Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Earth Day is for Pussies Like Me.

Yesterday was Earth Day and by chance I did something natural. Every Sunday we can manage it, the Geordies (two brothers from Tyneside who came to the Southland via Medicine Hat, Alberta) and I trek up some hill in one of the various mountain ranges surrounding LA. Brother M couldn't make it so Brother G and I set out alone. We thought, "well it's just the two of us, let's do something a little more strenuous than normal." So we did.

We meet at 7 at Brother G's building downtown. I wait for him in the garage by his vehicle because on this day Brother G's big German Shepherd isn't coming along and if I were to show my face he would know his owner was off to the woods without him and he'd tear the place to shreds. In fact, Brother G has put all his hiking equipment in the car the day before so the dog doesn't figure it out. Clever dogs, German Shepherds.

Despite the fact that we plan on reaching an altitude of 10,500 ft or so, neither of us looked at the weather or really thought too much about what we should bring. Of course, even though this is a mere 45 minutes east of Los Angeles and it's April 22nd it is snowing at the trail head and we both are wearing shorts. Brother G's short pants are a respectable number made out of some sweat-wicking, moisture-repelling fabric; mine are a pair of ancient, Ralph Lauren tennis skivvies that might have been considered a bit too high-on-the-thigh back when the Celtics were winning championships. I'll admit that I do this intentionally; I try to channel an Austrian exchange counselor from 1986 named Rudi who had the short-shorts, the mullet, the mustache - really the total package. I can't grow a mustache and I'm receding from the front, so no mullet either; all I got is the short-shorts. Maybe one Sunday I'll wear a wig. I'm digressing. The point is, we are not prepared for the weather but I'm from New England and he's from the North of England, so we say "F it" and start walking.

At about 7,000 ft there's a lodge. There's also the unloading area for a chairlift, which explains why this lodge has a chef and some hot coffee if you want it. There's a guy there named Larry who writes reviews for hiking and mountaineering products for those types of magazines. He spent the night at the summit. He looks like Albert Brooks. He makes me feel like a pussy because he spent the night at the summit and he looks like Albert Brooks. He's a nice guy and he's got killer gear. I can't help notice he has cramp-ons strapped to his pack and for the first time I think about abandoning the rest of the hike. Truth be told, the altitude has already taken a toll on Brother G and I feel a little under-dressed.

But I'm from New England and he's from the North of England so we put on all the layers we have, including my LeTigre windbreaker, and press on.

Within 15 minutes Brother G has to stop pretty frequently to keep his breath - the altitude is really effecting him. My lungs feel great but I fear I'll get frostbite if I don't keep moving quickly; we decide to split up. Apart from the two of us there is one Japanese man about 30 yards in front of us, taking three steps then resting, three steps then resting. I pass him in no time. I keep moving and moving, until I look back and Brother G and the Japanese man are out of sight. I figure I'll just persevere since the snow is now two feet deep and sticking to the trail is just a matter of following the footprints, or to be precise placing my bare leg into a line of deep holes, left by Larry.

20 minutes later I am about a quarter mile into a section of the hike called the Devil's Backbone. It is a series of ridges between peaks with severe drop-offs on both sides. The wind whipping past me is probably in the 40-50 mph range, there's snow everywhere, and I'm not only wearing shorts, I'm wearing all white. The snot is flowing freely and my hands are shoved deep into my pockets. I keep going.

Finally I think about it too much and realize, even though the summit is just about 300 feet away, that it is very likely I will lose my footing, or get dizzy from the altitude, or get to the summit and head back the wrong way, or something equally as catastrophic will occur, so I turn around. Damn you Larry! I really feel like a pussy now; that guy slept up there.

I don't run into the Japanese guy for 15 minutes or so. He says, "your friend. No." I take this to mean Brother G turned back, as I figured he would. I follow the footprints in the snow back to a wider section and then start running. I hate hiking down hill. I always run when I can. With all the snow it is actually a blast. In a half hour or so I am back at the lodge to find Brother G sitting with a plate of pancakes and a cup of hot chocolate. I eat a pancake.

The 3.5 - 4 mile trek back down to the car is uneventful. It's not that steep so I don't feel the need to run. It was a pretty good Earth Day, though we didn't discover it was Earth day until we heard someone mention it on the radio driving home.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Jumping In

I'm a halfer, but if pressed I'll say I'm Jewish. I know, I hear you: but your mother isn't Jewish - you can't be Jewish. Sock it in your cornhole with that business; it's not like the crusaders, Huns or Romans are out pillaging shtetls presently so I think it's fair to say the old rules need no longer apply. I identify more with the Jews than the Christians, simple as that. Plus, if you tell me I'm not Jewish than what am I? Am I Christian by default? How can that be? Doesn't that require at least the basic belief that Jesus was divine? I don't hold that belief.

The mother-in-law-to-be (mltb) insists we fly from
Boston to Los Angeles for an engagement party as soon as possible. In mltb's culture I was supposed to have given my fiancé the ring at a party with her family all around. I did not know this and so, as a compromise, we decide we'll just get together as soon as possible.

We arrive in LA and mltb tells us it will only be a few relatives and it's no big deal - oh, and she invited grandmother-in-law-to-be's (gmltb) pastor to join us. He speaks English, which is the explanation we get for his coming.

