A Salutary Tale by Jack Mienhoff
The rutted dirt road went on for miles before it broke into a clearing. The sun’s last rays of light flashing over the horizon exposed a huge pyramid type structure, from end to end the campground was bathed in its long ominous shadow. Before exiting the car I was instructed not to speak, no one was allowed to talk for the entire session. I was about to say ‘OK’, but wisely nodded my head. None of the staff was present, the groups participants mulled about like grazing farm animals. All were naked, for the most part, except for the standard issue loincloth. As I joined the crowd I was surprised at the lack of organization, I had visions of a drill sergeant barking orders, the men joining ranks marching in unison. In the distance I could hear the rhythmic beating of a drum, its sound simplistic yet mesmerizing. The men were nervous, jittery, herding like buffalo, bracing against a chill wind that blew in from the east. The sun had set, the effects of the cold night air becoming apparent as the men began clutching themselves and hopping in place. The beating of the drum had progressed from a steady thump-thump-thump to a more aggressive rhythm, in the men’s movements you could see an unconscious adherence to the beat. Now the drumming was coming from all directions, as if each drumbeat was in answer to the other. Next, like a sweet fragrance on the chill breeze the crisp clean notes of a saxophone drift in. Soon the convulsive hoping and clutching transformed into dance as the notes to Little Richards Long Tall Sally began to blare. The scene was spectacular as men bebopped around, taking partners, jitterbugging. I looked off in the distance to see Fang backlit by moonlight smiling sagaciously down on us. When the song ended I saw in the night sky the long arc of a flaming arrow, it struck, setting ablaze an enormous ceremonial fire.
The pyramid type structure had stairs running up the center of its four sides, the top flattening out to create an alter on which stood Seth, a microphone in hand.
“Men, the first ritual, called the Boulders of Burden is, if you will, a physical exorcism, the purging of our minds and bodies, setting ourselves free to begin this program without the burdens of the past.”
With that said members of the staff divided us into four groups, each group stationed around the pyramid. The ritual began with a two-gallon hot water and soap enema, which you were instructed to hold. After which a symbolic scrotum was slung about the neck and shoulders. The supple leather saddlebag contained an eighty-pound boulder in each pouch. We were instructed to climb, what was referred to as the steps of life, this was to signified our daily struggle carrying the weight of our manhood and the tremendous pressure we are under.
I understood and embraced the symbolism of the ritual and although the administration of the enema was uncomfortable, and to be honest a little embarrassing, I could see it was intrinsic to the outcome. The physical demands of the climb were enormous. With each step I considered the burden that is placed on my shoulders every day. The demands of making mortgage payments, car payments, putting food on the table and I nearly wept. I could feel my legs strain against the weight, my rectum crown under the pressure. Reaching the top I hunched over in pain my life pressures releasing in gloriously violent torrent. My mind and body still reeling from the experience I saw the knowing smile on Fangs face as he nodded his approval. Some of the men were not as fortunate as I, either dropping their testis on the climb or prematurely purging. This wasn’t a win lose situation, it was a must finish exorcize. As a group we joined ranks encouraging each other, pushing pulling, helping each man reach the summit. I respected this, but I also knew the greater lesson was team building and mentoring.
“Men,” Seth shouted. “You have completed the first assignment and I am proud of you all.” At hearing this some men whooped and cheered, pumping their fists in approval, for others it was an introspective moment as they wept privately in exaltation.
“Each of you has learned from this, some how hard and far you can push yourselves. Others a lesson in humility and camaraderie, but all of you have shed the shackles of restraint.” Seth glared down at us, his voice rising to a throaty scream.
“Years from now as you lay in your beds, is there not one of you that would have died for this chance, this one chance to spit in the face of oppression, this one chance for Freedom?” The roar from the crowd was deafening, each man on his feet hooting his approval.
Seth called out, “The next challenge is called the pit of emotions,” lowering his eyes he gazed upon us like children. “Here you will battle your innermost demons. Literally. Some you may conquer, others you may not but all of you will find out what you are made of.” The crowd went silent as we collectively held our breaths. “But first we must drink, and we must dance.”
Off in the distance the drums picked up, slowly at first, playing off each other, gradually increasing in tempo until wap-wap- wap, came the rim shot. Next a bass guitar kicked in holding a long thrumming cord until Led Zeppelin’s Whole Lotta Loving filled the air. The mood was electric, men cheering dancing around the beer kegs, drinks held high they gyrated, the crowd pulsing to the beat.
I’m more of a cocktail man myself, so I made my way to the bar. I mixed a scotch and soda and stood taking in the scene. I’m not much of a dancer, yet I found myself swaying in place, the spectacle having a hypnotic effect on me.
The music played on into the night, the drinks having a cumulative affect, I was just thinking the men couldn’t keep up this pace when I heard a trombone, its long mellow notes drift in as Lois Armstrong’s, A Kiss to Build a Dream On began playing. The contrast from the heavy beat, the fast and furious sounds from just seconds before caught the men off guard and they stood bewildered yet transfixed by the hypnotic sound of Lois voice. Then one by one they paired up, at first there was an awkwardness, a hesitancy as their arms extended to one another, but soon all were entwined swaying to the music. The moon was up, full and lustrous, illuminating the grounds in its soft golden glow, a fitting accent for the masterfully set mood.
(to be continued…)