If you want the short story of my experiences at Reggae on the River, 2015, it goes like this: I planned; I attended; I enjoyed. There, all done. However, it is my custom to use my blog to not only recount experiences, but to extract from them some sort of sage assessment.
Each episode will consist of a vignette written to stand by itself, but which will also link with all of the others to attempt to imbue the reader with a basic understanding of what the attraction is to gathering with thousands of others along the Eel River every August, when it is most likely to be hot.
#15: Lazing on a Sunday Afternoon
Reclining languidly throughout our existential discussion and ensuing foray into religion, was Bull, who occasionally would vocalize one thought or another, until we hit religion. Considering we were in a venue in which the Rastafarian religion took center stage, it was kind of hard to avoid it.
Reggae on the River means many things to many people, but it might be conjectured that our campsite had a bit more of an eclectic gathering of festival-goers, than the average one. We may have been temporarily submerged in a pool of excess and decadence, with no shortage of dead soldiers strewn about our site, but this was not our natural habitat.
Like a submarine rising from the depths, Bull surfaced from his siesta as the conversation zig-zagged its way through white-waters, and turned to the potentially deadly subject of religion. He made several contributions to the conversation that were clear, concise and quite eloquent in their simplicity.
The man is obviously educated.
I am so confused, which Buddha knows is no uncommon state of affairs. Why does the Bull give a flying f**k about religion? I mean, this is Sunday and all, but seriously? Bull just does not fit the profile of a religious fanatic.
The topic was the afterlife, and the Catholic faith’s use of hell as an instrument for keeping uncivilized human beings in line. This helpful tool was the primary reason why I effectively bailed out of Catholicism at age 13, a terrifyingly bold action because I did not completely believe in hell, but it was still taking a colossal chance.
In ranting on as per the norm, whenever the topic of organized religion reared its ugly head, I had been abruptly silenced by Bull’s partner-in-crime, his wife Annabryn.
She had informed me that Judaism has no concept of hell.
After I retrieved my jaw from its new location on the floor, I listened to Annabryn’s synopsis of the origins of the Jewish faith, with Bull alternately listening and chiming in with his own thoughts. With a fair amount of trepidation, because I am not on firm ground, I will briefly describe what I remember her telling me.
The first premise is that God has an inherent interest in-and love of- human beings. Originally, there was nothing but darkness and when He created light, he sent out a fleet of ten vessels, ships that were supposed to distribute the light everywhere on earth in the form of holy sparks. Unfortunately, the vessels were too fragile to accomplish this huge task, and they broke apart after being buffeted by wind and seas alike, and the holy sparks were scattered all over the earth.
George Carlin asked the rhetorical question, “Can God make a rock so heavy that he can’t lift it?” If God is so all-fired on target, why didn’t he just make the ships indestructible? I know, I know: so young to be so cynical...
Once the holy sparks were scattered, God created man so that he could journey far and wide to gather up the sparks together in one place. Once this had occurred, and all of the light was assembled in one place, the destroyed vessels would be restored and the earth will be complete again.
Man’s task here on earth is to go through life studying the Torah, observing the law, healing the ills of the world or performing good deeds, all of which help to gather up the sparks. In this manner Jewish people all work together to restore the light, with no one individual being singled out and sent to “hell.”
One is either part of the gathering of the sparks or one is not, with no punitive measures in place to “motivate” individuals.
Help me, help me. This is too mucking fuch.
There came a point when I finally asked a clarifying question, “Bull, where did you go to school?” because it was obvious he had.
“My second question is, what did you major in?” By now the answer did not surprise me.
“Philosophy and religious studies.”
F**k me running. Oh sure. I saw that one coming.
It takes more than the average funch-pace to knock me down, but there I was, metaphorically stretched out on the carpet next to mid-Sized David, who was still gently snoozing away. It occurred to me to ask if anyone had taken down the license number of the bus that had just flattened me.
All of that bluster is just a facade. Who the hell IS this chameleon? Finding out that Bull majored in religious studies is the equivalent of finding out that Madison Bumgarner really prefers a Smart Car over a Ford F-250, or whatever behemoth Ford is slanging these days...
Reeling as I was from the newly attained profundity that hell has no attraction and therefore no influence over an entire culture-within-a-culture, I was now sucker-punched a second time, right in the solar-plexus. People never cease to amaze me.
“You majored in religious studies?” I parroted back at him.
He made eye contact and I looked straight into his soul. I liked what I saw.
The sardonic grin, as sh*t-eating a one as I have ever have ever clapped eyes on, peered out at me as though Yogi Bear had just pulled a fast one on Ranger Smith. “Gotcha,” the look said, in at least twenty different languages.
Brilliantly played, my man.
My affection for this raspy-voiced icon of the ROTR-setup/maintenance crew, skyrocketed, and I remembered a piece of advice I used to bestow upon my middle school students: Do not judge a book by its cover.
I trumpeted this when I appeared in dress pants and shirt, complete with tie, four days a week, with casual Friday being the exception. I trumpeted the same message when I wore my hair “in new location,” to quote Carlin once again, rocking a beard that extended well down my chest, and a pony tail, which I used to braid myself until my right shoulder made this no longer possible.
And that sly grin. Oh you swamp fox you, with your air-conditioned tent and a wife that seemed so incongruous with you, that I had already known that there was more to the Bull, than, well, just a bunch of bull.
But he didn’t need to employ a sledge hammer in the process.
Prejudging an individual or a group of individuals-or a culture-for that matter, based on first or fleeting impressions, is never wise. We might already have gleaned this from the Rastafarian religion, which places cannabis on an elevated scale for its medicinal and inspirational qualities, much to the chagrin of many who have a different perspective on cannabis.
For the time being I savored being on the receiving end of a well-played comedy, one six days in the unfolding, the pace unhurried and well-directed, and one that I will cherish as I revisit this venue in future years.
Oh yeah, Bull. You done good. There’ll come a time, Suzie Puente.
Tomorrow: Much Love