Big Fat Lies

Lately our landline is being inundated by a particularly loathsome scamming group.  It turns out there are these terrible companies that try to steal information from people through the computer, and they can also get one’s phone number and try to con a person into buying “security” for her computer.  The people will try and breach the firewall on the computer and then use all sorts of trickery and big fat lies to rob others.

I’ve always been fascinated with lies.  I don’t remember the first lie I ever told.  I’m sure it was one of self-preservation, the kind of lie a kid can be half-way into before realizing it is a lie.  Picture it.  A parent hears a crash in the other room, jumps up and runs in and finds a kid standing over some broken bit of kitch.

“Did you break that?” the parent asks.

Quicker than lightening the kid says, “NO!”

We all know why the kid denies responsibility.  The negative response is not even the answer to the question.  It is a yelp of misery.  “NO!”  I don’t want to be punished.  “NO!” I did not mean to do that.  “NO!” This is not happening.  Let’s go back in time and try again.

That’s bad.  That kind of lie opens the can of parenting worms no one likes to confront.  Still, that lie is easy to forgive.

Another lie that can be easy to forgive is the one that wants to come from kindness.  “Do you like this outfit?”

“Sure.  It looks great.”  Meaning, it doesn’t really look great, but I can tell you like the outfit so I’m going to spare your feelings and tell what we in this cliched world call “a little white one.”

Lies of that order are ill informed and guaranteed to backfire.  So be it.  They are also fully forgivable.  They mean well, and intention matters.  In all things intention matters, whether we admit that or not.

Some people will even argue there is a caliber of lie that is good.  If you are protecting the life of someone that is in jeopardy, you might feel justified in misleading someone.  After all, Moses had a sister who told a lie that made it possible for his own mother to be with him and protect him and love him.  I see the argument, but I’m not sure the truth wouldn’t have done just as much good.

Aside from the philosophical arguments about justifiable falsehood, there are some lies that stink like cat feces.  They are the lies that are intended to hurt others, dupe others, rob others.  These are the lies that erode the world and the soul.  These are the lies that lead to fraud.  These are the lies that blunt the conscience and yield some of the worst evils perpetrated on this earth.  These are the lies that people tell on the phone who say they got a “red flag” on their end, whatever that means, about my computer, or my mother’s computer.  These are the lies that say one person is more valuable than another person because one person is more educated or wealthy than another, or because of the color of her skin, or the location of his birth, or the day or year that life began.  These are the lies we need to resist forgiving and attempt to suffocate.  These are the lies we should fight.

(I’m ranting.  I really hate those pestering calls…and big fat lies.)

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I think everyone has the right to be in the minority.  It is an amazingly freeing experience.  Why do I say this?  The year I turned fourteen, my family moved to Canyon, New Mexico, and I started attending Jemez Valley High School.  In those long ago days, Jemez and Zia pueblo sent the majority of their teenagers to Jemez Valley High.  Eighty-five percent of the student body were members of one of those two pueblos.  Ten percent of the student body were of Hispanic origin.  The rest were of Northern European descent.  The vast majority of students assumed people of Northern European descent were weird dummies.  We were.  I was particularly weird.  I was particularly dumb as well.  I only spoke one language, a sure sign of lack of education in that multilingual world.  Almost everyone in that high school spoke more than two languages.

A further proof of my weirdness was I had meaty thighs and an ample behind, both uncommon in that world and unsolvable in my own.  I tended to read (a lot).  I liked to listen to music that was older than the usual demographic.  I had these weird older brothers, both of them grown men who owned elaborate stereo systems and extensive record collections.  (If anyone doesn’t know what those two things are, look them up.  Also, this blog is too old for you!)  I knew about Jethro Tull.  I had even listened to a band called Steely Dan (which I did NOT know much about).

I was first chair clarinet in band.  I did NOT drink or smoke or use profanity. I was as square as a cardboard box.  I would have been a weirdo in any school, but I would not have been tolerated half so well if I weren’t in the minority.  I was allowed to be weird because essentially I didn’t matter.

