Monday, November 30, 2009

Religious Culture

Every time I thought I had a good handle on Humbug, they managed to pry loose my grip. It didn’t take a genius to figure out that most Humbuggers rarely traveled outside of Humbug more than once a year - if ever. They hadn’t been exposed to the evolving tastes of the rest of the world and managed to live in denial of almost every aspect of life that displeased them. I viewed this as a passive form of suspended animation that left them existing in a displaced 1940’s culture.

It occurred to me, however, that if I were to travel back to the 1940’s I might be able to inspire at least some people to try some new flavours and unfamiliar foods. I began to hope, perhaps rather desperately, that the mere presence of some culinary alternatives might appeal to the curiosity of the more progressive Humbuggers. At very least, I thought, the younger generation might want to break out of the culinary and intellectual vacuum that surrounded them. I hadn’t yet begun, though, to understand the aggressive nature with which Humbuggers held to their antiquated ways.

Then one day the little mousy woman who had threatened to sue me over the amount of spice in her lunch came marching back in the front door. I began to wonder if she had actually managed to find a lawyer to represent her grievance but she alleviated my fears.

“My lawyer won’t take my case,” she proclaimed.

“I didn’t THINK spicy food was a crime,” I said.

“You aren’t getting off that easy,” she continued, “I have taken my case to a higher authority.”

“The supreme court?” I chuckled.

“I spoke to the priest about it!” she retorted, accusingly.

“The priest?”

“Yes, and you won’t be here long now!”

“What, exactly, is your problem, lady?”

“That food you serve is evil. It’s blasphemy!”

“Oh, c’mon. Now you’re going to have the Pope issue an edict against spicy food?”

“Food like this inspires passion!” she shouted.

“In my defense, doesn’t the Pope want you Catholics making lots of babies?”

“You can’t say things like that and get away with it!” she screamed.

“Maybe you’ld feel better if you and your husband BOTH ate here,” I laughed.

“My husband AND my son will never eat here. I’m going to spread the word about this place and make sure no good Catholics eat here. We’re German you know! We won’t stand for this!”

And, with that, she spun on her heels and marched back out. Once again I questioned the German reference. What the hell did being German have to do with refusing to try unfamiliar food? How German could these people be after five generations of inbreeding in a small Canadian prairie town? What was it about inspiring passion that upset her so? My question was soon answered when I saw her in the mall with her husband and son. Her husband was the fellow who so strongly voiced his objections to black olives and her son was Bambi. I couldn’t help but chuckle, although I’m afraid I caught her eye and she was inspired to even higher levels of rage and determination.

No matter how desperately they tried to remain blind to any signs of homosexuality in their town, some of them couldn’t remain deaf to the rumours that swirled about Marty. One day as I walked out of my office I spotted a frail little woman standing in the corner shaking. So great was the fear on her face that I glanced back over my shoulder to see if a grizzly bear was poised to attack. The only creature in her view was Marty; the big blond ostrich. I approached the woman gently.

“What’s the matter?” I asked.

“People say,” she choked, “that that boy is a homosexual.”

“And?” I prompted.

“You don’t deny it?” she asked.

“There isn’t anything the matter with that,” I reassured her.

“He, he,” the woman sobbed, “was a brother!”

She broke into tears and scurried out the door. I called Marty to the kitchen and apologized for not covering for him but he wouldn’t hear of it. He told me that he wanted them to know, that he felt a need for everyone to know. He was devoted to proving that they had nothing to fear from gays and he felt compelled to out himself to everyone in town.

“Fear?” I asked, “Why was that woman so afraid?”

“They think homosexuals and pedophiles are the same here.”

“What?” I blurted.

“You basically just told that woman that I was a pedophile and you are ok with it.”

“That’s ridiculous!” I said, incredulously.

“That’s part of how the Non-Gays can go on thinking they are Non-Gay,” he explained.

“Because they don’t molest children?”


“So how do they explain heterosexual pedophiles?”

“By believing that they’re gay. They don’t believe in heterosexual pedophiles. It’s all homosexuality to them; one and the same.”

And once again I found myself losing my grip on any concept of how the Humbug mind worked. What kind of slippery slope did these people live on? Believing that pedophiles were just homosexuals, that homosexuals were driven by passion, that passion was inspired by spicy food? Could these people actually be under the impression that by serving seasoned food I was actually trying to cause their children to be molested? Once again my head was reeling.

The conspiracy against me began to rear its head. There was a bookshelf in the dining area that was stocked with magazines and some anthologies that I had collected. One Sunday, as Anna was dusting the shelf, she asked me when I had started putting out religious books. I was shocked, but as I inspected the shelf I found a number of religious titles; various bible study guides, family values titles, and one pamphlet on ‘speaking in tongues’. “What the hell?” I exclaimed. I couldn’t believe that sometime, over the past few weeks, someone had actually taken the time to replace some of my books with this religious drivel. Even Anna seemed a bit surprised at my anger about this. In her defense, we hadn’t actually told her about Marty being gay and the problems this was beginning to cause.

