Ah, October at last. As I described in my first collection of macabre short stories, “October Light”, this month has always been for me as much a place and state of mind as it is a time interval on the calendar. That place of mist and golden light, of burning color where the rules are different and magic is in the air. This story is a truncated version of the tale that will be included in my sequel to “October Light”, “October Twilight”. I hope it entertains- and disturbs you.
David was searching. And he was losing faith that he’d ever find it. Religion, that is.
He was raised Catholic, but renounced the Church at an early age. Then there was Buddhism, Hinduism and even Scientology. None of them filled the void in his soul.
He was a junior in college, and on this bright October day he sat on a bench during break, watching the trees dance in the Autumn wind- the Devil Winds of October.
A young man who appeared from the shadows sat next to him. “Hey, mind if I join you?”
The young man had long hair, as did David, only his was dark as opposed to David’s blond. There was a pleasantness about him; an open and honest fraternal quality to his demeanor. He extended his hand. “My name’s Jason”. “Hey Jason, I’m David.” They shook hands. David immediately liked Jason. Ordinarily, he was a loner who valued his solitude, but something about Jason gave him a sense of camaraderie.
“You’re looking at the wind- the wind and the trees. It’s really special this time of year. Autumn is special, October in particular.”
David looked at Jason. Those eyes, almost black. How could he know what he felt about the wind? “Have we met before, Jason? You seem so- familiar”. “We haven’t met formally, but you and I were in last semester’s comparative religion class. I remember the questions you asked were the were the ones I would have asked- but you beat me to the punch.”
Jason stared at the wind buffeted trees, then looked at David.”Do you ever feel like everything is in decline? Look at the climate- things are changing for the worse- Humanity has been led astray”. David nodded in agreement as Jason continued. “Most people have been brainwashed by lying politicians and preachers. Take Sean Carlson for example.” Tell me,” replied David. “That bastard sickens me with his Bible laced bigotry and stupidity. How did he get elected to Congress? I try not to hate anyone, but…” Jason interrupted. “Why do you try not to hate anyone? Some people deserve to be hated. If hatred inspires action, it can be positive.” Jason whispered in David’s ear. “Long ago, before the true gods were exiled, Carlson would be dealt with- without guilt.” “What- what are you saying, Jason?” “Remember in class”, replied Jason, “When we discussed pantheism and animism? Once there were people who saw the higher power in nature- the people of the olden ways.” Jason smiled broadly. “These were the Pagans, David, and they’re still here. You deal with them often, but you don’t know it. They’ve gone underground.”
David stared into Jason’s eyes. He must have seen him before- before comparative religion class. They met, he felt, long, long ago.
Jason continued. “Long before the single God, there were many gods. Moments ago they spoke to us through the wind. We just have to learn to listen- to reconnect with our roots.”
Jason grasped David’s arm and drew him close. “David- the moon will be full and red tonight- blood red,” he whispered with excitement. “I know these people, David. The first full moon in October is a special night to Pagans. There will be a secret ceremony in a hidden place. I’m going- and I want you to come with me. You’ll never regret it.”
David’s foreboding struggled with his curiosity. “Well, alright, Jason.” Jason was ecstatic. “Great! meet me at the old clock tower on 3rd Street. The hidden place is not far from there.”
David stood beneath the clock tower. The moon burned in the sky, swelling with each moment.
Jason arrived. “Let’s go man!” He led David to a thick grove of oaks on the outskirts of town. In the center of the grove was an amphitheater.
There was a large assemblage- men and women wearing black robes. There was excitement and a joyous anticipation in the air.
There was an altar in front of the amphitheater, illuminated by large candles and a torch in the center. Excited murmurings filled the air. David felt surrounded by primal energy. Then, a tall bearded man clad in crimson robes appeared behind the altar. Jason nudged David. “Be very still- this is the high priest.”
“We are assembled here on this sacred night, the hallowed ground beneath us and the blood moon above. We rejoice! We live! They have tried to destroy us- we have been burned at the stake, hung from the gallows, drowned and pressed to death with immense stones. But we will not be vanquished- we will not allow our gods to be annihilated- to be replaced by their one god- the false god. Tonight, we present an offering to the true gods!”
From behind the stage a struggling figure wearing a hood was dragged before the assemblage. David was frightened and confused. What was happening? Was this a hoax- some type of insane performance art? Jason grasped David’s arm. “Just relax, David. The offering is the best part. I know you better than you know yourself- you’re going to love this!”
The hood was wrenched away from the struggling man. David gasped. It was Sean Carlson! He was gagged and his arms were bound behind his back.
Jason looked at David, amused at his new friends bulging eyes. “Suspend everything they ever told you. You’ve been brainwashed, like all of us, and it’s time to break free. This is justice- pure and direct, the way it’s supposed to be.”
