How I Ended Up In the Freak Show Part 2


“Sir, I perceive that You are a prophet.”
—John 4:19

“It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle
if it is lightly greased.”
—John Nesvig

*   *   *


In which I relate my rise from the dank dungeons of Midwestern religion to the heady heights of heroic hedonism—including cool cars and snazzy suits.


It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a swift kick in the butt. Or so my sister seemed to think.

During this time of heady dissipation, my sister somehow got religion. Naturally, she figured I needed to get it too. And so, at the very height of my glorious Gatsby-like decadence, she started hauling me on Sunday mornings to all sorts of churches in town, hoping that one of them might show me the error of my sinful ways and get my name down in the Book of Life. It was a tall order, as I was not in the least bit interested in getting saved, but it did provide a few moments of levity. One Sunday morning, as I drove us to church, a huge bag of weed rolled out from under the passenger seat. She picked it up like a Tennessee snake-handler and gingerly handed it to me. I promptly tucked it back under the seat and we drove on without comment to that morning’s Promised Land.

Most of the churches we visited were uniformly forgettable. They all offered their four hymns, an offering plate, and a spiffy pastor expounding a three-point sermon. The folks in the pews were smiley, neat, and respectable ad nauseam. It was like visiting zombie heaven. I was sure that even God must have been bored out of his skull. After the services it was always a great relief to step back into the refreshingly fallen world.

cokeOn another Sunday morning I decided to liven things up. Just before we headed out I secretly snorted a long white line of premium powder. By the time we arrived at the newest church, everything was sparking with the glory of God. As luck would have it, the worship service of this particular church was simulcast on the radio. Every moment of the service was carefully choreographed. The worship band was hot. The choir blew the roof off the place. Even the sermon was good—it was funny (I sure as hell hope I wasn’t the only one laughing), free from annoying conviction, and—most importantly—over in under twenty minutes. I’m telling you, it was the best church service ever. It’s true: things do go better with coke.

But one Sunday we visited a small, sad-looking evangelical church on the edge of town. The scruffy building had definitely seen better days. The sanctuary was old school, with worn pews and worn pulpit; the people seemed worn too, garbed in the finest from the Goodwill fashion scene. These folks were culled from the reject pile. Hell, the place even smelled like a Goodwill store. The service began with an old lady gamely banging out an old hymn on a slightly out-of-tune piano. I stood and sat when I was supposed to but could barely stifle my groans. It was the most miserable excuse for a worship service I had ever witnessed. I think even my sister raised the white flag that morning.

When the hymn singing was finally over, I considered staging a grand mal seizure as an excuse to get out of there. But before I could implement the plan, a reedy-looking guy stepped behind the pulpit. He was small and thin—and nearly swallowed by his frumpy three-piece suit. His nose was long and sharp, his eyes engorged by a thick pair of glasses. Along his jaw line sprouted a sparse, wispy beard. He looked like an actor for a cheap Amish slasher movie.

Then he opened his mouth and the bottom dropped out of the universe. His voice shattered the bass register, rumbling from the very bowels of the earth. This scrawny preacher man was James Earl Jones on steroids. My first thought was, “Holy shit.” His eyes flashed as he thundered the Word of the freaking Lord. I was stunned. Here was a prophet ripped right out of the Old Testament. I wouldn’t have been surprised if that damned suit of his was made of camel’s hair. He whispered. He roared. He pounced over the pulpit. The place crackled with tension and heat. And—I swear—he never once took his eyes off of me.

twistoI barely got out of there alive. For the next few days I madly tried to erase the scorch marks. I made multiple treks to my unlicensed pharmacist. I nearly forced my coworkers at joint-point to join me in shrill group sessions of smoke-fired religious deprogramming. But to my increasing dismay, I found I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was now in the relentless crosshairs of divine scrutiny. No matter what I did, the specter of some spiritual catastrophe hung, like strange disembodied eyes, over the valley of my desperate ashes. I was a dead man.

Finally, one weekday morning, after days of confused struggle and flight, and with the acrid taste of the night’s oblation still on my tongue, I slunk helplessly back to the sad little church.

It would be the end of civilization as I knew it.

*   *   *

PART THREE: The Man Behind the Curtain


One Response

  1. Fred, that’s some good stuff!

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