My next series is supposed to be about the Cravens family, but that was set for tomorrow, anyway. In the interim, something happened that may cause me to switch from Catholic to Protestant. I'd never go so far as to find my way back to my LDS roots, but mainline Protestantism isn't too beg a stretch. In the end, though I'll simply avoid the offending parish as though everyone inside it had a massive case of head lice. I don't take religion that literally, anyway. I think it's there to be a source of comfort for those who choose to utilize it as such and, under the best of circumstances, an inspiration to lead a better life and to spend a bit more of one's time and means in helping others less fortunate. Some do not even need religion to achieve this. To such people, I tip my hat.
This morning, after a whopping one hour and thirty minutes of sleep (I was supposed to get a grand total of three hours and forty-minutes of shut-eye) our house phone rang. I was too far into the depths on unconsciousness to even hear it, my brother, who is a morning person, hear it, answered it, and summoned me to the phone with "Some man wants to talk to you."
I dragged myself out of bed in my state of incoherence to mutter a less-than cheery "Hello" into the phone. The caller was a fill-in parish priest for an actual parish priest who was on sabbatical. The parish was not the one closest to our condo, but it was only a bit more than a ten-minute drive from our condo. Unlike Mormons, who are assigned to congregations, Catholics attend whatever Catholic parish suits their fancy with no repercussions whatsoever from either the locals or from the big boys in the Vatican City. Even without the mandate to attend a particular parish, it somehow works out. If a parish becomes too sparsely attended, diocesan leadership tries beefing up the parish with a more popular priest, better music, more youth programs, and other things, if it still doesn't work out, they close down the parish and assume Catholics who really desire to attend mass will find a place elsewhere to do so. I'm digressing, however, from my main point of the morning.
I had played for one wedding and for one funeral (both for members or relatives of members of our med school community) at the parish, but had not dealt with the interim priest, as the actual parish priest had not yet gone on sabbatical on the two occasions on which I played. The interim priest, who had a remarkably de-nasal voice, explained to me that the usual church organist was sick with an acute intestinal ailment, which is far more information that I'd want someone giving about any sickness to a stranger or even casual acquaintance. I should have taken my cue in terms of the interim priest's social skills from that brief exchange.
The priest went on to explain in his whiny voice than he had called virtually everyone of whom he knew with any musical skills whatsoever when he came across my name and phone number in the bench of the grand piano and decided it probably wouldn't be the worst thing in the world to give me a call. It was such a vote of confidence, and gave me such a thrill to have been thought of when the need for a church musician arose[sarcassm font].
He explained that the usual fee was $125.00 for being the primary provider of music at a mass, but since I was an unknown quantity as far as he was concerned, he would do what he could to come up with $100 dollars for me. The payment, whatever it was, would be in cash from the morning's offerings, and I would need to sign a receipt for it.
This should have been my first clue that my time would have been better spent in bed, but I was raised to help out the church when it has been practical for me to do so, I inquired of the time of the mass, which was eight-thirty. The de-nasal priest voice on the other end of the line told me I would need to be there half an hour early at an absolute minimum. Fool that I am, I agreed to the terms on the rationale that it was the church and the people I was helping, not the priest lacking in social skills.
I hung up and staggered to the shower. I heard my brother hollering at me through the bathroom door, asking where I was planning to go. "To mass," I answered. "A parish not far from here is without musician this morning."
"Are you crazy?" my brother hollered back through the door. "You haven't even had two hours of sleep!"
"I'm sure God will appreciate the sacrifice," I yelled back through the door.
"Just don't fall asleep at the wheel and kill yourself or someone else on the way there or back," he muttered. "I'll take care of your share of the food for study group this morning." He really is a kind soul.
I left at 7:35 to allow for traffic even in the nonexistent traffic of Sunday morning since I was told by the penguin-like priest that I must be there at least one half hour before the service was slated to begin, and I didn't want to cut it close lest the Lord strike me dead or lest I bring some other equally severe act of retribution upon myself.
I arrive at 7:48 precisely to find every door to the building locked. I know, because I checked and knocked on each one of them. No one answered. I went next door to the rectory and rang the bell once as 8:00 -- the absolute latest mandated minute of my arrival -- approached, and still not a soul other than myself was onsite.
