Saturday, January 05, 2013
WELCOME TO THE MESSIAH COMPLEX (HOURLY RATES AVAILABLE):
(An exclusive excerpt from the posthumous memoirs of an anonymous member of the Turn Righteous at the Light religious cult, whose mass suicide two months ago shocked the world and made them runners-up in Deceased Fanatic's Home Journal's annual lethal cocktail recipe competition.)
By the time you read this, I will have gone on to a better place. Barring that, I will be dead. I am writing these words for the understanding and edification of future generations. And I am writing these words to practice my penmanship. I've been working on my loops. I, in addition to four hundred others of my kind, are holed up here in the Compound of Heavenly Peace and Affordable Hourly Rates (what the heathen would call the Motel 6 just outside of Oxnard), counting down the final hours, awaiting the Rapture. Hope it isn't late like it was yesterday. If I don't get my Rapture by noon, I'm worthless for the rest of the millennium.
They laughed at us, scorned us, and denied us our consolidation loans, but as you read these words, it is we who will have had the last laugh, provided we can get it in before the lethal dose of sinus medication kicks in. We are the Chosen, the remnant spoken of in Scripture, the elite who got their membership fees in before the March 31st deadline. It is we, the few who shall escape the wrath that will come down and lay over this pustulant Earth like a divine plastic couch cover from which the stains of mortal corruption may be wiped clean by the damp cloth of God and a little Formula 409. In just a few minutes, we will take our rightful place beside the throne of God, show Him our laminates, and be ushered into the highly exclusive V.I.P. (Very Immaculate Person) lounge in the heavens, where all is serene and your first two drinks are half-price. Hallepenjo!
It has been a long, arduous road we have travelled these many years (what the unholy would refer to as Interstate 19 out of Tuscon). Every member of the Turn Righteous At The Light flock has their own stories, but since the TV-movie and action figure rights for most of them have been sold, I am only at liberty to recount my own.
It was 1982, a condition that was to persist through most of that year. Like many kids my age, I had drifted into a life of easy kicks, of drugs, cheap sex, and illicit tobagganing. I was chasing a deluded dream of rock `n' roll stardom, playing electric ocarina in a pick-up band comprised of a randy bunch of malcontents, layabouts, and known mousse abusers. We managed only a handful of "gigs" (in the argot of the streets), playing the occasional Jewish Italian wedding (where the couple seals their union by breaking a glass over each others' head) and appearing at the annual semi-formal riot in one of the posher ghettos in town. The night of my conversion was a particularly auspicious moment, one I will never forget for as long as I live, though perhaps I shouldn't be so hasty - a lot can change in seventeen minutes. We had secured a booking at the St. Bursitis Seminary School spring dance, otherwise known as the Monsignor Prom. We had just finished a smoking set (the pre-amp shorted out) but the music didn't matter - all I cared about was "getting some," which would have been easier for me if there were a noun somewhere in that phrase to help me narrow my options. I set out on my search but was stopped in my tracks by the most charismatic man I had ever seen. "Where are you going?" he gently inquired.
"I'm trying to find some falafel. That's next on my list."
"No," he said, "where are you going?"
I had never heard that question posed to me in quite that way before. Maybe it was the italics. "I... I guess I don't know," I replied.
"Of course you don't. You're lost, like so many others. Living a hedonistic lifestyle, with nothing on your mind but blowing into that elongated ovoid instrument of yours."
"Not really. I tried once and I had to wear a neckbrace for a month afterwards."
"I can see you're carrying around a great burden. I would like to help lift some of it from you, say, 65% of your combined net burden the first year with adjustments for wages-of-sin increases every year thereafter. You crave spiritual fulfillment, don't you, lad?"
My eyes welled up. "Yes," I sobbed. "And pickle juice, too. I'm not sure why."
