Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Silverbeard, The Christian Poat


I lived in St. Louis from 1989 through 1991. St. Louis has its own culture; it isn’t the South, and it isn't the Midwest. One day I might go into what it was about St. Louis that made me want to get far away from there, but not today. I apologize in advance to my friends who still live there, and can only say in my defense that I would go back to NY in a heartbeat if I could afford to, and most of them don’t even want to visit my hometown for a weekend.

Today I want to tell the story of “Silverbeard, The Christian Poat” (rhymes with “coat!”)

By the time 1990 rolled around, I had gone from strong atheism to a comfortable agnosticism. I couldn’t claim to know anything about the unknowable, but I was pretty damn sure that The Christians, The Muslims, The Jews, The Hindus (at least they have the Kama Sutra!), the Scientologists, the whomeverians, all of ‘em had it equally wrong. Not much has changed since then, except that then I was more tolerant of religion than I am now. Then I thought even though I couldn’t subscribe to belief in the supernatural, it wasn’t all bad. People could get comfort and a sense of community from a shared mythology. There was some good to be found in a pleasant fairytale.

Living in Intelligence Resigned, GA for the last 10 years has shown me otherwise. When people believe in lies, when they base decisions on mythology, all of us suffer. In my experience, the ugly truth is always preferable to a bright and shining lie.

But in 1990, I was still married to the mother of my children. I had 4-year-old 1-year-old daughters. My youngest was still in R&D. My ex was a Methodist and wanted to put our oldest into Sunday School. I wasn’t crazy about the idea, but I didn’t think a Methodist Sunday School in Creve Coeur MO. could harm her. And it didn’t.

One Sunday morning, perhaps her second or third visit to Sunday school, I had left her in the classroom and was walking back to my car, when a gentlemen approached me.

“Looking for something?” Seemed like an honest question, so I said, “No. I just dropped my little girl off at Sunday School and was going to go grab some coffee.”

“Oh, would you like join us? We have a little group of parents who get together during Sunday School class, have coffee and talk about parenting etc.” I couldn’t see any harm in that, and I thought that maybe I would even make a new friend or two, so I cheerfully accepted his offer.

He escorted me to a room that was rather like a break-room in an office. Sink, coffee pot, refrigerator, 4 or 5 tables and chairs, some books, and some pictures on the wall of Jesus, the folded hands etc. No stained glass or saints, like what I was used to from my Catholic nightmare. Seemed a bit cozy. About 14 people, mostly couples, but a few people who like myself had left their spouses home with a little one or were single parents. There was also a Russian lady who seemed to be affiliated with the church, and turned out to be probably the nicest person there.

I was introduced to the group, and there were smiles and handshakes all around. One guy stood out from the crowd. He had on a ski-sweater, was sporting a silver beard and mustache, and seemed to be the center of attention. He was forty-something, handsome and confident.

The gentleman who invited me in turned out to be the moderator of the group, and he said something like, “Last week our assignment was to imagine that we were awakened in the middle of the night to find out our home was on fire. We were able to save our family and one material possession. Today we were going to discuss what possession we saved and why it was important to us."

This sounded interesting, and I thought, “this won’t be so bad…”

Silverbeard said, “Of course it would be my poams!”

I’m not going to pretend here that I didn’t know he meant “poems” but had I been able to raise one eyebrow like my hero Mr. Spock, that would have been the time to do it.

“Poems? Who are you into?”

“What do mean?”


“Who do you read?" (I should confess that it was a bit disingenuous for me to ask, because I don’t really read much poetry myself, but I couldn’t resist, because then as now, if I get a whiff of baloney, I want to get to the source of it.

“Read?”

“Well yeah. Walt Whitman? e.e cummings? Browning?”

Blank stare.

I couldn’t help myself: “Ogden Nash?”

“Oh, you mean which poats do I read? I don’t read any po-tree. Haven’t since high school. I just write ‘em. One day I had nothing to do and I started writing pomes.”

“Ah.”

The next week I walked in a little late, and they were discussing AIDS.

One of them was saying, “It is really tragic when an innocent child gets it, like from a transfusion.”

Then Silverbeard says, “Yeah, I feel really sorry for people who got AIDS and didn’t deserve it.”

There went the virtual eyebrow.

