Saturday, March 31, 2012

The Politics Of Jesus Camp

I remember the tabernacle. It's rounded roof, it's outdated architecture, the only real building amongst a sea of fabricated one room cabins. Back in '99 some men in jump suits came and built a frontal annex. It's new paint smell was a welcome change from the musty aroma that seeped from under the tabernacle doors. They sold books in that new annex, and cd-roms and bejeweled hair accessories that resembled peacocks and other tropical birds. I half expected Jesus himself to descend from heaven to come and destroy our stupid looking hair accessories. I imagined him ripping plumage limb from limb while Dylan's 'Gotta Serve Somebody' softly played.

We slept on bunk beds that were donated from the local prison. They were black and metal and tough. Some of them had no guard rail and others had no climbing bars, only the most agile of kids slept on those. If you were a counselor you usually took two mattress pads which would alleviate some of the pain brought about from sleeping on donated prison beds. From above the set of dorms were shaped like a plus sign with each wing named after a direction. All the cool kids were in East dorm, West dorm was always second choice and god have mercy on your soul if you came late and ended up in North dorm. North dorm had the really fat counselor, I called her Sister Waterfall and Sister Waterfall sat in her bed eating double stuffed Oreo cookies and would do night checks by shining a flash light directly in our eyes. The dorms we're separated by gender, everything at Jesus camp is separated by gender.

Each year the head camp pastor would stand in front of us with a speech aimed at encouraging us to form a lasting relationship with god but he was mean and he was sexist and he told the boys not to date any of the ugly dogs at Jesus camp and the boys would stand up and shout and clap with the same enthusiasm usually reserved for sporting event finals and I'd clench my fists and give him dirty looks and silently die on the inside.

At Jesus camp if you're a boy you played basketball and baseball and if you're a girl you watched the boys play basketball and baseball. Girl's could take classes on how to do hair and attend seminars on the importance of modesty. We all had mandatory choir lessons and we all hated them unless you we're one of the chosen people that led the sections or sang the solos. It was always pastors kids or friends of the pastors kids and it was all very political and everyone was a Republican.

There were rules: girls must wear skirts past the knee, no slits, no exposed cleavage, nothing tight, sleeves to the mid-arm, no jewelry, no makeup, no cutting of your hair, no coolots. For those who may not know what coolots are essentially they are extremely baggy shorts that look like a skirt, kinda skirty but just not skirty enough. Boys were to wear trousers to the floor and shirts to the mid-arm, no facial hair and haircuts were to be clean and not touching the ear. If at anytime a counselor found your appearance inappropriate you were sent back to change. One year my best friend cut her hair and she was told to put it up 'don't go flaunting your sin' they said. And these were just the rules regarding appearance.

The food they served in the cafeteria was rubber in consistency and lacked any hint of natural colour and thus an acceptable form of anorexia known as the camp diet was born. I remember my friends using it as an excuse to starve themselves, I remember everyone claiming they would lose five pounds in a week and the reason they needed to lose five pounds was to get a boyfriend. I remember girls not wanting to eat in front of boys and I remember feeling annoyed and with wrath yelled: 'You stupid idiots! They know you eat AND guess what? They know you poop too!' surprisingly that didn't spawn any desire to pick up a fork. I remember feeling really bad for them, I remember wishing I had the will power to starve myself too.

There is no particular summer I remember more than others. The years start to blend together and memories blur into the wails of people speaking in tongues and the clicking of heels on pavement. I will always remember the girl who was married at 15 and came to camp with her new born baby and I remember thinking 'that's not what I want.' I will always remember how un-special I was in the camp hierarchy, how I wasn't a pastor's kid or missionaries kid or choir leaders kid and those were the one's that were nurtured and groomed to be the future of our movement. I could never be a camp counselor now, I wouldn't be welcomed. I have long since left that church and organized religion behind me, I have cut off my long hair and have visible tattoos but as summer quickly approaches I wish I could hold the hands of the new generation of un-special ones and gently whisper when no one is listening 'it's ok if you want to cut your hair too.'

