Monday, November 28, 2011

Andrew Goes to Confession.

I really should have gotten to bed earlier last night. My face rots in the mirror, eyes like two black holes.

Should I shave? Will it even matter?
No, why fake it. This is what I look like, just run with it and hope for the best.

My crusty vision fights the morning light. In the Dakota, I battle a bit of rush hour traffic, bringing my nicotine breakfast in and out of the window.

The parking lot of St. Thomas is relatively stark this early on a Monday. All the weekend warriors are busy back in their normal lives until Sunday.

Should I tell him my deep-seeded depression might not just be mine, but shared by an entire generation without a purpose? An entire future sitting alone on a computer, detached from what little you create. Less likely to go outside and build something, less likely to know your own neighbors. Driving and living shoulder to shoulder amongst thousands of strangers, zombies, self-centered lifestyles out of fear.

Or it’s just too early and I need sleep. That could be it too.

I find the Parish Office 15 minutes early. I try the door but it’s locked. So I back off from the door, and a moment later, this girl opens it to let me in. She’s shapely, with long dark hair and a pretty smile.
“Good morning, I’ll tell Father John you’re here,” she smiles again.
Mmm. I could stare at her all day.

Great Andrew, why not lust after the receptionist in the priest’s office while you’re at it.

I sit on this quiet couch and sink deeply into it. On the walls are sporadic Jesus-related paintings, and a picture of John Paul II, looking very much like Yoda if he were weighed down by overly ornate garb.
Within minutes I feel like I’m waiting for a dentist. Distant office chatter about how-was-your-Thanksgiving-oh-it-was-good, the occasional phone ringing.

The third person in as many minutes walks by, suggests I have some coffee.
“Oh no thanks.”
Do I really look that tired?

A tiny old lady, trying hard to walk in without assistance, finds the receptionist and asks where her sunglasses went.
Pretty Receptionist does her best to tell the old lady she has no idea who she is, or where her sunglasses are.
A third woman appears, jovial and pleasant, from one of the back offices. She corrals the old lady back outside with a helpful demeanor.

I glance at the coffee machine’s clock from across the room, it’s 9:10. Father John’s purposely having me stew for a while, it seems. Can’t show up right away, have to let the patient wait a bit. Make it look like you’re busy.


I get up and see John. He’s not wearing his dress today. Instead he’s in all black like I am.

“Yeah that’s me.”

“Uh… there’s coffee over there?” he points, with a concerned look on his face.
“No thanks. Hey sorry I got scheduled so early. I think they do it on purpose, so I’ll be rotten and grumpy, and more likely to tell you how I really feel.”
“It’s true,” he says, as I follow him into his office.

“Hey damn. Nice office man. Stained wood furniture, black leather, plenty of literature.”
“Yeah,” he drops into a comfy chair opposite from my own, “I should have a nice office, don’t you think?”

I crack an offensive joke about priests rollin’ on 22 inch rims.

“We totally could if we wanted to. At least the kind of priest I am. We don’t take a vow of poverty.”
The both of us shoot the breeze for a while. I mention my world view of ironic isolation because of the internet. Instead of being weirded out, he chimes in immediately. We exchange jokes unheeded on the subject. I tell him if Jesus were to appear now, people would be taking Twitpics of him and texting while he’s standing there confused.

“I just feel like I could be right next to someone, yet they’re miles away. I mean the other day I saw a commercial ‘Use your Visa Card for a chance to win tickets to the Super Bowl for you and ten friends!' And I’m like, I don’t even have ten friends. And the two I have don’t even give a shit about football.”
Father John laughs.

“Seriously, I’d just sit there with an entire row to myself. Sorry these seats are taken, I have the tickets right here.”

John laughs again, then tells me about how he used to be on Facebook, but kept offending people and stopped, “It’s like I have all these ‘friends’ mostly nutjobs from high school that I never even talk to. I’d say the smallest thing on there and they’d all freak out.” He went on about the anonymity of the internet. How people say bold things they normally wouldn’t in person. How meeting a lover now is so cold, calculated, statistical, and distant through online ventures.

I tell him I feel awkward in Mass. That I watched this angelic girl sing in front of the crowd, tried to clap afterwards and felt like a moron.


“Dude yeah. I was like what the hell she did great. No one claps? She could have died up there and gotten the same reaction.”

“Well it’s a song about Jesus. It’s about Jesus, not her.”

“Then we don’t clap for Jesus?”

“No, we don’t clap for Jesus.”

“So if she does lousy, then what?”