"Then come. Join us and leave this unholy life of yours. Stop chasing these foolish earthly desires. You will never find success with this ragtag band of hooligans. The only true rock is the rock of the Lord. The only true roll is... uh... well, it's seeded and... not a bulkie... I'm going to need a few minutes to work on that. And while I do, go and quit the band. I'll be over there, getting punch at the holy water receptacle."
I was nervous but somehow compelled. I struggled with my conscience (as well as my fly) all the way over to the bandstand. A very big part of me (which looked even bigger when I augmented it with Kleenex) wanted to continue as I had been doing. But this strange man's words rang true. What was I really expecting from this life? That I would be rich, famous, selling millions of records and cavorting with supermodels? How deceived I was. By the time I reached my lead singer, I had no doubt I was doing the right thing.
"Axl," I said, "I quit."
Within days, I was spending my every waking hour and a good chunk of my trust fund with Probationary Reverend Ted N. Shuss and his small group of followers. He also had a group of small followers, but he soon realized that none of them would be able to go on any of the rides at the Discipleland theme park he was hoping to build, so he gave them up. Despite what the newspapers and that profile in Pre-Op Nuns In Latex magazine have said, Rev. Shuss never brainwashed or coerced us in any way. I was not forced to become a member of the flock and could come and go as I pleased. "Should you decide to leave us, I understand," he'd say. "You are under no obligation and you may cancel at any time. You may keep your free gift, though to be honest, I don't know how much use you'll get out of that heavy wool `I'M WITH THE SAVIOR' jacket while you're having red-hot knitting needles inserted into your most intimate places for all eternity."
Those early days were positively idyllic. I was amazed to find that most of the flock were very much like me - the same age, the same stories of despair and redemption, the same tax bracket - and I never felt so much a part of something since I received that pre-approved membership in the Columbia Record & Tape Club. When Rev. Shuss wasn't amazing us in our prayer meetings with his stunning knowledge of Scripture (I never knew, for example, that Jesus had a younger brother named Desi), we were helping out in the community. Every Thursday, we'd take to the streets, spreading the word of hope to the homeless (wearing rubber body suits so they wouldn't spread anything of theirs to us), teaching them how to make pretty necklaces out of the teeth that fell from their head, and selling them copies of Rev. Shuss' pamphlet of inspirational parables for the downtrodden, God Smiles At Scum, at well below list price. On Saturdays, we'd go out to the airport and sing songs of praise to passers-by. Rev. Shuss enlisted my songwriting abilities for this task, and I made him proud with my compositions "Give The Lord A Dollar And Maybe Your Plane Won't Crash" and "Those Bald Guys Over There In The Saffron Robes (Are Staring At Your Wife)." Finally, my God-given talents were being put to good use.
After three months in their company, I knew the time had come. At the end of the regular Sunday worship service (after the flagellation but before the snacks), Rev. Shuss stood before us and said, "Are there any among you who would like to come into the righteous circle once and for all, with all the benefits membership entails?" I took a deep breath, stood up, and promptly blacked out. The next Sunday, I made it to the pulpit (thanks in no small measure to the reminder to exhale I had written on my hand) and kneeled before him. He smiled. "Do you accept Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and savior?"
"Yes. Yes, I do."
"Do you promise to renounce all worldly goods and have them placed in the Safety Deposit Box of Renunciation, except for all funds currently residing in money market accounts, stocks, bonds, jewelry and gold teeth, which will be put into the Numbered Swiss Bank Account of Piety in the name of God (and in the name of Theodore Narwhal Shuss for legal purposes)?"
"Yes. Oh, God, yes."
"Then I accept this new parishioner on behalf of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, all of whom were unable to be here today because of a prior commitment to the St. John the Baptist Invitational Golf Tournament in Pensacola. Welcome, my son. Sign here. And there, and initial here. The Lord needs it in triplicate."
