Reverence

Ronnie and I are polar opposites like a walking yin and yang. I am the dreamer who sees the mystical potential of thoughts and desires in the everyday fluttering of feet on concrete as trees sway and clouds move to the wind. She is the realist. Dreams are good, but there are necessary steps to take to realize that dream on smooth, well prepared paths. There are times where being on opposite sides of the spectrum is a volatile mix—a lit match falling into a puddle of gasoline. Today was one of those times. Our lease on our apartment will soon end, and we need to find another place as soon as possible. I hate living on the Southside, and we took this place because they were the only apartment who approved us quickly so we could get out of Lincoln, NE. Indy’s Southside is too Evangelical, too white, too conservative, and too bland. The area of town is as unimaginative and complacent as a casserole. There is no artistic culture, but plenty of camo, American and Confederate flags, and Trump/Pence bumper stickers or signs.

I’ve lived in downtown before I went back on the road, and the prices are affordable. Rent is comparable to the rent we pay on the Southside, but in better condition. Besides that, we would be near our favorite coffee shops and art shows, and the yearly art fair on Talbot St. along with the IMAF (Indianapolis Music and Art Fair) hosted by Redeemer Presbyterian Church. The church provides locally brewed beer, and the priests across the street at Joy of All Who Sorrow Orthodox Church will join in the festivities. With their black robes and long beards, the Orthodox priests blend into the crowd. We had an appointment with an apartment this morning in that neighborhood. Everything about the apartment sparked an overwhelming joy brimming over my being. The building was from the turn of the twentieth century but modernized, the central library was down the street, Thirsty Scholar a few blocks away, the trees around the vintage houses, the lights in the apartment, the gas stove, the refreshed smell of the apartment’s age, and the street view had me dancing and clapping like the queen we all know I am. I wanted the apartment there and now. Ronnie wanted to think about it and look at other apartments. I maintained a cool composure, but I was upset. I didn’t let it out until we got in our van and drove to Thirsty Scholar.

Ronnie began the conversation, “What is wrong with you?”
“I want that apartment.”
“If we filled out the application now, we would have to come up with more money because we have to pay our landlord on top of the down payment for the new apartment. We can’t do it.”
“Can’t do it,” I sniffed, “You’re standing in the way of what I want.”
“I understand you don’t want to live on the Southside. I don’t want to live on the Southside either. I hate it just like you, but if we fill out the application now we won’t have the money, and we’ll be stuck on the Southside with no place to go. We need the money to do this.”
“Money is a fleeting thing, and I’m not bound by it. Worse comes to worse, I can pack up what I can in my rucksack and start walking.”
“Fuck you! You’re going to leave me?!”
“No, you’re included in my rucksack vision.”
“If we did it that way, there is no coming back. We have to play this smart so we can have what we want. Now can we go in to Thirsty Scholar, have some coffee, and have a good fucking time?” We couldn’t have timed our entry any better. Once we got inside and ordered our coffee it began rain.

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Because of the weather, Thirsty Scholar had a few people speckled about the dining area. The wooden tables by the window were open, and both Ronnie and I enjoy those seats. Against the window there is a bench attached to the wall with little pillows for style and comfort, and on the other side of the tables are little vintage chairs appearing to be fragile to the touch but are sturdy. Ronnie took the bench, and I took the chair. My ass is planted firmly on the chair, and flattened by the unmoving metal and wood. As I type out the sketches on my phone, I notice the sky darken and the street lights come on to guide drivers through blinding rain. The brown luminescence is highlighted by the purple overtones as the lightning flashes, and windows shake from the following, booming thunder.  Across the street, at Herron High School, the trees are brought low by the heavy water in a reverential bow giving thanks to the falling rain. The musty smell of nitrogen in the air mixing with the earthy scent of the coffee grounds is a natural incense cultivating complete realization of the moment. Everything is captured, and the golden eternity is apprehended as I hear everything in the bar. The music selection is an eclectic blend of Americana and soul. A hymn for downtown. Marvin Gaye praying with a beat twang. Besides the music, there is muffled conversations between the baristas and patrons at the bar, couples and friends discussing ideas, measuring life with each swig of coffee, bent over as in prayer straining their ears to gather secret knowledge. Coffee spoons and cups clink together humming a tune like singing bowls calling the mind to meditation. Enlightenment is coming and will arrive with the next exhale.

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Ronnie is going over the floor plans just in case we decide on the apartment. She draws out the diagrams to make plans for the space like an architect. She has a real talent for interior decorating, and she knows how to optimize any space. She also takes time to show me the pictures of the other apartment we’re going to look at this Thursday on Meridian. The apartment is considerably cheaper and has bay windows which is something she must have. With all my wants, I momentarily forgot what she favors in a home. I told her that I changed my mind about the apartment downtown, and apologized for letting my urgency take over and behave like an ass. Ronnie told me the reason for the tension had to do with us being completely opposite, “You being a dreamer pulls me out of my realism to understand how free I am to follow my dreams.”
“And you being a realist puts my dreams in perspective by taking necessary steps to make my dreams real.” In that moment, I realized that we needed each other, and I told her so. The need is not based on codependency, but on actual growth. We bring balance to each other. Granted, I think we would still grow as people, but the evolution would be a slower process. She is grace and progress, and my head bows to her life affirming nature.

