A Self-Indulgent Moment For Me
By Garrison Netzel
I can't sleep tonight, so I'm gonna write something completely personal for a change. Maybe it'll give you people who read this crap (both of you) a little bit of insight into why I write what I do and where it all comes from. While I don't believe in disclaimers, I'll let this following one pass since it's to an individual: If you plan on bitching at me for breaking character and being overly judgmental, don't read any further. I'm not taking this one down. Anyone who doesn't believe this is truly the way I feel doesn't know me very well. Besides, I paid a good lot of money for this website--a good lot of money that e-Host automatically deducts from my checking account bi-annually without asking or even telling me first...customer convenience is their first priority. Kind of like the way JCPenny secretly charges you for clothes you might buy before you enter the store, so you don't have to wait in those long, pesky checkout lines on your way out.
Now that I’m a senior in college, I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting on my life, and for a good long while I’ve been self-righteously thinking that I’ve matured immensely during the past three years here, mostly in regard to anger management. When I was a freshman (“first year” as they say here, to avoid that dreaded syllable “man”), I was pretty hostile. I got in a lot of fights and arguments, and the people who I shared a dorm with considered me “aggressive and confrontational” and knew me as “that guy who gets drunk and yells at people.” Pretty accurate, I think, but a lot about my life has changed since then.
So when I began to take stock of the last three years to make some sense out of my college experience (and to attempt to justify my mounting student loans), I came to the conclusion—after comparing the number of fights I got into Freshman year to those (none) that I’ve gotten into during the last two—that I had matured a great deal with regard to controlling my anger. I had to have matured, I thought, because I haven't gotten truly screaming mad at anyone in so long.
I remember how I used to fly off the handle almost all the time in high school and early college, my heart pounding, my temperature rising, my hands trembling with rage. But when I looked at myself recently, I saw someone who is very different: Someone who is almost completely even-tempered, emotionally dead, disinterested in the people around him, actively uninvolved in any sort of groups or activities, totally disassociated from the madness of society, and watching with glib satisfaction as people all around me destroy themselves and each other through the simple sin of taking themselves too seriously. No, I thought, I’m above that. Things don’t get to me anymore. Only stupid people care what other stupid people say and do. They have no power to phase me.
But an event that happened to me just a few days ago shook that theory to the ground.
I was in my Spanish Oral Expression class on Monday (which, incidentally, is almost entirely focused on literature and workbook exercises) being videotaped along with a randomly selected group of 5 other students from the class. We were given the assignment to speak in Spanish about the topic of marriage, and at some later time the teacher would watch the tapes and evaluate our performances. At first it went as things like this always go: No one wanted to be the first to talk, and everybody sat around either smirking or looking at the floor, hoping someone else would start. I don’t remember who actually started, but the participants in our little experiment were, from my left to my right, Black Guy, Joe Normal, Football Jock, Detached Cynic (myself), Deep-Voiced Girl With Moustache, and Militant Feminist Girl. (I'm not being disrespectful, I really don't know these people's names.) So there we were, at first, everybody taking turns line by mutilated line, saying things that got about as deep as “Marriage is good for some, but bad for others” and “I would very much like to get married one day.”
Sensing that we were so far adrift in the Boring Sea that we were in danger of losing sight of shore, the teacher’s assistant (who always looks like she’s contemplating the meaninglessness of existence) suggested that we talk about divorce. OK. Que Bueno. I said that I believed the reason divorce rates are higher now than they used to be is that a marriage arrangement is less financially important when both husband and wife have their own incomes and means of support. Other people said things equally profound. Then it was Deep-Voiced Girl With Moustache’s turn. Her first sentence was, “I am very much a Christian...”
As far as I’m concerned, anyone who prefaces their opinion with a statement like that might as well go on to add, “So what I’m about to say is going to be scientifically inept, totally illogical, have no basis in any kind of observable reality, and will be presented as fact.” Well, Moustache didn’t let me down. She began to ramble about how divorce and living together before marriage is muy wrong. Not wrong for her, mind you, because she’s a Christian, it’s wrong for everybody. Okay, fine, I could handle that. I butchered out a sentence to the effect that it’s a matter of personal choice. Black Guy added that he was also very much a Christian and he agreed with her views. Great. Two of them.
We went on further and somehow got on the topic of babies out of wedlock; now it was Black Guy’s turn to shine. Shattering all negative stereotypes about black men not accepting parental responsibility, Black Guy proceeded to tell us that if a woman gets pregnant out of wedlock, too bad for her, she’s on her own. Ouch. Everything I know about parenting, I learned from rap music.
Militant Feminist whipped out the claws, as did Football Jock, while Joe Normal just laughed in uncomfortable shock. I think even Christian Moustache Girl had a problem with this statement, but she didn’t want to oppose her new ally, so she said nothing while we all ripped into him. I believe he went further, talking about how it’s a man’s job to plant seed (but apparently not to reap what he sows), and that nobody wants to marry a fat girl. Or something to that effect. (He’s not good at Spanish and truth be told, I was a little bit stoned.)
