"He Isn't One of Us!"
No, it is not a broken cross.
My cousin, Orestes Wilkinson blew into San Antonio unexpectedly, uncharacteristically abandoning his hidden outpost in the wilds of Northern Georgia to visit for my 45th birthday. We listened to Neil Young and talked about... Satanism. I had the recorder going, and what follows is a description and some transcription of the conversation....
"Some see life as a broken promise,
Some see life as an endless fight.
They think they live in the age of darkness,
They think they live in the age of light.
It's an angry world
and everything's gonna be all right..."
Neil Young, It's an Angry World
Orestes isn't your average hillbilly; neither am I, for that matter, but let's talk about Orestes. He showed up here in a battered buckskin jacket with fringe and a leather cowboy hat, busted up jeans, and the obligatory cowboy boots (I prefer black leather; he likes brown and buys his used from Goodwill). He energetically bounded into the apartment with a lit cigarette which I had to have him turn around and go put out. I quit back in '08 and my wife can't handle smoke; Orestes, on the other hand, has cut back -- to about 2 packs of Pal Malls a day and the occasional Garcia y Vega. I figured we'd be spending the next couple of days hanging out on the porch.
Bounding back into the apartment, Orestes threw a book at me (literally) which I managed to catch before it knocked my glasses off.
"You read that?" he said.
It was a book on The Enlightenment.
"No -- but who told you I'm studying..."
"Happy birthday, you old bastard."
We hugged. May as well.
"Yeah," he muttered. "I read that a few months ago. Something must be in the air. Zeitgeist. Who the hell knows? Got any rum?" Orestes more mumbles than speaks.
Since I got pancreatitis last year (because of heredity and high triglycerides, not alcoholism, if you were wondering), the docs informed me that, among the many things I will no longer be doing , drinking is one of them. So I have plenty of alcohol left over from my wedding -- 2 years ago.
“Sure,” I said.
“Limes and bitters?”
“Yeah -- just throw all that in a big glass with ice.”
Orestes is a drinker. Figuring he hadn’t had anything on the plane, I hurried.
My cousin sat rubbing his dark eyes and scratching at his red-bearded chin as I delivered the goods. Absentmindedly, I rubbed my own bearded chin, the red beard there going grey fast.
“You tired?” I asked.
“Nah. Restless without...”
“...cigarettes. Right. Let’s go out on the porch.”
So we did, settling onto the chairs there. It actually snowed last night in San Antonio -- a half inch, but, my God, it is San Antonio. And it’s been cold, in the 20s every day. Orestes is immune to it: his mountain cabin has holes in the walls big enough to throw cats through and he has to put antifreeze in the toilet in the winter. I think he shot a window out once a few years ago and some plastic tarp has played the role of glass ever since. Me: I’ve grown soft with this indoor living, central heat and air, windows that close tight, short, mild winters. So I had to put on an old leather jacket and gloves to sit there with him, slightly envious of his smoke and drink. I chewed my gum and tried to ignore it.
“So. What’s going on back in Georgia?”
“Same ole same ole. Idiots running everything. Racists running amok. Preachers scaring the natives about sea monsters rising out of the ocean with peace signs burned into their weird heads.”
“What the hell?”
“Oh, you know. You were raised in a crazy backwoods Appalachian church. The Book of Revelation... the Anti-Christ....”
Now, I was raised in such a church and refused to go back at age 12. Orestes, on the other hand, got dragged in once around the age of 5 or 6 by our grandmother and almost burned the building down: he snuck off from Children’s Church and was smoking behind the building (it was a refurbished chicken house); he dropped ashes into a pile of leaves and it caught. A thick, pungent vapor filled the sanctuary -- people began running and jumping the pews, shouting, unsure whether they were being visited by angel or demon.
Orestes never had to go back to church.
“OK,” I said. “But what’s the Anti-Christ got to do with peace symbols, for God’s sake?”
“Damn, boy. Just look on your Internet thingy. Or watch Glenn Beck. If he hasn’t made a connection there, he will any day now. Froot Loop.”
“Nah -- just spare me the research in electronic goofy land.”
“Awright. There’s these fundamentalists who, living in a parallel universe of conspiracy theories, say that the peace sign is the Mark of the Beast. You remember, like ol’ Jack T. Chick used to in his Crusader Comics in the ‘70s.”
“Yeah -- I remember...”
“Well, evidently the Anti-Christ has no taste, among other failings and character flaws, because he evidently is walking to and fro upon the Earth wearing bell bottoms, a giant ‘fro, and a big peace sign medallion. Probably big as a hubcap.”
“Platform sole boots?”
“Big as Elton John playing the Pinball Wizard, man.”
“Go on. I’m listening. Sort of.”
“Well, like old Jack Chick’s comics said, the peace sign is really not a peace sign -- it isn’t the semaphore symbols for “N” and “D” -- ‘Nuclear Disarmament’ -- invented in the ‘50s. No, it’s the broken upside down cross used in super-secret Satanic initiation ceremonies...”
“...Let me guess: That only fundamentalist Christians know anything about.”
“Right. Them and the super-secret cultists. These cultists only seem to talk to fundamentalist Christians about their plans and plots and ceremonies.”
“Well, I’m guessing Jack T. Chick is pretty persuasive. The opportunity for Satan to advertise his cults in Jack’s comics must be too much to pass up.”
“That’s my guess, too. Anyway, not only is the peace sign an upside down cross, it is a pagan rune the Nazi SS used all over everything.”
“Uh... the Nazi SS were peaceniks?”
“Mmm -- the peace sign thing is a ruse. The symbol really means death and hatred of Jesus or something.”
“It’s, uh, supposed to be the same symbol, not just something that accidentally looks similar?”
“The fundamentalists say it’s the same thing. It really means death and pre-Christian pagan hooliganism in which the pagans made a broken cross to say they hated Jesus... before Jesus was born or was ever heard of in Scandinavia...”
“And it -- the symbol -- means Satanism?”
“Anton LaVey had one behind his altar at the Church of Satan... I guess it’s hidden behind that big pentagram with the goat head that’s there in every picture of his church you see. Only the fundamentalists know where LaVey hid it -- he was in close contact and told them. You know the drill.“
“And the symbol also means peace and anti-war stuff to the limp-wristed Hippies?
“But it really also means Communism.”
“How the hell...?
“Don’t ask me. I didn’t figure that one out. I guess because Satan invented that, too.”
By that point, I was actually tempted to smoke again.
We sat in silence for a long while. The cold sun was setting and the wind blew out of the north. At last, Orestes looked over at me.
“Remember when you used to write for the paper and that guy wrote in and shrieked, ‘He is not one of us?’”
“Oh yeah. I remember.”
“I was never more proud of you than that day, cuz.”
“Thanks. Me, too....”
5 February 2011
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