The Story of Bon vi Bon November 12th, 2007

It was a particularly beautiful fall weekend in Santa Fe and I took myself for a walk in the mountains. The air was crispy, the autumn colors were stunning, and I found my feet walking the familiar path to visit my old friend Phil Connors up in his cave.

“So glad to see you!” said Phil. “Pull up a rock.”

We talked about this and that – the coming winter, the prospects for snow, the situation in Pakistan, the rising Euro, etc. But there was something gnawing on me about Phil’s adventure in Punxsutawney, so I asked him about it.

“In your own assessment of your time on February 2nd, you went from being, basically, an emotional child to an emotional adult.”
“And then some,” he affirmed.

“But you did it without any formal rituals. I mean, nobody told you how to be a man, or what kind of man to be. Nobody guided you; you didn’t follow anybody’s religious text or tribal tradition. You just grew up.”

“All true,” said Phil. “What’s your question?”

“I was just wondering if you felt you were missing something. Do you think it would have been better or faster or easier if somebody had just told you what to do?”

Phil thought for a moment. “You’re a storyteller,” he said. “Maybe this will help.” And he began to tell me this story, which I’m pretty sure he was making up as he went along:

A boy is born into the village of Bon vi Bon By The Sea. I want to say that it was a beautiful village, peaceful and bountiful. But, in fact, it was a hell hole. I’ve come to believe that a person can find beauty pretty much anywhere he looks, but in Bon vi Bon you had to look really hard.

And peaceful? The village lay in the only pass between the great birthing grounds and the great breeding grounds of a particularly hungry kind of tiger. It was also beneath a giant rat-infested volcano, which erupted in a frequent but entirely unpredictable way. And it was, as we know, by the sea – a tsunami-prone shark-infested sea.

And bountiful? The sharks ate the fish, the lava burned up the crops, and the tigers ate everything else, including what little joy remained.

When the boy came of age, the age where boys become men or don’t, he was kidnapped from his lava-cave and taken to a forest clearing, where all of the men of the village were gathered. “This is a tough village, boys. I tell you, it’s tough. And to live here, you have to be tough. So, here’s what you’re going to do. First, you’re going to slaughter a goat and strap it to your body. Then you’re going to cross the tiger mating grounds while shaking these sacred bells and rattles. When you get to the sea, you must swim across the channel – carrying the sacred squirming piglet – to the island of certain dismemberment. Then it’s just down the waterfall in a leaky canoe, across the river of fire, and Mike’s your uncle. And when you arrive on the beach of Bon vi Bon you will be men. And boys, the first man onto the beach will be the next and future Chief of the Village. And, of course, he will get to marry my ugly daughter Wart-face.”

The men and boys began a chant to bolster their courage. The boys drank from the Pouch of Chieftains Past a secret holy liquid to make them invincible. Each boy was given a knife and a piglet, and when the trumpets sounded they ran off hooting and yipping into the forest to become men.

The elders – the tiger-chewed, shark-munched, lava burned men of Bon vi Bon – began to walk back to their village, when they noticed a boy remaining.

CHIEF: What are you still doing here, boy?
BOY: I’m not going out there.
CHIEF: Are you crazy? You have to.
BOY: Excuse me. You’re asking me if I’m crazy? No. I think I’m the only sane one here.
CHIEF: You’re a coward.
BOY: No argument there. I’m terrified!
CHIEF: Then you must face your terror, or you will never become a man.
BOY: Chief – I’m going to have to disagree with you, there. I mean, I may have to face my fears eventually, but it’s going to be in pursuing a goal that’s of some value to me.
CHIEF: How do you know what’s of value to you? You’re just a boy.
BOY: All true, Chief. I’m a boy, and I’m afraid, and I don’t yet know what’s important to me, and worth risking my life for. I don’t know. At this point, all I understand is fear and survival. Also, I have a great deal of faith in my own sanity, especially since nobody else seems to have exhibited any. Perhaps someday this will prove to have been misguided, but, yeah, I’m going to have to trust myself on this one.
CHIEF’S BROTHER: But why are you afraid, boy? Have you not drunk from the Pouch of the Chieftains Past?
BOY: Yeah. It tasted like coconut juice.
CHIEF’S BROTHER: Coconut juice? Coconut juice? He thinks it tastes like coconut juice! This, boy, is HOLY coconut juice.
BOY: Look, if we’re so invincible why did you give everyone a knife?
CHIEF: We always give everyone a knife.
CHIEF’S BROTHER: It’s tradition.
CHIEF: It makes you super-invincible.
BOY: Gentlemen, I know that everyone doesn’t make it to the beach. In fact, the percentages are quite low.
CHIEF: We did not raise you to be good with numbers, boy. The men of Bon vi Bon are poor at math! But we are brave. We have faced our fears and beaten them. On this strength we can draw for the challenges of life.
BOY: You risk your lives for a village that’s always flooding and burning? Where food is scarce and tigers eat us, except the ones who avoid the village because it’s so ugly? Why don’t we get a new village, maybe over there by Banquet Springs or Orgasm Cove?

The men looked at this boy, this misfit math whiz, and sadly walked back to the village. He had broken the code. He would never know the camaraderie of men. He would live his long, unchewed life without ever growing up. Yes, it was sad.

The boy looked at the men, sadly knowing that, unlike any of them, he would have to chart his own path. This was, in fact, terrifying. He would have to decide for himself what was worth fighting for and what wasn’t, what rituals were worth keeping and which should be abandoned. And someday he may even decide that he needed to complete the Bon vi Bon ritual of certain death. But by making it his own decision, he felt that he had indeed begun on his path to manhood.

Phil stopped talking at this point. The sun was going down. “You’d better get back to town,” he suggested. But I wanted to ask him more questions. “Before the bears come out,” he added.

“See you later,” I answered.


Comment by nick
2008-05-29 22:21:20

dunno if you read this, but that hit me hard.

i want to write something witty here, something equal or better to match what you’ve written. but i can’t. not yet, maybe not ever.

i love movies. have tons. watch them constantly. never bought groundhog day, though. i wouldn’t value it as much as i do now, getting lucky and watching it on tv, waiting through the commercials, because it’s worth more that way.

thanks for the above story. it, matters. and i dunno quite what to do with myself, and i’m petrified of taking the wrong step in the wrong direction, but i’m going to try, try to find my path. and i’ll be taking that step because of you.

i’m going to marry my dog. it’s something i’ve dealt with morally, but have been terrified of going public with. but it feels righter than not. it’s hard to say to hell with society, my parents, to hell with convention and whatever it means to be “normal,” but i can, and i will. i am what i am and i’ll follow my own path. jake loves me, animal or not. and i love him.

thank you mr. rubin. you’ll be in our prayers.

no, kidding about the dog bit. it was just a little too touchy-feely there. the real step i’ll be taking is trying out a little stand-up comedy. probably should refine my “joke about bestiality” instinct. thanks for your story, and thanks for getting your ideas out there. they do more than entertain. they inspire.


Comment by Danny
2008-05-30 07:54:31

Bon vi Bon was really my own story, growing up in a world that felt really crazy to me, ultimately choosing my own path. Most people do this to some degree or another, no?
I’m really happy that anybody out there is actually reading these things, and it’s even better that you found something personal in there for yourself. Yay me, yay you, and yay to some lucky dog out there who gets to benefit from your bold life experiments. Not necessarily an actual dog, but who am I to judge?
Thanks, Nick, and best of luck to you.

— Danny

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