On the way to my Armageddon conference I stop to get a jumbo fountain drink from 7-11.In my neighborhood, this very night, a mystery organization is holding an instructional Bible meeting about how to avoid getting the Devil's mark.Since I don't really drink and I'm the only person in the Live Music Capital of the World who doesn't enjoy standing in bars listening to deafeningly loud bands, I am forced to seek entertainment elsewhere. It's not just the Christian End of Days conferences I enjoy, I've also gone to see a swami at the Palmer Events Center whose face, blown up 30 feet high on a giant screen, was supposed to be able to heal your soul, even if you were sitting in the nosebleed section. The truly mind blowing thing I noted about that event was the way that, somehow, the producers had managed to fill the giant stadium with enough patchouli incense that it burned my eyes from hundreds of feet away.
I am wearing a hidden microphone in my bra because I tend to forget what people say, exactly, and I don't want to paraphrase the Crazy if it's really good.
When I get there it's raining. They've deployed several cheerful young men with umbrellas to walk people from their cars. It's actually day four in the conference, meaning I missed some of the Beast Instructions, but surely all the really good stuff comes later, you know, for a dramatic climax.
I would really like to enjoy my refreshing beverage as I watch the Apocalypse but I feel like somehow that would give me away. It's not a movie, they might think, it's the word of God. Who does she think she is? So, with deep regret, I leave it in the car. A young woman greets me and remarks that I missed the first four days.
"My husband didn't let me come." I say."He doesn't believe in the Word." The women around me shake their heads.
"I will pray to Jesus for him," she says kindly.
I sit down, willing myself not to look at my chest to check and see if my recorder is visible. I pick a seat in the front, far away from the other attendees. As I look around the room I see a completely unremarkable group of people, all races and ages, even a midget.It's much like the cross section I see when I go to Target, only everyone is beaming with happiness.
Suddenly a couple sits down right next to me, even though there is room for a courtesy seat between us. The woman immediately takes off her Crocs and grinds her bare toes into the carpet while cracking the tab on a can of Coke.
Why does she get to drink Coke? Who does she think she is?
The preacher jumps onstage with a microphone. He looks and sounds just like Ryan Seacrest.
I am so jealous of the Coke I can't even pay attention to what the preacher is saying until he begins to hop up and down, which he does a lot, and each time he jumps or dances the audience yells, "AMEN!" I don't feel like yelling Amen, which causes Crocs to look at me.
They know I'm not one of them.
Can she see my microphone? I can't look down.
Another distraction is the spectacular Power Point presentation this guy is doing on giant screens above us. There are pictures of the Beast, exquisite depictions of a horned creature with six lion heads and the body of a panther. I risk taking a picture of one with my cell phone camera, which elicits another stare from Crocs. I am so thirsty. She guzzles her drink. I hate her.
The preacher reveals that the Devil has infiltrated the Catholic Church. Guess who the Beast is? No, really just guess. The Pope.
"...and then the red Dragon, working through the Vatican, came down to try to kill the seed of the woman as soon as it was born, the second coming of JE-sus Christ! The Devil will be worried that the Prophecy might come true, he will be quaking in his boots, but he has one thing on his side-his infiltration of the Catholic Church!"
Everyone is yelling "Amen!" The TV screen shows an awesome picture of a seven-headed dragon juxtaposed across a picture of the Pope.It reminds me SO MUCH of late night advertisements for the World Wrestling Federation. The next image shows Jesus on one side, the snarling Beast on the other, with the giant glowing words-VS- between them. The beast could clearly take Jesus, any betting man would know that.
I have had to pee since this began and now I am dying to go. I'm afraid that getting up will bust me, surely the faithful would just hold it. We are asked to bow our heads to pray. Silence fills the hall.
Then I hear it, coming from my pocket.
"Gotta get that-Gotta get that-Boom Boom Pow..."
It's my novelty cell phone ring. It startles Crocs, who kicks over her Coke and cuts her eyes over to me in annoyance. She tries to keep her head bowed as she picks it up with her bare feet and rights it on the carpet again.
I have to pee so bad. The Devil is giving me a bladder infection. I pray that Jesus will heal it.
The rest of the sermon is boring. He reveals that Easter and Christmas are based on pagan fertility holidays. Duh. He acts like this is some big secret he's telling us, and the audience gasps. Jesus Christ, I think, give me some 666 shit. Give me some Mark of the Beast, some Left Behind. But he disappoints me, telling the audience that he will reveal all of that on Saturday, which means I have to come back. It may be too late, because there is no one more likely to accidentally sign up with the Beast than me. I've often signed contracts without reading them, allowed different businesses to draft my account for vague reasons that sound good at the time. "What is this 'monthly maintenance fee' from Creditcorp?" says Jeff."Did you give out our account number again? What is wrong with you?" So, it's likely I have already cast my lot with the damned.But maybe Biblical scholars translated it wrong, maybe "lake of fire" was the only way they could think of describing the modern hot tub? I'm pretty sure that chain stores like 7-11 would be present in Hell, offering us 99 cent Taquitos and 36 ounce Big Gulps, while the faithful are just sitting at the feet of God drinking milk and honey. When I contemplate this image of eternity, God is wearing Crocs. I shudder.
Pastor Seacrest wraps it up. They do a raffle and give someone an ipod, then it's over. Husband of Crocs leans over to me and asks my name.
Shit, I think, They know. "Sunny." "Hi Sunny, I'm Mark and this is Jamie.Nice to meet you." "Wow, that was some crazy stuff,right?" I ask. "I need a drink!" They exchange glances. "Um, I'm not sure that was what you were supposed to come away with." " No it's all right. You know, Babylon, the Devil, it's all just so freaky. I just need to relax and think it all over with a beer or two."
"It would be better if you just read your Bible. We're going to pray for you. Do you want to sit next to us next time?"
"Sure will." I say "I have to pee really bad. Gotta Go!"
In the lobby I run into Ryan Seacrest. "Hey-one question," I say."How soon is the end?" "Soon. Very very soon. I won't say how soon. But you better get right with God." "We were thinking about buying a house." "You follow your own conscience. But it will be soon." "No, really, How soon, exactly?" "Soon. Come tomorrow night." I laugh. "If there is a tomorrow night, am I right?"
Sunny Haralson was born in a house of ill repute. After acing the first grade, she ran away to join the circus. At night, while the elephants slept, she learned how to spin and sew from the spiders. She made whimsical creations for the trapeze artists, who needed their outfits to be both beautiful and comfortable. Magpies brought her shiny objects to embellish the costumes with, if they sometimes accidentally brought an eyeball they'd plucked from some unfortunate, she forgave them and quietly popped it into her mouth. The circus, for all it glorious adventure, was often low on dietary protein.
When she tired of circus life she retired and set out alone to the desert in a stolen hot air balloon.
It's there, in a tiny FEMA trailer, that she writes her tell-all memoir. She steals ideas from the coyotes and writes them down with needles made from the giant cactus that guards her doorway. The UPS man never sees her face.