Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Rerun: Bambi vs. the Potty Monsters, part UN

All right. THIS is the one that SurlyGirl requested. And what SurlyGirl wants, SurlyGirl gets! Because she WILL shank you with her rattail comb, yo.

...oh. and before anyone asks, it's true. every sorry word.
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My mother found Jesus the way a Peterbilt truck finds a raccoon on the highway-sudden, hard and messy. At first it was a positive thing...for a short (and rather confusing) time, she went from being God's miserable hemorrhoid to being Jesus ' little sunbeam. Was this my mother? Smiling?
Anyway, for a variety of reasons I may go into at another time, I found myself an unwilling participant in what rapidly became my mothers religious mania, going to what were termed 'Charismatic Catholic' , Born-Again style prayer meetings three evenings a week.

Lemme digress a bit. Catholicism in white, working-class America isn't remotely ecstatic. Catholicism in white, working-class America is in fact about as exciting as attending a talk at the public library about Gypsy moth infestation, except with more kneeling and a light snack towards the end.

Understandably, then, Catholics did not do the charisms, or 'ecstatic religiosity' very well. These prayer meetings tended to be rather shy and restrained things until the very, very end, when people got that 'now or never' feeling and suddenly went belly-flopping awkwardly into the deep end. It was essentially two hours of quiet prayer with upraised hands followed by a half-hour of crying, speaking in tongues, falling, twitching, and singing loud songs with accompanying gestures while hopping up and down.
Yes, really. Barney the Dinosaur meets our Lord Jesus Christ.

Still, I honestly think the greater part of the people in attendance were sincere, if misguided. Unfortunately my mother, being who she was, got drawn into the lunatic fringe.
Eventually she was running buddies with this unbelievably odd bunch of Jesus-groupies. All of them were garden-variety unfulfilled Catholic women...morbidly obese 50-year-old virgins, glum married lesbians in brick-wall denial with six kids , borderline (and not-so-borderline) psychotics, rage junkies, low-norms who smelled like pee and beat-down throw pillows, mostly. All of them could have been case studies in a book called 'Women You Should Never, Ever Be Like When You Grow Up'.
And I took note, yo.

One evening there was a new member in attendance, a thin, trembling fawn of a woman draped in scarves and ethnic fabrics, like an aging ballet dancer with a thyroid problem. Her buggy eyeballs never stopped scanning the room. She smoked with a strange metronomic regularity, sipping at the filter and blowing steadily until the cigarette was one long ash drooping gracefully down over her red bony knuckles. She sat at the edge of the group drawn up into a knobby heap on the metal folding chair .

The Fringies were instantly enthralled. The poor thing, let's go be friendly!
Poor thing indeed.
Soon she was in the middle of a circle of chairs filled with a whole bunch of terribly friendly, sympathetic women listening raptly to her 'testimony'.

This stuff was usually pretty gross, so I went outside and lit a smoke.*

I was joined by one of my moms' friends a short while later. "You'll never believe what happened to this poor woman," she said.
She was right.

According to 'Bambi', she'd grown up in a wealthy family, her father was a very well-known public figure who she was afraid to name, all of them were against her and they wanted her to stay married to a man who was beating her. They had been drugging her for years and had finally poisoned her with a mysterious substance in an attempt to 'keep her quiet'. She was also being chased by a cult, by organized crime and by an ex husband, and all of them were trying to kill her while at the same time plotting to have her committed to a mental institution. This was why she was hiding out on the streets and in homeless shelters AND living in her car and also why nobody could know her real name.

Man, I was 16 and I smelled this bullshit a mile away, even secondhand. The woman breathlessly recounting all this to me as fact was 56. You could tell she thought this was the coolest, most glamorous and interesting thing that she had ever heard EVER.

Once I'd finished my cigarette I went back inside. 'Bambi' was being prayed for.

Now, in an ordinary setting, this might mean that people were, you know, sitting, maybe kneeling, hands folded, praying.

In this group it meant that everyone present stood in a circle around the person being prayed for, placed one hand on them and raised the other hand high into the air (presumably to get better reception) closed their eyes and made bossy demands on the Lord. "Jesus! See this woman! Jesus, help this woman! Yes! Jesus, help her bear this burden! HEAL her! Heal her now! Jesus heal her! HEAL HER NOW! IN JESUS NAME! LIFT HER BURDEN! LIFT THIS BURDEN FROM HER!"
They typically did this in turns, getting louder and more vehement until the whole group was crying, moaning, and speaking in tongues.

Yep, yep yep. Just another typical Friday night with the Catholics.

The thing was, these women were all on the downslope of middle age, and they couldn't stand for very long without getting tired. They started to droop and lean on one another after they'd been at it for a while. From a distance this looked like a bunch of people peering at something down a well while signaling to passing aircraft.
And as I knew from personal experience, the person in the middle, the one being prayed for, bore the full weight. Poor waif- like Bambi was nearly bent double.

We heard a lot from Bambi in the passing weeks. Oh my God, did you hear what happened? Bambi threw off a group praying for her with 'supernatural strength'. Bambi had 'spoken in an unnatural voice and cursed God'. Bambi had 'accepted Christ and suddenly become ill'.

