Thursday, July 28, 2005


Fishin' Ain't Catchin'

I’ve been in and out of a funk for too much of the summer. I’ve been trying to sell my house since spring with only a couple of tire-kickers showing any interest. My beloved Doc will probably retire soon, and I’ll be looking for other work. I haven’t done anything remotely vacation-ish this summer; I’ve just been working to maintain the house that swallows up what money I make. I don't even live there anymore.

After a particularly difficult night, which followed a perfectly miserable day, I felt that this morning called for some sort of intervention, some effort at a boost. I downed my meds, ate a proper breakfast, and decided that my Maddie-dog and I would begin our day with a hike at a local wildlife preserve.

The trail starts with a loop around a pond. There, perched on a folding chair, was a fellow with his fishing pole. He was a barrel-bellied guy wearing a cap that said, Born to fish, forced to work, and a t-shirt with a rainbow trout on it.

“What do you get from this pond?” I asked him.

“Not much.” He shrugged. “Fishin ain’t catchin, anyhow.” He waited for us to pass and then chucked in his line.

It was a beautiful morning, but my heart was heavy anyway. I’d had a discouraging interview with a new real estate agent yesterday. She’d presented me with a lot of data as to why my house wasn’t selling. What was the point? I’d been wondering. The house is about all I have that’s worth anything. I’d changed to her office in hopes of more innovative marketing and had instead been advised to lower the price—again. It seemed that it would never sell, that I’d be stuck in New England forever, that I’d have too little with which to build my house on the Oregon coast. Buzzard luck.

Still, Maddie and I plodded along, one foot in front of the other. We slipped through the dappled light that the sun cast through the trees, climbing. Just what I needed, I knew. Push, push. Let those endorphins kick in.

Later, as we came back to the beginning of the trail, our fisherman was still there.
“Just what do they stock this pond with?” I asked him.

They don’t.” he said, meaning the Fish and Game people.

“So, do you ever catch anything?”

He lifted the lid to his bucket. In it were three big bass. “I think the guy at the bait place put some in. I’ve gotten big perch here, too.”

For someone who didn’t depend on catchin to be fishin, he was doing all right.

When I got home, another wave of depression rolled in. I called my friend Robin to push past the loneliness. Our conversation picked me up enough to get me out the door and into the office. I spent a fair enough afternoon doing some work, then headed for the garden to weed the roses.

There’s a sign in our kitchen: “When the world wearies and ceases to satisfy, there is always the garden.” I sank the garden claw into the devil grass that invaded the rose hedge, worked in handfuls of blood meal, and soaked the shrubs. Ahhhh. Maddie chased after the ball and finally sank into some shade on my neighbor’s lawn while I worked.

Finally I looked up to find my darlin’ watching me. “Did you forget about the show tonight?”

I had. For a moment I thought I wanted to stay with the rest of the roses, but this was Ruthie Foster in an outdoor venue where lots of little kids would be running around and tangling themselves in the hammocks near the stage while their folks got some music. Ruthie Foster from Texas playing some blues. The roses would be there tomorrow.

God, she was good. The publicity compared her to Aretha and Ella. In Vermont, the whitest state in the union, I think that means She’s black and she sings really well. Whatever the labels, she was great. That sweetness, that range, that intensity set me free. She played a great guitar. She did a nice little riff on her church back home, the Amen Corner, the preacher, her uncle’s piano playing--funny and kind. I bought both her CDs.

I think I need to focus more on what I do have: someone who reads me poems morning and night, songs that sail the summer breezes, roses that bloom, are pruned, and bloom again, friends who trigger my laughter, even a good guitar of my own to play.

From satisfaction in these things will come whatever buckets of bass we need.

Thursday, July 14, 2005


Living on Tulsa Time

Got an email-forward from a friend the other day defending the Ten Commandments, and posting them, I presume, in government-sponsored locations. It cited Ben Franklin, Tom Jefferson, James Madison and other FF’s on the key role the Commandments played in the founding of our country. Besides, the email concluded, since about 85 per cent of the American people believe in God, those Godless few should just shut up about the whole thing. The email then challenged us to forward the email if we agreed with it, and to delete it if we belonged to that godless minority.

I deleted it, with all due respect to the friend who sent it to me.

However the public feels about belief in God, I find the Ten Commandments to be particularly parochial, regardless of their place in the founding of our country. Many of them may be timeless—even statements of natural and psychological laws of good conduct, wise society, but they begin with a particularly partisan bent.

1. I am the Lord thy God and thou shalt not have other gods besides me.
I doubt that the Founding Fathers ever anticipated the making of a movie like “Mississippi Masala,” or thought that Detroit would contain large Muslim communities, but here we all are. If the First Amendment is to mean anything, we may gladly read the words of the Commandments, but Bible Belt judges had best remember that the First Amendment, not the First Commandment, is formally the law of the land.

2. Thou shalt not make for thyself any graven image, nor shall you bow down to it, or serve it.
Hmmm… definitely beyond the scope of civil courts. Of course, this is the least obeyed commandment, right up there with coveting your neighbor’s wife and ass. What greater graven image exists than the SUV? Okay, I know I’ve strayed into metaphor, but again, we are talking ecclesiastical business here, not the foundations of our civilization.

3. Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.
4. Remember the Sabbath Day, to keep it holy.

Not only are these two losing battles in our potty-mouthed, malls-open-on Sunday country, they are open to interpretation. Whose Lord-my-God, and which Sabbath Day? A former flame introduced me to the mysteries of Shabbat. My JW neighbors observe still another day.

Perhaps these petty particulars matter little. I did keep Paul’s statement on love from First Corinthians on my classroom wall, not to intimidate or proselytize, but simply to remind myself what I was there for, a mission statement of sorts. However, this growing evangelistic might scares me. It parallels the “certainty” of the current president, who believes that his ill-conceived policies are the will of God. The posting of the commandments seem to take place in venues where their purpose is to declare their dominance over governmental practices. God-arguments seem to be a pretext for the promotion of a narrow interpretation of what holiness is. It’s biased, it’s exclusionary, and it seems to gather its strength from hatred rather than love. It takes the private act of spirituality and plasters it in the glare of public policy.

Recently a group of extremists commandeered the board of directors of the Tulsa Zoo and arm-wrestled them into the decree that the story of the creation from Genesis should be posted alongside the evolutionary exhibit near the cages of the great apes. This dictum unraveled as the zoo attempted then to post several other creation stories along with it to show its religious non-bias. Finally the directors recognized the barrel over which they had been thrown and backed off from the entire project. It was simply too unwieldy, too out of place, to carry out.

In our political and societal zoos, we should be doing the same thing.

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