|AUGUST 1999 Part 1|
|Went to a christening today of the Giant Swedes new progeny. It was held at a church down the street, a grand Lutheran cathedral with so manymembers four policemen have to direct traffic every Sunday. As I was looking over the list ofpastors, I was reminded that the man who baptized me was one of the senior pastors - so I asked one of the many helpful church ladies if he was around. He was. It was a delightful reunion - hes a man of great cheer with a down-to-earth manner. He remembered me, and said that when he read the column in the paper he always thought back to my baptism, and regretted not drowning me on the spot. He remembered my family, what my dad did, who his siblings were. After almost 40 years. So on the day I was to stand as a godparent for the Giant Swedes, I met the man who gave me the holy dunk four decades ago.
The service had lots of songs, no liturgy; since I didnt know any of the hymns, I read the Bible, which was conveniently located in the pew next to the songbooks. It had been a while since I paged through the Good Book, so I turned to Leviticus. And right there in the pew I faced an interesting dilemma. As a godparent I was obligated to ensure that little Jonathan was brought up in the tenets of the faith should something happen to his parents, but no way was I going to enforce Leviticus. Its the same old problem: reconciling the capricious, furious, endlessly detailed Old Testament God with the New Testaments expansive and forgiving version. Leviticus consisted largely of detailed edicts about worship rituals - how to slaughter calves, where to sprinkle the blood, what gets burned first, how to recognize leprosy, why you are unclean if you touch the bed of a menstruating woman, etc. It had the famous prohibition against homosexuality, which I noted was preceded by a prohibition against wearing two kinds of fabric at the same time.
Well, the baby was wearing cotton and silk, so we were off to a bad start.
I read on and found one of the more interesting political passages, a challenge to Moses power as the main go-between. Im paraphrasing here, but essentially, 250 members of one clan came to Moses, and said, what gives you the right to be the one who talks to Yahweh? Whereupon Moses said, well, lets test it out tomorrow, see whos in favor. The next morning all the members of the tribe of Korath stepped from their tents - wives, kids - and Moses said, if Im not the spokesman, then nothing will happen, but if I am the chosen spokesman, then God will do something really unusual, such as open the ground and carry all these people down to Sheol alive, and close the ground over them. Whereupon the ground opened up and all the wives and children fell into the ground, and the ground swallowed them up. Then, if memory serves, the 250 men were blasted with fiery breath. Then - and I may be skipping around here - there was a plague that further underscored the Lords fury, and by the time they made the necessary sacrificial apologies, 14,000 people had died.
I skipped around again and found the story about enforcing rest on the Sabbath; the congregation of Israel found a man collecting sticks on the Sabbath, and since this was verboten, they asked the Lord what should be done with him. And they got a direct and instant answer: take him outside and stone him to death. Which they did.
So . . . when the father of the child whos being christened gets called into work on a Sunday, do I command him to be stoned?
Of course not. And thats the interesting part of Lutheranism: the new laws, in some cases, supplant and erase the old. They dont make a big point of it, but thats the general effect. This is why Im grimly amused by people who accuse others of picking and choosing which religious laws they abide by. With the exception of the most observant sects of Judaism- folks who wear their beards trimmed in the manner set forth and wear the shawls with the blue thread - everyone picks and chooses.
If anything, you come away from an Old Testament reading with a certain sense of sadness; the God of the early books is a constant verbal presence. Forgive my disrespectful words, but you cant shut Him up. Hes telling you how to cook, how to recognize with STDs, how to deal with Molech worshipers, how to dress, etc. And then He falls stone cold silent. People can claim to talk to God and hear Him speak back, or perceive Gods intention in this or that sign, but when these books said the Lord Spoke, they meant it literally: these are like transcripts Nightline advertises at the end of the show.
After the baptism it ham sandwiches and segregation: women inside, men on the porch. Lovely day. The baby slept; the Giant Swedes 2 year old wandered about being delightful. When Andrij gave the blessing before the meal - a Uke Orthodox blessing complete with triplicate invocation, something that sounded mysterious in the context of the breezy Lutheranism wed all heard that day - there was silence in the room save for his voice, and then the melodious collision of the windchimes sounded on the porch. Well, I thought, that could well be the voice of God today, if you were so inclined to believe that. And with family and friends all gathered around, new life bundled in a blanket waving his fists up at the ceiling, the commonplace miracle of amity binding all these disparate souls together - well, there was no reason not to believe it. So I did.
So I gather sticks on Sunday now and then. So stone me.
I am giving myself but 12 minutes to bang out this Bleat, because I have a bevy of duties to do this day, chief among which is finding and extirpating whatever neuron was responsible for that burst of alliteration. Its been a fine day - woke up to discover that Id left my keys in wifes car, so Icouldnt go to work. Well, I could - there are busses and cabs and sidewalks that reach from here to the office, but I decided to work at home, since there were no pressing obligations. So I wrote. And wrote.
So I decided to take it to the top. I called the corporate office, asked for media relations, explained my predicament and got the phone numbers in Georgia of two of the products developers. Got the first one on his cellphone, driving along the congested roads of Atlanta. This is the modern world: I cant get this damn video digitizer to work, so I send my voice pinging off a bird in the sky, down to an antennae, off to a phone in a big car where a guy teleconference with someone else and sends me suggestions.. The Miracles of Today! Except that this product doesnt work, the phone connection was full of static and disconnected in the middle of the advice. None of his suggestions worked - they were all things Id tried - so I went up to ladder to the next guy, a real wirehead sitting in a windowless office somewhere in Atlanta.
We got along famously. It was just a hoot; he was a Machead too, so we slipped into AppleTalk - well, no, not really, now that I think of it. We slipped into Apple-Speak. Made terribly witty inside jokes. Labored over this sucker for 20 minutes until we discovered the problem. Shazam! My QuickTime plugin had been corrupted! It was a leprous, chancrous, pustulent boil of evil and perfidy! I replaced it, and all was fine.