“Then I fire her, I guess. I can’t believe that was you clapping. I seriously thought it was some mentally challenged kid or something. If that happened like five or six years ago, I would’ve gotten on the mic and publicly berated you!”

“Then I would have twitched like a retard, cried and ran out.”
We both laughed hard again. I like Father John.

I crack a few more offensive jokes about Jesus waking up in the middle of the night when the church is empty, scratching himself, stretching, then returning to his normal Crucifix pose. John enjoys them, then checks the clock and goes “Oh yeah, so you have some sins?”

“A load of them.”

“Ok well we better do this by the book,” he takes this silky looking purple scarf out, kisses it, says “I do this so it looks like I care. I mean, I do care. You uh, you know what I mean.”

“You sure you don’t want to work on some crossword behind a clipboard while I ramble on and you act like you’re listening?”

“I already did my crossword. Guess I’m out of luck,” he chuckles at me again.

We get the formalities out of the way, then he motions for me to begin.

“Yeah so I lied, I double-parked, will vote for Ron Paul again and I’ve been intentionally avoiding some bill collectors.”

“That’s not so bad.”

“Well I didn’t want to give you a heart attack right off the bat, father.”

“I appreciate it. But go on.”

“Ok, make sure you’re comfortable. You need a snack?”

“I just ate breakfast, go ahead,” he says.

So I went on about my worst secrets. The drug thing, the crimes, the miracle story, the broken heart and so on. He interrupted me a few times with a “Whoa. Wait. Really? Then what happened?”
He was even leaning forward.

So I conclude.
He says “Wow.”
I respond with “Though it sounds like it, I’m not Satan I promise.”
He raised an eyebrow, “How do you figure?”
“Satan would be better looking.”
We both shared a hearty laugh.

“So is that it?” he said, wiping his eyes.
“That’s the gist of it, I’d say,” my stomach growled hungrily.

He then held his hand out and spoke a bit about how I was absolved of my sins. I recanted a prayer with him about how I’m sorry and won’t do it again. Afterwards I ask “What time is it?”
“It’s 10am on the dot,” he said.

“Dang, you’re a professional!” I shook his hand, “How much I owe you doc?”

“Three Our Fathers in front of Joseph in the church. Ask him to pray for you, to help you become the man God wants you to be.”

“That’s it? I don’t have to paint the roof or get whipped by some Haitians?”
“Not on Mondays.”

We chatted outside for a bit longer about Italian food. He says he feels fat, I tell him don’t worry I’ll be fat soon too. He shook my hand again with a big smile, and I left for work. J

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Andrew, the 350z, and the Policeman.

I already regret doing what I did tonight. I wouldn't recommend it. But it sure gave me a rush! Whew.


The last few days I’ve been house-sitting for a close friend of mine who’s out of town.
In the garage, sits a fresh and clean Nissan 350z. It’s silver with black leather, pure temptation wrapped in metal and fiberglass.
It’s Friday night. I get off work early, come back to the house and let myself inside.
I set my keys down on the counter, and see the Nissan’s key waiting there as it has for days.
Take me, it says.
I pick the key up, caressing it.
This isn’t my key. But it sure feels like it.

I walk out to the garage. I just want to hear her.
I turn the key inside her, letting the seat embrace me tightly. She wakes up with pleasure and conviction.
Drive me- drive me hard, she says. Not just anywhere though. Somewhere special.

Camp Creek.

This place is a twisty, unfinished road in the mountains. I used to take my MR2 Turbo up there, and push it to the limit. It’s always a rush of fear and pleasure, like sex during a skydive. This particular piece of road has a speed limit of 25mph, half of it has no guard rails to protect you from the cliff drop-offs. If you make a mistake, it’s either crush into rock face, or fly into the night to your end.

The shifter takes my right hand. My foot massages the clutch as I cycle through her gears. Like an athlete in a suit, the 350z growls but with composure. She brings me with smooth resolve to the end of the neighborhood.
There’s no going back now. She’s got plenty in the tank, it’s Camp Creek time.

Leaving the last bit of civilization, I come to the point where I have to get out and remove a small blockade. Moving the “Do Not Enter” stands aside, I pull the car passed them, then move the barricades back in place.

I take a moment to look at the 350z, and gather my surroundings. It’s quiet, very dark. There are thousands more stars here than I’m used to. The mountain cliffs reach high, the wind cuts through them with a cold howl.
It’s just me, the Z, and this challenge of a road. It’s been quite some time since I negotiated the corners here. Combined with how my driving style will have to change abruptly for this car, I’ll take it easy the first time up and down.

