"The world does not reward honesty and independence, it rewards obedience and service. It’s a world of concentrated power, and those who have power are not going to reward people who question that power."-Chomsky

"The trouble with self-delusion, either in a person or a society, is that reality doesn't care what anybody believes, or what story they put out. Reality doesn't "spin." Reality does not have a self-image problem. Reality does not yield its workings to self-esteem management." -J.H. Kunstler

"You don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows."-Dylan

Friday, March 19, 2010

3/19/10: Cambria, CA-What Would Jesus Sell?

Friday night was more of what I expected from this quick layover in Cambria, while it also introduced the theme for the immediate future. With Nick (’08) and Rael (Slab City), this was the never-before-seen opportunity of melding two of my distinctly separate experiences into a third, and I was curious to see what conversations, thoughts, and ideas spawned from the three of us.

Once the campsite was secured Rael & Karen vanished spending an hour or so “preparing burgers” while Nick and I got reacquainted over beer and tamales. After re-emerging from Spicoli’s Van, Karen socialized long enough to eat and was off to bed relatively early, probably eager for Saturday’s arrival after accommodating me and delaying her migration toward Monterey.

A priceless and entertaining scene presented itself when a young, charismatic, and informative ranger paid us a surprise visit. He spoke with (what sounded to me like) an Irish accent, and to my astonishment demanded Karen’s vehicle-paperwork claiming the license plate “didn’t match.” A fucking park ranger. What is HE doing running registrations? Is that not John & Ponch's domain? To Nick’s amusement, I asked exactly that. I wanted to know on what authority, as a park ranger, he “reconciled” the registrations of properly PARKED cars? He informed me, with a straight face and in all seriousness, that he “has more authority than the C.H.P.” It seems that park rangers are something akin to marshals out here, especially between Morro Bay and Big Sur/Monterey where there are far more parks than towns. Shit. Don't go Braveheart on me!

I wasn’t combative with Marshall McFife, but did editorialize enough to let him know that this arrangement seemed strange and more importantly could lead to confusion and needless confrontation from citizens (like…me) who fail to reflexively bow and behold the majesty and implied authority of a badge, costume, and gun.

I asked if it had to do with California’s deepening economic vortex-- one careening toward catastrophe. The skeleton crews and empty park kiosks were new compared to 2008. This was one thing, but I wanted to know: are things in such financial disarray that the state must consolidate "law enforcement" personnel to this extreme? Ranger McFife professionally tap-danced the specifics while patiently and politely answering my pesky questions. He wasn't power tripping; just doing his job. He grasped that fundamental distinction between "at-large enforcer" and the role of public servant. What a quaint concept! I'd heard there were enforcement officials like that. Then again, I had also heard of the "chupacabra".

Karen’s registration was fine. As he turned to leave, I jokingly asked if he knew Bono. He laughed, rolled his eyes, and went on about his business. Nick and Rael quickly reminded me that he had said he was Scottish, not Irish. I either amused or offended him! Whatever. I was buzzed and confused, and ...it was funny! Besides, here was yet another Scotsman taking an American's job! Where's the xenophobic outrage when it needs to distract folks from MY ignorance?

For the rest of the night, the beer flowed as I learned more about Rael after encouraging him to tell his story to Nick. Rael told of his job as the court’s “judgment enforcement officer” and how he ultimately realized who he’d become when, without emotion or feeling, he evicted an elderly woman from her home—for debts incurred by her granddaughter. Apparently, that granddaughter had taken advantage of her grandmother’s contractual naïveté and Rael was her material assassin.

To hear him tell it, it was a job (insert Nuremberg cliche' here); one that bought the house, boats, cars, and women. It was the pursuit of the American Dream, and considering he how he had earned and embraced the nickname “The Reaper”, an identity as well. He then recounted the liquidation of his house, truck, boats, etc., donating the money, and now here he was.

To this point, I had heard much about his adopted non-profit’s redeeming qualities (I already knew from hocking them on the radio). I heard, and was shown, how the Copper Spur tent is an ingenious piece of lightweight craftsmanship and told how Big Agnes provides “customer service” rivaling that of Jehovah Himself.

Rael's story was passionate, but mostly anecdotal. What plainly stood out, to me, was what I had NOT heard, including in his just-recited bio: nothing about the spiritual/ psychological fault lines. Those presumably running deep enough to create the explosive, life-changing tectonics needed to stagger, rattle, and roll someone from “Reaper” to “Camel.” Speaking from my own experience, this seemed entirely too... clean.

We skirted around the fringes of the biblical and moral implications of Matthew 19:24, “It’s easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.” Rael claimed to have been greatly affected by Jesus’ answer to the related question, “What’s a rich man to do?” Our Redeemer’s (paraphrased) reply in Matthew19:21: Sell your shit, give your money to the poor, and follow me. (Jesus... not Todd) Beyond sterility and taken at face value, this also laid an interesting intellectual foundation, forcing me to silently ask, “Who exactly are you following if your secondary focus, just beneath the glory of Guinness, is raising someone else's money and selling tents and clothes--rather than what you claim (in print) brought you here?” Personal glory and proxy capitalism. In Jesus' name. Amen. Just how he drew it up!

