Sunday, November 2, 2008

Aunty Christ is going to hell

I feel like there’s something intrinsically creepy about late October, even though I know that this feeling is probably informed by my familiarity with the modern Western calendar. As I walked home the other night from a coworker’s house, for example, everything looked like a distraction from the psychokiller crouching behind the bush. Leaves were rustling overhead and crunching beneath my shoes. I passed a house with pressed-wood furniture scattered across the lawn. A man yelled to an offending person in his yard, “You better find a pay phone and call the cops, ‘cause there’s gonna be some shit going down tonight.”

Jesus fuck, man. A pay phone? Scaaaary.

A few weeks ago, said coworker had sent me and a few other girls at work an email inviting us to a party. Now, Aunty Christ does not love a party. But isolation and loneliness are powerful forces, more powerful, in fact, than a general dislike of meeting a coworker’s friends from church and eating onion dip. It should be mentioned that already at this point I had a basic understanding that the party—whatever else it was—would not be fun. The coworker (she needs a name at this point; I shall christen her Denise) had told me in previous conversations that she doesn’t like to drink, so it wasn’t going to be one of those parties, for better or for worse. And she had mentioned on several occasions that her husband’s father is pastor at a local church, and that that church is so so nice and I would probably really enjoy it. And also that the people in the church don’t really like new people and would probably act icily toward me, at best, and perhaps shun me outright. The conversation actually went exactly like that. “I don’t know if you’re looking for a church, but you should really check it out. It’s really great. I mean, it’s small, so the people there are kind of suspicious of people they haven’t seen before. I think after about a year, people started coming up to talk to me.” No, that sounds wonderful, Denise. I find that I’m lacking something in my life, and that hole can almost certainly be filled by making myself available for icy strangers to deliberately snub.

So, the party sounded like lots of fun already. But apparently this was not just any party. No, Denise had planned this party as kind of a coming out/training session for her new, second career in direct sales of scented candles.

As I suspected, the crowd was largely comprised of Denise’s church friends—though at least one of them, despite all that had been promised, was quite nice, actually. Or maybe she saw me as an easy mark. I sat next to her on Denise’s couch, so she had easy access to me as she leafed through the catalog and orgasmed over the ugliest of the tacky candleholders and holiday tchotchkes on each page. “I love the Classy Collection,” she said, pointing to a pair of mirrored gold vases. “Oh, beautiful,” I agreed.

"Oh my God, I’m going to buy one of these. Maybe two. Aren’t you? Wouldn’t these make nice gifts? I’m going to make a list of all the people in my life who deserve these. Aren’t you?"

Since it was Denise’s first party, she had as her mentor-hostess a more seasoned candleslinger, who as a fun party ice-breaker suggested that we all introduce ourselves and think of an adjective to describe Denise starting with the first letter of our first name. How … kicky. “I’m looking at you,” she told me, “because you’re going first.” Which gave me 10 seconds’ warning, maybe, to come up with my word. And the words that my mind was coming up with—abominable, abysmal, ancient, atrocious, absorbent, alienating—were mostly cruel and fully inapplicable to Denise. “Animated,” someone suggested, and although it wasn’t great, I leapt on it, gratefully, the first hurdle of the night over.

Next, the senior hostess gave an unconvincing speech about how we wouldn’t be conned or cajoled into throwing a party of our own or becoming a part of the direct-sales-of-scented-candles family, followed by several minutes of talking about how wonderful it is to throw a candle party and/or join the scented-candle team. Then the sales pitch began: Candles! Do you like them? In all fairness, my answer to that question is kind of … eh. I mean, is the power out?

They had all kinds of candles, from pillars to tealights, scented in every flavor imaginable, from candy cane to gym sock (or: cedar-caraway?). But the real selling point, I guess, was that these are much better candles, which brings to mind one of my favorite infomercial images: The exhausted housewife driven to frustration over having to do things the old-fashioned way. Are you tired of candles leaving a sooty mess on your walls? Oh—you would not believe the nasty, libelous attributes this lady was pinning on the commonplace candle. “Do any of you use tea candles?” she asked, not wanting an answer. “How long do they last typically?” “Only maybe half an hour,” one guest ventured. “No! No!” Senior Hostess said. “No, they last maybe 15 minutes. Probably, like, 10 minutes. Our tealights last half an hour,” she said. She was so mad. Her thunder had been stolen. She was not about to let that happen again.

“And the problem with pillar candles is that you burn them and then what happens? Yes, they look ugly. But our candles burn soft, so you can shape—or hug—the outsides and keep them looking pretty! Or, I don’t know if this has happened to any of you—I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve done this—where you buy a nice, big pillar candle, and you think it’s going to burn for probably 100 hours, right? And then you go to light it for the second time, and the wick’s disappeared!” She recounted probably ten absolutely alarmist concerns about regular, non-Direct Sale brand candles that have never, ever occurred to me. Like, not one had to do with burning the house down, or looking like a crazy old single woman lives in your house because you have so many scented candles scattered about its surfaces.

