Monday, January 22, 2007

Mill Avenue Nights: Jan 20th 2007

The past two Saturdays have been less noteworthy than most because of something extreme and strange to the Arizonan physique: extreme cold. Last Saturday wreathed upon all who entered the street a bone-chilling cold that sunk chiseled ice claws into the skin and just did-not-let-go until it had sucked every last iota of warm out of the body. This weekend, far less so, but the cold still created a lessening of those who were willing to brave the midnight of the Ave.

Also, it would seem, that the Mill Street Preachers have a “retreat” to Las Vegas where they vanish from our sight and appear in a far, far more neon and noise filled realm for a time. I couldn’t say exactly how they are faring out there – as I doubt their money for trivia scheme works so well – but I suspect that I can prize some stories out of them whense they return to our presence and ears. Although the break is welcome enough.

This weekend, Nutmeg decided to come out to join us for a short time and numerous others of Drum Circle fare also arrived to compete at the scene. The tribal drums rumbling in the background made for a staccato thunder and underlaid the cold with the warmth of cordial conversation and good company. Rob and Ashley came to see us, bringing with them a troupe of comers. Amish brought about his new dog and brought messages about his designs on the next Estrella War, and even some idle thoughts about garb.

This night, like others, bent short under the stars and I found myself returning home earlier than I would have usually had. Although, of late, midnight is later than I usually remain in the midst of drums and conversation.

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Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Mill Avenue Nights: Jan 6th 2007

I actually didn’t manage to visit the drum circle tonight, I don’t know what exactly ensorcelled me not to go into that region—but I suppose it was the new and glittering distractions that were brought out to the region where the street preachers stand. Several interesting things happened tonight: I received a CD on Halloween containing a sermon by a pastor at a local church, Christa stood up on the soap-box for her first time and tried to execute the Good Person Test, and I passed out two copies of Have a Merry Vexing Christmas (one to a nice young lady, and one to one of the new preachers who didn’t know me for who I was.)

Christa and the Soapbox

Christa is a sleepy-eyed brunette with a Swedish look—I often expect to see her in pigtails—who tends to wear sweaters and some sort of drab outfit. She is soft-spoken and a bit more laid back than most of the group who come to Mill, sometimes she seems to me to be a little out of place. When she took the soap-box she didn’t have the same force as the rest when they use that bully pulpit and managed not to angle many from the shoals of people rippling past. What can I say, it was truly a tough crowd; even after she started offering five dollars it took a while for her to hook her first bite.

Two bites, no bait. She didn’t manage to give away the five bill for reasons unknown to me. The first one simply ran away because she couldn’t get into the Good Person Test (probably outside of her headspace anyway, it is a bait-and-switch) and the second she simply didn’t give the money to. Why is beyond me, and I didn’t ask. I only caught the tail end of that conversation of her trying to make sure with her peers it was okay she didn’t give the money away because the man taking the test wasn’t sincere.

That particular bite I expected to actually receive the money, he was a rather clever fellow. When she hit the question where it is asked “Have you ever stolen anything?” He grabbed the money and hoofed it all the way to the street, but then, pretending a change of heart, turned around and returned it while prostrating himself and smiling jovially. That kind of jocularity I find extremely amusing—it’s too bad that she didn’t find him cunning enough to win the money. Though I think the flirtation is really the reward he was seeking.

Another prime, and noteworthy, anecdote about her stay on the soapbox (and this is not something that I’m going to opine on myself) is that a homeless fellow came over for the Good Person Test, only to turn himself away because he had taken the Ten Commandments Test at some point (that’s where they ask people to name all Ten Commandments in a number of minutes for $20. Apparently, next-to-nobody has passed that one. I can pass that. Catholic upbringing and mnemonic training, I guess.) While Christa stood on the soapbox an excellently dressed man—20’s style coat and tie surmounted by a gangster hat—stalked over and pointed out to her that while she was offering that five-bill to the public, the homeless fellow was sitting nearby. The 20’s man seemed perplexed when she basically ignored him. It wasn’t part of the gig.