Finally, at 8:12, a man showed up with a key to the front door. He really didn't want to let me into the place -- I must have the appearance of a thief or a vandal -- but I was able to plead with him that the priest had threatened me with lenghty purgatory if not outright damnation to outer darkness if I were not inside the building twelve minutes ago, so the man took mercy and allowed me inside the sanctuary. I made my way up the rickety stairs to the choir loft, wondering if Worker's Comp would have covered me if I'd fallen and had been seriously injured, I answered my own question: No. The priest and everyone connected to him would have had me declared an intruder and would've had me arrested before allowing me to be placed in the ambulance, and I would have been hand-cuffed to the stretcher for my ride to the hospital.
I looked at the organ, which appeared to be more a piece of junk than anything else as church organs went. It was locked, but the lock was much like the lock on most suitcases, in which virtually anyone's suitcase key in the United States unlocks anyone else's. The same keys also probably work for suitcases from all seven continents; I just haven't personally tried Antarctica's, Australia's or Africa's suitcase keys yet. I took my key ring out and found a likely match. As I was inserting it into the keyhole, the strangest-looking creature in priestly vestments that I've ever seen -- and I've seen my share of strange looking priests, monks, and the like -- rounded to final corner of the staircase and called out in the most squawkishly ugly bird-like tone ever to emit from the mouth of a priest, "Stop what you're doing right now and put your hands in the air!"
For all I knew, the man held a gun, so I dropped my keys and held my hands up, "Exactly who do you think you are and what are you doing here?"
"I'm the organist you demanded to be here by eight 'clock at the very latest," I answered him. "Since no one was available to let me in until almost fifteen minutes later and the organ was locked," I explained, "I was trying to make up for lost time by unlocking the organ with one of the organ keys I have."
"You have organ keys, do you?" he demanded. "I don't suppose you're the one who has been letting herself into the building and using all of our instruments in an unauthorized manner. We intend to prosecute to the fullest extent of the law, I'll have you know."
"No, that would not be I," I explained to the supposed priest [ I still was not convinced he wasn't an impostor], because i have no way to get into the building, If I had, I would have been in here well before 8:00 and would already be set up to play."
"So you think you know how to play the organ," he asked, glaring at me with beady little reddish eyes, almost as though they were discolored either from disease or possession by evil spirits.
"I know how to play the organ," I clarified. I was a piano major, not an organ major, but my mastery of the organ is far above average as compared to run-of-the-mill Catholic organist.
"Whatever you do, do not try to unlock this fine instrument with that makeshift key you're holding. If seen more organs destroyed by attempts to unlock them with faulty keys than you've seen organs, period, in your lifetime." The priest would have had to see roughly one organ destroyed with a faulty key almost every week of his life for this statement to have even come close to being true, compounded by the fact that most of us could not actually destroy an organ by attempting to open it with a faulty key even if we tried, but I let the statement go unchallenged.
By this time I had a better look at the fill-in priest. He looked more like PeeWee Herman than Peewee Herman himself did, if such a thing were possible. And I don't mean he merely looked like Paul Reubens, the actor who portrayed PeeWee Herman. He looked like PeeWee himself, having stepped right out of the playhouse or off the bicycle he finally got back from the nefarious Francis. All the priest needed was a bow in place of his cassock and half the parishioners would have been lining up for his autograph while the other half grabbed their children and ran out the door. The resemblance was positively uncanny.
"I suppose you'll have to play the piano," Father Herman [his name in my mind regardless of his real name] conceded. (He said the word piano as though it were a swear word.) You do know how to play the piano, don't you?"
"That's what the committee that conferred my piano performance degree concluded," I answered somewhat boastfully.
"Do you have an Order of Worship?" I asked him.
"You'll have to find an usher and get it from him," he sniveled at me, making his way to the altar.
I found an usher, obtained an Order of worship bulletin, grabbed a missal, and made my way to the piano, uncomfortable with the distance that the piano, located just in front of and to the right of the altar, would place me to Father PeeWee Herman. At this point I had no reason to believe the man was not homicidal, priest or not. I've seen Law and Order, SVU. I know that priests can kill just like anyone else. My sole consolation was in the presence of the congregation. He probably wouldn't murder me or anyone else in front of a crowd of hundreds.
