Confessions from a Confessional

Bless me father for I have sinned. It has been…..almost two decades since my last confession.  Where do I begin? I guess, for this to work, you would have to actually believe in a god.

I  sat there in that stuffy confessional where the air hung like a thick miasma of dry heat and sin. The burgundy velvet cushion crushed under the weight of my knees, and as I knelt there, I stared at the silhouette through a gold colored fabric, sandwiched between two layers of wicker screen . The room was small, and the walls seemed to draw in on me, crushing my body in a vice of Catholic guilt. In that room of iniquity, that den of wicked transgressions, I raced my teenage mind for sins, and finding none, I blurted out lies.

What sticks out most in my mind, is how strange the experience was of confession, and the church where we asked forgiveness. This was not the normal church we attended mass, and that always struck me as odd. It was uncomfortable to be in this strange church, as if I were a visiting football team changing in the home-team’s locker room, only feet away from their school’s seal painted on the floor. That grand church with its vaulted ceilings, the saints and archangels staring down from the ceiling, their painted eyes passing judgement before I made it into that wooden box of guilty admission, was hot. Too hot. I can remember the steam radiators lined against the outer walls clicking and hissing as steam passed through their iron gills. It was like a well versed interrogation tactic. Get the sinners in the church and sweat them, make them uncomfortable, so they spill their sins like diarrhea of the mouth, just so they can make a quick escape into the chill of autumn, or the unbearable humidity and heat of a Long Island summer. But there was something else I noticed, something that made me cringe every time we made our pilgrimage to this house of the lord. The acoustics were great.

Seriously, who wants to confess their deepest, darkest sins, when everyone in the whole church can hear it. So there I am, a young kid, kneeling in a church pew, ten, twenty pews away from the confessional booth, and I can still hear everything the sinner is relating to the priest. Most of us whisper, some don’t, but for the most part every one’s guilt catches up to them, and they try and whisper, so as to avoid the rest of the judging Catholics’ eyes as they exit the booth. It is like a walk of shame when that door opens. Instead of absolution, you feel dirtier, as if you bathed in your sins a second time, wallowing in the muck of Satan’s deeds. Just moving on the kneeler in this church, with only a dozen repenters to dampen the echoes, makes a noise that garners the attention of anyone within its four walls. So you sit still, quiet, hoping that your uncomfortable shifting does not interrupt the strange rituals that occur behind closed doors. And then it is my turn.

Standing in line against the wall, the wall where radiators click and hum. The wall which feels like a blast furnace from hell, perspiring my body head to toe. Standing against that wall, I get closer to the booth, and peoples sins are now transmitted crystal clear, finding their receiver in my ears, and I cringe, knowing everybody will hear my sins. And then, before I know it, I find myself in the confessional.

“Bless me father for I have sinned. It has been–a long pause ensues–two months since my last confession.” Imagine a drawn out upward inflection after the pause. A question more than a statement. I have, and never will, been good with remembering time and events in relationship to a calendar of dates. My timeline floats somewhere in space, it is neither linear nor regressive, but instead jumbled, chopped, fragmented, and only assembled when need be. Already off to a good start, lying about the last time I had confession. So there I was, sitting there in that booth, the heat overwhelming and uncomfortable, but I haven’t even told you the weirdest part about all this, the wall which hid your face, was open on the left vertical half of the wall.

That’s right, open. I sat in that booth, while I could see the priest’s legs crossed, as he bobbed his feet up and down in the air. His face was behind the screen at least, but from his knees to feet, I could see those black wool pants that were always part of the uniform. Let me illustrate this for you. I could have reached my hand around the wall, and waved at myself, seeing the silhouette through that thin veil of a privacy screen. On some occasions, the priest decided to sit the other way, so you could see his face. Face to face confession! Come on. Really. So I sat there, melting into the corner of that booth, trying to squeeze as far into the opposite wall as possible, so the angle of his sight and my eyes might not meet, blocked by the wall that only obscured half the priest, only this time not his head. And then we spoke.

