I keep this passage from the Book of Doctrines close to my heart since I first came across it in the winter of 1991, for I thought it a dangerous passage. Two centuries prior to our beloved Christian movement and some seven to twelve hundred years after Moses first freed the Jews from slavery in Egypt, the Gita was making doctrines obsolete faster than scribes could record them. Or the rich people of those days could typeset, print and distribute them. The ebb of life on the planet was slow and uneven in the third century BCE or we might all be walking about with dots on our foreheads.
By the year 1948 (CE), those laying claim to being the people of Moses had had enough talk of messiahs coming or going, enough discussion of Judaic Ethics and decided, some would say with wide-ranging consensus, that “The Jews” had waited long enough. The persecutions and the pogroms, usually sponsored by Christians, were a tiresome affair to observe and, all too often, a heartbreaking routine to experience. “The Jews” would return to Israel and David Ben Gurion was as good a messiah as any in his time. Maybe putting pen to paper would shut the Jews up. In any case, the narrative of six million dead Jews at the hands of a lapsed Catholic expedited matters considerably. The Jews would, “come home,” from their perspective, but for the Palestinians who had had a very amicable relationship with Palestinian Jewry up until the early twentieth century, the sudden shift toward Jewish hegemony in what had been “their homeland” must have felt like a betrayal among good neighbors.
I happened along on the planet a year before a fellow from my hometown won a Nobel Peace Prize for recording and codifying the epic journey of the Joads from Oklahoma to California, a journey that many read in sadness and shame but a journey that only told a smattering of details regarding the indignities humans serve up to other humans. As the Grapes of Wrath went to print in 1939, the woman who was pushing me out into this theatre of the absurd in 1961 had been just 12 years old and had actually been a part of that original journey to California in 1929. Needless to say, John Steinbeck had skipped a few significant details in the interest of brevity and creative license, but let it not be said it was because his creativity was waning; he had been drinking rather heavily in the hills above Los Gatos at the time and generally making an ass of himself between his residence and the post office where he delivered his manuscripts for editing to his publisher. The politics of publishing any account of human-imposed human suffering within US borders that was not Civil War-related, would still need to follow that mould of, “all things come together for the good of the country and God Bless America,” or it would not be typeset. Being a practicing drunk of some literary and journalistic promise, it is virtually certain Steinbeck was nearing the end of his publisher’s largesse when he and his wife made the editing decisions that could have meant the end of an endless river of booze and cigarettes, neither of which Our Dear John could have lived without. Details be damned, even if it was my entire family’s story that was left out.
The reason why the Steinbeck (really, “GrossSteinbeck,”) story is relevant to a story about landscaping an area of Palestine who some feel has fallen into disrepair is because Steinbeck’s paternal grandfather, Johann, formed, with Clorinda Minor, the Mount Hope colony/pre-kibbutz in Jaffa. Steinbeck’s grandfather’s brother, Frederick, was murdered and his brother’s wife and mother-in-law beaten and raped by Arab farmers in an all night affair of murder and mayhem that came to be known as, “the Outrages at Jaffa.” To be certain the Steinbeck’s and their family had suffered from Arab and Bedouin harassment before this night in 1858, but this was the first noteworthy incident of Arab on Jew violence in Ottoman Palestine and it had more to do with zealous Christian Dominionist end-times theology in collision with Muslim hegemony, than with the inability of Palestinian Jews to live peacefully amidst their Muslim majority neighbors. The murder of men and the raping of women, while practiced as an act of profound disrespect towards the “unclean” in Muslim countries, is not an act sanctioned by Islam. It just so happens that where there are Muslims and “infidels,” there tends to be a lot of violence towards women and xenophobia towards men. Sort of reminds me of South Texas, after a fashion. Sniff.
