The setting was simple enough. I was sitting on a folding chair by myself. In a church. In the middle of the most deranged and lawless city I had ever visited. Jackie, the woman who corralled me, had stepped away. I sat alone while Gary went upstairs to buy some, allegedly, top-shelf cocaine. I wondered what Jackie had on her mind.
Other than no altar, no stained-glass windows, no carpet, no pews, no enormous crosses, no drapes and no religious statues, this looked like any other church.
It was a rectangle space around the size of a two-car garage with some very old folding chairs. The total lack of froo-froo scored some points with me. The walls had some torn up posters of Jesus in happier times. Otherwise, the place looked like shit. Definitely, Better Trailer Homes and Gardens material. The room was at an angle and looked ready to collapse at any moment but so did the rest of Kowloon City.
Everyone in this church was suspiciously happy and friendly which was something I had never seen in a church. I was used to over-dressed people looking highly annoyed. Folks came over and to speak with me about what I have no idea because they only spoke Chinese but they were smiling at the same time so I figured it was all good. I felt welcomed there which was more than I could ever say I felt in a church before. At least, these church folks were thrilled to have this time together. I probably hit my head on the ceiling 6 times when I’d stand up to greet one of them. They found that very amusing.
The other round-eyed lady approached me. Apparently, Jackie had an urgent issue to tend to. My guess was she went with the duck sauce on her dogmeat taco and probably had the runs. Anyway, I stood to greet the replacement round-eye and, for the 7th time, hit my head on the ceiling before following up with a resounding, “Jesus Fuhhhhh….uh. I mean, Heavenly Father, forgive this ceiling for it is low.”
The RREL (Replacement Round Eyed Lady) frowned while looking me over. It tried to look composed but I had hit my head hard enough to see stars and was having some balance issues. I must have looked drunk. She asked if I was okay.
“Me? Uh, yes, right, well, once I get my bearings….gotta cut out the vodka martinis before 9am.”
I was hoping she’d find some amusement with my reply. She didn’t.
I was so tempted to ask her, “What’s a nice girl like you doing in a dump like this?” If I had then she most likely would have, with ample justification, pimp-slapped me upside the head.
What I did say was, “I really didn’t mean to stare. The noise and….activity….threw me for a loop. Spirited bunch of folks. Couldn’t help but notice. And, couldn’t help but wonder….well….I mean….wha’ ‘appened? Uh….a church? Here? I mean, this place makes Vegas look like Vatican City.”
She gave me a look to clearly indicate she thought I was a moron and said, “When was the last time you saw a Meals-on-Wheels truck in Beverly Hills?”
“Point.” I hate rhetorical questions.
She said people in this walled city came to this church in a last-ditch effort to end their drug addictions. The idea was to end the addictions through Jesus and communicating to God which was what all the yelling and screaming was about. Before I could say anything to pooh-pooh her, she wanted me to tell her what I knew about God and Jesus. Got downright pushy about it when I tried to disregard the question.
Out of annoyance, I said, “You probably don’t want to know.”
Oh, yes she did.
So, I told her the cold, hard truth.
For a couple years, as a child, I was shoved out the door every Sunday morning to go to church. My parents had absolutely no interest in going but, since all the other kids in the neighborhood went to church, they felt it was in everyone’s best interest to keep up appearances. For reasons I’ll never know, I was, at first, quite interested in learning about church and God. It looked communal. Being part of a community was something I hadn’t experienced in my life. I wanted to be included, for once.
It was not a sentiment shared by anyone else in the entire church. The adults were all too busy trying to manufacture facial expressions to clearly show they were serious and very holy people of God. To me, their sour looks made them appear as a bunch of people sitting on the toilet and whatever they were trying to accomplish while sitting on the toilet wasn’t working out well. And, they were not nice at all. Mean, in fact, in all their holiness.
Constipation will do that to you.
The priest-type guy wasn’t much better. He’d glare at me with a look that said, “What are YOU doing here?” I never got too close to him, anyway, because he had the worst case of dog-breath on the planet. It was horrifying. You could smell it from 20 feet away. With a single belch, he could immediately remove all the wallpaper in a 5,000 square foot house.
