Finding my Religion

And on it goes, the third consecutive day of this season now known as The Resurrected Blog. Here I sit with my crown of thorns, with blood flowing from the palm of my hands, with a boulder cast aside and with harp music all around.

 

Speaking of Jesus, which bagel would Jesus have chosen here at the cafeteria of Sacramento State. Certainly not the one I chose.

 

Jalapeno. I chose a jalapeno bagel, because… well, because I’m sassy!

 

Multi-grain for Jesus, don’t you think?

 

Such talk of Jesus leads me to today’s grand announcement. A few days ago I wrote that it appeared that this blog had run its course, that the return to the mundane of America had frittered away—frittered?—my few remaining readers. There was no one out there in the ether, a realization that frittered away—yes to fritter!—my motivation to keep writing.

 

Then they stepped forward. One at a time, women with the courage of Rosa Parks stood tall to say, “Yes! Yes I still glance at this thing!” First it was Lainie, she with the spine of Joan of Arc, and then Kristi, she with the fortitude of those African-American girls who walked through the gauntlet of that school in Little Rock. And finally there was Susan, our modern day Queen Elizabeth staring down the armada from Spain. Yes, these three gallant women have linked arms and charged down the center of the world’s boulevard, arm in arm like Charlie’s Angels, to declare the undeclarable, to say without a blink in their eye, “Yes, yes I still read this blog.”

 

Three. And maybe even four, if I’ve shamed Katie into reading it, too.

 

Which brings me back to Jesus, naturally. Didn’t he say that whenever two or more gather in his name—and yes, four is officially in the “more” category—then there is community, there is spirit, there is religion. Raise the tent, I say. Here comes Jimmy the Evangelical, down to the stream with Lainie and Kristi and Susan to baptize them in the name of the Resurrected Blog. “Oh Jaysus,” I’ll say, brown river up to my waist, “look down upon our withered blog, upon a blog on life support now that it’s writing about jalapeno bagels instead of the Himalayas. Look down upon these noble ladies all—on Lainie and Kristi, on Sharon and maybe Katie and perhaps even Ruth, too—and bless them with an appetite for the Resurrected Blog. And may they go forth as apostles who preach the good word of the RB, of Lainie on the street corners of 9th and Prospect in Cleveland; of Kristi interrupting her daughter’s volleyball match and standing on the referee’s ladder, holding high her laptop; of Sharon leaning in to her clients and saying, ‘Let me prescribe a blog to help guide you toward health’; and Katie in the driving rain of Washington State without an umbrella, shouting to passersby bending into the wind, ‘Here’s your sunshine! The Resurrected Blog is your sunshine!’; and then Ruth, she alone on her porch waiting for me with a cold beer.”

 

Why not? Why not concoct a new religion here in America, the same country with a religion that professes an afterlife with exactly 144,000 people.

 

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My question: Where are the men? Is there a single Y chromosome out there reading this blog—and “reading” can be defined as loosely as “an accidental pressing of the ‘l’ key that calls up ‘letthegreatworldspin.org.’”

 

Allen? Calling Allen Aldridge, formerly an avid reader of the blog when it was easy to be an avid reader. Istanbul, Singapore, a night bus in Vietnam—sure, anyone can be captivated at those entries. But on bagels? On yesterday’s account of a man with a white porcelain wedding ring, and on my 30-year-old bike. That takes fortitude to plow through that nonsense, through a blog that’s as much about nothing as Seinfeld.  Where’s tough-ass Mr. Harley Man now, now that my entries are about Liam turning his cheek to me when I go in for a kiss. Where, I say? Where?

 

Is there a single man out there with the courage to don a white robe and walk down to the riverside, to step into the waters of renewal and feel this blog caress the back of his head as his face dips beneath the surface until, feeling the spirit overpower him, up he rises with eyes blazing to scream, “I believe! I believe in Jimmy T!”

 

Is that you, Allen? Is that you, Joe? Can you find the Nelson Mandela within you, or are you going to slink off into the shadows and let the ladies lead the charge?

 

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Update on Liam’s incremental detachment from his father:

 

Yesterday I reported that Liam shrugged away my hand that reached out to hold his as we walked toward his baseball camp. Today, however, I ask the record to show that for a good two seconds the muscles of Liam’s right hand curled around my hand in what is commonly called a “holding of hands,” and that he just as suddenly withdrew his hand with an explanation for the ages.

 

“I’m Italian,” he said. “I have to use my hands when I speak.”

 

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Pause in the action to declare that America is indeed the greatest nation in the history of the universe. Why? Because I’m sitting outside the cafeteria here at Sacramento State in need of a plug to recharge my dying laptop, and right there, I’m telling you right there built into the cement barricade that holds a bunch of ugly plants is an outlet, a frigging outlet that is the solution to all of life’s problems.

