Adam and Eve and North Dallas

The following is a true story, but you didn’t need to be told that. I mean, yes, don’t believe most of what you read or see on the internet, and certainly don’t buy everything I say. This is a blog, afterall. But, this really did happen.

Several years ago, my wife and I attended a fairly conservative and traditional, orthodox Episcopal church in Dallas. The congregation were a Texas version of a high C of E parish in any upscale London suburb. Women in nice hats would be a common occurrence. Fairly posh, right and proper. Not sure what I was doing there, but that’s a story for another time.

One bright Sunday morning – Easter, perhaps – we were sitting in a pew downstairs. Normally we would be sitting in the choir loft, but the choir was given the morning off after the long Easter Vigil mass, which lasts about three hours. Actually, this might have been a few Sundays after Easter, but the mood was the same.

Lecturn - Acton Parish Church, Poyntzpass
courtesy cranneyanthony, Flickr.com

 

In the Catholic mass, along with Episcopalians, and many more, there are prescribed lectionaries – readings that are assembled to illustrate something – that are read for certain occasions. Around Easter, it is customary to review the creation of the world and explain humanity’s dismal place in it. On this glorious Sunday morning, a well-dressed woman in her 30’s walked to the lectern and proceeded to read from Genesis chapter 3. For those who may not be familiar with this particular passage from the Bible, Adam and Eve have defied God by eating the “forbidden fruit” and are now hiding in shame in the Garden of Eden.

She read:

Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were nekkid; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.

“Did she say, nekkid?” I looked over at my wife to see if she had heard the same thing, but she either didn’t notice or didn’t react. I glanced around the church surreptitiously, but ostensibly, no one seemed to hear it. The reader kept going:

Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?”

(Now, I think this is kind of strange, because God knows all, right? So why didn’t the Almighty know where the man and the woman were hiding?) She continued to read:

He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was nekkid; so I hid.”

This time, my wife and looked at each other and smiled. She had heard it! The sound of the word nekkid in this venue, with these finely dressed, upper-class Dallasites – literally in their Sunday best – was very much like seeing a woman in a bright red cocktail dress at a funeral. The sheer redneckedness (red-nekkid-ness?) of this moment was coming through in spite of the way things appeared. At first I thought she simply made a mistake, an error, a slip. But twice? Now I knew this was just how she was used to pronouncing the word “naked.” My wife recalls that perhaps the reader was doing it on purpose, to see if anyone was paying attention. I don’t buy that.

And [God] said, “Who told you that you were nekkid?”

By now more than a few people were holding back laughter, but they heroically maintained their composure. The fact was, this was hysterical, and I appreciated that others recognized it as such. Comedy, it seems, can be found anywhere, even while reading the account of man’s fall from grace. I’m sure God appreciated this moment.

My wife and I recall this day often, simply by repeating the well known passage from Genesis, “Who told you that you were nekkid?” A friend of mine once told me the difference between nekkid and naked. He said, “naked is when you have no clothes on; nekkid is when you have no clothes on, and you’re up to something.” Adam and Eve were definitely up to something. They hid themselves because of their shame, a shame only known to some people, by the way. As for those fine folks in North Dallas, well, who knows what they’re up to.

 

 

Who Wrote That Song?

I like watching “X Factor” and “[Insert Country]’s Got Talent” clips on Youtube. Some of my favorite performances come from the stage of auditions before the likes of Sharon Osbourne, David Hasselhoff, , Piers Morgan and Simon Cowell, to name a few. If you haven’t seen the show, honestly, you have not missed much. The rare performer who really makes it (Michael Grimm in 2010 won “America’s Got Talent”) is usually a singer. Dancers, magicians, stand-up comics, and other talents are less likely to achieve stardom from the springboard of being on one of these programs. Nevertheless, they are very entertaining.

The most delicious component of these shows, the auditions, feature would-be entertainers processing one by one across the stage. When the auditioner is a singer, more often than not, he or she, when asked what they will be singing, responds with the name of the song followed by the name of the person who recorded the song. This is a common occurrence, where the song-writer is often forgotten. Of course, artists like Adele write their own songs (with a little help). But many recording artists, myself included, tend to record other people’s work (covers). But I like to acknowledge who actually composed the work. And I kind of wish those people auditioning would do the same.

