White Walker the Horse and the Gates of Hell

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White Walker the Horse and the Gates of Hell

Nothing interesting ever happens in Trim.

The proof of this is the entertainment value placed on archaeologists. I’m sure that if you stuck a bunch of us on a stage with microphones and a couple trowels, together we’d equal the value of one iTunes purchase.

I feel about Trim how I imagine a mother might feel after having just given birth to a child that looks like a root vegetable. Other people might not understand the overwhelming joy that I experience when I return to Trim; most of them just see an ugly baby. For me, however, Trim olds a special place on my heart-globe. It’s where I first learned how to excavate, and it’s where I get to work with some of my favorite people in the whole world.

Trim, or Baile Átha Troim in Irish, is located on the River Boyne in County Meath, Ireland, about half an hour northwest of Dublin. Its largest landmark is Trim Castle, which was founded by the Anglo-Norman Lord of Meath Hugh de Lacy in 1173 under England’s King Henry II (Encyclopedia Brittanica). The town itself, though, is thought to have been occupied since 500 AD (Meath County Council). Hugh de Lacy’s son Walter eventually inherited the castle, then passed it down to his granddaughter, Mathilda, who was married to a French lord named Geoffrey de Geneville. Mathilda died in 1304, de Geneville became a monk. Since monks can’t have castles, it went to his daughter Joan, who was married to Roger Mortimer. His family had the castle until 1425, by which time everybody had died. It then went to Richard of York, and then to his son Edward IV when Richard died in 1460 (Potterton 2003). The castle was left to deteriorate by 1599 (Meath County Council).

During the 15th century, Trim was relatively prosperous, bringing in more revenue for the English government than the surrounding towns. By 1541, however, it had decreased fairly substantially (Potterton 2003). In 1541 it was decided that Meath would be divided into two counties, Meath and Westmeath (Potterton 2003).

In 1204 Walter de Lacy was granted permission to hold an annual fair in Trim. Items traded included wheat, corn, cereal, wine, wool, cloth, hide, iron, flour, salt, butter, cheese, garlic, oats, onion, meat, honey, fish, livestock, wood, cauldrons, millstones, charcoal, and metals (Potterton 2003), among a thousand other things that would take me all night to list and cite. If these had all been local items, that would have been one thing. But a lot of these things were brought into Trim from other areas including Kilkenny, Waterford, Dublin, and Drogheda, meaning that Trim was a sort of hotspot for Medieval consumerism, or at the very least, a good trade location.

In addition to the yearly fair, weekly markets were also held in Medieval Trim on Market Street, which still stands today (Potterton 2003). Individual shops were open even more frequently (Potterton 2003). Items traded in markets and shops included fish, meat, corn, flour, shoes, cloth, leather, and wine (Potterton 2003).

Total economic devastation throughout Ireland resulted from the Cromwellian Wars in 1641-1652 (O’Carroll 2011). Because Trim had been militarily significant, it was particularly affected (O’Carroll 2011). In the time since, Trim has not been able to become again the commercial powerhouse it was in the middle ages.

Consequently, as I said before, nothing interesting ever happens in Trim. Unless, of course, you are really into Medieval history. There are none of those things that developmentally normal social youths use for entertainment (shopping malls? clubs? I missed some milestones and genuinely don’t know). Secondly, while Trim does have a promising tourism industry, it is largely a rural farming community, and as such, it has a lot to teach us about the versatility of empty fields.

Empty fields, like the one located behind the local SuperValu, can be archaeology sites such as the Blackfriary. They can be playgrounds. They can be build-it-yourself private landfills. They can be gardens, places to drink underage, light shit on fire, and graze your horses, and they can be most of these things at one time.

There is one exception; an empty field cannot be both an archaeology site and a horse pasture at the same time because horses are jerks.

If you don’t mind working in a giant bovid-toilet, keeping a bunch of herbivores on site is a wonderfully cheap and eco-friendly alternative to regular lawn care, and if you’ve ever waded through a forest of nettles, you know how important it is to control vegetation on an archaeology site. So, after what I presume were a long series of clandestine meetings between local farmers and Blackfriary site directors and staff, the Blackfriary found itself with three oversized Satanic lawnmowers.

