I can't go back to Armageddon anymore because I made the rookie mistake of writing down my real name on a raffle slip. The idiocy of this action will become clear in a minute. It goes like this: I sit down next to an Indian lady who begins to talk to me about the previous nights sermon. I'm again struck by how kind everyone seems to be, how inclusive. It really does make you want to be a part of whatever it is they're into.
I hear my dad's voice in the back of my mind. Don't drink the kool aid.
I told her that as soon as I got home from the last meeting I burned my rosary. Her eyebrows shot up.
"You need to talk to Pastor Seacrest." she said, and got up to go tell him about me. I could see them pointing at me from the stage. She came back to her chair and told me that he would find me after the sermon.
Then he began to jump around again and tell us how Satan was infiltrating America because it is God's chosen country. He is doing this through discouraging people from following the Ten Commandments, encouraging the widespread belief in evolution and through the gays of course.
"Nowadays, people fornicate with anything, we have bisexuals, we have men going with other men. 'ALTERNATIVE LIFESTYLES!'I don't remember any of THAT in the Bible. It's sick."
AMEN! yells the crowd.
"We have twelve year old girls, pregnant." The man beside me has taken off his glasses, tears are streaming down his face.
Then he talks for a long time about honoring the Sabbath, making us flip back and forth through the Bible a gazillion times. It's so boring my ass hurts. I want a cigarette.
This must be what Hell is like, and indeed, it does feel as if there is a tiny demon stabbing my ass with a pitchfork. I squirm.
The woman beside me gives me a slip of paper with her phone number on it and asks for mine.
"I can't really give that out," I say "My husband doesn't know I'm here. He's a Muslim." I whisper.
"Oh,"she nods. "Pray for him. Maybe this will inspire him later."
When it's over I'm disappointed. There wasn't one Beast on the Power Point today. It feels like I am never going to find out how to avoid the Mark of Satan after all. I've already decided that I won't be coming back. They keep dangling it like a carrot- the Devil's Mark, the Last Days, Jesus riding on a white horse carrying a glowing, holy AK47, but they never deliver the goods. I can't take it anymore.
Ryan Seacrest, you tease, you.
Then a man begins to dig in a floral basket for the names of the nights raffle winners. Here is where my downfall begins. I didn't think anything of it when I walked in the door, just signed my name to a raffle slip. I never, ever win contests of any kind, so it didn't occur to me that I would win, or that the preacher would announce my full name on the loudspeaker, or that I would have to go up in front of the crowd to collect my prize. Unfortunately, it wasn't the ipod. It was a book called "The Truth about Mary Magdalene."
Right, how fitting, a book about the whore.
He called me over to him after I won the raffle.
"I heard you are having some problems." He smiled down at me.
"Yeah, Listen, I'm definitely going to Hell. I don't love Jesus, I just can't. It seems so stupid to me."
"Well.....I'm glad you're here anyway. How did you find out about us?"
'I got this thing in the mail and I thought it would be entertaining to come hear about the Antichrist." I said.
"I'd love to get together with you and talk one on one about your issues." he says.
They are all this way, so genuinely kind and welcoming, but holding belief systems so judge-y and hate-y. It's really disconcerting. It strikes me, then, that I am just as judgemental of what they are all about as they are of me and mine.
"Yeah... I'm probably not going to do that, but thanks for the book." And I split, feeling profoundly uncomfortable that hundreds of people could now look my name up on the Internet if they chose and see me making fun of their Apocalypse Party.
Later, when I told Jeff about the raffle, he said "You outed yourself? Are you retarded? Now they're going to come kill us. What is wrong with you?"
"Yeah, I know. What an amateur move. Dude, I'm sorry, it's been great being married to you."
"Maybe they'll just kill you. You are the Muslim, after all."
"You are so mean."
"What do you expect? I am going to Hell, after all."
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.