Almost nothing will put the fear of god into you like the police. Police with attack dogs. The canine unit. The woof. The gnashing incisors that will wring your neck out dry before you’ve even had your Miranda Rights. Breakfast. Treat. An eviscerated trachea. Good boy.
It was at this moment – buried underneath my tomb of damp foliage, trapped in the obsidian midnight between Sparky, Spot, and my incriminating company of mouth-breathers – that I found god.
At age 16 I was ready to tell him all my sins.
College fund. Scholar athlete award. Unblemished skin. Athlete award. 3.96 GPA. Athlete award.
Not implicitly given by god, these things are still on the list of things he is about to take away from me if the dogs catch on to my ruminating sense of dread.
My brain tickles itself at the fact the fire department is only now arriving after police have been on set and ready for the director’s cue for nearly five minutes. Shoot first – apologize later. This also applies to lovemaking. But I digress.
Beside Niles Shandurs and Trent Hibert and the creepy crawlies in the forest of the suburbs, I could only think about how what had started as a lie was now about to come crashing down like the Challenger.
Write this down: Lying, Mike’s Hard, and Molotov Cocktails. You should never mix more than two. Preferably you would leave out Mike’s Hard, but that’s neither here nor there.
With the attack dogs closing in, my mind takes me back to the age of seven. I’ve got no employable skill set, no Harvard MBA, and no real aspirations past convincing the gym teacher to let us play dodgeball.
Right there in the dirt, it hit me.
This all starts with a lie . . . or 200 of them.
I’m arriving in my dad’s Chevrolet Blazer. This is his work car. On weekends, we drive an Infiniti sedan. The Infiniti’s rear seat has air conditioning that I can control when dad hits the button and gives me the go ahead. Most days I pump that cold on high and play Gameboy. No earbuds. Full volume. Raw.
My crew joins me at the curb and we walk in together. We are all wearing suits.
I’m wearing double-breasted pin-stripe. Presidential Blue is the color. Armani is the designer. The exterior of my suit is cotton, but the inside lining is made of velvet and is laid out in a beautiful twill pattern. Underneath the suit, I’m rocking a simple white button-up made of linen. I have extra collar stays in my breast pocket. My boxers are Hanes. Obsidian is the color. My feet are covered with a matching pair of blue argyle socks and suede Bostonian oxfords. Burnt umber is the color.
Alex Bobacaum is wearing a fitted charcoal single-breasted suit with two buttons. I notice his Calvin Klein cufflinks – sterling silver with bold headpieces. Onyx is the color. Formidable is the word. His pants have a single break as they meet the midnight brogues. Formidable is not the word. I can’t see his socks, but I assume they are at least a shade of black with a mild-to-neutral highlight color.
The other three – Sammie Wirt, Drew Beaslee, and Ryan Buschert – are not wearing identifiable materials. I don’t inquire any further than my eyes.
This is an unspoken rule of suits. If you don’t know – don’t ask. You’ll come off as pretentious if you ask “Valentino Coutoure” and they respond with “Gap for Kids.” At least nobody is wearing Sketchers.
This is not the traditional attire for a day at St. Anne’s College Preparatory Catholic Academy, but on big days, like the one we’re about to get after, this is standard protocol. This is a Sacrament Day.
Most days, the five of us rock matching khaki shorts, mid-calf Nike socks with the logo out, high-top Nike sneakers – all white, a blue or white collar tee short-sleeve, and a vest with the school’s logo embroidered over the heart like the reinforced steel on a knight’s breastplate. Aquaberry not Navy. Sometimes we choose the long-sleeve sweater vests instead, but that’s usually reserved for league kickball matches or the madhouse that is syllabus week.
Tell me I’m going to practice my handwriting. Tell me I’m going to learn Spanish. Tell me I’m going to learn to play a recorder. Tell me I’m going to play on the computers and use WordArt to write dirty things in gold and rainbow. Tell me I’m going to learn something while I’m crushing boxed juice. Apple not orange.
