Good morning, y’all. You know when you look at the sum of a person’s life you’re supposed to ignore the anomalies, the outliers, and concentrate on the overall sum and essence of the person. So, from the point of Ryan Lochte’s experience, I need to weigh the green hair and false condemnation of a country and it’s people against all of his good works, which I am unable to uncover. I guess the next thing we’ll see is Lochte at a Trump rally and then we’ll have the full measure of the man. Sad, so sad.
Speaking of sad brings us back to the retelling of the history of The Full Gospel Original Church of God. When we left the story, the Reverend Helena Handbasket had moved to the front of the altar in the church and was awaiting the serpents to begin her testament of faith. Normally the protocol calls for the pastor to do whatever maneuvers they’re going to do with the snakes before the lost souls approach the Reverend for a blessing. If the lost souls don’t feel like handling a serpent, the serpent is passed off to a wrangler or another “spirit filled” member of the church to be looked after while the Reverend blesses the repentant. The blessing generally takes the form of a few words said in some foreign language like Sanskrit, and then a sharp blow to the top of the head so that the sinner can feel the power of the Lord. The initiate is then free to join the testament of faith, lay prostrate where they fell, or return to their seat.
Reverend Handbasket had just started into her exultation dance when the first lost soul reached her. Reverend Helena had not had the opportunity to “warm up” the serpents prior to their introduction to the crowd scene that was gathering in front of the altar. The crush of people wanting to have the Reverend “lay hands” on them threw off the normally tightly controlled environment. The serpent wranglers and their charges were getting separated by the followers who just wanted to get a little closer to the aura being spread by the young Reverend.
As Elder Cheatum looked at the mob scene unfolding before him his thoughts went to the enormous liability issues that were being exposed.
“I don’t know how she does it”, he thought to himself, “I guess I shouldn’t question whatever or wherever her power comes from.” As the Elder watched the crowd continue to crush forward he headed for his post at the front door.”If we get out of this without any trips to the hospital, it will be a miracle”, he thought.
Back at the altar, acolytes were dancing with all of their might, filled with the spirit of the Lord. The followers were passing serpents from one to another, and speaking in tongues like it was as normal as going roller skating. If Channel 99 had felt cheated by the previous week’s final act, they were more than compensated by the tableau playing out before them.
Eventually the energy died down and the wranglers collected all of the serpents and placed them safely back in their boxes. The choir raised its voice in, “We’ll Meet Again”, while the congregation closed their eyes in prayer. The benediction was delivered by Elder Diggum so that the Reverend could slip back up on the stage and disappear using the trap door designed to raise and lower the baptismal pool that was hidden under the stage. It was fortunate that the guy wire controlling Channel 99’s overhead camera did not run over the stage or the Reverend’s magical appearances and disappearances would have been revealed.
Reverend Helena arrived at the office of the Crystal Palace to find Mulva already counting the proceeds from the collection plates. “I don’t know how you do it”, said the Reverend throwing her robes over her head revealing jeans and a sweatshirt underneath, “I know you’re married and have children and grandchildren, but it seems like you’re always doing the church’s business.” The Reverend ran a brush through her hair a few times before pausing for Mulva’s answer.
“Well, I guess I was taught that we are all to give of the gifts we have and this seems to be the best way I can help”, replied Mulva, as she continued separating the cash from the checks.
“We can’t all be super-stars”, Mulva said grinning at the Reverend, “besides, I’m going to do something fun right after I leave here.” “You’re invited if you want to come along.”
“I’m going to beat a path back to Nunsuch before I do anything controversial”, said Reverend Helena. She opened the door to the office just as Elder Cheatum was entering from the other side, almost causing the Elder to fall into the room.
“Too late”, the Reverend said as she exited, “See you all in church”.
“Anything I should know about”, Edler Cheatum asked the secretary/treasurer.
“No, we’re all good here”, answered Mulva, “I’m meeting Bud for lunch before I head back to Nunsuch, you’re welcome to join if you like.”
“Thanks, I’ve got other plans”, the Elder replied, “If you’ve got it all under control I’ll leave you to it”.