I was outside the world that really mattered.  The world that really mattered was as old as earth and mysterious as creation.  That beautiful world could not open its gates to my hirsute self.  It occasionally invited members of my family and me to spectacles and feasts.  We went and gently partook.  We could not join, except in the Baptist Mission Church that stood outside the Pueblo.  The church inside the pueblo was Catholic, but not like any other Catholic church.  I can’t explain how.

The mission church was not like any other Baptist Church.  We only met once a week (Sunday), and we started sometime near 10:00 a.m., though only in the general sense.  We would have Bible study and then services, with preaching and singing, and then we would have a pot luck with passole and orno bread.  It would take hours.  I read so many Bible verses those three years.  I like to read the Bible when the sermon doesn’t catch my attention so much.  A thing that happens still.

Anyway, being in the minority in one’s formative years teaches courage.  A person must be brave to enter a world in which she has almost no power.  Jemez taught me to enjoy and trust my weird, lonely soul.  I have plenty of scars and problems and shortcomings and toxic thoughts, but I am not afraid of being different.  It is not a tragedy.

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Define Hypocrite

I came to Roswell, America in 1992.  It was a good year to come.  There was still a bread bakery along Main Street that perfumed the air of this town, and though it has always been a desert island in an ocean of brutal light, it was, that year, a promising place to be. I found a little two bedroom apartment a two blocks from the First Baptist Church, and I moved in my few sticks of furniture and my mismatched washer and dryer.  Among the first visitors to that little home was Dr. Bobby Renfro, the best preacher I ever heard.  I always called him Brother Bobby because he asked me to do so.  Brother Bobby would occasionally discuss his witness to this citizen or that, and he would always respond to their criticism that our church was full of hypocrites that he knew it was.  “We always have room for one more.”  He was that kind of winking brainiac.

I have studied the Bible since childhood.  I’ve worn Bibles out in my life, thumbed them until the covers came off.  My beliefs spring from scripture and have grown up (in a weedy way) from my life experiences.  Though preferring to keep my spiritual cards close to my chest, lest I become an embarrassment to my family or my faith, I nonetheless confess my faith here.  But, it has been shaken.

This morning I accuse myself of being a hypocrite because this morning I spent several hours in the dentist’s chair.  He gave me a massive shot of numbing agent that lasted six hours.  During the procedure I realized that it had been days since I last prayed in the earnest way I ought.  I was tilted back with the lights suspended over my head, a rubber wedge between my teeth, the whine of a drill in my ears, and the smell of cinders in the air when I found myself praying that God send his angels to guide my dentist’s hands.  Pretty selfish, right?  I could almost hear my guardian angel saying, “Oh, so, you have a few minutes to talk to the Big Guy right now?  Not too busy right now?  Wouldn’t you rather call Him back when you have less to distract you from contemplating His will?”  It made me start to cry…and sweat…and choke.  I tried to say, “Okay.  Fine.  I’ll get to it later.”  But, no soap.  It was only a few minutes later when I was back with the “Please guide the dentist’s hands.  Please let him do his best work.  Please allow it to go well.”  Hypocrite.

I’m not done.  When I got home, my mother was concerned about why it took so long.  I was in no condition to explain.  She went out to water the garden, and the cat got out.  So once again, I’m praying, “Dear Lord, please do not let her wander into the road or another cat.  She’s completely inexperienced.  Please let her come back.”

Now, these all are earnest prayers, meant honestly, but they are quintessentially selfish, and someone who has studied scripture all her life, should not have to indulge in such prayers.  A non-hypocrite would have found a way to say, “Thank you, Lord, for teaching me that I can endure pain, and that I will feel much better when it is over.”

Maybe next week.

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The Cruel World

I’ve been out of the blogging world (I can’t stand “blogosphere”) for a few days for reasons I will not explore at this time.  I will say only, I went to a rather unusual memorial and ended up sitting on a cactus.  My life is a rich and varied pageant.

I will, however, write about the trip back from the memorial.  My friend Kyle Chaney and I carpooled to get to the event.  Kyle is a good driver and much more familiar with Albuquerque than I.  That’s why what happened on the way out of town was so great.  Kyle wanted to stop for a bathroom break before we hit the highway.  I’m always for such practical plans.  He just jumped off I-40 and headed in a random direction and ended up at a Circle-K neither of us knew.

