How I Ended Up In the Freak Show Part 1


You may ask yourself—well, how did I get here?
—David Byrne

“He is out of his mind.” (Mark 3:21)


I haven’t always been a religious wacko. I used to be just a normal guy. Okay, maybe normal isn’t exactly the right word. For one thing, I grew up in North Dakota. How normal can that be? But there was a time when I could’ve been mistaken for a normal guy. Okay, probably not. My point is that nobody would mistake me for one now. And it’s not because I have no idea what I do for a living. It’s because I’m a bona fide, card-carrying, wince-wringing, zone-zinging, propriety-popping, savior-slinging, side-show spiritual freak.

I wasn’t looking to join the freak show. It was more like the freak show came looking for me. We’re talking some serious mojo here. Maybe I should explain.


My folks were the faithful church-going type. Back then in North Dakota everybody was the faithful church-going type. Thirty below zero has that effect on people. These days they’ve got more oil rigs than churches. I’m not even sure they know the difference anymore. Anyway, my parents hauled me and my sister to church every Sunday. At first it was to a Nazarene church where the preacher closed every service with a seven-hour altar call. Well, it seemed like that to me. It didn’t matter if it was pushing one o’clock or not. That preacher didn’t give up until at least one person came forward to repent. I’m guessing that some of those Nazarenes got themselves saved multiple times just to keep from starving to death.

Eventually my folks moved to a Presbyterian church on the other side of town. The service was more formal and the pastor didn’t expect anybody to get saved, which meant that we got out of there in time for lunch. But at the front of the sanctuary was this giant stained glass window of Jesus. It was really impressive, except, as I soon discovered, Jesus stared right at you no matter where you sat. Every Sunday, all through the service, that 50-foot Jesus stared me down like nobody’s business. I think he knew I was faking it. I spent the rest of my formative religious years there, quietly cringing under that unwavering scrutiny, my head bowed in defense, meditating on the floor of the Lord.

blockheadWhen I came of age I bolted from the sacred stalag and onto the fast lane. The summer before my junior year in high school my best friend introduced me to Washington State’s newest money crop. I soon became a connoisseur of questionable consumables of all kinds, waltzing on white lines, conveying quality contraband, and generally functioning as the de facto concierge for a surprisingly extensive mood-altering underground. The area’s preeminent unlicensed pharmacist was my personal supplier and friend.

While attending my hometown college, I worked at a menswear boutique. There I was introduced to fashionable European-cut suits with all the glam accessories. My manager and assistant manager became my upscale party buddies and with them I moved my game to the big leagues. My nights were studded with dance clubs, business mucky-mucks, sultry babes, and, of course, an endless supply of fuel. I cruised the delirious streets in a refurbished ’49 Deluxe Chevy Coupe and often rode my motorcycle to work sporting a white, double-breasted pinstripe suit. I was Gatsby, baby, and this wind-scoured prairie town was my own little West Egg.

Nobody warned me about the speeding circus wagon.

*   *   *

PART TWO: The Unbearable Being of Lightness


One Response

  1. I have to compliment you on your title for part 2. I love a good title.

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