My early years with the flock (I abhor the word "cult" and "willpower-deficient, welt-ridden social club" didn't fit on the business cards) were the best of my life. No longer was I imprisoned by the unholy trappings of secular life, hedonistic pursuits like wealth, sex, and comfortable living conditions. Rev. Shuss often preached that we had no need for anything that would distract us from the higher path, and to keep that so, we were all ensconced for weeks at a time in 3-by-3 rooms without furnishings, plumbing, or windows. If anyone should question his wisdom, he would proclaim, "I am the headwaiter assigned to God's table and you are His veal cutlets. It is my job to ensure that He doesn't send back His order or provoke Him to spill bouillabaise on my cummerbund. Now shut the holy fuck up."
Shuss was full of aphorisms like that, so many, in fact, that in 1989 he announced, "The Bible? That's so 2000 years ago. The New Testament is old news, baby (this was during his brief flirtation with Xavier Cugatstrianism, so he often used words like that to appear `hep'). I am proud, in a non-deadly-sin-like manner, to proclaim the arrival of the New and Improved Testament,Thus Spake Me, a holy text filled to bursting with funnier parables, catchier psalms, and if you flip the pages real fast, a cartoon that depicts Christ being crucified, rising to sit beside His father on the throne of heaven, and performing excerpts from His nightclub act. (As God is my witness, the balloon animal segments alone are worth the suggested retail price.)" I mention this out of a sense of personal satisfaction, as this book, which spent almost two weeks on the New York Endtimes best seller list, was holy-ghostwritten by myself (though I received no credit other than having one of the jive-talking sheep in the book of Scooter named after me). In a very short time, I had risen through the ranks to become one of Rev. Shuss' most trusted associates, co-writing many of his sermons and press releases, not to mention the famed "Wonder bread and fish sticks" routine that capped his appearance on Sabbath Morning Live.
Without undue immodesty, I must say that it was my input that helped the order thrive during those dark days of the late '80s. At that time, you will recall, the phenomenon of cults was no longer a cult phenomenon - inspired by the massive success of the Jonestown Trio's triple-platinum That Kool-Aid's Not Exactly Electric LP, mass fanaticism became big business. The publicity helped us immensely (the famous shot of Rev. Shuss' hands - "LOVE" tattooed across one, "This Space For Rent, Call 673-5829" across the other - kicked off a national craze), but many of the imitators that popped up in our wake were not so fortunate. One particularly misbegotten cult grew impatient waiting for the second coming and decided to settle instead for a personal appearance by Florence Henderson, tragically french-frying themselves to death in 97-degree weather covered in cooking oil during a mass exodus to find a copy of her autobiography. Out of respect for the dead, I will speak no further of the Cult of Wessonality, but the sects scandal that ensued proved the downfall of hundreds of wanna-be-saveds the world over. Jehovah's Onlookers folded after someone actually let one of them in their house and they realized they had no idea what to talk about. The Church of Christ, Chiropodist had a brief heyday in the early nineties, but foolishly sunk all of their profits into a short-lived stand-up prophesying club, Catch a Rising Savior.
We, on the other hand, flourished, thanks to a very careful and steady pattern of growth. With the profits from our children's books,Green Eggs and Brimstone and You're Parbroiling In The Rotisserie of Endless Torment, Charlie Brown, we embarked on a gradual course of public relations, shrewd marketing, and... I'm sure I'm forgetting something here... oh, yeah, spreading the word of God. Rev. Shuss recognized the power of media to get his teachings across and set out to find a nationally-televised forum. Unfortunately, none of the major networks or syndicators had any use for him, but he caught a receptive ear at the Food Network, and found great success and acclaim as the co-host of Cooking With the Messiah. (His speaking in tongue sandwiches and rack of lambs of God were always favored by the flock on those occasions he allowed us to eat.)
