|I'm a city girl who moved out to the sticks. My Darwin fish was broken off of my car the first week of my living here in mountainous Southern California. What doesnít kill you makes you stronger. It takes you about seven minutes to cross the town end to end. Weíre actually not in the town, weíre out in the woods, of sorts. Thereís no Starbuckís. Instead, there are crossesÖBIG CROSSES that cast long shadows in baron fields where nothing has ever grown and crows stand watch on the posts of barbedwire fences. Sometimes there are cows in those fields that are led to slaughter.
The cows are dying for the sins of the gluttonous McDonaldís eating population that believe that tofu is a Chinese food, and therefore, foreign and not to be trusted in these times of National Security. I found a field where I pull over weekly onto the long, dried out weeds. I can smell my catalytic converter tempting the sticks into a blaze. I go there to cautiously feed the exotic buffalo sugar cubes and apples through the tightly-wrapped barbedwire. They never come near. Whatever happened to these buffalo have made them stop trusting anyone. One day I tried to wave them over and my jade bracelet flipped over my hand with such a high speed that it whipped through the air with a whizzing sound and into the waist-high weeds in the buffalo corral. It disappeared into the high glass in a blink. It was awkward.
I learned a lesson when I was very young at Golden Gate Park when I stuck my fingers in the cyclone fence and a baby buffalo began rubbing its huge body to and fro with my finger trapped between it and the fence. Snap! I never quite forgot about that injury. I left the bracelet in the field ó I didnít want to have to explain it. I didnít want to get knocked over by a buffalo. Iím somewhere between the buffalo and the barbed wire, that's the town next to a rock and a hard place. This is where I live. I like some aspects of living in the country - we sure couldn't have suge a huge geodesic dome anywhere else. And I get to luxuriate in the privacy of my home with my wonderful husband, playing our musical instruments and feeding fruit to each other. It is beautiful out here, especially on warm summer nights with a full moon. There was a wild turkey in the backyard yesterday, probably the only place around where it wouldn't get picked off by a jerk hunting from their balcony - people really do hunt from their balconies in this neck of the woods. I feel out of place without a high-power sniper assult weapon. Although I have o admit, I do also love my travel time away.
When I can't get down the hill to Somewhat Civilization, I drive into the little town where mean looking women give me the eye...sneering at my city-red hair, my fluorescent summer green clothes, four inch heels and loud jewelry. You donít see heels too often in this town, and I canít remember seeing a pair of nylons. Lots of men with vacant looks and slightly open mouths chaw on tobacco, driving around in huge trucks with confederate flags wagging from antennas, and placed on the rear window...in back on the gun rack. The Civil War has never ended here. I cannot tell you how many near misses Iíve had with these tobacco-types, whom I believe are a near relatives to the llamas at the nearby farms. Buffalos and llamas living side by side Ė there is hope in the world.
Last summer, I drove through the Deepest South (to confront me fears abut humankind) and those rebel flags make me just as nervous there as they do here.
Thereís a town about 40 miles away that was founded by Confederate types after being kicked out of 49er country for being too racist (this is from men who were selling the scalps -.50- and heads -$1- of the men, women and children of Native American descent to the government). These southerners were killing Chinese immigrants who were cooking and cleaning for the 49ers, and who had put their backs into building the original infrastructure of this country Ė the railroad. Well, the rebels, who were still feeling badly for having their slaves taken away, decided to move to an area not too terribly far from here. Iíve interviewed a lot of contractors, many of them say, ďIíll get my Mexicans right out here to get that done.Ē At that point I show them the door after asking them if they believe people can still be considered property. They all tell me I must have misunderstood them. Right. Others come bearing business cards with the sign of the cross, or aChristian fish . I tell them that Iím not a Christian, so they probably donít want to do business with me. They backpeddle and say, Oh, we donít mind, they say. I tell them perhaps I do - Why would they put that on there unless they wanted to do business as an exclusive club? I was told by a Christian friend that most Christians put their symbols on their business cards because they don't want to do business with those outside of their faith. I got a different input from another Christian friend who said it was a symbol that you could trust the business person and their work. Frankly, I'm at a loss, as I have always looked as business as a colorless, religious-free type of transaction. Isn't that what the civil rights and discrimination-free eras were about? When I ask people with symbols on their cards point-blank what kind of clients (what faith) they prefer to do business with, they look at me blankly...perhaps trying to read me for what kind of answer I'm looking for. I mean, why put any symbol on your card unless you're looking for a certain clientele, right?
