I’ve got a new favorite thing to do in Pismo Beach. I used to enjoy selling Gucci knock-offs to families from Bakersfield out of the back of my scooter, but that can’t really compare to this new gig.
It was a Tuesday night, and I was loaded on cherry cough syrup. When you go to Santa Barbara, you bring a camera and sunscreen. When you go to Mexico City, you bring pepper spray and a cooler filled with your own blood type. When you go to Pismo Beach, you bring cough syrup. Where did I acquire such wisdom? I’m cosmopolitan. I get around.
And that’s when it happened. Call it a vision, a dream, a midsummer night’s frolic. I stumbled into a Southern Baptist tent revival right off Mattie Street, and it was everything I dreamed it would be.
“Will you bow your heads in prayer with me please?” asked the old, white geezer (later identified as Dr. Paul Jones) standing front and center at the podium. I’ll admit I was skeptical. Could this frail old man really evoke sulfur pits and searing flesh? Could he warm my cheeks with descriptions of hellfires to come? But the cough syrup told me to ride it out, and it’s usually pretty spot on with these sorts of antics. I listened attentively. I tend to have a short attention span, and I didn’t want my mind to wander lest I wind up sharing my afterlife with telephone marketers and unbaptized babies. All that crying and yacking!
“The scripture tells us blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord. We recognize that we are a nation under God.”
No problems there. I mean, a filthy agnostic or atheist might be offended, but what would a nonbeliever be doing at a tent revival? Passing out pamphlets?
“Our forefathers have handed us the torch of faith.” My brow started to sweat.
My foot started to shake. The Holy Spirit was definitely having his way with me.
“Faith in God is not only our heritage. Faith in God is our foundation.”
Praise Jesus, I cried. Oh yeah, old white man, sing it!
Then there was bright light, and I saw it was a Pismo Beach City Council meeting … and it wasn’t good.
“But it is evident that our pillars are being eroded,” preacher man bellowed.
I looked around for pillars, fearful for the building’s structural integrity. I’m a very literal person. But all I saw was a handful of middle-aged white people letting their Jesus flag fly.
Mayor Shelly Higginbotham was levitating Councilman Ted Ehring.
Then Jones started babbling about our “secular, permissive society.”
“Too long we have neglected your word,” he raved. “Too long we have ignored your laws. But your word is clear. The Bible is simple.”
I whipped out the Bible I “borrowed” from a Motel 6. More than a dozen sects of Christianity interpret this book differently. And I’m pretty sure the Old Testament and New Testament directly contradict each another repeatedly. Maybe the preacher man had the secret decoder we’ve all been looking for, for centuries? I think it’s selfish not to share, but that could be the Vicks talking.
Meanwhile Councilwoman Mary Ann Reiss was speaking in tongues and Kris Vardas was flopping around on the floor doing the worm.
“Our leaders in Washington, D.C., as well as our leaders in our beautiful city of Pismo Beach, face burdens.”
“Such burdens, Lord,” Councilman Edward Waage groaned, arms outstretched. I may have hallucinated that part.
“Tonight we would remember those so near and dear to our city including Kevin Rice our city manager whose lovely mother fell just today and broke her nose.”
What was this, a City of Pismo Beach newsletter?
“May our united desires be that your word becomes our laws.” Clearly this fellow never heard of Thomas Jefferson’s “wall of separation between church and state.”
Finally, four minutes and 30 seconds into our holier-than-thou religious revival, the climax came. “Amen.” And I scurried to the back of the room looking for fried butter and grits. Praying works up a powerful hunger, and I needed something to soak up the cough syrup in my stomach.
But there was bupkis. Rats. Even Catholics get free crackers and booze.
I rationalized that preacher man must have gotten lost and mistaken the meeting for his Baptist revival, which was probably happening just down the street. And the City Council, ever gracious and reluctant to humiliate a disoriented senior citizen, had allowed him to continue. What other explanation could there be for such an ostentatious religious display at a government function? An obvious breach in the sacrosanct separation of church and state, not to mention a disrespect toward any Jew, Muslim, or non-believer who now feels uncomfortable participating in their city government.
What plans does the preacher’s god have for the city’s gay residents? Stone them with clams? And when did local government officials abandon reason and common sense—Thomas Paine could give them a helping—to cater to a religious majority that too often bullies and ignores the minority? And lastly, will there be a taco bar at next week’s prayer meeting? Because I’m righteously outraged, but the concerns of my stomach outweigh my moral judgment. At least when I sell out, I’ll be clasping a carne asada taco in each fist. I doubt the Pismo Beach City Council can say the same. ∆
Shredder is fanning the flames of a mighty wind. Send gusts to firstname.lastname@example.org.