Tuesday, 26 May 2015
"The only real point of being an adult is to choose what you want to do with your time. But it's usually too late to choose by the time you're grown up. So if you choose now what affect you want to have on the lives of others, you'll find your best adult job while you still have time to train into it," his 10th grade teacher told them while the classroom was a series of bent heads. Young John Barkus stared at his workbook and thought about when his uncle was finally able to move into his own house. He put his pen to the paper and wrote...
“So why are you really here, John Barkus?” Sarah asked, breaking into his thoughts. They; Barkus, Sarah, Lynn, Sheryl, Gus, Sol, Jim and half of Jim's regulars were filling Barkus' flat. He wasn't sure how that happened, but someone kept handing him drinks and there were cartons of pizza being passed around so he didnt really care. Plus he had snagged one of the comfier chairs.
"Pride,” was Barkus' instant reply, and then he blinked as if the answer was unexpected even to him. He had an audience, when did that happen?
“Do you want to think about that for a minute?” came the joke, not unkindly.
“Well...” Barkus let the word trail off for comic relief, which was rewarded, then added. “Yes, in two manners of speaking, I am here for Pride, or about Pride, or whatever.” Emboldnened by the alcohol and the open faces, he plunged on. “I thought I could solve my own problems to the point where I thought getting help showed weakness, an inability to Problem-Solve.” They heard the capitals. “So I pushed it all away until well, I ended up in those damn flower beds.” Laughter, the encouraging sort. “But on the other side, I've just remembered what I put down in my school book for why I wanted to be an Architect in the first place. Because I could see the pride that people got when they owned a house.” Nods went around the group. “I could see how much good that one fact did and I wanted to make people feel good, help them feel pride. So I decided to build houses.” He regarded his glass. “And somehow I still ended up in flowers.” And then he had to tell them about working at the local garden centre led by hippies who believed that flowers could solve everything. “For years I had no idea how they stayed in business. They made silly deals and donated to ogranisations all over the place and would say things like, “Its not about the money, its about the joy of earning your way, of using your skill and experience to make someone's day better.” About 5 years after I left, the penny dropped when my old boss's son came around with a bulk bag of weed for the college dorm.” Laughter erupted. “Yeah, they made a lot of people's days a lot better for a long time! But what about you Sarah? What are you here for, cos I know you're not from here.”
“I find it restful, and I like hanging out with my girlfriend which means I have to spend some time around here, whether I like it or not.” Mock jeers and pieces of popcorn rained on her. “But I do have to admit, I find it very restful here.” She accepted a top-up from Sol. “It's a really good place to come to after a tour when my batteries are almost depleted and I start getting really crabby.”
“What do you mean “start”?” Lynn interjeted, which earned her a popcorn at point-blank range. ”Spousal abuse,” she shrieked.
“Nah,” rumbled George, swaying in his seat. “Saw it all, it was retaliation for character defamation, perfectly acceptable behaviour.”
“You're only saying that because she bought you that special spiced rum,” Lynn protested in mock outrage.
“Yes, I acknowledge the conflict of interest and I say you are disturbing the peace and should refrain from further histeronics unless you wish the warning to become formal.”
“Oh I know how it goes now,” came the sarcastic reply. “I'm being set up by the Man, on the direction of the Woman.”
“And her special spiced rum,” Sarah pointed out. Sol put on a look of contrived puzzlement.
“Is that what they call it nowadays?”
From a group in the corner came a cry of “Yes! That's it, I knew I knew it!”
“My, but that's great timing,” laughed Sarah as the group turned as a whole to see what the excitement was about. “What's going on over there?”