Today is Sacrament Day, and we’ve got 15 minutes to spare before heading to homeroom, which a nice breath of fresh air before Language Arts. On occasion, I’ve tried to hold in this breath of fresh air for the full 90 minute period that follows but have only succeeded in passing out.
Like most other drop-off zones at elementary schools, there is a strict “no parking” rule, and the cars all required to keep traffic moving, lest you stir the anger of the parents behind you. Arrive quickly, proceed in an orderly fashion, eject children. This also applies to lovemaking.
While most shenanigans don’t start until the first period, something about my brutal Armani and Hanes combo triggered me.
We were going to be bad.
After all, by the end of the third period, god would be forgiving us. This is Sacrament Day.
Without a word, I dashed to the gravel pit next to the auditorium and pocketed as many pebbles as I could find and made my way to the curb.
I am the alpha.
“What are you doing?” Alex inquired. The rest of the lot stood silent.
On my first throw, I hurled the stone into the drop-off zone, jettisoning it like an escape pod into the void of space. I am not the droid you are looking for.
Skip. Bounce. Slam. Into the rim of the passing Hyundai.
Before I could even look back for my due praise, Sam, Drew, and Ryan were all huddled over the gravel pit, shoving rocks into their pockets like Halloween candy. This is one of those rare full buckets that idiots leave out with a sign that says “Take One.”
Alex stood paralyzed in the background.
“I’m not sure this is a good idea . . .” He mumbled.
“No. It’s fine. We’re just going to see if we can get the cars to run them over.” I threw two more, both colliding with the passing vehicles. First a Toyota Camry, then a Honda Pilot.
The off-brand entourage soon followed suit, and within the first few moments, the gravel pit had almost been entirely excavated and relocated to the asphalt. You couldn’t give away free drugs that quickly.
Most people don’t move much more than the dirt it takes to bury them, and by 7:57 a.m. I had filled my earthly obligation by the pocketful.
Of course, although I had clearly explained the rules of the game, I had absolutely no intention of playing by them. While Sam, Drew, and Ryan hurled their rocks in front of the cars, I wound up and drilled every door, bumper, and window I could.
This is game seven of the world series. Strike. Strike. Strike. Strike. Strike. Strike. Strike. Strike. Strike. Strike. Strike. Mad Bum at the mound.
And during this, not a single kid exiting their car said a word. Every person, kindergartener to fifth-grader, drifted past us like sheep that are blissfully unaware of the rabid wolves in their midst. This would later become a running theme in my life.
Strike. Strike. Strike. Strike. Strike. Strike. Strike. Strike. Strike.
Suddenly, snapped out of my reverie, I found myself lying silently in the forest and although I admit it was never my intention to burn down the better half of the Mormon Church, I now see that it couldn’t have ended in any other fashion.
Lying, Mike’s Hard, and Molotov cocktails.
Some things in the world are simply inevitable once a certain chain of events has been struck into motion. You catch the winning touchdown pass at Homecoming? Prepare for an extraordinary time at the dance and after-party. Trust Danny Shiro. You excel as a running back for the University of Florida Gators? Prepare for an illustrious career in MLB. Trust Tim Tebow. You write your memoirs in a book called Confessions of a Douchebag? Prepare to be unemployable in your near future. Trust Me.
Cause and effect. In this instance, your high school football team beats their rival for the first time in 23 years? Prepare to be lying in a forest with attack dogs in your near future.
Now, Skyline doesn’t beat Olympus very often. In anything. Except for things that I participate in. Obviously. But today, Skyline had mounted an incredible comeback for the ages, and the boys and I were going to celebrate accordingly.
Rancherito breakfast burritos. Mike’s Hard. Molotov cocktails. Lying. Don’t mix more than two.
This all starts with a lie . . . or 200 of them.
In the church pews, before we receive the sacrament of reconciliation, I’m tearing the pages out of the songbooks while the teacher walks us through the script.