Clearly, Bambi was under demonic attack.

Consequently Bambi became very, very popular. Everyone had Bambi over for dinner. Everyone took Bambi out for coffee after the meetings. People fought over who would drive Bambi back to the shelter. The group took up a collection and got Bambi out of the shelter and into an apartment. Everyone listened raptly to Bambi's stories about being raped by shadowy figures on orders from her family, receiving threatening phone calls in the middle of the night, Bambi finding her belongings had been gone through by the Mafia, Bambi seeing demonic messages appear on the ceiling above her bed at night. The 'let's pray for Bambi' session at the end of every meeting became the main draw. You never knew what would happen, and something dramatic always did. Attendance was never better.

One evening I was smoking outside in the garden when one of the Fringe came out to get me.
'We need you to come help us! Do you think you could be a prayer warrior?' she said breathlessly, clutching my arm.
" Well, let me finish my smoke first," I replied. "What's going on?"
"Bambi's apartment is haunted!" said the Fringie. "That's what's been at the center of all these disturbances!"
"You mean her new apartment she just moved into?" I asked.
"It's not new," said the Fringie. "It's in an old house. And there were people who were drug addicts and Satan worshippers living there before she moved in. And they had orgies."

I'd like to say that I laughed in her face, but no. Whaddya gonna do; it's how I was raised. We bought that kind of thing without thinking twice about it.

Now how drug-dealing Satan worshippers had managed to move into a place owned by one of this Christian groups' leaders and live there, holding orgies, drugging and worshipping away for a matter of years, was never explained. What I accepted without a thought at the time** was that kind of thing really happened, that it really called up demons and that it really opened a PORTAL TO HELL.

And I was being asked to help cleanse it! I was being asked to help cast out demons, to help a fellow Christian and to bring the light of the Lord into her home! Well fuck yeah I'll help, are you nuts? An exorcism? YOU WANT ME TO PARTICIPATE IN AN HONEST TO GOODNESS EXORCISM? I am A SIXTEEN YEAR OLD GIRL! Color me THERE!

We all piled into the Mystery Mobile-I mean, the former prostitutes' car- in an excited, Bible-toting heap...the grumpy lesbian, the vindictive Jap-hater and the former prostitute that nobody was supposed to have figured out was a former prostitute in the front seat, and the 55- year-old morbidly obese virgin, the sixteen-year-old smoker, and the smokers batshit-nuts mother in the back. We zoomed away, praying and holding hands. When the traffic lights changed we prayed for the traffic light to turn green.
Some of the ladies in the front seat started getting a little excited. Unknown tongues began creeping into the mix.

"Don't get carried away by the Spirit,' called the former prostitute as she drifted a corner on two wheels "I don't have any insurance!"

We prayed for her to get a raise so she could buy insurance at the next light.

We caromed through downtown Portland and over the Powell Blvd. bridge. Smokers' Mother had the brilliant idea to roll down the window so that upraised hands could poke out.

We passed the Poulson House, a grim Victorian I was secretly in love with. 'That's a Satanic looking place,' said the Jap Hater darkly. "I've always hated it."

We prayed holding hands over the back of the seat, all the way up McLoughlin Boulevard and down River Road until we drove up to the house, the Rental of Evil, and stopped. We prayed a little more before we climbed the stairs.

We prayed before we went inside.

We went inside, and stopped to pray in the foyer.

Bambi was already there, looking pale and twitchy in the bare overhead light.
"Where's the disturbance?" demanded former prostitute.
"I don't know", breathed Bambi. "It's the whole place, I think.."
We all joined hands and began to
....guess?


The whole group moved in an awkward clump into the first room off the foyer. Speaking in tongues began in earnest. Then singing in tongues. I got mashed into a wall by 55-Year-Old Virgin's huge ass and there I remained. Trembling hands reached out and touched the walls. The furniture. The pictures. The telephone. "You never know," said Jap Hater. "Oh! Good idea!" they agreed.

The clump shuffled down the hall and moved to the next room, lead by Bambi. An overhead bulb flickered and she screamed. "It's here!"
The praying gained volume.
I got mashed into a door by the 55-Year-Old-Virgin.
We entered the kitchen. The kitchen was tiny.
Closet doors were opened and prayed into. Someone started swaying, and the whole group started rocking back and forth in unison. I was mashed into another wall at this point, and resigned myself to simply trying to draw breath while the others did the heavy battling with the demons infesting the cabinets. "It's here! I can feel it moving! It's running before us!" various people commented. "Where's it going? It went past me! I felt it! OOOOoooooooo! Lord JeEEEEEEzuz amalavangAFALAworingafala, bilitimaSIGUNAfala....."

The whole group moved as one, in a clump. A couple of the women were already reduced to panting, barely able to gasp 'Thank you Jesus, Thank you Jesus' by this point. Nobody'd told them that Satan would be wearing track shoes.

"It went in here! cried Bambi. The group surged forward.
'Here' was the bathroom.
A very tiny, tiny bathroom.

