Purgatory in Salt Lake City

23 September 2012

I drive to work and finally make the switch away from OK Computer. I opt for Bloc Party’s Silent Alarm.

The plastic seal in the travel coffee mug lid is beginning to pop out. It prevents me from closing the lid all the way. As I drive and take a sip from the mug, coffee pours onto my shirt and lap. I am not burned, just bemused.

On the interstate, I drive south to work. Each morning, I pass a billboard with a picture of Orrin Hatch on it. The text reads, “With experience comes strength” and has his first name in cursive, as if he signed the billboard by hand, and his surname in print. I always flip the bird to this billboard because it enrages me. It should say, “With experience comes entrenched and moralistic judgement that is far removed from the life of the everyday person Senator Sign-His-Own-Billboard claims to represent.”

I take my exit and drive to the traffic light where I must turn left. I sit in the turn lane and watch the persons driving past me. I think about Mr. Hatch as I watch the drivers. Some wear sunglasses and some sing along to something they hear. We all do our best with what we have. Unfortunately, all some of us (e.g. Orrin Hatch, Mitt Romney, Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, etc.) have are terrible tools designed only to build our own houses on the rubble of neighbourhoods around us.

On my lunch break, I decide to walk to Bakery and Brews, a coffee shop I have praised previously, for a pumpkin spice latte. I find the building locked and completely empty. No tables, no chairs, no magazine racks, no life. A few days later, the large banner with the shop’s name is gone from the building.

—-

I walk the two and one-half blocks to Red Rock Brewing Company to eat my favourite brunch item – The Eggs In Purgatory. I walk through the Gateway, past the Farmer’s Market in the blazing sun. I have sensitive eyes and no sunglasses. I am often ill-equipped for my circumstances.

I am in the comforting presence of strangers amid a cacophony of 1980s music (“I Want Your Sex”), knives attacking cutting boards, silverware clattering against itself and indecipherable conversations.

I order water without ice and with a lemon, coffee (black) and Eggs In Purgatory. The coffee is good enough. It is watery and mild allowing me to drink several cups before shitting myself.

I do not know why the eggs are in purgatory. I feel some Christian sects allow for the purity of organisms that are never birthed. Yet, these eggs were so sinful (or just sinful enough) that they find themselves in limbo, denied bliss and near damnation. I devour them in the hopes this gustatory grace will end their torment.

Persons from the True Value convention dine here. The men wear khaki or navy blue slacks (probably Haggar or Dockers), polos or long-sleeve light-blue dress shirts.

The meal is as good as I remember.

I take a bite of bacon and a sip of coffee as my former neighbour, Dan, instructed me to do. I once enjoyed a gin and tonic with Dan on his balcony at our apartment building in the Avenues of Salt Lake City.

I leave Red Rock to adjourn to The Rose coffee shop. The location used to be Big City Soup. I was disappointed in the change at first, but now feel pleased. The space is open, the coffee is good and the clientele are 92-percent hipster. I spy a woman I used to know when I lived here the first time. Her hair is much longer now.

I am overstimulated with the action here. Persons moving, talking, catching up, calling one another “sleepy head.” My cappuccino has a flower-shape in the foam. Perhaps it is more of a leaf. Either way is OK.

A man wears a NASA t-shirt. His legs are veiny. A child walks in and makes noise on a harmonica. He plays the same note, in and out and repeat ’til death do us part.

Sleepy head orders iced coffee and toast. I hope the choice rejuvenates and prepares her for the day ahead.

Another small child walks in holding the hand of a grown-up. This child is not making noise on a harmonica. She is being quiet and respectful and looking around with curiosity in her eyes.

A person may wish to be in a park on a day like today, but I am not easily fooled. I know the sun is out there, waiting to make me warm and hard of seeing.

Another familiar woman walks in. I am stuck in a hipster time warp, riding my fixed-gear bicycle down memory lane.

One woman at the coffee bar says, loud enough for all to hear, “Time is the most valuable thing on the planet.”

