My Weekend for Sacred Texts

Before I head off to bed, I’m going to sit down and type some notes on the weekend that just ended, and get it posted.  So, Messrs. Nelson, Kristofferson, Jennings, and Cash are singing “The Highwayman” (from the disk The Legend of Johnny Cash), and I’m polishing off my last Diet Pepsi of the day.

I’m recently back from the Noor Islamic Cultural Center and their Ramadan open house.  I went with Steve Palm-Houser and his daughter Amelia.  Guests from many of Columbus’ many houses of worship came for the presentation, and for the food served at 8:09 p.m. (official sunset).  We even came away with small gift bags–a trade paperback of the Oxford University Press’ edition of The Qur’an (©2005), a picture brochure of the Noor Islamic Cultural Center in Dublin (quite a beautiful building, both inside and out), and several pamphlets from the Website Why Islam?.

One of the guest speakers was Cantor Jack Chomsky, who leads the services (weekday and Shabbat) at Congregation Tifereth Israel, the Conservative synagogue in Olde Towne East.  He and the rabbis of that temple were a shining beacon to everyone in the post-9/11 lunacy and xenophobia which became fashionable, if not epidemic, in the U.S.  Down E. Broad St. from Tifereth Israel, the Islamic Center was severely vandalized, and the damage was so extensive that the building had to undergo extensive and costly repairs.  The rabbis and leaders offered the Muslims the use of the temple for their five daily prayers and Friday prayers for as long as it took to make their facility usable again.  To this day, Tifereth Israel loans out their parking lot gratis for the parking overflow for the Friday prayers.  (The leadership at Tifereth Israel are so treasonous as to not take their marching orders from Limbaugh, Beck, Gingrich, etc., and their congregation, and Olde Towne East, is much the richer for it.)

You almost needed to roll me out of the Islamic Cultural Center after the meal.  I had generous helpings of rice, chicken, hummus, lamb, and lentil soup.  (I had a beard trim this afternoon–more about that soon–so I felt I could eat lentil soup.  When the beard is untrimmed, I usually abstain from it.  About 25 years ago, I was eating a meal in a kosher restaurant in Flushing one winter night with my friend Ken Katz.  I saw two old Hasidic men–complete with the long, untrimmed beards–eating lentil soup.  If you want to lose your appetite in a hurry, that’s all you need to see.)

The Qur’an from the Oxford World’s Classics was my second sacred text today.  I slept too late to go to church today, but in the early afternoon, Susie and I went to the Really, Really Free Market in Weinland Park.  The Sporeprint Infoshop sponsors the Really, Really Free Market the last Sunday of every month, but they expanded it today as a way of bidding farewell to the summer.  Usually, the market is on the sidewalk in front of Sporeprint’s headquarters on E. 5th Ave., where books, clothes, bread, and baked goods are set out a table for anyone who wants them.

They turned it into a mini-fair in Weinland Park.  They offered knitting and hair-cutting, clothes, books, and household appliances, all free.  A young woman named Jessie walked around with a sign on her back that said FREE HAIRCUTS, so I asked if she ever cut facial hair.  She never had, but I was feeling adventurous, so I asked her if she’d trim my beard, which has gotten to the point where it was totally covering my upper lip.

I know Mr. Rogers told two generations of children,
“Haircuts don’t hurt,” but you’d never know it from
my facial expression.  Jessie very patiently and
thoroughly cut through the Brillo pad of my untrimmed
whiskers.

Jessie did a stellar job, especially using just scissors and a comb.  I’m sorry to report that the scissors were a casualty of the project.  By the time they cut through the beard (which is probably like steel wool in some places), I doubt her scissors would have cut butter.  She didn’t have a whetstone or a razor strop handy, so she had to strike her shingle after only one client.
The second sacred text I obtained today was A Buddhist Bible, edited by Dwight Goddard, courtesy of the Really, Really Free Market.  This was also a trade paperback ©1994 by Beacon Press (the Unitarian Universalist Association’s publishing arm), the publisher of two anthologies compiled by my late aunt Jean McKee Thompson: Poems to Grow On and Our Own Christmas.  (Jack Kerouac’s discovery–and extensive reading of–The Buddhist Bible laid the groundwork for his books The Dharma Bums and Some of the Dharma.  The latter remained unpublished until 1997, except for very few excerpts published by my friend Robert Lowry in his short-lived literary journal Robert Lowry’s Book USA circa 1958.)

Susie didn’t fare too well, I’m sorry to say.  The only shoes in her size had cleats on the soles, and she couldn’t find any clothes she liked that fit.  She came away with a glass and a Thomas Kinkade spiral address book.  I got Steph a pair of shoes, after getting on the cell phone to call and ask her size.

