Circumvention

Customer: “Hello. I have a question for you.”

Me: “Sure. How can I help?”

Customer: [gesturing at his partner] “I want you to fit him for-”

Partner: “No.”

Customer: “I want you to fi-”

Partner: “No.”

Customer: “I want yo-”

Partner: “NONONONONONO.”

[He makes a break for it.]

Customer: “COME BACK HERE.”

[He slinks back in.]

Customer: “I want you to fit him for a cock ring.”

Partner: [shakes head furiously]

Me: “I mean, it seems like the question’s been answered for you…”

[Undeterred, he starts rifling through the leather rings.]

Partner: “Aaargh! I already have one of those, Marvin.

Customer: [dejectedly] “… Oh. Okay, then.”

At which point they left, and I was thankful. Because I have a master’s degree in reading between the lines, and what ol’ Marv was really saying was, “I want to watch you touch my husband’s junk against his will.” And that is far above the realm of my pay grade.

Screaming Jackalope (of the North Zulch Jackalopes), Part the Third

[Late to the party? No worries! Here are Parts One and Two.]

In lieu of an effusive, “I never was the same again after that summer” capstone post, here’s my list of dos and don’ts, along with some things I wish I’d known before I went on a New Warrior retreat.

It’s legitimately not a cult. I was flipping through the registration packet a few days before training began and found a passage that read, “Your sleep may be less than usual but adequate. … Your weekend diet will be restricted and may be lighter than usual [.]” And, as you may have already guessed, I went all, “Mother of fuck, these are brainwashing techniques.” The thing I had to remember, though, is that cults are usually pretty tight-lipped about using brainwashing techniques in the first place — it’s what makes them so good at being cults. So the very fact that the New Warriors were like, “Hey, just FYI,” ahead of time moves them right out of that camp.

And also, they, y’know, let us leave. There was a debriefing once the retreat was officially over, and I assumed this was when we were going to get the Amway pitch, but instead, the staffers were like, “There are groups in Houston and Austin if you’d like to continue on this path, but if not, no biggie. We’re glad you came! Exit’s thataway. Mind the gap.”

Read the entire packet. I reread the packet once I got back to Houston, and I was more than a little chagrined to discover that all of the things I’d lost my shit over were covered in the material. Read critically, people: This is my message to you. One-eyed Falcon signed up for the weekend on a whim and did not read the packet at all. He’s also diabetic, so there was a bit of a kerfuffle when the staff realized that all of the forbidden snacks he had on him were medically necessary. (The staff did not make him turn in his snacks, but they were also like, “It would’ve been best if you’d mentioned the diabetes before now, on account of we’re not huge fans of negligent homicide charges.”)

Eat a hearty meal before you arrive on Friday. When the New Warriors say, “Your weekend diet will be restricted,” they are not fucking around. At the same time, nobody starved — in fact, here’s a conversation between myself and my cabinmates on the subject.

Fearless Mongoose: “I can’t believe how little they’re feeding us.”

Fast Cat: “Why won’t they give us actual meals? And why do they keep telling us the food is ‘adequate’?”

Me: “It’s because they’re trying to brainwash us. Don’t let them into your heads.”

Falcon: “Hey, guys? I’ve got all these snacks, if anyone needs something…”

Fearless Mongoose, Fast Cat, and Me: “Hmm? Oh, no, thanks. We’re not hungry.”

Show up on time. According to the packet, attendees should arrive on Friday evening between 5:30 and 6:00 p.m. Don’t show up early, and emphatically don’t show up late, unless you get a terribly sexy thrill out of spotlights and teachable moments. Just trust me on this one.

You won’t have to do anything you don’t want to do. There was one last ceremony on Sunday afternoon, and while everyone else was pretty eager about it, I was not having it: I was exhausted, my spoons were depleted, and I just needed to be still and quiet for awhile. I steeled myself for a battle of wills as the other men filed into the ritual space, ready to argue my way to freedom, and then I saw Prowling Wolf off to the side with one of the staff members. His back had been acting up, and when I went over to check on him, the staffer was like, “Oh, are you not participating either? No prob. Why don’t you sit by the door, though, so you can still hear what’s going on.” And he brought me a chair.

I did worry that I’d feel left out after the ceremony was finished, or that the other guys would judge me for not going through it with them. But once it was over, everyone was like, “Welp, that sure happened. Where’s Jackalope? Oh, hey! There you are. Come hang out with us.”

