Friday, March 6, 2009

Rodents and Religion


Rodents and Religion

We are plagued by raccoons. They get tangled in the bougainvillea outside our bedroom window and their unearthly screams in the middle of the night unnerve us. The dogs go berserk, causing neighbors to respond in kind. I step onto the first light of dawn on our deck and a raccoon far larger than the corgi glowers at me from very close range and then proceeds to fight loudly and viciously with another, even larger raccoon. I do not know if this is a male territorial dispute or raccoon schtuping foreplay towards the procreation of more of the horrid things.

I banned war toys and I have never had any desire to hold or fire a gun and in fact, have always been repulsed by the prospect, but I want to shoot the raccoons. I want to borrow a BB gun and set them in my site and cock the trigger and not kill the odious rodents but cause them enough pain to opt off our deck. I am somewhat disturbed by the amount of satisfaction I take in this fantasy.


Himself helped me make a fun potluck and presentation of the finished kitchen at Casamurphy and it was wonderful to visit with folks we’ve known since Mommy and Me at the JCC some fourteen years ago. We came together during a Silverlake Jewish Center maelstrom which began with a kid getting kicked in the balls, segued into a secretly Jew for Jesus center director and climaxed with the whole J.C.C. getting sold down the river by the local federation, only to go independent. More than a decade plus after all the drama, it thrives now. There are fewer kids at these parties now, many who sported diapers at first acquaintance are away at college. I like to entertain grownups grownuply and while Himself does truly enjoy himself during the actual event, the anticipation weighs heavily on my dear introvert, who will probably post another link to his “get out of jail” be tolerant of your introvert, even if you suspect he’s really just an asshole article. The years have etched into us pre-party personas that surface, and then we inevitably come to blows. I am self righteous. Himself is anxious. Bang. Bang. Bang. Although this time our battle is separated by the flight of stairs from his office to my kitchen and is conducted via e-mail.

The sixteen year old made some less than considerate choices and distracted us from the testy hostess vs. testy introvert, cusp of entertaining dance we’ve done for decades. Once the front was unified in furor at the 16 year old, we got rid of some of the last of the crap that had been displaced by the remodel and even the kids noted that the house wasn’t an embarrassing shithole for a change. Himself enjoyed some conversation beyond the ken of his essentially middle brow wife and was sweetly happy at my happiness, particularly when the party ended and a few good bottles of wine and some cinnamon roll bread pudding remained.

I am content now to tread water. I work forty hours a week and attend bootcamp regularly and if I don’t get any poorer or any fatter I will not curse my fate to the Gods. Harry noticed recent rambling reactions to couchtime with the big t.v. but while I am watching my weight and my budget, I am not on any big campaign to not get any dumber and when bootcamp is cancelled due to rain, I look forward to a date with my plasma pal, as the New Yorkers gather dust on the nightstand.

We watched Religulous for which Budget contributed a lot of footage. Parts are hilarious and it is a great example of how archival stock footage can enrich a project. I wouldn’t discourage anyone from seeing it but Bill Maher went in with an axe to grind about religion and sought out fringe crackpots to insure he could portray it as ridiculous and dangerous. There are two cool Jesuits who say that of course, they don’t take the bible literally, but Maher includes them only for a bit of color, using only the briefest snippets and giving them no opportunity to present the case for a rational approach to faith. Maher’s allegations against religion becomes nothing more than cheap shots and the film is more (very) effective as a comedy than as a documentary that seriously substantiates Maher’s contempt for religion. The fake working title, which was used to reel in unwitting religious interviewees, was Spiritual Journey and I think the film could have been effective in at least provoking serious consideration of Maher’s allegations, if the project had been approached with more honesty and open mindedness and less of a preset agenda.

Spuds is getting ready for Bar Mitzvah and studying Hebrew and Torah every week with Bill, the president of our little temple. I cook Shabbat dinner and listen to them talk about Methuselah who lived for 969 years and the gopherwood Ark on which the animals refrained from breeding until the floods subsided. I know that this is the only time gopherwood is mentioned in the Torah and that cats are not mentioned at all. After being regular minyanmakers for years, we are now High Holiday Jews. We were alienated and uninvolved at the large Hollywood congregation to which many of our friends belong. We feel stifled by the intimacy of the tiny shul we love, where eccentrics and the mentally ill are treated with a patience and loving kindness I can’t muster with any kind of genuineness. Bill noted that in the middle of a service he was offered a blow job by a congregant from a nearby board and care. During the High Holidays another mental health challenged congregant continually berated me and violated my personal space as I toiled in the kitchen. The final straw was while I wrestled an enormous poached salmon, my skirt became wedged in my butt crack and she attempted to dislodge it, pawing me and breathing hot on my neck. It is lucky the fish survived but since then, it is hard to think of temple without thoughts of being manhandled and not really being able to slap someone off, it being temple at all. Nevertheless, in support of Spuds, we’ve agreed to attend a small Friday night informal Shabbat service on a regular basis..