The other reason why landscaping stories interest me is because of a side-business I use to support my greater aspirations. Being an actor and being the owner of a small lawn maintenance concern between Killeen and Austin, Texas, basically means I mow lawns for a living. As part of a lawn deal with a dentist in Austin, I managed to get my teeth bleached whiter than most politicians, which really helps me get past the first knock on neighborhood doors looking for additional clients, but has done nothing to enhance my capacity for finding dramatic work in a sea of blond-haired, blue-eyed twenty-something’s. It is not that I am a bad actor or poorly skilled in delivering my lines, it’s that I am a young forty-something at the age of fifty-two. People in Killeen look at me and think, “he’s a smart, handsome-enough man, why can’t he find any real work,” as I discuss the finer points of putting a clean edge on their lawn, while people in Austin, usually my friends, generally say, “there he goes, livin’ the dream and undeterred by the naysayers. I can support that!” Whatever it takes to get the bills paid. If I have to tan to look Hispanic enough to be in this business, I am willing to do that, but I have to keep the blond hair and blue eyes ceded to me by my parents in hopes of greater commercial exposure. Landscaping is just part of my larger plan to take Hollywood by storm. Yay, me.
How I made it here to Texas I couldn’t begin to tell you beyond a tragic tale of unguided love. Clichés may not be interesting to the general public, but they do tend to move people across country when the getting is good and the timing seems right. Moving from California to Texas might seem to some folks like a backward move economically, spiritually, morally and culturally. But I see where Manifest Destiny pegged a journey that began at Plymouth Rock and moved westward like a huge conveyor belt, carrying social pariahs of all kinds who got as close to the ocean as they could before they faced the fact that they would be living in close quarters with people they didn’t like any better than did the rest of the country. Moving to Texas was a huge cultural shock to my system, but it appears now that my system needed the shocking. Apparently the world is chalk-full of people who hate what they do for a living, are hanging on to their life story by their fingernails and are doing so while living in a poaching humidity that leaves molds, bacteria’s and fungi floating in midair, waiting for a receptive pair of lungs to come along and sustain them a while longer. Prior to moving to Texas, I thought everyone lived in a place like Salinas and had a cleansing fog to look forward to rolling in every evening, only to watch it roll back out to sea by noon the following day. Sixty-eight degrees, year-round. This was certainly the case in San Luis Obispo where I once went to college, and is true all up and down the central coast of California. But not so in any part of Texas. Nor is it true in Philadelphia, my father’s hometown which he no longer claims.
If landscaping and the mowing of lawns has been something of a meditation for me while I await the next chapter of my life to unfold, learning to speak with, tolerate, understand and make a living selling lawn services to a typical Texas homeowner has been an exercise in linguistic gymnastics, religious tolerance and humility.
“Do what,” the grey-haired man in the bolo tie said to me after I asked him what time it was. He then took a step back and looked at the time piece in his front pocket and let me know that I was perilously close to noon-time in mid-August. No one in their right mind mows their lawn after noon in the midst of a Texas summer, but that wouldn’t stop my client from asking for extras designed to watch me sweat and drip, becoming half-crazy from dehydration and completely incapable of carrying on an adult conversation.
“I really wanted to get back inside by noon, Mr. Deutsche.”
“The Lord works in mysterious ways, Ed. Mysterious ways. A hard day’s work cleanses the soul and brings us closer to the Almighty.”
Now it used to be that I could ignore an asinine comment like this from a client. My Mexican counterparts do all the time, amazing me with their comprehension of American idioms and context, only to become deaf, mute or illiterate at the prospect of being asked to work past noon in the summer. They often smile politely, say, “jess,” and pack up and leave the job site just as they had planned to from the beginning of the day. But my way past competing with the rock-bottom pricing capacity of your typical Mexican landscaper was to ape the German-Protestant work ethic that demands a willingness to work for slave wages under third-world conditions, all the while maintaining a bright smile and pleasant demeanor that would make them proud to call me, “son.” “Arbeit macht frei .” They know what they are asking for is unreasonable, they know they are challenging me to survive a huge and unnecessary obstacle between doing my job and ending up in an emergency room with heat exhaustion or worse; but they also know that if I am a true-blue Texan down to my bone marrow, I will go out of my way to prove it at the drop of any hat. If a Texan challenges you to a throw-down, you better show up or plan on being part of a parade in your honor that sends you marching out of town. Texans pride themselves on not being lazy, on working hard and on honoring authority; but once you prove to them that you are among friends who see eye to eye, you begin to notice how much harder the Mexicans you are competing against are actually working than the Texans who are paying their wages. Southern hospitality meets southern hypocrisy every day in Texas, but don’t ever be caught dead saying so or you’re back out in the heat proving yourself one more time. God-fearing German Protestants raised in this State get the smartass smacked off their faces at a very young age. So I smile the brightest, toothiest Austin-bleached smile I can muster and say, “yes sir, Mr. Deutsche,” and I get busy not resisting authority since authority is helping to pay my rent this month.
