Gimme A Witness

I was awakened last weekend, on a beautiful Saturday morning, by a knock on the door… Okay, I wasn’t awakened, it was 11:30, but I’d just gotten up and I was brushing my teeth when I opened the door, and I was greeted by a pair of shiny, smiling, well-dressed people wearing their very best “Sunday Go To Meetin'” clothes and carrying Watch Tower magazines.

Now this in and of itself isn’t a problem. I have two brothers who are Jehovah’s Witnesses. I’ve heard all the sales pitches, I’ve read the magazines, I’ve been to the meetings. In fact, I find that this familiarity with the pitch, this hipness to the word, is actually a great defense against these early morning attacks.

“Thank you,” I say, “but I have two brothers who are Witnesses. I don’t really need to have anything explained to me.” That usually puts the kibosh on the whole thing right there. “Ah, well,” they will surely say, “if his own brother couldn’t bring him over, well then, the Force is strong in this one.”

But not this time.

“Oh,” she says, “You’re Steve’s brother.”

Now, I’m not sure exactly why but it got the hackles up on the back of my neck … I felt like I had a target taped to my soul.

My immunity to Salvation, apparently, is legendary. Rather than being an indication that I am immovable, rather than marking the doorway with some invisible, unseen sign of the Dark Side that will keep future Witnesses at bay, protecting them from the black malevolence that is my resistance to divine rescue, there is instead a price on my head. My soul is now the Great White Whale of souls… the El Dorado of souls… the Super Bowl of souls. My soul is the stuff of legend… and my name is whispered in the smoke-filled back room of the Kingdom Hall.

So rather than throw their hands up in desperation, they looked at me with a gleam in their eyes, one very nice Church Lady, with lace around her neck and sensible shoes, and a fat, sweaty, happily rosy-cheeked guy with a suit and a tie that squeezes his neck out of his collar like a water balloon through a napkin ring.

“So your brothers are witnesses, and you … are not?”

That is correct, I assert. I am, in fact, not a Witness.

“Do you believe in God at all,” they press on, “or are you just a … non-believer?”

I’m not comfortable discussing this with you, here, in my doorway, in my sweats, with a toothbrush in my mouth, I answer. I haven’t had my coffee. This could go very wrong, very quickly.

“Just one last question,” he presses on, “and you don’t have to answer now. I only ask that you think about this.

“Do you actually believe that there is no divine intervention, no way to assure our everlasting salvation, that Mankind will just continue to go on, forever, in his current, depraved, selfish way, destroying himself, and the planet, wreaking havoc in a global attempt to consume and ravage and rape and kill, and that it will never end? That there is no higher purpose? That we can’t be forgiven for our fundamental nature and invited into the Kingdom?”

I thought he was going to ask me something hard.

“Of course,” I say, “What a stupid question. People are selfish, and short-sighted, and angry, and spiteful. They want cheap CD’s and free sex and more Jackass. They want cell phones, and DSL lines, and microwaves, and each and every one of them wants more than they need. No, there’s no higher purpose. It’s about instant gratification. Don’t you know? That’s why we have religion. It excuses us from being self-destructive rampaging pricks. Sorry, God, we didn’t mean to wipe your precious owls off the face of the Earth, we’re just men, we’re born with sin, it’s not our fault! You’re counting on that, or you wouldn’t be able to sell your little magazine with the picture of the lamb and the lion on the cover!”

In fact, it’s true that people want what they want, they want it cheap, and they want it now. Consequences be damned, whatever the price, I’ll eat hamburgers fried yesterday and warmed under a heat lamp if I can have it for 49 cents. I’ll buy a 50 gallon drum of mayonnaise if it gets the price per-ounce down under a nickel.

We’re a society of people who stand in front of the microwave and screams “hurry up! I can’t wait more than 30 seconds to get that macaroni and cheese inside me, give it to me now, make it go faster, screw it I’ll just snort the cheese powder through a straw and inject the noodles past my gag reflex with a turkey baster!”

