Wednesday, February 9, 2011
The Furnace and the Candle, Pt. 2
I skulked over to the young lady's grassy knoll, sighing with relief upon verifying the absence of a high-powered rifle. I asked her her name, her supposed father's name, and her perspective on the custom as he continued to dither and bicker with the crowd of half-articulate hecklers.
Oh boy did I get a perspective.
Her name was Martha Smock, and she said her father's name was Jed Smock. It was a start, and despite her crossed arms and divided attention, I felt that I had enough of a reporter's rapport to press on with the questioning.
“So, how long has he been visiting campuses like this?”
“Thirty eight years. He's sixty seven, and has been doing it since he got out of college.”
“Oh wow, here exclusively?”
“No, he's been to all fifty states and a bunch of different countries.”
Oh shit. Oh shit.
My mind refused to process what this meant. I accepted these words as just a simple, objective fact. I never gave them a moment's consideration. I just filed that datum away in the 'that's neat' pile and never gave them a second thought until now.
He had been doing this since he was twenty nine years old. He has been traipsing around the globe enthusiastically commenting on the lifestyles of the college-bound for more years of his life than not. For more years than my life, in total. Jed Smock was not just an obscure preacher riding the zeitgeist because he decided that it would be a good time to raise some hell about why we were all going there just for the sake of ego and publicity.
His intermittent outbursts, fumbling anecdotes, and fragmented sermons were eroded not by weakness of spirit, but by time itself. More than any self-righteous heathen who stepped up to compare straw men with him, he fought against the march of ages. Centuries from now, when the bones of our previously extravagant and decadent civilization are being picked over by bemused post-humans, they will find his fossilized skeleton still grumbling and hollering about sodomy and whore mongering.
As I write this, all of my blood is trying desperately to be everywhere but my brain, so that I will not continue to pursue this line of thought.
Fine. I'll move on.
I next asked her where she was from and how long she had been traveling with him. She had lived in Missouri with her family, and grew up with the reality that her father was trotting the globe with the word of God on his lips and an icon of man's salvation in his hands. Until she graduated from high school, she didn't want to tour with him full time.
When I asked her if she agreed with his moral code, her reply was a slurry of disjointed axioms that she relayed to me with the enthusiasm of a septic tank repair man waking up for work. A long time ago these were hard learned life lessons to her, but that time had passed and the content degraded into a loose scaffold pointing in the general directions of right and wrong. Even then, it was apparent she didn't care.
Despite her father's opposition to woman’s suffrage, she still exercised her right to vote. Her mother did to.
With the value dissonance practically on her sleeve at this point, I asked her why she toured with him. She looked away furtively as her body started to tremble.
“I like to do it.”
I watched her frame shiver as she elaborated upon it, but she wasn't so absorbed as to not notice my skepticism.
“It's not like he's forcing me to do this. I chose to.”
“Cold?” I asked.
“Yeah. We're going to Arizona next. It's in the 70's there.”
“I bet that's nice.”
“I hope we go before Wednesday. It's supposed to get down to 40 here.”
We made small talk, which seemed to calm her. When I thought I had enough information, I walked back to the periphery to take in the show at my leisure.