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Changing Lanes

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(Taken from the south part of I-465. This is the White River rising from the rain)

I’ve a friend from high school who moved to Glasgow, Scotland in the early 2000s as a missionary associated with Calvary Chapel. He may or may not be a missionary anymore, and I would lean on the may not because his views, like mine, started to change when he listened to people who didn’t believe and when his father died. He and I returned to school at the same time. I went to Ivy Tech and transferred to Blackburn College studying Literature and Religion, and he went to University of Glasgow to study Literature and Philosophy. After I graduated, I wandered about the United States, and after he graduated he began work on his Phd while taking a position as a professor in literature. His wife is a professional photographer, and she will post her work on Instagram and Facebook while he takes pics from his phone. They both post their shots on Instagram and Facebook, and the occasional photo that does not involve their kids is Scotland’s weather. In Glasgow, the sun hardly shines, and when it does there is much rejoicing. More times than not there is rain, and my friend often remarks how dismal his life has become in the last fifteen years. Adding to the misery he can’t find the proper ingredients to make a decent Mexican dish, and if he were able there would be no joy because he’s damp. I’ve told him the weather sounds lovely, and I could do without constant sunshine damaging my skin. He dismissed my remark outright, and told me to do it for fifteen years then get back to him. Fair enough.

It’s been raining for the last three days with winds that cause the drops to fall at an angle. Everything is sopping wet, and the sidewalk going from my apartment to the van is a small lake. That’s the Southside mostly. The area is such a bowl that when there is constant rain there are flash floods. Not to mention that when tornadoes come, they mostly destroy the Southside because of that bowl shape in the topography. There are exceptions, and in the four decades I’ve been alive, tornadoes touched down north of Washington St. two times. The White River has risen tremendously, and we are five miles east of the bank. I’m not worried about the growing water. As close of a threat that can be, the most dangerous thing in Indianapolis in this weather are the drivers. Myself included.

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Every morning and every evening it’s the rush hour 500, but the fast driving doesn’t stop after rush hour—the amount of drivers decrease. I’m used to driving quickly and changing lanes while drinking my coffee or tea. In fact that’s how I learned to drive. When I took my driving instruction to get my license, my instructor had tremendous faith in his ability, and threw me into rush hour traffic going downtown to the 65/70 split on I-70 West. During regular hours the merging can be hectic, but it is manageable, but during rush hour the split is a bottle necking parking lot. Lucky for me when I find myself in an overwhelming situation, I disconnect from my emotions and become focused. I zipped through traffic avoiding being sideswiped by people who change lanes without their signal, and got off the interstate at the Pennsylvania exit. Downtown is just as intense during rush hour, but the traffic is significantly slower. The roads are still the same width as they were when the city was first built—similar to the streets of New York that have remained the same width since it was New Amsterdam in the 1600s. My instructor took me near Ft. Wayne and Alabama, and told me to parallel park with oncoming traffic. Obviously, I survived the ordeal, and I learned how to adapt to drivers who care for nothing and no one outside their car by becoming like them.

As righteous as I would like to feel about the goodness of my driving, I am just as much of an asshole behind the wheel as any driver in Indianapolis. Speaking for myself, though, I try not to be. One of the dangerous things that happen in Indy while driving on I-465 is other drivers will not let you merge even though they are supposed to by law. Semi drivers will do this as well, and there have been a few times they ran us off the road merging from Kentucky to I-465 East on the south part of the intrastate. There is absolutely no regard for life here, and the people shrug their shoulders proclaiming “This is Trump’s America!” as I ascertained from bumper stickers and stickers on the rear window. That’s what happens when the sun is out, but continues when the water is coming down hard and visibility is limited.

Ronnie and I have been planning on moving out of Indiana in the next couple years, and I started researching cities in Northern California, Oregon, and Washington near the coast. I would read the reviews varying from favorable to disgusted. One day, I decided, for kicks and giggles, to look up Indianapolis. I did not read any favorable reviews, and those negative accounts could be taken with a chunk of salt if they only came from people who moved here from out of state. Residents and new comers alike speak of Indy as hostile, violent, slack jawed, and proud of it. Yes, there are pockets throughout the city where people are good to each other and have strong communities, but, for the most part, the culture is full of assholes who voted for Holcomb, Trump, Pence, and other Republicans because they have a platform of, “God, and I hate Muslims, Queers, and critical thinking.” Now, with the repeal of the Affordable Healthcare Act many of these “god-fearing” supporters with preexisting health conditions are requesting their doctors to lie about their record. Good luck.

I did not realize how hostile my hometown was until I lived in Portland, OR. Living on Portland’s Southeast side, I never needed a car to get anywhere, and if I did have a car, I would still use public transportation. Portland has roughly two million people in the city, but most of them ride their bikes or take the bus. If you drive on I-5 north or south, you wouldn’t be able to tell because the interstate is always a parking lot. My first time driving on I-5, I was furious shouting from my wheel, “What the fuck?! It’s 11:00 why does it still look like rush hour?!” Ronnie looked at the entrance ramps, and answered my question, “Everybody is stopping so people can merge.” My anger instantly deflated. I noticed Portland drivers will slow down when I flipped on my turn signal so I could change lanes. I didn’t realize that, collectively, the town was genuinely nice enough to stop traffic so everyone could get in and go wherever they needed to go.

