Sunday, January 18, 2009

Sock Drawer

Suz and I took the kids for a walk yesterday. We constantly had to herd the kids out of the way of manic power rangers and tubs of lard on wheels. They came from the front, the back and the sides. Always clad in Lycra. Always going way too fast. Always looking as bent as a corner. They used to make me laugh. Now they make me mad.

Why oh why do cyclists feel the need to dress up like power rangers just to cycle around the neighborhood? I understand that it’s highly important that their happy sacks are aerodynamic; but does everyone else really need to see it? I’m just so tired of throwing up a little in my mouth at the sight of a 300lb, Lycra-clad fruit tart consuming a bike seat – the hard way. They must be masochistic. I mean, why else would you sit on something that is guaranteed to make you impotent as it slowly slices you in two? I'm sure some of those seats have to be surgically removed.

Cyclists are role-playing. I get that. They are playing Lance Armstrong like my kids play cowboys. But enough already! I don't dress like Jeff Gordon to drive to the grocery store!

They are also a polarized group. If they're not channeling Ken Doll then they are the complete opposite - looking more like Drew Carey than Lance Armstrong! Either way, dressing up in Lycra doesn’t make them look more like Lance – it makes them look like shrink wrapped turds!

No more. I’ve had enough of smiling and pretending that it’s OK to put my life in their hands. I’ve had enough of their egos, the unsightly bulge, the lard on wheels. I've had enough of them endangering my kids. The next time one of those Armstrong-alikes almost hits me or my kids, I’m going to act. Act like a talent finder for PlayGirl perhaps? Or that show on TV - The Biggest Loser? I dunno what I'll do, but I've got to do something before they take over the planet - one walking trail at a time.

- mobile sock drawers or alien balls? -

Saturday, January 10, 2009

My Disease

God is playing with the remote control again
I was playing at normal speed just yesterday
But now I’m stuck in slow motion
Drowning in life’s ocean and watching the world pass me by
I’m too tired to care anymore
About a 1000 pin pricks running through my panicked legs,
Frightened, I’m sure
That if they don’t move soon
They never will again

This mind numbing fatigue whitewashes all the color out of the day
Everything is softened and blurred into shades of gray
Voices, clicks and ticks have lost their edge
And the whole body of existence has been sanded,
Rounded and molded, as if from clay
Woven into the fabric that I call today

Yet as I stifle the 100th yawn of the morning
My illness cries back at me
That I risk the loss of opportunity
For I to catch up with me
So I light some incense and offer thanks for the good days
And listening closely to the soft pounding of fatigue at my door
I extend some compassion for those who would consider
That my worst day is often their very best

Only after abandoning the rhyme of reason do I see
That it’s only ever another love that rescues me from forever’s rest
So now let’s feed each other as best we can
With all the gushing love that we can find
Project it forth from this shallow mind into the absolute all
Let’s fall at its feet in servitude
Bow to each other and drink all the love that we can stomach.

Friday, January 9, 2009

The Numb-O-Wand

When I was a kid, ChupaChups lollipops were the most expensive lollipops you could buy. I only knew of one place that sold them and that was the local pharmacy. They were 50 pence. Consider that Cola-Bottles were 1 penny at the time and you’ll understand why, to a 10 year old, a ChupaChups lollipop was the high of decadence. Like Lucozade (read: fizzy sugar water believed to be the elixir of health), Chupa Chups were reserved for only the sickliest (or spoilt-rotten) kids.

Yesterday I found a new lollipop to topple Chupa Chups. It’s a lollipop that’s so special that you have to get a prescription from a doctor for it. It’s called the “Compound Tetracaine 1% Sucker” and it costs $30.

Ever one to outdo the missus, who just last week had a nasty case of Laryngitis and Bronchitis... I now have a cough, cold, aches that befit an old git and a nasty case of Strep. The doctor gave me a prescription for some antibiotics and a lollipop. This is what he said,
“…and here’s a prescription for a lollipop…”
And here’s what I heard,
“…and here’s a prescription for a fantastic new medical marvel. I’m going to call it a lollipop because, quite frankly, you’ll never be able to pronounce the true name for this orally administered numb-o-wand”.