Over and over, the contestants approached the mic, and Howie Mandel or Simon Cowell would ask them what they were going to sing, and the answer is usually the name of the song followed by the person who sang it for the version they were familiar with. For example, one contestant, when asked what she was going to sing, said, “‘Your Song’ by Elton John.” The fact is that  Bernie Taupin wrote that song, not Elton John.

Below is a list of popular songs, the prominent artists, and their composers. You might be surprised:

“Woodstock” performed by Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young, written by Joni Mitchell

“Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” performed by Judy Garland, Frank Sinatra, et al., written by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blaine

“Rolling in the Deep” performed by Adele, written by Adele and Paul Epworth

“Faithfully” performed by Journey, written by Jonathan Cain

“Live to Tell” performed by Madonna, written by Patrick Leonard

“Forever” performed by KISS, written by Paul Stanley and … Michael Bolton?!

“The Way You Look Tonight” performed by Frank Sinatra, written by Dorothy Fields and Jerome Kern

“First Love” performed by Jennifer Lopez, written by Savan Kotecha, Max Martin and Ilya Salmanzadeh

“I Knew You Were Waiting (for Me)” performed by George Michael and Aretha Franklin, written by Simon Climie and Dennis Morgan

“If I Were a Boy” performed by Beyoncé, written by Toby Gad and BC Jean

“Hold On ‘Til the Night” performed by Greyson Chance, written by Lady Gaga

“Ring of Fire” performed by Johnny Cash, written by June Carter and Merle Kilgore

“Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” performed by The Shirelles, written by Carole King and Gerry Goffin

“Under the Boardwalk” performed by the Drifters, written by Arthur Resnick and Kenny Young

“Hit the Road Jack” performed by Ray Charles, written by Percy Mayfield

This is by no means a comprehensive list. I was surprised myself when I was doing the research. John Tesh came up a couple times, but he mostly writes Christian songs, which are not exactly mainstream. Tesh’s “Roundball Rock” was prominently featured during NBC’s reign over NBA televised games in the 1990’s. Bob Dylan wrote many songs that went mainstream after pop artists covered them. And Carole King composed quite a few hits in the 60’s and 70’s, along with Roy Orbison and many others.

But none of this knowledge, which was pretty easy to find by the way, will influence the next generation of contestants on America’s Got Talent and X Factor for recognizing the songwriters. My point is that knowledge is undervalued. People tend to bask happily in ignorance, either pretending that truth can’t matter to them, or they think they are right in the first place. If knowledge is power, then what is the blatant refusal of it? I realize this kind of knowledge – who wrote a pop song that may mean nothing – will not end hunger or prevent wars. Yeah, I get that. Still, it’s important to have the right information.

Why I Hate Christmas – I Actually Don’t, but Bear With Me

Okay. I actually do not hate the Christian holy day of the nativity of Jesus. What I hate is what Christmas or Xmas or “the holiday season” or Noel or the “most wonderful time of the year” has morphed into in this country and across the pond, and what it does to people.

When I was a kid I loved Christmas. I loved the lights and decorations, and of course, the presents. I loved seeing Charlie Brown and listening to Mel Torme. We would buy a moribund tree that had been cut down in October and shipped from Michigan and erect it in our living room in keeping with a tradition that was started in England as a fad patterned after a German custom imported by Prince Albert, husband to HM Queen Victoria. In Texas, the sad excuses for pine trees are just, well, Charlie Brown-ish. (About an hour drive east of Dallas, you can peruse acres of parched evergreens and saw down the tree of your choice for less than $75. But late November in Texas offers two types of weather: too cold to have fun, and too warm to get into the spirit of Christmas tree-hunting.)  I can’t deny that I don’t have good memories of yuletide, but much of this can be chalked up to the rose-colored lenses of nostalgia. There are for me some genuinely good memories of the holidays rolling around up there, and practically everyone has a their own Rosebud, even if they had never seen snow.