So the Z and I work our way through the blinds turns, the violent twists, hills and valleys. I make note of each unique element. I’m especially cautious of a series of tight hairpin turns, where no guard rail is present on the outside edge. This road is just a couple miles, but it’s a difficult journey the entire time. A true test, I can see why this road was seemingly abandoned in the middle of construction.
The final stretch is the only part where the road stays relatively straight. It juts up quickly, wraps around a sharp rock face, then turns to dirt. This is the end of the uphill battle of Camp Creek.

I let the car idle a moment. My heartbeat is calm, matching the Z’s.

Exhaling, I engage 1st, 2nd, now 3rd gear back down the straight. Her shifter is quicker than you can think. Smooth, short, and without hesitation. The Z craves me to push harder. We slide around the last cliff edge, all the way down to the beginning of the course.
The downhill is harder on the brakes, so I let her rest at idle on the bottom, while I smoke a Camel.

Ok, practice run is done.

As I finish my cigarette, a flashing occurs in the distance. It’s blue and red. Disappearing then reappearing as it tiptoes around the corners of the rock face.
Someone must have heard my tires screeching. I shouldn’t have come on a Friday night.

Get in, the Z whispers.

The policeman has 3 or 4 more corners until he’s where I am. My left foot drops the clutch, as my right pushes the gas hard. The Z’s tires happily search for grip. We blast together as One up the course again. I’m still unsure of myself on a few of the corners, getting only slightly bolder around the turns on the 2nd run. I watch my rearview mirror, seeing the cop car still back 3 or 4 turns.

The final set of hairpins welcomes me hungrily. The Z and I reach the top straight and I let her scream to redline. The pavement turns to dirt. My right hand and thumb engage the e-brake, my left turning the wheel hard. The Z enjoys it, flipping 180 degrees in place, then stops.

I’m facing down the hill again. Dusty remnants breathing over my headlights.

The policeman is further back than I thought. I see his lights moving up the twists and turns across the valley. There’s no tire screeching. The policeman is unfamiliar with this road.

 I notice my hands are shaking on the steering wheel and shifter.
“This is when a man would think of his wife and kids, and give himself up,” I told the windshield.
The Z’s engine continued to whisper sweet nothings, undaunted.
“You’re right. I’m not one of those men.”

My hands tightened their grip. My heartbeat thundered in my chest.
The officer was closing in. He stopped ahead of me maybe 20 feet, covering me in a spotlight.

“Should we let him arrest us? He can’t see your plates,” I told the Z.
The officer stepped out of his vehicle, aiming his flashlight at me. He’s the single source of light out here, otherwise surrounded by pitch black.

Now is the time. I shut the lights off. Combined with the dusty cloud upon leaving, there’s zero chance one could make out a license plate in this darkness.

“Turn the car off si-“

I couldn’t hear the rest of his words over the Z’s burst of energy. My hands and feet worked with the Z in a perfect song. This was the stupidest thing I’ve done in a while, yet I was doing it very, very well.
My eyes darted from the dangerous curves ahead, to the rearview mirror, and back again.
The last time I saw the policeman, he was hurrying back to his car as the passing cliff swallowed him in the dark.

It was all or nothing at that point. Time to really see what me and this Z can do. I flipped the lights back on and took a deep breath.
Where the MR2’s headlights would search helplessly for the road ahead, the Z’s eyes lit the world up like mid-afternoon. Where the MR2’s turbocharged power would burst without warning, the Z’s natural aspiration came on like sweet foreplay.
We darted and dodged around corners, flying downhill to a 300 foot stretch. Right at the end of the stretch is a bump, then a tight hairpin going left.
I was going too fast, but couldn’t afford to hesitate.
The Z hit the bump, and for a moment, none of my tires were on the ground.
The hairpin was coming up fast, as my left hand flung the wheel to the left. We landed together with a chirp, as the e-brake engaged. Sliding around the hairpin, I went to hit the gas harder to push out of the turn… and nothing happened. No tires screeching, just more sliding.
The rear end was hanging off the cliff. It had to only last for a moment, but when it did, my stomach sank.
My hands gripped white on the wheel, my feet preying on the pedals for some response.
Luckily I had enough momentum to carry through the corner, as all four wheels rejoined the road.

The rest was a blur. My body and the Z kept speeding down the course, but my mind was shocked elsewhere.

I was out of Camp Creek and entering normal roads with streetlights. Still moving quickly, I found a gas station and pulled the Z in behind it, shutting her off completely.

I went inside, casually chatting with the clerk as I saw the policeman, sirens wailing, tear by the station and continue on.
Chatting a few more moments, I bought a pack of Camels to kill time, went out to the Z and slumped in her seat.