As I learned years later, there was a reason all these church people were so pissy. It seems my father angered a couple members of this church. I don’t know the circumstances but the conversation among them went south one day. Now, my father had a frightening ability to completely figure someone out in under thirty seconds. And, he was never wrong. I’m serious. He knew you better than you knew yourself.
If Dad’s assessment was negative then he’d never let on. He’d continue a conversation without giving you a hint of what he thought of you. He’d keep it to himself UNLESS you were stupid enough to commit the following act:
Piss him off.
If you did manage to get him to that stage then there was no going back. You were not going to put the toothpaste back into THAT tube. Reconciliation was not in the cards.
Well, it seems these two yahoos said something because my father told them both their major character failings. Succinctly put, he body slammed them. I have no doubt he included all the words and phrases below when he described their distinguishing characteristics:
- Penis envy
- Toilet training
- Moral impairment
When it came to arguments, you didn’t stand a chance against Dad for the simple fact that he was bigger, louder and more intimidating than you’ll ever be. I am certain he was bang on target with these two and they must have cringed hearing it. I’m guessing he hit to close to home for their comfort.
Well, word got around so when the congregation saw me coming, I think everyone remembered I was the son of an EHSM (Evil-Heathen-Sinner-Maggot) thereby making me an EHSM-in-Training and obviously highly unfit to attend their very exclusive church. So, they decided not to roll out the welcome mat.
Another significant challenge was priest-boy’s sermons. They flew well over my head. Plus the Bible isn’t the most child-friendly reading on the planet. Passages the priest-dude would quote made no sense to me. He’d stand up there and say something like:
“Then the king’s countenance was changed and his thoughts troubled him so that the joints of his loins were loosed and his knees smote one against another. The king cried aloud to bring in the astrologers, the Chaldeans, and the soothsayers. And, the king spake and said to the wise men of Babylon, ‘Whosoever shall read this writing, and shew me the interpretation thereof, shall be clothed with scarlet and have a chain of gold about his neck and shall be the third ruler in the kingdom.’”
I’m not sure what an 11-year-old is supposed to do with this information but the guy wanted me to solemnly consider how that passage applied to my life. I might have spent some time in deep reflection wondering who put joints in the guy’s loins but that probably was the extent of my contemplations on the subject.
Still, I tried to be in their club. I think I just wanted to belong somewhere.
Priest-dude had a horrendous fixation on sins. Everyone had to cut it out with the sins. And, if we kept up with this tacky sinning then we had to confess them to God before asking for forgiveness and we had to sound convincing or else. Problem was he never really told you what qualified as a sin that required this request for forgiveness. I finally came to the conclusion that everything I did was a sin. That message seemed to be directed at me because, while the rest of the congregation nodded in eager agreement, I just thought about the massive lifestyle change I’d have to make in order to catch up with everyone else.
I mean, this wasn’t a “think I’ll cut down a little on the booze” or “I’ll stop being so mean to the kids” lifestyle adjustment. If I was going to make the cut then I was going to be climbing a very steep hill which was only made more difficult by priestly-type-dude not telling me what I was doing that was so sinful. This meant I had to ask God for forgiveness for actions that may not have qualified as sins which was probably a sin so, either way, I was screwed.
Getting right down to it, the sum total of the message, the overwhelming message, I received over the 2 years of church was that, as far as God was concerned, I was a class-A fuckup. Highly unworthy and, based on the behavior of all these church people, unwanted. Plus, I’ll be going to Hell because I wasn’t working hard enough asking for forgiveness in the proper manner for all the sins I wasn’t aware I committed which were so bad that Jesus had to suffer and die thanks to all this sinning on my part that, chronologically speaking, hadn’t actually occurred yet so I must really suck and I could do a better job praying but it probably wouldn’t help because me going to Hell was pretty much a done deal. PS, I should stop staring at girls wondering what they look like naked on accounta covetousness.
That was the extent of my Christian education.
