I keep an online journal every month on my website: http://mferguson76.com and thought I'd cut and paste June's issue since it has some Jehovah's Witness related remarks and some ideas from Sarah Vowell on her upbringing as a fundamentalist:
Volume 3 - Issue 6 - June 2003
"I just don't see how a world that makes such wonderful things, could be bad?"
About 7 years ago, I waited tables at a Red Lobster in Valencia, California. A gay coworker of mine, Mike Madrigal, affectionately called me Jehovah (this was before I was disfellowshipped - or as one friend put it: "dismembered" - from the Jehovah's Witnesses). Besides his waitering job, he managed an Urban Outfitters in Palmdale. "Hey Jehovah, could you get me a side of ranch? Table 22 can kiss my ass. You know they're not going to leave ten percent and they work me like a dog. Girl, I've had it up to here. Jehovah, the ranch? Hello! Can you believe I was slapped with a lawsuit for sexual harrasment? And it was a woman... it was a woman! I brought my lover into the courtroom and this poor girl, I don't know what she was thinking. But honey, the judge didn't need evidence." He was my introduction to the world of flaming gay waiters, or gay... anything. He was even on the Jerry Springer show. Living in my sheltered world... Jehovah's Witness... home schooled... I decided that all homosexuals acted like Mike Madrigal.
My coworkers at the Red Lobster were really my biggest introduction to the world outside of the "Kingdom Hall" (JW term for church). Since Jehovah's Witnesses aren't allowed to celebrate holidays, I was faced with telling my coworkers that not only could I not help them sing the "Happy Birthday" song, but, well... "if there's a birthday at my table, could you guys sing for me?" I asked with a worried smile. This caused a lot of griping from a coworker named Kim. But complaining was part of his nature (yes, Kim was a man). Another server with a motherly instinct came to my defense however, and backed him into a corner with a speech on freedom of religion and that he would take the [email protected]#in' cake and sing the song or have her to deal with.
Mariany was from Brazil. She had that amazing accent (that completely intoxicates me when coming from a gay guy) and had she been more bubbly she would have floated away. Everything she said was explanation marked and prefaced with the word "sweetheart". On the lunch shift, we had Maria. She was a bitch with a thick German accent and everyone requested her section. I didn't get it. A short stout woman in her 60's, she could gun you down with words. Coming up to the table she would say by way of introduction "Hi. I'm Maria. What do you want to drink and you better not make trouble?" or if you were a returning guest "Oh no! not you again. You always coming to give me a hard time." But she would nullify her villany with her hearty German laugh. Also on the lunch shift we had "Marnie" with bigger than life hair. She was from Palmdale and also a tough woman. She used to ask me questions about my religion and as I explained my beliefs she nodded, but somehow still gave me the impression that I was from another planet and she was reaching out to try and understand me.
Waitering made me curious about the non-believers. They weren't so bad. There was never a dull moment. I think it was at the Red Lobster that in many ways I came out of my shell. After a year I was known for my ability to engage people in Broadway showtunes at the salad prep area. "Singing in the Rain" while serving up a Ceasar salad became my outlet to compensate for not being able to sing the "Happy Birthday" song. It was my goal to deconstruct their preconceptions about the Jehovah's Witnesses, and when they were least suspecting, convert them. But I think they knew about me. After all, how many guys knew all the words to "Part of That World" from the "Little Mermaid" soundtrack. "Maybe he's right... Maybe there is something the matter with me? I just don't see how a world that makes such wonderful things.. could be bad." That became an ironic preface for the life that was to come.
Well, I promised I would talk about something educational and enlightening, in response to the criticism I recieved from my friend Dean, who would have me rename my monthly journal "The Cotton Candy Review". Well, I did it. I read two books! Put that in your pipe and smoke it. The first one was written by my favorite "Sarah Vowell" and is called "Take the Cannoli". There were some excellent commentaries, including several passages on her Pentecostal upbringing. I didn't realize how much we had in common - me and Sarah.
