By On the occasion of our 20th anniversary
By Gustavo Arellano
By R. Scott Moxley
By Alfonso Delgado
By Courtney Hamilton
By Joel Beers
By Peter Maguire
By Charles Lam
You know why you should never use drugs? Because you never know when that nice middle-aged Jehovah's Witness couple might ring your doorbell to share 40 minutes of their beliefs with you.
There must be a secret mark on my door because some weeks I'll get two different sets of Jehovah's Witnesses stopping by. I have enough copies of the Watchtower to start going door-to-door myself.
Anyway, this was my favorite couple, who have been stopping by for a couple of years, usually as I'm late running out the door, on deadline or in the middle of a good Rockford Files. They seem such genuinely nice people that I do talk with them when there's time. I like that they're not selling frozen steaks or carpet shampoos and stand at the door and knock just out of concern for their fellow man's soul.
Theirs isn't a particularly hip religion. When I was growing up in Buena Park, the one Jehovah's Witness at school was dropped off every morning by his parents, so he wouldn't have to ride the bus and be among us sinful kids one minute more than he had to. This did not burnish his popularity, nor did it help that he was a very large kid whose role model was Gigantor, the Japanese cartoon robot. This kid would come at you, bellowing the catchy Gigantor theme (later so admirably covered by the Dickies), arms flailing, pummeling you about the shoulders and head. It really hurt, but he wasn't too bright, and I still feel bad about the morning I stopped him in mid-assault by pouring my orange juice down his shirt and saying, "Short circuit, Robot."
Gigantor and Jehovah's Witnesses were so inextricably linked in my young mind that part of me remains terrified that this nice older couple might one day suddenly start with the theme song and come at me with arms flailing. Which is still one more reason not to do drugs. In today's world, you need to be alert.
My first thought as I answered the door this time was of the T-shirt I had on, which my brother-in-law gave me, bless him, and which I wear only when the other 62 T-shirts are in the hamper because it's bright red and emblazoned with hearts and the words "Mr. Wonderful." So when I answered the door to find the two standing there, I wondered, "Can I move faster than light, so they wouldn't notice if I dashed down the hall and came back in another shirt?" No, I was caught.
It can't be fun for these two to go out knocking on the doors of people who aren't much interested in hearing about God's plan for them. But I suspect it's a relative cakewalk compared to doing it in Pakistan, where they'd spent several years as missionaries. One of the reasons I enjoy talking with them is they've had experiences that few other Americans have. They have a broader perspective on world events, and much of what they talk about is based on love. But once they really get going on scripture, my eyes glaze over, not that they weren't already on this particular day. Corinthians this, Macadamians that. And then they started in on the licentiousness today, the premarital sex, how homosexuality goes against chapter and verse and marriage is for the propagation of children.
"Wait a minute," interjected Mr. Wonderful. "That's where you and I disagree. When the Bible was written, it was essential to the tribe's survival to have many children and to foster an institution to raise them. If the Bible were written today, with overpopulation and resources running out, maybe it would be promoting relationships that don't produce children. Who knows?"
Well, they knew. It's in the Book! We chatted some more and parted unchanged, though they did leave a magazine with the cheerful headline "The Nuclear Threat. How Real is It?" accompanied by a photo of a heart-stoppingly beautiful atomic blast, a majestic blazing orange-yellow floret with concentric vanilla-orange waves radiating from it like the rings of Saturn. For all we know scientists put a lot of thought into aesthetics: "Okay, right before it liquefies their eyes, we'll give them the prettiest darn mushroom cloud they've ever seen!"
I could do without Armageddon myself. If the government is going to make anti-drug ads, they should also sponsor TV spots that say, "The Rapture is for Losers." What, you're saying humanity can't make a go of it on this beautiful planet, so you think you deserve to get siphoned up to the land of milk and honey? Not everybody, just you special ones who are so much more righteous than everyone else?
If I was God—and I have my days—I would be bored to tears with the lot of us. You know how the Bible says something about putting away your childish things and becoming a man? Maybe it's a clue that God was waiting for the day when humanity would get the hint, grow up and make its own decisions. How would you feel if your kids were still living at home after 12 million years, calling on you to bail them out all the time? Give the old guy a nice surprise, why don't you? Let him clock out and enjoy his golden years already.
The Bible was either written by men, who, like everyone else then, didn't know the Earth revolved around the sun, didn't know germs caused disease, etc., or else God was intentionally misleading us about the great truths of our universe, which to me suggests he was hoping that down the line we'd realize we're supposed to grow, use our God-given sense and say, "Hey, half the stuff in this book makes no Goddamn sense whatever, thank you. What say we just cherry-pick the good parts about loving our neighbor and such, and You can keep Armageddon?"
Instead, today you've got crazy scriptureheads leading armored crusades into the Holy Land, or trying to genetically engineer a red calf and otherwise doing their best to be the Hamburger Helper to the ground beef that is the End Times. Because of religion, you've got Washington going loopy over Janet Jackson's tits while not addressing global warming, the deficit and other challenges that may make your children's lives a hell on Earth. You've got new FCC fines and legislation to further curb freedom of speech. Locally, I'm guessing it's only a matter of time before some self-righteous DA builds a case against the language in this paper, and I'll be out of a job while you'll have to go back to reading personals in the Pennysaver.
I'm interested in faith, but you could gather all the world's religions together and they'd mean less to me than a single ripe tomato. That's miracle and mystery enough. I've started attending an organic-gardening class a friend teaches in Huntington Beach, and it helps to re-instill my regard for mankind.
The author Victor Villasenor made a great argument that humanity was about to have 5,000 years of peace and cooperation because that's what we've just had. While men write history so it's full of war and empire-building, if grandmothers wrote it, you'd be reading about people helping one another, one fetching the water, another making the tortillas and another watching the children.
This class helps remind me of that kinder history because it is people who don't even know each other sharing the ways they grow things, trading knowledge and enthusiasm, and helping one another chase down the ladybugs escaping all over the room.
There are lots of little community-building, life-sharing opportunities such as that in our county, and they're a needed antidote to the feeling of resignation and impotence you get watching the news. In the garden, worm casings mean more than the bullshit in Washington. You connect with the world though its dirt. I am eating an organic tomato right now. Within a few hours, it will be part of me, our molecules mingled. Someday it will all be dirt again, which is fine, but I don't need any Rapture-ready fundamentalists hastening the day.
Drop Jim a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. You might catch a fish!