Two men, also clad in red robes, forced Carlson to his knees, and placed his neck on a thick, oaken block. The high priest held a scythe and raised it over his shoulder.
David’s eyes were wide with shock. “What is this Jason- some kind of sick joke?” David tried to bolt, but his legs felt heavy and leaden. Jason was ecstatic. “You’ll see David- you’re just like me!”
The scythe came down. The assemblage screamed with joy. The high priest raised the severed head then chanted- “Hail to thee, oh Mother of Night; hail to thee, Father, lord of the hunt- king of vengeance!” The assembled stood with arms over head and chanted. “Hail to our queen- hail to our lord!”
David’s shock abated. He was transfixed. It was as if a hood had been wrenched from his own head.
He felt power and bliss as he inhaled the scent of fresh drawn blood beneath the glow of the hunter’s moon. He began to chant, at one with the others- with Jason. Then, as the blood moon devoured the night, he howled.
Finally, he had found religion.
I would like to thank Carol Roth, op ed writer for Fox news, for reminding me that no matter how much I despise Fox, it’s never enough.
Ms. Roth’s latest foray into jaundiced journalism deals with Barack and Michelle Obama’s bid on a 15 million dollar beach front property on Martha’s Vineyard. Ms. Roth believes this is paradigmatic of Progressives’ hypocrisy in not practicing what they preach regarding wealth and conspicuous consumption.
Imagine, if you will, a parallel universe in which everything is the same, except Barack and Michelle Obama were white Republicans. Be honest- do you really think they would be lambasted by Fox for buying a 15 million dollar property? Roth’s scree stated that Obama and liberals are always criticizing the wealthy. I’ve never heard that. The criticism is that the upper 2% don’t pay their fair share of taxes. Soros, Gates, Bloomberg etc. are billionaires and are all Progressives. More power to them. They should just pay more income tax, just as their Conservative counter-parts should. You say Liberals demonize lavish spending, Ms Roth? The record deficit the Republicans have amassed is, of course, a wholesome, pure, Mom and apple pie deficit- not like the depraved and degenerate deficits Democrats create.
We may be experiencing a Rashomon Effect (two or more people witnessing the same phenomena but seeing different things because of different emotional baggage). Or we may be observing the same, insidious, barely sugar coated racism Fox has been promoting for years, starting with the “Birther Movement”. All this is is Fox dog whistling that the Obamas are Uppity Negroes who should know their place. A 15 million dollar beachfront property indeed! If they had any decency, they would make an example of themselves and move into a shanty. An oath of poverty- why, it’s not as if they were the same as their predecessors who were, er, well… White. I think if the Obamas had made a single ill gotten penny Fox would be all over it with distortions and exaggerations. They’ve worked hard; they are smart and they’ve been out of government for three years. Why wouldn’t there be lucrative deals with Netflix and major publishers? If they are making money through book deals and lectures like all the other former first couples more power to them. And remember- unlike Trump and Hillary, whose best sellers were ghost written, they do their own writing. Roth had the laughable audacity to state that Trump earned his fortune before taking office, therefore, he is somehow more pure and pristine than the Obamas. Ha! His daddy gave him 400 million, which in due course he parlayed into multiple bankruptcies and failed casinos (how could anyone fail in the casino business? It’s the only enterprise where people come in droves and give you money for nothing!) And lest I forget- did Reagan and the Bushes check into Motel 6 after leaving office?
If a Fox reporter spots the Obamas in a 5 star restaurant enjoying lobster thermidor and caviar instead of chitlins and grits- watch out! Here comes chapter two in the Obama scandal saga. These damn people just don’t know their place!
Every week, when my New Yorker magazine arrives, I find myself diving head first into the weekly restaurant review titled, “Tables For Two”. Somehow, I’ve become drawn to this section- perhaps even addicted. Why? It’s hardly because I’m a gourmet, or even a gourmand. Nor is it because the reviews of these restaurants (hot, haute, chic, suave, cool or whatever else they may be) inspire fantasies of breaking out of my reclusive rut and storming the exclusive eateries of the Big Apple, perhaps encountering smart, discriminating celebrities who are closet fans of my literary product. No, the reason is a bit dark and a lot cynical.
It’s because restaurant reviews reinforce a theory of mine that the great restaurant critics- the Craig Claiborns; the Jonathan Golds- are, above and beyond all else, great bullshit artists.
