Hey, at least those two recognize that they did wrong. They know that they’re sinners. They understand sin. A good churchgoing member of Opus Dei, loyal federal law enforcement officer, Soviet spy and covert videographer of his own marital sex acts like Mr. Hanssen would certainly understand sin. So would a proud code enforcement officer, butcher and torture porn self-portraitist from suburban Wichita with one of the cleanest disciplinary records in the Kansas state prison system. They’re mightily fucked up, but they know that they’re mightily fucked up and don’t pretend otherwise. They live in hellholes, but they live in truth.

There was a time when I grasped futilely for some piece of hard evidence confirming my gut feeling that Opus Dei was a sick organization for sick people, but now I have a sign confirming my faith. Thanks, Bob.

You see, Catholicism is all about recognizing that we’ve sinned through our fault, through our fault, through our most grievous fault. It’s even more tendentious and supplicating than it was in the old vernacular liturgy. But it’s true. We’re fucked up, and to loosely paraphrase the apostle Paul, I’m more fucked up than a lot of people.

Should we have to tell a priest about it? Reasonable people of goodwill disagree, and I’m ambivalent about it because, frankly, I’m a half-assed Catholic. Monsignor Lynn probably darkens the confessional door more often than I do. So, I reckon, does Agent Hanssen, although in his case the confessional comes to him; he certainly has the time to entertain chaplain’s visits in his new digs. But this doesn’t say a lot in my defense. I’m still a porn-addled, disorganized wreck with mildly deficient social skills, an underwhelming work ethic, an occasional touch of paranoia, and a pathological fear of the sacrament of penance. My fault, my fault, my most grievous fault. Less grievous a fault than O. J. calling his wife a fucking ungrateful cockgobbling slut and using her as a punching bag? Sure, but that isn’t the point of confession. No matter how true it is, it’s an evasion. Hitler was worse, too. And why shouldn’t I Godwinize this shit? I’d channel Lauryn Hill and make overwrought slavery references if I had the energy and mental wherewithal. The BOP won’t kill her quite as softly as he did with his song, but she won’t be going on vacation in Florence, either, so Bob must find her a terrible whiner. He’d probably find me a whiner, too, especially if he heard me complain about how I’ve been staying at a barely accessible semiresidential motel in a neighborhood of Yorba Linda where the roads were laid out by drunks, and that the drive to downtown Fullerton on the 91 freeway is le hard.

It’s late, and I should go to bed, but not quite yet. I’m nowhere near done with the litany of people who are more culturally Catholic, by which I mean more introspective and contrite, than the average Ashlander. It’s a miracle that Our Lady of the Mountain is able to get upwards of a hundred of the faithful into its Saturday vigil masses: by any clearheaded assessment of Ashland’s sociology, that parish would be holding its own if its membership consisted of a dozen octogenarians served every fourth Sunday by an itinerant Ugandan priest. These people must disappear into the woodwork for the rest of the week, because I don’t hear a peep from them. Actually, Dennis the Workplace Safety Menace is a Catholic, and a parishioner, if I’m not mistaken, but he isn’t so much culturally Catholic as he is culturally hearing himself talk about that twenty percent rice adjunct with a really nice malt finish. That said, he is a bit more introspective than Farmer Uncle, maybe a bit louder in blowing his own horn but definitely less foul. These small mercies count for something. Most Protestants are more culturally Catholic than Ashlanders. John the Bathtub Baptist, the Calvinist preacher (and cradle Catholic) who sent me running into RCIA with his offer to take me upstairs for some summary Jordan River action at a high church soiree, is much more culturally Catholic than all but maybe three people I’ve met in Ashland; he believes in some hella cuckoo shit that makes practicing Catholics roll their eyes when they aren’t grinding political axes, but at least he believes in sin (if anything, too strongly). Many happy-clappy praise-and-worship evangelicals are more culturally Catholic than Ashlanders, although not for lack of trying to be, Father God, just navelgazing morons with hideous aesthetic taste in this place. Grandma, a devout, lifelong Nazarene who said things like “God blesses those who bless Israel,” was fit to be Pope by Ashland standards. So is Lady Kensington, even if she does impulsive things when drunk at sunrise, like throwing her used tampon into the bushes and riding Lord Kensington on a Fishtown stoop, or kicking at the waves in Atlantic City because the now-Late Lord Kensington is “in the sea” (I witnessed the latter incident); she prays for intercession to the Late Lord Kensington, and she readily enough admits that she can be a drunken wreck. Her fault, her fault, her most grievous fault (but not as grievous as the fault of the wilding posh of Haddonfield, shitting on their neighbors’ grand pianos and all that).

I’ve known atheists (including a Polish dude of Northeast Philadelphian extraction who once told me, “I’m as religious as this road”) and agnostics, including Baywatch and my dad, who are more culturally Catholic than most of the people I’ve come across in Jackson County. I recently found an online dating profile that Baywatch maintains.  As poorly written as her explanation of her stance towards religious observance was, a partial list of the people who should read it and cherish it in their hearts includes John Hagee, Richard Dawkins, and most of Congress. Pope Francis is not on the list, although the Vatican functionaries who recently bitchslapped him for being too pluralistic may be.