Judaism, by the way, made my head explode. I say this because my exposure was limited to two events I attended when I was 12 years old:
A bat mitzvah
Becky was a classmate and the center of attention at the bat mitzvah. She was obsessively shy and would barely say a word to anyone during school. However, as I found out, once she felt comfortable around you then she would not shut up. Anytime she saw me, I knew I was in for a 20 minute deeply-disturbed monologue about being the victim of some recent atrocity such as her mother being 5 minutes late to pick her up after violin practice.
My father did a very elegant job explaining what a bat mitzvah was as we drove there. He said this was considered a “coming out party….or…..some damn thing” but it really was just another way to make people give money to Jewish families because, “Jews make a federal case out of everything including the fact that blood is coming out of your friend’s vagina on a periodic basis. Then there’s a party where a bunch of drunks dance in a circle. Probably have some nice kosher fruit juice and kosher pie at the party so it won’t be a total loss.”
Now, I was pretty young at the time and this new fun fact about Becky and her bleeding vagina caught me way off guard. I wondered how he knew about this issue. I thought that might be information she’d want to keep to herself. I’d considered asking him how badly it was bleeding but I figured it was a detail I could live without. I was thinking I should ask her if she was okay but quickly overruled that idea. As conversation starters go, “How’s your vagina doing?” just sounded wrong. Besides, if I did ask her then I’d get a 20 minute rant about all the blood everywhere.
Hopefully, it was just a paper cut.
Regardless, does this not seem like a very feeble excuse to have a party? (“Oh, look! Someone’s vagina is bleeding! Let’s put the guest list together!”). On the other hand, I mean, whatever flips your pancake. At the time, I had the impression Christians never had a party so this was a step in the right direction.
Before I got out of the car, my father gave me an envelope with money in it. “Here, give her this. A little something for the college fund or the abortion, which ever comes first. But, don’t tell her that. If they try to give you gefilte fish, run. Call me whenever you want to get the hell outta there.”
The ceremony was weirder than church. Becky came out with something that initially appeared to be bagpipes but turned out to be a large roll of wallpaper with words on it. Becky looked about as comfortable as someone sitting in the electric chair. She read the wallpaper for a while and then started to sing. Or, attempted to sing. The noise coming out of her mouth sounded, at the time, like someone who either was intentionally singing as poorly as possible or like someone trying to sing properly but was unable because of the blood coming out of her vagina. I checked the floor for blood splatter but didn’t see any so I figured she was singing like that on purpose.
The party wasn’t very enlightening, either. It was true that a lot of adults and children were joyful dancing around. Laughter certainly filled the dance floor. I was amazed how one little vagina could bring so much happiness to so many people.
I stayed on the boys side of the room. It just seemed safer. Across the way Becky appeared in fine form except when some adults would descend and talk at her all at once. Sometimes a pair of parents would take her aside for a very serious conversation. (“Listen, Becky. If you ever, ever need anything at all….for your vagina… then you can call us anytime. Day or night. Just remember we’re always here for you….and your vagina.”)
While the bat mitzvah seemed weird, I thought the bris was just downright fucked up. I mean, talk about pulling a reason out of your silo to have a party. Circumcising an infant didn’t sound party-worthy to me.
It was about a month after Vagina-Gate. The scene of this crime was about a half-mile away from my house. Eddie lived a few doors from me. We walked together to the poor little fella’s home with various adults 20 yards ahead of us.
Eddie’s father ran a trash removal company during the week and was a preacher on weekends. He conducted Saturday night revivals in a big tent where you could buy fireworks during the week. Eddie’s father gently and kindly helped Eddie in seeking God by repeatedly beating Eddie to a pulp until he got with the program. Eddie decided, as I would’ve, that it was in his best interest to follow his father’s footsteps by using his classmates as his test market for spreading the Gospel thereby making himself insufferable.
Just before we left, I asked my father what this shindig was about and why we had to get all dressed up for the occasion.
He explained it was just another way to make people give money to Jewish families because, “Jews make a federal case out of everything including having someone stop by to cut a little skin off a baby’s dick. Probably have some nice kosher soft drinks and kosher cupcakes at the house so it won’t amount to a total loss.”
