Forgive Me, Father, For I Am Only Here for The Meatballs, Drinking, and Gambling

One of the things I love most about Winter is the return of an event I call “The Catholic Festival”.  I’m not Catholic, as demonstrated by the facts that:  (a) I don’t need to be tied up and beaten in order to have a good time on a date, and (b) there is a lack of existential guilt present in my general daily demeanor.

I was raised with a light smattering of Protestantism from time to time, and what it lacks in guilt it more than makes up for in the worst potluck dishes you’ve ever eaten in your entire life.  You would think Campbells Cheddar Cheese condensed soup was these people’s personal savior.  I’m surprised they didn’t serve little cups of it with the communion which, by the way, is simultaneously the least showy and most pathogen-containing communion in the world.  At least Catholics use a real wafer and an actual cup – and everybody gets their own!

In some Protestant churches I visited as a kid, they would bust out a loaf of stale bread from Costco and then pass it around and you’d have to tear off a piece with your filthy hands and pass it to the next person’s filthy hands so they could tear off a piece, and so on and so on, and by the end of all that tearing and passing, the loaf looks like a flock of rats had a field day with it.  Unruly children are forced to use the remainder as a sad punishment football after Sunday school.

And instead of a little cup of wine or grape juice, they make you dip your germalicious bread-shred into a big shared glass of grape juice and THEN eat the soggy, purple bread!

Now, I’m not religious, nor do I have any sort of religious education*, and I don’t mean to offend anyone here because people should be entitled to believe what they want to believe, but I’m pretty sure that the Eucharist, the sacred Eucharist, that which is supposed to represent the body and blood of Christ, were meant to be ingested separately and not made into some kind of unholy combo meal that you swallow in one soggy bite.

Sacrilegious?!  I’m not being sacrilegious!  The people who’ve turned communion into a Smuckers Uncrustable are the ones who are being sacrilegious!  Take some of that money you collect in the coffers and buy some wafers and cups for crying out loud.  They’re not expensive and you don’t even pay sales tax!

Where was I?  Oh yeah, The Catholic Festival!

Of course, it’s not actually called “The Catholic Festival”.  It’s called the “St. Something of Somewhere Parish Something or Other Festival”.  Since I didn’t have to grow up in the Catholic church, I find the pageantry of their religion absolutely fascinating.

I mean, how many worldwide religions can declare someone to be a saint after they die and then carve up their dead body and send the pieces on world tours, where worshipers clamor and gather to pray over a severed finger?  Who does that?!  That’s like something out of a movie!  Here’s an actual line from an actual story about it I found on Pulpit and Pen:

The severed hand of Saint Francis Xavier will be making a 14-city tour of Canada from January 3 to February 2. It will be traveling with Angèle Regnier, who says the adventure “will be like having a road trip with a friend.” On flights, the hand will have its own seat next to Regnier.


Then there’s the kneeling, the rosaries, the confessional, the holy water, the candles, that dangly incense thing they throw around, Jon Bon Jovi’s chest hair – all fascinating.  Traditional Mass is delivered in a language that nobody even speaks or understands!  And the clergy outfits!  The clergy outfits alone are worth the price of admission.  That’s quality craftsmanship there!

Imagine how boring The Da Vinci Code would have been if it were centered around something lame and boring, like Presbyterians.  The entire cast would consist of Tom Hanks talking to a volleyball and – spoiler – they already made that movie and it’s called Castaway.  Conspiracy alert!  Don’t send me weird emails about this.

Aside from the general pageantry, I love The Catholic Festival so much because it features three of my favorite things in the whole world all under one roof:

A rummage sale;

A roulette wheel where not only can you gamble but the prizes are bottles of hard liquor; and

Food tents where they serve seemingly endless meatball subs made by Italian nonnas named Isotta and Allegra.

If I didn’t know any better I’d say that with perks like that, these people are actively recruiting, but as most Catholics will tell you, they don’t really want your sorry ass.  If you weren’t born into it, they’re not interested.  Sure, there are ways to convert, but even if you did, you know every time you walked out of the room, the born-in Catholics would say, “So, now that it’s just us real Catholics in the room…”

That’s why there’s no hard sell when you walk around the festival. No pamphlets, no sign-up sheets. Try walking into an unfamiliar Methodist church and see if you even make it through the front door without being tackled by three women named Kitty who want to sign you up to run the pancake breakfast, teach Sunday school, and join the choir.

You’ll never be woken up by a Catholic knocking on your door on a Saturday morning asking if you’ve accepted Jesus Christ as your personal savior.  They just wait until you show up at the festival and then yell, “Meatball sub tent is in the parking lot, heathen!  Good luck in Hell!”

It’s like they don’t want me to join their religion at all, which as George Costanza would tell you, makes them that much more desirable to me.

Sometimes I think about sneaking into a regular service on a Sunday just for the food and the show but I’m pretty sure someone would spot me standing when I should be kneeling and they would drag me out there like a sack of potatoes while I screamed, “Chill, Catholics!  I’m only here for the pageantry!”