Really, though, these are all understatements. Your dog is more culturally Catholic than Farmer, Stoner and their crowd when you rub his nose in the dirt for jumping up on the kitchen counter and eating all the hamburger meat. Seriously. Your dog is more contrite and introspective than my people in Ashland. Not even Dennis Rader has ever contrived the apparatus to properly discipline them, and our boy Bob can only monitor them and phone Moscow.

Why do I say this? Well, damned if even more bizarre horseshit pertaining to my departure from Ashland hasn’t come to light. To wit, Farmer Uncle reported to my dad that the day after I left town, he told Stoner Aunt, “Well, it looks like Alien Watcher has left again, but it couldn’t have been anything I did, because all I did was ask him how he was doing.”

Oh. That’s a rather charitable self-assessment. Here’s what I witnessed: after I mumbled a noncommittal response to his first, much more appropriate inquiry into how I was doing, he spent the next half hour muddling around my living space, then accosted me as I returned from the shower and bellowed, “HEY, ALIEN WATCHER, HOW’S EVERYTHING?” as if he were addressing Parliament.

That’s his version of nothing. Yelling pleasantries at me at the top of his voice inside a cramped barn while I tried to put away my towel and shampoo didn’t register as maybe a bit off.

Good God. I’ve done some fucked up, insensitive, weird things to other people, as Baywatch would surely attest to more readily if she had less in the way of manners, but I don’t think I’ve ever come away from such a fuck-up telling third parties, “Hell, no, I didn’t do anything to upset that thin-skinned bitch. Your guess is as good as mine as to what’s wrong with that freak.” No degree of hot mess has put me into such a state that I can’t recognize in a matter of hours, but more often minutes, that I lost my cool and did something not so fucking smart, often something that I can identify, and that I had damn well better take ownership of it and orient myself for some heartfelt, clearheaded damage control.

Hell, I had more wits about me at my worst points with Lady York, when I was ragingly smitten and dealing with a relapse of manic depression. Sputtering and angry though I was at my rejection, I realized that I had been playing a dangerous game with another manic depressive, her Catholic parents, her mentally normal sister, her retarded sister, and her philandering Jewish lover, who was probably in therapy himself as a matter of ethnic statistics. I was conscious that, on a spiritual level, we were ships passing in the night, since she was dropping into the fuzzy realm of “spiritual but not religious” while I was coming under the spell of a slowly crystallizing sort of Christianity (happy-clappy but theologically vapid at that point; hey, it fits the bill for any 19-year-old cradle atheist). I understood that I was an unstable dude hanging around other unstable people, occasionally including a future roommate who, in the very perceptive assessment of one of the most understated people I ever knew at Alma Mater, was “fucking bizarre!”  One of the most powerful experiences I’ve ever had was praying with Fucking Bizarre in the Catholic adoration chapel at midnight, and another one was going jogging past the military college at maybe 11:00 pm while we were both drunk, but his critic was right: he was well weird.

It was epic pwnage by teh hawt mess, but I don’t recall ever earnestly insisting that I was totally blameless and at a loss to understand what I could ever have done to destabilize things. My thoughts were more like, yeah, my grades suck, and I have no future orientation except a vague interest in moving to Brooklyn, becoming an RN and shacking up with Jewish Ben from Brooklyn and Lady York, and I won’t even try to reconcile that ambition with my decision to tutor a bipolar chick with two or three boyfriends on her French papers instead of writing my own history papers, and it’s probably kind of rash for me to be thinking about adopting a child immediately after graduation in order to get a move on with that whole parenting thing, but hey, Lady York herself suggested that I should have grabbed the Camry and taken her on a road trip to the city to see her better third/quarter/whatever, so maybe I’m kinda wacked in the head, but the internal jury is still out. (Junior Bear said it best: “New Yorkers are probably more comfortable with that kind of thing because they have two of everything: the Mets and the Yankees, the Jets and the Giants….they have the Islanders, too.”)

I wasn’t stupid enough to think that I was totally functional and well-adjusted and sane. I was, however, stupid enough to think that I’d have enough time to turn it all around before shit started hitting the fan in my professional life. I knew that I was on the wrong track, but I didn’t shunt myself onto a siding and regroup. (Come to think of it, I didn’t use any other overwrought railroad metaphors back then, either. I knew less about trains.)

Mea culpa. Or, as Farmer Uncle and Stoner Aunt would have it, tua culpa. Because no amount of being broke on other people’s money and yelling at them and then obnoxiously pretending to be upstanding, independent yeomen beholden to no one could ever be the reason that they have crappy, unstable relationships. It’s obviously the fault of those other asshats, the ones who think that there’s something wrong with driving to the top of I-5 with a Sierra Nevada in hand after having had a load on all afternoon. Bless yourself, father; I’m not the sinner around here, asshole.

I doubt I could be such a self-centered, blame-shifting, unintrospective, deranged projectile twit if I tried. It would be a tall order for Bob and Denny, too, I’d say.

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