“Why would they tell people to come over and.…”
“First thing’s first. Very important. I’ll never survive the party without this.” He grabbed a bottle of scotch, slammed two very large gulps, and let out a very expressive, “Ahhhhh….., whoa. Jesus. That should do the trick.”
“So, why does everyone have to be there?”
He pondered this question. Staring out the window, he said, “Something about Abraham….and a covenant…some damn thing…so you can claim more descendants which is useful knowledge for estate planning purposes, I suppose….but if you don’t have it done then you can’t have Passover dinner. Makes a lot of sense to me, too. Probably in some scripture. ‘Thou shalt not eat thy gelfilte fish less’n thou hath thine wee-wee sliced for why we do not know. Amen.’ Better off going to McDonald’s in the first place.”
“Does blood come out of anyone’s vagina at these things?”
“Hell, you never can tell. Wouldn’t surprise me. We can ask around just to make sure. Probably be a little blood on the kid’s dick. Good question.”
The event itself involved a very strange little man who marched in the house, did the deed, muttered something and left. Everyone was so thankful for his presence. I’d have had him arrested. Then, everyone started congratulating the parents and telling them how happy we all were. You’d have thought condolences would be in order. (“Gosh, David. Sorry about your kid’s penis. Just remember, if there’s anything… ANYTHING….Gladys and I can do for you….and your baby’s dick….then let us know.”)
Back to Christianity, I walked with Eddie to the penis-slicing. Eddie was certain about two things:
- When he dies, he’ll go to Heaven.
- The rest of us won’t.
Eddie was never subtle.
“These Jews have not accepted Jesus Christ as their Lord and savior and they will die and burn in Hell for all eternity!”
“Do they know that?”
“I told the Coleman’s like 20 times they got to get their minds right and either accept Jesus with all their hearts or end up in agony forever because of all their sinning.”
“What’d they say?”
“They got a lawyer.”
Eddie didn’t seem like the best person to attend a bris.
I told him, “I don’t want to go to church anymore. They don’t like me there and I don’t think I can be mean enough to join their club”
He spewed out a ten minute reply. His monologue ran something along the lines of the fact that my parents didn’t go to church and they really weren’t believers so I couldn’t be, either, because faith is hereditary so that’s why he [Eddie] would be going to Heaven but not me plus people in the congregation didn’t like my parents because they were all certain that, while my parents had values, they didn’t have the right values so I must have been sent to bring Satan into the church and only Godly people should be allowed in church and I was bringing impure thoughts to God’s House as evidence by the fact that I wondered what girls looked like with their clothes off and if I wasn’t allowed in church then I’ll be going to Hell because I didn’t go to church.
I knew he had no idea what he was talking about and I didn’t blame Eddie for saying any of this because it was a matter of survival in his case. But, he did sum things up rather well by confirming for me that Christianity was a game I stood no chance of winning and, from the moment I stepped into church, everyone knew it was just a matter of time before I’d throw in the towel which would verify what they firmly believed all along:
When it came to strength of character, I didn’t have nearly enough to join their club.
The priest-guy, the church leaders, the congregation, the church staff, the janitorial department and Bob from accounting unanimously agreed that I was well below the standards to which they had become accustomed.
Their strategy to remedy this problem (me) was three-fold:
- Treat me like a low-life
- Pretend I’m invisible
- Hope I go away
With Eddie’s very clear and logical message ringing in my ears, I went to church that following Sunday for the last time. The people I saw around me were no longer the clergy, the choir and the congregation.
They were the enemy.
I glared at them as they prayed and sang. I thought, “Fuck you. Fuck your club.”
Then, I gave up. I got up and left half way through the service.
When I got home, I told my father I didn’t think church was working out for me.
He shrugged as he rummaged through the pantry. “Hell, run these things up the flagpole. Sometimes they salute. Sometimes they don’t. No great loss. I wouldn’t give anyone in that dump the sweat off my balls. Give us more time to get ready for football. Where the hell does your mother put the popcorn? Nothing is where it was two days ago. No more church? Good. Fine. Their loss. Not sure I remember why the hell we wanted you….A-HA!!! What hath God wrought?!? Finally! Some popcorn. What was the question? Oh, church. Right. Hell with them. Bunch of losers. Speaking of losers, when are the Cowboys playing?”
