I met up with some friends tonight for dinner and an autograph/Q&A session with Olympic marathoner Brian Sell at one of the local running stores. This was the first of what I hope and can only assume will be many "dinner and an Olympian" events I will be able to attend in my lifetime.
The meeting session with Brian Sell was pretty much awesome. Not only is it cool to get to meet and talk to such a successful runner and national treasure, it's also kind of fun to watch them shuffle around uncomfortably in front of a crowd of admirers who all murmer and whisper to each other every time he scratches his face or takes a drink of water. "See, Brian Sell is so REAL. He's not like all those other pretentious Olympians whose faces don't itch." It also seems like nobody at these things ever really asks questions they want to know the answer to, they only ask questions they think will make them sound cool, like "Have you ever had a problem with being way faster than everyone you know, and if so how did you handle it?" or "Can you give me some advice on what to do with all the finish line tape and first place medals that are starting to pile up around my house?" What a bunch of douche-waters. If you don't have anything legitimate to ask, for chrissakes please just stand there and grin awkwardly like the rest of us.
Anyway, after the Brian Sell thing four of us went down the street to a little hole-in-the-wall Italian restaurant called Campisi's. I had never been there before and it was totally rad. Campisi's is the type of place with great food, low ceilings, about 3,000 square feet of autographed celebrity photos on the walls, and all the mafia-connection rumors you'd care to ignore while nodding politely (I mean really, the Dallas mafia? Come on). If you ask me, it's not a bad place to drink a Peroni and say "That's-a-spicy-meat-a-balla" over and over until people try to choke you with paper napkins.
To make things interesting, there was a documentary film crew and director there who were in the process of filming a "human interest piece" about none other than our waiter, Captain Smooth-Chair (this was not actually his real name, but as we sat down one of the girls that was with us remarked to him that he was hands down the best ever at the little chair pull out/push in just as a girl is sitting down move). Evidently Captain Smooth Chair is training to be a chef of some sort and is sort of a big deal in an Emeril Lagassi meets Dave Coulier kind of way. Anyway, it was really cool to have two cameras swoop in for a close-up right as I was stuffing my face-hole with garlic bread. Needless to say there were plenty of laughs and we had a good time of it.
In a normal cosmopolitan city - maybe a Chicago or a Portland - the story would probably stop here. Good food, good times, and everyone goes home happy with their autographed Brian Sell Olympic photograph, which will of course seem slightly more gay than they had anticpated as soon as they magnet-slap that son of a gun to the fridge. But Dallas is about as normal as Franzia wine at a SoHo gallery crawl, and it doesn't even offer the luxury of a pour spout. In Dallas, religion is the drink of choice. My atheism goes over here about as well as Bill O-Reilly at a No-Assholes convention.
So naturally about an hour into dinner the conversation starts veering dangerously close to the topic of religion. I tried a few times to guide us all back into the clear as to avoid being forced to fashion a make-shift rope out of left-over spaghetti noodles and choking everyone at the table, but John Wayne himself could not have steered this stagecoach back to safety.
It started with some chatter between the two girls about what one girl's father (who is of course a pastor) would think if she dated someone of a different faith. The girls were in a bit of a disagreement with one of them having a bit of an open mind, and the other convinced that anyone who was not a Christian would be unacceptable on the grounds that they would surely be morally barren. At this point my blood was starting to boil, but I had decided not to throw my hat into this ring unless absolutely neccessary. I instead resorted to distracting myself by repeatedly stabbing my right thigh with my fork underneath the table. I was yanked from my sanctuary of self-inflicted pain, however, when one of girls turned to me and aked, "So what do you think?"
I thought you would never ask
Me: Well, are you saying that an individual's morality is totally dependent on their faith?
Religious Girl (RG): I think the Holy Spirit should guide everyone's life and that's what makes them a good person.
Me: What do you mean by the Holy Spirit?
RG: I mean I just know what's right and wrong because Jesus Christ who is born of a virgin and lives in the clouds and simultaneously hears millions of people's murmerings tells me. And the ten commandments too.
Me: (Ignoring the jesus thing) But one could argue that the ten commandments aren't exactly a good moral guide, what with the first 5 or so only pertaining to ways in which one should honor and appease a jealous god (his words, not mine), and the rest containing references to coveting slaves and such. Yes, there are references to not murdering folks and not stealing crap, but it kinda seems that we might have figured that stuff out on our own.
RG: I just know that the lord is my personal savior (this is an exact quote)
Me: How do you know that? (this is also an exact quote)
And so it went for about 15 minutes or so, getting more and more heated, until we were bailed out by a visit by the documentary producer or something. It was probably for the better, as I'm sure I had already offended everyone at the table several times over with my hedonistic audacity and common sense questions about the cornerstones of their faith. These are the ideas that they structure their entire lives around, but never think to question the legitimacy of. They are, in fact, too scared to even consider these questions. In their defense, the sin of doubt is (conveniently) the one and only unforgivible sin that man can commit according to their bible. I guess the first question that they might want to ask themselves is whether the declaration of such reasonable doubt as unforgivible would really be the action of an all-knowing, all-powerful, ever-present deity.
In my opinion, the dominos begin to fall from here, each one resonating louder than the last until one finally finds him or herself living free of superstition and truly enjoying life for every fleeting, sun-drenched moment that it offers instead of just biding their time until the "next life". But I guess that's just my demons and lack of values talking.