Ah, For a Hot Amish Guy

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I saw a fascinating documentary last night which you might have heard of called The Devil’s Playground. It came out in 2002 – I think on HBO first – and got quite a bit of press which is how I heard about it. [Here’s a shout out to Melody Garren as well. She and I both had read the piece in The New York Times about it … and Melody actually bought a copy of the film through Amazon. We kept saying: “We have to see this movie together!” That was a year ago. Sadly, I have surged forward on my own path. Sorry, Melody!! ]

Somehow, and I have no idea how (I’d like to hear the story behind the story), the filmmakers got the trust of an Amish community, enough to document the teenage transitional time called “rumspringa” – which means, “running around”. Rumspringa starts when an Amish kid is 16, and can last from anywhere to a couple months to a couple of years. The Amish teenagers are allowed to venture out into the world, and see what it is they are missing. Rumspringa is open-ended. The Amish community believes that a person needs to know what exactly it is they are giving up, they believe that being Amish needs to be a matter of making a choice. An educated choice. “Rumspringa” ends when the teenager decides that he or she has had enough wild partying, drinking, sex, and living like “the English”, and will go back, renounce the world, and join the Amish church.

The film-makers follow a group of Amish teenagers through their “rumspringa”.

The image of Amish parties is not one I will soon forget. Not that they’re at all different from “the English’s” parties. It’s just the incongruity of some of the images: Amish girls wearing white bonnets chug-a-lugging Budweiser, for example. Amish boys wearing backwards baseball caps and gold chains and saying into the camera, “Yo, wassup.” These are AMISH KIDS.

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The boys, during their rumspringa, seem to all dress like ghetto rappers. The girls, generally, do not “dress English”.

Through interviews, etc., you get to know these kids. Each one of them has their own journey, their own experience with “rumspringa”. One kid pretty much falls off the deep end, and becomes a drug dealer … although there is a tentative “happy ending” for him. He quits drugs, finds an Amish girlfriend (who is as gorgeous as a super-model, I might add), and starts to think about going back to join the Amish church. His is the scariest story. Other kids just experiment with drugs, they go out with “English” boys or girls, they have sex, your basic teenage rebellion.

The Amish community itself is not treated with disrespect, which is one of the reasons why the movie is so effective. After all, apparently 90% of the Amish teenagers choose to renounce the world after “rumspringa”. Think of that. 90%. There’s one scene of a kid sifting through all his CDs and tapes, before throwing them away – knowing that this is it, in terms of popular music.

There are a couple of beautiful interviews with Amish men and women who went through their own rumspringa, and then made the choice to renounce the world. You love these people. Their simple openness.

One Amish man, with the Abe Lincoln beard and little Ben Franklin glasses, sits on a picnic table with his wife. His barn looms in the background. He is asked by the interviewer, “What do you miss most of all?”

He says without hesitation, “Modern transportation” and then bursts into laughter. He was so open, so kind-looking …

There was one other Amish guy who was working on something in his barn as he was being interviewed. He said something like, “Well … you know, these teenagers go through rumspringa, and they’re allowed to date, and see how they like it … and, well, if you put two teenagers in a room and turn the lights off, you know what’s going to happen. We’re no different from other people in that respect.” With this humorous smile as he did woodworking with handmade tools.

And some of the images …

Like a prim and proper-looking Amish teenage girl, in her bonnet, saying to the camera, “I really miss going to concerts, man. Like Gobsmack and stuff … are they still together? I love them.”

Or an Amish boy in his parents’ living room, showing us the 17 Bibles around the room, proudly – only he’s dressed like he’s from the ghetto.

In a funny way, because the teenage rebellion is condoned – because it’s set up in the society that teenagers will have a time to “run around” – there was very little anger or bitterness in any of these people. There is an understanding that in order to fully renounce the world, you must taste it all first. Otherwise rebellion could pop up later in life, when you feel like you “missed out”.

See it, if you haven’t already. I was enraptured by it.