I took my dogs down the hill to the dog park where people aare a bit less conservative. It was the day Bush gave his inauguration speech. I couldnít get NPR at my home until Jeff put up a huge antenna for me (have I mentioned how much I love my husband in this blog? Love has made me soooo sappy) ó so, I once had to drive toward the freeway to listen to Terry Gross and Cynthia Poggioli . Not anymore. I can now turn on my quadraphonic stereo and get it any time I want Ė except the local public station goes over to classical music in the evenings. Ack!
Anyhow, I digress (again and again). I knew the inaugural speech was going to leave me feeling empty and pissed off, so I drove out looking for others to commiserate with. Another four years of fascism wasnít enough, I had to hear him gloat and prey all over himself. I had been driving around town and listening to the Bush Man (although, hear me out, I have much more respect for the bushmen than for the Bush Man. In fact, if we were to gather and appoint the collective Bushmen , I do believe that they would have a much more humanitarian approach than our idiot in office. I really do believe theyíd run a more democratic nation), and waiting for it to end. Like many others driving around (in places where NPR is popular), my knuckles (wrapped around the steering wheel) became whiter and whiter with The Bushís (I refuse to ever call him my president)every reference to god. Drinking and driving is really bad, but driving and listening to Bush can be just as dangerous. So, we pulled up to the dog park to listen to the last of his blather. It went on and onÖand I watched the line between church and state not only crossed, but obliterated. I have nothing against religion, but we do have a Constitutional division in place - and did Bush ever think about perhaps there were people who actually voted for him who were of other faiths? It was obvious that this man didnít have a clue about history, or didnít respect the foundation blocks this country was built upon. He should have been impeached right after that speech, hauled off to Congress to explain himself. I was about to meet the personification of the group that put him back in for the next four years.
I put the dogs on their leashes, tried to keep my java from spilling, and ran to the fenced off dog area. I was upset and wanted to find others who would empathizeÖI forgot where I was. I tried to open up a discussion about it; of course, I opened up with my liberal bleeding heart statements about not being able to believe what had come out of Bush's mouth. As the woman with the ridgeback turned to me in shock (she hadnít even listened to the speech), the glint off of the cross around her neck caught my eye before her sharp tongue went to cut me. Don't get me wrong, people wearing crosses don't even phase me, my grandmother wore a cross around her neck all her life. And then she was buried with it. It gave her a great deal of comfort. But, some people wear their crosses like some people steer their prams (baby stroller) - like a weapon through a shopping mall. This woman was definitely wearing her faith as a weapon rather than a comforting belief.
"If it weren't for YOUR kind, there wouldn't be a war."
"MY kind," I shot back. "MY kind was in office for eight years and there was no war."
"This country was founded on Jesus Christ." I choked on my Starbuck's, visibly let it spray from my mouth for effect. Obviously this skanky blonde with the implants and way too much makeup adorning her vapid eyes - I had no doubt she was somebody's trophy wife - hadn't read any U.S. history in her life.
"Why don't you take your dogs and get out," she demanded. In an instant, I imagined her watchingNascar and downing Budweiser with her husband and friends under the Confederate flag (used in earlier times by people who believed in slavery and used today as an icon by the Ku Klux Klan ) tacked to the faux wood paneling in her frontroom. She was wearing boots, shit-kickiní boots Ė I really donít trust women who wear boots unless theyíre made by Franco Sarto or some reasonable facsimile.
"As a matter of fact, I thought I'd just sit here and talk to you all about the foundation of this country for a while," I answered back, settling myself on the top of the bench and smiling. My Queensland was humming with my words in a low growl at the women, who were red in the face and clutching their dog's leashes in their very white clenched fists. They circled me like some kind of Republican-choreographed Westside Story kill-the-democrat ritual.
"Perhaps, after that, Iíll give you all a history lesson regarding church and state and why our country was founded under dividing those institutions. You all seem to be terribly ignorant of U.S. history, and the founding of this country."
"GOD founded this country," the plumper woman added, her haircut jaggedly framing her quivering red face.
"Forgive me," I said to the six women who had surrounded me, "I hadn't seen His signature on the Declaration of Independence, or the Constitution."
"GOD WILL PUNISH YOU," one of them shouted at me as she led the other women and their animal companions out the gate.
"Clearly," I answered after them.
Iím remembering this now because my friend Pete, whose father is a priest, brought it to my attention that maybe the Darwin Fish on my car offended people of Christian faith because it takes something sacred and turns it into a joke. That is something I donít want to do to the people who are minding their own business and not shoving their sacred icons in my face. Everywhere I go in this town people say, "God bless you." What if I donít want to be blessed by their god? Who even sanctioned them with blessing powers, anyway? Religion is a private thing, or at least people shouldn't overly it on everyone as a one-size-fits-all approach.