I couldn’t be angry about that level of kindness, and I was reminded of that when we watched a comedian from Portland. He talked about setting a timer at intersections, have a car stay put while the light was green, and watch how long it took for other drivers to create a cacophony of swearing and beeping horns. He said in Portland five minutes would pass before the stopped driver would get a tap on his window, “Hey, buddy, you doing ok? Do you need any help?” Of course there was laughter in the audience, and I laughed too. Besides Portland, I have lived in Chicago and St. Louis, and no driver is close to being that kind. But in Portland that niceness is the norm, and most people respond with passive-aggression when they’re angry. Passive-aggression is annoying, but nowhere near as annoying as getting shot or have jaw broken by brass knuckles. When Ronnie and I would hang out at the twenty-four hour coffee shop, Southeast Grind, I noticed some of the regulars would invite any homeless person they saw wandering into the shop where they would buy the person a cup of coffee and a sandwich. I’ve family here in Indy who write off the West coast as liberal and hippie dippy, but what’s so hippie and dippy about being kind to people regardless of what they believe, who they love, the color of their skin, or their economic situation? I like being that way, and I aspire to be that way by unlearning what they and my community taught me. Kindness and respect isn’t liberal or conservative. It’s being human, and I think many people here in Indy have forgotten that.

East Side Voice

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It’s muggy weather today from the torrential rain last night. I enjoy the rain for the sound and smell, how green the trees and grass become, but the storms leave behind puddles and air clogging the sinuses like globs of wet tissue. Ronnie is meeting with a friend for pizza in the Irvington neighborhood, and wanted me to drive because she is still unfamiliar with the streets and parking on the East Side. I agreed to it because I can go to 10 Johnson Ave Coffee on Washington & Ritter, and crank out some writing. However, those plans had to change because of a live show going on at the coffee shop. The inside of 10 Johnson is divided into two areas. The first area is when you walk in, and there are small tables to the right with chalk art on the wall, and on the left is the counter where you can order specialty coffee drinks, tea, regular coffee, pastries, and regular food. When you make a turn to the right there is another room with books on the left with regular chairs, a brown couch, and a coffee table. To the right are benches, chairs, and tables for people to sit, drink their beverages, eat their food, and/or write. Behind the brown couch is what I call a Murphy Stage folded against the wall that can be unclamped, and pulled down elevating the band by six inches—not very much. Sometimes 10 Johnson host groups that take up the corner, and other times like this they have bands who need the stage. While the barista and the band set up, I typed out maybe one hundred words, and decided to pack up and leave. A band playing didn’t bother me, and I enjoy the groups who play at 10 Johnson, but I needed to get in some writing. The Murphy Stage took up a chunk of the room, and I thought I would be rude to take up space ignoring the band’s performance.

Walking east on Washington there is a bit of an incline, and air already stuffed with moisture made the walk difficult with the breathing. I’m in relatively good shape, but I also carried a computer and three books in my rucksack, and keeping upright while walking a subtle incline can be an interesting ordeal. As I walked up to Ritter to turn right on Washington, there stood a group of people with various styles of clothing, hats, and hair standing outside The Irving waiting to see a show. I am not familiar with the bands, but I have been to a few shows at The Irving, and it’s a good venue with smooth acoustics and relaxed communion. I could feel the heat coming out of my torso through my shirt as the cars rumbled past me spilling their exhaust into the air, but passing through my nose first. I moved closer to the right when the 8 bus roared by me and a woman went past me in a black and pink blur on an evening run. Across the street, and near the outdoor seating at Jockamo’s, a group of people stood talking, smoking and laughing. I waited for the light to turn red so I could cross the intersection at Audubon and go to Starbucks. As I went in, I stood behind two indecisive, and from their body language and talk, affluent white women. All I wanted was a regular blonde roast, and I muttered my impatience, “Fucking rich, white people.” Furthermore, one of these women left her purse and cell phone unattended to get cream. Clearly, she is not from the East Side.

As I’ve written before, I am fourth generation East Side. Apparently, at the turn of the twentieth century the outskirts of Indianapolis promised a chance for a better life to my thrice great grandparents from Northern Germany, Wales, and the Highlands of Scotland. They moved here, bought the land that became my neighborhood, and I grew up in the house my great grandfather built that was sold a few years ago by youngest great aunt. The goals of my ancestors petered out after my great grandfather’s early death. The people that bought up the remaining land across 30th & Shortridge built warehouses next to the already existing Fire Station, and they could dictate who lived, moved, breathe, and have their being in their area. That’s how I feel about Irvington.