The cheap Baldwin grand piano was also locked, but I didn't dare mention it to Father Pee Wee Herman. I quietly unlocked it with one of my three standard church piano keys, opened it, and began playing the prelude music which would only be needed for about three minutes since so much time had been wasted getting into the building, establishing that I was neither an intruder nor a vandal, and unlocking instruments.
I played "Joyful, Joyful, We Adroe Thee"as the priest and his helpers, including those carrying the host, made their way down the aisle. Father Herman paused to give me a death glare as he proceeded up the steps. "It's the wrong song," he hissed at me, loudly enough that those seated in the back pews could robably hear.
"It's what the Order of Worship says," I countered.
"Then the order of worship is wrong, wrong, wrong!" he again hissed loudly.
He began he greeting by apologizing to the parishioners about the quality of music. "This organist doesn't play the organ," he lied. "It appears she doesn't play the piano all that well, either. I suggest we pray for the quick recovery of our regular organist." Some people gasped. Others giggled.
He rolled his eyes at me when I played the Kyrie Eleison. I played the one that was indicated in the order of worship, and the soprano soloist was apparently prepared to sing that version, as she didn't miss a beat.
He rolled his eyes at me again during the Lamb of God. The soloist just shrugged at me.
The Offertory hymn was one called "What I have I will Give Thee." He cut me off. "It's the wrong song!" he bellowed.
"It's what the Order of Worship says," the soloist responded.
"Then the Order of Worship is wrong wrong, wrong again!" he ranted. "I obviously need a new secretary."
Some man near the front of the sanctuary whispered a little too loudly, "We all need a new Interim Priest." Father Herman heard it and turned red.
"Bad things happen to those who speak ill of the Lord's anointed," he admonished in his most PeeWee Herman-like tone yet. I half expected someone to say the secret word and for everyone to burst out screaming while bells and whistles rang.
"What do you want us to sing, Father" the soloist asked exasperatedly. "How about something sane like "Holy God, We Praise Thy Name." I began playing it before anyone else could argue. The soloist sang along, shooting me sympathetic looks.
He didn't like the Agnus Dei, either, and rolled his eyes at me again.
Then came the recessional hymn, which was some text to the tune of "All Creatures of Our God and King." He started to protest, but the soloist just bellowed the words right into the microphone so that he couldn't have been heard even if he had protested. The mass was finally ended, and we went in peace to love and serve the Lord, but there was still the small matter of financial compensation.
Under ordinary circumstances, I do not come right out and ask for money. An agreement is reached before, but I don't go begging for the money after the service if payment is not forthcoming. If it appears either than the congregation, or that the family in the case of a funeral, is not wealthy, I hand the money back. In this particular case, I chose to go against my principles and ask for the money since Father PeeWee Herman obviously wasn't making a point of offering it.
I approached him. "The payment, Father? You told me that the regular organist is paid $125 per mass, but that even with my limited skills, you would pay me $100 cash out of today's offering."
He looked aghast. "That was before we heard you play. You are the one who should be paying us for the use of our instruments to perfect your skills. Now go away and don't come back."
The whiny nasal little bitchface does not know how to speak quietly, apparently, and many parishioners heard his words to me.
Ladies started taking twenties and fifties and hundred dollar bills from their purses. Men were removing bills from their wallets. After my hands were full, I said "Really, this is quite enough," but they kept giving me more. One lady gave me a silk clutch purse to put in all in. I didn't count it until I got home, but I came out of the deal just over $1100 richer than I was before I started the day. It was definitely the most profitable piano-playing experience of my career.
The only really bad part, after the fact, is that one of the professors -- not one who is lecturing my current classes, but one I see in the halls. was there. I'm afraid he might tease me.
Studying was more or less a lost cause for me. I got into my swimsuit and climbed in the hot tub in my parents' master suite in our condo. everyone brought food in and we studied a bit while they all ate. I wasn't hungry. Then i went to sleep. The Asian girl was kind enough to make note cards for me about everything we covered.
I don't blame you if you don't believe this story. I wouldn't believe it if I had not been there to witness it.