What would Jesus sell?
Using Randleman, NC and Pastor Snake's sermon as a reference, I offered that, to me, it seemed that if he truly believes he has been “called,” any desire and perceived “decision” to share his story, feelings, and experience, beyond the fluffy “people are nice and nature kicks ass!” fare, are irrelevant and egoistic in nature; it is his DUTY to birth that with which his “God” has inseminated him! Otherwise, I thought (again, to myself), he’s no more remarkable than any other of the innumerable glory-seekers looking to make a name for themselves through increasingly common and mundane “accomplishment of endurance.” Another Glory Quest camouflaged by “cause”?

If Rael’s muzzled his Inner Voice and hidden the very Splinter which triggered his epiphany-- in favor of corporate marketing and charitable fundraising-- hadn’t he simply just altered for whom he collected? Court or corporate interest: wasn’t he still serving Mammon? If he was altering his behavior for (no photos were to be seen of him smoking… anything!) and now found himself soliciting companies out of “wanting their gear,” had he simply done a rationalizing end-run around materialism?

Ye cannot serve God and mammon.(Matthew 6:24) Again, Jesus was not ambiguous in his hostility toward wealth. It seemed that rather than finding “acceptable” causes and oblique pursuits of wealth, He demands that “those who would be righteous” effort to separate completely from it AND its influence. In addition, there are also numerous verses regarding hypocrites, one of my favorites being, "Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them." (Matthew 6:1) Perhaps there's no connection, but regardless, Rael’s drastic actions and newspaper interviews coupled with his deafening "lack of voice" did NOT add up.

Beyond that, after 36-hours Rael struck me as optimistically driven, yet surprisingly demure, oddly guarded, and extremely tentative for a man who had gone to such extreme moral measures. He had the faint, familiar scent of a man slightly resembling those others who were cleverly co-opted by vested interest--and didn’t realize it.

Despite the rhetoric, based on what I had read, seen, and heard, Rael looked, through my eyes, a lot like The Extreme Traveling Salesman! Going door-to-door, park-to-park, and town-to-town soliciting donations for environmentalists, hocking sleeping bags and tents, while exploiting his world record and extreme environmental “awareness” as his sales pitch. How do you suppose His Redeemerness feels about His Word being used as an advertising campaign?

These were the subtle, embryonic, yet persistent indications of disconnect; a troubling and increasingly visible chasm between Rael’s adopted narrative and cold reality. Superficially, it seemed to me that he was in simple pursuit of finishing his walk, extending his record, pursuing a book deal… and the eternal Holy Buzz!

Karen noticeably exploited both Rael’s wants and needs, in all likelihood as a way of hedging her bets and positioning herself so as to benefit from Rael’s “sure-to-come” biographical glory! Karen’s pot was Rael’s, and so long as they traveled together-- so was her food. Karen is a wily, savvy, experienced, forward-thinking road dog, and she positioned these commodities like candy to a child! Before reading on, be sure you mentally note the preceding sentences. They are critically important, although to reiterate: on this night these insights were just nagging primeval instincts. I was engaged in trying to ignore them in favor of a benefit of the doubt after coming 1,000 miles to hang out with Rael! Have I mentioned yet that it’s 1,002-miles from home to Cambria?

While this was the first real foray into these important ideas, I was by now intimately familiar with and constantly observing Rael’s vocal and fanatical pro-Marijuana/ Cannabis stance! If Rael is “interested” in abstract theology and environmentalism, he’s absolutely obsessed with the pot cause. While he’s a bit hazy and hesitant to discuss practical philosophy, he’s confident, articulate, passionate, and precise when it comes to hemp; a wealth of information regarding prohibition and talked at-length about William Randolph Hearst’s role in criminalizing pot. When he got going, Rael reminded me a bit of the character telling of George Washington's love for pot in Dazed and Confused! But, to his credit, he had a firm grasp on the subject, and frankly made a great deal of sense.

He also ceaselessly spoke of what sounded to be Shangri La; the Promised Land of Mendocino and Humboldt Counties in northern California! It sounds as though this were where pot has been liberated; where ganja grows and flows free. Where hitchhikers are instantly picked up and presented a packed bowl for their ride! This... is Rael’s passion. This… is his “cause” and Karen’s eternal supply medicated and influenced nearly everything from the moment I arrived.

To repeat: I have no moral or ethical quarrel with, and am perfectly comfortable around pot— even having a bit myself! I fully agree with what's clearly the common sense path, full legalization, and I'm happy to see that momentum appears to have made it inevitable.

Karen's pot wasn’t the only thing that seemed endless—so did Nick’s Friday supply of beer! After meeting some neighboring campers in the wee hours of the morning, this remarkable night would come to a close. But first: some impressive foolishness on my part.

I had hit my four-month "smoke-free" mark four days earlier, but tonight it ended. It wasn't as though I was particularly craving a cigarette, it was more that I wanted to confront the cigarettes in order to prove that they no longer “owned” me. I took drags from Nick and Rael’s cigs early in the evening, and got nothing from it. After everyone had gone to bed, I grabbed one of Nick’s Marlboro's, sat alone by the fire, and smoked it. It hurt, tasted like ass, and immediately zapped my energy. There was none of the, “Ahhhhh! Nicotine!” I remembered from quitting before. I found myself hot-boxing the cigarette to get it over with rather than wanting to smoke it! How times have changed!

While this was asinine and not something I’d advise, it’s served a purpose. Before this, I had sporadic, mild cravings every two or three days. They’ve since stopped. It’s eliminated any residual “euphoric recall” and reinforced why I quit in the first place. It also helped me remove their mystique as something “all-powerful” that must be feared; avoided at all costs at the risk of my eternal soul! I’m not afraid of cigarettes anymore. I just downright don’t WANT them! There’s a very big difference!