I was excited. I’d never had a numb-o-wand before. I imagined that it’d shoot Strep fighting nano-machines down my throat or something. It didn’t even occur to me that what I had a prescription for was actually a lozenge on a stick that was going to cost me $30. Hmm, I’m finding myself repeating myself here. But, hell, $30 for a lollipop is daylight robbery!

Anyway, back in the local Walgreens, I gave the nice lady named Cranky Pitbull my prescription. She barked that it’d take 20 minutes to fill it. I said that I’d wait then immediately set off to explore.

It always amazes me what you can buy in stores like Walgreens. Back in the motherland, a Pharmacy sells medications and nothing else. Here they sell everything. Yesterday afternoon I found a set of “Real Stainless Steel Handcuff’s – padded for your comfort”. They were in the toy aisle.

The next aisle over sold magazines. I picked up a copy of Maxim for reading while I waited. I could have picked up National Geographic, but I chose Maxim because it had Hilary Duff on the cover and she looked hot.

On the way back to Cranky Pitbull, I walked down an aisle that sold all kinds of cool stuff like padded seats, heat lamps and personal massagers. I found it pretty funny that they’d sell anything called a “personal massager”. I couldn’t stop myself from smiling - so that’s what these corn fed Bible thumping Midwesterners call vibrators then, is it? Funnier still was the thought of one these grannies that I shared the aisle with actually buying one of these. “Ooh, I say, it’s a feisty little one, isn’t it?”. Knowing full well that all Grannies can read minds, I decided to move on before anyone got suspicious and I was subjected to “the look”.

With my curios-o-meter set to high; I set out to find something else to make me smile. If they had “personal massagers” then they were sure to sell other risqué items. I found one of these back at the Pharmacy’s Pharmacy. Just to the left of the Pitbulls hideout was a piece of equipment called the “dysfunction eradicator”. Actually, I can’t remember the real name, but I’m sure you get the idea. The picture on the box showed a plastic piece of tubing attached to a pump. A penis pump! Ha! “This is too much!”, I thought… And then I noticed that right next to it, and I’m not making this up, was a $29.99 paternity test.

I seemed to be doing a fantastic job of passing the time because a quick glance at my phone told me that I’d been wandering the store for 30 minutes. It was time to get my anties and numb-o-wand and hit the road. The Pitbull told me that it’d be right out and to take a seat. No big deal, I thought. I’ve got a magazine to read.

I sat down and started to read the silly magazine. It was then that I caught a “I hate you, you disgusting filthy pig” stare from a hairy-lipped tub-o-lard with legs. She must have seen the provocative cover and just couldn’t stop herself from passing judgment. What’s funny is that I wasn’t even ogling the girly pictures. I think its bad taste to do that in public. But when I caught that look, I opened her right up. Scantily clad Hilary in all her glory. Bam! I threw her a shit-eating smile for good measure and spread Hilary out on the chair next to me. This was, coincidentally, right next to where she was standing in line. I moved over to the massage chair (they were on sale for $99.98) and set the massage to the “oh yeah” setting to celebrate making her feel so uncomfortable. I guess it worked because she dropped out of line, suddenly remembering that she’d forgotten her Hostess cakes or something.

After a nice relaxing massage or two, I checked my watch. Much to my astonishment I had now been waiting for almost an hour for my meds. I went to the window only to find Pitbull gone. She’d been replaced a young guy who seemed confused about what I was asking of him. This isn’t uncommon. It seems that my English accent confuses a lot of people.
“What - do - you – want?” he asked as slowly as humanly possible.
“To… pickup… my… prescription…” I checked his face to make sure that he was following along before continuing. “I’ve… been… waiting… for… the… past… hour”.
Our conversation continued in slow motion for a few minutes until he suddenly realized what I was asking of him.
“Oh”, he said, “Wheatley is it?”, he said as he rummaged through a pile of bags. “I got it!”