09_JAN2011_Finch_Park
@2011 Chris Zuniga Photography

But the sacred traditions of our youth evolve, and the deeper meanings to cultural rituals can be lost over generations, centuries (I won’t get into the ugly truth about the pagan rituals that Christmas was originally based on). Do a little research, and you will find that the Santa we all recognize here in the States was based on a Coca Cola ad from 1931. Before then, Santa or Father Christmas or Père Noël or Saint Nick or – the list goes on – was just an old dude in a coat. His beard was usually gray or gray-white, and his trappings resembled something a 14th century monk would find inappropriately flashy. Then in the early 19th century, a poem titled, “A Visit from St. Nicholas” was published which would radically change our image of Santa and Christmas. Suddenly, there was a jolly elf delivering presents, dropping down the chimney. Never mind that not everyone has a fireplace, that wouldn’t stop this juggernaut of imagery from establishing a foothold in American tradition. Many people can recite at least part of the poem from memory, even naming the fabled reindeer in order. And it has become a favorite tradition in this country for the head of the house to read the poem on Christmas Eve.

All this still does not bother me, even though many of our traditional themes came to us from advertising. But in the 20th century, things got really shitty. Even Charles Schulz, creator of Peanuts, was keenly aware of commercialism’s effects on the holiday. In A Charlie Brown Christmas, the Peanuts gang try putting on a Christmas play, with Charlie Brown as its director. He starts out – and continues through the program – being depressed about Christmas and how commercialized it has become, and can’t get into the holiday spirit. He eventually gets some help from his friend, Linus, and the rest of the gang.

By the last quarter of the 20th century, Christmas had become the main vehicle supporting commerce in the otherwise midwinter slump. Businesses began bringing in shoppers right after Thanksgiving, starting another bleak holiday tradition, Black Friday. The consumerist ritual of bringing out shoppers a mere hours after the yearly gluttonous act of devouring a turkey dinner while watching multimillionaires playing football is the starting bell of the shopping season. Market analysts will watch closely while shoppers go completely insane trying to beat the crowds so they can be among the first to get their hands on the latest PlayStation, just to keep up with the Joneses. God bless us, everyone!

This brings me to my point of why I hate Christmas. Somewhere along the way, capitalism creeped into what had been a precious and cherished holiday. Even if you are not very religious, the Christmas season can represent all that is good in the universe. It had been a time when people would come together, setting aside differences and celebrating, at least for a moment, a season of brotherhood, togetherness, hope, and joy. Add to that the idea of Jesus being born that night – which he wasn’t, but that hardly mattered to early church leaders – and you have yourself a beautiful celebration. Light the candles, sing some songs, and enjoy one-another’s company over a glass of whatever you choose. Perfect just the way it is. I’d like to leave consumerism out of it for once. If your idea of a perfect Christmas is to build a fire on some beach and gather your friends to sing Beach Boys songs, make that your tradition. If Christmas is a big dinner with your family (as it is with mine), or a midnight mass or Laser Tag, it still adheres to I believe to be in the spirit of the holiday. Wouldn’t it be nice if we didn’t have to get stressed out going all over town to find that “perfect” gift? Wouldn’t Christmas be better if we didn’t have midnight madness sales, last-minute blow-outs and Truck-a-thons?

“A Charlie Brown Christmas” by Charles Schulz

Okay, so I really don’t hate Christmas. I fully intend to make my own traditions, and people and retailers who don’t agree can still go on doing whatever they want, and it won’t affect me. Like Charlie Brown, I have found meaning in Christmas, what it means to me. Sure, the Church™ can try and tell me what I should get out of this. And Target and Wal-Mart can pitch their ideas. But my holidays are not for sale.

Have yourself a merry…

 

Run, Damn You!

Exercise is important for good physical and mental health. Getting regular exercise is essential to maintaining healthy weight, promotes better sleep, and reduces stress, not to mention lowering cholesterol and blood pressure. Many Americans – most, actually – are at least overweight, myself included. Obesity-related illness costs taxpayers millions in medical expenses. And what are we doing to stop it? Very little.

I say all this because I am part of the problem. I have absolutely no excuse for not exercising. I am not injured. I have no joint pain. I have no respiratory condition other than seasonal allergies. I am not an amputee (although, that doesn’t seem to stop people who are determined either). I can see in the dark, and I have no hearing impairment. I live in a safe neighborhood, and there are parks and jogging trails everywhere. The only thing keeping me from getting out there is my own unwillingness and sloth.