“Thank you, son. I sure do appreciate it.”
“Anytime, Mr. Deutsche. You can count on me.”
“I said, ‘you can count on me, sir,’” with yet another smile as genuine as any smile seen from the pulpit of any mega church in this State. The “do what” was perfunctory and used as a double-check to ensure I wasn’t full of shit the first time I said what I said. If you pass the second, “do what,” test, you’re in. You’ve sold ‘em. And if you think it gets any harder than that, just remember the long-con the Bush Family has been able to pull off in this State and the people here still hold their Family in high regard. They were able to drop the entire economic, political and legal infrastructure of the goddamn United States to its knees in a fortnight using the same tricks Hitler used to come to power in Germany, yet Texans still want to get their pictures taken with these lizards, still want to be seen around them. Frankly, I’d rather mow Mr. Deutsche’s lawn. He’s a big fan of “Dubya,” swears to God Almighty that “Lib’ruls” are the death of this country, watches FoxNews and Reverend Hagee, but his heart is pure gold. He would no more take a switch to a man beaten down by circumstance than he would stab his wife in the heart. He’s actually quite liberal in ways not understood by those he supports with his money and his vote. But he’s a Texan, so that means he has to win. Texans pick a winner and stick with them to the bitter end. So as long as I’m putting a perfect edge to Mr. Deutsche’s lawn and making it the pride of his block, I can count on plenty of business in this neighborhood. My Californian ancestry is excused for as long as I am willing to adopt Texas values as my own and respect those whose trust I have earned.
Jews wouldn’t be terribly comfortable with the accommodations here in Texas because, first and foremost, Texans don’t like hearing people complain. And complaining is something bred into the genetic code of every modern Jew I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. They might talk a good game, might be able to get you to relax and laugh with them, but make no mistake: this whole fucking world is beneath them, they know it for a fact and they believe that you do not. Your willingness to accept the unacceptable is what makes you, “goyim,” and a sally, and this permits them to think of you as no better than a pack animal. Heaven help you if you tell them this truth to their face, even if you heard them tell it to each other in your presence. Now not every single Jew is this touchy any more than every single Texan is a naïve fool, but generally Jews and Texans share something in common that makes them mutually repulsed by one another: they stick together when times get rough and they share the spoils when times swing in the other direction. The reason so many Americans find Texans so obnoxious is for the same reasons that the people of the world have always had it out for the Jews: they know their own, they cling to their own, they protect their own and they damn sure aren’t going to tolerate being invaded by someone not, “their own.” And, “fuck you,” for noticing it, you anti-Semitic/anti-Texas parent-hating Californian with a thirst for the ungodly and the unseemly.