Street Preachers I Have Met

The first new appearing street preacher approached me to compliment my garb, telling me that I looked good in Goth. “You pull it off really well, you know. Other people, they look kind of trashy or like they’re trying too hard. You have a subdued, well carried look. It’s a very good job,” he said. I thanked him and he spilled out into asking me about what I did. I replied that I am a writer and an amateur social anthropologist and that my golden-edged book is not a Bible, it’s lined paper for me to write observations. He reflected on how young I looked and how he’s seen me out there quite a bit (my attention must be waning because I’ve never seen him before.) He asked about the state of Mill and I told him about some of the new developments, the corporatization, Tempe Government’s assaults on the homeless and Mill rat community, and other sundry facts—most of which I think were lost into him because he didn’t reply to any of it.

I should really have known better: the first time you talk to one of these people they are not talking to you; they are talking to a mirror.

Eventually he gave up after realizing that I have witnessed most of what they had to say over the years already and he had very little to tell me that I would have already been keen to. I believe his name was Chad.

The second man to approach me did so in a very similar fashion. He had shoulder length brown hair, bluish eyes, and a open and friendly demeanor; I think I recall that he wore some sort of a painters cap or something similar. He opened up the conversation by asking me what I thought of what they were doing, I minimized my answer with my most common reply, “Just observing. I find it amusing.” And he opined that he hoped that I would find it more than amusing and queried as to my take on religion—what mine was—to which I replied: Celtic. And after a few questions were shot back-and-forth I ran into the impasse I generally run into (the part where I realize I’m a mirror and not a person) where I couldn’t get across how the Celtic gods are people who actually walk around in everyday life and we can meet on the street; that, no, an everyday man or woman cannot just claim to be the Morrigan (I know what the Morrigan looks like, I’ve met her once—it was a chilling experience.)

Meanwhile, he went on about his faith in the general way telling me how it filled a hole in his life. (Please excuse me here if I don’t go into detail, this spiel is so common to witnessing preachers that it’s not worth repeating.) He eventually tried to pull the line, “You understand, Christanity isn’t a religion, it’s a relationship.” To which my most common reply is, “Well, you’re just redefining relationship to mean religion, aren’t you? I don’t know a single religion that isn’t a relationship with the divine in some form or another.” I got really close to pulling out my “Relationship with the Goddess” line, but he quickly caught wind that I didn’t really want to talk religion and instead told me that he would, “Pray that God would touch my heart and stir my feelings—and open my eyes to the truth.”

I didn’t quite feel mean enough to tell him that I hoped someday he would speak to me like I was a person instead of a cog.

Halloween, a Sermon on a CD

This part is why this post is so late. While I stood listening to an exchange between a few ruffian kids (including that nice girl I gave the booklet to) and the Jamaican looking preacher fellow, another one of the street preachers, who I associate strangely with Father Mulcahy from M*A*S*H, approached me to give me a CD. “Do you have a computer? Something that can play CDs?” he asked, “It’s a sermon by our pastor about Halloween—it includes some history too.” After I affirmed that indeed, I do have a computer that can play CDs he gave it to me and I secreted it on my person.

The first glaring error, and it’s a doozy, there is no Celtic “god of the Underworld” named Samhain—this is the Celtic/Irish name of the holiday upon which Halloween now rests (and also the Irish word for ‘November’). To the literal this name means “Summer’s End”—“sam” + “fuin”—and there are no Celtic gods with this appellation in any legends or pantheon known. Where this particular belief sprung from is unknown to me, but from my research it was a mistake made by eighteenth century Church scholars who set the misinformation to paper. It doesn’t take much research in primary and secondary source material to discover that this belief is simply incorrect.

The sermon goes on to expound more about the history of Halloween, most of which includes some real scholarly facts. That Halloween wasn’t big in the United States until the massive Irish immigrations and that it didn’t really take much of a hold until rather recently. That it is a festival rooted in the pagan beliefs of the Celtic culture. Even that Halloween is actually a day put on top of another one worshiped by the old Irish by the Catholic Church in order to help them convert the native people of the Celtic and Gaelic lands.