I spent the first year of my life in Irvington before my parents had to move ten minutes north because they were about to lose their home. All of Indianapolis could hear the chorus of roaring from my grandmother and great grandmother from 21st & Riley to 30th & Shortridge, “It will be a cold day in Hell if my grandson should grow up on the street!” So we moved into my great-grandmother’s house, and that’s where I lived until I found my own place. I would often frequent Irvington with my mother as we went to art shows in the neighborhood to see the creations of our neighbor two doors away. Irvington is also where I bought my first hardcore tapes. I was seventeen, I didn’t have a car, but my mother was fine with driving me to a hole in the wall Punk Rock record store, and I bought Agnostic Front’s “Liberty and Justice For…” and The Crucified’s self-titled album. Agnostic Front came out of The Bowery of New York City’s Lower East Side, and The Crucified were a group of Christians who came out of Calvary Chapel started by Chuck Smith during the Jesus Movement in Southern California. The Crucified were influenced by bands like Bad Brains and Minor Threat, and I loved the sound immensely. At the time, Irvington, like any other East Side neighborhood, had a dangerous edge to it. My mother knew it, but she was unconcerned. She went to Tech by choice, and was known throughout our neighborhood as “Bad Ass White Woman.” She was six feet tall, and did not suffer fools lightly. She’s the reason my brother and I never got involved in gangs. She informed those guys that she would make their lives a living hell if they so much as breathed any intent to recruit us. I know there is a respect from gangbangers towards mothers, but I thought it funny they were more scared of my mother than a nine. I also went to Warren, and while I am by no means a tough guy, I can protect myself if pushed against the wall. But somewhere in the last 2000s, the neighborhood changed.

The medians on East Washington turned into little islands with quaint shrubs and little trees. Spaces were bought up from Arlington to Ritter, and turned into trendy restaurants and shops so people from the suburbs could move in and feel “urban,” or, at the very least, slum with us legitimate working class people to feel like they’re connected. Down the street from the Starbucks, where I am presently, is Indy Cycle Specialists. I would frequent this shop to buy necessary parts for my bike while I lived on East Michigan, four blocks west of Emerson. For one thing, the parts I needed to safely get around downtown so I could go to class were expensive, and the most basic of bikes they had there were $1,500. This is the East Side. Who the fuck has that much disposable income in this neighborhood—let alone for a basic bike? The people with that kind of money are the rich white people who moved in from the northern burbs buying up the real estate. Their presence hiked up the property value of the homes in the neighborhood squeezing out long-time residents who’ve lived here since my mother was a child. Like locusts, they fly in and quickly devour the livelihood of people who could barely survive before their arrival.

I brought this up to my friend, Eric who also grew up on the East Side. He told me he agreed with what I saw and how I felt, but that is the life cycle of neighborhoods. Yes, the East Side can be dangerous, Irvington in particular, and they can stay steeped in drugs and violence and implode, or have outside investors come in and rejuvenate the neighborhood. The latter are beneficial to those in their demographic, but debilitating to the people who have been in the neighborhood before it was marketed as trendy. I shook my head. I agreed, and I hated that he was correct, but I equally hated that I enjoyed some of the benefits like 10 Johnson and Jockamo’s Pizza. I felt like I was betraying my neighborhood, and I choked on the thirty pieces of silver while I washed it down with locally brewed beer and fashionable pizza. It’s a weird tension. Eric brought up a solution that he and his senior pastor pursued in an equally poor area on Indy’s Near West Side where they both live and serve as pastors.

The Indianapolis International Airport has a hefty amount of untaxed, unused land that investors wanted to use for a casino. They promised a revitalization of the area with all the jobs and money pouring into the neighborhood. That is true…to a point. The money coming in would be a short term solution, but would only exacerbate the poverty and desperation of Eric’s congregation and neighborhood. The money would come from affluent areas in the city and surrounding suburbs, and crime would increase because the economic disparity would be in the faces of the poor. People do dangerous things when they’re surrounded by squalor while their bellies are empty and growling. What was so disgusting about these proposals is they were done behind closed doors. The local councilman, Jared Evans, found out about the secret proposal for the casino and got local pastors involved to be a voice for the community. Eric and his senior pastor took on the local government and businesses by offering real and practical solutions to build up the community. Give the people in the neighborhood a hand up so they could create businesses on the unused land and give life to their community. Also the people could take ownership of their own lives and dignity, and could control their destiny.

That is something I can support. Creating new playgrounds and eateries for rich white people who want to look “native” in their $500 faded skinny jeans riding around on their $1,500 bicycles doesn’t help the original residents, but pushes them out while destroying their dignity. When I was an adolescent, and even today, East Siders have the unfortunate reputation of being hooligans and thugs. While that may be true for some people on this side of town it is not true of all of us. There are good people here, but sometimes people who are in survival mode are dangerous, and rightfully so. The new money assumes they can pop off and posture as they do in their former suburban neighborhoods because they could get away with that behavior. On the East Side, as well as the West Side, those same people risk losing teeth from a lead pipe to the jaw or they might be shot. Even as I sat here in this Starbucks, I almost showed the baristas real East Side. Ronnie came over after meeting with a friend, and has been patiently waiting on me as I write this piece. She has to use the bathroom, but the bathrooms are out of toilet paper. She asked the baristas for toilet paper, “We’ll get to it in a bit.” While I write this, it is 8:22 in the evening, there are two baristas, and they are not busy. I am annoyed. “I’ll go up there, and demand the toilet paper.”
“No, I’m fine. Just continue writing.”
“You know what? I have to use the bathroom, and I’ll get the toilet paper.”
“No. It’s fine. I can hold it. You don’t need to go all bulldog. If I needed to go that bad I would have gone into bitch mode.”
I was ready, too. They were rude to someone for whom I care a great deal, and I would have walked into the back room to retrieve the toilet paper. If they confronted me, like they probably would, I would tell them flat out they could either take care of a legitimate customer issue, or I could do it myself. Snobby, rich white boys need to adapt to the East Side and show proper courtesy, or they can fuck off back to the burbs from whence they came. You can’t improve a community with money alone. You also need to acknowledge the common dignity we all share as sentient beings.