The conversation dies down. The sound of crockery clanking increases. I get up and leave.

The crackle of pigskin

9.17.12

I walk out of work and get into the car. I roll the windows down and put Radiohead’s OK Computer in the CD player. I turn the volume up.

I listen to perhaps the most perfect album of my generation. I sometimes forget how dazzling it is. I try to argue in my head that King of Limbs or In Rainbows or Hail To The Thief are my favourite Radiohead albums. Who am I kidding? Every note, moment and sound is necessary on Ok Computer. It is Graceland for the robotically hopeless.

I drive down the I-15 choking. The constant haze that is the Salt Lake Valley burns my eyes, ears, nose and throat. I pass a woman in a car. Her windows are rolled up and she lights a long cigarette. I wonder if the air in there is any better. The woman wears a visor.

I remember when I first saw Paranoid Android on MTV. I could not believe I was seeing the weirdest cartoon of all time (or so I felt) on television. There was even blurred out nudity. There is no way that Jesus or his bands (Switchfoot, MxPx, DC Talk, even Five Iron Frenzy) could compete.

I go to Stone Mountain, GA and see Radiohead perform live. I don’t understand what I’m seeing. My eyes, ears, nose and throat burn. I don’t know why.

-JPR

There is no I in religion

5 March 2012

The sun was out in Utah this weekend. However, the son (of god) was being obscured.

As you well know by now, I was once an avid (and rabid) Christian. The last time I actively tried to participate in religion was when I began graduate school in the fall of 2004. (I say “tried” because I went to a Catholic mass and found that I was simply anxious and uncomfortable the entire time.) Nearly eight years on, I am still talking about religion and how damaging and infantile it is. (In case you missed it, I believe religion should have no role in politics and blame the unrelenting number of recent anti-abortion regulations on state-sanctioned Christianity.)

Last week, I began reading a book I should have read a couple of years ago: god is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything by the late Christopher Hitchens.

The book sparked some great conversation with GF’s family over the role of and reason for religion and religious beliefs.

For me, the book pointed out that Christianity is not the only religion out there of which I should be critical. I often focus on Christianity in my critiques, but every religion ultimately is wrongheaded, misguided and immeasurably dangerous.

Because of the book, I began thinking about everything in which I do not believe. In much the same fashion as John Lennon’s “God,” I would like to list everything in which I do not believe.

I do not believe in:

  • god
  • religion
  • religious guilt
  • sin
  • spirituality
  • karma
  • hell
  • heaven
  • the afterlife
  • reincarnation
  • astrology
  • fate or destiny
  • eternity
  • humanity

However, much like John Lennon notes, I do believe in my loved ones and myself. That is about it. While I previously identified as atheist, I have to agree with Ricky Gervais that such a term should not even be necessary. Why should theism (or deism) be the default? I consider myself a-religious and a-spiritual—neither concept has any place in my life, my decisions or my morality (which, I might add, is far superior to the “morality” I claimed as a drooling, mind-numbed Christian).

So I’m curious, lovely reader—what do you believe? What do you not believe?

Abortion restrictions amount to legislated religion

Today, the Virginia Senate passed HB 462, which mandates that any woman having an abortion must first undergo an ultrasound, even against medical opinion. The bill passed 21-19 as two Democratic senators (Charles Colgan, Prince William, and Phil Puckett, Russell) opposed to abortion access voted for the mandate. (It is worth noting that Senator John Watkins, R-Powhatan, bucked the line and voted against the measure.) Following the vote, Delegate David Englin, D-Alexandria, told The Rachel Maddow Blog he believes the amended bill will pass the House and be signed by Governor Bob McDonnell.

With the high likelihood that the bill will become law, Virginia’s elected officials join their colleagues across the country in a repressive, single-minded effort to force all women to carry each pregnancy to term. No matter what.