It reminded me, too, of my time living in Philadelphia, where you have everday contact with Amish people. They’re everywhere. My boyfriend and I would drive out into Pennsylvania Dutch country and go to Amish auctions, which if you haven’t done, and you ever get a chance to … GO. They are unbelievable. And plan to spend the whole day. Even if you don’t buy anything. We used to crash Amish auctions all the time.

The first time we went to one: I ventured into the “female auction”, which was in an enormous barn. The “male auction” was outside, run by men, with all men in attendance. There they sold farm tools, horses, etc. But the “female auction’ was where they sold the quilts. The famous quilts. I sat on the wooden bench, surrounded by Amish women, looking up at quilts so beautiful it took my breath away. There were also obviously people from boutiques around the country in attendance, because these quilts were going for mega-mega bucks.

A young Amish girl, maybe 10 years old, had made her first quilt – a small one, with a very simple stitch. Blue with black stripes, with big hearts stitched into it. It was going for forty dollars, so … trembling … (I’ve never been to an auction before, and I stuck out like a sore thumb … everyone there was Amish, this was their world, not mine … ) I bid on it. And got it! I still have it in my apartment. I love it – this was the first money that this young Amish girl had ever made with her own hands. I don’t know, I thought that was pretty cool.

My boyfriend and I met up later – after he had hung out at the “male auction” and I came back from the “female auction”, and we wandered around together, and finally came across a makeshift volleyball game, being played by a bunch of Amish boys. They were all, oh … in their late teens, early 20s? They had made the ball from a bunch of leather strips, and were all playing like MANIACS. Girls sat along the sidelines watching, giggling. All the guys straw hats were lined up along the outskirts of the playing area. Many of them had that thick thick blonde hair, like a shock of straw … and they all were leaping, jumping, high-fiving … and in between plays, the girls on the sidelines would run out to give them lemonade.

Basically, what I am trying to convey here – is that those Amish boys were HOT. There wasn’t one in the bunch who wasn’t good-looking, and I’m not even talking about normal handsomeness, I’m talking about movie-star HOT. They all looked like Heath Ledger or something. And yet nicer-looking – because they seemed so human, their faces were open, manly. They were babes, let’s face it.

I had come across a group of volleyball-playing Amish babes.

It was such a beautiful vivid scene. I still remember it. The field, the flying leather-strip ball, the calling laughing voices of the Amish guys, the giggles of the watching Amish girls, and the straw hats piled up on the side.

My boyfriend and I drove home with our Amish goods piled up in the back. I said at one point, “God, those Amish guys were hot.”

Which is such an incongruous strange sentence …

“What’s your ideal type?”
“Oh, you know, your basic hot Amish guy.”

This became a joke between us. He and I would get into a fight or whatever, and my boyfriend would mutter, “I know it, you’re gonna leave me for a hot Amish guy, I just know it.”

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37 Responses to Ah, For a Hot Amish Guy

  1. Anne says:

    Are you trying to kill me with this post?

  2. peteb says:

    “Ah, for a hot Amish guy”..

    ..or Kelly McGillis in a bonnet..

    Ermm..did I type that out loud??

  3. red says:

    peteb: See, maybe the Kelly McGillis character didn’t have a rumspringa!! So her rebellion came out later, with obviously dire consequences!

  4. red says:

    Anne –

    Ha! Yes. that was my goal.

  5. Lisa says:

    Who WAS that ballet dancer in Witness? Godu-something? He was hot. Do all the Amish look like him? ‘Cause that would be awesome.

  6. red says:

    Alexander Godunov. Yeah, they all had hair like him. I found the real guys to be hotter, though, than the ones in the movie.

    Of course, we all must remember that Viggo Mortenson was an extra in that movie. You see him in the barn-raising scene.

    The Amish guys all pretty much looked like him. Only more masculine, and freer – Amish guys seem to have very little self-consciousness.

  7. peteb says:

    The obviously dire consequences??

  8. red says:

    Yes. She fell in love with an “English”. And then had to give him up. She was nearly shunned by her community. etc. etc. Her situation seemed pretty dire to me.