This pissed me off no end, but I decided that I should let it go. My chances of being able to explain why customers don’t like it when they are forgotten seemed pretty remote. It had, after all, taken a matter of minutes for him to just to realize that I wasn’t from the planet Zod.
“OK”, he said inspecting the bags, “that’ll be 4.99 for the Maxim, 10 for the Azithromycin and 30 for the lollipop...” I wasn’t listening. I just swiped and paid.

It was on my way to the car that I realized that my numd-o-wand was really just a lollipop after all. It didn’t release nano-machines, nor did it have any cool drugs in it like Oxi-space-eyes or whatever its called. It was also the most expensive lollipop ever! I shook my head, threw it in the passenger seat and just knew that I’d be writing about it tomorrow.

Coincidentally, the lollipop didn’t work very well and tasted like a moldy cherry soaked in nasty. It numbs the whole mouth and not just your throat. If you like drooling on yourself, throwing money down the toilet and have longed to choke with every drink after it then I can’t recommend it enough. However, if you have even half a brain left then just buy the ChupaChups and call it a day.

Empty pockets

My mantra in life is that every day represents an opportunity to learn something. It’s not a very successful mantra. When I boil it down, I have really only managed to learn three things since I popped out. These are
1) No revenge is as complete as forgiveness
2) Nothing is ever what it appears to be
3) I really know nothing for sure

As a teenager, I knew stuff. I really knew (or thought I knew) everything about everything. Now, at 30-something, I find myself walking around in a daze. “Empty as a pocket” is how I like to describe this state. I like to think that the emptiness in a pocket is what defines its purpose. Since I know nothing at all (see 3) then I should take a little comfort in this very Zen-like self portrait. But I don’t. It goes against my every western sensibility. This is because deep down I have this feeling that a pocket full of stuff would be so much more useful. Like right now, for instance, I’m thinking that a pocket full of wisdom, humor or just plain fact would be more useful than this incredibly empty pocket.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Venue 68

I have visited many nightclubs. They are all loud and jammed packed with the latest audio equipment, hipsters and trendsetters. They often instill a sense of euphoria. I have visited cozy venues of less than 200 people. I have also frequented the mega clubs of Ibiza, where it isn’t unusual to dance the night away with 12,000 other clubbers. I have danced on the bar at the Ministry of Sound in London, suffered adventures in foam at Es Paradise and sprinted down the Champs-Elysees after a ruckus at Queen in Paris. However, I have never experienced a nightclub quite like Venue 68. This is because Venue 68 isn’t a nightclub at all. It’s a church.

Venue 68 has many things in common with a nightclub. First there is the size of the place. It’s a huge expansive warehouse bursting-at-the-seams with the latest in audio-visual equipment. It houses about 600 people, which is small compared to the other two service centers on site. I attended the modern service. There was also a classical and contemporary service at the other buildings within the Asbury compound. In total, almost 5000 people got their holy on at Asbury church today.

The band was warming up as we arrived. The acoustically-sound warehouse hosts a complete band with electric guitars, lights, drums, video projectors and flat screen TV’s. No expense has been spared. It’s top-notch. The band sounded good. The lead singer, a pretty boy in his mid twenties; reminded me of an Emo rock star like Chris-thingy-ma-bob from Dashboard Confessional. I could imagine the female of the flock drooling over his syrupy vocals.

If you’ve ever experienced a nightclub at opening time then you’ve experienced Venue 68 before the show. It was like a night clubbing on a Tuesday night. It’s the same music as Friday or Saturday, just not the same atmosphere. As the sermon progressed I got a distinct feeling of the uncertainty from the congregation. Even though I suspect that many in attendance would deny this, I sensed a palpable question mark hanging in the air. It was like 600 people standing at the edge of a dance floor, tapping their feet, but not quite ready to jump in.