Barkus smiled as someone started triumphantly telling the story of remembering a favoured song from the 1920's, but he was miles and years away, remembering those summers when his hands were always in the dirt and the smell of compost was in the air. He had enjoyed those times, had got a deep sense of satisfaction from knowing that it was his care and attention that made the plants thrive and flourish. He remembered the feeling of coming in one morning and seeing the first blood-red blooms on a climbing rose that he had rescued from the compost pile. His old boss had clapped him on the back and insisted that he take it home as proof of his Lazarus touch. He had tied it carefully to the back of his bike and presented it to his mother. It bloomed hugely for years and was so vigorous that his mother had been able to train it over arches and through the iron sculptures that his father loved. His younger sister had sworn by its scent and gathered armfuls of petals for her home-made moisturisers and perfumes. Neighbours and friends from all over had taken cuttings and soon the “Barkus Rose”, as it came to be known, was considered an essential part of a complete garden in their town. He would drive through the streets and his chest swelled as he thought that, if not for him, all that beauty would never have been. His lip twisted bitterly and he sighed. *At least,* he thought. *The Barkus Rose continues in other people's gardens* He looked up suddenly, to see Sol's eyes on him with an unreadable expression.
“What do you think of the discussion, Barkus?” Sol asked.
Barkus blinked and rubbed his forehead ruefully. “I wasnt listening,”he admitted. “What's being discussed?”
Sol shrugged. “The evolution of music I think,” he replied, sipping his scotch. “And its relationship to politics.”
“Are we up to Punk yet?” Barkus asked, stretching in his chair and shoving his remembrances aside. “Cos if we're going to discuss music and politics, Punk should take centre stage, pardon the pun.” A hand waved from another chair, Barkus thought he remembered the owner as being called Sophie.
“But we're talking about music, not noise,” she stated disparagingly. Barkus shook his head.
“I'll grant you that it's far from being the most technical genre of music, but it was never meant to be,” he argued. “It was supposed to be a statement, for free choice and originality and against constraints of personal freedoms.” Sophie didn't look conviced. “Take the Sex Pistols for example, they wrote music that directly attacked policies of the British Government at the time, they made satire of the Queen and they encouraged the general public to speak their minds and be themselves. They championed real freedom of choice. The Clash did the same.”
“But their music was so basic, it really is just modulated noise,” Sophie protested.
“Others would argue accesible,” Barkus retorted. “They showed that you don't need to be a virtuoso to write songs and get people's attention. From the point of view of musical history they were extremely important becasue they gave so many people the confidence to pick up an instrument or microphone and try.” Barkus shrugged. “Basically, if the Sex Pistols or the Clash could play a song, anyone could.”
Sophie snorted. “You're right there.”
“And what do you play?”
“Cello, violin and piano,” she said proudly.
“Sophie is part of the provincial orchestra,” Sol told Barkus. “She played for the Youth Orchestra before that.”
“Not all three instruments at once though,” Barkus hazarded.
“No,” Sophie laughed. “That would be a feat worthy of record. No, I play the cello for the Orchestra, the piano and violin are more for fun.”
“And I suppose they are easier to bring to parties.”
“Yes indeed, though I was caught on the backfoot tonight and I brought nothing with me.”
“You brought yourself,” Barkus reminded her and she smiled. “Next time the price of admission is a tune.” She nodded and smiled again.
In the natural pause of their conversation, they heard Sarah in full discussion mode.
“No. I agree tht lives are being sacrificed on the alter of propriety but I disagree on the thinking behind it. AIDS isn't being treated like it is because its a poor mans disease, or a black man's disease or a homosexual disease, it's because it's a venereal disease. If AIDS was transmitted through aerosal, there would be a solution to the “AIDS problem”. I dont know what form it would take, but there would be one. But AIDS is transmitted through sex, therefore it enters the realm of religous taboo and the Authorities can take the highest moral ground and leave the sinners to rot.”
“You really dont like religion, do you?' A sip of the drink, a headshake.
“No, I consider the vast majority of true human suffering in this world to be the sum total of the presence of organised religion.”
“What?!” In the hubbub, Barkus noticed that Sol and Gus were both staring at Sarah intently. He realised then that he had never seen either man direct their full attention on one subject before. Even when playing music, there was the impression of there being many things going on at once. Now, both men were completely focused on Sarah, who was sitting in the eye of the storm as the other guests protested her words.
Finally, Sol raised a hand and, quite naturally, the voices died away.
“I'm sure Sarah has no intention of leaving us hanging like this,” he observed dryily. “Only it's kind of hard to yell over 10 people's voices and still sound civil. So how about I restart the conversation with a point of order.” The woman in question nodded graciously as the others pulled themselves together and either prepared to listen or pretended to. “Sarah, you said the sum total of organised religion. What do you mean by that?” She shrugged.