Family Drama

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I’m a fourth generation Eastsider, and my neighborhood at 30th & Shortridge used to be a farm my twice great grandfather bought when he came to America in 1908 from Hamburg, Germany. After my great grandfather married my great grandmother, her father, who came from the Highlands of Scotland’s northwest, moved to my great grandfather’s home. The house where I grew up had been built my great-grandfather so he could be close to the farm after Wilson’s disease crippled him—the trees that lined the front yard was a path to the barn. When he died in the 1958, my great grandmother kept the house, but sold the farm to developers to pay off the medical debt. The house had been designed as a double and the vacant side used for tenants–the tenant side face Shortridge and my great grandmother’s side faced Ashland. When I was born, my parents lived in the Irvington neighborhood, and when money became tight and we faced homelessness, my great grandmother and youngest great aunt opened up the vacant side of the house for us. The act appears generous and compassionate, but there was nothing generous or compassionate about my great-grandmother, my youngest great aunt. Don’t misunderstand, I am grateful for having a roof over my head, and if it had not been for my great grandmother’s garden, I would have gone hungry like many of my school mates surviving on government cheese and canned goods in wrapped white paper and black stencil; but the kindness gave her the right mistreat us, mostly me, with manipulation and abuse.

Growing up with my great grandmother was a mixed blessing. How many kids in my neighborhood grew up in a house where there were family pictures going back to tintype, or had family who enjoyed storytelling? The truth was of little use, and the stories I heard extended back to my ancestor’s life in Europe along with embellishments and modern spins. There were facts like names and personality types along with the time of year, but everything else became an artistic expression of the one telling the story—like their cooking.

My great grandmother made mincemeat pie, and it was a 300 year old family recipe from the Highlands. Mincemeat pie was my exposure to the contradiction that is British Isle cuisine. What is mincemeat pie? According to the family recipe, it’s made with raisins, apples, cinnamon, and suet. What is suet? Suet has been described to me as the extra bits that fell on the floor the butcher processed into hot dogs. My great grandmother would go to the Grassy Creek butcher on East 10th to pick up the excess bits—she knew how to make suet, and it was a source of great pride. When I walked into the house on Christmas Day, the smell made me gag. I did not pay attention to my surroundings and belched my disgust, “Oh my god, that is nasty!” Next thing I know I am facing the back of my great aunt Mary’s hand as she flicks her fingers on my teeth causing my entire skull to rattle, “Just for that you’re taking two slices to teach you some manners. Next time you say, ‘No, thank you. I do not care for any.’” She turned to my eight year old brother who witnessed the exchange, “Tommy, would you like some mincemeat pie?” He looks at me, narrows his eyes and gave me a wicked smile, “No, thank you. I don’t care for any.” Then he runs off to visit other relatives. My mother explained to me the origins of mincemeat pie, and that it’s creation of poor people trying to survive. “Yeah, Ma, but we American poor—we can eat a little better.”

Before I left for Blackburn in August of 2012, I was at my mother’s apartment watching BBC news. At the time Great Britain’s experience with immigration issues similar to what the United States experiences with its southern borders. The correspondent talked about Scotland and how it’s lax approach on immigration allowed foreigners to move about freely and retain their culture in Scottish society. To support his statement, the correspondent commented on Scottish culture in general, and how that attitude went across the Atlantic Ocean into America. “The Scots that emigrated to America stayed Scots, though they are considered Americans.” I laughed because I thought only great grandmother and great aunt Mary were the only people to do this, and leaned on their Scottishness to support their stubborn opinions, bigoted views, and violent behavior. Especially when it came to came to religion. They loathed Catholics and had no love for Episcopalians, “By God, we left the crown, and it’s going to stay that way!” I turned down the television and shared a laugh with my mother—apparently our family’s crazy was cultural.

Walking into my great grandmother’s side house was like walking through a wormhole into Scotland; but a turn of the century Scotland. The kitchen has a dulled yellow tint and is filled with the different aroma of the various spices above the stove. The utility room to the right, where the washer and dryer are kept, are mason jars filled with canned vegetables, fruits, jams made from the plum tree in our front yard, and homemade sweet chili sauce. Towards the wall is the oak table my great great grandfather brought over from Scotland and there is a three foot gap between the table and the refrigerator before entering the living room. The space is already tight when it’s just myself, my great grandmother, and great aunt, but is a cause for cartilage snapping asphyxiation when all the relatives from all over the country converge on Thanksgiving and Christmas day. My great grandmother has her end of the table with her back to the hall way and surrounded by family photographs from the 1860s. When there aren’t family gatherings my great aunt Mary has her place at the other end of the table with her back to the front door. Behind her are the things she bought while she was a missionary to India.

