Sunday, July 13, 2008

Day of Absurdities

Yesterday, I had one of the most perfect days you could ever have. What makes this significant for me is that I've had many "perfect days" or "perfect weekends" in the almost two years I've lived in Portland, which I rarely experienced in Atlanta. So, this is going to ramble a bit and I apologize, but if you stick it out, I think you'll find some humour and insight.

First, I started the day by heading to the neighbourhood of St. Johns, which has a small-town feel to it, even though it's actually a neighbourhood of Portland. I rode the Number 44 Bus, which I board next to my apartment complex and goes through downtown, across the river, up North Williams past Charles Lewis' campaign headquarters and his Ethos Music Center, through North Portland neighbourhoods, past the University of Portland and the cool looking homes in that area, until it reaches St. Johns. I will be going to St Johns every weekend because I'm officially a member of the Writer's Dojo, as I had written about a few months ago. This is a cool house in a very Zen style that was founded and is operated by an aspiring writer who was also born in 1971 (like me). It's nice to be in a community of writers and to have an actual place to go to where I can continue the editing on my first novel and start writing my second one (I'm still wondering if that will start this year or if I should wait until next year).

Anyhow, as the bus drove along North Williams Street, there was a small open lot on one street corner where a bunch of teenagers and children were having a pillow fight (don't was part of a street festival in honour of Bastille Day). It was fun to watch as the bus waited for the red light to turn green. It's just one of those random things you often come across if you venture through Portland neighbourhoods on a weekend. The pillow fight was pretty intense, with feathers floating everywhere that you might think chickens were being plucked or something.

When I got to the Dojo, there was a sign on the door that they were out and would be back in 20 minutes. So, I decided to walk over to the St. Johns Bridge and hang out at the park down there. But once I got there, there was a wedding in progress! Never in a million years would it occur to me that you'd have a wedding underneath the bridge, but now I could see the possibility. I walked to a far corner to watch from a distance and the whole time, I'm thinking, "what a cool idea!" Underneath the bridge are these arches that look like church windows. The St. Johns Bridge is Portland's most beautiful bridge. It's Portland's equivalent of the Golden Gate, Lions Gate, or Brooklyn Bridges. So, when that day comes when it's my turn to get married, I will have to put some considerable thought into having my wedding under the St. Johns Bridge.

On the bus ride back to my apartment, I saw two guys at various stops wearing dresses (maintaining their masculine look, meaning they weren't trying to look like women) and one guy with dangling earrings from both ears. This is all part of why Portland proudly displays the motto "Keep Portland Weird!" No one bats an eye when they see stuff like that, because in Portland, you see so much weird that it's actually normal. And to think that people in the South freak out if you wear white pants after Labor Day!

In the evening, I went to see Bill Maher's performance at the Schnitzer Auditorium downtown. Let me give a background on this, before I comment on his show.

Last year, I finally watched his DVD "I'm Swiss" which was taken from his show in 2005 (which I had seen in Atlanta). What surprised me when I watched it is that it was filmed in Portland, at the Schnitzer Auditorium. In the special features section of the DVD, the behind the scenes feature shows an angry man yelling at people buying tickets and waiting in line. He's just going on and on about God, gays, and the usual fundamentalist rants. I remember thinking as I watched it that if Bill Maher ever came back to Portland, I would definitely attend his show with the hope of coming across that religious fanatic. The reason is because on the DVD, some people yelled back at the guy with insults and he seemed like he was instigating the crowd for that purpose. I had a different strategy in mind.

So, I walk over to the auditorium and before I even get near the entrance, I can hear some guy yelling. As I turn the corner, there he is, wearing a sandwich board with some "Christian message." I get in line to buy my tickets, but it's hard to hear what the ticket seller was telling me because the guy was yelling nonstop. After I bought my ticket, I went up to the man and said, "I just want you to know, I'm a liberal and I'm a Christian, and I wanted to show you that I bought a ticket for his show." He stared at me with the most puzzled look on his face. A man standing next to him started talking to me, "You're really a Christian? Do you know what this man says about Christ? He's a whoremonger and a drug user. How could you really be a Christian if you support that?"

I told him that I didn't judge and then I asked what he thought about his "Christian president Bush." Then he stumped me by saying, "He's a phony Christian, just like you!" I was actually surprised that he wasn't a Bush supporter, so I got stumped. I tried to talk reasonably with them, but then he just turned his back on me and the other guy resumed yelling his judgments and anti-liberal comments. I walked inside at that point and was practically laughing at the absurdity of it all. My point was proven and for a brief few minutes, I was able to get the man to stop yelling. I don't think they expected a person to attempt a reasonable dialogue with them. They were itching for a fight, so they didn't know how to deal with me, other than turning their backs on me when I continued to try to have an intelligent and respectful conversation with them.

It's rather enlightening to me because you could hear the anger in his voice. And it says something about the power of someone like Bill Maher, who has a career as a political comedian, to drive this guy completely crazy enough to spend a Saturday evening harassing audience members with religious propaganda. When someone has anger issues, it's not a very inticing way to find potential converts or allies. The people I admire are at peace with themselves and project an aura of calm. They also have a sense of humour about things.