“Good morning Father.”
The opening lines to “We Come to Your Feast” hit the floor.
“It has been ____ since my last confession.”
There goes “We Are One.”
“These are my sins. [Insert sins here.]”
I loudly pry “Silent Night” from the book and place it back on its shelf. Then I begin work on the next book, erasing chorus after chorus, hymn after hymn, praise after praise.
Like any good business pitch, you should already have an idea of what you’re going to say. If you’re just going to read from the Powerpoint slides, you might as well not even start. The same goes for authentic prayer.
The work of a god is rarely synonymous with god’s work.
So much for being a good Catholic schoolboy. As in I’m a hard learner.
While most people my age, and this was discussed, confessed to lying to their parents, being rude to their siblings, taking the lord’s name in vain, and swearing, I was on a different planet.
I was going to be bad. Presidential Blue isn’t a color you wear so you can blend in.
Thrust into the 2X5 confessional, I begin. “So priest, how are things?”
Busy in my bludgeoning of books, I clearly missed the script.
If the phrase “Jesus take the wheel” has any merit to it, now would be a damn good time.
Also, let’s not pretend Jesus was some kind of saint as a teenager. Somewhere in the Bible, someone definitely skipped a few chapters. And that non-existent/non-canonical version of Jesus is the one that I obviously most readily identify with.
If I’m certain about anything, it’s that he wasn’t anywhere near 21 when he turned water into wine. My kind of guy. Probably threw an epic pregame before the Pharisees played the Vikings, or whoever was around at that time.
Caught off guard, the priest mumbled back, “Things are always well in god’s house. Tell me your sins child.”
“Well I swore last week . . .”
This is the calm before the storm. A wolf must know how to tread lightly before descending on a sleeping sheep.
“How many times?”
Now, if we’re being candid with each other, I don’t recall the first number I spat out dryly. Just think of the biggest number you can. Now double it.
“Wait. Is douchebag a curse?”
“I suppose that would depend on its usage.”
“Like, John you’re a douchebag for kissing Barbara.”
‘It’s a curse,” he retorts almost instantly.
Excellent Signs reference by me. Nailed it.
“Then it’s not [insert astronomical figure here], it’s [double the already doubled astronomical number].”
“Then your penance will be 100 Our Father’s.”
The sliding door to his window slides shut, and he thinks this is over.
“But wait! There’s more!” I scream. Sham-wow has taught me well. Between us, it is one of the few things I really do believe in religiously.
The door slides back open.
Inside, I’m a boiling pot of rage, and my mouth foams up like Frodo after getting stabbed by Shelob in The Return of the King.
“I also . . .” I inhale deeply, preparing wail out violently like a tea kettle left on an active volcano.
“I also killed a man when I stole my parent’s car one night. I bite other kids and steal their lunch during nap time. To be honest father, I can’t remember the last time I saw my own reflection in the mirror. I also don’t really dip my hand in the holy water before church because it burns my skin.” I exhale and draw in enough air to rip through a fresh pack of mom’s Marlboro Reds.
“Your penance will be –“
I interject quickly. I haven’t even sold him on the Slap Chop accessories. This is the part where they buy the lamp that attaches to your book.
“I also leave my room after bedtime and sneak into other people’s homes to suck their blood. I do not feel bad about this. One time, I also purposefully projectile vomited on another person because they were wearing a Cubs jersey.”
The lies are pouring forth uncontrollably.
“I am a werewolf. I like Jaden Smith. I follow Hoodie Allen on Twitter. I voted for Donald Trump. I enjoyed Adam Sandler’s later work. I saw mommy kissing Santa Claus.”
For 15 minutes I rambled on incessantly, spouting the most vulgar, wretched, grotesque, and hilarious garbage I can think of. Most of it was untrue, but occasionally I threw him a bone.
“I cheated on last week’s word search assignment. I stole an extra lunch from the cafeteria because they were serving tater tots – the crème de la crème of side dishes. I spit on Natasha Rene’s hair when she wasn’t looking.”
