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Cult Story

In case you are wondering, I am a pitiful excuse for a man. 

I shave, a lot.  I dress like the guys in Banana Republic catalogs.  I conture my body hair so that I appear more lean when I go to the beach.  I use medicated shampoo so that my hair follicles are healthy, and I grow rich, full hair.  I take three multi-vitamins, I get manicures and pedicures, and if you are wondering…yes, I drink low fat lattes.  I am a member of an art critics group that meets once a week to discuss the hot trends of theater on the Manhattan scene.  I go to wine tastings regularly, I hold my pinkie out when I drink my tea, and I always iron my clothes with starch.  HEAVY starch.  My suits have to be dry-cleaned after each wear…if not, I’ll freak out.  Oh, and I carry little bottles of hand sanitizer and mouthwash in my manpurse, because I never know when I’ll run into the next super-virus, or when my breath will need to leave a favorable first impression.

As you can see, the words “high” and “maintenance” could be used to describe my lifestyle.  What a shame. 


So, I am looking for change.  Not the kind of change that would make me better looking, or more successful.  The kind of change that would radically transform this flimsy, frail, pathetic degenerate that roams the sidewalks of your streets. 



The sign reads: “Older than Old School.  Come join us Mondays at the Cave.”  So, I go visit.  Its sounds intriguing enough.  I located this sign in a bathroom stall at the Quik-E-Mart on 8th street.  Not exactly the best place to pick up information for a life-changing experience.  I didn’t think much of it until I saw the same sign, in a subway station alley, near my apartment.  I was initially bothered by the sign…not so much because of what it said, but where it was placed…it completely threw off the fung shwei of the entire subway.  You see, this is exactly why I need to change.  A tiny poster on a subway wall.  Yeah, this is a cry for help.


Turns out the CAVE is a well lit, damp and humid rock-climbing gym 10 minutes outside the city.  It is a literal cave.  Not real rocks and boulders and stuff, but a cave used by climbing enthusiasts to traverse and build up stamina for future treks on some random mountain.  Immediately, I don’t fit in.  These guys, for the most part, smell about as good as Brittney Spears after a two hour lip sync show.  They all have facial hair, copious amounts of it…again, like Brittney Spears.  Ok, I am kidding about that.  The look very unrefined.  Crass.  Like the cavemen on those car insurance commercials, minus the preppy clothing and smug one liners.  However, they do seem more classy than those commercial talking dolls, so that is a plus.  I got there too late to meet anyone before the group starts, so I listen eagerly to what the leader has to say, all the while being surrounded by guys who appear to be ready to teach me a thing or two about being a man.


Skip ahead to the woods.  I’m talking country.  Like, Colorado.  Its winter, so its not exactly warm and fuzzy feelings.  I am looking for wood, brush, branches, pine needles.  I am outfitting my new lodgings.  Maybe I can find some random piece of plastic trash so I can see my new look.  Kind of like a mirror for a bathroom.  But just like democracy, my search comes up empty.  Its weird to have that feeling—to groom myself—prim and proper by cuticles and wax my chest—because that stuff doesn’t matter out here.  Its survival—and a bear will eat you either way, chest hair or not.


My only weapon is a bow and arrow.  Three arrows to be exact.  Better make em’ count my “counselor” told me.  Lose them, or waste them on target practice, and you may dull them to the point that they won’t puncture the bear’s hide.  Great I thought.  Just what I need—conditional arrows.  Isn’t this what I am trying to get away from?


So the guy tells me—hang out in the woods for a while.  Build an all natural structure.  Your new home.  Go fish with your bare hands.  And oh yeah, look out for the bears—they can be frisky during the winter months.  I’m thinking cranky, but does it really matter. Am I tough enough for this, or should I bring along some of my pepper spray to stun the bear in the course of an attack—he looks at me and goes, you should be thinking salt block, not pepper spray.  A block might render the bear unconscious.  Good luck.


It takes me three days to grab my first fish.  It takes me roughly 12 hours to build my house—or my lean-to according to the boys in the group.  I have heard some random growls from off in the distance, but for the most part, I’m actually enjoying my moment of Neanderthal.  The stubble on my face—I haven’t felt that since…well, never.  Clean shaved to the grave is what I always said.  My nails have 17 shades of nasty dug underneath them, natures manicure.   By now I am used to being alone and listening.  I can actually hear myself think. Pondering why I have driven myself to such nonsense things.  For a second, I am proud of reinventing myself.  But then it hits me…I am destroying the façade I build for myself in the first place.  Square one.  Reinvention, nope.  Maybe, rebirth.


I’m sleeping.  I wake to a footsteps, branches breaking like a mallet crushing tablets in a crucible.  This is my little trap I set for the bear…you know, I have to have a home protection system—in case of intruders.  I grab the bow and arrow, and this it it.  Kill the bear, and I am in.  Be killed by the bear, and I’m…well, I guess I could be reborn all over again, if that reincarnation story is true.  But I don’t want to find out.


I grasp the bow, but to no use.  The bear is charging me and I take the plunge.  I slam to the ground like my precious belongings in my apartment that are getting the CAVE treatment by the guys in the club.  If I only had my paprika basalmic vinegar to splash in this bear’s eyes—that would do the trick. 


I am still clutching one arrow, and with one final charge before I am this bear’s last supper, I thrust the arrow into his chest.  He staggers to the ground, almost wanting to retreat, but he doesn’t want to run away…not from a fight, that would be weak.  And you must be strong in nature.  He sits, places hit torso on the ground, in a muslim-like praying posture and goes to sleep.  The permanent kind.  And its in my greatest moment of satisfaction, my sense of accomplishment, my rebirth, that an arrow comes tearing through the flesh of my lower left leg. 


The leader of the Cave stands over me, like I am his trophy hunt fully realized, and says, welcome to the club. 


The obvious question here is—did I survive? However, the more critical question here is—do I need to moisturize my leg to help heal my leg wound?


About R. Ward

A husband, father, teacher, and struggling man of God.

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