Mulva was pleased to find that most of the “church crowd” had already eaten and left the IHOP when she arrived. There were just a few couples lingering on. She found Bud sitting in a booth near a couple that struck her as familiar. Mulva watched the couple surreptitiously, but couldn’t place them. Mulva sneaked looks at the couple while she watched Bud devour two double dipped French Toasts with side orders of ham, bacon and hash browns. Mulva was happy with her patty-melt and fries.
The man was more familiar, and while he appeared to be in his early seventies, he looked in pretty good condition. The woman looked much older than the man, and was bent from old age. Finally Mulva was struck with the recollection of who the couple were. They were Seniors in high school when she had been a Freshman. They were the “couple” back then. Rusty and Diane Stover.
Randy was the Big Man On Campus back then. He was a football player and Diane was the head cheerleader. Randy looked good considering. He seemed to have most of his hair, though it was all grey now. Diane had not aged nearly as well. Her face was wrinkled and her body was very bent over.
“Probably osteoporosis”, Mulva thought.
The couple seemed to be having a spirited discussion with themselves and Mulva pointed out the couple to Bud, thinking that it was pretty cool that they were joking and jibing with each other after fifty plus years of marriage. The couple even included Levon, their server, in their repartee. Randy and Diane were very demonstrative about their order, and very specific. Diane wanted a stack of pancakes with just whip cream on top, not butter, and no syrup. Randy wanted the “Breakfast Sampler”, with no ham. Could Levon substitute the ham with pork sausage patties? Levon could.
Mulva thought that it was funny watching them order because it was like they were a couple of epicures in a restaurant in France, giving very specific instructions to the maitre d. Their enthusiasm for their order was cute because it was like they were taking an adventure together. Levon was leaving to get their drinks when Diane told “Thomas” that she just wanted water with no ice. Randy corrected Diane’s misuse of Levon’s name, and Levon laughed it off by saying Diane could call him Thomas if she wanted to. Levon went off to get their order placed and Randy and Diane continued on an undercurrent of conversation.
Mulva was mulling over the question of whether to introduce herself now or wait until after everyone had finished eating. Rather than disturb Bud’s passion with his plate, she decided to wait. While waiting for Levon to return with their orders, Randy and Diane kept up a fairly brisk conversation. Occasionally, Diane would say a word louder than the rest of the conversation, but it seemed like it just might be part of a jibing, teasing routine that couples get into sometimes. Mulva imagined it was like her conversations with Bud, “you never pick up your dirty socks” with a response of, “I leave them in the floor where they’re easy to find”.
Finally, Levon returned with everyone’s meals, and Diane was effusive in her praise of her pancakes. She couldn’t thank “Manny” enough for his excellent service. Mulva picked up on the second misnaming of the waiter.
“Diane’s attempt to use the waiter’s name is socially commendable, but it’s getting awkward since she keeps using the wrong name”, Mulva thought to herself.
Randy’s attempts to correct Diane were visibly upsetting Diane. Diane was getting louder and louder and her conversation had veered to talks of “leaving me” and being “done with me”. Randy appeared to be trying to calm Diane in a moderate tone while Diane’s voice rose above his with random city’s names throw out loud enough to be heard throughout the restaurant. “Thank God there’s nobody else here to hear this”, Mulva thought as she looked around the nearly empty restaurant.
Mulva was overcome by a wave of sadness. Diane was suffering from dementia. Mulva’s brain transposed pictures of the head cheerleader at the top of the pyramid, with the woman who was now accusing her husband of “wanting to leave her in Pittsburgh so he could spend the rest of her money”. Randy implored Diane to calm down, “she was creating a scene”. Eventually, Diane was able to talk in a quieter tone, but one laced with anger and acrimony.
As Bud and Mulva paid their bill, Mulva overheard one of the other customers make a crack about having “dinner and a floor show”. It took all of Mulva’s Christian values to resist the urge to blast the wise-cracker. She also resisted her previous urge to reminisce with Randy and Diane.
“That ship has sailed”, Mulva thought as she and Bud headed back to Nunsuch.