The largest horse, whom the students called White Walker, was the leader of the Evil Equus posse. He was a white and brown horse with pale blue eyes, and he was an asshole. He kept the other two members at his beck and call, the smaller of which appeared to be some sort of fat horse-pony hybrid, or possibly even two men in a horse costume. White Walker was the instigator, and Medium Horse and Fat Horse Pony followed.

I am not a particularly large woman, and White Walker knew this. I’m five-foot three on a good day, and I haven’t been to a gym in six years. White Walker is fucking huge because he’s a horse.

Every day the routine was the same- and White Walker studied it. The site director would pull the van up to the gate, we would open the gate, she would drive into site, and we would close the gate.

On the morning in question, for reasons I still do not understand, I could not close the gate. It is heavy and awkward, yes, but I have closed that gate more times than I close my bathroom door to pee.

In my moment of weakness, White Walker acted. He bolted through the opening, and his spineless horse minions followed.

First, if you ever find yourself in this situation, don’t chase the horses. It doesn’t work.

I approached White Walker. He stared, daring me with his soulless blue eyes. I drew closer. He stared harder. Then he ran.

Second, as an archaeologist, there are few moments more terrifying than the one where you have to tell the site director that you just released three devil-worshipping quadrupeds into the public. And unless you’re an orphan who’s never watched television and you’ve never been exposed to any sort of parental figure at all, you know that a few words are worse than a lot of words. I was dismissed with an, “Oh,” as the director calmly ventured out on foot to track down the escapees. Ten minutes into the workday, and I had already resigned myself to death, either from the site director herself, or from the health and safety director whom I was convinced would come all the way from Dublin to murder me because you don’t just let a bunch of horses escape from site.

White Walker and his posse, however, had a much more pleasant experience, as did the locals, who all emerged from their homes in their bathrobes, cups of tea in hand, to see the fugitive horses gallivanting through town and pooping in people’s gardens.

Because the people of Trim never leave their homes unprepared, the site director, while in pursuit of the horses, came across a man who happened to carry a horse lead in his pocket, and White Walker and his posse were led back to site one at a time.

To that man I say, you sir, deserve a medal.

References

Meath County Council. 2010. Trim Development Plan 2008-2014 Progress Report.

O’Carroll F. 2011. Interim Report: Archaeological Research Excavations at the Blackfriary, Trim, Co. Meath. Irish Archaeology Field School

Potterton M. 2003. The Archaeology and History of Trim, County Meath. Dissertation. National University of Ireland, Maynooth

How Big is Your Trowel (Part IV)

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I am by no means a cultural anthropologist. I study bones, I play in dirt, and I offend people all the time, usually without meaning to. I am therefore completely professionally unqualified to argue that middle-aged Croatian men fetishize women with shovels. I have, however, met enough middle-aged Croatian men to feel comfortable making this assertion. How big was my sample size, you ask? First of all, you don’t need a sample size for anecdotal evidence. And it was five, which was plenty big enough.

To be fair, I have to give them credit for being so boldly confident in their sexuality at a point in their lives when most of their peers and their peckers are falling to erectile dysfunction, and a lot of credit is due to the forest workers in particular. Slaving away in a forest of enormous, erect phallic objects while your own wanker slowly withers away like an overdone noodle must be most disheartening.

So when a group of young foreign women appeared in the Phallic Forest, it must have seemed as though we had been beamed down from the heavens, our shovels our mighty staffs that could open a portal to a world of vaginas and manual labor.

The Men of the Phallic Forest did not hesitate to make their feelings known.

“You see that man there?” asked Mirko in his thickly accented English. It should be said that Mirko, in addition to sharing a name with a close friend’s beloved cat, Mirko is a wonderfully honorable man whose pores leak integrity when he sweats. He, like the other Croatian archeologists on our team, does not fetishize women with shovels. This could be because they see vagina-wielding-shovel-holders all the time, but I suspect it has more to do with their upstanding character.