One of the benefits my mother found in living next door to her grandmother and aunt was child care. They were family and they could be relied upon if something last minute came up and she and my father had to leave. I didn’t mind this either because I liked being around them for the most part, but their demeanor changed toward me after I turned ten. I am a sensitive person, and much of my personality can be considered feminine. When I finally came out last October, a good friend told Ronnie, “God! It’s about time he came out—I knew when I first met him.” My family is quite perceptive, and looking back, I think they saw the same thing in me—and they hated me for it. On a cold December day when the sky is overcast, and the yard is haunted with the naked bones of the tree’s limbs, I hurt myself. While playing with the tree branches, I lost my grip, and the branch smacked the bottom of my nose. I don’t know what it is about cold air that intensifies pain, but I was in tears. My parents weren’t home, and ran into my great grandmother’s house crying and looking for comfort. My great grandmother roared at me, and her Highland accent came out like thick stones breaking my head with her disgust. “I took care of your great great grandfather who was a foul tempered Scot, I survived being nearly burnt to death, and the Great Depression—you’re going to cry to me over a goddamned twig?! You come from great Highland warriors! How dare you behave like such a little girl!” My great aunt Mary chimed in to echo the antipathy, and not once did it dawn on them the irony of insulting their own gender. I’ve watched how they publicly humiliated men who treated them as weak girls—even physically breaking their jaws with empty mason jars in their purses.

This treatment was not a one-time thing, and happened consistently until I became an adult and severed the relationship. I was alone during this time. Everyone knew what was happening, and there were people in our church who said I deserved everything they did to me because I was such a bad kid. I needed to be dehumanized and controlled because there was something off about me. They knew it, and had the bible to justify the monstrous behavior; but I didn’t know. What I did know was my home was not safe, at school I received similar treatment so that wasn’t safe, and when I had to start working at sixteen, my work environment was the same as home and school. I wore leather jackets and combat boots to put on a mask of toughness, I verbally lashed out at any authority figure taking them to task on any issue, I created a narrative where I appeared hard so people would leave me alone—so I wouldn’t get hurt anymore. On some level, I think that disguise worked because I wasn’t attacked after the race riots in my high school junior year. I learned to sever any connection with my heart to find solace in my mind. There is nothing good or bad about what I had done as an adolescent. I believed I didn’t have any options, but I needed to cope and get out as soon as possible. The downside to such coping is the mask soon becomes the identity, and there is a disconnect with the heart making it impossible to relate to people. As awful as my family was to me and others, I have never met anyone who could come close to comparison—even the ones who have done violence towards me have lines they will not cross. I had to unlearn my coping mechanism, take off my masks, face my broken heart, and be honest.

I think my coming out in October of last year was the first best step in facing me without any insecure bravado. Who I am is ok. In no way do I blame my life or my current struggle towards healing on my great grandmother and great aunt. I worked with what options were available to me, and when I became an adult I stayed behind my masks. I chose to do that and the consequences of that choice are on me. In recent months, I have had to deal with the same maltreatment from my mother who claimed I was a mistake and kept her bound to a man whose instability made her life a painful struggle. To hear it as an adult is rough, but with her disclosure, I understood why my home life was a bone rattling, soul dissipating hell. I found freedom in that final rejection. One of my masks has been the cultural history of my family, and I attached myself to an identity as a working class, Scot-American from Indianapolis’ East Side; but that wasn’t my story, nor has it ever been my story. That’s my family’s story, and the only connection I have to such a narrative is biology. Beginning to face myself with honesty and acceptance has opened a door for me to start my own story with each chapter better than the first.

Christian means “Little Christ”?

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Ronnie and I don’t like shopping at Walmart because the company’s maltreatment of their employees, and the low quality of their product; and a secondary reason is the clientele. We only go to Walmart during emergencies or needing last minute items when we are financially strained. The times we have gone, I say we are committing Walmart to borrow from Henry Rollins because he goes to Walmart under similar circumstances while he’s on tour in America. Last night we had to go because we needed new sheets for our bed to change out the sweat inducing flannel sheets. The closest Walmart to us is off US 31 South on Indianapolis’ Southside. When I came up on Indy’s Eastside, I, like many others in my area, avoided the Southside due to the amount of Rednecks and Hillbillies. There is a real bigotry in the Eastside towards White people from the North and Southside—Northside white people are stuck up and fragile, Southside white people are dull witted with delusions of Confederacy. Unfortunately, there are traces of that bigotry in me, and it’s been a long up road struggle to leave behind that learned behavior. Unfortunately, such sights as giant American Flags and Confederate flags on the sides of trucks—or on flag poles—and Trump bumper stickers and lawn signs do not make my spiritual work any easier. According to people north of Washington Street, the Southside may as well be the backwoods of Kentucky.

When we pulled into the Walmart parking lot the area was filled with waddling people wearing oversized USA t-shirts. I decided to go in with Ronnie because I wanted to look for some more chinos in the women’s section. I enjoy how those pants look on me, and they are great for warm weather. As we walked into the store, Ronnie and I were greeted with angry stares. Ronnie wore her large necklaces made in Tibet, the top of her hair pulled back in such a way she looked like a shield-maiden from Scandinavian sagas, and a sheer shirt pulled over a black tank top. I wore my 0g tunnels in my ears with 10g hoops going through them, and next to them were dangling earrings that are wood carvings of the Bodhi tree. Around my neck are sandalwood mala beads, and on my left wrist Muslim prayer beads. I have on a gray shirt, black chinos, sandals, and a pull over shoulder bag to carry my books and a small bag inside containing my license and bank cards. My appearance notwithstanding, I do not act like a straight white male. I would hope so because I’m a bisexual male who is feminine in many aspects of his personality and wears some women’s clothing for comfort. When I came out last October, I’ve been quite comfortable in my own skin; but tonight, I feared for my safety.