We are a culture that measures the quality of our lives based on how instantly we get gratification. What is this, the Olympics? Is this life the hundred-yard dash of consumerism? What am I going to do with an extra 7 seconds? Does anyone actually organize their life in 7 second increments? Do I really need 7 more seconds of Ricki Lake, Internet porn, or Survivor? Whatever happened to the thrill of the hunt?

So I’m standing there in my sweats, without my coffee, with my toothbrush hanging out of my mouth, in my doorway, with this stranger trying to sell insurance against my eventual and assured Damnation, when the phone rings and I turn to them and say “Sorry, but I’ve got to get the phone.” They say goodbye, wish me a happy morning, and they are on their way.

I pick up the phone, and on the other end is a lilting Southern voice that says “Hello, Sir? This is Elvira from AT&T about your platinum card. I’d like to offer you a free service, to protect your purchasing power and your valuable credit rating, by insuring your balance and making your payments in the event your ability to pay is compromised. The service is free, Sir, for the first 30 days, and anytime you want to cancel you just call.”

“No thank you,” I reply, “I have two brothers with credit card protection, and I’ve heard all about it.”

“Just one last thing,” she pressed on, “and you don’t have to answer now. I only ask that you think about. Let me leave you with an 800 number, just in case you change your mind.”

So go ahead, that’s the message, overspend, consume, buy more than you need, make poor decisions, it’s what you do, it’s in your nature, it’s your original sin. It’s not your fault, and we won’t make you pay, there’s always an insurance policy, it’ll just cost you 3% of your balance per month and after you die we’ll send you to that Golden Valhalla where everything is free, the rivers run with wine, and elephant crap Web sites download in less than a tenth of a second.


That’s it. That’s all I got.

Real Men Don't Buy Kitsch

I was out doing a little shopping, a little consuming, prowling the aisles of the Cost Plus, the Ross Dress for Less, the K-Mart, the Everything’s a Dollar Store.

So I’m at Ross, and I’m cruising the Kitsch aisle (which is right alongside the Crap aisle, across from the Broken Stuff Somebody Else Threw Out aisle) when I find the perfect thing for my front door… a hand-painted wooden scarecrow with real straw hair, a horn-o’-plenty and a precious, dangling little sign that says ‘Welcome to Our Happy Home’ in sloppy printing with a backwards ‘E’.

Isn’t that pwecious? Who wouldn’t want that on their front door?

I have a hard time imagining that there are enough people in the world who would want this crap… enough actual people with pulses who need a papier-mâché night-light of a Hobo leaning on a lamp-post whose ass plays ‘How Dry I Am’.

If there was one blue-haired cat-raising Alzheimer’s patient that wanted one of these, I wouldn’t be surprised. I wouldn’t be surprised to discover there are five, or eight, or maybe even eleven.

But thousands? Maybe even tens-of-thousands? Did Nostradamus talk about this? Are the men with ice on their helmets marching forth from Prussia?

So I think about this a little harder… this thing is made up of maybe six or eight or ten individual parts, each one cut by a power tool from processed wood products, painted and stapled and tied together, hand-assembled by nimble foreign fingers somewhere overseas.

Then of course, they are wrapped and packaged and stacked into cartons, stored in a warehouse until Macy’s calls and orders twenty or eighty or a hundred for their discerning clientele. Then they’re loaded on a truck, and sent to a train or a boat or a plane and shipped to Macy’s and unpacked and unwrapped and priced and put on the shelf and dusted and straightened and inventoried and then re-boxed when nobody buys them and returned and stored until Everything’s 99 Cents and Up buys them in an estate sale and then packed and shipped and unpacked and re-priced and put on a shelf where I turn it over and find out that it’s selling for $3.99.

So I ask myself, how much can it cost to make this crap if you can put it through a hundred hands and 10,000 miles of travel and still make a profit at $3.99? How is this possible?