With a lot of the stories Senior Hostess shared during the course of making candle-buying seem a lot more important than it actually is, you didn’t have to scratch too far below the surface to see that things weren’t going so well for her. Why should we consider hosting our own party? Well, for one thing, as women—she would like us to consider—how often do we have the time to just get away from our husbands and our kids and hang out with other women? Or, isn’t it nice to get away from those infernal pests and visit with someone who is willing to listen to you complain about them? And, in discussing the innovative candle holder that consisted of one curved pane of glass next to another curved pane of glass, between which could be placed any number of flimsy-looking items purchased at your local hobby store, she brought up: “Another thing I’ve done with this is, I don’t know if any of your kids have gone through this phase, where they just keep drawing pictures, and they want you to keep or display all of them? Well, I would take one drawing every day and put it in this candle holder and light a candle, and you just can’t imagine how special this made my daughter feel, and finally she shut up about her stupid drawings and let me have one moment’s peace.” (She didn’t say the last part out loud. She let her sad, slightly crazed eyes speak it for her.)

In a seemingly unrelated side note, I just finished watching “Hell House,” a documentary about Trinity Church’s Halloween pageant, which displays such God-affirming scenes as the tragedy of homosexuality and how people, um, die and go to hell after taking RU-486. I took that once. Condom broke, I didn’t want to risk getting pregnant. And then of course immediately I died and went to hell. So yeah, Hell House is probably filling a vital role by letting girls know what to expect after taking the morning-after pill. You won’t hear that from the liberal media, that’s for sure.

And then there’s the time I went to a rave and then died and went to hell, but … ha ha ha. That’s a crazy story for another day.

The weird thing about the movie—or, I should say, one weird thing about the movie—was that the movie seems to be making fun of the people it’s depicting, even though it also seems to be totally endorsed by the church. I guess one more example of the recent American trend toward being proud and dumb and proud to be dumb. You’ve got people on camera saying things like, “It’s a date-rape drug. I know it has a name. I guess we’ll put it in later. It’s the … it’s like the Official Date-Rape Drug.” Of the Olympics, dude? Of the NFL? Finally, in a script meeting, they settle on “mickey,” which isn’t quite right, but one can’t expect evangelicals to do any research on the social pitfalls they’re writing about. The internet is evil, of course, so it’s probably best to just sit back and wait for the breath of God to enter your hands, like in the old days. And (to a lady reading back the script she’s typed): “No, it’s not Magic; it’s called Magic: the Gathering.” “Okay, ‘Magic and the Gathering.’ ” “No, I think the name is Magic: the Gathering.” “I’ve got: ‘I fell in with a group of kids who played with the magic gathering…’ ” “Well, the name is…” “The magic cards game?” “Just say ‘Magic.’ ”

The purpose of Hell House is to scare its patrons into accepting Jesus by showing them how any behavior, habit or personality trait that deviates from the lifestyle endorsed by evangelicals will probably land you, the sinner, in hell, where you will be tortured for eternity by demons wearing 1990s club-kid makeup.

A secondary purpose though—or at least I have my suspicions—is to provide Christian teens with an outlet for their curiosity about the more titillating aspects of secular society. You can’t listen to the high schoolers reading the audition list without feeling this to some extent. “I really want to be the abortion girl.” “Cool, I’m the rapist!”

She voted for Obama. Oh Bah Mah. That’s not a Christian American name. She deserves to die and burn in hell. You may applaud now.

I guess I started off thinking about how there is the Trinity Church idea of what hell is and how one gets there, and then there is my idea of what hell is (a direct-sale scented candle party) and how one gets there (by responding to an email; or, on foot, a few blocks thataway). But really, the more I consider the actual evil that went into the creation of Hell House, the more I think that’s a wildly unfair comparison, given that no one involved in the candle party actually intended to inflict harm on my fragile psyche. That was just an unintended consequence. In contrast: The scene where a guy at a rave gives a girl a roofie and rapes her ends with her killing herself and going to hell. The scene where the wife of a drunken, belligerent lout is found to be having an online relationship and is killed by said lout in front of their already emotionally scarred daughter ends with the wife being taken away to hell by demons. Anyone noticing a pattern? If not, let me spell it out for you: Trinity Church wants you to believe that women who place their purity or their faithful devotion to their husbands in jeopardy, either by carelessness or by design, will die (probably immediately) and go to hell. But the rapist? The abusive drunk husband? Oh, they’re fine. Whatever.

One of the men running Hell House ended up, through the caprices of documentary-style confrontation, talking to a group of straw men who had just exited the house. “But you’re saying that just because he’s gay he’s going to hell, and that’s not right,” one young man said. “Well, no, the point of the scene is that he rejects Christ before he dies,” Church guy explains, and that kind of shuts them up for a while. Even I am more okay with using that as your litmus test for who gets to go to heaven than, say, sexual orientation or mental stability. But then why doesn’t Trinity also present a scene with the old woman who went to church every Sunday of her life but also subtly has been abusing her family for years, and grudgingly did charitable work around the community, always feeling like her special brand of generosity was being taken advantage of by her lessers?