Walking around the store, I saw quite a bit of anti-Islamic and anti-immigration t-shirts; and a few Christian t-shirts. One t-shirt in particular read “ISIS hunting permit,” and the guy who wore it was skinny, 5”7 with a bushy, Yonker beard and close cropped hair. Besides him there were angry people quietly following us throughout the store. After we checked out and walked towards the parking lot, Ronnie took my hand to hold to be a protective beard so I could appear to live up to one point of an arbitrary criteria of masculinity held by this slowly growing mob. The only other time I had been that afraid for my life is when I lived on 10th & Beville on the Near Eastside, and I accidentally ran over a Rottweiler puppy owned by the neighborhood drug dealer. The puppy didn’t die, and it was by chance I got him on the hip with my ’86 Chevy Cavalier. I didn’t know who the puppy belonged to, and I felt terrible. Besides Pit Bulls, I adore Rottweilers, or Rotties as we call them, and I was upset to think I might have killed one. As I went up to the house and offer to pay the vet bill, I found myself staring down the barrel of a 9mm Glock. I was shaking and sweating, mentally praying, “Ah, fuck me!” I was lucky, though because a friend of the drug dealer vouched for me. At Walmart, I was followed by a growing mob of angry white people, and no one to protect me.

Besides their homophobia, there are two points I find confusing: the Southside is mostly, white, but is overwhelmingly Evangelical with some Catholic Churches peppered throughout the area. Generally speaking, they are professing Christians—outspoken followers of Jesus suffering from Christian exceptionalism and a false narrative of persecution. They may not be gunned down or lose their lives and churches by suicide bombings, but they can’t freely oppress people in the name of their religion; and that’s why Jesus suffered and died. Jesus, they believe, is God in the flesh showing his love, mercy, and grace to people, dying on the cross for humanity, and rising from the dead to confirm their salvation. Today is Easter, the day these people celebrate Jesus’ resurrection with egg hunts, cantatas (depending on the Christian denomination), and long sermons shaming people into repentance. Last night, though, Jesus is dead and not paying attention so it’s alright to beat me and/or kill me for being something outside of their infantile hermeneutic. I’ve read the gospels several times, and nowhere did I read about Jesus redeeming those who were deemed social outcasts by beating them or killing them.

Last night’s experience is one of many examples I bring up when I say why I have a difficult time accepting Christianity as true, or believing Jesus to be God incarnate. This example is also why Ronnie and I are preparing to move back to the West coast. She and I shouldn’t live in fear for our lives over being different. If we’re not hurting anyone then who cares? I don’t have an answer for the behavior I witnessed last night, and I know I’m not the only one of my friends who are familiar with the hate shown towards them because of their sexual orientation. The best thing I can do at this point is avoid places like Walmart, and take the necessary steps to move to an area where I can breathe easier. Right now, I find it difficult to extend forgiveness to these people; but I know the first step in getting rid of hate in the world is making no room for hate in my heart.

Going All the Way

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I’m re-reading Dan Wakefield’s Going All the Way because I’m loaning it to the pastor of a church I now attend. Given the content and the assumed stereotypes of pastors, my loaning of this book seems odd. I’ve seen this pastor’s personal library, and he has religiously subversive books like N.T. Wright’s The New Testament and the People of God, and books by Paul Tillich and the Niebuhr brothers. Suffice it to say, Going All the Way is in his area of interest. He is not a native of Indianapolis, but moved here seven years ago to one of the poorer communities on Indy’s near west side. He wanted to bring a gospel to the poor and struggling instead of a gospel that has been marketed as a brand for bored, complacent, middle class white people. Wakefield’s book came out in 1970, and is set in 1954 Indianapolis; but the culture had not changed in those sixteen years of civil rights, counter culture, and Viet Nam; and Indianapolis culture has not change much in the last forty-seven years—save for a mild interest in the arts. Going All the Way does not focus solely on the criticisms of Indianapolis’ religious, social, and political culture, but also draws attention on a growing counter culture. There is much more to Indianapolis than The Colts, The 500, or giant American flags on both sides of pick-up trucks roaring around I-465. There also exists the voices of the poor, the marginalized, and the disenfranchised—the least of these who are ignored in the name of the Republican Party’s image of Jesus.