Who would have thought that there was such a valuable natural resource in political dissidents?

I used to make a real effort not to buy products made in oppressive regimes, knowing as I do that they’re often manufactured by prisoners. Not that there’s a problem with that… it’s the least they can do.

But I want my kitsch to be assembled by real criminals… I want to hang my $7.99 singing rubber bass secure in the knowledge that I’m keeping a murderer from getting bigger and stronger and badder and more dangerous by keeping him in the factory instead of the weight room.

I want to know that my collectible Ron Popeil-shaped Chia Pet was molded and boxed by a genuine rapist who otherwise would have been swapping cigarettes for a pleasant snuggle with a skinhead named Preacher.

I want to be pretty sure that the Who’s The Boss anniversary potholders hanging on my refrigerator were stitched by a guy who ran a red light with an ox.

But I don’t want my crap made by a guy who just wanted his kids to have an opportunity to read a book.

But what are we gonna do? I mean, I’ve looked at the bottom of a lot of cheap-ass merchandise, and it’s virtually impossible to buy unnecessary, poorly designed and shabbily manufactured excess crap that isn’t made by a political activist – it appears that he’s the guy that made half the stuff at Ross. And the more cheap-ass crap we all want to buy, the more some oppressive regime needs to create cheap-ass prison labor to produce it and feed it to us to keep our money floating overseas.

There’s no doubt that it’s important for us to keep our economy liquid – to keep our cash out of our mattresses, or retirement accounts, or CD’s or Municipal Bonds, and instead flowing from our pockets to the cash registers of 7-Eleven and Wal-Mart and Borders, so that cashiers and stock boys and truckers and airline pilots and wholesalers and importers and advertising execs and cleaning ladies and security firms and utility companies can all reap a little financial stability. It’s the ready availability of useless crap that ensures that tasteless Americans will continue to purchase and consume, keeping our dollars out of Health Insurance and College Funds and the Boys and Girls Clubs and the soup kitchens and invested instead in wicker pillow shams.

But since we’ve created a climate in which we can’t afford to work for a tenth of what we currently work for, and we steadfastly refuse to pay enough for our consumer goods to pay our own fellow citizens a decent living for assembling our cheap-ass crap right here, we have no choice but to purchase products manufactured by twenty-three year old college students who make the mistake of searching for “Democracy” on the Internet, or forty year old fathers who wanted their daughters to have an education. Without these Godless radicals serving their much-deserved time in the factories that produce so much of our critical consumer goods, the wheels of our robust economy might come to a screeching halt.

Then I remembered. This is America… we’ve got plenty of real criminals right here, we keep them in real good shape, and they’re serving time for real crimes. Carjackers, and snipers, and pickpockets, and gang-bangers. Enron executives, and child abusers, and cop-killers, and kidnappers.

Sure, they’re busy picking up trash on the side of the highway, putting honest State Employees out of jobs. They’re cutting fire roads in the wilderness, putting honest Parks Employees out of jobs. They’re pumping iron, and having anal sex, and watching television, and studying law, and filing appeals, and having anal sex.

Surely they’d be more useful helping generate cheap crap for us to buy and break and throw away so our wheels of commerce could continue to spin. Surely we’d be comfortable asking them to contribute meaningfully in a safe atmosphere carefully monitored by Labor Officials, so we could still have cheap crap without giving oppressive governments a reason to throw another college kid in jail.

And we’d never try to create more labor ourselves by jailing political dissidents. Hell, they’re more protected than Bald Eagles. They’re safe.

So I envision a world in which we assemble all the cheap-ass poorly designed and manufactured kitsch product right here, with our own labor, keep our money local, keep our economy flush with liquid consumer dollars, and export our excess knick knacks to other countries.

I hear we have plenty of extra US flag stickers.

Those would look cool on an ox.

That’s it. That’s all I got.