By the time the priest got up to leave to the confessional, I had nearly convinced myself that I was a vampire. Like mother always says, if you wear a face for long enough, it might just stick that way.
Even with the priest absent, I continued to rattle off a ballistic and crass menagerie of utter bullshit. At least god is still listening.
Suddenly, Principal Hood rips me from the confessional and pulls me across the parking lot and into her office.
The off-brand brigade – Sam, Drew, Ryan, and Alex – is lined up in the chairs next to me. My Presidential Blue double-breasted pin-stripe is the most vibrant thing in the room, and for a moment I revel in the fact that my fashion sense clearly trumps anything that Principal Hood has to offer.
The stat line of my outfit reads: +10 Swag, +10 Game, +10 Speech, +75% Mental Toughness regeneration. Obviously not something you should have at a low level.
The stat line of Principal Hood’s velvet tie, gray pantsuit, and Dijon mustard sneakers reads: -1,000,000 respect.
“Boys . . .” she begins.
“Men . . .” I mutter. Alex shoots a death glare at me.
“It’s been brought to my attention that you were all throwing rocks at cars this morning. Is this true?”
Sam, Drew, and Ryan all hold their tongues and focus on the laces of their shoes, waiting for someone else to confess.
Truthfully, so am I. Anyone who is anyone knows that the first to speak holds the most guilt. Furthermore, I’m completely all out of confessions to make.
Go ask your priest if I did it. Better yet, ask god. Someone had to be listening, and if not, then what the hell are you teaching us the script for?
Now, not that I had to be clairvoyant to see the next part coming, but Alex makes the first statement for the group.
“We were just trying to throw the rocks so the cars would run over them.”
“Yeah,” Sam, Drew, and Ryan chime in, jumping on the bandwagon.
“Boys . . .” Principal Hood starts.
“Men . . .” I whisper again.
“I had a lot of angry parents call in and tell me you were hitting their cars. Be honest.”
I’m mentally going through my phone’s contacts to try and remember if I have a decent lawyer on speed dial.
Alex jumps in again, obviously the most guilty. “We might have missed a few times but we didn’t mean to hit the cars.”
“Yeah,” Sam, Drew, and Ryan followed. Rookie mistake. Anyone who is anyone knows that the proper proceedings are: Deny, deny, deny, deny, countersue.
“Christopher?” Principal Hood leans in over her desk, her hair brushing against the small flags that I don’t recognize.
Now, what I initially planned on saying was, “Keep my name out your mouth,” but what I ended up saying was, “No. I didn’t do it. I saw them doing it but I didn’t throw any rocks.”
I know that sounds horrible. Sure, go ahead bro, throw your boys under the bus. Good job. Golf claps. Extra orange slices for you at the soccer game.
Thing is though, they already admitted their guilt. Saying anything else would only result in me getting into trouble, and that simply isn’t a lifestyle I was/am ready to live.
Imagine if I had admitted to it. Boom. I’m in trouble. Imagine if I had said none of us did it. Then it’s four against one, and I still am most likely going to get into trouble. So what did I do? I did what I had been doing all day. I lied. Practice makes perfect. Wear a face long enough.
“Well then, the four of you are suspended. You can all wait in the hall while I call your parents.”
With sullen looks on their faces reminiscent of a Cleveland Indians fan who just blew a 3-1 lead, they rose from their seats. I take a mental note that they probably won’t be able to have a sleepover this weekend. Bummer for everyone involved, but at least I can still probably shmooze my way into going to the arcade.
“Christopher, I need you to stay.” Not the first time a woman said this to me, wouldn’t be the last.
I remained silent. +75% Mental Toughness Regeneration. Presidential Blue has its perks.
“Father McCuick said you had some interesting things to say during your reconciliation.”
“I thought you said everything I told him would be kept in private.” I retorted with a snarl.