“Yes,” I answered, glancing at the individual in question. He stood at the edge of a trench with another one of our team members, gesturing madly and chatting away in what sounded like a mix of distinguished authority and a Balkan speech impediment.

“He wants to marry you,” said Mirko.

“That’s disgusting.”

“Yes. But do not worry. I told him you are vegetarian, and now he does not want to marry you. He is worried that if you are his wife, he will have to go into the fields every morning and cut down grass to feed you.” Mirko paused, then added, “He would not be a good husband. He has only one hand and a big tongue. He would not be able to please you, and he would talk too much.”

First of all, Eastern Europe, I don’t know what you’ve heard about American vaginas, but they’re not the fucking Mammoth Caves. One hand is more than enough. Second, vegetarians don’t eat grass. Those are cows you’re thinking of.

It turns out that my long time vegetarianism did not deter my middle-aged, one-handed, garrulous Croatian suitor. Throughout the next several weeks, he and his posse of forest workers brought countless gifts including chocolates, cookies, pretzels, mosquito repellant, and apples they stole from someone’s yard, and I only had to get my butt touched twice.

Why accept gifts from men if I didn’t want attention, some of you might be wondering. For one, I’m a grad student, so almost by definition, I can’t afford to feed myself. Seventy-five percent of my diet is comprised of the Easy Mac my grandma sends me in the mail and the food professors use to bribe us to go to department events. For another, not accepting food from Croatian people is not something that one does. It’s a lot like littering in the States. You just don’t do it. If you litter in the U.S., everyone will think you also butcher baby whales for fun and hang their carcasses in your living room, and you won’t have any friends. Similarly, if you don’t accept food from a Croatian person, you won’t have any friends, and you probably also butcher baby whales. You might even also butcher Croatian children; you’re just that bad of a person.

On the last working day on site, my one-handed suitor showed up with three huge boxes of burek, rakija, coffee, and two liters of goats’ milk. The burek, rakija, and coffee were for us all to share, but he handed me the goats’ milk and said that it was for me, because that “is what vegetarians drink.”

If you’ve ever had goats’ milk and apple burek, you know it’s definitely worth any subsequent butt-touching. This was a fair trade. Balanced reciprocity or whatever.

After what felt like the millionth meal break of the day, however, I started to wonder if these men also had a thing for feeding women, like in that weird episode of CSI. Maybe they all shared a peculiar and highly specific fetish for foreign women with shovels backfilling trenches while eating.

“Zašto puno ti radiš i ne jediš?” asked one of the Forest Posse members, inquiring why I worked all the time and didn’t eat. I didn’t have the vocabulary or audacity to tell him that this was the third meal break of the day, and it was only two in the afternoon, or that I was so full that I was chewing my precious anti-nausea ginger gum normally reserved for motion sickness so that I wouldn’t throw up all the burek I had already eaten.

“Jela sam,” I answered. I did eat.

“Ni si.” No you didn’t.

“Da, jesam.” Yes, I did.

“Kad?” When?

“Jebi ga.” Fuck. I told him I ate burek at the dig house for breakfast. Then I came to site and had more burek for second breakfast. Then we had grilled vegetables for lunch. Now he was offering me bread and cheese.

He held up his hand and said that I am like a pinky finger. A woman should be like a thumb.

The Forest Posse spent the rest of the afternoon using their cell phones to take pictures of us backfilling a trench.

I still can’t decide if I’m satisfied that I’m a pinky finger, or disturbed to have been involved what seems to have been a bizarre plot to reenact the story of Hansel and Grettle, but I have some great new ideas for a calendar fundraiser.

How Big is Your Trowel (Part III)

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There are some places where you would think that until we arrived, the locals had never seen a woman hold a shovel. This could be reasonably inferred from the reactions of said locals upon seeing a woman hold a shovel.

But I’m here to tell you that this is a lie.

I have seen a Croatian woman hold a shovel, and she is a force to be reckoned with.