Hoorah. Made brats on the grill: delicious, although I burned off the top layer of my tongue with the first bite, something that renders subsequent bites superfluous, as I could no longer taste anything. Might as well throw it in the blender and drink it down.
Hmm: theres a column idea.
Memo to self: Brat Smoothies.
Sara came home, went running - nothing I did, thats just what she does when the weathers great. She comes and goes. I ran to the computer store, now that I had my keys, and bought CD labelers; my giant long-range plan is to put everything, and I mean everything, on CDs, thereby assuring my data will be safe, intact, and readable for at least 3 more years.
It would be better just to print it all off and stick in the safe deposit box. But that wouldnt be fun. Better to pop for a Bondi-blue CD burner that matches my computer.
Well. No mail tonight, Im afraid; be patient, please. I have every intention of
DING! My 12 minutes are up. A manana~
Okay, once again: 12 minutes. Maybe fifteen. Its very late at night now, later than usual for a bleating; the nights schedule was shoved back two hours by National Night Out, that officially sanctioned interlude of neighborly fellow-feelingdesigned to drive out the crack dealers, muggers, rapists, burglars and criminals that otherwise stalk our streets. Im sure its a great idea in some parts of town, where people dont get to see each other too often, and dusk means relinquishing the streets and walks to the bad guys, but around here EVERY night is National Night Out. Theres always someone walking up and down the street, pushing a baby carriage, walking dogs, taking the airs. Kids skipping from one friends house to the next, gawky coltish girls waiting for guys to walk by, skateboarding gradeschoolers. If anything, we need a night where we all have a rest from one another.
Howard Stern was canceled in this market today. He was bested by a local morning host, who is not exactly a paragon of civilized discourse, but is - well, I dont know what he is, because I dont listen.Im just glad Howard is gone. Ill never forget sitting in the back seat of a cab in New York, heading into the midtown tunnel, listening to the King of All Me browbeat a woman caller who was born in Africa, and was taking him to task for characterizing all Africans as spear-toting savages. She spoke English with a French lilt, which meant she already spoke twice as many languages as her interlocutor, but Stern had only one thing in mind: getting her to answer his question, which was do you still eat monkeys? A dank man of low character. Begone.
This morning I laid out a web page while shaving. I think this is a testament to something, although I dont know what. I had the electric razor in my lefthand, and I ground it into my jaw as I laid out the Minnesota Theater page. Thats multitasking. Its enough to make me stick with the electric, although Im sure Ill be going back to blades, as I always do. Every five years, I have a fling with a motorized face-smoother, and then I go back to lathering and scraping. This razor has gotten somewhat dull, and one of the screens broke, as they always seem to do, eventually. And when an electric razor draws blood, the result is a sink basin that looks like Jackson Pollack went nuts with a Squeeze-Pleeze ketchup bottle.
We talked for a while, then off they went. Just me and the dog. Jasper, who is unusually stinky, insisted on heading towards Dog Heaven tonight for his walk, so we wandered all over creation. Actually, all over Lynnhurst Terrace. I found an ad in a 1922 newspaper for this part of town, trying to get people to settle out here in the hinterburbs. Lots were going for $425; minimum payment, $1.50 a month. A month! Bring a few dollars, the ad said. You might want to buy. As I walked through the neighborhood tonight I tried to imagine it as an empty place - a few thin trees, streets without houses, sidewalks without people. Its astonishing how it built up so fast - it took all of 14 years for the area to completely fill up, and most development stopped with the Crash. (Although there is one house from the mid30s a few blocks away, a white streamlined machine-for-living Id give a kidney to own.) A block and a half south of my house was the city limits. I live at the end of Minneapolis, and now its the center of the center. As we crossed the creek, I stopped and gaped - the fading light of the sun had coated the steeple of Oak Grove church in golden light, and the steeple itself seemed to rise from a forest of trees; in the foreground, the meandering stream, emerging from the shadow of the stone bridge that vaulted the water. There are days I believe I live in the most beautiful city in the country, and this is one of them. What made the sight even more impressive was its commonplace nature; all around here, the eye falls on an artless arrangement of stone and foliage, sky and water, buildings and flowers, wife and spandex.
Sorry; cant get that particular image out of my mind. Nor have I any intention of making it go away.
Up the block, a giant elephant was hugging the corner of Daytons department store. Its a plastic model, erected for the annual Trunk Show (get it? Sigh) and its huge. Theres also construction on the corner that blocks off traffic, so nearly everyone has to bend as they pass and crouch under the elephants ass. And no one looks at the elephant. They are all trying hard to be blase urbanites: an elephant; yawn. One young man smacked the elephants rear with his hand in a friendly gesture, and I had to grin. Thats the spirit.
Well, the weekend looms; one more column, and Im done for a while. I have a new Half-Life level to play now, and a Star Trek to watch later, if its any good. Probably wont be - Sci-Fi is playing the 3rd season, and that means I missed, once again, my favorite episode of them all, The Doomsday Machine. Last night I turned on the TV 7 minutes into the show, and saw the cast in the transporter room; someone said solid rock and I knew exactly which episode it was - the aliens who live in glowing spheres take over the bodies of Kirk, Spock, and Dr. Pulaski. There are two kinds of episodes - ones that use the mushy music, and ones that use the grim suspenseful music (dum-da-da-daaaaa, dum-da-da-DA-da! [duh-dum duh-da dum-dum Da-dum, duh-dum duh-da duh-dum Da-dum] - you know what I mean.) This was a mushy one. Tonight will probably be Patterns of Force, if they use the original sequence. I think it has Klingons. Ill be there.