I don’t often launch into a thesis while I’m mowing someone’s lawn, but my thoughts make it possible for me to do what has become second nature to me while I make use of the time discussing more important matters with you. Matters of gravest urgency. Matters that you might have overlooked while you were busy trying to live your daily life without feeling like a complete and utter failure to your employer, your spouse and/or your children. I’d like to think we can sit down in this sacred space I am creating in my mind and recognize our thoughts in each other and identify the common mentality that binds us to one another on a global basis. You look at me and think, “Loser,” because I am choosing to work at a menial job I am good at while I nurture a dream I have to connect with a whole roomful of people using a script or the written word as a vehicle. I must seem silly to you to harbor such fantastic delusions of grandeur while I scrape the wet grass from the underside of my mower because you watered before I arrived and let your grass get too high before calling me to come shred the tops off your lawn and make it look brown and sick. I am unworthy of your time because I appear to you to be less than what you would expect from someone who can speak and write English as if I were a college graduate, as if the graduates from your institutions of higher learning will ever be able to write or spell like I can. I was born with this freakishly precocious diction and suffered many ass-whippings in the old neighborhoods I grew up in because of it. Yes, it might be going to waste while I tell you about the finer points of lawn care and maintenance, but at least I am not using my gifts to decimate and devalue the lives crowded into a pseudo-city and made into clichés with fleschette bombs and white phosphorus, as your more promising college graduates do. At least I know better than to see the heads of Palestinian children in every blade of grass I sever from its root, or regard every crawling insect or worm that inhabits one of my lawns as a signal that I need to spray insecticide over an entire yard. At least I have the sense to realize that the same causes and effects that require me to intervene in a lawn gone wrong are identical to the causes and effects that make my own yard problematic. At least I know what the word, “conservative,” means, and when a “radical” intervention is indicated. I know lawn care, I’ve done yard work my entire life, and I know better than to treat every brown spot in a yard as a case of lawn moths requiring insecticide, rather than as a neighbor’s dog who got out over the weekend and had his way with the neighborhood. A lawn is a system and systems always reflect the thinking and the behavior of those responsible for bringing them into being. If I can’t make reasonable sense out of what you expect from a lawn care professional in the first ten seconds of conversing with you, I am not going to be able to save your lawn from your own ignorance and stupidity. I have walked away from business like that out of sheer reflex because I know I am tossing pearls down a privy. Maybe that makes me xenophobic or maybe that makes me a Jew, but I haven’t missed a rent payment in a long time and I haven’t had the police called on me because my client felt cheated by my work ethic or felt I was being, “unfair.”
So what does lawn care have to do with Gaza, especially now that we all know there isn’t a blade of grass left in Gaza worth sacrificing potable water for?
Point one. Only people with money are going to be able to afford to sustain and maintain a lawn in the heat of Central Texas. I am not going to find much business for myself in a poor neighborhood. Likewise, people treat their religions like they treat their lawns. People who don’t give a shit about their lawns generally do not go to church, mosque or synagogue, nor do they give a damn about what anyone else thinks about their status as the neighborhood iconoclast. If I want to find the “sweet spot” for a lawn care business, I need to find people with the right mixture of devotion and money to make my talents profitable for my efforts. If having a shitty lawn happens to be your religion, good luck getting your holy scriptures published and available to a wider audience. While your devotion might be admirable, it is not a good fit with mine. Vaya con dios.
Point one-aye. The Holy Scriptures everyone seems willing to lose their minds and their lives over could only have been written, printed and sustained by a system of wealth and power that crosses many multiples of human generations. That means that what is written in those scriptures was deemed as “not offensive” to their publishers and when it might be seen as such, was rapidly edited and a new edition published. In the case of multiple editions deemed to be offensive, the errant editions were categorized and subsequently burned from public memory. People have always heard what rich people wanted them to hear. Loudly. So while you might be fixated with using your chemical fertilizers and insecticides, there is a pretty good chance you are doing so because some rich guy told you to do so, or he told someone you trust to do so, and, voila, you’re doing it based on authority. I’ve had to rescue plenty of lawns burned with chemical fertilizers, so I know that authority is about making a “prophet” into a profit, not necessarily doing the right thing.
Point one-bee. Not everyone has a god, but everyone has a story that they treat like their god. If you want people to believe your story, you better find a way of understanding your story, their story and a story with a happy ending that you can all blend together in that satisfies everyone’s need to have a good story to tell and one worth living for. If you cannot master this very fundamental art of community building, plan on spending a great deal of time, energy and resources keeping everyone else from erasing your story from the slate of acceptable storylines. A storyline that informs me that you want to have a lawn that is the envy of your neighborhood but requires no devotion or commitment from you is not an acceptable storyline, from my perspective as a lawn care professional. That won’t stop you from trying to tell everyone about your storyline, especially if you have a lot of disposable income to spare. While doing the impossible with nothing sounds appealing to the ears of sleepwalkers, in practice it is a waste of time and energy. Everything is already Nothing, so expecting something for nothing is nothing new but it is a request for a static separateness that will be satisfied, if the desire in your heart is to be empty and alone. The purpose of anything in Nothing is to communicate to you how very fucking alone you really are as you delusionally whirl on a speck of dust, flying safely away from anywhere you might cause greater harm. Once you get the depth and scope of the abyss, the appearance of a helping hand on the horizon is accorded its proper value. Communication received. So if I ask you to do a few minimal chores in between my appearances to mow your yard, I am not suggesting that you should light it on fire, blow it up, mine it with explosives, or tear it up and put in Astroturf. You can do any of these things, if you wish, because Everything is Nothing. But you can also expect to feel the value of Nothing in great depth within yourself for all your trouble. You have been warned countless times and in many ways about the meanings you assign to particular things at particular times. Accept responsibility for your own crappy choices and make your problem solvable; blame me and repeat the same error with a less forgiving lawn maintenance professional.
