...Day 157, 158, or a number so large that the average common man has never even concieved of it’s existance...
My, how a few days and a few miles of travel can change one’s life. On a whim, last year, my wife says to me “How would you like to go to Expo, just you and me?” At which point, I had to stop, dig the wax out of my ears, and have her repeat it for my benefit. “Did you just say ‘lets go to Expo this year’? I muttered looking at the ear-canal gold on the tip of my pinky finger. She then says, “yes, and why don’t we buy a new pinball machine too?” It was at this point I needed to sit down. For some reason, I had suddenly lost the ability to stand , listen, and talk at the same time. “Ok, what do you really want, and what have you done with my wife?,” I said as I plopped down in my recliner. Well it didn’t take long for me to wholly agree this was a good idea, and we soon found ourselves on a plane to Chicago. This was our first Expo together in years and we looked forward to it like children waiting on Santa. It had been 10 years since we bought our last pin, and so we were seriously due. Now I will add here, about 10 years ago, I joined the APPL, or Arizona Pinball Players League for short. This collection of good people welcomed me in and I regularly play just about every new, old, or collectable pinball machine built, plus I get to play some amazingly restored machines. Needless to say this can really satisfy a hard core player at the expense of muting his drive to buy more machines. If I didnt have the APPL, my collection would be bigger, so I guess my wife and I owe them a gift basket for saving us about $20k over the last 10 years. So now we get to the Expo, we always go early, and we do all the standard things, factory tour, Kick off Buffet (I kind of miss the banquet, but it was a remnant of the Old Republic and was swept away with the “less industry centered” and more “consumer retro arcade family friendly” vibe but I digress) And then I helped set up a Stern Deadpool Pro and played the first 4 player game on it new out of box for a dollar bet. I lost, but the machine was set on pay for play right outside the tournament area and since the hall was not open yet, we stuffed a bunch of money in it and played. After the hall opened up, my wife and I walked it and played some more pin. And then we saw it. It was like a Catholic pilgrim seeing the Sistine Chapel or Saint Peters for the first time, because I know, I was raised a Roman Catholic, and I have seen both the Chapel and St. Pete’s with my own eyes.
Now encountering one’s Holy Grail title, especially one I never dreamed of owning NIB and one even better than original, you can imagine my excitement. It was like the Spring Festival at our parish, Cotton candy, popcorn, crackerjacks, ice cream, and 55 gallon drum trash cans full of the same only slightly post processed by the Ferris Wheel, the Tilt-a-Whirl and the Rock-o-Planes. I always imagined when I was a little kid what the Spring Festival was like at the Vatican, whether the Pope enjoyed a beer and a cigar like our Parish Monsignor did, did he wear the hat on the amusement rides, and did he ever sneek a little communion wine when he was an altar boy like I did. And a very late apology to the late Father Kreusling, God rest his soul. But that reminds me of a little story I will share about the last day I was an altar boy, and no, its not what you think. It was horifyingly more embarassing, personally, so just wait a moment and I will share.
It all started off normal enough, on days I had altar duty, my father would wake me at 5am, and I was to be dressed and ready to go by 5:15. I was red eyed and still half asleep when I got in the car and my Dad drove us to Church. Now I had a bunch of things to do to prepare the altar for daily morning mass. I had to fill the servers with non-consecrated hosts and clean the drool off the patens left over by the last altar boy crew who conveniently “forgot” to clean them. This was a common dirty prank altar boys played on each other, hoping to embarrass each other in front of the priest. Well, if you are rushed after mass it just happened, thats all I will say about that. Well, this was to be my first mass with the parish’s newest priest, Father “Not Appearing in this Film” (but truthfully Father Francis was a great priest) Now, I must admit, my training to be an altar boy was totally OJT, and like, we had manuals we could have read, and probably should of in hind sight, but this was not rocket science, and they always put a junior boy with a senior boy to share the load of the- chores. (Sheesh people... stop trying to get ahead of the story). Ok, so this morning, I am the senior boy for the first time, and I think I was a little drunk on power, a lot of “first time” anxiety, and maybe a nip of the communion wine (we will get to that in a moment). Here I will say in my defense, I thought I knew everything I needed to know to pull off a mass, even alone if my junior boy failed to show up. What I did not know was there is the altar Rail, the altar Steps, the altar Platform, and finally THE ALTAR, and you had better know which was which. So, back in my day as an altar boy, we wore the black cassocks and white surplices and as a tall lad, I ended up having to wear an adult sized cassock. This wasn’t really important right then but it was about to be.