Gospođa Fruk is the owner and landlady of Fruk, a self-catered accommodation of sorts, frequented by our team of archaeologists, and, as far as I know, anyone else who might be hopelessly lost in rural Eastern Croatia. Located on one of the two main roads in Vrbanja, Fruk welcomes its visitors with a warm peach-colored exterior and flower garden with enough gnomes to take on Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in a death match.

A stout older woman with short white shiny hair, Gospođa Fruk is the embodiment of the dictionary definition for “matriarch.” She is a shrewd businesswoman and attentive mother, grandmother, and wife. One day I asked her if she ever sleeps. Of course, she said. What a strange question. I don’t think it’s a strange question at all, and frankly, I don’t believe her.

Normal literary custom suggests that it is conventional to say that one rises when the rooster crows. I haven’t been on many farms, but every rooster that I’ve encountered in Croatia appears to suffer from chronic insomnia. One time Andreja even showed me a rooster that crowed all night long while wandering in front of traffic. To say that Gospođa Fruk woke with the roosters would be inaccurate because the roosters just seem to stay awake forever making as much noise as possible until they die of exhaustion. I’m sure the roosters are certainly a contributing factor, but more than likely it’s her military-grade worth ethic that compels her to be awake at dawn, known in America as “that-small-period-of-time-during-which-it’s-socially-acceptable-to-eat-at-a-Denny’s.”

It is quite possible that Gospođa Fruk is not a human, but rather some sort of bionic woman crafted from high-efficiency biomechanics, computers, and synthetic skin in a top-secret research laboratory with a grant to design a superhuman.

During my time at Fruk this summer, every morning after hitting the snooze button on my alarm fifty-three times, the fifty-fourth sound I would hear was always Gospođa Fruk sweeping the floor, her long calico dress swishing along with the motion of the broom. After that, she would feed the geese, water the plants, wash the laundry, hang the laundry, change the beds, work in the office, and on occasion when we’d return, we’d find her planting new flowers in places we didn’t even realize could accommodate more flowers. I don’t know about you, but if I water a plant, that’s enough chores for a week.

And these are just the things that we saw her do outside. I’m not sure what she was doing inside, but I’m sure she wasn’t lounging on the couch reading O Magazine.

You will not be surprised then to know that Gospođa Fruk, despite being a woman, is well practiced in the handling of shovels. She is so well practiced, in fact, that she wields it like a wizard and wields a wand, making others gasp in awe at the versatility of such a seemingly simple tool.

To be fair, I was not present when the following events took place. That said, the story has been told to me so many dozens of times, that I am comfortable enough to retell it.

One thing that a respectable landlady and businesswoman will not have in her guest rooms is a snake. This is wonderful for anyone who, again, happens to get hopelessly lost in rural Croatia because there are a lot of them and they’re huge. The last thing most normal people with well-functioning brains would want is to wake up next to a snake the length of your entire arm span. This season, the snakes had been doing particularly well because of the floods, so there were even more of them than usual. Wonderful if you’re a snake, not so great if you’re an archaeologist whose trench walls keep falling down because they’ve been undermined by snake holes. Is it just me or is the wall hissing again? This ain’t no Chamber of Secrets, Beady Eyes. Move on out.

As long as you aren’t the Crocodile Hunter, and you aren’t because he’s dead, chasing snakes out of the trench all day only to come home and find one in your reptile-free-sanctuary would be at least a little bit annoying.

Skippy, the site director’s dog, felt the same way. After a busy day of eating mice and frogs in the hot sun, Skippy was in no mood to be dealing with intruders and made her feelings known to Lisa, Andreja, and Gospođa Fruk. Gospođa Fruk’s husband emerged from inside to see what sort of problems the archaeologists and their reprobate dog were causing this time (the previous commotion had been caused by Skippy killing one of their chickens, so his concern was not unfounded).

Gospođa Fruk bent down and looked under the bed in the outdoor room. She stood up, nodded, and said something to her husband in Croatian, who returned with a pitchfork. Gospođa Fruk looked at the pitchfork and then looked at her husband with an expression that clearly said, “The hell do you expect me to do with this?” Shaking her head, she walked past her husband, into the tool shed, and returned with a shovel. Using the shovel, she then pulled the snake out from under the bed, decapitated it, then calmly picked up both pieces and put them in the trash bin.