“That is true. But it sounds like you’re not taking the sacrament seriously. Do you see how that might be an issue?”
“No. Because my sins are not your business Principal Hood. He’s supposed to save me from my demons. The only tattling he is supposed to do is to god’s ears. And if god wants to forgive me, then great.”
“God cannot forgive you if you won’t be honest with him, and he does not take kindly to disrespect.”
I’m leaning through the parade of flags on her desk at this point, my vitriol manifesting itself in each drop of spit that sprays out of my feral mouth.
“If god is all knowing, he will know what I am truly sorry about and when I am sorry for it. Forgiveness isn’t something you can audition for.”
“Christopher. I need you to behave here. There is a right way to do things and a wrong way to do things. You need to choose carefully.”
“Principal Hood. If I can’t trust that a man of god won’t spill my soul to every person in earshot, how do you expect me to trust your way of doing things?”
“Listen to me. You will go back. And you will do it the right way. Or we will call your parents.”
“And tell them that your sacrament of reconciliation is less of a sacrament and more of a ritual. My parents aren’t interested in the stories of what I do in that coffin of sin, and they certainly don’t want to hear that you’re basically practicing the occult and driving us into it.”
“I will NOT be strong-armed here, Mr. Zeuthen.”
“Mr. Zeuthen is my father.” I spat slyly as if I was a stockbroker who shared the name of the company’s founder.
Her rage mounted behind her desk. Jet fuel leaked from her ears, dousing herself as if she were preparing for self-immolation.
“Principal Hood. I don’t like this situation any more than you. So how about this? You give me detention for the day to accurately reflect on my sins, and I will privately admit my wrongdoings with the priest on our next visit.”
And for the first time, she leaned back in her chair. Her fingers folded themselves neatly over her chest, and like a general in a losing battle, she retreated.
Chess not checkers. Giving me the gift of gab is like handing over the keys to the nuclear silos to a child.
I am the omega.
Niles, Trent, and I could only watch as the Molotov Cocktail spread up the walls of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, rising over the porcelain-colored bricks like a million spiders crawling towards a paralyzed mouse.
What had begun as an unceremonious evening of celebration had quickly devolved into a sacrilegious nightmare.
The fires we had started on the asphalt by shattering our kerosene-filled bottles paled in comparison to the conflagration consuming the building.
I suppose it’s true, everything looks better on the big screen. For a brief moment, I really wished I had butter-lovers popcorn.
In almost an instant, the flames had seized hold of the wooden beams that stretched out beyond the walls, cackling in the way that I imagine Joan of Arc did at the stake.
And in that moment, with Niles and Trent scurrying for the treeline, I had my first epiphany of the night.
Standing alone in the parking lot, before the sirens, before the barking dogs, before my own exodus, I met eyes with my creator.
This is my creation. This is my genesis. This is my burning bush. This church will soon be the same ash as I am. This is god and I am being cut from the same cloth.
I am the lying, Molotov-cocktail-wielding, Mike’s-Hard-chugging paladin that has come to rescue the world from the plight of god, for I study the divine not to imitate what they do, but to imitate what they are.
As we laid in the bramble of the Salt Lake City forest on Holladay Boulevard, even the barking of the German Shephards could not drown out my realization, a realization that made the leap from ethereal to life itself as we watched the dogs pull back not more than ten feet from us.
I am the alpha and the omega. I am capable of building the most coherent argument for throwing rocks at cars, talented enough to persuade a principle, daring enough to lie to the instrument of the lord, and stupid enough to burn down a church. I am a god.
And this is religion. This is the lie I tell myself, the mask I’ve worn for just a little bit too long. It is the lie that we even if we get caught because someone is always watching, be them priest, principal, or pooch, they will happily pat you on the back if you just tell them what you want them to hear.
A dented car, a private defamation of god, or a good ol’ fashioned church burning.
Always getting away with it through your own divine intervention of lying, Mike’s Hard, and Molotov cocktails. Now, there’s is a religion I can believe in.