During mass, the Book of Liturgy, from the Roman Missals is hauled from the rectory, to the pulpit, to the alter, to the pulpit and back to the rectory. As an altar boy, this was part of the job description. Now the mass has started and we have had the first and second reading, and it is time for the priest to read the gospel. Up until now, the regular swing of things had been going smoothly, and so I head to the pulpit to become the human bookstand like normal. I get to the pulpit and saunter to a halt just as I lock eyes with Father Francis, who has this look of aggrevated disgust, and reaches forward and places a hand over the microphone on the lectern. “What are you doing?” I look at him blank faced and slack jawed, and he continues- “Take the book and put it on the Altar!” I grabbed the book and turned, and being totally flustered, walked straight back to my spot next to my junior boy, set the book on the altar Platform, knelt down, and folded my hands in prayer and suplication, because right now, I didn’t think Father Francis liked me all that much, and I was going to need some serious help from the Almighty to get out of of this pickle. Well, with my luck running low and my total lack of thought running lower, I noticed I had crossed in front of the Altar without stopping, bowing, and paying my respects, and I had done this in front of the entire congregation. The look of Father Francis could have melted solid steel as he glared, disaprovingly at me. After finishing the Gospel reading (he recited it from memory) he gave his sermon. I honestly can’t tell you what it was about but it was tragically short as I recall. He left the lecturn, stopped, turned, bowed, turned, and walked up the alter steps to stand behind THE ALTER. He turned and motioned for me and I did what comes naturally, I stood up.
I guess now is a good time to mention that adult sized cassock. For those not familiar with the garment, a thin, black, floor length robe, with a notched neckline, and lots of tiny black buttons to get in and out of, which we never undid, but simply pulled it on and off over our heads. Well, as if I was being punished for my irreverent altar crossing, the deafening sound of silence of the church was immediately ripped in half by the sound of my cassock doing the same. It would seem, (or is that “seam”?), in my fluster as I kneeled down, I had forgot to pull the hem of my cassock up and it was now caught under the heels of my shoes (black or brown, real leather shoes- with heel! per the Altar Boy Manual) and when I stood up I was momentarily converted to a capital “D” or for another visual, an archery bow with the cassock playing the part of the bowstring and my spine the bow. Being in this throat gagged, unnatural, totally off balance, unable to breathe, think-I-am-dying state, I did the only thing I could think to do, I stood up farther and faster.
Every eye was on me, including the Padre’s who was giving me a look that would make a Nun nervous. Well, my ordeal was not yet over, as I made it, finally, to his side and he quietly, but firmly told me to retrive the Book, yeah, almost forgot about the Book. I quickly took one big step backwards, and fell promptly down the altar Steps backwards.
Ok, my feet and real leather heels flew literally over my head as I planted the landing with my shins landing on the altar Rail with an audible “crack”, and my face burying its now bright crimson visage into the matching bright red altar carpet. I rolled over, grabbing for anything to help me get up, my arms flailing and finally my hand found a very uncomfortably cold but oddly well shaped handle. So I gave it a tug. Here, I should mention, that there was an uncomfortably cold, but oddly well shapped handle attached to the set of altar bells that HAD been sitting on the altar Steps but a few mere moments before...
RING-RING-RiNG, CLANG-CLANG, ring-ring, ring-ring, ring-ring, tinkle, tinkle, tinkle... ECHO-ECHO-ECHO...
The sound of the bells, their fractured and jangly peels echoing off the hard aggregate stone floor of the church, continued for what seemed like an eternity. I laid there, mortally embarrased, wounded to the core, until the last echo of the last tinkle of the last bell left a silent pall over the whole scene.
Composing myself, I picked myself up and I walked, slowly, over to the book, picked it up off the altar Platform, turned, bowed at the altar, turned, walked up the altar Steps and placed it on THE ALTER. I turned around, walked down the steps, over to the junior boy and whispered, “You are on your own” and exited, altar-stage right, pulled off my cassock and surplice, threw them in the Altar Rosery Society’s “Repair sacred garments” hamper, walked over to the altar boy volunteer roster, drew a line across my name and wrote MOVED next to it, walked out to the car, got in and waited for my Dad to come out. He opened the car door, climbed in, put the key in the dash, and started the car. He checked the mirrors, he looked over his shoulder and pulled out into traffic. He never said a word.
About a week later, my father thinks I should seek forgiveness (or asylum in MY case) and takes me back to church for confession.
So I sit and wait and finally it’s my turn, I enter and I say my line- “Bless me father, for I have sinned-” at which point I hear Father Francis cut me short and say, “Have you fallen off any alters lately? That will be 5 Our Fathers, and 5 Hail Marys for disrespecting the Altar, and 5 Rosaries tomorrow morning for drinking the Communion wine, and when you get done with that, come see me. The little door behind the curtain slid shut with a barely audible thump.
And that was the last time I was ever an altar boy at St. Helens.