Houses and the Holy
"So, have you been discerning your vocation?" she asked, in an accent oddly like Charo's. I nodded.
"Will you be a priest?" I shook my head. "I'm sorry," she said, and patted my hand. Catholics are instructed to pray for an increase in priestly vocations, and they did so with special fervor last year, which Pope Benedict declared A Year for Priests. Nevertheless, I sensed she thought it was I, not the priesthood, who was missing out.
What felt like a shovel landed on my shoulder just as a foghorn blasted out my name. I turned around and saw Japheth, a man with a boy's open face and the height and paunch of a deputy sheriff in a Blue Stater's nightmare. Like Manuela, he'd attended the retreat. Also like her, he seemed sold on religious life. It would be interesting to see what the Church would make of Japheth. Despite an apparently endless supply of off-putting tics—saliva gathered in his mouth as he talked, making him sound as though he were gargling—he was a warm and gentle soul. On retreat, his sloshing patter had won me over, even to the point where I forgave him for joining the Knights of Columbus at 23.
"'S'up, Baby Huey?" I said. This was my regular nickname for Japheth, a reference to the hulking, infantile cartoon duck. He told me a story about going down to Puerto Penasco with some youth ministry group. When he came across an old man and his wife, selling fireworks from a small stand by the beach, he thought he'd died and gone to heaven. Then the man offered him pot, coke, and his wife, in that order.
"I was flabbergasted," said Japheth, one of his spade-like hands clanking toward his heart. "I told him, 'I came here for Hay-soos, and I hope you'll let Hay-soos into your life, too. We're all called to repentance. Conversion is an ongoing'—"
Impelled by a rogue paternal instinct, I stood up and grabbed him by both shoulders. "Japheth, you're a fine Christian and a fine human being, but you have the common sense of a fly. You can't go around evangelizing to Mexican pimps and drug dealers, not even nice ones ones who depend on gringo goodwill. People get stabbed over that kind of thing."
"The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church," Japheth quoted, with no discernable irony. Wanting both to pin a medal on him and lock him in his bedroom, I made him promise to be careful. He promised, but it was clear he didn't know what he was promising. The world for him was a basically friendly place where most people would be happy to hear about Hay-soos. I hoped the Church would put him to work; he had the innocence of a whole coop full of doves.
My tête-à-tête with Japheth turned out to be a good thing. It was a plunge into the deep end of the sanctity and geekiness that put me on edge. Feeling fortified, I sidled up to Melissa, another retreat alumna. Like Japheth's, Melissa's appearance and personality seemed to combine extremes of youth and old age. But she wore her contrasts better than Japheth wore his. Her '80s-style glasses and Marilyn Quayle flip might make her face look, from a distance, like it belonged to a 50-something matron. But rollerblading had given her a body that would have done credit, at any distance, to a college freshman.
"Still thinking about the convent?" I asked, struggling to keep my eyes above her neckline.
"I don't think I'm called to it," she said, frowning slightly. Melissa has the highest voice I've ever heard come from a fully-grown human being. If I were to close my eyes, I'd swear I was talking to a cartoon mouse, or Wendy Testaburger. "I do believe I'm called to parenthood, though. I'm looking into adopting."
Max Lindenman is a freelance writer, based in Phoenix. He has been published in National Catholic Reporter, Busted Halo and Salon. His Open Salon blog is here.