“Let’s never do that again,” I told the both of us.
The Z’s interior smiled at me, then went back to being metal and fiberglass.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Andrew vs Leila Miller

It had been six years since I had stopped attending Catholic church.
I started off with the right intentions, did my share of studying religious options. Took pieces of each major sect that I found fitting.
Then went off on my own.
I made some good moves and bad ones. One particular bad choice sent me five years into the wrong direction. I became the bad guy, out of necessity. I eventually lucked out though, being part of the 1% that survives hard drug addiction relatively unscathed.

I've since removed that problem, but not the cause of it. So I began searching for a purpose. Some proof, some adjustment, something or someone to open my eyes.

I felt I was a good person on the inside, and I always treated people around me well. I'm known as a nice guy. Described as that person that makes you laugh and feel good, even the one to ask for advice.

I also sin casually. I sin regularly and knowingly. And so far, I'm still alive and well despite doing it. I've become the entertainer wherever I go. I use coarse language happily. I'm blunt, sarcastic, aloof and constantly finding inappropriate humor in things. I'll even ponder funny scenes in my head... during a funeral.

But now it's time to get serious. I'm getting to the age where finding a wife and building my own family is the next step. If I want to find the One, I need to be the One to find as well.

So to get started on fixing Andrew Centrella-
I figured I'd choose the strictest, most guilt-ridden and staunch religion there was to investigate over again.

Enter Leila Miller. Imagine the sweetest lady you've ever met, and you have some idea of Leila. She's got a huge pile of kids, and they're all adorable angels. Along with her husband, there isn't a family closer to the idealized perfection you'd see on 1950s television.

Leila fearlessly sticks her chin out with a very, very Catholic set of morals. She even posts her guts online, inviting an onslaught. Leila regularly jumps face first into touchy subjects- some of them challenging my own core beliefs. I admired that. Who is this crazy woman?

So I read up on her. This lady sticks to her guns- Jesus in the right hand, and Virtue in the other.

Normally I'm the distant critic, never fully attached to any one idea. Leila's the exact opposite, her steadfast resolve impressed me.
But instead of praising her, I attacked her. She represented what I wanted to be, but couldn't be. All the mental back and forth I had developed over my ugly lifetime, I flung at her, hoping to either learn something or cause damage.

Even if I secretly agreed with her position on some things, I'd still poke and prod at her with commentary. Where previous opposition would admit defeat, Leila would come right back with a hard jab of Convincing, and a right hook of Documentation. Despite me being some online faceless punk, she fought me with all the patience and love of a good mother.

Her goal wasn't to beat me, but to save me.

Fast forward some time, and she eventually gets the crazy idea to invite me to her Catholic mass.
Her Catholic bubble.

Brave move on her part. Sure you can get to know someone a bit through online chatter, but I'm no saint. In fact, at that point I fully admitted to her I was complete scum, yet she welcomed me without hesitation.

I've been to mass hundreds of times, but I was rusty. The crowd would recite their routine responses and prayers. I remembered most of them, but didn't speak a word.

So Leila is bowing her head respectfully, the priest is talking, and I'm trying to listen.

Then I look up at the ceiling and imagine Jesus bursting in, shooting some Conversion Lasers, beating me up in action hero fashion, blessing everyone else then backflipping his way out the door.

Dammit concentrate. This is your salvation, you jerk.

Father John, a jolly rotund fellow in a green dress, begins the Eucharist.
He lifts up the Body of Christ and says what he should.
Despite how lousy I know that cracker tastes. I'm starving.

Oh man, I could eat a whole bowl of that. Actually, screw that cracker. Jesus should taste more like a bacon-wrapped filet mignon, medium rare. Oh and with sauteed mushrooms and onions.

Now the priest is lifting up the Blood of Christ and taking a sip.
Is that a house cabernet? I'd like a glass or three.

People are filing out of their pews now. My turn's coming up! I'm so ready to eat some Jesus. Then I look at Leila, who appears proud that I haven't run out yet, and remember that I CAN'T accept the Eucharist without first going into Confession.

And before I can go into Confession, I have to list out every bad thing I've done according to an Examination of Conscience. After taking this exam, I scored a "You are the Devil"

Leila's still encouraging, helping me set an appointment for a Confession. When the lady from St. Thomas calls me to schedule, poor thing will have to clear out the whole day. Figure I'll bring Father John lunch for the first half, and dinner for the second.

I'll update as this evolves.

Oh, and so this blog's headline isn't a complete disappointment... Leila won the fight.