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Ahhh, I know what you’re thinking. That this is no minor coincidence. That this is confirmation that Jesus is in the room with the three angel ladies, this new religion of ours being a religion of miracles. I can see it all now, the Gospel According to Lainie, chapter 16 verse 3, the Miracle of the Outlet: “… and the Lord said, ‘Let there be Power,’ and Power did thus appear from solid blocks of concrete, and from that Power that is a direct expression of love from the Father Above came the Recharge to further the blog.”

 

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Have I told I told you my worst secret? That I don’t know the difference between concrete and cement? And have I told you that I live in a rural community of Handy Man who regard me as a… as a … oh, what’s the word? A wimp. I believe that’s the word.

 

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Who knew?

 

Who knew that Sacramento, a city that’s widely viewed as non-descript, dumpy, sprawling—the mall mom of America—would have an urban KOA, a campground along an arm of its river?

 

First of all, let’s pause on the K of KOA. Admit it: It’s brilliant. The pose of the letter K itself is a defiant stepping forward with dukes up and ready for a fight, an Irish brawl in an alley. Plus, the misspelling of “campground” with a K delights the anti-intellectual in America with “Impeach Obama” on the bumper of his 30-foot long motorhome. And of course, the K is a trigger to all you latent Confederates out there who can’t get enough of the letter K.

 

That’s where Liam and I are camping this week in Sacramento—or should I say, kamping this week in Sakramento. Our site is in the back on a patch of grass beneath a tree which my three female readers could identify but which to me is known as “a tree.” There are 15 grass sites. Way down there is someone else, and then far down on the other end is us—and yet the woman at the counter labored over the map and bit her lower lip, saying, “Well, jeesh, just not sure where to put you, we’ve got Don in there for the whole month at 124 and well, guess we could put you in 115 but I can’t promise nothing.” This is the same woman who asked Liam and me to step outside the door while she fetched us some wood. “Wish I could trust you but nowsadays can’t trust nobody.”

 

To describe site 115 is to rely on double negatives, like “It’s not unpleasant.” And it’s not. The grass is grass. The waterway has a thin trickle of water in an otherwise riverway of mud. The incessant hum of 8-lane traffic on nearby I-80 can resemble the incessant roar of the surf—for those with wild imaginations, or those with severe brain damage. You can see the sun.

 

Liam and I set up our brand new tent. It’s the Taj Mahal of tents, courtesy of generous Aunt Moi who bought it for us last year after shaking her head too often at our tattered blue tent held together—literally—with duct tape. She also bought us an inflatable mattress, and so there we were at 3pm, Liam and I, two sultans sprawling across our puffy mattress inside our opulent new tent.

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I loved it, just the two of us together for the first time in a long time. We wrestled, we punched, we played the eye game (ask me about it), and best of all, a character named Mike who surfaced on our global tour paid us a visit in the new tent. He’s a gruff character, a man from Cleveland who loves hard work and football and unions. “Don’t get me started on California,” Mike says. “What’s this they’re eating? Tofu? Where’s the meat and potatoes, the corn out of a can—or are they just too good for us.” Anyhow, Liam picked up with Mike in the tent. “Love to camp, love being close to the earth and the worms. Now there’s an animal I can get behind. Worms. They work all day and crap and eat, just like that. Now that’s living, that’s how we pass our days in Cleveland. Not in California. Out there they have bike lanes. Can you believe it: bike lanes! Oh, don’t get me started on California.”

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We sultans rose from our tent, rubbing our bellies that protruded like globes, and sat on our tattered chairs that Moi needs to replace. And then something remarkable, even miraculous, happened.

 

A boy about Liam’s age rode up on his bicycle and said to Liam, “Wanna ride bikes?”

 

Liam rose, his chair splintering and fraying, and said, “Sure.”

 

And off they went.

 

Now, let’s pause. Do you see the miracle? Only in the world of kids would it be normal to pull up on your bike and ask a total stranger to go for a ride. Could you imagine me on my bike, or you on a bike, pulling up to a campsite with Big Large Intimidating Adults in chairs and saying, “Hey, wanna go for a ride?”

 

 

Off they went, and all I needed to know about the boy is that he’s from Canada. I’m 57 years old, and I’ve yet to meet a Canadian who I haven’t liked. Go ride, Canadian. Go ride, Liam Toner. I’ll just stay behind in my Tableau of Loneliness, me in a tattered chair reading about the Cleveland Indians on the tiny square of my iPhone.

