This morning I was standing in a parking lot talking to a friend when a guy came up to me and asked, “Are you a priest?”
In his defense, he’s one of the dudes who lives in the park and it was pretty early and he was highly trashed, but still: “Are you a priest?”
I told him, “No, man, I’m just an idiot like the rest of us.”
At that, the clown takes offense. He’s drunk, living in a box under a tree in the middle of winter and he takes offense at an off-the-cuff remark about how we are all equal and not too goddamned impressive. I was shocked. How could he disagree? All signs, especially in his squalid situation, pointed to the accuracy of my statement but I suppose dope and booze have reduced his cognitive aptitude.
I excused myself because I didn’t feel like getting into a fistfight. My back hurts. Plus, I had given him the impression, for just a second, that I was a priest and I didn’t want to disillusion him more than I already had.
At first, I admit, a small part of me was flattered. A new career as a soft spoken hustler of spiritual mysticism, the same blather that has proven to be a very profitable ego-boost to countless practitioners of all styles; Jim Jones, Joel Osteen, Tammy Faye Bakker, Joyce Meyer, Dalai Whatever, Pope Whomever, Rabbi Random?
The guy had no money and nothing to offer me, so I didn’t lead him on, but I can see how he made the mistake.
I was dressed in a long black coat and speaking to another man about junkies and how untrustworthy they are. The dialogue may have been misinterpreted from a distance and with a head full of distortion. I could have been offering pastoral counseling.
Also, I have a new, more conservative haircut. Parted on the left, combed back and to one side, shorter. A woman friend said it was “different”, looked good, but a little “disco”. I replied that I was preparing for the neo-Fascist takeover of America in the next election and I wanted to blend in, hence the haircut. She laughed because she knows my Anarchic-Nihilist-Absurdist-Atheist propensities.
The ruined resident of the city park was pretty aggressively boozed, so I didn’t tell him what I really think of priests, holy persons, gurus and religious leaders of all denominations. Oh, yep, sure, of course, some are well meaning and consider themselves harmless, but in my experience (significant) most spiritual specialists depend on and actually promote lack of critical thinking skills in their followers, their flock, in order to prop up the dissemination of fantasy, magical thinking and dangerous prejudice that the sacred have been dishing out to the profane for millennia. It’s a tried and true hustle aimed at the needy, the codependent and people who are arrogant enough to think that there is a god and it gives a shit about them, personally, their prayers, their good works, as if god is hovering above, ready to rescue them from all of their difficulties and troubles, if only they get the chanting or the incantation correct, in the right key, if they do enough good works, pray, read and disregard reality.
I probably look like a street drunk’s version of a priest. Well-fed dude in a long black coat with a slick haircut, pontificating to another about how fucked up people are.
I recoiled when I was asked if I’d experienced the calling, the vocation. I had a touch of acid reflux, felt my knees buckle and my teeth grind.
“Are you a priest?”
“Oh fuck you, hell no, you brain damaged waste of time, space, air, skin and clothing.”
But that would be unkind. I want to be left alone and an insulting response might encourage more interaction than I could manage so I didn’t get uppity or disparaging about his inebriated mistake.
And seriously, who can think “Priest” and not immediately follow with “Pedophile”? Word association. Trump/Fascist. Arab/Terrorist.
Who knows what kind of grudges people are carrying around and how an impaired consciousness will react to misinterpreted stimuli?
Jesus Christ, I guess I was lucky get out of it so easily. I can live to denigrate, belittle and criticize another day.
I may swap the overcoat for something more secular, though. Leather jacket. No use giving the wrong impression.
My New Year’s Resolution:
Thou shalt not lead them on. Unless there’s money in it.