The easy answer is that they’re striving for shock value. The even easier answer is that they’re judgmental, self-aggrandizing, brain-dead idiots who find meaning and value in their willingness to take things for granted, to not analyze, to not examine. I think both of these are true, and yet. I still feel sad that these are people who choose not to appreciate the brains they’ve been given. Who choose to categorize differences as either acceptable or unacceptable rather than trying to learn something about the people and ideas found outside their own small communities and let that understanding speak to a broader view of the world.

Most of all, I feel sad because these are the people who, to a greater and greater extent, are populating this nation, and in order to not be hypocritical, I have to try to not pre-judge, not dismiss them as “bad,” even though they and their political and philosophical beliefs are undermining the country, and preaching hate against people I love, and advancing policy that looks to hold nothing but bad for the country’s future.

Sorry for the rant. I really need Obama to win.


David Rochester said...

1) Is there still such a thing in this world as a "pay phone"? Have they not yet gone the way of the Edsel and the battery-powered girdle? And if there were still such a thing, would a 911 call (to the police) not be gratis? Clearly I don't live in the right neighborhood to have all of these questions answered.

2) My crazy auntie in Sacramento must have gone to a candle party last year, because she sent me a whole buncha candles for Christmas. I can't really figure out why she did that. I have no romantic life, so it's not like I need candlelight. My entire head fills up with the internally-generated equivalent of quick-drying cement when I am exposed to artificial scents, so it's not like I buy candles for the aesthetic pleasure ... the only ones I can tolerate are ludicrously expensive candles made with essential oils hand-pressed by virgins. She knows all of this, so I could only assume she had been shanghaied by an at-home party.

3) I spent four years being dragged to a fundamentalist church when I was but a lad, and the impression of hypocrisy and insanity has never left me. Recently I decided to read Elmer Gantry but had to stop because it was triggering so many horrible memories, and I hate it when I have to run to the bathroom to throw up while I'm reading for recreation. Crazy people. They're crazy people.

4) Except that they might not be, really ... they just don't think. And they are taught not to think. And they will not think. Well -- most of them won't think. There are exceptions, but I know a lot more of the non-thinking kind.

5) How was Hell, after you died and went there all those times? Could you even distinguish it from life here on earth? I know I wouldn't be able to tell the difference.

Aunty Christ said...

1. Yeah, my thoughts exactly. I think I can imagine where one is ... right where I left it in 1988, just outside the 7-11. But I'm not sure if I've actually seen one there.

2. Rich hates scented candles too (and anything perfumey), so I was on the lookout for a mid-sized unscented candle to keep on hand in case of blackouts. There were no unscented candles on offer. And yes, I think I saw some of the peer-pressuring that your aunt probably experienced going down at the party I was at.

4. That was the basic thought I was left with at the end of "Hell House." And that was the scariest thing about it. Teen suicide? Abortion girl bleeding to death on a gurney? Fairly laughable, in the way they were presented. Middle-aged babies walking around parroting back new-agey aphorisms they had heard on the Christian channel? Scary.

5.Ha ha ha. Well, David, that's because we're entering the end times and Jesus is about to come back and claim his bride. No, I think Rich Bachelor said it best yesterday: "Hell House is other people."

rich bachelor said...

And as we all know, I was paraphrasing the nice Mr. Sartre there. But yes; now that I've seen the thing too, I'm left with even less hope regarding my fellow Earthlings than usual.

It's terrifying to see this thing that so lavishly endorses Not Think portrayed by its adherents as the only way to a happy existence. They routinely even fuck up the scriptural aspect. The whole thing is predicated upon a willful ignorance of the basics of reality itself.

And to paraphrase another writer -David Sedaris- I've never known how to change other people, but I keep a long, detailed list just in case I ever figure it out.

Salty Miss Jill said...

Your work people and my work people should all get together and go fuck themselves with those goddamn pillar candles.
I saw 'Hell House', too. The line between irony and sincerity was blurred for me on that one. Check out 'Jesus Camp' and make it a double feature one of these nights.

Aunty Christ said...

I keep meaning to say this, to the extent that I actually thought I did say this...


"Your work people and my work people should all get together and go fuck themselves with those goddamn pillar candles."

Oh fuck yes.

Shannon said...

Dear Aunty, I wandered this way from David's site this afternoon. I've been trapped inside all this miserable weekend living as mother to family-of-the-damned- damned sick with bronchitis among other maladies.

I just read your most recent posts and laughed out loud. Admittedly the "laugh" was more like a gravelly, painful, smoked-for-45-years wheeze... But still, it felt good. You're great. Do you happen to be from New England?

Aunty Christ said...

Thanks for wandering over, Shannon, and thanks for the comment too. I hope you get better quickly. David's certainly spreading his germs around.

I'm from lots of places, but not New England. I currently live in Saskatchewan, for goggle purposes, or in reality the same city David lives in. Though far far away from him and his nasty germs.

I think I will now check out your blog! Thanks for introducing yourself.

Aunty Christ said...

Ah, no blog to read. Bummer. Anyway, let me say that I envy you your turtle. And that, in my last comment, I should have typed "google" of course, and not "goggle." I am really great at typos lately.