Point two. Christian Dominionists and Jews were strange bedfellows from the beginning. But there was a beginning and that beginning came from a particular interpretation of an ending – an ending and an interpretation that began and ended with the rich folks mentioned in Point one. If I were to go corporate and start swallowing up all the lawn care business in Killeen, at some point, I would need to ensure that everyone was always going to have a lawn, that they were always going to be able to keep their lawn alive and that there were always going to be plenty of bad examples of lawn care around town from which I could contrast my service results against. Likewise, if I know my authority is based in a happy ending to a story we all fit into, I need to make sure that we all have the means to survive our stories and our shared happy ending, but I will still need to provide for plenty of bad examples to keep everyone focused on moving in the same general direction. That is what war is for. War is nothing more than a bad example of humans failing to get along with other humans. With enough war, we drive people to peace. But if I try to turn a profit from your bad example, I lose control of my ability to release either you, or myself, from my need for bad examples. In so doing, I become a bad example. Fixation with bad examples is illness and this illness results in death. There is no exception. So I let others better suited to the task try to corporatize what they do not, and cannot, own until they learn that they did not create life, nor can they wish for anything more without automatically asking for an end to their own existence. I love lawn care. I despise paperwork.
Point two-aye. The entire state of Israel began as an apostasy that no practicing Jew would want or would have tolerated during the 19th century CE. This did not stop Christian Dominionists from wanting the ending foretold in their scriptures, nor did it stop a certain type of educated Jew from wanting to beat certain types of Christians to death with their own ignorance. Enter World Wars I and II. World War I decimated the Ottoman Empire, making possible the transformation of all those 19th century Jewish colonies, and later, kibbutzim, in Palestine into a Jewish homeland while also gaining control of the oilfields of Basra. World War II was about killing off all internal Jewish opposition to the establishment of a Jewish homeland followed by the restoration of the British Empire to its former glory. In a very real sense, World Wars I and II were about mowing the lawn in Europe and Palestine, at the expense of the mostly Muslim Turks. The Crusades might have ended with Saladin running a victory lap all over Eastern Europe and North Africa, but no blue-eyed Caucasian is going to allow a dark-skinned mud-person living in a tent have the final word in any argument. Being crazy is an important survival skill bred into the genetic makeup of the Caucasian race. Ask any black African from which all of us once came and they will make plain that white people are crazy and they aren’t kidding. It appears that albinism took more than melanin from our skin: it took away a piece of our ability to be humane.
Point two-bee. While the rich publishers of our fine scriptures are busily trying to assure us that, in the end, the Jews will agree with everyone and all will be well, the Israelis are also busily trying to arrange for Muslims and Christians to kill each other over false pretenses while defending their ability to maintain their status in Palestine. That means the order of the day is convincing the rest of the world that they need to “globalize” their economies while Israel busily arms itself in preparation for the inevitable resource wars that will come when there are too many Muslims and too many Christians left to maintain a healthy biosphere, at which time the Israelis will, as they have done in Gaza, mow the fucking lawn and leave us all bereft of a place to live in or a window to throw it out of.
Zionism – whether it is Judaic, Christian, Muslim, Confucian, Shinto or agnostic – is the endless search for perfection in a place where perfection has no utility. There are no Edens, there are no utopias, there is only a choice between the deepest, darkest emptiness our heart’s can stand, and the hand of a brother in arms. We might feel abandoned by our churches, synagogues, mosques, families or neighbors, but we have not been abandoned by that which created us. Life knows itself.
It is high-time we got to know ourselves.