  9. red says:

    Anne – have you seen this movie? You have to check it out. Lots and lots of beautiful Amish boys, worrying about whether or not they will get into heaven, etc etc. Going bowling with their “English” girlfriends, etc. etc.

  10. peteb says:

    Damn.. that ending always seemed confused to me.. In any realistic analysis of the plot, he was always going to go back to his city-cop life. It was never a well discussed choice by the characters, though.. that’s certainly true.

  11. red says:

    Confused? I don’t know, it seemed pretty clear to me. They both did what they had to do – he couldn’t have joined her world, she couldn’t have left her world. It was the right thing to do, but still obviously a huge sacrifice.

    Member as John Book drove away – you saw Alexander Gudunov walking down the road, obviously on his way to see Rachel. John Book and Gudunov wave at each other, Gudunov keeps walking – the implication is somehow clear: “Now that Book is gone, the way is open for me.”

    Then you see John Book’s car’s brake-lights go on, and the car slows to a stop – just for a second … John Book waves at Gudunov, and then brakes the car. The car pauses for a moment (it’s a long shot – you can’t see inside the car) – and then slowly starts off down the road again. To me, it says it all. You don’t get a shot of Harrison Ford weeping about the woman he’s letting go of … but you see those brake-lights go on. It’s the moment when he realizes what he has lost.

    Member that moment?

    I’ve seen the movie 30 times, please realize.

  12. peteb says:

    Again with the detail!.. and great detail recollection BTW[30 viewings.. I’m so out of my depth here].. I’d still argue though, that in terms of the overall story, it’s never a realistic option for the characters – because of the lack of communication involved.. in that particular movie they’re infatuated with the image of what the other portrays – rumspringa for Kelly McGilllis or not.

  13. Anne says:

    Clearly I have to check it out.

  14. red says:

    peteb: Realistic? No, it would not be realistic. But love isn’t realistic, I guess. Like that great Nicolas Cage monologue in Moonstruck – something like: “We are put on this earth to fall in love with the wrong person and RUIN OUR LIVES.” hahaha

    I saw the movie as the story of “the great lost loves” of these 2 people’s lives. Like – he’ll never love anyone like he loved her, and vice versa. So when they walk away, you know it’s gonna HURT. But you also get the sense (or at least I did) that she would be happy with Gudunov. I liked the choice of making him sympathetic – he definitely felt competitive with Harrison Ford, but he wasn’t a bad guy. Rachel and the Gudunov guy could make a nice live together.

    I have given this wayyyyyy too much thought.

    Yeah, I own this movie. Not only did i see it about 8 times in the movie theatre, it was one of the first movies I actually bought, and i watch it … I don’t know. ALL THE FECKIN’ TIME? I never get tired of it for some reason.

  15. red says:

    Some of the shots in the documentary this post is about are just so cool:

    6 or 7 little Amish kids jumping up and down on a trampoline.

    A horse and buggy clattering down the street, but inside are a bunch of teenage boys dressed up like hip-hop stars. Amish kids in rumspringa … but they’re in a buggy.

    There’s one woman who did her rumspringa thing, then came back and joined the Amish church, and then went into a depression which put her into the hospital. Eventually, she realized she just couldn’t be Amish, so she left the church. Which means she now is shunned by the community. That’s it. It’s over. But she wants to become a counselor, go to college … She’s in her cute little apartment, with a nice stylish haircut, etc … but she still has all of her Amish clothes in the closet, including what was going to be her wedding dress. Incredible. All black clothes.

  16. peteb says:

    I can totally see that movie as a “story of ‘the great lost loves'”, Sheila.. which is how it was intended. For some reason though – and the portrayal of those various characters may be a source – for me, it’s the implication of that story for the charcters that has always seemed, at least, as interesting to me.

  17. red says:

    peteb:

    You know how some people have memorized every shot of, say, Citizen Kane? Or Star Wars? I have memorized every single shot of Witness. Weird. “Here comes the close-up. Now they zoom in slowly … Here comes a quick cut…” heh.