I am a colossal slacker. I procrastinate, and I can always find something else I’d rather be doing. I happen to love video games, and Youtube is absolutely compelling. I can sit for hours going from one video to the next, and the subject matter I encounter is like a grab bag of the best and worst of humanity. Fascinating!

The truth is: I used to run on a regular basis. I ran 20 km every week. I would run in summer heat and driving rain and in freezing temperatures. I ran early in the morning before work, and I ran on weekends all morning. I couldn’t get enough. I even dreamed about running. I would daydream about the rhythm of my shoes hitting the pavement while sitting at my desk.

I bought a new pair of shoes, and suddenly, I stopped.

NewShoes

I actually did run for a while after buying the new shoes. But something happened. I’m not sure what. It wasn’t because I was suddenly older. Yes, I didn’t start running until I was almost 40. And I kept running for many years. The fact is, I just lost my motivation. What motivated me in the beginning? The simple pleasure of being outside in the early morning and being alone was enough. For one hour each day, I was alone. I couldn’t be bothered. There were no phone calls. No interruptions. No emails to read. It was just me and the pavement. The cars going past me seemed like clouds drifting by. People rushed off to get to work early to avoid the traffic, while I ran through neighborhoods. Some people would still be in bed, and their dark houses seemed cold and desolate.

Now I have run out of excuses. You see, I bought new shoelaces. They’re 132 cm long and linguini-shaped. I think they are the best choice for – on what the fuck am I doing? I have to just get my lazy ass out there and run. I mean, yeah. I had a foot injury a couple years ago, but that’s completely healed. And lately I have been itching to get out there. So what am I waiting for?

Alright. I’ll put my shoes on.

I’ll just do that.

Yep. That’s what I’ll do.

Firsts

I was the first-born. There are two of us, so that doesn’t really amount to much. But my uncle is the oldest of 13. My mom was the first female runner in her school’s track team. I know a few people who were the first in their families to go to college, and somewhere out there, possibly, is the first human who will travel to mars.

Being first is pretty important. You can see how important by watching how people drive. Some drivers insist on being at the front of the line, even if they are only seconds ahead of the back of the line. They weave in and out of traffic, positioning themselves toward the pole position as if they’re qualifying at Daytona. I tracked one such driver one day (while sitting in the passenger seat), and I timed how far back we were. The car in front – more than a kilometer out front – turned out to be eleven seconds ahead of us. If we were going to the same destination, figuring in time to park and walk into the store or restaurant, we would virtually arrive at the same time.

None of this logic could possibly dissuade anyone hell-bent on being first. Psychologically, there must be something crucial to being ahead of the herd. It might simply be competitive instinct. But there could always be something more to it. Not being a psychologist, I would not know. Being a student of human nature, however, I could venture a guess.

People are not so far evolved from our ancestors as we would like to think. 100,000 years of social evolution has progressed us from primitive hunter-gatherers to building pyramids to constructing palaces and dams and bridges, overcoming our environment. Now we have overcome our own nature with prosthetics that allow us to see farther, artificial joints restoring mobility, and artificial limbs. But our behaviour has not kept up. We are still driven by primal needs and urges. Oftentimes, our bodies tell us what to do despite what we know to be good for us. This is why we have trouble resisting certain foods. Our pre-civilization selves are still in there, telling us to eat, to fill up, because we don’t know when our next meal is coming. Our physiology has not matched the pace of our intellectual and social development.

Many people are just assholes who feel like they own the road. And it’s not just on the highway. People “cut” in line – or jump queue – for what? So they can be two meters in front of you? It must be something ingrained in personality and temperament. Winning is sweet, but I’ve never been terribly competitive. I have competed for various positions: first chair in the orchestra, getting the job I wanted, winning a bid in an online auction. I played in a football tournament a few years ago. I like winning; I won’t lie. But what is worthy of competition? That’s where people tend to get confused. Not everything is a competition. And some of us forget that.

Competition is really a good thing. Without it, our species would not have survived otherwise. We once had to sleep with one eye open to avoid being eaten. So being able to jump out of bed and be the first one on his feet would have been an advantage. You know the phrase: I don’t have to outrun the bear, just outrun the next guy. In those not-so-distant days, being competitive was simply insurance for passing on your genes to the next generation.

But please; cutting people off in traffic is not going to promote your bloodline. So just stop it.