In spite of all this, Rev. Shuss was careful not to allow worldly gain to overcome us. We still lived in the same Spartan surroundings as before and dressed in simple finery made entirely of old socks. ("If you are to kneel at the foot of God, you must first smell like it" - Jimbo 6:17, reprinted by permission) Shuss abjured the trappings of mortal gain, and to prove it to us, he kept a suite at the Ritz-Carlton and often called us from his cell phone to tell us how miserable he was. "Do as I say, my children, not as I do. Oops, gotta go, my masseuse is here." We would often marvel at his sacrifices while we rooted around in dumpsters for our food. ("Take, eat, this is my body - hey, c'mon, leave some of my body for the rest of us" - Ringo 14:24, all rights reserved) Such was his inspiration that he trusted us to make do on our own for long periods of time, furthering his teachings throughout the country when we weren't manufacturing his designer "accessories of Godliness" at the Sweatshop of Heavenly Piecework. These were rare and glorious times and I still have the scabs to prove it.
It was upon his return from his wildly successful Crusade-O-Rama '93 tour, capped off by the mass trial separation of five thousand couples at the Sands in Las Vegas, that he came to me with an important message. "I have seen the world, my son-in-law. I have walked the Earth these many years, much as Christ spent his forty days in the wilderness - I don't imagine he had a chaufferred limo with a wet bar, but let's not quibble over minor details - searching for divine guidance. Finally, after a week of prayer and meditation washed down with a carafe of Cuervo Gold, I had a vision. The Lord visited me in my sleep and with a strong, mellifluent voice said unto me: "'Have you been washed in the blood of the lamb but can't get those stubborn stains out?'
"'Yes, Lord, yes,' I said.
"'Then try new Sin-Away, the all-purpose soul cleanser! Allow me to demonstrate. Look at this shroud I wiped my face on. Pretty filthy, isn't it? Now, look at this same shroud after only one application of Sin-Away!'
"'Jesus! It's as fresh and clean as Eden before the fall of man!'
"'That's right, my child. And if it cleansed this old sheet I left lying around Turin for a couple of thousand years, think of what it can do to your mortal soul! Here, try it.'
"'My Lord! I feel like my skin is being stripped painfully from my body and my soul's crying out in mortal anguish!'
"'Good, my child. That means it's working.'
"And then he was gone, leaving only this splitting headache and a bad case of the squats behind."
"What does it mean, Rev. Shuss?"
"It means the final days are soon upon us. We must gather our meager belongings up and await the return of our savior. You will book us all an inexpensive room, preferably with a kitchenette, and there you shall remain until further notice. The reasons for this are threefold. First, it will provide a safe haven from which to await the Rapture; second, it will tie neatly in with the introduction you wrote at the beginning of last month's piece; finally, and most importantly, it'll get all of you off the streets. You're beginning to embarrass me."
And so it came to pass. To cleanse ourselves of the last vestiges of human corruption, we offered up our remaining possessions to Rev. Shuss to help finance the publication of The Book of Top Ten Commandment Lists, and spent every waking hour not spent running subpoenas and financial documents through the Shredder of Divinity listening to the pre-taped voice of Shuss delivering his most rousing, competitively-priced sermon, "Judgment Day? Hell, Let's Make A Weekend Of It!"
Finally, he returned with the message we had been waiting for. "The time has come. I have seen the sign."
"Which sign, Reverend? The rending of the multitudes? A plague of serpents?"
"No, the room service bill. I guess we shouldn't've used those macadamia nuts and tiny bottles of wine from the mini-bar for communion. We must free our souls from these tainted vessels of flesh and thus dodge the tab." He passed out the lethal capsules.
"Yea! We will ascend heavenward together and beat the crowd! And you, our spiritual guide, shall lead us!"
"Um... yeah, exactly. In fact, I'm going downstairs to warm up the Bronco that'll bring us there. Make haste, children! First one dead gets to ride shotgun!"
Which brings me to the present. As my eyes grow heavy and I prepare to leave this realm, I ask a very few things of all who read these last words: Do not weep for us or think ill of our course, for yea, such is the way of the righteous. Take heed of these teachings that you too may be blessed by them. And for any producers or casting agents out there, look into the availability of that Pattinson kid to play my part in the mini-series.