Raised a Catholic (with all of its trappings) was good for me. It taught me how to do things in order, my research for instance. And patience (all those confessions had to have some kind of effect). I donít believe in a mean, vengeful god. Having spent time in the jungles of Southeast Asia, Buddha is as close as I get. The rest is based on physics and portals. As a young girl, I was always debating the padre about how unrealistic the bible was. Frankly, I thought it was fiction (still do), and how with some changes, I assured him, we could really make it believable. Maybe even a movie. With even more edits, we could make it entertaining. I suggested a talking unicorn, a scientist guy (much like Bill Nye ), and Siamese twin girls who would add some color with their narration (one evil, one good). I kept telling him, that it was time for the New, New Testament. I left after first communionÖand for some strange reason, like most reformed Catholics, still have my rosary to remind me of what a long, strange trip its been.
Anyhow, getting back to Pete. I reminded him that kids in high school arenít allowed to wear red or blue in many schools because of the intimidation factor. They can't fly their gang colors at school, but they can in their own neighborhoods. That's a rule so they don't intimidate people who aren't in their gangs. I'm not nervous around churches, or people's homes where people worship or have their icons. For many people religion is the foundation of their families, and it holds them together and gives their family guidelines to live by. I do have Christian friends and I do respect them, some of them have had to be told that I'm happy with who I am and what I believe and they've either learned to respect that. With some it has caused a friction. Gang colors...Gang jackets...Gang bandanas - for me, itís like that Christian fish. Itís intimidating for me to be constantly surrounded by cars with this icon. Those of us who donít believe in this god, and donít wish to have it shoved into our private lives and government, might feel a little intimidated. Does it mean that the driver is Christian and they want other Christians to go up and talk to them? Does it mean if they get in an accident that they're the ones who are going to heaven? What happens if they park next to someone with a star of David on their car - will they talk to them? I would without a doubt fight to the death for someoneís right to believe in whatever they wish; to be able to live the lifestyle they wish. People should be free (as guaranteed in our Constitution) to do whatever they wish.
I went back to Berkeley and got a Darwin fish and several backups, and I started thinking about it. I had had my talk with Pete shortly after I purchased them. My people donít have an icon to call their own. What would we use? Some outline of the face of Charles Darwin . Who would recognize it? He kind of looks like a lot of guys from the 1800s, maybe even George Bernard Shaw after a trim, Ulysses S. Grant Ölots of guys. We need an icon that says, Iím tired of seeing your Christian fish icon on your business cards, your ads, your store signs, your cars. I know you would take my money and do business with me if I was the devil, or Phillip Morris (and they have a difficult time giving away money). I even doubt that half of the people in the phonebook with the fish on their ads are really Christian at all; I think they just want to gain the trust and take unreasonable fees from unsuspecting old women who have their faith in their god. This is wrong. There should be a testÖsome kind of authentication process with Verisign or something.
Iím thinking about designing something Ė something of our very own, something not as subtle, or offensive to some, as the Darwin fish. Iím tired of using the poor old misunderstood fish. I need something that will catch on and populate the pool we call earth. Something that wonít deface an existing icon, but be a statement on its own. Until that time, maybe the best thing to do is support your local PBS/NPR station and slap a sticker on your car. What Iíve noticed is that people donning fish stickers donít believe in NPR. Then again, maybe they listen, but they don't contribute to public radio. A lot of people can't contribute to both organizations these days. Iíve never seen both stickers together on the same car, and no Ė itís not because theyíre the same sticker (okay, bad joke). Knowledge is power, if you had two sources of power, I imagine youíd be at odds and have to listen to one over the other. We need a sticker that says - I don't care what your religion is, and you shouldn't care about what mine is, either.
Thereís a giant cross that Iím sure if it was made of wood someone would have burned it to the ground by now just so the rest of us wouldnít have to hear the daily blather from people who want to keep the cross up. They have enough signatures to let them buy the government property and make it private The problem is no one was paying attention to the separation of church and state when they put it up, and although itís a bit after the fact, it needs to come down, or purchased as private party. This is a big issue, and a heated one at that. I did hear an interview today with Jeff Archer Ė - check them out, looks like a great org. But, this issue of the cross (a memorial to soldiers) really has overshadowed the soldiers who lost their lives. Even if the government has to give someone the property, they should just do it. The issue has really caused a lot of strife in the community at large and is only serving to divide. When I see all of this division about gods, or non-gods, I can't help but think that John Lennon had it right.