Matters got worse when, as Christmas approached, other stores started putting up Christmas decorations. Lyle Duerr was the first to say something. One day he came in earlier than usual for morning coffee. We were alone in the bistro with almost a half an hour left before the rest of the coffee row leeches were due.

“So, you haven’t put up any Christmas decorations yet,” he said.

“I wasn’t actually planning on it,” I replied.

“It’s pretty important for retailers to get in the spirit,” he explained.

“I guess I was just hoping a restaurant might be exempt.”

“Don’t you feel that you SHOULD put something up?”

“Actually I’ld really rather not.”

“Don’t you have any Christmas spirit at all?”

“Not really. I don’t celebrate it.”

“What? Are you a joe-ho?”

“A what?”

“Jehovah’s Witness.”

“No. Although I suppose that if I were, having you refer to me as a ‘Joe-Ho’ might be a little insulting, don’t you think?”

Ignoring my question he just huffed and proceeded, “So YOU’RE a JEW?”

“I’m not Jewish either, but yet again, I find your tone a little insulting,” I answered, surprised at how insulted I felt by his inquisition.

“Well what is it then?” he demanded.

“My mother was murdered on Christmas day,” I said, staring him straight in the eye.

“Oh shit!” he exclaimed, finally dropping the topic and heading to his table.

My mother hadn’t actually been murdered on Christmas day but I had always found that to be an efficient way of ending Christmas-related interrogations. Furthermore, I wanted to turn the tide of discomfort against him because of his incredibly offensive references about Jehovah’s Witnesses and Jews. I am an atheist and have several philosophical objections to a religious holiday that idolizes gluttony and fiscal irresponsibility. There was no way I could have explained this to Lyle, however. I have never been comfortable with people who believe in an invisible man but I’ve actually found a great deal of companionship with Jews and Jehovah’s Witnesses over the years at Christmas time. I couldn’t believe Lyle had so tactlessly demanded to know if I was a ‘Jo-Ho’. It just never occurred to these hicks that most people in the world weren’t Christian, let alone Catholic.

My plan backfired, however. Within days I was visited by several pastors and the town priest. All of them were horrified that my mother’s brutal Christmas day slaying might have inspired me to hate god. It didn’t matter how calmly I explained to them that I no longer believed in Santa Clause, the Easter bunny, god, or the tooth fairy – they were convinced that I had to believe in god and I was just angry that he had allowed my mother’s murder.

I found it rather suspicious that each of them used some very similar phrases in trying to sooth my ‘anger and contempt of god.’ It became quite apparent that they had actually conspired at some point, and had come to a consensus as to what was going through my head even before a single one of them had undertaken a discussion with me. It was sort of unnerving to think that the town’s religious leaders had formulated a personality profile on me without having a moment of interaction with me. I would later find that this was the way that Humbuggers formed most of their opinions about outsiders.

I finally managed to negotiate a cease fire by agreeing to put up fucking Christmas decorations. They all expressed their certainty that if I just let my heart open up to the Christmas spirit I might come to lose some of my anger toward their deity. With disgust, I ordered Jeffrey and Marty to decorate the bistro. I had no idea how glass bulbs and plastic vines were supposed to offer any sort of divine connection but was happy to put up with them if it meant being left alone.

The priest offered me the most interesting negotiation. I took the time to inquire about his dissertation on the perils of spicy food. To my surprise he informed me that he didn’t actually view the road to hell as being paved with cayenne and paprika. He did, however, indicate that those of questionable nature should stay away from intense flavours and experiences as it might open the door to other temptations. When he began to tell me about the success achieved with a diet of oatmeal and boiled potatoes at a nearby sexual reorientation therapy centre for troubled youth I threw him out. I just didn’t want to hear anymore about homosexuals being tortured in this backwards hick town.

On the plus side of my plan, I actually managed to spend one Christmas without every single person I met wishing me a ‘Merry Christmas’. They had decided that putting up the decorations was enough and they didn’t want to further remind me of my mother’s horrific slaying. I actually heard some of them rasping away in their pathetic Humbug whisper that I had found her mutilated body under the Christmas tree. The details that they filled in were quite revealing of the Humbug fascination with death.

One strange Humbug quirk that I eventually learned of was the ‘death house drive-by’. It seemed that when someone in town died, there were several people who would look up that person’s address in the phone book just so they could drive by the home of the deceased and peer at it. I presume this was so they could fill in gruesome imaginary details of the death scene. Apparently cable television just didn’t have enough channels for their entertainment.

It seemed that every aspect of life in this dismal little town was designed to aggressively stifle every aspect of human nature. People so devoted to boring bland lives that they would send their children away to be tortured were never going to try new flavours or unfamiliar foods. Others, who found entertainment in driving by the homes of the recently deceased, weren’t really the sort that I wanted in my restaurant. This place wasn’t a displaced 1940’s culture and nor was it German in nature. Humbug was a social experiment designed to emulate an alternate dimension in which Hitler had won the war. Humbuggers weren’t the victims of this experiment; they were the perpetrators of it.