The plasma and Obama are Himself’s rivals for my affection, the later having made two more promising appointments, Julius Genachowski, the technological visionary who masterminded the Internet component of the Obama campaign to head the stuck in the Eisenhower era F.C.C. and Kathleen Sebelius as Secretary of Health and Human Services. Sebelius is a Catholic supporter of abortion rights and she’s been refused communion by the Archbishop of Kansas City. Nevertheless, there are more moderate Catholics rallying in her support. While governor of Kansas she made reducing abortion a priority which paid off with 20% fewer procedures performed when other measures to prevent unwanted pregnancy were adopted..

Obama, unlike Mr. Maher, recognizes that most of America’s faithful do not take the bible literally and are tolerant of the beliefs and practices of others. Obama aims to mobilize these communities to spearhead neighborhood improvements. I think that religious organizations should be required to perform some ecumenical local outreach and participate in interfaith activities that nurture religious tolerance in order to maintain tax exempt status.

When the 16 year old was a baby we attended services every Saturday morning. We chauffered elegant, eloquent 90 year old Ida, who refused our help in ascending or descending the 100 steep stairs to her craftsman on Mt. Washington Drive. We brought opera tapes to brothers Hank and Morrie, who in their late 70s and reliant on cane and walker, were still called the boys. They had attended weekly services at the temple for so many years that they’d memorized Siddur page numbers and called them out as necessary. The Kiddush centered on gefilte fish and herring bought in cases when discounted on Fairfax or with a coupon from the Jewish Journal, and freezer burned challah.

No one in the congregation much minded that the baby 16 year old ran amok for most of the service and they called him the future. The old congregants glowed in rays of light through stained glass as they struggled with the heavy Torah and crouched and squinted to make out the voweless, punctuationless parsha. All over the world, Jews, illuminated by streaming morning light, read the same weekly portion. Most of the minyan are dead now and the temple is maintained mostly by people our age and younger. I’m not sure exactly how we faded out of regular attendance. Part of it was being burned out from being on the board of directors and attending to political issues. Part of it was the kids having other things to do Saturday mornings. But for me that main thing of it may have been guilt. I always felt that the woebegone little temple, with its fridge full of flat Shasta soda and assemblage of misfits required more of me than I felt like giving and more than it could ever offer in return.

Our participation has waned now for over ten years and in many ways the temple has flourished. There is a large influx of young families, and regular Friday services in addition to the weekly Saturday morning minyan. There are discussion groups and plant sales and education programs. The kitchen is still disgusting and the refrigerator is filled with moldering things but the shul is definitely in a time of renaissance and all of the positive accomplishments came to fruition many years after we tried very hard but faced an uphill battle, to revive the place ourselves.

Himself professes to a skepticism that I am skeptical about. He is an intellectual first and foremost, and it is hard for him to surrender to the knowing of God that I know he knows because it taxes his lexicon. The day the 16 year old was born Himself bathed him and then sat stone still in the nursery at Cedars holding the tiny infant for several hours. I was asleep but this was described to me and when I summon the image of my beloved clutching the swaddled newborn, in my mind’s eye they are bathed in pure white light. The infant 16 year old made it a bit easier to tap into that perfect white light which I’ve grown into the habit of referring to as God, than the 16 year old 16 year old who is more likely to tell us to go fuck ourselves than inspire a brush with the divine. We return to the little temple where our efforts were ineffectual. The congregation has done just fine without us and we slog along, marginal Jews, skeptical but open to the white light. Perhaps we will be able to overlook the crazies and the filthy kitchen. There is no need for us there but maybe returning there we will find something that we ourselves have forgotten to need.


Shabbat Shalom
In keeping with my theme of the week-I cannot recommend this video more highly:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LdGBDJwjLec

6 comments:

FionnchĂș said...

As usual, I posted on a related theme on my blog just after you did! Rodents and religion, the missus informs me, tie in via the video. Not that I ever linked them before. xxx me

Richard Gould-Saltman said...
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Richard Gould-Saltman said...

What, no mutant telepathic rodents?

See http://crookedtimber.org/2009/03/08/mutation/#more-9894

Richard Gould-Saltman said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Richard Gould-Saltman said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Cari said...

The link you posted has been removed by a major movie conglomerate. Too bad.

We had raccoons at my mom's house. I actually made friends with them, had them eating cat kibble out of my hands. But therin lied the problem. Easy pickins' and they have no reason to migrate. Are you leaving any pet food out? Are your garbage cans secure? Once I realised the source of their nightly visitations, I binned up the cat food and kept it safely inside. They still came around, I could tell by the black water left from raccoon handwashing every morning in the cat's water bowls, but they caused little other damage (to my knowledge.) Perhaps a call to the "verminators" might be in order. I just love that dang show. "think like a rat", my favorite quote.