I remembered why I never buy puzzles or games second-hand.  Some of the children, trying to “help,” spilled two puzzles together on the ground.  Sally Louise, one of the people who helped launch this event, spent some time on her knees helping the kids collect the pieces and get them back.  (Fortunately, the backs of the puzzles were different colors, but I’m sure they’re still intermingled.)

Sally Louise helps the kids picked up the spilled puzzle
pieces.  How many Lite-Brite pieces ended up going
up vacuum cleaners in America over the last 40 years?
My friend Scott came with his face paints, jumping at the chance to ply his trade, since he never had a chance at Comfest.  (The last time he used such natural canvases was at the World Naked Bike Ride in June.)  Many of the younger element flocked to him, and they all came away pleased, especially this young man:
Such great artwork, and yet so fleeting.
Friday night, I went to a party/concert at The Monster House, an actual dwelling place on W. 10th Ave.  I didn’t spend much time at the concert itself.  That was in the basement, and being below ground in such a comparatively confined place with about 20 people, each giving off the energy and heat of a 150-watt bulb, triggered my latent claustrophobia (which has never been a significant issue in my life before).  I stayed on the main floor and on the front porch and talked with people, including our many hosts.
It was a BYOB affair, so I went to the 7-Eleven at N. High and 10th and bought some Diet Pepsi.  I received many unsolicited warnings about how horrible aspartame is (I guess that must be the nutritional bogeyman this summer–preceded by mono-sodium glutamate and carbohydrates; they’re hard to keep track of), all of these coming from people who were drinking beer by the liter and who were smoking.
One of the bands’ lead singers wore the big-lensed Christian Dior glasses that I remember girls wearing when I was in junior and senior high.  (My favorite TV personality, Fritz the Nite Owl of WBNS-TV here in Columbus, made them very popular on his Nite Owl Theater in the 1970s.)  She complimented me on my glasses, which doesn’t happen often.  (One woman I dated once told me I was one of the few people under 60 who could wear half glasses and not look silly.  I’m not sure if that’s a compliment.)  We traded eye wear and the moment was immortalized:
 What I never understood was when girls had little
stickers at the bottom of the lenses–with their
initials, or butterflies, or hearts.  How could
they stand to have that in the peripheral vision
all the time?

This was supposed to be a short entry, with or without illustrations.  The Johnny Cash disk ended a long time ago, and I’ve switched to The Alan Parsons Project’s Tales of Mystery and Imagination, with “The Fall of the House of Usher Suite” playing right now.  (One thing I miss about LiveJournal–and that is a very short list–is the field where you type in what music you’re listening to or thinking of while you’re working.)

Eve of Departure

Susie is packed and ready to go, and I’m pretty sure I am as well.  The Liberal Religious Youth (LRY) Reunion, aka “Garden of LRY”, officially begins at 5 p.m. tomorrow afternoon, and to me this night is Christmas Eve, the last day of school, and Mardi Gras all rolled into one.  I think I’m packed–I promised Julie, who was nice enough to drive Susie and me on this safari, that I’d pack light.  (Since I originally planned to take Greyhound to this Reunion, packing light was my original intention.)

Susie will be picking up a new state on this trip.  She’s never been to New Jersey before.  She has been to Pennsylvania, which is the only other state we will cross on this journey.  She’s not looking forward to the long drive, but as I get older, I take Cervantes’ words more to heart: “The road is always better than the inn.”

Julie’s husband Marc is attending an academic conference in Seattle, and she worried about the logistics around meeting him at the Newark airport.  (The Reunion itself is near Newton, N.J., in Sandyston Township.)  But, a mutual friend of ours from Queens will meet Marc’s flight as he is heading to the camp.  This came about in a blizzard of phone calls and emails among all of us today.

Jacques and I met for beverages at Kafé Kerouac this evening, but I became more and more frustrated because their Wi-Fi and this computer just could not connect, regardless of how many times they reset the router.  To keep from seething, I suggested that Jacques come with me and take an impromptu tour of Sporeprint Infoshop, the “radical social center” on E. 5th Ave. which is becoming quite dear to my heart.  We drove down and met with two volunteers, and Jacques came away quite impressed, especially with the lending library, the non-sectarian food distribution, the Internet-ready computers ready for anyone who needs them, and the fact that Kroger has been quite generous with donations of bread, cakes, and pastries.  Sporeprint is located directly across the street from Vineyard Columbus’ food pantry and free clinic.  Kahlil Gibran wrote in The Prophet that “Work is love made visible,” and that should be printed on a banner that stretches over the street above E. 5th Ave. between Summit and N. 4th.