It looked pretty well-maintained and nondescript when we parked, but things changed once we stepped inside.  In the middle of the store was an open cooler display of various cheap beers and fortified wines in 44 ounce containers. There was a line at the counter of folks wearing rump sprung polyester shorts and one of them had that little top-knot so in vogue these days.  Hideous.  There was a broom and upright dust pan full grayish oddments standing just beside the counter.  The place had an unusual perfume, a musty melange with top notes of old cigarette smoke and dust, a midrange of Colt 45 and coolant, finished off with the base of perspiration, urine, and ammonia.  But what really made the place special was the bathroom.

It was a unisex bathroom with a push hasp on the inside of the door.  The tile work was top notch but you wouldn’t notice that until you first noticed that the mirror had been scratched with great energy with words it’s best not to record here.  The toilet had the seat up and a glistening sprinkle of what I would call “boyish inaccuracy” on the floor in front of it.  On the wall was a condom dispenser that had descriptions of what types of condoms could be bought from it–ranging from something referred to as “like nothing at all” to basically a bullet proof “vest” for the more health and safety minded.  At least they had soap in the soap dispenser.

When we left and were back on the road, Kyle made an apology and said that he didn’t know why but he could always find some place terrible like that for a pit-stop.  I said not to worry about it.  It was not the worst place I ever saw.  I had used worse.  Obviously I had been to Europe and had been to campgrounds, so I have seen some stuff.  Then I thought, well, if you’re strictly talking about roadside public bathrooms in buildings, that one might be in the top five.  I’m not talking about latrines or port-a-potties.  Those are guaranteed to be terrible.  I’m not talking about home bathrooms or semi-private bathrooms.  Those are torture for other reasons.  Nope.  In the great world of quick-trip rest-stops with the public in mind, that one was probably my fourth worst.

Last night, when I couldn’t sleep, and I couldn’t think of anything good or beautiful in the world, and I couldn’t forgive myself for all the ways I have failed to give my students concepts that would save them, I decided to make a list of my top five worst public bathrooms.

Number 5 is an outlier.  It is the girls’ restroom that was at Gadsten High the semester I taught there while their regular English teacher was in the hospital.  The stalls were made with the doors too close to the toilets and the walls too close to the toilets.  I remember thinking, “I may not be able to get out of this.”  They also had the old-fashioned super low toilets so that when you sat down you fell the last three inches and your knees were near your ears.  You learned sympathy for Gollum in that bathroom.  Sitting like that is bound to make you villainous.

Number 4 I’ve already given you.  Number 3 was the old bathroom at Clines Corners decades ago.  They had metal walls with thick brown paint.  Only fifty percent of the stalls had toilets that would flush at all.  The smell seemed perverse.  That was probably heightened by the incredibly filthy graffiti scratched on the walls, all over the walls, like some obsessive-compulsive maniac spent every hour finding new and horrible ways to insult every female within the community.  I hated those stalls, but I had to use them a lot.  They scarred my psyche.

Number 2 (ha ha) was on the same highway.  In Vaughn, there used to be a unisex bathroom with the air of a square prison cell.  It was painted an industrial white, but there were inexplicable stains everywhere.  It had just the one toilet in the corner, and often they were completely out of toilet paper.  This is part of what made it horrible.  The other part was the rusty drain in the middle of the steeply raked concrete floor.  This probably contributed to the  horrifying experience of having the toilet tilt and wobble when you sat.  It was terrifying.  Complicating that was the distinct possibility the toilet would not flush at all, and the long line outside the door would have the opportunity to examine your deposit along with their own.  And the smell.  The smell was an assault, like being slapped in the face with a dirty diaper.  Yet, it wasn’t the worst.

Number 1 was a gas station in Tularosa.  I don’t think it’s there anymore.  I hope it isn’t.  I only stopped in this one once.  This one had a toilet but no sink.  Understand, this scenario might as well be a woman describing hell.  The bathroom was perhaps three feet wide with a toilet but no sink.  No woman would use a room like that unless she was desperate, and if she is desperate, she is going to NEED A SINK.  Understand, this was a room inside a building.  It was supposed to be for public convenience, but only a man would think it adequate.  Heck, if I were a man, I would have turned around and gone behind the building.  Men can do that.  Women…only some can, and only at gunpoint.