We both have very religious mothers who have been disappointed in our lack of faith. However, if Sarah's mom and mine were to run a race fueled by religious conviction, I think that my mom would cross that finish line first. My mother is a wonderful person, its just that when we talk, I feel like I've torn her heart out. I can only take so much of that. Why can't my mother be Jewish and just scream at me for being a terrible son? My mother quietly asks me if I'm still in Satan's camp. How do you answer a question like that, especially with a lump in your throat and tears in your eyes? Anyway, I'm getting depressed writing about it. So back to Sarah Vowell.
I have to quote various passages in her book where she talks about her religious upbringing, on pages 37-40:
"Still, Armageddon is kind of a lot to lay on a six-year-old. The Book of Revelation includes verse after verse of dragons and demons and the blood of the lamb. A typical passage reads, "And the fourth angel poured out his vial upon the sun; and power was given unto him to scorch men with fire." Frankly I could have done with fewer seven seals and more seven dwarves"
"Being a fundamentalist means going straight to the source. I was asked to not only read the Bible, but to memorize Bible verses. If it wasn't for the easy access to the sordid Word of God I might have had an innocent childhood. Instead, I was a worrywart before my time, shivering in constant fear of a god who, from what I could tell, huffed and puffed around the cosmos looking like my dad did when my sister refused to take her vitamins that one time"
"God for me, was not in the details. I still set store by the big Judeo-Christian messages. Who can argue with the Ten Commandments? Don't kill anybody; don't mess around with other people's spouses; be nice to your mom and dad. Fine advice. It was the minutiae that nagged at me.
One of my favorite television characters was Star Trek's Mr. Spock. I would torment my hotheaded sister, Amy, an extreme child who batted back and forth between only two emotional states - love and hate - by reproaching her feverish fits (while ducking her punches) with the comeback "You are being so irrational." Same goes for church. My Spockish nature tended to clash with some of the more fanciful details of Bible theory and practice that are part of Pentecostal life.
It was made clear to me that I wasn't supposed to trouble the moody Creator with any pesky questions about the eccentricities of His cosmic system. So when I asked about stuff that confused me, like "How come we're praying for the bar to be shut down when Jesus himself turned water into wine?", I was shushed and told to have faith. Thus my idea of heaven was that I got to spend eternity sitting at the feet of God, grilling Him. "Let me get this straight," I'd say by way of introduction. "It's your position that every person ever born has to suffer because Eve couldn't resist a healthy between-meals snack?" Once I got the metaphysical queries out of the way I could satisfy my curiosity about how He came up with stuff I was learning about in school, like photosynthesis. Until the mark of the beast police machine-gunned me to the Greeat Q & A in the Sky, I soon figured out that I should keep my qualms to myself. Christianity is no different from any other cult-it isn't about faith. It's about agreement, about like-minded people sitting together in the same room at the same time believing the same thing. That unity is it's appeal. Once someone, even a little six-year-old someone wearing patent leather Mary Janes, starts asking questions that can't be answered, the whole congregation's fun is spoiled"
Sarah Vowell writes on a variety of topics: her politically divided house in Bozeman Montana, school experiences, and the forgotten Hitleresque relocation of the Cherokee Indians (the trail of tears). You should buy her book.
So what else? I'm still pining away at the Doubletree Guest Suites in Boston, helping people find their way. People truly become helpless around a concierge. I'm surprised that no one has come up to ask if I could tie their shoes for them. Speaking of which, I was walking to work and came across this crippled women yelling like there was a real emergency, so I stopped to see if she needed help. "Help me! Help me! I've gotta get the bus! Pleeeease!" she was screaming. Although very close to the bus stop she could only move very slowly with her cane. So I helped her along, assuring her that the bus driver would wait for her. But she wouldn't stop screaming "No! I can't miss that bus. I can't miss it! Oh dear God!" The bus pulled up and she continued: "Let me on! Let me go first.. oh God! Ahhh! Help!" as I was right there with her. Good lord lady. As she struggled up the steps she yelled back at me "Oh, Thank you! I don't know you but I love you! Thank you!" Then at the person sitting near the front of the bus: "I need that seat! Oh God! Pleease! Give me that seat!" With every word she sounded like someone was driving a knife into her heart and she was begging for mercy. It was kind of hard to explain why I was late for work that day. "Um, the crazy crippled lady was screaming at me and, oh forget it."