To sum up, everything about the weekend is voluntary, and no one is going to care if you need to sit something out. Your safety and well-being will be a priority to the people running the show.

Parking will be limited, but drive yourself if you can. One of the participants made it about halfway through the intake process before going, “Nope, not for me,” turning around, and going home. Which was fine, really: No harm, no foul… except he’d driven two other guys, who were less than amused to learn they’d been abandoned. The staff found rides for them, but if you’re able, definitely bring your own vehicle.

Let your friends and family know where you’ll be, and that you will probably not be in touch until Sunday afternoon. Prowling Wolf had a moment of panic himself when he realized that he needed to call his probation officer but didn’t have his phone. Everything worked out, but if you do go on a trip like this, seriously, tell someone. I sent five different friends the address and contact info of the property where we were staying, along with the emergency phone number provided in the packet. Granted, I also thought they were going to have to send in a SWAT team and a hostage negotiator to come save me, but a little preventative measure goes a long way in any case.

Don’t try to impress anyone. Throughout the weekend, one of the staff men kept saying, “You could resist… but that’s not why you came.” And in reply, I was like, “VIVA LA RESISTÁNCE.” A big chunk of my stubbornness was, of course, brought on by the constant stream of panic attacks, but my response to all the anxiety was to prove to the staff that they couldn’t break me. This would’ve been pretty darn effective if they’d actually been trying to break me, but seeing as how they weren’t… yeah, it just kind of fell flat. They totally indulged me, though, so that was neighborly of them.

I saw some crocodile tears here and there during the various processes, and while the staff didn’t call anyone out on it, it quickly became obvious when someone was trying to do something “correctly” instead of honestly. Just be yourself — even if you’re like I was at the beginning of the weekend, and your truth is, “I’ve made a horrible, horrible mistake and don’t want to be here.”

Any time you can say “fuck it” and just let go, do it. I promise you’ll have a lot more fun that way. As my friend Courageous Hummingbird said about one of the clothing-optional labors, “It was a lot more uncomfortable to be the only guy wearing clothes than it would’ve been to be the only guy naked.”

So, with all of that neatly wrapped and topped with a fetching bow… am I going to stick with the New Warriors? The reality is, I do not know. I didn’t get as much out of the weekend overall as some of the other guys did, but I’ve also got the Minoan Brotherhood and the Misfits and my IML class — more brothers than I deserve or know what to do with. I’m not sure if there’s room for 30 more, or if I could even be the kind of brother they need in their lives.

Adequate food for thought, that.

The talisman I received at the end of the training is currently hanging from a stang in my living room. Maybe, at some point in the near or distant future, I’ll put it back on and return to the Land of My Grandfathers, but for the time being, I’m happy to set Screaming Jackalope aside and be Thomas and/or Thumper again. And maybe those identities will eventually integrate, or maybe they’ll remain in their own separate cages, but either way, there is one thing I know for certain:

I never was the same again after that summer.

Screaming Jackalope (of the North Zulch Jackalopes), Part the Second

[Click here for Part One.]

Shortly after arriving, participants were divided into teams and assigned (surprisingly comfortable) cabins. I don’t know if the staff just did their homework or ran background checks or drugged us and made us take Myers-Briggs tests while we were blacked out or what, but the members of the individual teams got along eerily well, which I honestly did not expect. Everyone on my team was sober, for example, and even during the more stressful group activities, we were able to get shit done without disagreements or tension. So that was pretty cool.

There were a few spontaneous dance parties throughout the weekend, and while part of me wanted to join in, most of me was still coming down from Friday night’s panic attacks. Plus, as a general rule, I don’t dance when people can actually see me. However, whenever I found myself stuck in that mindset, I’d look over and see my teammates — Fast Cat, Fearless Mongoose, Flying Black Dog, One-eyed Falcon, Patient Fox, Prowling Wolf, and Young Buck — huddled against a wall in a tight-knit group, muttering to each other and glaring at the men who were throwing themselves into the music.

As it turns out, it’s really hard to isolate when there’s a pack of interesting introverts to go isolate with.

Emotional check-ins are a big part of New Warrior training, so teams sometimes served as facilitated process groups. My first check-in was something along the lines of “I am feeling ANGRY and VICTIMIZED, and I don’t want to PARTICIPATE or CONNECT or TALK ABOUT IT.” And what threw me off was… nobody tried to make me talk about it. I mean, a couple of the staffers kind of touched base with me a few times on Saturday, but it was just, “Hey, doing okay? Okay, good.” For the most part, they left me have my space until I was ready to stop pouting interact with my fellows.

