself to other cultures with a face that looks like their own,” she casually explained her view to me.
It was such a simple thought, but hidden within it is an esoteric truth held sacred by the mystics of every religion since the first human asked himself, “Who am I.” A truth that allows the Buddhist and the Hindu to see the face of God in every living thing both plant and animal, and in every object on Earth and in the universe. A truth which if recognized by the religious leaders who preach hate and prejudice, would suddenly melt their hearts and inspire them to bring a message of unity to the world.
Unfortunately too many men of the cloth only see God bleeding from crosses or sealed up safely behind church doors. The material world is the devil’s playground and holds nothing sacred. All else is heresy and all who don’t believe as they do are heretics.
Back on the highway Texas merged into New Mexico without much notice. It was hours of cornfields, nameless towns filled with chain stores and strip malls. Each one looking just like the other. Each one with its own McDonalds, Wendys, Lowes, Barnes and Nobles, Staples, KFC, Wal Mart and the list goes on.
Between these nondescript hamlets I passed the occasional oil rig churning in the distance, or fields of cattle who always looked much angrier than the good natured Holsteins that provide milk and butter to the good folks of rural Pennsylvania.
Back in territory where I could get civilized radio, all of NPR’s normal programming was cancelled to focus solely on the events of 9/11, as it was now being called.
The entire country was in mourning. The newswoman explained that all through yesterday New York City’s hospitals were at full staff expecting to be overwhelmed with patients. By evening it became clear that none were coming. Throughout the day rescue workers were searching for survivors, but were finding very few. In the pit underneath the debris a hot fire continued to burn. In time this fire would have a profound effect on my life.
Between newsbreaks callers told their stories of loss and heartbreak. They vented their anger and tried to make sense of the senseless.
One woman from Arizona told a story of her sister who was working in the tower. She got a last call from her on her cell phone. She was walking down the stairs trying to escape from the burning building. Despite the danger she was lighthearted and joked that she was going to die for America. A few seconds later she screamed as the sound of the building collapsing made the line go dead.
Call after call, it was a nationwide therapy session that would continue for months to come.
For me, it was the trip of a lifetime and I was trying to enjoy it as much as possible, but my mind was in a thick fog. I felt as if a wet blanket had been placed over my body making it hard to move my limbs. It was the deepest mourning I had ever experienced. Worse than when my mother died.
It was also a strange time to see America. It was America at half-mast. America frightened, wounded, angry. An America whose citizens often imagine that we are all-good, and therefore beloved by the world. An America suddenly realizing we had mortal enemies, and an America being forced to ask ‘why.’
It could have been a time of national introspection. A time to reconsider the tangled web of mid-east policy that brought us to this place. A policy filled with deals made with devils who we deceived ourselves into calling friends. The entire mess leading to oil. Founded on oil, awash in oil, polluted by oil.
If it wasn’t for oil we wouldn’t pay any more attention to the Mid-east than we do to Africa. (Which we totally ignore.) Unfortunately our entire economy and our nation’s very survival depends on Saudi oil. And a wise statesman knows that any friend that you are that dependent on, is a potential enemy. Until we deal with the fundamental problem of our dependence on Saudi oil, America will never be safe and secure.
It could have been a time to look at the big picture and fix this problem that underlies so much of our foreign policy. It could have been a time to make a major shift in our nation’s priorities and focus our resources and technical prowess on finding new sources of energy so we can finally stand on our own two feet and end our dependence on dubious allies.
Those that were listening closely would soon learn that the Saudis were dictators nearly as bad as Saddam Hussein, and were 100 times more involved with the terrorists who carried out 9/11 than Iraq was. On the very night of 9/12/2005 the Saudi ambassador, often called ‘Bandar Bush’ by the first family because of his close ties with the clan, stood on the balcony of the white house smoking cigars with the president. It would soon be discovered that even the ambassador’s wife had unknowingly donated money to Saudi charities that ended in the hands of the terrorists who brought down the towers.
This could have been a time of hope and new direction for America, but too quickly it became evident that instead of looking at the big picture we would focus on the small picture. While it was only right that we would go after the terrorists, it was the ultimate failure of vision and leadership that it became our only focus. Meanwhile our leaders would continue to ignore the big issues that kept us entangled in the worsening Mid-east quagmire.
It was a long stretch of driving at one go. When I finally arrived in Albuquerque it was well into the afternoon. As soon as I got there I liked the place. It had the youthful energy of a college town. The main drag was filled with bookstores and poetry soaked coffee houses. For the first time on the trip I thought, “This is a place I could live for awhile.”
I drove around a bit looking for something to explore. I was looking for something a little off the edge. Something to make me forget the newscasts of death and destruction. There were no signs of nightclubs or bars in the area. No small time drug dealers or prostitutes to mingle with. Not even any homeless vagabonds or afternoon alcoholics to converse with.