And that’s the story of the time the Gospođa Fruk killed the snake under the bed.

How Big is Your Trowel (Part II)

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Last night Amy Poehler came to me in a dream.

She appeared as I was running through the streets of Clintonville, Ohio to meet my new stepdad who would only talk to me if I was bound securely in aluminum foil and plastic cling-wrap and wearing a pink tutu and little baby shoes on my fingers, but she appeared to me, nonetheless.

You might be thinking, “That’s ridiculous. Mrs. Clark would never get married again,” and that’s correct.

As any respectable feminist knows, a Poehler dream is a blessed event, one in which the Great Amy Almighty graces the sleeper with her presence to bestow unto the dreamer her wisdom, comedic essence, and female empowerment.

I have therefore awoken slightly less disheartened, albeit a little tired from running with that giant box of foil and cling-wrap.

Through her divine visitation, I believe that the Holy Mother of Comedy guided me toward the realization that there is another reason I prefer that my mentors are female.

I want someone I can look up to.

Some might be wondering why a grown-ass adult woman needs a role model. After all, role models are those people you write about in middle school. I always wrote about the women on the show Animal Precinct because they were lady cops who saved animals, and that was super cool. In sixth grade, I would only wear blue hair scrunchies because that’s what Special Agent Lucas wore. I also wore an oversized cat sweatshirt from the ASPCA website and haven’t eaten a chicken nugget in eleven years.

But why does an adult need a role model? Is it because we millennials are stuck in some sort of prolonged period of infancy exacerbated by parental coddling, unrealistically high student loan debt, and economic recession, but really due mainly to our own laziness and ineptitude, as many of our older critics argue?

Contrary to the beliefs of Confrontational Baby Boomers (see God-Vaginas), we millennials are not looking for new mommies and daddies the second we leave the nest. In fact, at this point in our lives, many of us are actually quite capable of handling ourselves both emotionally and practically. I, for one, could balance a checkbook and operate a washer and dryer before I could menstruate. And no, puberty was not late. I hit it on time, thank you very much.

But if we can survive on our own, why do we need role models? And why do women in particular need role models?

Now, I’m not a psychologist, but I’ve been to plenty, and I feel like I can almost work this one out.

I think adult women need role models because we’re looking for reassurance. Obviously in academia it’s a good idea to have a mentor for practical advice so you don’t admit to being an avid collector of fingernail clippings on your CV. But it is just as important that mentors know we need them for reassurance and solidarity.

By the time we’re in graduate school, women are already tired. At least I am. We’ve clawed our way to the top since that practice SAT test you started taking in seventh grade. In grade school, we competed against each other to get the highest test scores. In high school, we competed against each other to get into college. We competed against each other in college, and then again to get into graduate school. Soon we’ll be competing against each other for jobs because, as we’re told, the job market is “highly competitive.”

Instead of always competing against each other, why don’t we start helping each other? We won’t be able to fix everything, but we can begin by being each other’s role models and supporting our colleagues as they become the Amy Poehlers of academia.

How Big is Your Trowel? (Part I)

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Despite the growing number of women in archaeology, anthropology is still very much a boy’s club. I had been warned of this throughout my undergraduate career, but I only realized the magnitude of this problem recently whilst searching for potential Ph.D advisors.

If you’ve ever attended The Ohio State University, you’ve probably been brainwashed into thinking that no faculty advisor in the country will want you, and you’ll be lucky to get into any graduate program at all, much less into a highly competitive yet slowly dying discipline clinging to life amongst crippling economic depression and administrative corruption.

This is fair. Many undergraduates admitted to OSU shouldn’t have even passed their fourth grade proficiency tests. That they survived to eighteen is a miracle because they probably can’t even read the illustrated warning labels on hair dryers.

