Monday, January 11, 2010
Have A Little Faith
Here’s the other side of going out of town. Sometimes you need to do what the locals do. If you know anything about me you know I’d rather be shacked up with a good book. Yesterday, I went to mass, a rare fete for me, but then on top of that I was selected to bring up the collection plate. Three other men were tagged with the same responsibility or penance (depending upon how you look at it).
Nobody asked if I had a proclivity for pickpocketing. As far as the parish was concerned, I was fresh meat ready and willing to help out like a god Christian soldier, a Minute Man for donations.
There was no Shibboleth to pass and no sponsor necessary. All I needed was the dutiful, perhaps sheep-hearted willingness to schlep through the pews and shove a five-foot basket-woven collection plate under the chins of bubble-eyed parishioners. If that wasn’t reward enough then I don’t know what would be. After the first few shoves I garnered a certain knack for bilking my brethren. Nothing pious about it. I envisioned myself more as a religious meter maid not nearly as worthy as the offertory elite who got to bring up the cruets of wine and the plate of bread. No, my part was miniscule when it came to participating in the lead-in to the miracle of transubstantiation.
On the other hand, my money-grubbing, took care of those other important incidentals: the heat, gas, cable bills, and the London Broil and tatter tots the clothed men in the rectory fed off.
Halfway to the altar, a blue-haired old woman was sitting smack in the middle of the side pew. I tripped over the kneeler to get to the untouchable. She wore a heather-colored hand-crocheted scarf around her neck and wire-rimmed glasses to the very tip of her powdered nose. If she wasn’t a born again Christian then she was, in the very least, a contemporary of the stained glass window a few feet next to her. She made me get right beside her. I took the collection by the neck so as not to jab it into her and she clutched my wrist.
“Are you having one or two collections today?” she said with all the pomp of a lifelong diner waitress.
I heard it as how many lumps (as in sugar) one or two. I guess this is why she shook my wrist and I told her there was only one collection for today.
“Just a minute then,” she said.
She tossed in two envelopes. I went on my merry way. When I got to the last row the hairy-nosed gentleman who pulled me aside to help out in the collection told me to dump the plate into the big basket in the back. But, to grab the plate again during the final announcement before mass ended.
“What?” I said.
“Yeah, there’s a second collection for the earthquake victims in Haiti.”
Now he tells me. I sat back down and pulled out my copy of Shades of Luz hidden under my Missalette. I had to do a reading that evening and I was going to prep for it at one of the local watering holes.
I kept my hands in my pockets for the saying of the peace. Didn’t want any unbidden germs. When it came time to go up for the collection I made my rounds. Not surprisingly, there weren’t as many folks contributing for this encore donation. Still, there was a pretty good amount of generosity. When I arrived at my blue-haired friend she had a fierce look about her as if I had hustled her out of her bingo money.
“You said there was only one collection today,” she said.
“I ah— I thought there was.”
“I want the second envelope to go to Haiti.”
“And it sure will,” I said.
“How the hell do you know that for sure?” she said.
I made quick use of my peripheral vision. I gave her a flavorless smile. Nobody seemed to have seen her cursing at me, but I wasn’t sure.
“Look, I’ll personally go through the basket and make sure your second envelope goes to Haiti.”
“Good luck. Neither is marked any different.”
“Isn’t the date on the envelope?”
And with the precision of her punctuation I knew this wasn’t good. Nimrod marked on my forehead. I felt like Matthew Gray who was lambasted in third grade for chewing on his Communion wafer. “Hold, hold, hold it on your tongue,” Bishop Denning said. After that, Matthew was known as Cookie Monster. We were dumb kids then.
When mass had ended, I didn’t exactly go forth in peace. I was stressed. The reading, later that night, didn’t sit well with me. I would have walked right on by blue-hair but I would have to knee her in the gut to do so. The aisle was clogged with handshakers and huggers. She stared at the cover of my novel and seemed to be working out some sort of algebra in her head.
“What kind of book is that?” she asked.
“It’s a novel,” I said.
“Is it any good?”
“It’s interesting. A little bit strange.”
“I like strange.”
So did I but I wasn’t planning on getting into a strange interlude here. I couldn’t help but have a Rose scenario pop in the mind. Benny would shoot the breeze with this woman, but I wasn’t Benny. I didn’t feel like letting her know I was the author.
She took the book out of my hand and opened to a random page.
“Never heard of this Gorman.”
“Me neither,” I said.
“Then who gave you the book?”
“Just a friend.”
We then had one of those long oily pauses, the tease of getting to know you.
“Here, why don’t you have it,” I said.
I walked off without a thank you and headed to the nearest saloon. I had no intention of heading back to my room for a fresh copy. If nobody in the audience brought Shades of Luz that night I guess I would just recite bad poetry.