“In a budgeting sense, benefits go on eside, detriments go on the other, take one from the other and see what's left over.”
“Well what do you count as benefits and detriments?” Barkus asked before the hubbub could start again.
“I look at it from a humanistic point of view. Is this action or this mentality of net benefit, or net detriment to the health and well-being of human beings? The community spirit and the social conscience and responsibility that Organised Religion engenders is of net benefit to people becasue it roots them. It gives them a place to put their energies to use by helping other people. Without groups like the Salvation army, Meals on Wheels or church-organised social events a lot of people would be significantly more worse off than they are now, be it on an acute or chronic fashion.”
“Whether you get emergency shelter or a place to meet people,” Barkus translated. “Okay, but I can see a big “But” appearing in your mind.”
Sarah smiled and tipped her glass at him. “You're right because here comes the detriment part. Organised Religion works becasue of the submission of the congregation, the unthinking acceptance of whatever dogma is delivered from the hierarchy.”
“That's only true of the Catholics...” someone began but Sarah cut her off with a smile.
“Nope. Hierarchy is inherent in religion because it always requires submission to a mortal representation of the Divine.” She scanned thier faces and continued. “That is, someone created a picture of what the Divine looks like, feels like, behaves like and all followers of that Creed must submit to that one depiction and all other depictions are blasphemous. All other ways of intereacting with the Divine are wrong and only those who share the same method are saved.” Silence. Barkus saw dropped jaws on everyone who was listening but Sol and Gus who were both grinning to themselves, then he saw them exchange a loaded, expectant look and nod.
“The alienation that this core aspect of organised religion engenders makes it of net detriment to human happiness.' Sarah continued. 'Never mind the exploitation, the ready excuse for inhumane acts, the barrier to a truely personal relationship with the Divine or the obsession with forcing people to believe that their bodies are inherently filthy and that shame is the only acceptable attitude regarding them.”
“Inhumane acts? What kind of Church have you been going to?”
“Wait a minute, I want to know what she means by a barrier...”
Weaving slightly, Barkus made his way to the kitchen for a refill. He had heard most of this already and Sarah looked capable of looking after herself.
“Interesting lady, isn't she?” Sol asked conversationally, leaning on the counter with a fresh scotch. Barkus frowned, puzzled, then turned around to peer into the living room. He hadn't had that much to drink, had he? Sol was looking at him with his head on one side and a contemplative expression when he turned back around.
“Yes,” Barkus answered eventually, restarting his trip to the fridge. “Extrememly. Extremely sincere too, she really believes what she says.” The fridge held no more beer. “Dammit.”
“Thats why she surprises people so bad,” Sol shrugged. “She's comfortable enough in her own philosophy that she doesnt need to try and convince others, she just tells it like she sees it. It's the calm that gets people to listen and then she knocks them between the eyes with a new world-view. All with a smile on her face.”
Barkus nodded, pondering this and cast a last, hopeful look into the fridge, just in case new beer somehow appeared.
There was a new case of beer in the fridge. Barkus stared at it, hypnotised, then turned to look at Sol.
“Did you..?” Barkus heard himself say. Sol's eyes flicked from him to the fridge and back in apparently genuine incomprehension.
“Did I what?”
Barkus stared at him, at the beer, back at him.
“Uh, nothing.” He grabbed a beer and closed the fridge. “I've either drank too much or too little, because I'm seeing things.” He popped the top. “So I'm going to try drinking some more and see what happens.”
“Famous last words.”
“How come no-one remembers the first words?” Barkus mused.
“What do you mean?”
“The words that started events. Or at least were pithy, smart and said around the beginnings of a chain of happenings.”
“I guess the historians only show up when the action's over. Though I do remember some memorable first words, now that you mention it,” Sol continued, scratching his chin.
“Yeah, I think it was something like, “Everybody take up their positions.” “
“Loaded, for sure,” Barkus said after a moments thought. “But not particularly memorable on their own.” Sol nodded.
“I guess you'd need to know the context.”
“What's the context?”
“A private party in a brothel.”