Jacques came away marveling at the work Sporeprint promotes, especially the Really, Really Free Market the last Sunday of every month.  He plans to attend (as do I) the special one which happens on the 29th of this month (noon until 5 p.m. in Weinland Park, 211 E. 7th Ave.).  In addition to free clothes, books, bread, etc., there will be free services offered–hair-cutting, face-painting, children’s shows, etc.  I plan to be there.  Those of you who read this blog who live in the Columbus area, I strongly encourage you to come.  Those of you that miss it, I will describe it in a forthcoming entry.

Out of curiosity, I checked Google Maps for the directions to the 4-H camp in New Jersey.  It offered three routes, and the travel time varied by, at most, 30-45 minutes.  Julie says we’ll probably take I-71 to I-80 (which makes sense, because it avoids the Pennsylvania Turnpike and all those tolls).  I asked her out of mere curiosity–she’s driving, her word is law.  She says the car has a GPS, which she’ll be using for the first time, so I’m sure it’ll suggest the same thing.

The first “long” piece of prose I ever wrote, other than a penciled autobiography when I was 10, was a 48-page, typewritten, single-spaced description of two trips to Richmond, Va. I made with my parents when I was almost 11.  While writing this, I remember keeping the Exxon road map of the trip spread out on the bedroom floor by the typewriter, so I could trace the journey.  (It stayed spread out because I could never master the art of folding maps.)  The GPS makes that a little different.  Gone are the days when this would be your guide:

It would be invaluable to travel with this, even though it was crumpled up in a ball in the glove compartment, complete with melted Tootsie Rolls and old McDonald’s napkins and coffee stirrers.

Well, I’m not a tiny tot, but my eyes are all aglow, and I am finding it hard to sleep tonight.  Nevertheless, I am going to post this entry and make the attempt.  The camp is beyond Wi-Fi range, so I plan to handwrite blog entries in a notebook and then scan them, backdated, into this blog once I’m back in Columbus.

A Group That is Doing the Heavy Lifting

When it comes to the work of social justice, many left-identifying people (including, I’m sorry to say, many Unitarian Universalists) resemble teenaged boys and sex: The ones who are talking about it the most, are doing it the least.  Somewhat by accident today, I saw the work of some people who are not afraid to get some dirt under their fingernails when it comes to helping where it is needed.

I was taking the southbound Indianola bus downtown late this morning when I glanced east on E. 5th Ave. and saw a generously laden table and clothes rack sitting in front of the Sporeprint Infoshop at 172 E. 5th.  (I have fond memories of that block, since it was the launching site of last month’s World Naked Bike Ride.)  The signs over the tables said this was the REALLY, REALLY FREE MARKET.  I now have a much-underlined and -HiLited International Publishers pamphlet copy of The Communist Manifesto and a shirt or two.

The Sporeprint Infoshop hosts the Really, Really Free Market the last Sunday of every month from 12-5.  There are clothes, books, toys, and food.  Four days a week (see the above link for the specific times), Sporeprint opens its common area to all comers, complete with computers (Internet access) and a lending library.  Those with meagre (or no) funds can use the computers to search for jobs online, work on resumés, or look for social service agencies’ contact information.

I had an interesting conversation with a man named Noel, who also came to get some books and some clothes.  The attitude at Sporeprint, we agreed, was different from many of the “do-gooders”, professional or otherwise.  There is no sense that these are wealthy people throwing a crumb or two they wouldn’t miss.  Sporeprint (and the Third Hand Bicycle Cooperative next door) are probably struggling to keep their lights on and their spaces rented.  Many of the people working there are students, many are un- and underemployed.  Children came during the time I was there, as did a woman easily in her late 80s, and we all felt like we were in friends’ living rooms.

Food Not Bombs operates from Sporeprint, serving vegetarian and vegan meals every Sunday from 5-7 p.m.  (Much of this food comes from the two Arawak City Gardens on N. 4th St. and N. 5th St.)

Local information from Food Not Bombs.  If you are not in
need of their services, please spread the word to someone who is.

Though small, the library has a very catholic (lower-case c) selection of books, from classics to textbooks to political culture.  There’s a spinner nearby stocking many ‘zines (self-published magazines and journals), which was truly a pleasure to behold.  I was afraid that the ‘zine and the broadsheet had been crushed under the wheels of the Internet.

The people at Sporeprint have taken their time, pooled their resources, and come together with a project and a place that is doing the work many people support in theory.  (Since becoming a union steward, my favorite children’s book has become The Little Red Hen.  I hear a resounding “I will!” from Sporeprint and Food Not Bombs when the hen asks, “Who will help me plant the grain?  Who will help me harvest the wheat?”)