If you emerged from your undergraduate career shaken and dependent on anti-depressants, but still wanting to pursue a graduate degree in anthropology, you are then faced with the task of finding a program and advisor, bearing in mind, of course, that no advisor wants you.

The good news is, that if all of the faculty dislike you equally, you are free to make choices based on your own personal preferences. This is how I am approaching the problem of finding a Ph.D advisor. I will have you know that it is not working at all because what I am looking for in an advisor is far too uncommon.

I am looking for someone with a research background in dental anthropology.

I am looking for someone who works at a university in the United States.

I am looking for a female.

Guess which one of these criteria is too much to ask?

If you guessed female faculty advisor, you’re correct! Congratulations! You win a spray bottle of vinegar and a cloth. Go give that glass ceiling a good cleaning, eh?

Now, some of you might be asking, “Why do you need a female advisor?” The sex of your dissertation advisor shouldn’t be that big of an issue. Maybe for most people it isn’t. Maybe I’m the only woman in the whole world who prefers to have female mentors, but I think that’s unlikely.

I need a female advisor because I don’t want to spend the next million years acting. I’ve never written a dissertation, but I’ve been told a million years is about how long it takes to finish one. As I’m not a sociopath, I don’t want to have to pretend to be smarter than I really am, or wittier, or more capable, or more masculine than I really am. If I wanted to be an actress, I would have studied theatre.

In looking for potential advisors, I have spent hours pouring over university webpages. On every single website, without exception, nearly all of the full professors are male, and all of the assistant professors are female. Every. Single. Website. That means that for those universities, males are receiving tenure at rates that far outpace women. So even though the number of females in anthropology is approximately equal at the undergraduate level, this ratio is grossly disproportionate in higher levels of academia.

This is the glass ceiling, ladies, and it’s fucking bulletproof.

God-Vaginas (Part II)

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One of the most horrifying moments of my undergraduate career took place in the North Market parking lot in downtown Columbus. Fortunately, all of the people involved (except for the questionably homeless guy) are some of my best friends and, even though they are academics, have never judged me for my faith, and have never done anything to make me feel ashamed. Otherwise I might have pooped myself.

“Do you believe in Jesus Christ?” asked the Questionably Homeless Guy.

Oh, fuck. I had always been told that under no circumstances are you to deny Jesus.

Even if someone has a gun to your head?

Even if someone has a gun to your head. You’ll just go to Heaven faster.

I looked to Best Friends. They were absorbed in conversation and Polish mashed potatoes.

“I do,” I answered.

“Do you believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father?”

Best Friends looked up from their mashed potatoes.

“I do,” I answered quietly. I could feel my face turning all kinds of red.

“Do you believe that He came down from Heaven by the power of the Holy Spirit, was born of the Virgin Mary, and became man?”

“I do.” How much blood can flow into your face before it explodes? Best Friends were going to think I was so dumb. Virgins can’t get pregnant. That’s like Sex Ed 101. You have to have sex to get pregnant.

“Do you have any spare change?”

“No.”

First, you can see that if this was one of my most embarrassing moments, obviously I didn’t get out much. Second, as humiliating as that experience was, I’m grateful that I don’t have to experience more alienation on a regular basis. I could be Jewish or a Muslim and be ironically patronized in a superficially friendly academic environment. I could be anything other than white and never be taken seriously in academia. Or I could be a female…

Oh, wait.

But aside from that fact, I am genuinely grateful that I’m as privileged as I am.

Even academia, the safe haven of reason, is not free from people who want to poke around in your god-vagina. For academics who are supposed to take a relativistic approach to their studies, anthropologists seem to forget that they are allowed to treat the religious practices of their colleagues with the same relativistic respect that they normally reserve for their subjects. There isn’t a ban on appreciating Western religion for its cultural value, and there isn’t a ban on believing in a god or gods just because you’re an intellectual. And quite honestly, you’re doing a disservice to the rest of the world by patronizing them for engaging in cultural practices that don’t appear to have a direct scientific outcome.

Now, to be frank, I’ve always had some self-esteem issues to begin with. Working in an environment where colleagues are, on a fairly regular basis, dismissing Western religions and mocking faith exacerbated this for a while.

