Saturday, November 08, 2008

Mill Avenue Nights - Friday November 7th, 2008

Today I went to a meeting with the Secular Free Thought Society (SFTS) based at ASU to get a look at how they organize themselves. By in large the meeting was fairly boring, involving logistics and some internal maneuvering that needed to get done. What I did like was that there were visitors from a local Humanist group—three elders, two women and one man—who had things to say to the group about how they struck themselves out into the world.

Speeches were made as to the origins of Humanism and its dichotomy to religions. The Humanists are largely atheistic in their worldview, and seem to be politically active, by in large they described themselves as, “Old Hippies.”

The SFTS group (who would quickly be marauding) ate at Chilies because they hadn’t gotten food, I went to get the sights and sounds of the Ave—and found some evangelicals. I also stopped by and talked to Josh, my friend the chef, who wants to start a Voltaire Fanclub for Tempe because of the terrible showing at one of his concerts. Which I would wholeheartedly support should he get it off the ground.

I finally hit Mill at about 10:30pm and discovered a group of evangelicals passing out tracts. Mostly the tracts were the Million Dollar bills of the giant type and the tiny type. I counted four girls and one boy. A brief meeting and I learned some names.

First is Johnanna, a Latina girl who seemed to have an Azteca accent when she spoke English—and once said something in EspaƱol that I didn’t catch due to road noise—her American English is strong, but way too Harvard (which made it obvious she was ESL); her mirror-speech was unshatterable, I think because I couldn’t modify my argot simple enough to get points across. We spoke for a while and she pretty much just regurgitated lines of extremely common mirror-speech and I couldn’t get a word in. She has some interesting things to say, some self-depreciating language, but largely it would be nice to know what brought her to this life and why she’s on Mill Ave. Hopefully I can get a chance to speak to her as a person and not as a mirror.

Natalie (I could have her name wrong) who is a small girl, with a short haircut, and sciurdae features. Her presentation a bit more forceful that Johanna perhaps in that she’s a veteran of speaking to people. She tried, unsuccessfully, of course, to pull out Pascal’s Wager—except that she doesn’t realize that the Wager doesn’t work on people professing a different belief (like Paganism) it only works in the event of a dichotomy “there is a God; there is no God,” it becomes extremely meaningless when it’s between “there is the Christian God, YHVH, or there are the Children of Danu,” since then it becomes extremely easy to point out that it is therefore equally likely to be Amaterasu, Odhinn, or Huitzilopochtli—a blood-drinking hummingbird warrior god of the Aztecs.

Jonathan, who made himself the de-facto leader of the group using insular heteronormative social behaviors because he held himself as alpha-male and pretty much controlled the girls therefore—I will go more into this shortly. I had a discussion with him different than the others involving my name. I gave him my street name first, as is proper for speaking to people on Mill Ave; it’s an exotic name so he asked if it was my “real name.” A term which I find extremely amusing: all names are real. However, I believe he wanted to know if it was my common name—which it is not.


“Are you confused about your identity?” Johnathan said. His posture stiff, face open, but eyes roving as he spoke. His dress, simple but modest for the Avenue, consisted of a pair of brownish pants and a pale shirt, carefully ironed before he had buttoned it up. The entire time speaking to me he clutched a book—probably a Christian Bible—against his hip. Unsmiling, he awaited my reply.

“No, not really,” I said. “My identity on the street is simply a collection of social mores, protocols, and expectations that differ from other interactions. I don’t interact with people on the street the same as I do with say…the City of Tempe.”

“Don’t you feel like you live double life?”

“Heh. Double? If I thought about it that way I would have a thousand lives. I have a different identity to every group that I interact with. I behave differently talking to my bank, to my friends, to the street rats, at work, to the City of Tempe. I am probably just a lot more sensitive to it, I guess, because I study these things.

“I write. And in order to do a good job writers try to discover how people empathize, what faces and masks they wear. One of my favorite teachers, Father Prat, once told me that as I went further into writing I would eventually hit a point where I would start asking questions like: What makes people tick?

“And he’s right. How else do we writers create characters on the page that real, living, breathing people fall in love with? Empathize with? Cry with? I am essentially giving people who know real people a chance to find a connection with something totally imaginary.”


There was certain amount of almost overtly sexist heteronormative behavior on the part of this group as well. Something that we don't see a lot in the urban USA. An almost tribal sense of “you’re a woman; therefore you’re not as capable as men.” With the group that comes out on Saturday I saw this with Jerimiah who sometimes says, “Please don’t swear, there are ladies present,” and it’s obvious he doesn’t think about saying this because he’s said it to a woman before (talk about putting a foot in the mouth.) More than once I saw the single male acting as alpha, trying to herd the girls, constantly saying things like, “Just making sure the girls are alright,” and at least once telling them he was uncomfortable with them going off in a pair to get food.

This sort of behavior instills a wall between them and the rest of the community who don’t have this sort of outward expectation that women lack responsibility or capability. Especially on a busy street, surrounded by police officers, and various mundane watchful eyes. Certainly any individual alone may run a particular risk of danger from the drunken mobs, but this is an age of cell phones, and walking in groups/pairs, where it’s hard to get out of eyesight or earshot of Mill.

My discussion with Jonathan wound to an end about the time the marauders appeared because I wasn’t interested in participating in one of their rituals. Johanna offered to pray over/for me and I just don’t have enough time for it. I’ve seen it numerous times with other groups and the rite doesn’t change very much. In fact, even this time I got to see it happen again. So I’ll take notes on it now.

The group gathered together around a single Mill visitor (sans one girl whose name I did not get) and Johanna spoke over him. She evoked the names of two of the Christian gods, “God” and “Jesus.” But I noted that she did not bring up the third that commonly comes in that group “the Holy Spirit.” The entire event lasted almost three minutes, involved bowed heads, and a sonorous sing-song voice affect that is used in a lot of cultures and rituals as a hypnotic.

Of the SFTS tonight there were many. A group exceeding almost eight. Rocco, Kazz, Brian (and his orange hair,) even Ezra—I am missing numerous names here, but they will be filled out as I learn to recall their names properly.

Also visiting the Ave is a group that I’ve seen before consisting some shock punks, and one young man wearing a lizard costume. The monstrous mask displays a giant reptilian head with fangs extended and tiny eye holes in the throat. He wore a crudely written sign made out of a piece of notebook paper, with the words: Hug the Lizard Man $1.

Eventually the hugs became free.

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