I expected to see people talking in tongues and shouting Halleluiah! What I got was an agreeable show with very little audience participation. We sang along to the syrupy Emo-God lyrics with the rock band, but really only because the band leader instructed us to. Red was for the leader to sing, black was for us. Much to my surprise, I even hummed and tapped along to a few of the songs.

I expected people to be dressed in suits. I always thought that’s what church people wore. There were no suits. There were however plenty of Coach Handbags, fake tan and gold chains on display. A lot of the women wanted to be noticed. This surprised me somewhat. I expected modesty and humility to be the dress code for the day – not bling. Thankfully, whilst sloth, envy and greed were clearly on display in some of the congregation, the clergy seemed unaffected. In fact, the Pastors appeared to embody a spirit of gentility and humbleness. In many ways, it reminded me of Buddhist sermons that I’ve attended. The Pastors, much to my surprise, were nothing at all like the Evangelical, egotistical maniacs that I’ve seen on TV.

The sermon wouldn’t have been out of place in a Zendo. Just replace God with Buddha-nature and the message is very familiar to me. Believe in the Word (Dharma), trust in God (or Buddha-nature) and embrace your spiritual community (Sangha). These are the precepts of Buddhism: to take refuge in the Dharma, the Buddha and the Sangha. There was no bravado or clever wordplay at work at Venue 68. No hellfire and damnation. No smoke and mirrors either - just honest messages delivered with sincerity.

A few hundred years ago, a Zen master (Dogen) wrote that the true person is not like any person at all, but like the blue color of a limitless sky. Now I know this sounds like a bad interpretation of a Japanese poem, but to me it describes a moment of grace. Without getting all psycho-babble weird, let me try to explain this in everyday terms. One night at a nightclub in England, I danced beside a 6 foot speaker and became the music. For a short time I felt as though I was indistinguishable from it. I was the crowd, the DJ and the light. I was the world. I was at peace and, as cheesy as it sounds, completely “at one” with my surroundings. It was an experience that I have felt only a handful of times so far in my life. Other experiences have occurred during more traditional settings like during meditation. These are what I perceive to be spiritual experiences: a brief glance into the nature of Heaven. For me this is proof that there is no single way to attain peace and it touches on the reason why I (a devout non-Christian) would attend a Christian service. Quite frankly, there aren’t many Buddhists in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

The Dalai Lama says that it’s best to embrace the Religion of your community than to look outside. I have heard him ask his western followers if they have given Christianity a chance. He argues that all religions are vehicles to salvation. I’m not sure whether I agree with him or not, but I do know that his message of inclusiveness is not shared with his peers in other religions. I just can’t see an Imam repeating a similar message to his Muslim flock. The Pope, for example, believes that Catholicism is the only path for a Christian to get to heaven. So the simple truth of the matter is that whilst all religions offer similar results, the method is very different. My morning spent at Asbury reaffirmed that Christianity is just another vehicle - one that I took on a brief test drive this morning.

I would love to call Asbury my church. Its buildings are magnificent and majestic. The spiritual leaders seem guided by the light and the followers seem like many friends in the making. I would love nothing more than to throw myself at the cross. At the end of the day though, Christianity just isn’t for me. It just doesn’t fit. Or more to the point, I don’t fit in it. I believe that we should question everything. I believe that God can only exist in the hearts of those who worship him. I believe in an interdependent, interconnected world. A deity separate from my own experience makes no sense to me at all. You see, it doesn’t matter how many times I attempt to make the exoteric esoteric. No amount of clever word substitution like God for Buddha-nature is going to cut it. My beliefs are just not compatible and it’s a terrible shame. I crave the comfort and community of likeminded people.

So what’s next for Dean? I was thinking Islam or Hinduism. Who knows where my next religious excursion will take me. No matter where I end up, I hope that I can remain as open minded and inclusive as the Dalai Lama.