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The Woman

"I will remember the kisses, our lips raw with love and how you gave me everything you had and how I offered you what was left of me and I will remember your small room the feel of you, the light in the window, your records, your books, our morning coffee, our noons our nights, our bodies spilled together sleeping, the tiny flowing currents, immediate and forever, your leg my leg, your arm my arm, your smile and the warmth of you who made me laugh again." ― Charles Bukowski

I imagine her dark hair was probably waist length. She would wake up from her hungover slumber and run her fingers through it in lieu of a comb. Maybe she would braid it and pin it up in the back, tiny ringlets, a tribute to Shirley Temple in the film Heidi. She probably owned a big floppy hat, yellow or perhaps moss green with a polka dot ribbon wrapped around the base. She would put her feet up on the dash and he would drive along the California coast line. I'm sure she smelled of sea salt and lilacs, not lilacs, maybe lavender. She smelled like purple.

Her eyes were probably heavy, heavy carrying the burden of the pain she had seen. Perhaps an alcoholic father whose love of the bottle forced the family apart or maybe an automobile accident she witnessed and could not help and I'm sure she really would have wanted to. Heavy eyes but trusting and kind. The type you could see juggling clowns and baby lambs in. Eyes that told a story, eyes you couldn't bear to look at for long.

Maybe she was Hispanic. Maybe she had hands that rolled tortillas and feet that could dance le Quebradita. She would have had brothers. Many, many brothers, brothers who loved her more than themselves but brothers who couldn't express it. So she ran away. They were probably older brothers.

I bet she loved to sleep, and read and write. I bet that's why he fell in love with her. Her favourite position was curled up on the front porch hammock nestled between two blue posts of that California victorian. That house was a place for misfits for people who cared too much and people who didn't care at all. She felt too much all the time, too much euphoria, too much sorrow, a roller coaster she got on that had no final destination. She was probably bi-polar and chose to medicate herself with sleeping and reading and writing and coffee. Only black coffee, dark like her waist length hair.

I bet she felt like Sunday morning. Her lips tasting like citrus, juicy and plump, lips that he could bite into and keep inside him. Lips you don't forget. I'm sure her laughter was contagious, feeling her pain with every whimsical chuckle. I'm sure she was broken. I think he wanted to fix her. I think she would have liked him to but the broken can't fix the broken so instead they chose to laugh, and sleep and drink coffee and dance le Quebradita.

I'm sure she didn't want to leave but when things go right for too long she jumps before they go left. Maybe she smiled as she ran, that smile he loved and lost himself in. A smile that inspires, a smile one only dreams of, a woman who is no longer real. Red and raw with love.

This short was featured on Thought Catalog.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

On Forgetting Your First Love

I used to read a lot of Bukowski, a lot of it. He used to ask me why and I would answer "he isn't like Jesus and sometimes I need to believe in something more than that." It used to help, the reading not the Jesus. Jesus never helped. He didn't understand why. I didn't either.

I remember one time we were driving back to his house, I think he wanted pizza, I think it had mushrooms on it and he picked the mushrooms off. We were driving back to his house and he took my CD collection, all of them, all my years, my heart, my investment and threw them out the window of a moving car. "Jesus doesn't like when you listen to that junk." Jesus didn't like Queen, everyone likes Queen.

When he got his credit card bill each month he looked like a deflated balloon. I knew he wanted me to offer to help and sometimes I regret not having offered to help but I knew he would never pay me back. "Jesus will make a way" he said. And he lead you right to the unemployment line.

He loved cheese. One time we were at that gourmet food store, he knows the one, the one with the giant mâché strawberry on the roof. He said "lets try to make our own Saganaki tonight" so he picked out the cheese and he picked out the brandy and found the biggest, juiciest lemon he could find and then we went to the cash register and then he waited for me to get my wallet out. Perhaps Jesus did make a way for him.

I always told him to never quit, to be the best at whatever he chose to do although he chose to do nothing but feel sorry for himself and he was the very best at it. He always thought Jesus had dealt him a bad hand, a 2/7 offsuit. His parents were stingy, he got bad professors, no one recognized his talents, the interest rate was too high and the starting pay was too low.

He said "I love you" for the first time on the phone, we were dating for a little over a month and the girl he thought he got pregnant was still in love with him.

Still I miss the city, the way the light posts looked like floating orbs on a snowy night and the local pizzeria that made 'the special special' and the two yippie dogs and the way his dad helped his mom bring the groceries in. I think he used to love me, I think he tried the best he could and the best he could was a Chinese buffet on Valentines day and the emotional connection of Bukowski and eventually I stopped reading so much Bukowski, a writer like that isn't a role model but my Jesus how he helped.