I was glad. He summed it up perfectly.
I relayed all this, with significant editing, to the round eyed lady whose name, for the life of me, I don’t remember as a way of explaining how I lost interest in Christianity and really wasn’t entertaining the idea of revisiting it. I was glib. And, casual.
The first sentence of her response got my attention. “That was not a church. Tell you why. Want to know why? I’ll tell you why. I will. When those people rejected you, do you want to know who else they rejected?”
“Pat Boone? Guy has ‘Satan’ written all over him. ”
Nothing. No chuckle. No smile. Nothing.
I started feeling very itchy to get out of there. She was making me very uncomfortable. Plus, I wasn’t ready for a religious lecture on how I was an evil heathen sinner boy.
“Jesus. They rejected you? They rejected Jesus. That was never a church. What kind of church rejects Jesus?”
“You know what? I’ll tell you. Think of a raft with people in it. Floating in the middle of an ocean with no sails and no udder. And, you know what? That’s where you went instead of church. And, do you want to know something else?”
“There’s no humanity in a church without Jesus. That place you went was inhumane. You stayed human. And, I’ll tell you something else. You want to know something?”
“Actually, I think I need to flush the car radiator. It’s urgent. So I’ll just be….”
That was news to me. I thought I had made it clear this was all something I dismissed with bemused scorn a long time ago.
But, she wouldn’t let up. “Let me tell you something. You want to know what?”
“Well, maybe next time. You see, I need to go back to the island to get my medication. It’s urgent….”
“I’ll tell you something. I will. Let me tell you…”
“It’s just that I have acute Twenty-Four-Hour-Tourette’s-Syndrome and if I don’t….”
“You try to be funny but that bitterness won’t go away….”
“Uh, oh. The Tourette’s. It’s coming back. I really….”
“You’re taking on all that shame. It’s taking a toll….”
“NippleScrotumCunnilingusOrgasmDogMeatTaco. I’m sorry. It’s the Tourette’s talking. I wish I could….”
“But, you won. Want to know why? Let me tell you why. It’s very simple you….”
“Hey, Gary’s back. Looks like he scored, so I’ll be shoveling off…”
She kept at it. “You kept your humanity. They couldn’t take it from you. Your soul. You wouldn’t let them…..”
“Now, you know that cocaine isn’t gonna snort itself so….”
“Because you knew you didn’t want to become one of them. Know what? I’ll tell you. I think you rejected them more than they rejected you. Want me to tell you why? It’s….”
La-la-la-la, I can’t hear you….”
“Jesus didn’t play their game. Neither did you. You kept your humanity.”
Well, she had a point. I never did let myself play their game. I had plenty of opportunities to truly integrate myself with them but I knew enough not to. I rejected them, too. It wasn’t a one-way street.
It was her mention of my humanity that hit me. Humanity was something I thought I lost long ago. Probably, in a custody dispute. I was always the aloof, semi-amused, cavalier hiding behind my mask of light-hearted disapproval aimed towards…well, humanity. She was still talking while I zoned out.
Humanity. I thought maybe that was the sub-text of the message the old-boy was trying to get across before getting crucified for his trouble. He maintained his own humanity under circumstances you could mildly call inhumane. My conclusion was I had no reason to have faith in someone else’s humanity.
But, I just needed faith in my own.
Gary barged in and said, loud enough to be heard by everyone in the church, “Let’s get the fuck OUTTA HERE! C’mon, Dude. This shit ain’t gonna snort itself.”
I stood up without hitting my head on the ceiling and shook the woman’s hand. I probably stared at her for 10 seconds before saying, “Thank you.” It was at that point I turned away and took one step before hitting my head on a cross-beam that was holding the ceiling up. Big time. Drew blood and everything. Everyone there laughed. I shrugged, took a bow and left.
Gary and I managed to finally get out of Dodge and back on the island part of Hong Kong where, for about two and a half days, we partied like it was 1999.
But, during that whole time, all I thought about was my humanity. The same one I assumed I lost a few lifetimes ago.
END OF PART TWO