All right.  All right.  I think this may be my single grossest entry.  If you made it to this, drop me a comment.  I promise I’ll respond.

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The White Whale

I am listening to the audiobook of Moby Dick.  It’s madness, of course.  In Melville’s day there was a different term for madness, monomania.  You can look it up.  We would call it obsession.  Obsession is interesting to writers.  We like to think about characters who have a single focus, unwavering as a star, that pours pain into their livers, into their jaws, into their souls.  What is drug addiction but obsession?  What is revenge but a dark and deadly obsession that rises from righteous fury?  In our distracted and distracting world our obsessions seem weakened, except on talk radio.  Monomania is alive and well on talk radio.

I know I shouldn’t listen to it.  What good does it do me to listen to these folks RAVE?  They do R-A-V-E!  Today I was listening to one of them, a pathetic fellow who has the idea he is talking sense.  He is so cracked that he might be funny, if his howls weren’t loaded with pure poison.  He said perfectly horrible things about everyone who disagrees with him.  Why?  My cynical side says he does this only to improve his ratings, to get other people so revved up and angry that they will continue to listen to him.  I also got the idea he might be doing it to drive people like me, who have been raised on good manners and loving thoughts, to feel just a sliver of the pain he feels all the time and every day, like Ahab getting the crew to swear vengeance against the white whale because the whale cost him his leg, as if the whale did something with malice.  The whale was just trying to live.  Ahab stopped seeing that.  He ascribed to the whale not only the loss of his leg, but the suffering and disappointment of his soul.

After considering Melville’s ideas about Ahab’s monomania, I have yet another theory about talk radio, even better that the other two.  The rage fills the maniac with POWER.  The rage intoxicates.  When Jesus says, “Come, let us reason together” is the answer, “Sure.  Let’s reason.”  Nope.  Rage comes howling back.  Rage pulls his beard from his face.  Rage beats him, humiliates him, nails him to a cross.  The maniac then foolishly thinks he has won.  Poor maniac.  He’s drunk poison.

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Never Got a Dinner

When I was a kid, they had this thing called a celebrity roast.  People got together and made fun of the guest of honor.  It had a weird, rough-handling vibe.  I think it may have come from a wise place in someone’s psyche.  Celebrities regularly have “smoke blown up their” fundaments.  A roast could remind them that they were, in truth, much like everyone else, and…a roast could be funny.  Many of them had genuinely funny moments.  (Though I think peoples’ feelings were hurt at these things, and the humor got brutal, and thus they lost their cache.)

I remember a comedian named Red Buttons going on and on about how dumb it was to give the guest of honor such a sparkling honorific since a whole lot of more deserving people “never got a dinner.”  This morning I want to steal Red Buttons’ routine because I just saw a writer on the CBS Morning News that definitely did NOT deserve to have national attention for the self-indulgent and negative claptrap she has put between two covers because the really great writers I have published and read never got such a boost.  None of them ever got a plug the CBS Morning News.

First of all, I want to mention this woman’s name and her book.  Her name is Mandy Catron.  Her book, a book which got a plug on the CBS Morning News, is titled How to Fall in Love with Anyone.  I did not buy this book, but I did look it up on, the evil empire, and read enough of it to know it is a collection of contradictions and navel gazing about how “stories we are told about love mislead us.”

Her book is about love, and she begins with the story of how she was going to leave her current man.  Maybe his story wasn’t good enough.

My biggest objection rises in response to her statement that stories about love mislead us.  Maybe she should try reading a story rather than watching a piece of commercial soft porn packaged as a love story.  You don’t hear people objecting to the story lines in porn.  They know the stories are not based on truth.  This woman thinks Dirty Dancing is an attempt at truth?  (I will now resist the urge to refer to her as a moron.)  She might as well be complaining about being lied to about the tooth fairy.  GET OVER IT!  No one thought you would buy that past the age of five.  Everyone who saw Dirty Dancing knew it was just a way to get Patrick Swayze into sexy bed scenes with that skinny girl.  The movie had the line, “Nobody puts Baby in a corner!”  That would be a big red light flashing, “THIS MOVIE IS JUST A JOKE!”