    That movie just GETS to me.

  18. red says:

    My “rumspringa” occurred between the ages of 24 and 27. I didn’t rebel at all in the teen years. I love the fantasy, though, of being a “rich 60 year old reclusive”. How fabulous.

  19. peteb says:

    Yep.. heh heh.. I’m trying to put David Thomson’s use of the analogy of the way Chinatown developed through the studio system to the back of my mind.. heh

  20. brendan o'malley says:

    dear sheila,

    as your younger and yet oldest brother i must insist that you give props to the one who inspired you and led you to this film…the inimitable melody dawn garren.

    give a shout out to la petite peep and can’t wait to talk to you.

  21. red says:

    Oh Bren … I know!! She and I had promised each other, though, that we would wait to see it together … but, er, that was a year ago?? So I obviously have broken my promise. Sadly.

    I hope she broke the promise too and finally watched her copy.

    Here’s to Melody Garren! She’s the one who turned me on to Amish Kids Gone Wild: The Rumspringa Years!

  22. Emily says:

    Sheila,
    Did you ever watch that “reality” show where they put a bunch of Amish kids in some real-world type scenario and let the cameras roll? I don’t remember what it was called or the public reaction in general, but I remember getting a sense from the adverts for it that it was designed largely to make fun of the kids.

  23. Bernard says:

    Around here, young Amish men going through the period you describe will sometimes get together to drink beer and race buggies down back country roads.

    Also, in keeping with the Witness theme… for what it’s worth, I knew an Amish girl once. Both of us realized it couldn’t go anywhere, but still she might have been disappointed and hurt that I didn’t pursue her. (She once invited me to her home; regretfully, I never went.) The last time we met she introduced me to the young man she intended to marry. After that, she wouldn’t even talk to me. It was as if I no longer existed.

  24. whiskypants says:

    The reality show was called “Amish in the City” and I believe it was shown on UPN last summer. I think it actually did a really good job at showing what asshats the suburban, vegan, club-going housemates were. It wasn’t as bad as it could have been (which says very little, I know).

  25. Just1Beth says:

    Why did we never meet hot,Amish guys during their rumspringa?? Can you just imagine? Good Irish Catholic Girls + Hot Amish Guys + Rumspringa= divine ecstasy!!

  26. red says:

    beth: heh heh heh We could have had some amazing parties with them out in the turf farms.

  27. David says:

    I feel like I have a rumspringa every 3 years which lasts for about two years. But that’s me.

  28. red says:

    David – I love you. hahahaha

    I don’t think I would even recognize you without your periodic rumspringas.

    “How’s David doing?”
    “Oh, you know. Rumspringa again.”
    “Ah. Of course.”

  29. David says:

    HaHaHa. God bless Maria huh?

  30. Amish Country

    Sheila’s post today about the Amish reminded me of an experience I had once while driving through Western Pennsylvania / Eastern Ohio where some Amish live.

  31. mitchell says:

    is there such a thing as Amish porn??? bring it on!

  32. red says:

    Mitchell, please join David and I for our evening of rumspringa tomorrow evening.

  33. dad says:

    Dearest: that should be “David and me…” I’ll report you to Emily. love, dad

  34. Emily says:

    Mr. O’Malley,
    I have filed the appropriate complaints at the Grammar Police headquarters as of this posting. They’ve assured me you will have visiting rights.

  35. red says:

    I am truly sorry for how lame I am. Or perhaps I should say: “how lame me am”??

    I assimilated many grammar rules in my day. But this one, obviously, did not sink in.

    Poor I.

  36. Emily says:

    You’ll have plenty of time to refine your skills while in Personal Pronoun Prison, which is kind of like a white collar jail. The maximum security Grammar Lockdown is reserved for the most heinous of abuses against the English language (Mark Morford has a cell on permanent reserve).

  37. Just1Beth says:

    Don’t worry Sheil- Me and Mitchell will sneak you some Amish porn.