Late summer/ early fall, 1971. Catholic mass, intensely boring at St. Simon’s Parish, inner-eastside of Indianapolis, long-since closed. The church decor was far-fetched. It had thick bluish-green shag carpeting for some reason, which seemed incongruous juxtaposed against the Madonnas, soothing fountains, incense, and legions of votive candles. Not to mention that enormously looming crucifixion deal up front. All topped off by shag carpeting, as if Mike Brady had decorated the place. I’d been dragged to early mass with Sam, my biological father. There was an early NFL game he had wagered heavily on and it kicked-off at noon. This meant we had to hit the crazy-early mass.
Mass was going along like it pretty much always does. Some standing, some sitting, some kneeling. Uncomfortable pews, knee-breaking kneelers. Kids were fidgety. Hymns, incense, the whole production. Father Sweeney was officiating; corpulent, perspiring through the air conditioning, heavily robed, wearing Drew Carey glasses, doing his thing.
All the sudden, the doors flung open. In my imagination, they were heavy oak doors, almost medieval. I promise this next part happened; absolutely. Light shined in on our sanctified dungeon. We were maybe fifteen minutes into mass when into the church came this happy-go-lucky, goofy bastard. He had sandals on, blue jeans, and one of those white pullover shirts that had droopy sleeves. Yes, he had long brown hair and a beard and a shit-eating grin. I think he actually said, “Hello everybody!” with outstretched arms. Nobody said anything back immediately, but you could cut the tension with a knife.
Eastside Jesus ambled up the center aisle in his bastard goofy sandals and patted some kids on the head. (Not me). Elderly crones toward the front began accosting the wayward encroacher. The echo in the old church impeded hearing what was spoken but their tone was clearly, “Get out of here immediately.” Father Sweeney was understandably confused. He tried to officiate between his parish and the curious figure who now stood before him. Over the mic, I heard him say, “It might be best if you just left.”
Eastside Jesus was admittedly a bit repugnant. He emitted a certain needy, aren’t-I-amazing/ look-at-me vibe. He seemed to annoy many people and was quite possibly high as a kite. He certainly seemed to desire attention more than say food or shelter at that particular moment. Maybe he just wanted a hug, some validation. He probably stunk really badly.
The reaction of the flock, however, reflected a distinct lack of patience, mercy, or compassion. The was no, “Hey, what’s this guy’s story? Maybe we can help him” moment. Not even a hint of it. In fact, I could have envisioned this goofy bastard getting nailed up on the wall in fairly short order if the crones up front had much to say about it, huffing impatiently all the while to get back to the liturgy and completely missing any irony and/or hypocrisy in the process.
I have this vision of Actual Jesus slipping into a mass, a minute or two late, sliding into one of the back pews and checking things out. Seeing how the old corporation was running, as it were. I wonder if he'd stick around for the entire show, given current reality.