Blue Collar Sweat Lodge
Three months into my stint at Moore Interiors, I had an “up.” An “up” is terminology in the sales world meaning it’s your turn to get the next customer through the door (i.e., you’re “up” in the rotation). Sometimes, if it’s been slow, the other designer and I look at each other and mouth, “My up or yours?” We’ve lost track because it’s been so long between customers and we’ve been engrossed in other things, like Facebook updates and surfing the web for cheesecake recipes.
I heard the familiar ding-ding of the front door indicating someone had entered the showroom. As I walked toward my new customer, a few things became apparent. First, this woman had style. Her round, “Where’s Waldo” tortoise shell glasses were perfect for her long face. Second, she was tall. As in basketball tall. Third, she was no spring chicken. More like an autumn chicken, but she still looked great. She hadn’t locked onto some Marge Simpson hairstyle twenty years out of date; instead, she had a nicely cut bob that spoke of quiet money.
I asked her if she was browsing or “on a mission.” My favorite term. It elevates buying furniture to a whole other level—like landing a spacecraft on Mars.
Turns out, she needed fabric to recover her dining room chairs.
Over the next several weeks I hunted for the perfect fabric for Mary. I scoured books and had swatches mailed in. Each time, she would come and assess the new find. Each time, it fell short so I’d go back to the books.
While I never found the perfect fabric for Mary, I found something better: a kindred spirit. As it turns out, Mary’s husband actually was a basketball player. I don’t know the precise details but after a stint as a professional, he became a Christian speaker and had spoken at Mt. Hermon. What a crazy world, I thought. Unless you’re in that very small subset of people whose idea of a vacation involves seven Sundays in a row, you don’t know about Mt. Hermon. I never mention it when I’m working with someone with California, preferring to say I grew up in Santa Cruz—the Boardwalk usually eliciting a fond smile of recognition. Yet here on Maui I meet somebody who experienced Mt. Hermon first hand.
This is more than two people being able to say they know the same city, Portland, for example. The experiences in Portland vary as widely as the personalities of the people having them. To have experienced Mt. Hermon is akin to being able to say, oh yes, I grew up in the circus. Or, yes, my parents were diplomats and we travelled the globe as small children.
Side note: And this is going to be a long side note. I majored in Sociology in college. (I can see your eyes rolling now. What? I’d kill my daughter if she squandered that kind of money to study something so useless. Rebuttal: it was fascinating.)
Sociology isn’t the study of individuals. That would be psychology, which I guess is okay but nobody behaves in a vacuum. (Unless you’re talking the Internet, which is a world unto itself. I think there might be some severe ramifications resulting from the Internet frontier. People think they’re communicating because they’re transmitting thoughts and ideas to other people but these ideas go out unchecked. There’s no best friend or peer group to stop a wacky train of thought with a well-placed frown. The thinker is allowed to speed down his crazy little highway all the way to the cliff’s edge. Next thing you know, he’s standing there thinking it just might be reasonable to jump.)
Throughout history, there have been a number of brilliant people who have analyzed the behavior of society at large. I can’t remember all the theories right now, but I do remember studying the backgrounds of the people who came up with these theories. We used that information to determine how their particular circumstances influenced what they thought.
So I’m thinking, great. You guys are going to read about my mother dropping me off at the Presbyterian Church and my growing up in Mt. Hermon and make certain determinations about me. (I can’t even guess what you might come up with, but I do know whatever you think will be tainted by your background.)
But the bigger point is this: of course I had all these experiences. They were exactly the things I needed to be exposed to in order to get where I am. It was no coincidence that our next door neighbor happened to hear about the house for rent in Mt. Hermon. It was no accident that our furniture had holes and our house was like something made out of Legos by a kid on a birthday cake high. You can pick out every single feature of a life and wonder how it manipulated the person or you can acknowledge that the reverse is true, as well: the experiences happened in order to help form that person in the best way possible.
Back to Mary. My initial reaction to Mary knowing Mt. Hermon was, “Awesome!” Followed instantaneously by a silent, “Holy crap.” If her husband spoke there, it could mean he was one of “them.” For all the religious things I was exposed to, I never bought into the whole Christian lifestyle. There was a superficiality that bugged me. It became especially evident when I went away to college. Here I was at Whitworth College, a Presbyterian school where spirituality could have been explored in depth, but instead everything seemed so fake. There were Bible studies and a lot of requisite hugging, but it was all plastic. I developed a term for these people: Whitwashed. It was as if somebody had taken a big old paint brush full of watered down spirituality, wiped it across an entire layer of people and called it good.
I felt the same way about the people who ran Mt. Hermon. I knew them on a personal level, as much as a kid knows an adult, that is. The man who headed the whole shebang was not a nice guy. He lived in a great house, though. I envied him that. Compared with our Mr. Potato-head constructed cabin, his was well-thought-out perfection. These kinds of people always manage to be what I call “Normal-plus”: they have what everyone else believes is the picture-perfect existence and then some. But his whole family, comprised of a pretty wife, a son and a daughter, was stand-offish. I remember the daughter being just a year or two older than me, but she might as well have been forty, the gap between us was that wide. The son was between my two brothers in age. If we’d lived somewhere else, he would have worn LaCoste polo shirts and pressed khakis.
I have to defend some of the people who ran Mt. Hermon. Not all of them were full of themselves. Mr. and Mrs. Dosker, for sure. They were fairly high up in the hierarchy yet they treated our family perfectly normal. Like talking to us didn’t require any special care. But the Doskers were rare. In fact, I can’t think of anybody else to defend, so I’ll have to leave it at this couple.
Looking back, I don’t blame the others. They were just people trying to find their way. The slight problem I do have, though, is that they were so cock-sure they were right. Of course, it’s precisely this confidence that got them to their positions of power. Just like motivational speakers. They don’t jump aboard the lecture circuit hoping they have something valuable to pass along. By the time they sign the contract and cash the check, they’re thinking they’ve got their act together and they want to show it off.
When did spirituality get so serious? As if you’ve got to take a year off and spend it in the lotus position somewhere in the hills of India. What if discovering the meaning of your life could be done with a beer in one hand and a box of Cheez-Its in the other?
I Know Nothing is the sequel to Nothing Matters, an offbeat memoir about a woman who, in the space of a few short months, lost her job, her relationship of 15 years and everything else she thought mattered. In a fit of screw-the-Universe retaliation, she moved to Maui where she came to realize all those seemingly disastrous events were actually well-placed stepping stones on a path toward a deeper understanding of the things that truly matter.
I Know Nothing takes place on Maui, but the everyday situations that provoke new insights could take place anywhere.
With her deft wording and singular sense of humor, Denise Wilson shares the experiences that have propelled her just a little further down the cosmic highway.
Are you a spiritual hitchhiker looking for a ride? If you are, grab your backpack and hop in. This book is pulling over for you.
About the Author
Denise Wilson is an award-winning playwright and the author of Nothing Matters. At various times, she’s been a freelance writer, editor, real estate agent, and interior designer. She has two grown children and no pets. She currently lives on the island of Maui but is open to wherever the next strong wind might blow her.