 

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Later, Liam and I swam in a KOA pool whose opaque murky water teemed with more diseases than a petri dish. (Is that a good simile? Please vote—which could be the future of writing: to ask for immediate input while writing.) We frolicked, while two men with tattoos on their necks rested in the deep end of the pool with beers in hand, saying, “Aww, shit, bro, you want a fucking good tamale then I’ll tell you where to fucking get a good tamale, bro.” Also in the pool was a family of six Germans, the four children on the scrawny side and the parents full of smiles. All six wore glasses. I repeat: All six wore glasses. The gawky kids tossed around a tennis ball in awkward fashion, which by comparison made Liam and I, on the other end of the pool shagging high flies, all the more dexterous, nimble, lithe—us a Cirque de Soleil here in a KOA pool.

 

Later we cooked dinner at our campsite on a stove which… well, you guessed it: a stove which Moi bought us. Our cuisine for the evening? The default choice for humans with a Y chromosome: spaghetti. Only this time Liam made it all, the complete dinner all served up for us to eat in our tattered chairs. We ate, and then Canadian boy rode up on his bike. “Wanna ride?” he asked.

 

“Sure,” Liam said, then turned to me with that first spark of awareness that he indeed has a father. “Is that okay?”

 

“Sure,” I told him, loving that word “sure” for all its soft certitude.

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Later, near darkness, Liam returned and let his bike fall to the ground. He pulled up his ghetto chair near the firepit and made a fire. We sat there as the wood smoked then caught then burst into flames. It was lovely, this sweet scene of me and my 11-year-old boy, and I didn’t care a jot that we were in Sacramento or a KKK stronghold or alongside a freeway and a mudpit. This was my heaven, and since heaven needs a soundtrack, Liam jumped up and ran to the back seat of the car, coming back holding our two fiddles.

 

“Let’s play,” he said.

 

And being the jerk father forever aware of offending the world, I said, “Let’s play quietly.”

 

And we did, the two of us lit with fire playing a song that I thought would take me two years to play, and yet turns out to be simple and already imprinted on my DNA. It’s that Civil War song called the “Ashokan Farewell,” and together, note for note, Liam and I played our fiddles so soft and so true.

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And when finished, from a camper parked across the way, from the guys with tattoos on their necks, came a round of applause. “That’s real good,” one of them shouted. “Sure would like to hear that again,” said the other.

 

The moral of the story?

 

The miracles are coming, you just never know from where.

 

 

9 Comments

  1. Jana

    Sweet. One of life’s lovely lingering memories. Liam will remember this long after your memory will fail you.

  2. faithful follower Allen

    Those times, when you only saw one set of footprints in the sand, I had not left you. I was carrying you thru the arduous days of writers block/fatherly duties/home maintenance/etc. While campgrounds in Sacramento may not be as interesting to read about as hiking thru the himalaya’s, it still has an air of familiarity to it that is enticing none the less. Preach on Brother Toner.

    • Jim Toner

      Jim Toner

      You’re hysterical, Allen!

      But now the test begins: Will you follow me over at teekateeka.org?

      You must. My next entry will be a tribute to you!

  3. Lainie

    Hurray for Moira! She is so wise and generous. Are you breaking in that tent and air mattress for your soon to be visitors from Cleveland? Yes, thank you, we will put the air mattress to good use at Lake Tahoe.

    • Jim Toner

      Jim Toner

      Now Moi needs to buy us a car, don’t you think?

  4. Kristi Robinson

    Hallelujah!! Finally a religion that is enlivening to the senses and soulfully engaging!! Can I get an “Amen!?!”

    And I’m totally impressed that you followed through with the impulse to learn to play the violin. Would love to read an entry about that journey. I tried to take it up when my girls were playing and……..yeah. I can’t.

    • Jim Toner

      Jim Toner

      Amen!

      And yes to the violin entry. Coming soon…..

  5. Stacey Finch

    Thank you for continuing your blogs. I look forward to reading your observations on places, people and life.
    Please keep it up Mr. Toner – you do have a group of faithful followers. I have read every single one of them! Maybe not every day, but when I missed it for a time I went back to catch up on what you three were up to, where you were in your travels etc….

    The year of your families travels, the good, the bad and the ugly. The honesty, and the humor, at times speaking so frankly on your feelings, and frustrations. Other times you wrote with such joy,and beauty.
    This blog has been a treat and an addiction of sorts.
    Thank you and your family for letting complete strangers, (such as myself) into your thoughts and observations through these blogs.
    I might not speak up often by adding a comment, but often times that is because you summed it up so well that there really was nothing more to be said.

    • Jim Toner

      Jim Toner

      Thank you, Stacey, for hanging in there! I’ve been revived.

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