“Tell me your sins,” he would say. Tell me your sins? My sins? I would race through my mind, thinking, hemming and hawing. I had rehearsed this when I was in line against the horrid wall of radiator hell, but now I froze, like a teenager having recited how he would ask his crush out, only to get up to her and drown in a sea of self-conscious uncertainty, mumbling something incomprehensible and then running away in an awkward fashion. Whispering as low as I could, knowing everyone out there in line would hear my confession, I started. Of course he always told me to speak up, and I would just continue to whisper, like a passing birds call on the wind miles away.

My sins. I questioned so much as a teenager, as a child, I didn’t really believe in god, finding my the answers to my questions only created more questions. I was probably fifteen when I really committed to that, and for the next three years found myself just going through the motions. So here I was, thinking of sins that I didn’t believe I committed, and I was supposed to come up with something, anything. So, I did what any self-respecting teenager would do, lie. I created sins on the spot. I spewed forth a whole host of venial sins. Sins that were pathetic. “I lied to my parents about going out with my friends; I stole chips and cookies from the pantry when my parents had already said no; I said the lord’s name in vain,” you know, things like that. There I sat, lying to a priest about my sins, making them up as I went along. The coup de grâce of this act was always, “I lied.” Which I had just done. So yeah, confession was somewhat of a mockery for me, but what was I to do, I was a good kid.

I really was a good kid. I didn’t do much to incur the wrath of my parents. I was liked by my teachers. I didn’t really cause trouble in school. My rebellion was philosophical, my differences were and are with society, rules, religion, discrimination and a whole host of other inequalities; hence being a humanist and atheist. But Catholicism makes you feel guilty, as if sin from oozes your pores. If it is enjoyable, it is a sin. That is my take on religion. Now don’t get me wrong, I am glad I was raised with religion, it taught me valuable lessons that, and I have a strong understanding of right and wrong, morals and ethics, but that is where my appreciation of religion ends. I was strong enough not to drink the Kool-Aid, and as a result, live a very fulfilled life without someone else informing me how to function.

In the end, Catholic guilt still sticks with us all, even if we are recovering from our early years indoctrinated in the church. As my friend’s pointed out in my early college years , I draped–and still do–a napkin over any unfinished food on my plate. This act is not conscious, but subliminally done, and when I realized I did this, it became apparent that you can’t strip away all the years of sinful regret in such a short time. Because, some where in Africa, there is a starving child that would eat that food.

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Political Buzzwords of the 2016 Presidential Election

Well, it is not even officially summer yet of 2015, but sooner than later we will be inundated with the political process of the 2016 presidential elections, oozing into every pore and crack of our daily  lives. Like a toxic waste spill, poisoning all it touches, our television programming will be filled with mud slinging, political rhetoric, and fear mongering as talk, comedy, news, and opinion-based talk programs and commercials bombard us, sucking the souls from our bodies, like a miasma vaporously seeping from our eyes. I think I speak for a majority of Americans when I say that I am sick of this polarized political process, and already cringe knowing that it is right around the corner, starting earlier and earlier every election cycle. Just when you thought it was safe to turn the television on again, you will begin to hear lies, not knowing what to filter from your mind.

So, as we listen to misleading information, straight-out lies, and the occasional truth, here is a list of political buzzwords that will barge into your life, like the Kool-Aid Man busting through that brick wall, yelling ‘oh yeah.’ And remember, as the season goes on–the longest of any season we know–it is perfectly acceptable to vomit in your mouth, when you hear some of these incredibly pandering and condescending terms.

1.)  Pledge

The definition for pledge, is a solemn promise or undertaking. I guess most candidates have never read a dictionary–do fingers crossed behind the back count. Maybe at all future debates, the moderator should ask the candidates to have both their hands on their podiums at all times.

In the next year we will hear thousands of pledges, spoken down from candidates’ bully pulpits as they tell us what they intend to do, while never explaining how then intend on doing it. Here’s my pledge. I pledge to you I will not drink any beer for the next year. Seems as legit and believable as most of the promises candidates make.