Anyway, then the teacher’s assistant suggested we talk about gay marriage. My heart skipped a beat; I knew this was gonna get ugly. Of course, Christian Girl, in a typical display of Christian intellect and acceptance of others, contorted her face into a revolted expression and said, “No es…normal.” Bam. Thanks, Moustache, for undoing in one sentence everything three years of hanging out with tolerant, kind, intelligent Christians has done to make me almost have a little shred of respect for the religion. And suddenly, I was the Garrison of high school again, the Garrison of freshman year, who used to let stupid things stupid people said agitate him to the point of no return. My heart started beating faster, my temperature rose, my hands started shaking…I’m actually looking forward to watching the tape to see if you can actually see any of this happening.
Of course, I pressed Moustache for a logical explanation, and she used her Bible logic to respond, “It's against God's Law. It’s not natural.” Marriage is not natural, I said, it's man-made. Homosexuality, on the other hand, is very common in the animal kingdom. Her face took on an expression of shocked disbelief, the same look Christians always get when you present them with something most rational people take for granted as common knowledge. I gave her examples (I think I was ranting in English at this point) of dogs, cats, and bald eagles. Average Joe chimed in with another example of homosexuality in nature (I don’t remember what animal he said), and I think Feminazi and even Football Jock jumped down her throat a bit as well. Moustache Girl went on to say that our bodies weren’t “made” for homosexuality. Because, of course, Christians are made, they’re not a product of 4 billion years' worth of environmental adaptation and random mutation, like the rest of us. No, they’re churned out in a factory somewhere, probably in the deep south, and the severely retarded ones are stamped “slightly irregular” and sold to Macalester College at a significant discount. (We’re a liberal arts school, remember, and we’ve got quotas to fill.) I wondered, then, why anuses don’t have sharp spikes around them and why oral sex is even possible if our bodies weren’t “made” for the purpose, but sadly, I don’t know the Spanish word for “anal spikes” so I couldn’t ask.
Anyway, the hour mercifully ended and English-speaking resumed, and everyone was a lot calmer all of a sudden (except me, but I was doing a good job of hiding it). Then Black guy demonstrated the Christian virtue of self-righteousness by pointing out that he and Moustache Girl were the only two people in the group with morals—this from a guy who just told us that a pregnancy and caring for children is the solely the woman’s responsibility because that’s how God set it forth. Funny how “God” always believes exactly the same things that the person claiming to speak for him believes. Christian logic at its finest. Well, I agreed with his statement that I have no morals, explaining that I follow a code of ethics, not arbitrary moral absolutes. This went right over their Christian heads; “arbitrary” has too many syllables and “ethics” is one of them fancy-shmancy words. Well then, just to pound the point home that Christians really, really have all the answers (in case I'd been in a coma the last 22 years), Moustache Girl added, “and we have the only correct opinions.” She was not being ironic, I assure you. She was just being snotty.
Well, her “correct opinions” remark, a logical impossibility if you know anything about the meaning of the words, just about did it for me. I started to leave the room before I ended up planting my shoe in someone’s loving Christian mouth, when Black guy at last added that me, Joe Normal, Football Jock and Feminist were all going to hell. Christians like to use that one, I’ve noticed. Yes, and Santa will put a lump of coal in my stocking, too. Anyway, I told him “Fine, I’d rather be in hell than in heaven with people like you. The conversation’s better.” And then I left…very, very pissed.
Now, it goes without saying that both Black Guy and Moustache Girl are “first years”, as it would be impossible to sustain such socially blind and scientifically ignorant viewpoints at this school for an extended period of time. But in the past, didn’t a person have to be, um, intelligent and informed in order to get into college? Admissions, were you asleep at the wheel?
I’m no biologist, but even reading Time Magazine as infrequently as I do has given me plenty of examples of homosexuality in nature. How, please tell me how, do fundamentalist Christians avoid such information? Do they never read a magazine, pick up a newspaper, or turn on the learning channels? Do they never, once, step back and use logic and reason to interpret their surroundings instead of interpreting every event through myth, superstition and fairy tale? I already know the answer. I already knew the answer in elementary school. But in recent years I had come to convince myself that the answer wasn’t always Yes. But it is. It truly is, because if a person uses logic, reason and scientific findings to interpret the society and the world and the universe around them, a belief in Christian doctrine can’t hold up. All that can be sustained after scientific and logical examination is something people who've gone through this process call “spirituality” (i.e., “I want very badly to believe in something so I don’t feel alone.”), not fundamentalism.
Sure, other people said lots of stupid things during the course of the hour. Militant Feminist Girl (also a freshwoman) told us that masculinity es muy malo. When pressed for a reason why, the wonders of circular freshman illogic produced the answer, “Because I’m a feminist.” OK. Also, Football Jock insisted that “sexo” isn’t a Spanish word, which everyone else in the group refuted, yet he still refused to believe it. Plus, I think it was Joe Normal who tried to tell me that “God’s Law” isn’t a religious issue. But nothing came close to agitating me to the point that Moustache Girl and Black Guy did. And that’s the real moral of this story. I haven’t changed at all, not one bit. I haven’t learned to control my anger and take things with a grain of salt, I’ve just learned how to hang around with people who don’t make me so mad.
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