To add to the absurdity of it all, I happened to have brought along my "Voice of Hope" book about Aung San Suu Kyi (the book is written in a dialogue format between author and Aung San Suu Kyi) and I was just reading the part where she had said that the ability to laugh at the absurdities of life is a sign of spirituality and that many members of the military junta that rules Burma lack a sense of humour about things. I find this to be quite true. I love laughing at absurdities, thus is the reason why I love Vaclav Havel and reading about his "Theater of the Absurd" in Communist Czechoslovakia. And while I don't agree with Bill Maher on a few things, I appreciate his ability to get us to laugh at the absurdities of our political system and the politicians who make our laws.

So, with that, here are some tidbits of what Bill Maher said in his program:

"I don't understand the whole Hillary hatred. She's a bland politician. People who hate Hillary were probably molested by their real estate agent."

"Obama is speaking in stadiums. He's the equivalent of U2. On the other hand, McCain is a lounge act in some Sheraton ballroom."

"I don't understand how the South became the super patriots. Why do they have a lock on patriotism? They're the only ones who committed treason against our country."

"Mormonism is Scientology without the celebrities."

"All religions have weird ideas, but Mormons take weird to a whole new level."

"Experience doesn't count if you're consistently wrong."

"I don't get the whole 'I'm spiritual' expression. You only think you're spiritual because you read about Kabbalah in Us Magazine."

"At least when Democrats have scandals, it's with women. Why do Republicans continue to claim to represent family values when their scandals involve gay sex?"

"Republicans always worry about the immigrants coming over the border, of terrorists coming over the ocean, and of gays coming over their backs."

In discussing the Eliot Spitzer "scandal", Bill Maher said he couldn't understand the outrage and why all the pundits ask the same lame question about why men cheat. He put it bluntly (using a word I never use to describe women, but I'll post it here and apologize in advance if anyone is offended): "Men want new pussy the way women want new shoes." He also said that "married men are pussies" because they won't tell their wives what their true opinion is. He admits that he'll never get married and anyone can understand why. He's too honest, and as I learned last month on the Cybercommunity webboard, you can't be completely honest with some women. As Bill Maher said, "there's no such thing as a mutual fantasy between men and women. Yours bore us and ours offend you."

Next to me sat two young ladies who laughed pretty loud at some of the lewder commentary and jokes of Maher's show. It was nice to see that they weren't like the prissy feminists who want to censor anything they find offensive. Though there was a lady up near the front who kept interrupting Maher during his monologues, much to the annoyance of everyone else. Finally, he put it to her bluntly: "if you still think Bush is a great president, you're a fucking idiot." That got a lot of applause. What didn't get applause, though, was when Maher said that he didn't believe in the 9/11 conspiracy theories because Bush is too incompetent to pull something like that off. What that told me is that there are a lot of audience members who share my view that 9/11 was an inside job. Maher might disagree, but I believe that Bush was not in on it. There are too many things about that day that do not make logical sense (such as World Trade Center 7 collapsing due to internal fires that the media never investigated as to how those fires got started in the first place; or how the Pentagon could make an entire plane disappear).

When Maher made fun of religion, I'm sure it baffles people such as the ranting man outside how a person like me could not be offended by it. The reason is simple: Maher pokes fun at the absurdity of religious views. For instance, he asked the audience: "If God wanted people to know which religion is true, why does He only tell it to one man running around in the woods all alone? Why doesn't He just tell it to everyone?" If you take a rational look at religion, you have to see how absurd it is to believe in talking snakes when none exist today.

Maher's agnostic view of religion doesn't offend me because he's speaking his truth and a lot of what he says has merit. I'm not offended because my spiritual views are based on personal experiences (that he nor anyone else experienced) and my faith isn't based on requiring another person to believe that my experiences are real. When you live a faith that is between you and God alone, that requires no third person to believe, you are secure enough to laugh at the absurdities of faith and not be offended.

Which brings me back to my point about having a sense of humour. I like what Aung San Suu Kyi said about the ability to laugh at absurdities and how that's a sign of a spiritual person. People who get offended easily and are unable to laugh at the absurd, you have to wonder about them. That's why I'm glad to never go on the Cybercommunity webboard again. I feel sorry for people who are unable to find the humour in things. If we are meant to enjoy life, we can laugh at the foibles and absurdities of human behaviour. I'm quite certain that even God finds Bill Maher to be funny. It's important to have a comedian who has the gift to make us laugh for a couple hours about our country and the people in our government and religious organizations. I'm all in favour of holding up hypocritical political and religious leaders for ridicule. If they want our respect, they have to respect us. But since they don't, every thing is fair game.

As I walked back home, a couple in front of me got into an argument over something. Oops...see what Bill Maher's honesty about the differences between men and women started? It already sparked an argument in one couple. My question that I ask every day is, how can we expect things to change if we can't be honest with one another? People seem to prefer getting offended and acting out some feigned outrage over an honest disagreement. That's the terrible price of living a life of brutal honesty. As I tell people, though, I prefer the brutal truth over a flattering lie. I wish other people would as well. The world would be a much better place.


d/b/c/m said...

sounded fun. i love that kind of humor. it's why jon stewart has been my favorite for so long.

Phil Smith said...

Bill Maher is one of my favorites. George Carlin was the other (I'll miss his rants). This was well written, Nick - as always. What a neat place you live in.

As for religious nut bags, they probably realize their numbers are dwindling and that their collective end is near...