Everyone in the neighborhood loves Bill. The guy’s a retired fire-fighter out of California, a Vietnam vet, marathoner and all around big-hearted guy. He’s retired now, migrated back to Utah with religion in his heart and wanting to live among Zion’s Saints. Closer to the source some would say. The pure spigot of God’s light emanating from Salt Lake City. Bill’s a believer. A family moves into or out of the neighborhood and Bill’s there before the moving truck. His wood-shop buzzes with projects for family members and friends. Maybe his fire fighting roots are at work in the cabinets and his life. In order to become something better, a piece of furniture is first a tree that needs to be saved from the fiery furnace.
But all that isn’t Bill’s most endearing trait. His version of rightness is. Bill stands at the pulpit and lets it rip. The one true and living church or scolding the local blabbermouth all comes out unfiltered, proclaimed as Bill’s brand of truth.
A few years ago, I went to help my wife with Girls Camp, where Bill taught a class on safety. He sat like an old chief on a stump with a semicircle of girls sitting Indian style paying close attention.
“You know what the difference between this ax and an atomic bomb is?” Bill asked while shaking the axe in his clinched fist.
The girls all leaned back a few inches.
“Absolutely nothing!” he concluded with enough volume to pierce through ear-buds and a cranked I-pod.
I wanted to stay and see how he’d connect the dots, but couldn’t. I regret it. Whatever I was in such a hurry for could’ve waited. But what I’m left with is almost as magical. Bill was right, because he held the axe.
So here we are in the middle of another election cycle, with people proclaiming their versions of truth. They yell at each other, laugh at each other, write about each other, and tweet about each other. They claim otherwise, but at the end of the day they all spend more time nit-picking their opponent than laying out a coherent plan. If proving the other side’s wrong makes you right, they all have it cornered. Specifics are only offered as fodder for the minions. “Buoying up the base” they call it. Red meat offered with all the subtlety of an axe wielding retired fire-fighter.
Which brings me to a recent “Billism.”
We were headed with two other friends to a football game in Provo. The plan was to meet some people in a parking lot north of the stadium for some tailgating. Tom sat beside Bill in the backseat of my truck, communicating with friends via cell-phone about where to meet.
“That phone got GPS on it?” Bill asked Tom.
“Ya know I can find any fire in the world with the stars a map and a compass.” Bill said.
Doesn’t the smoke plume mark the spot? I wanted to ask.
Everyone was quiet because we knew Bill wasn’t finished. Bill is never finished.
“GPS on phones!” he grumbled. “That all started when they allowed women to vote!”
I disagreed. But I wasn’t about to argue. In his mind Bill was right and I know him well enough to know that he’s not persuadable. It made me think about versions of truth proclaimed with the precursor, “It all started when.”
An ecclesiastical leader convinced me once that profanity all started when Rhett Butler told Scarlett Ohara, “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn!”
It made sense at the time. The first swear word in a movie. The audience gasped, but did it really lead to the F-bomb being used as all seven parts of speech? Maybe.
Another neighbor is sure that the beginning of the end started with Sunday beer sales at our local convenience store. Our predominantly Mormon county had been dry on the Sabbath until a few years ago. Then Maverick came to town. Sunday alcohol sales were forbidden by ordinance in every other community. But our town apparently had never thought about it. When Maverick opened they sold more beer that first Sunday than they had all week. Word spread and soon other stores petitioned their communities claiming unfair advantage. Like dominoes the local leaders re-wrote ordinances. Today there isn’t a place in our county you can’t go get a six pack to enjoy with Sunday dinner.
Many locals point to this as the beginning of the slippery slope, but the parking lot’s still full at church. Others call it progress. Democrats and Republicans, beer drinkers and non, they’re all right. Just ask them.
Bill’s antithesis is a close friend named Ron, who told me one day, while skiing with our families.
“The older I get, the more sure I am I don’t know anything.”
I still smile thinking about his smile as our children slid down the slope. Ron is hardly un-opinionated. He knows more about many subjects than anyone on the planet, but unlike Bill, doesn’t proclaim them unless you ask. Even when pushed I can tell Ron just doesn’t give a rat’s ass if I agree. The delivery is key. Ron’s lack of bluster and in my face axe wielding aggression invite me to listen. I don’t think point for point that Ron or Bill is more right or wrong any more than Republicans or Democrats are more right or wrong.
So what does it all mean coming from a middle aged writer?
Only this. People fascinate me. How they profess their beliefs fascinates me. And how they wield or don’t wield their ax matters.