The sermonizer then goes on to totally distort and misrepresent the holiday using weasel words such as “wicked” to describe the spirit of the festivities and the nature of the celebration. It is correct that it is believed that the veil between this world and the Otherworld thin on Samhain Eve, that this ‘tween time is brings to moment when the spirits of the Otherworld and our dead can reach back to us, and we can reach to them. Yes, some of them are wicked and not nice, but foremost they are not evil nor condemned—the Otherworld is not remotely similar to the Christian Hell (which I suspect he was trying to get at in that part of the speech). Like there are malevolent people, there are malevolent and mischievous spirits, and they get to come back too. I think that we are all aware that it is not a good practice to demonize an entire people (in this case the spirits) based on the acts of the few. Some lessons are just hard learned.

He goes on to recollect that witches and demons appear in the costuming—totally ignoring the fact that the European vision of the witch isn’t even a standard element of the original Samhain holiday. Using this to segue into quotations from the bible that tell the people who move into Israel “not to partake of the beliefs of their neighbors, not to become like them,” speaking prohibitions against witchcraft, divination, and other supernatural beliefs. Which, I see as perfectly fine. If this religion wants to keep its core and not melt away by assimilating too many others, they are welcome to do that.

What I am at odds with is the propagandist vilification of another culture through bad scholarship and distortions of their beliefs.

Yes. Halloween is a very pagan holiday, it is not distinctly Christian in of its own, and like many of the Christian holidays it is a day that was “Christianized” in order to assist in the assimilation of the native peoples of the region. If modern Christian congregations want to get themselves back to basics and avoid things that are not inherently theirs they can do so without doing insult to the cultures that they are trying to push away from.

The man who did this sermon is quite intelligent, even witty. “The devil has tricked us with his treats.” That was a lovely and clever line. Christians might as well distance themselves from things that really aren’t originally theirs—although, I must say, they’d be giving up an awful lot that they’ve gotten very used to being part of Western culture.

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Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Mill Avenue Nights: Dec 30th

Both Christmas weekend and now New Years weekend have displayed an amazing dearth of Mill goers, especially evident in our local proselytes; the drum circle has not suffered as greatly from this winnowing as there were still at least three drums this NYE weekend and they rumbled on.

We hit the Ave about 9:30p.m. with my friends Omni and Rico. Omni decided to bring Rico on a leash with a leather collar, which commentary went that nobody even looked twice at someone drawing a bright-orange afroed boy about with a metal chain leash—welcome to Mill! I’m sure that stranger things have been seen roaming the streets now that Drum Circle is exiled from our usual place at 12a.m. because of newly enforced park regulations.

I got enough time to sit around and speak with the usual goers and find out how their lives are going. The Ave isn’t usually so calm on the outside of a Saturday night, so it gave a little time to sit down and actually hold some discussions with various folk. Without the usual lively forum produced by the preachers there wasn’t much reason to hang around the corner, so I spent most of my time around the drum circle itself.

There, I passed out almost half of the copies of Have a Merry Vexing Christmas that I had on hand and enjoyed myself with people that I know there.

Later, we trotted off to Zia Records, a place that I haven’t visited in a long time. It’s just off of Mill near University. I bought myself a copy of Memoirs of a Geisha.

Adding to the ghostly lack of people on the Ave were barricades being set up for the next day’s festivities. The New Years Eve block party apparently was going to block off a large portion of the Ave itself, with large metal archways with a logo proclaiming “Insight!” (The next day I would return to the Ave for the block party and discover a lot of the street rats already inside—we are nothing if not resourceful for getting into or already being inside of these events when Mill gets shut down. Tickets were $20.) Some tents had already been set up, a huge white pinnacled tent rose up on the spot where Long Wong’s used to sit, selling ASU and various NYE Tempe paraphernalia. I was not interested.


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