The group pushed forward and found that not all of them could fit into the claustrophobic, closet-sized room at once.
Satan had obviously chosen the venue for this final showdown with care.

The group decamped to the entry and considered. Bambi twittered and meeped in the background like a nervous gerbil with a bad nicotine habit. I noticed that there wasn't one single place on the floor that didn't have a cigarette burn.

Suddenly "I found it!" cried the former prostitute. She was a tiny woman, and had wormed her way to the front of the group. "Come look! I found it! Here it is!"
Everyone crowded forward.

Ever heard of Masonite? It was marketed as a waterproof, decorative material for tub surrounds in the 60's and 70's...kind of a cross between Formica and wallboard. The smooth 'space age' material it was coated with supposedly*** rendered this material moisture-resistant and easy to clean. This coating was often printed with designs...flowers, snowflakes, geometrics...

This tub surround was printed with a tropical island scene.
Straw huts, palm trees, coconuts, ocean waves.

And Tiki god statues.

"I knew it! I never felt comfortable in there! I always felt like I was being watched!" exclaimed Bambi.

Grumpy Lesbian was crammed against the sink. Former Prostitute was seated on the toilet. Jap Hater had what floor space there was in the center of the room.
I was crammed into the bathtub, by now utterly mortified, with Smokers' Mom and the 55-Year-Old Morbidly Obese Virgin.
'Now everyone put their hands on the wall and pray!" Former Prostitute commanded.

And they prayed. Please, God, deliver this house from the clutches of Satan. Please, God, drive the presence of demons from the images on this bathroom wall. We refute thee utterly, Satan, and all thy works, and thy leering image of thyself as rendered in driftwood and dogs' teeth by the Polynesians and the DuPont Corporation in gold glitter paint with a light waterproof coating.

Oh yeah... there they were. Jesus' little prayer warriors. Standing in the bathtub.

Exorcising the wallpaper.

Amen.



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*one of the first things I found out about being a charismatic catholic was that the typical unfulfilled adult catholic woman had really good reasons for being that way, most of them horrifically gynecological. also, that it takes very little provocation for your typical unfulfilled catholic woman to explain the exact nature of her particular problem at length and in excruciating detail.

**also the subject of yet another story. lucky you!

***masonite is bullshit. one scratch and the stuff swells up with black fungus like the black plague.


15 comments:

  1. I think that I love you.

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  2. The writing is sublime.This is one of my all time favourite posts :-)

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  3. Come on, we all want to know: whatever happened to Bambi?

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  4. i swear, sugar, i am in awe of your style! xoxox

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  5. Oh my goodness, I loved this story the first time around. This is the first one I sent a link to my sister to. She also is hooked (I believe I've mentioned our mutual addition to you before) because of this very story. You are awesomeness. Really you are. Sigh.

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  6. My goodness, this phenomenom does not just end up in the Catolic arena. I used to be a churchlady, was for something like 8 years. Nazarene. Sunday school teacher, bus driver you name the time the doors were open....I dragged my kids out of the house and up the hill. My poor kids.
    No stories as great as yours but I recognize the idiocy.

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  7. vicus: I've always had a thing for you too !XO!

    beast: you know you are my favorite wild animal, beastie!

    W2: patience...thats in part DEAUX.

    savannah: thank you. from under my paper bag of overwhelm and embarrassment, thank you!

    joy: i would have so much rather had a nice, normal childhood.

    gale: yeah, I know. this all happened in the beginning years of my moms addiction when she was still trying to be 'catholic'. after that, it didn't really matter what the professed doctrine was as long as it was hysterical and a blatant scam.

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  8. I'm sorry I can no longer read these posts at work (security!) (SECURITY!!) (OXYGEN STAT!!!)

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  9. great!!!! lovin it!!!!


    *leaves abba cd in nations disc changer*

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  10. Can you Simoniz Masonite?

    Or Martinize it?

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  11. this was one of your best! i would have cracked up...what kept you from falling to the floor and speaking in tongue just to fuck with them? oh sorry must have been the 55-Year-Old Morbidly Obese Virgin...lmao...

    i was raised catholic...we didn't have any fun like that, shit i still might go to the church if we had...for entertainment purposes of course...lmao

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  12. retro: but then when you come to think about it, where better?

    voices: give with one hand, take away with the other. I see how it is. *rambles off humming 'Waterloo'*
    *stabs self in hand with pencil to stop humming 'Waterloo*

    mj: Mr. Spock came in and Vulcanized it a week later.

    daisy: oh, theres so many more stories about those days, too...I don't know if there is still much of a 'Catholic Charismatic' movement going on. Once Fr. Francis McNutt (real name, real person, google it)was exposed as a fraud it kind of lost steam.

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  13. omg FN my grandmother lived down the street from some McNutts...lmao...they were a little "off" redheaded and always had a strange smell coming from their home...don't know what it was...didn't care to find out, we just made the sign of the cross as we passed the house and moved on...great memory, really...

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  14. *swoons*

    thank you FN. i love you more each day that passes.

    (i missed this last week cos i went to that fancy london for the weekend)

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  15. I got my first electronic cigarette kit on VaporFi, and I enjoy it a lot.

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