When it was my turn to share during an exercise that evening, I mentioned that I work in a gay bar, and how much it bothers me when straight girls treat the place like a petting zoo. That statement led to the following conversation back in our cabin.

Prowling Wolf: “So hey, why do you spend so much time in gay bars?”

Me: “On account of the homosexuality.”

Prowling Wolf: “…”

Patient Fox: “WELL PLAYED.”

Which is how I became Prowling Wolf’s First Gay Friend™.

Prowling Wolf is currently on probation, and earlier in the day, he’d told me that that the weekend had better not involve any nudity, because “I don’t do that gay shit.” But he also wandered into our cabin when I thought no one was around and caught me with that contraband item (see previous post) and went, “How do you still have that? Did you bribe someone?” So I explained how I’d panicked, and how furious I was with that friend of mine, and he was like, “Huh. Well, I think you should forgive him,” and wandered back out. He didn’t say anything about me being gay after the surprise wore off, but he did spend the next day and a half going, “Have you talked to your friend yet? Go talk to your friend. Your friend needs to know how you feel.”

I will admit that I have not yet talked to my friend. But I will also admit that 24 hours of encouragement from a dude who was initially as enthusiastic about being trapped in the woods as I was — and who could easily throw me through a plate glass window — has dramatically softened my perspective.

I don’t have that many straight male friends, and in the times of my life when I did, I often felt marked as the official fag of the group. So it was an unusual experience to be surrounded by straight men like Prowling Wolf who weren’t like, “Oh, don’t worry: We don’t think of you as gay,” or “We don’t care that you’re gay, just don’t hit on us.” Instead, they saw all of me, and they accepted all of me as an equal part of the “tribe,” without disclaimers or qualification.

Fancy that.

I got a text from Prowling Wolf last night, asking when I’m going to take him to a gay bar. Before I could respond, he sent another text that was like, “Oh! We should definitely take Young Buck with us.” My next New Warrior Adventure is apparently going down much closer to home than the last one.

Screaming Jackalope (of the North Zulch Jackalopes), Part the First

I’d originally settled on Flying Jackalope (which is technically a wolpertinger), but then Black Dog decided to change his name to Flying Black Dog, and I was like, “Well, shit. We’re not even related.” However, I’d also lost my voice after the mass Ululate Your Feelings assembly, and I’d already had like three or four nervous breakdowns by that point, so Screaming was ultimately the more appropriate descriptor for my Jackalopiness.

Long story short, I survived my New Warrior weekend.

Participants signed confidentiality agreements before the weekend began, and even though something happened early on that, as far as I’m concerned, rendered the contract null and void (more on this in a second), I’m going to (mostly) adhere to it, for a couple of reasons:

  • The weekend itself was initiatory, and as such, I don’t want to create expectations or provide spoilers for anyone reading this who might be interested in attending a New Warrior event in the future.
  • The other guys with whom I went through the process need to be able to tell their own stories. I don’t get to do that for them.

With those bullet points out of the way, I’m going to break with workshopping tradition and start with the negatives.

My biggest concern was what we were and were not allowed to bring to the retreat, since the introductory material I’d received via email was vague on the issue. I’ve got a few possessions — a watch Ben gave me; my prayer beads; a couple of other doodads — that act as touchstones when my panic disorder flares up, and as irrational as it might be, I didn’t want to be deprived of them. A friend of mine had gone through the training and was going to be on staff while I was there, so I called him for clarification, and he told me I wouldn’t be forced to turn over anything I wanted to keep with me. Relief washed over and stayed with me, right up until intake, when one of those items was declared contraband and requisitioned. I freaked out so badly that I basically got sent to the principal’s office, where two very nice staff members tried very gently to convince me to leave said item in their care.

Alas, my hands were neither cold nor dead, and panic was quickly being replaced with rage. Once they realized I’d been lied to, and in the interest of preventing me from kicking over a table and jackaloping off into the night, they told me to hang onto it but keep it out of sight, which I was more than happy to do. Thing is, a big part of New Warrior training is learning to trust other men, and my training started with a betrayal of trust. It took most of the weekend to recover from that, and I missed out on some stuff that could’ve been beneficial, because I kept my walls way the fuck up while everyone else was letting theirs down. Additionally, since one staffer had already been dishonest with me, I saw no reason to trust the rest of them, and I stubbornly refused anything I perceived as attempted indoctrination (all of which turned out to be innocuous).