What if I can’t be a real scientist because I believe in God?

What if they have x-ray brain vision and can read my thoughts and know that I believe in God and think I’m stupid?

What if this skull in my hands comes back to life and yells, “Stop touching me! I want a REAL anthropologist!”

Actually, that part would be pretty great because it would need its mandible to talk, and I can’t figure out how to put it back together, so if it could reassemble itself, that’d be super helpful.

Lately though, like God and your genitals, I’ve decided that I don’t give two shits. This sounds like a decision you’d come to over a long period of time whilst preparing for a religious sacrament or diving into a self-help book, but I actually decided on my level of shit-giving in the span of about twenty minutes in a run-down church in Zagreb.

Located in the heart of what must be the world’s biggest farmer’s market, Dolac, the Church of St. Mary was built in the sixteenth century and quite possibly has not undergone any renovations since that time. It’s easy to imagine that its bile-yellow exterior must have at one time looked more like sunlight than dog vomit as the church of the Blessed Virgin looked down at Her patrons in the marketplace. The bell tower is typically Eastern European, with gilded markings against a dull green bubble and a gilded cross at the top struggling in vain to stand out against the back drop of the unending construction project that is St. Stephen’s Cathedral. A worn statue of the Blessed Virgin guards the entrance, shedding flecks of paint faster than you can say, “lead poisoning.”

Hesitantly, I walked into the church, dipping my hand into the basin of Holy Water and collecting instead a finger-full of slime. Reluctantly, I blessed myself, making a mental note to sanitize my hands and forehead upon leaving.

Inside, the church was silent, but not empty. I made my way to the last row of pews, genuflected, blessed myself again, and sat. Behind me, a line of women stood waiting for their turn in the confessionals. In the row across from me, I saw a nun on her knees whispering the Rosary.

The windows were narrow, and the room was dim, lit only by some battery-operated plastic candles. The walls were little more than solid gray stone decorated with the Stations of the Cross and cobwebs. Outside it was ninety-degrees, but inside it was cold and damp, and it smelled like a wet basement and mold.

I looked at the alter lined with plastic flowers.

I should pray. That’s what churches are for.

When’s the last time you prayed in church?

Um. February? I think I went to part of an Ash Wednesday service…in 2013.

That’s a long time.

Church is depressing. I prefer to pray in the shower where no one can see. One time in the shower, I told God that if we got a snow day, I’d fold all my underwear for a year instead of shoving it in a drawer, and it worked.

I started by saying the Hail Mary. That’s a good starting prayer. It’s also how Catholics call God. It’s like dialing the operator, and she’ll put you through to Him. I don’t know why, in 2014, God still relies solely on a landline, but He does.

I apologized for the normal Catholic stuff- not praying more, not going to Confession since 2006, and in general, existing.

I thanked Him for the opportunity to travel and study, and that I hadn’t yet died in a plane crash.

In 2004, when I was beginning preparations to make my Confirmation, the nun in charge of the whole shebang asked if I ever prayed to my dad. No, I answered. What’s the point?

There might be a point, but like most people, I try to avoid things that make me feel like Jack the Ripper is slicing through my heart with a hunting knife. So I rely on Holy middlemen to do my bidding.

Please tell Daddy that I miss him, and love him, and thank him for the scholarship, but we could have found another way. He didn’t have to go. We could have found another way.

Tell him I do archaeology now. He would like that. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

 

God-Vaginas (Part I)

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Having a religion in the U.S. is a lot like having a vagina in that it’s everybody else’s business, and there’s always someone out there trying to change it. Personally, I don’t understand this preoccupation with religion. Much like a vagina, as long as you’re not flapping it around in my face and not using it to kill people, I don’t care what you do with it. Some people, however, make it their personal business to poke around in other people’s god-vaginas.

Jehovah’s Witnesses are a prime example of this phenomenon. I suppose I should say Confrontational Jehovah’s Witnesses because it’s unfair to generalize too much.