As Laura Bassett notes in the Huffington Post, the debate includes a dispute on the role of government and government overreach. (Bassett deftly juxtaposes the mandatory ultrasound decision with the attempt to repeal Virginia’s HPV vaccine mandate.)

Virginia’s latest obstacle to abortion access does indeed raise the issue of government mandates and government overreach. Anti-abortion measures (like mandatory ultrasound, forced waiting periods, bans on financial assistance, etc.) amount to nothing less than government sanctioned religion.

In the United States, one of the greatest influences on our view of morality is our tendency to be religious. Many legislators see abortion as a moral issue. (Sadly, too many see it as the moral issue above all others.) As moral and religious individuals, our elected officials wrongly proselytize through policy, legislating their (primarily) Christian view of right and wrong.

When we accept bills that stand in the way of women obtaining safe, legal and affordable abortion, we tacitly accept that the Christian perspective has supreme value and power in our lives—even for individuals (and there are many to be sure) who are either not Christian or have no religious leanings.

Everyone in our country has the absolute right to believe anything (and everything should they choose). However, no one should have the right to legislate a religious view of life through policymaking. (In fact, because of the flawed views of religiously guided and mean-spirited legislators, if you live in Virginia and are a piece of metal designed to kill and injure people you have more rights than a woman.)

In the matters of medicine, the personal beliefs of presumptuous, sanctimonious lawmakers have no place. (Quick reminder: Despite all beliefs to the contrary, abortion is and will remain a medical procedure just as any other surgery is a medical procedure.) We should have a simple test for abortion-related measures: Is the proposed regulation medically necessary or does it represent the limited, wrongheaded belief of a few individuals who proclaim themselves spokespeople of a deity they invented? I’d prefer to have my medical decisions made based on medicine, not delusion.

-Joseph Patrick Richards @mentalmacguyver

Five Iron Frenzied

Earlier today, I don’t even remember how, I learned that Five Iron Frenzy have reformed.

Holy fucking fuck.

Five Iron Frenzy’s first album came out in 1996, when I was deep into my evangelical period. (I knew I was rabidly Christian, but my best friend recently applied the “evangelical” descriptor to my behavior. I have no doubt that was accurate.) At some point before I found their music I found a renewed faith in that old scoundrel, Jesus. I decided I was going to purge evil music out of my ears (Metallica, Danzig, Megadeth, Tom Jones – although I did feel justified keeping Stevie Wonder’s Songs In The Key Of Life and U2’s The Joshua Tree.) So I dove into Christian rap, punk (what?) and ska. When I finally came upon Five Iron Frenzy’s Upbeats And Beatdowns I thought my heart was going to fucking blow up right out of my chest. I could barely drive away from the Christian bookstore (which was in Dublin, GA – home of the Redneck Games – and was probably called The Olive Branch or something of the sort) in my 1997 Pontiac Sunfire (four-door). I was bouncing in my car from the first yelp from Reese Roper’s throat. (Have no doubt that I tried to sing and dress exactly like Mr. Roper, especially in their video for “A Flowery Song.”)

Over the years I zealously purchased each Five Iron Frenzy album, saw them in concert several times (including during their tour of US roller rinks) and even had their bass player, Keith Hoerig, eat my french fries (that sounds dirty) at a Christian music festival in Stone Mountain, GA. I was in love with them. I wanted to be each one of them and I wanted to marry their saxophonist, Leanor “Jeff The Girl” Ortega.

Even when I walked away from Christianity, I still clung to Five Iron Frenzy. They were the music I got to keep when I broke up with Jesus.

In 2003, Five Iron Frenzy broke up. Occasionally, they still popped up when I was shuffling through music on my computer. Most people I met after high school had no idea of my complete devotion to and obsession with this Christian ska band from the 1990s.

Now they have returned and their new single, “It Was A Dark And Stormy Night,” jolts me to the past. I am back in that car, in that roller rink, near that smelly tent jumping like a fucking lunatic and screaming every lyric and skanking every limb. I no longer connect to their Christian message, but their music still gets to me.