Finally I settled for an adult ‘gift shop.’ Inside a few shoppers milled around looking at DVDs and girlie mags. On the back wall was a row of video booths from which could be heard the moans and groans of cheap porn movies.
I walked into one of the booths and slipped a few quarters into the slot. The 12 inch screen flashed on and I pushed a big red button switching through the video selection.
I have always found porn movies pretty boring. Actually I find them pretty distasteful. I’m not sure why, but men’s idea of erotic material usually strikes me as ugly. Most of the porn movies I’ve seen feature some big mustached guido pummeling a worn out stripper with so many man-made body parts that she’s one or two operations away from being categorized as a bionic woman. I like the idea of erotic films, but porn movies don’t really do it for me.
Despite this I was committed to going through with the experience. I chose a lesbian scene that wasn’t too gruesome and unzipped my pants and began masturbating in the privacy of the small booth. My half-interest in the video was reflected in my half-erect response to it.
As I went about my project, I failed to notice that there was a small round hole in the right wall of the booth, which served as a peephole into next booth. But a few moments later I was very surprised to see a large hairy hand reaching through the hole into my booth. Startled by the intrusion I instinctively jumped backwards against the door of the booth, which swung wide open, throwing me further off balance. I fell three steps backwards before catching myself. By the time I came to a stop I was standing in the middle of the shopping area with my pants unzipped and my penis bounding around like a deranged jack in the box clown.
I think everyone in the room was just about as shocked to see me suddenly standing there, as I was to find myself standing there. The shoppers glared at me with furrowed brows. The large man behind the counter yelled out, “Whoa, there cowboy, you got that thing under control?’
Without answering I zipped my pants and tried to make a dignified beeline for the door. Out in the fresh air I thought, “I guess there’s another side to these jerk-off booths that I wasn’t aware off.”
I left the car behind in the parking lot and began walking alongside the highway. After the unseemly events at the gift shop, I decided that perhaps some slightly more conventional form of entertainment might be what I need. A few blocks up I found something that fit the bill perfectly. It was a large country fair on the other side of the street.
I walked around the fair trying to get a sense of the place and the people. Of all the places I’ve seen in America, New Mexico seems to have the highest ratio of Native American people. Of course with the mixing of whites, Latinos, and Indians, it is pretty hard to tell exactly who is what.
I walked through the animal exhibitions. It was a best of the barnyard competition. I saw prize winning goats, rabbits, sheep, chickens, ducks, and a few local rodents I couldn’t really identify.
I watched a troupe of Chinese acrobats who were so impressive that I assumed they must have fallen on hard times to be performing in such a place. I watched the mayor hand out good citizen awards to local boy scouts. I ate carnival food at picnic tables with overweight couples and noisy teens.
Overall it was a grand old time. If you want to see the people of America, here they were, in folk costumes of blue jeans and faded T-shirts, without pretension and in their natural habitat. Walking around one heard carnival barkers calling out from every direction, amusement park rides whizzed up and down and around and around, cåhildren gorged themselves on funnel cakes and candy cotton, teenage girls displayed their newly discovered sexuality with jittery giggles.
Peering at the sights I thought; this is America. And although I might be immersed in it, surrounded by it, although I might love it or hate it, I would never really feel a part of it. Somehow I would always feel like an alien, like a voyeur studying a strange culture from which I was born, yet which I could never fully understand.
The biggest shock of the county fair was the art show. I have attended a lot of art openings in my day. New York City is supposed to be the capital of great art and avant guard ideas. Yet the art I see there usually bored me to tears. It usually looks like the artists aren’t really trying too hard.
New conceptual ideas are a thing of the glorious past. Worse yet, the artists don’t seem to have anything they want to express personally or politically. The put about as much effort into their art as they did the kindergarten finger-paintings that their mothers proudly displayed on their refrigerator doors. And with a confidence in their own genius bestowed by these same mothers, they expect fame and fortune should be handed to them in exchange for their modicum of effort.
Over time I have learned to approach art with low expectations. To my surprise the art at the county fair was astounding. The best of it seemed to come from pure childlike inspiration. No thought of celebrity, just art created fro the sake of creation.
Among the works were religious sculptures made from worn out wooden fence posts and barbed wire that had an eerie voodoo feeling about them. There were paintings on windows and pottery in regional American Indian patterns.
It is hard to articulate what separates great art from mediocre art, but when you see it, you can feel it in your bones. I was so excited I went and found the curator of the exhibition.
“This is great,” I said enthusiastically. “You’ve got to show this in New York City. People would love it.”
She responded with a friendly response, but seemed to think I was a little nutty.
I left inspired and hopeful. There is something purifying to experience artistic inspiration. It is to glimpse the primal source. It is like discovering the simple insights sometimes found when speaking with small children. Or like the moment when a person who will soon become a lover, first opens up their soul to you during a long night of conversation.
The world is full of bullshit. Truth and passion are such rare commodities, that just a little taste can restore one’s vigor for life, and belief in the world.