Growing up, you could always tell when the Confrontational Jehovah’s Witnesses (hereafter referred to as CJW’s) were in the neighborhood. A line of cars would appear in the cul-de-sac, noiselessly, as if placed there by the hand of God Himself. A procession of women in linen dresses would then make their way from house to house asking occupants if they’ve heard about the Word of God. How they think you could live in the Midwestern United States and not have at least a vague idea of what Christianity is, I’m not sure.

Coming from a fairly small blue-collared town, not a whole lot else of significant entertainment value went on, and as children, we found watching the CJW’s and the ensuing panic amongst the neighborhood adults almost as good as Saturday morning cartoons.

Sometimes my mom would get a warning call from one of the other neighbors, an unfortunate soul who had opened the door and now wanted to protect others from falling to a similar fate.

Sometimes we would see them first.

“Mommy! The Jehovah’s Witnesses are coming!” We would yell. We knew the drill. It was the same drill we had carefully perfected for Christmas carolers. Don’t talk. Turn off all the lights. Hide in the basement.

CJW’s are not alone in their quest to systematically destroy the Amazon by distributing literature in attempts to convert their victims.

Which brings me to the topic of Confrontational Protestants.

Now I know I said that it’s unfair to generalize, but I admit that I tend to lump most Protestants into one category. I understand that there are a gazillion different types of Protestant- Methodists, Lutherans, born again Christians, and whatever that English one is, for example. But I don’t know them all because frankly, I don’t care, and God probably doesn’t give two shits either.

Confrontational Protestants (hereafter referred to as CP’s) seem to be in the business of condemning people to Hell, also while systematically destroying the rainforest like their CJW brethren. If you’re looking to have an identity crisis, seek out a CP. They’re fond of saying things like, “You’re a really great person, and I accept you for who you are. But by the way, you’re going to Hell because you haven’t accepted Jesus into your heart, and all your dead family’s in Hell.”

They seem to be stuck on this idea that Catholics don’t know who Jesus is.

Sometimes you might get really lucky and find a CP who doesn’t want anything to do with you, and that’s great. For example, a CP might have a child in school with you, and you aren’t allowed to play with that kid anymore because you’re a Catholic and your eternal sin might ooze out your nose and get all over his Pokémon cards. At first this might seem like a bad thing, but this is a good way to limit the number of head cases you have to deal with when you reach adulthood.

Catholics of course, are not without blame, and they too come in the confrontational variety. As a confirmed Catholic, I can only speak to the internally directed confrontation, but I’m sure Confrontational Catholics (hereafter referred to as CC’s) are just as bad as their non-Catholic counterparts. Divorced? Not okay. I’m not sure what happens to you, but it’s probably bad. Gay? Not okay. Birth control? Nope. Pregnant and unmarried? Don’t bother coming back to church until you’ve had the baby. And by the way, you’re going to Hell. Can’t get your kids to Sunday Mass because you’re visually impaired and can’t drive? Maybe God will forgive you, but it’s unlikely.

Why would someone join one of these Hell-condemning cults where people force you to undergo procedures where bits of Jesus are inserted into your right ventricle, you might be asking. First of all, not everyone who identifies with a religious affiliation is a confrontational self-absorbed Hell-condemning maniac who thinks that “eternal sin” can be spread like the flu. Second, it’s none of your business.

But my religious affiliation, like all of my reproductive organs, seems to be everyone else’s business anyway.

I don’t think religion and faith have to be the same thing. For me, religion is part of my cultural heritage. Sometimes I go to Mass, I take Communion, and in the winter I get ashes smeared all over my forehead. I never drink the wine though because that seems to be the number one way to spread SARS.

I am 100% confident that God gives zero shits about whether or not I do these things. I am also 100% confident that God doesn’t give a fuck what you do with your genitals. Penis and vagina? Fine. Penis and penis? Cool bro. Vagina and vagina? Right on. I’m sure he also doesn’t care about which type of birth control you’re allowed to use. Don’t want a baby right now? Fine. He has other stuff to concern Himself with, like Ebola and the international one-man shit-show that is Vladimir Putin.