New Warrior Training draws inspiration from the works of Joseph Campbell, the poetry of Robert Bly (particularly Iron John), Jungian archetypes, and what was consistently referred to as “traditional tribal culture,” the last of which was problematic for me. The Warriors themselves put quite a bit of effort into explaining why what they do is not cultural appropriation, but I’d be curious to know if they know where the imagery and practices they incorporate actually come from. The word aho, for example, used among the New Warriors as a general affirmative, means “hello” in Lakota, “thank you” in Kiowa, and “fishing line” in Hawaiian. The closest to New Warrior usage would come from the Cherokee language, in which aho roughly translates as “amen,” but I kind of wish the Warriors would just make up their own tribal-esque word and run with that, versus romanticizing and repurposing an existing word without documenting where they found it.

Male privilege ran unchecked as well throughout the weekend. The New Warriors (and their parent organization, the ManKind Project) are big on “real” men being able to identify and express their emotions, which is awesome. At the same time, they could’ve thrown in a “Real Men Work Proactively to Dismantle Institutionalized Sexism” Q&A without drifting from their mission statement or taking time away from the guided meditations and group hugs.

I did enjoy the group hugs, though.

Anyway, enough with the bad stuff. Positives and unexpected friendships with ex-cons coming soon.

Passing on the Left Pocket

Customer: “OMYGOD, HANKIES! IT’S THE HANKY CODE!

Me: “… Yes. It is.”

Customer: [waving a navy blue hanky at me] “WHAT DOES THIS ONE MEAN?”

Me: “Navy blue stands for anal sex.”

Customer: “SO WHAT DO I DO WITH IT? WHERE DO I WEAR IT?”

Me: “Well, do you want to fuck or get fucked?”

Customer: “WHAT?![to the other customers in the shop] “DID YOU HEAR WHAT HE JUST SAID TO ME?!”

Me: “…”

Customer: “I CAN’T BELIEVE YOU FUCKING SAID THAT! [squaring his shoulders and dropping his voice two octaves]Do YoU wAnT tO FuCk Or GeT fUcKeD?”

[He switches back to his normal speech and mannerisms.]

Customer: “WHY WOULD YOU ASK ME THAT?! DON’T FUCKING ASK IT LIKE THAT.”

Me: “Okay… are you a top or a bottom?”

Customer: “THANK YOU.”

[Exeunt, with Divers Alarums and Excursions]

There were a couple of thoughts running through my head as he flounced away, but more than anything, I just really appreciated his impersonation of me. He made me so butch, you guys! Shade really is the sincerest form of flattery.

And speaking of Things Manly, I’m heading out to that men’s retreat this afternoon. My sponsor (who’s attended several of these things) has assured me that it’ll be a rewarding experience, but my love of horror movies is working against me, and choice scenes from Sleepaway Camp and Borderland keep flashing before my eyes.

If you don’t hear from me tomorrow or Sunday, I’m probably just out in the woods, communing with nature and having a good time. But if I haven’t posted by Monday night, either here or on Twitter, assume I’m about to be sacrificed to the Old Ones and contact the Texas Rangers immediately.

The Texas Ranger Division of the Department of Public Safety, that is. Not the baseball team.

Actually, send either. The baseball players will have blunt weapons and decent aim.

The Human Chandelier. It’s like the Human Centipede, except classier.

[A customer enters with a conservatively dressed, older woman. I quickly realize that she’s his mother, and that he’s brought her into the shop for the sole purpose of shocking and appalling her.]

Mother: [pointing at a pair of handcuffs] “Are those handcuffs? Real handcuffs?”

Customer: “Yes, they are.”

Mother: *gasp* “Like the police have?!”

Customer: [chuckling]

Mother: “You know, my friend Jeannette’s son is into swinging.”

Customer: [suddenly speechless]

Mother: “He and a friend get together and swing from the ceiling.”

Customer: “You mean… suspension?”

Mother: “Yes! Suspension. They ‘suspend’ from rings. He’s got tattoos all over, too. Including his face. I don’t know how he’ll ever get a job, but I’m not gonna judge him.”

I’m normally not real patient with tourists, but in this case, I hope he brings her back. Primarily because she seems like my kind of people, but also because I need her to tell Jeannette’s son that I’m totally willing to give him my Friday night shifts.