Sunday, February 22, 2009

Who Needs Fiction...

As I drove to church this morning in a light drizzle, I kept thinking about the ABBA song where the singer says, “Early this morning, I drove in the rain. Out to the airport to get on a plane.” What particularly caught my attention was the refrain: “Hey Honolulu, we’re going to happy Hawaii.” It rains there, too, though. A lot. Almost daily in some seasons. Perhaps the desert would be a better place to escape the rain. And in all fairness, it rains there, too (except for areas of the Sahara, which is about as bleak as hell itself).

Despite the rain and the necessity to stop for gas, I still arrived early, and found my way inside to take a seat. The sanctuary was still in use, so I leaned on the wall by the door and waited. A man in an urban camouflage shirt bored holes in me with his eyes. I looked away and pretended not to notice. As the service inside concluded and a few people started filing past me, I grabbed the door and held it open. I could wait. Another man strode up, flipped the door stop down, and smiled at me. He rendered my assistance unnecessary.

I sat where I always sit – towards the back and on the right. It’s usually fairly empty, which allows me to fidget and squirm without fear of distracting anybody. Nobody else was nearby today. Soon, though, a very petite young woman and her friend sat in front of me. A moment thereafter they were joined by a third. They were all probably in their late teens or early twenties. The petite one was extremely pregnant, her girth accentuated all the more by her tight shirt. I don’t think she was anywhere close to five feet tall. She wore no ring on her small child-like fingers. I did not judge her. Things happen.

I observed that, after four weeks of repeatedly commenting on it to church staff, the church’s US flag was still on the wrong side of the auditorium. As of 1976, flags always go in a position of prominence, always towards the front of the auditorium, and always to the speaker’s right.

The service commenced with several lovely songs – none of which I had heard and with lyrics I did not know, but they were still very melodic. During one, a woman with an enchanting voice – presumably one of the singers on stage – added a beautiful harmony to the song – sung to a different beat tempo than the melody. Throughout the entire song I searched to see which singer it was, and never found her. Maybe it was a recording, or the lady was standing in the back with the sound booth. Either way, it sounded fantastic.

As most of the congregation sang and I listened, various late arrivals poured into the pews behind me and to my right – mostly young couples, I think, but I never turned around to confirm it, and they left before I had a chance to see. I scooted my stuff out of the way and made room for those that sat next to me. Some arrived a good twenty minutes into the service.

During a brief time of greeting, I met John and Randy. Remembering their names was simplified by the fact they both wore nametags. Randy did not remember that he’d met me twice before, so I reminded him.

When everybody had slumped back into their seats and the pastor began to speak, the petite pregnant girl reached forward and pulled out the pew-mounted scratch pad and the absurd “golf pencil” that accompanied it. She began scribbling notes to her friend. She’d write, hand it to her friend, and her friend would write something herself and pass it back. I was slouching, so I could not see what they had written. Occasionally, they would exchange knowing smiles and keep writing things. Interestingly, however, they were still listening. I gathered that their notes pertained to the sermon.

Behind me, somebody loudly and sloppily kissed somebody else and a guy uttered a thank you. Must be a young couple – caught in the throes of being able to get away with what they just did. Beside me, the other young couple sat close. Any closer, and she would have been sitting in his lap. They, too, exchanged kisses, but in a far more discrete exhibition of face-sucking than those behind me. Both couples did this throughout the service.

During one bout of fidgeting that left me sitting upright, the petite, pregnant girl’s friend wrote a note and passed it to her. This one I very clearly saw.

“Do you think he does porn?”

The pregnant girl wrote a response and more smiles were exchanged. I did not see the other writing. Still smiling, they passed the notes to their friend on the left – the first time she had been included in their written dialog. She, too, smiled. I wondered to whom they were referring, until it occurred to me that it probably wasn’t terribly important to be considering such things – certainly not when I was supposed to be concentrating on the sermon.

More slurping kisses behind me. More thankyou’s. The couple to the right of me look back to express solidarity with the love birds behind me and recommence with kissing of their own.

I smell booze - still reeking from somebody's pores nearby. I cannot place its source.

Several pews in front of me, a girl completely swivels around to stare back in our general direction. I am unsure who catches her attention. The grinning note-passers in front of me, the quiet-cuddling couple beside me, the loud-kissing couple behind me, or me. I don’t think it particularly mattered.

As the service ended, there was more singing, and I still didn’t know the words. The petite pregnant girl rips out several pages of notes from the church scratch pad, meticulously folds them, and tucks them into her purse – zipping it firmly as she finishes. I’m still curious what they all said. I walked to the car, turned on the Eagles, and drove home in a light snow that loudly hit the windshield and melted. I found myself wondering, somewhat rhetorically, who needs fiction when fact presents such a myriad of curiosities?

An hour later, the sun is shining.

Copyright © 2009, Ben Shaw
All Rights Reserved


  1. Probably as inexpensive as going to the movies, and a lot more entertaining. Yep the title of the sermon was "Love thy neighbor as thy self."

  2. Ha. Last time Mary Anna and I passed notes it was about paisley ties and who can draw upside-down the best. (I can.) I always pay attention in the sermons, because they're riveting. It helps to have something to do with your hands while you're listening though. Different kind of fidgeting.

    Ha, the movies are pretty funny too. I spent all of yesterday morning worried about that afternoon's movie outing, which was turning out to be just a guy friend and I, because everyone else suddenly was busy or out of town. When we met in the theater parking lot, I was relieved to detect no romantic notions from him. When we bought our tickets and entered, they told us that the heat in Theatre 6 (ours) was out and we could get a refund if we couldn't stand it. The man who took our tickets said, "You'll really have to cuddle in there." Gosh. It was so embarrassing.