Dedicated to Kathleen Sawa.
Composed on Tumblr, July 17, 2011
Recently I was getting high and watching TV on a Monday night. First, I attempted to put the BluRay extended version of the Fellowship of the Rings on, but the BluRay player was telling me it was downloading new software so I could not watch the BluRay disc. I was forced, literally, to watch whatever was on the 55’ plasma television (also due to the fact that the TV remote—not the remote to the BluRay and entertainment center, which I had and was useless—was in my sleeping friend’s arms. And what was on the television at first horrified me, and then got infinitely more interesting. The channel was, disgustedly, Bravo and playing an episode of The Real Housewives of New Jersey. At first I was bored to death. Then I watched some interesting family drama that horrified me. The families were, stereotypically, Italian. And the families acted, stereotypically, Italian. Are these families even real? There is no way this is an unscripted “reality show.” And if they are writers, who the hell were they? Why would they want to portray Italians as everyone thinks of Italians? Could they not show a picture of a true American-Italian family? For, what little of what I experienced it, was a beautiful bond of family ties, friendship and catholic piety. And good food. But the television people were violent, and alcoholics, and criminals, guidos, gamblers, maybe Mafia-tyed, rich, and materialistic. I felt a deep sadness for American-Italian culture, the reality of mankind, not the television’s reality.
And suddenly, a scene came on that aroused feelings that shoot through me like a religious experience. In the show, it was Christmas time, and the various families preparing for the holiday. At first I admit I saw a scene that was humbling and beautiful. A family going through legal, social, and monetary trouble was trying to teach their kids that sometimes they cannot always get what they want. But then the cameras moved to another family. They were planning a Christmas party. A woman (who I cannot recall the name of) and her husband, who was sadly named after Jesus’ father, were going to have a lavish party at their mansion. The woman had hired a party planner named Fabulous Fred to, well, plan the party. He came to their home and being showing on the grounds of the estate what he was planning. He first motioned in the mulit-car driveway that he wanted to put next to their fountain a huge roundtable with a statue of Joe and his wife.
I sat up in rapt attention from my lounging position. They were doing what? A statue of themselves at the party in celebration for what the woman described as “Jesus’ birthday?” I was, discernibly, shocked. This sounded more disgustingly extravagant than anything I doubt even Dante could conceive of. If it is indeed scripted, then that writer is a Dostoevskian genius. I doubt all the impious glory of the papacy throughout history could match this. And it got worse.
Fabulous Fred then moved inside to what seemed to me as a parlor. He wanted to put craps and blackjack tables there. I think my heart stopped. You were going to gamble in your home that you are dedicating to Jesus’ birthday?? Do these self-proclaimed devout Catholics not know of the story of Jesus cleansing the temples? Mark 11: 15-19:
And they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold and those who bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. And he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. And he was teaching them and saying to them, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers.” And the chief priests and the scribes heard it and were seeking a way to destroy him, for they feared him, because all the crowd was astonished at his teaching. ESV
True, their home was not exactly a Jewish temple, but it seemed God-damn near close to sacrilege to me. At least the husband seemed taken aback by the extravagance of his wife’s endeavor, who I am now going to call Eve, for metaphorical purposes. Eve then took them to the other two into kitchen and sat them down at a table. Joe brought out alcohol to help him deal with the situation. The satanic Fabulous Fred imbibed too. (Let it not be misunderstood that I am attempting to criticize the use of alcohol to get through everyday life.)
Fabulous Fred then talked about the servers he had to offer. I quote, perhaps not exactly: “Well, the rollpolly people are one price, and the models, the good-looking people that speak well, are another price.” Thankfully, the couple looked a bit shocked. I nearly died in disbelief. Was Fabulous Fred auctioning off human beings to serve as underlings for an evening? And did not the weaker ones come at a lower price? Was this not a form of slavery???
The TV show quickly moved to interview scenes with the husband and wife. There they, paradoxically, both sickeningly and in good charity, mentioned the proceeds (wherever they came from at a Christmas party) were going to help some children’s cancer foundation.
Back to the table. Joe asked Fabulous Fred how much, no bullshit, it would cost.
“You’re looking at 5 g’s.”
Interview. “It’s for the kids.”
The show switched to another family.
As far as I know, the family went through with their party.
I lay petrified on the couch. I was disgusted at the religious hypocrisy. I was horrified with the company for putting this behavior on television and, whether they meant to or not, made this rich, desirable family become a status that middle-class Americans would want to aspire to. I was born Lutheran, so I am naturally critical of the catholic institution, but this act was not purely catholic, it was Christian. It was done under the name of Christ and put on television for the world to see.
I then had, as professor of English at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo John C. Hampsey calls it, the paranoic blue. I saw why our Western Christian capitalistic religion and ways were hated around the world. I saw into the minds of the devout but medieval suicide bombers that kill in the name of Islam. I felt their hate for America. I saw our hypocrisy, our evil ways. I believe I saw the work of God’s adversary, Lucifer.
I got up and rode my bike home as fast as I could.
But, when people I ask I claim I am Christian, and I am no more flawed than they are. I have committed deplorable acts. So let it be the man without sin to cast the first stone.
And we can learn something for this, even though it was sadly put on television. We can vow never to do this again. We can promise to ourselves and to the world we want to make safer that we will be better. Let, as James Joyce said, history be a nightmare from which we will try to awake.