Although nominally counted in the census of Christendom, I, like Ahab, am not what a casual observer might call a 'good person.' I have been drinking, gambling, blaspheming and raging my way to a rusty folding chair in the ass-crack of hell for quite some time now. If I continue in my current disposition, I doubt I'll even be granted a chair - or a good view of the armpit.
When I make it to Church, which is infrequent (and another way of saying rare) I am pleased, both with myself and the experience. It is a wonder I do not go more often. Instead of disclosing the seamier details of this week's poor behavior, I offer here, without adjective, a portrait of my church.
Our Lady of Perpetual Agony is presided over in theory by a portly middle-aged Irish priest. He wears a white monk's chasuble and Birkenstocks. He drinks too much and wears a haggard, hunted expression. He is not well liked by any of the Agonizers, except (possibly) me.
In practice, my church is under the direction of the Ladies of Compulsive Piety. I'll begin with the acknowledged Queen of the Cathedral, White Lady.
White Lady's sector is stage right of the altar. Year round, she wears plain white skirts, white blouses and sweaters, white cardigans, and a white head scarf that passes for a veil, but looks more like a simple bonnet. Her sector includes an Irish man who looks like a leprechaun and skims through his liturgical guidebooks, mouthing the words to the entire Latin Liturgy. Also in White Lady's section: four thirty-something Italian guys, all of whom wear tight black t-shirts and entirely too much after shave. Section WL also boasts a pair of Spaniards who are too well dressed for WL's liking. She expresses her disapprobation by leering derisively at their well-heeled good looks as they walk up to the Communion rail. FB and I once witnessed her pirouetting back to her pew after communion on Easter Sunday. I am not kidding.
Blue Lady is the keeper of stage left of the altar. This is excellent real estate; it includes the boxed insert of the Infant of Prague and a poster of Padre Pio. Blue Lady is garbed, 365 days a year, in blue, right down to here beret and her socks and sandals. She spends all of her time on her knees before the statue of the Blessed Mother - every single time I have stepped into this church, day or night, she has been there. Her section is populated by women whom everyone assumes to be widows, women shabbily dressed and conspicuously pious. I have seen Blue Lady outside of church only once - on the train, where she was handing out pamphlets on the coming of the Rapture.
Hat Lady presides over rear stage right of the altar. She is a monochromatic fanatic... red during the Pentecostal Season, pink and purple during Advent, green during the Epiphany and Ordinary Time. Her hats are enormous and more often than not, adorned by sequins and large feathers. Her sector boasts a middle aged couple with four young children, all of whom sit still during mass, reading their books about Jesus. One of them, I observed, showed a cartoon of blood and water spurting out of the punctured side of the Savior. The three year old holds it in her lap and runs her fingers over the cartoon blood, repeating, "Jesus upset. Cross."
Head Hanky Lady wears a hanky on her head, but to be fair, it's really more of a doily. She is in charge of rear stage left. She is the church secretary, and she handles the young people, those sweet young couples under thirty who show up all smiling and holding hands and whispering to each other during transubstantiation. Of this, she does not approve. She makes it more clear by tapping these young folks on the back of their heads with her Divine Mercy Chaplet.
FB and I attended OLPA for two years. Together. I know it is difficult to imagine that I, a person you know to be a profligate, foul mouthed, self pitying slattern- and a drunk to boot - could possibly be permitted to sit among these people and be counted. But permit it they did. They still do, when I am not visibly hung over and can find a pair of fishnets without obvious holes.
Can you guess, reader, which Lady of Compulsive Piety nominally included me (and long ago, FB) in her census?