2.) Endure

America must endure! Because, you know, we aren’t doing that already. I guess they mean we must remain as polarized in politics as we are today, and continue to not work together. Or maybe they are saying, that our senators and politicians must remain part of the 1%, while they represent blue-collared working and middle class citizens, because, they know what it feels like to live paycheck by paycheck. How’s that Bentley treating you? Is that America’s endurance?

3.) Take Back America

Now in this scenario, who are we taking America back from? Shouldn’t this be the slogan of the Native Americans? I mean, didn’t we take America from them. Oh, that’s right, I forgot. Some historians–who politically lean a certain way–would posit that since Native Americans didn’t believe in ownership of the land, rather they practiced usufruct rights–the ownership or rights, not the physical land, to resources in areas and regions which they held control over–we didn’t take land from them, because they, themselves, believed they didn’t own it. Because, that’s a legit argument…for Victorian times…as a white British imperialist, wearing a pith helmet and all out khakis, as he plods his way through the jungles of borneo, believing his white superiority over the black natives–savages according to his mind–as he commodifies his expeditions for future colonization. But, I digress.

Again, I ask, who are we taking America back from? The migrant workers who pick the lettuce and vegetables in fields for us? Rake blueberries in the fields? Pick our strawberries? Alright, send them back, so we can eat ten dollar bags of lettuce. Yep, solid argument. Yeah we can live on bags of cheap Doritos. Who needs vegetables and fruit? We should totally take our country back from those social system abusing immigrants. Because, you know, none of us or our families, were ever immigrants in this nation. Maybe hypocrisy should be a buzzword used during campaigns, American Hypocrisy. Perfect.

4.) Transform

Like a self-conscious woman who feels she needs plastic surgery, because the film industry can’t deal with crows feet around the eyes, or the man who goes to the gym every day, two hours a day, to keep his six-pack abs rock hard and defined, America must transform. We must transform to mirror the image of what our rich senators say we should be. We must transform our nation to represent what rich, blue-blooded, deep-rooted, American families envision for us, because, they are in touch with the majority of Americans.

I always imagine the family from Wedding Crashers the Clearys, as our politicians. So out of touch, on their southern plantation, having their yacht transport them for a weekend gathering. In my mind the Clearys represent true American politics, “two of the great American families, the Clearys and the Lodges, will finally unite.” Let’s play some touch football…and go quail hunting…and sail the yacht.

5.) Transparency

Like a piece of saran wrap, politicians want American government to be as clear as can be, except when its their own past, finances, and records in the Senate. I think wax paper is a better representation of the transparency which is really fought for, a little foggy, yet you can tell vague shapes through the slippery, filmy piece of kitchen paper, like a slime or a scummy film, coating the piece of paper.

6.) American Exceptionalism

I had to leave this one for last, being my favorite of all these listed. This is the phrase I loath the most. I regurgitate my lunch whenever I hear this bantered around, used like post-modern is as an adjective. This phrase is a favorite of many politicians because it paints a GREAT American narrative. Well, there are segments of American history that represent a great narrative, this is true, except that this idea of exceptionalism ignores the darker side of our history. Hey, I’m not anti-America. There are good and bad sides to all history, and by ignoring the dark side, it doesn’t make it go away. Hahaha, lock that creepy uncle in the closet, he doesn’t fit in with our family’s aesthetic, he’s more an artist.

As I hold back the vomit writing about this term, I must think that you have to be a great snake oil salesperson to peddle the rhetoric that most politicians sell to us. To an extent, they have to believe what they preach to us, or it wouldn’t be believable to most constituents. So, in the end, when a politician tells you they believe in American Exceptionalism, that means they want to turn history into a comic book, where only supermen exist, women are ancillary characters–most of the time as sexual characters–and people of other ethnicities kind of exist in the background, rarely playing the lead role, having very stereotypical roles.

So in the next year, as our politicians try to sell you the American narrative, I say, screw them. We write that story everyday. Their buzzwords and rhetoric tell us nothing, but what they are trying to sell, and like a used car salesmen, they will say anything to get that flood-damaged, bought-at-auction car off their lot.