The Mark of Cain

Yesterday I made an unscheduled trip to the Laundromat. Our clothes washing machine was acting wacky (it turned out to be the timer), so while we were waiting for our excellent repair man to come, I decided to kill off a few loads to get our looming pile of dirty clothes back to manageable levels.

While I was waiting for the machines to wash, I ran across a guy who was homeless. His name is Michael, and he lives under a nearby bridge, or so he told me. Mike is not a small man (6’3″ and every bit of 200 lbs.), and is somewhat handsome in a rugged sort of way. He didn’t smell, but could use a shave. He also needed to eat as he had spent his last few bucks getting high. He looked to be in his mid-early thirties, but exposure had weathered his face to make it appear somewhat older.

I met him when he started talking to me about God. He must have included the words God or Jesus as least a dozen times in his first couple of sentences. Subtle as a brick, this one. Since I was a God-bot in the past (or as I like to say, a bored-again), I find mysef immune to this type of language/reasoning, and I’ve spent enough time around the mentally ill to not be afraid of the harmless ones, so I figured I could, at the very least, keep him from pestering others while I waited for the the machines to finish.

Mike saw God in everything. He heard God in every car horn (which he happily pointed out every time someone set the alarm on their car), saw God’s hand in the finding of an ink pen, and had wonderful ways of looking at numbers and telling you how God was related. Nothing was in the least bit happenstance to Mike; everything showed the hand of God.

Those of you who know me, know I spent a fair bit of time studying God, and trying to be good at it. That I have so demonstratively failed at the attempt, does not reflect the earnestness of which I attempted it; which is to say I used to be a real asshole for God. However, this experience has given me some insight into the “logic” of Christianity, and more importantly, the “logic” of extreme poverty, having at one time in my life been both homeless, and a Christian. So I have some real empathy for Mike, or any man who slowly takes the road from family man with a good job to penniless and living under a bridge. At one point Mike had a business, a wife, ran an AA half-way house, and was a tax paying citizen anyone would be happy to have as a neighbor. Now he is the kind of guy one instinctively shuns while passing on the street. The twin daemons of mental illness and addiction (or maybe mental illness brought on by addiction) have ripped this poor man apart to the point where he has to see God in everything; any other explanation for his life would simply be too cruel to contemplate.

The sad part is that for all his talk, Mike does a much better job showing the absence of God, than the proof thereof. That any creator would bestow upon one of his creatures a sickness so profoundly disturbing that only ruinous self-medication, and delusional ramblings, could alleviate the pain, is cruelty beyond all scope or belief. That he would then demand that this creature proclaim undying love for him, is vile and grotesque.

Bad Parenting Advice

Tonight, as I was reading to Trevor from the book Greedy Apostrophe, he asked me to make some changes. “Can you replace every ‘p’ word, with the word ‘poop’?” Well, I was happy to oblige, and I must say it made for some quick and fun mad-libs. All three of us were laughing so hard at one point that I had to stop reading.

Good clean potty humor.

Road Trip to Yosemite

This weekend we loaded up the Prius, and drove up to visit my parents in Yosemite. The occasion was to celebrate the birthday of my step-father, who is now 80, and still going strong.

Along the way we saw quite a few wildflowers growing along I-5 in an area referred to as “the Grapevine.” These two shots were taken just south of Gorman, which is just short of the 4400 ft elevation pass.

The splotching looking colors are widflowers. You can see the orange California Poppies in the second photo quite clearly.

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Don’s birthday was great fun. Mom and friends put together a big party. Lots of people, lots of wine. Of note was one man (who’s name was Greg, iirc) who was a physician, and who is now a writer that converts physicanese into a language that lay-people can understand. He told me of helping a family who’s 8-year-old son had just died from a very rare blood disease. I guess he spent a lot of time with the family, helping them come to grips with a something that to them must be right out of a horror movie.

We got there early, which means we got to help set up. A good friend of my parents, Bayla, who happens to be an award winning belly-dancer, baked this rather cool cake.

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The cake is of a mountain with snow on top. Emblazoned around the sides are the words, “Don Pitts, The Man, The Myth, The Legend.” With his prominent slogan from years of cross-country skiing “Ski or Die”.

The next morning we went to the Ahwahnee Hotel for their amazing brunch (thanks Mom). Afterwards we went for a short hike to Yosemite Falls, to get Trevor out and moving a bit before we drove back home. Thus the obligatory Yosemite snapshot of upper Yosemite falls below.

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Inspirational Message

There’s a quote I keep on my wall that I’ve had since my college days. Its from Herodotus’ Histories, and it is one of the first one-liners written. 2,500 years before Arnold said “I’ll be baack” the goddess Athena made a quip that started a battle which won the war. But first, the back story.

The Persians, under the leadership of Xerxes, were attempting to do what his father Darius had tried (and failed at) 10 years before; conquer the land on the other side of the Aegean. (wiki) If you’ve seen the movie 300 then you have some idea about the battle at Thermopylae which was a holding campaign to help the southern parts of Greece gather together to stop the huge army collected by Xerxes. The last large city to fall to the invaders was Athens. Because of the sacrifice at Thermopylae, most of the Athenian citizens were able to cross over from the city to the small island of Salamis. When the Persian fleet and the Persian army moved into Athens, the citizens could watch their town being destroyed across the narrow straights. It was probably not a pretty sight.

The Greek naval plan was to trick the Persians fleet to following with their much larger (and less maneuverable) triremes into the straights of Salamis, where the smaller area would favor the smaller Greek vessels. To accomplish this, the Greeks first rowed out to meet the Persians fleet (all of the ships were human powered), and then “back-watered” (rowed backwards) into the narrow straights.

The plan worked well, with only problem being that at some point they had to stop rowing backwards, and engage the enemy. As Herodotus correctly points out, the first boat to do this, to essentially be ahead of the other Greeks, would be a sitting duck. Armeinias of Pallene, commanded the first ship to stop “backing-water,” and thus will forever have the honor being first, at the cost of his life.

Before that actually happened, it was not clear if the combined Greek fleet would actually engage the enemy. So it was at this crucial point, when the enemy was now fully engaged within the narrows, and the Greeks needed to start rowing forwards, that Athena gets her line. The quote, in Greek, is:

“ὦ δαιμόνιοι, μέχρι κόσου ἔτι πρύμνην ἀνακρούεσθε”

Roughly translated it reveals the question: “Oh men, how long will you back-water?” But this doesn’t quite capture the feeling. Sacred texts (the bottom of paragraph 84) has translated this as “Madmen, how far will ye yet back your ships?” A more modern translation into American English (as used by Sergeants in the Army) would be, “Common, you fucking pussies. How long are you going to keep fucking around?”

And this line of Athena’s (the patron saint of Athens) is what I keep on my wall. “Common, asshole. Get a move on.” A reminder that no matter what the preparation, at some point one needs to face one’s dreams, and either make them real, or die trying.

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