Stories, especially written stories, that are genuinely dedicated to the exploration of love in its myriad forms do not try to mislead us.  Here are some titles this woman should try: Ballad of the Sad Cafe, Where the Red Fern Grows, The Great Gatsby, The Shipping News, Jane Eyre, Huckleberry Finn, Les Miserables,  Wuthering Heights, Great Expectations, A Tale of Two Cities, Gone with the Wind, Old Yeller.  I could write another fifty titles that are dedicated to love.  Now, all these are not about romantic love.  Some are about love in its other forms.  Nonetheless, the stories told by writers trying to create real art are not made to mislead.  (I will not go into scripture or fables here, though they also teach us about love.)

Among the books I know she (and everyone) should be reading are Joyce McCollaum’s The Last Sharecropper, Barbara Corn Patterson’s The Woman on the Table, Ralph Rivera’s Espiritu, MJ Johns’ Destiny Stone, Hedda P. Saltz’s Free Rain, Beverly Coots’ Gabby Care, Kevin McIlvoy’s Fifth Station, and Robert Wilder’s Nickel.  None of them ever got a plug on the CBS Morning News.

Look, if you want to know about love, avoid making it just about soft porn or simple-minded meet-cute stories.  Love is about suffering and sacrifice, about caring for someone other than yourself.  Love is about all the ways in which we attach ourselves to the world, and it can be simple and selfless or it can be complicated and commercial.  It begins and ends with the generosity of the lover.

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It Occurs to Me

When I was a Senior in high school, we moved, and I had to adapt to a new home.  This was not too burdensome for me.  We had moved at the beginning of my high school time, and I was at a school that was 85% Native American, 10% Hispanic, and the rest was the rest.  Being in the minority can be very instructive for those who wish to learn to read people.  When the entire culture operates on different unspoken systems, the individual must learn to look and listen in order to get along.

I say all that to reflect on a discussion I somehow joined in the new high school my senior year.  There was a girl there, athletic and clever, who had to ride the bus to get to school.  Somehow in Pre-Calc we got into a conversation about the rights of humans to live the way they wanted to live.  I found myself defending the rights of gay men to be openly gay.  This kind of discussion wasn’t nearly as common in those long ago days.  This girl was talking about how people had to behave, had to control their “evil impulses” (I believe is how she put it).  She described a scene in which men were dancing with other men, holding hands with other men, kissing other men–in public.  I was arguing from a strictly theoretical position.  I has gown up in really small country towns, and I thought she was being hyperbolic, but I still argued that if they were adults, they were surely allowed to decide how they wanted to behave, both privately and publicly, as long as it was lawful.  She threw up her hands.  She said she found that idea “personally disgusting.”  I remember those words exactly.  She was so madly vehement.  I was trying to reason.  I did not have strong feelings about homosexuality, to tell the truth.  I had strong feelings about the rights of the individual.

I was partly surprised by her unfettered and raw emotions because I had the distinct impression she “preferred the ladies.”  I didn’t have a problem with that.  She didn’t prefer me, or anything.  She just had a distinctly “tomboy” aura, which was what we called some latent lesbians in those days.  Given my understanding of her unspoken messages, I didn’t understand her spoken ones.

Now I think I may.  In Chaucer’s “The Wife of Bath’s Tale” the Wife explains that people don’t like it when you criticize them honestly.  Tell people the truth about their faults and they will “kick.”  This seems to be what happens to people who are too vehemently opposed to things that later turn out to be their truths–the truths of which they are ashamed.  I think it’s true for me as well.  It’s salt in the wound.

I don’t know quite what made me think of this girl today.  I haven’t seen her in years.  I feel sad when I think of her.  She carried herself as if she were contending with a ferocious inner grief.  I hope she came to feel better about life, about her own interests and desires.  Is it presumptuous to think I have her pegged?  I really think Chaucer had her pegged, her and me and just about everyone else.  The truth hurts.

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