“Some people deserve to get AIDS?”

“Yeah, you know. The homos and the drug addicts, and Magic Johnson! Those people are sinners and deserve what they get!”

Magic Johnson?

I looked at the others for a hint of indignation, but I got mostly nothing. The Russian lady sort of frowned, and one couple kind of looked at me to see what I was going to say.

When I get angry, I am certainly capable of reducing a half-wit like that to a red-faced sputtering pile of excuses and threats, but by then I had lost my taste for that sort of thing. Besides, it almost got my ass kicked a few times in the past, so I had learned to hold my tongue, and this really wasn’t the place to do that anyway.

“Um, I don’t think God works that way. I mean, some people may do things that we as Christians (taking a liberty here for context), believe to be immoral, but you got guys like Saddam Hussein out there killing people by the thousands. How come God doesn’t give him Cancer or AIDS or something?”

Silverbeard was silent, but you could tell he was angry. I could sense that most of the rest of them didn’t like what I said either. The one couple who looked at me and sort of nodded in agreement, and the Russian lady said, “You are right, God doesn’t do that!” and then changed the subject to the upcoming bake-sale.

The final straw came the next week. It was getting close to Christmas, and they were talking about how each year they adopt a poor family and buy them presents. This year they were assigned a family that lived in a bad neighborhood.

Silverbeard: "Well, after we buy the presents, we’re going to have to drop them off in that neighborhood. One of us can stay in the car and keep it running. It will be on a Sunday afternoon, so I hope there won’t be any trouble. Normally we are supposed to speak about the word for a little while, but I think we should just drop off the presents and get out of there as quickly as possible. Every night in that neighborhood you can hear gunshots!”

I’m not going to pretend to a nobility or bravery that I don’t have. I’ve been in neighborhoods like that, and all I can think of is getting the hell out of there in one piece. I’m not proud of that fact, but it is the truth. So I said:

“Isn’t it a sad commentary on our society that people have to live like that. Gunshots every night. Here we are, scared to even go there on a Sunday afternoon, and they have to spend each day and night there, trying to raise their kids and earn a living.”

Silverbeard: “Yeah, but we’re the wrong color for that neighborhood. Those people are used to it.”

No one said a word. Not the one couple, not even the Russian lady. They looked at me and I looked at them. I wish I had thought of something witty and sarcastic to say at that moment. I can’t remember exactly what I said, but it was probably something like, “I have to go.”

I turned and left without saying “goodbye.”

***
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5 Comments:

Blogger XTCfan said...

Al, I don't know what else you could have said. I think your exit was probably eloquent enough. It'd be interesting to know if anyone followed you.

My youngest was still in R&D.

HA!! Nice.

ijxxqus

10:11 AM  
Anonymous morgan stoat, a.k.a. "old bloat" said...

I'm a poat and didn't noat!

10:53 AM  
Blogger The Viscount LaCarte said...

I'm a poat and didn't noat!

That made me laugh. Thanks.

Didn't Speedy Parker tell me to steer clear a you?

11:01 AM  
Blogger fuckstick2020 said...

St. Louis is in a vortex a world of its own. It's like the south but not. It's like the east but it's not. It's an odd place to be associated with. It is also why I am constantly trying to escape but that is another story.

However, I am not from St. Louis. I am from the country, the unknown world that no one has heard of outside of STL. So I have a really weird look on it.

For instance, Creve Cour and West County is filled with superficial, nickle-millionairs, who live in a bubble with their soccer moms and desperate house wives. Just living there might have warped your children :-)

Anyway, those neighborhoods you speak of is where my mother goes to work everyday. She works at Vashon High in north city. (She drives about an hour each way).

Everyday she hears stories and she does what she can. She doesn't keep the car running or visit once a year. She is there and her skin color is definately wrong, with her pale skin, white hair, and blue eyes you would think she would be gone by now if little silverbeard is correct.

I really hate people sometimes.

1:18 PM  
Blogger Kevin Wolf said...

I'm afraid my response would have been my mouth hanging open with a very clear "I can't believe this shit" look on my face. Can't help it.

And by the way I can do the Spock eyebrow. Has come in handy once or twice. Now the nerve pinch - man, you could really put that to use with this crew. (Not the mind meld. Too scary with this sort.)

5:45 PM  

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