A couple of weeks ago, specifically the day before I popped the question, I went to see mltb and father-in-law-to-be (fltb) to get their permission/blessing. It was very touching, very emotional for me because nice things were said and it was an apparent acceptance of, let's face it, a completely opposite type of person into their family. The question was raised whether I would object to being married in a church, and I said I would do whatever fiancé wanted; having it in a church certainly would not be a deal breaker.

Fiancé and I assume the pastor is there to convince us that we should get married in a church. Mltb has been pushing her church in the valley for the past few days ("100 parking spots. 23 acres. Beautiful windows.") so we think this will be more of the same. The party is in fact a dinner at a nice restaurant on the first floor of a swank hotel. I'm wearing a suit jacket I borrowed from brother-in-law-to-be (bltb) and a tie from fltb; nothing really matches, but it's close enough. The way we are introduced to the pastor makes it clear that fiancé and I are not the guests of honor, he is.

The pastor is a young man, not much older than my 32 years. He is nice, but he has been given very little information about us. With me he discusses soccer, with fiancé he doesn’t speak. He infers that he is a good striker and I accept his inference because, well, how do you tell a pastor he’s full of shit? We don’t touch upon our religious differences, which I think is odd. Usually when you meet a man of the cloth they search for your pious tendencies. I would think in this instance, since I will be joining the family, he would have some concerns.

We order food and then promptly shut the paper door, thus sealing our party off from the rest of the patrons – and the food we ordered. I’m used to long prayers before meals, so I do not find this strange. But we don’t just say grace. Instead pastor begins a service, a full-fledged service. I’m okay with this, in fact I’m touched fiancé’s family is treating our engagement as they would any other engagement; I feel accepted.

Oh how wrong I am.

Pastor begins with genesis, lots and lots of genesis. No one likes genesis. It’s unbelievably chauvinistic and, well, lousy. Pastor is staring into my eyes, almost pleading with me to believe that g-d finally finished creation when he made a “helper” out of Adam’s rib. Oy vey. I’m feeling awful for fiancé now but I can’t break the stare with pastor, so I’m unable to give her a look of understanding. We take a break and sing a hymn. Fiancé has to share a hymnal with pastor. She doesn’t sing. I share one with uncle-in-law-to-be (ultb). We sing the hymn in English for my benefit so I sing loudly. As an aside, fltb and bltb do not sing, nor would they ever sing in public; fiancé is similarly made-up.

Pastor uses the tractor beam on my eyes again and I find myself now physically uncomfortable trying not to break the gaze. This begins the sweat. For a few moments I’m not listening to what he is saying because I’m so prickly with tension, and, let’s face it, he lost me with genesis. Eventually words filter through: Jesus, salvation, providence, and many combinations thereof. Like a stenographer I’m taking in every word now and it’s not pretty: “Only through Jesus can you reach salvation…”, “With fiancé as your helper and Jesus as your guide…”

I want to respond to every statement, but I’m bound by decorum and respect. Still, I’m nearly apoplectic, but somehow I do not break eye contact with pastor. He breaks the spell by having us sing the same hymn. Again fiancé doesn’t sing.

He starts up again and I’m deadlocked on the eyes. He says he will pray everyday that I find Jesus and mltb chimes in to say that they all pray for me to find Jesus. This hurts. It is clear, at this point, that my Judaism is looked upon as a problem that mltb and gmltb need to fix. I now see this engagement party is a full-on intervention, an attempt to lay the groundwork for conversion. I’m so distraught I break eye contact. Also, the sweat has reached a level that doesn’t allow my glasses to remain on the bridge of my nose. As I reach for my frames I can sense the color of my skin changing from pink to purple to blue. I suddenly need to drink water quickly. Pastor senses something and has us, incredibly, sing the same hymn. Gmltb and mltb switch out of English and falsetto in a higher octave, but I’m not beat; I’m holding my own. Fiancé doesn’t sing.

To his credit, pastor figures, finally, that maybe I’m not Christian. He tones down what he’s saying and no longer insists on only looking at me. He says he will pray for us a number of times, but he doesn’t mention Jesus again. I finally get to assess the others at the table and I see fiancé shooting absolute daggers at mltb. Gawd, I love her. Later she tells me she was hearing in her head all of my rebuttals to everything pastor said, hoping I wouldn’t say something aloud. Pastor I think feels like he’s been duped, and I feel sorry for him. I’m thankful he realized how uncomfortable I was, but wow did it take him a long time. To conclude the service he has us sing the same hymn - seriously, for the fourth time. I know it’s over now, so I belt it; clearly the loudest at the table. Fiancé is silent.

Finally the paper door opens and the food arrives. This, not Jesus, is my salvation.

Pastor stays for another half hour or so, just nibbling his food. He asks fiancé if she cooks, which she doesn’t (I do). He asks me how business is (it isn’t). Eventually he leaves, but not before mltb makes sure he hears her say to me, “You have to read the bible every day.” At this point I’m nodding at everything, so whatever.

On the one hand you can say that evangelicals do what they do because they believe there is only one path to salvation. By that logic this means mltb and gmltb are operating with the best intentions and this weird Christian onslaught is coming from a “good place”. On the other hand you can say mltb and gmltb are a little myopic when it comes to acceptable practices. Time will tell; I’m sure I will as well.