There are people in Indianapolis who now pride themselves as a blue city in a red state, but the city is Midwestern blue. That kind of blue means the city is as conservative as their rural counterparts, but they’re ok with LGBT people, people of color, social justice, and the plight of the poor; however, they’re comfortable only with the idea of these groups—when these groups start sitting in their pews it’s a different story. The behavior I have observed in the local conservative and liberal people is what Wakefield observed through his character, Gunner after meeting up with an old friend from high school. Gunner had just returned from being overseas during the Korean War and the friend, whom he and Sonny called Shins, told him he had to go out and get a job—any job. Gunner is thinking about returning to school to get his Masters in philosophy, but Shins dismisses a philosophy degree because it cannot be used outside of the lawyer’s office. Throughout the night Shins tells Gunner he has to settle down, get married, have kids, and so on and so forth, but is quickly irritated with Gunner’s response: “Why?” That’s a question Shins is unable to answer outside of what is expected. Gunner wants more to life than a wife with the two point five kids and a picket fence in the suburbs. When I returned to my old neighborhood at 30th & Shortridge to spend time with some of the people who lived there when I was a boy, I was insulted. I had returned to school two years earlier, and when I went to visit them in June of 2012, I was preparing to transfer to Blackburn College in central Illinois. I had a full beard, and someone decided to tell me I was unemployable and looked like a bum. What does that even mean? Should I be like him and most of the residents of my old neighborhood who are unskilled cogs who think they have it made because they own a house and a truck? They could lose their things at any moment because they are disposable, and can be replaced by someone who is just as unskilled, uneducated, and deluded as them.

Sonny, though, deals with a different set of conflicts from his mother and her religious friends. Sonny is an atheist, and liberal in how he views people. He finds racism absurd, and people should be allowed the freedom to live and be, regardless of their skin color. Upon his arrival to Indianapolis, Sonny’s parents, along with her mother’s friend pick him up in a station wagon owned by his mother’s church where she also works—the company car if you will. Sonny is told that his alma mater, Shortridge High School has become “darker inside” because many African Americans were moving in to the north side and sending their kids to Shortridge. I went through something similar with my aunt in the early 2000s when I told her about going into Broadripple to spend some time with friends and catch an art show. I had been going there for years before the village became a trendy brand, and there are still some good spots for art. “Be careful. It’s gotten dark over there.” I knew exactly what she meant, and told her she was ridiculous—the color of a neighborhood is not a gauge for safety—, and she was a racist for speaking such stupidity. Of course she was offended, and said she wasn’t a racist because who wants to admit they’re a despicable person? Sonny’s mother and friend react the same way as my aunt when he hinted at their racism. They’re good Christian people and good Christian people don’t hate, but their actions say otherwise.

Sonny’s mother overwhelms him with religion in an attempt to bring Sonny back to a belief in God and a follower of Jesus; but not just any follower. Sonny’s mother belongs to a group called MRA which is a right wing, nondenominational Evangelical Christian group who have bought into the doctrine of conformity by the military industrial complex. In this culture, Jesus is white, a capitalist, American, and hates those who disagree with conservative American policies. The liberals are the enemy, and many of them are educators in the universities such as Indiana University where Sonny attended and graduated. What his mother, or her group, fails to see is they are why people are opting for atheism—or at the very least not affiliated with any religion—because their religious practice oppresses people who are not straight, white, or Protestant. Why would anyone, who desires to be a decent person, want to be a part of that kind of religion? Brennan Manning said the single cause for atheism is Christians who profess Jesus with their mouth, but deny him with their actions when they walk out the door. Jello Biafra of the Dead Kennedys talked about such people in “Moral Majority” as he yelled out, “God is dead if you’re such a fool!” Sonny’s education had nothing to do with his beliefs changing, but rather what he experienced in his own life. The religion his mother practiced was myopic and only good for dealing with surface issues, but does nothing for the deeper rumblings of existence. Atheism was the logical conclusion for Sonny.

The first time I read Going All the Way, I resonated with the portrayal of the political and religious culture of Indianapolis in the 1950s because not much had changed; and up to this point, I still have these views; but the point of the book, for me, is not the criticisms. Regardless of your hometown, you can never go home again once you leave. You can return to the same location, but your high school, friends, and family look different. They haven’t changed, but you have. Sonny lived across the country working behind a desk for the army, and Gunner was wounded in Korea and experienced Zen Buddhism while stationed in Japan. When they both returned their perceptions had changed. Sonny didn’t know what he wanted when he returned home, but he knew he didn’t want the religion and politics of his family. Gunner shared a similar sentiment, but wanted to explore life instead of doing what he was “supposed” to do. For me, I have traveled and lived in various places across the country, and, recently, I lived in Portland, OR surrounded by trees, mountains, and laid back people. Things did not work out according to what I wanted, and I made the long trek east with a year stop in Lincoln, NE. When I arrived to Indianapolis in August of last year, I saw the people in a different light. Most of the people I knew in high school had become dull witted facsimiles of their parents with more kids they can afford, and/or they have become increasingly right wing and attend God’s favorite, wealthy, white Evangelical church. I also noticed the hatred my mother and the rest of my family have towards me—that hatred had always been there, but I didn’t notice the subtlety. Did they change? I don’t think so. I think I outgrew whoever these people were, and found their paradigms asphyxiating. Is that true for all of Indy? No. I still associate with the artistic community while becoming a part of it through my writing. Like Sonny and Gunner, I can either choose to find that other community ignored or demonized by The Indianapolis Star, or I can leave town and never return. At this point, I am opting to stay. There is such artistic potential that has yet to be tapped, and I think the counter cultural community here is vibrant. I haven’t returned home, but I have to make a home in the place where I was born. That’s the message I get from this second reading of Going All the Way.