They are akin to alchemists- not turning base metal into gold, but, in their stead, transforming gruel into ambrosia. They have a genius for taking a sow’s ear (which may indeed, literally, appear on many a Manhattan menu), into a silk purse, which, with creative seasoning and delirious haute (that word again!) presentation, may also appear on the menu. Are there doubters among you? Those who would dismiss me as another West Coast boor with moribund taste buds? Submitted for your perusal, from the current New Yorker, a rhapsody on the virtues of a restaurant called Da Long Yi Hot Pot:
“…you might as well go bold. Begin with the pig artery, which is served in pearly-white, curling slices that absorb a nice amount of whatever soup you choose without being held hostage to the oils and spices. If the crunch of the artery pleases you, move on to the pork kidney, which is cut into into flowery shapes that vaguely resemble miniature porcupines and lands on the tongue with an umami-forward bounce. Take a break from the heavier ingredients with enoki mushrooms, lotus-root slices, and taro, which should take half as long to burble to the surface as the meats. And, if you want something that a Chengdu local might order, go for the pig brain, which tastes like a pleasant hybrid of silken tofu and sweetbread, or the beef tendons, which one patron described as “deliciously meaty gummy bears” “.
So call me a boor, a philistine, a member of the unwashed masses- call me anything- but don’t call me late for dinner.
Bon appetit, and, of course, compliments to the chef.
Someone once asked me if I have any living heroes. I had to pause and consider the question. There are many men and women who I deeply admire for their intelligence, integrity, character, talent etc. But a hero? How many of us are truly heroic? Then it hit me. Of course- Georgia Congressman John Lewis. Allow me to share with you a handwritten letter I sent to an authentic hero.
Dear Congressman Lewis,
I have been meaning to write you a letter for a very long time and I am finally putting pen to paper (I am very old school regarding communication.)
The word hero gets bandied about in our society and I feel that is unfortunate. We often see the word hero in describing athletes. Although winning the game with a last minute touchdown or a three pointer is admirable, it is not heroic. Saving other peoples’ lives in the process of saving your own, I would suggest, is also not heroic. Taking an unpopular stand and risking one’s reputation or livelihood is brave, but even that, in my mind, does not meet the standard of heroism. What would I consider heroic?
A young man, barely out of his teens, with his entire life ahead of him risking life and limb for a higher cause. A young man, meeting injustice and oppression head on (literally, as attested by a fractured skull). A young man who crossed lines and bridges, who was beaten near death but kept getting up, broken but never beaten; a young man who fell but never faltered, riding and marching for freedom and justice for all, never flinching or backing down. A young man who made the struggle for justice for all people his life’s work, and continued that struggle without compromise as the years and decades passed.
You, sir, are that man. John Lewis is the man I think of whenever the word hero is spoken.
This month marks the 100th anniversary of the 19th amendment, which finally granted American women suffrage- the right to vote.
For many today, the sad fact that roughly half of our country’s citizenry were not allowed to exercise this basic franchise as an inherent and unalienable right may seem incredible. History forgotten is history repeated. Rights of any kind are not permanently etched in stone. What might seem to be a basic and impermeable right could prove to be fragile and vulnerable to regression, and ultimately extinguished all together.
After Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy retired and was replaced by Brett Kavanaugh, legal scholar and commentator Jeffrey Toobin predicted that within months a number of Red States would move aggressively to outlaw abortion. Mr. Toobin’s words were prophetic. The Supreme Court now has a decided five out of nine justices who have a history of questioning a woman’s sovereignty over her own body. Since Roe V Wade was ratified forty six years ago, the Religious Right has been fixated on reversing it. Ohio, Kentucky, Mississippi and Georgia were quick to react, but the true opening salvo to the broadside of Roe V Wade was fired by Alabama, where virtually all abortions are illegal, including where pregnancy was the result of rape or incest. Unbelievably, abortion laws in Saudi Arabia and a number of other Muslim countries are less restrictive and punitive. It quite literally is a religious war waged within our own country. The anti-abortionists believe that human life begins with conception, and that a zygote should have the same right to life as a fully mature, autonomous person. Any doctor who performs an abortion in Alabama has committed murder, and could spend the remainder of his or her life in prison. Alabama’s new abortion law, incredibly, has even been described as Draconian by no other than Pat Robertson (yes, that Pat Robertson, who in the wake of the 9/11 attacks opined that New York City was being punished by God because the Big Apple was a haven for gays, atheists and, yes- abortionists).
The Alabama law has been challenged with law suits and will undoubtedly go to the Supreme Court. As other states follow in Alabama’s footsteps, there will be other litigation. Roe V Wade may go down, not in one fell Supreme Court swoop, but in increments, until it is whittled down to nothing. It would be a great day of glorious celebration, not just for the Religious Right, but for back alley quacks wielding rusty coat hangers.
And so the struggle continues. The warped patriarchy that wanted women in the kitchen but not in the voting booth is the same that would shackle women who want freedom and autonomy over their own bodies.
Framing the battle as between Progressives and Conservatives is a misnomer. It is a battle between Progressives and Regressives. And as the slippery slope of regression grows steeper, those of us on the side of reason and justice must remember: Achieving freedom is only half the battle- keeping it is the other half.