So I do the next best thing.  I go to The Catholic Festival once a year and take it all in.  I buy vintage knick-knacks at the rummage sale with a stiff cocktail in one hand and a soft meatball sub in the other.  I bring gambling money – to a church!  I eye the rosaries that are for sale by the door as the old nuns eye me back, knowing that they know damn well I’m an imposter and if I tried to buy a rosary they would very sarcastically say, “You know this isn’t a necklace that you wear, right sweetie?” before snatching it back from me and laughing.

Then I would skulk away, wondering if any of their severed fingers will ever end up on a world tour BECAUSE IF THEY PLAYED THEIR CARDS RIGHT THAT COULD LITERALLY HAPPEN.

*Every single thing I know about Catholics I learned from the two hundred times I’ve watched Saturday Night Fever.  Shout out to John Travolta’s hair.

The man is a national treasure.


How To Succeed in Acquiring 5,000 Kittens (Without Really Trying)

Nearly all of our family pets growing up were found in a ditch.  In the rain.

There were so many pets found in ditches in the rain, you would think our neighborhood was a Serbian battlefield in World War I.

Now, it’s important to know that “ditch in the rain” was really secret code for “not actually a ditch in the rain”.

I can assure that this little loverboy, Oscar, snuggling with me in my acidwashed jeans, was found in neither a ditch nor the rain.

“Ditch in the rain” could mean many, many things.  It could mean that a guy outside the grocery store had a box of kittens with the word “Free” written on the side of it.

It could mean that your friend’s mom told her she had to get rid of her pet rabbit because the new baby was allergic.

Most often it meant that your friend from a few blocks over had a cat that had kittens and her father told her if she didn’t find homes for all of them by the time they were eight weeks old that he’d take them to the pound.

I’ve gotta tell you, as sad a story as the truth may have been, it wasn’t usually going to get the job done with my mother.  If you had the audacity to show up at home one evening with YET ANOTHER kitten, that kitten better have one hell of a backstory.  You damn well better had found that kitten in a ditch in the rain.

This kitten?  This kitten was no ordinary unwanted kitten.  Hell no!  This was a lone, abandoned kitten with no support system, no one to care for it.

Gorgeous and sweet Fujita, also not found in a ditch in the rain.

This was a wet, orphaned, shivering cold kitten wandering the night alone, frightened and helpless.

K.C., also not found in a ditch in the rain.

This kitten had been through hell, and all it wanted was to be warm and dry and held.  Isn’t that what we all want?  Just to be held and safe?  Isn’t this kitten really all of us?

This kitten was part of the huddled masses, yearning to be free as its Trans-Atlantic ship approached Ellis Island in the 1800s.

Although one of these cats was found outside a Wendy’s, and we therefore named him “Wendell”, none of these cats were found in a ditch in the rain.

This was:

The Saddest Kitten in The World.

As Mom said, “Nope.  No more.  I am not taking in one more damn kitten!  End of discussion!” you’d hold it up to her face until it let out a teeny, tiny kitten meow.

Then the promise went as follows.  Let’s all say it together:

“Please let me just take care of her tonight, and I promise I’ll find a home for her tomorrow morning!”

This is why it’s important to bring the ditch rain kitten home in the evening.  If you brought it home at 10am, you’d have plenty of daylight hours left to pretend you were trying to find it a home.

But it’s late!  It’s dark out!  This kitten needs to spend the night!

So without fail, within a few hours and when you were getting ready for bed, you’d peek around the corner from the hallway in your Rainbow Brite nightgown to see your mother holding the kitten on her chest, petting its tiny head with her thumb and whispering, “It’s okay, little one.  It’s okay.”

Then you knew that kitten was IN.

There was no way that kitten was leaving for at least the rest of its natural life, and it would be lovingly buried in the backyard eighteen years later after a long and happy life.

The only other way you acquired pets was when your own existing ditch rain pets gave birth.  This was because most people in our neighborhood were really, really, tragically terrible about spaying and neutering.

(As an adult, I used to trap the strays in my old neighborhood and take them to the nonprofit vet clinic in our area and have them spayed or neutered, dewormed, vaccinated, and microchipped for fifty dollars a pop, but fifty bucks to anyone back then in the neighborhood may as well have been a thousand.  It’s terrible, I know, but it’s the way it was.  I’m such a big supporter of low cost spay and neuter clinics, it absolutely guts me when I think of the animal situation in our neighborhood when we were kids.)

So when you were a kid and your own cat had kittens, you had to sort of work the ol’ “ditch in the rain” in reverse.

Your mom would say, “You said you would find homes for all of these kittens!”

Yeah, right.  Like I was giving up these kittens.

Then you would just answer, “I went door to door ALL DAY asking if anyone wanted one!  I even put up a sign down at the pond!”

You did none of these things, of course.

“I don’t know what else to do!  I think we may have to just keep them!”

Then she would say, “No.  Absolutely not.  End of discussion.”

Then you would scoop up all of the kittens, hold them towards her face in a chorus in teeny, tiny kitten meows and say, “What should I do?  Put them all in the ditch??  And I heard the weather man on the news say it was going to rain tonight!”