Mine Eyes Have Seen The Gaudy

Image

History’s smallest parade. The kid on the left (me) is a firecracker, not a tomato.

Whenever the Fourth of July rolls around, I start reminiscing about 1976.  It was, of course, the 200th anniversary of our nation’s sovereignty.  For the year leading up to it, our collective American consciousness was obsessed with all things Bicentennial.

As the world’s leaders in conspicuous consumption, what better way for Americans to mark such an auspicious occasion than through the manufacture and sale of kitschy knickknacks?  Who could forget the homage paid to our founding fathers by the Old Spice company and their Bicentennial Commemorative Coin series?  No?  These were 6-ounce after-shave decanters, shaped like coins, bearing the likenesses of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and John Paul Jones.  How Jones got the nod, over Samuel Adams, is anybody’s guess.

Kids had Bicentennial lunch boxes, key chains, and playing cards.  They decked out their bikes with red, white and blue plastic streamers and metallic star-spangled banana seats.  Moms bought decorative Bicentennial plates, tablecloths, glassware, planters, cupcakes, stamps, tampons, Betsy Ross sewing pins, jewelry boxes, towels, Dixie cups, and anything churned out by the Franklin Mint (of which there was plenty).  All these wonderful novelties could be paid for with the exciting and new Bicentennial currency.  You had your choice of Bicentennial quarters, half-dollars, silver dollars and, everybody’s favorite, the idiotic two-dollar bill.

In addition to all the collectables, there were lots of Bicentennial events.  One, in particular, stands apart.  It involves a calamitous spectacle, put on by my high school’s most talented performers.  The band (of which I was a member), the theater department, and the choir were invited to the state’s capital to present a Revolutionary-themed concert.  It was quite an honor and I remember we practiced for weeks.  Our singers and actors were dressed in homemade 1776-era getups.  The girls wore long calico dresses with bonnets and shawls.  The boys wore wool vests, coats and knickers (those American Revolutionaries really bundled up).  Since nobody ever pays attention to the band (unless we’re talking Rolling Stones) we were allowed to wear our regular school clothes.

The presentation incorporated Revolutionary music interspersed with narratives, read dramatically by the theater hams students.  The thing I remember most about that day was the heat.  It was about seven million degrees hotter than the inside of a dragon’s belly.  Don’t doubt me.

During our production – between Yankee Doodle and the Battle Hymn of the Republic – one of our actors was dramatizing the skills of a minuteman.  He mimed the loading, aiming and firing of his musket.  Our drummer, Bobby, was supposed to hit a rim shot at the same time that our actor was “firing” his gun.  Bobby executed it perfectly (he was very professional for a 15-year-old).  At that precise moment, one of the boys from the choir, overcome by the heat and his Benjamin Franklin costume, keeled over and fell face-first onto the floor.  The only thing that saved him from a broken nose was his tri-corner hat and Polyfill beer gut.

The audience erupted with wild applause.  They whooped and hooted.  What showmanship!  Slowly, however, it dawned on them that this was not part of the program, but rather a “situation.”  You’d think they’d have been tipped off by the fact that Ben Franklin’s impromptu assassination, by a minuteman, was not historically accurate.  Sometimes people just get caught up in the moment, I guess.  Or maybe they weren’t history buffs.

Anyway, the worst was yet to come.  Teenagers are very susceptible to suggestion, nerves, and, in this case, dragon-belly heat.  The sight of that one kid, splayed out on the floor, set off a chain reaction.  Other choir members started passing out left and right.  Our long-suffering conductor, Mr. Scaine, put down his baton, calmly approached the microphone and announced that there would be a brief intermission (he was every bit as professional as Bobby).

No one was seriously injured, but the remainder of our show was a wounded turkey.  By the time the concert resumed, we were all paranoid about another fainting epidemic.  We played our instruments tentatively, so as not to jar the more delicate members of our ensemble.  Our poor audience looked like anxious captives – they clearly wanted out, but decorum prevented them from leaving.  And rather than being performed with the gusto it deserves, our Battle Hymn of the Republic limped to a lackluster finale.  After the trauma and embarrassment of the morning, the only thing worth a hallelujah would be the glory of getting back on the bus and returning to school.  Thank god nobody had camera phones in 1976.

RIGHTEOUS!

images

Many people of the cloth speak of the “calling” which led them to religious service.  My friend, Jane, was a New Jersey housewife (a real one, not a Real one), when she got the call.  Now Jane is a Vicar, enrolled in an intensive four-year program to become a Lutheran minister.  A relative of my husband’s got the call after being laid off from a high-level corporate finance position.  He joined a seminary and, after four years of rigorous study, lives as a practicing minister in Long Island.

I was watching a particularly raunchy episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm when I got the call.  It was my cousin and her fiancé, calling to say they were getting married.  They wondered if I’d be willing to become ordained and officiate at their wedding in Manhattan.  What fun! You bet!  “I’ll start the process right away,” I told them.

So I sat down at my computer to begin the steps necessary for acquiring my point-and-click investiture.  I Googled, “I want to be ordained online.”  The first website that came up seemed sufficient, and I’m lazy, so….  According to the website, an ordination through their church would qualify me to marry people in New York, as long as I registered with the New York State Bureau of Licensing.

I went through the prompts and started adding things to my virtual shopping cart.  Did I want the title “Doctor of Divinity” which included a printable degree?  Yes.  Did I want the small black book containing prayers and various ceremonies, such as weddings and baptisms?  Billed as a $45 value, it could be mine for the low, low price of just $19.99, plus shipping and handling.  Yes.   Did I want the printable parking permit, stating I was on official ministry business?  This would allow me to park anywhere.  Any where.  Are you kidding me? That would be a ‘yes.’  Did I want the printable proclamation authenticating me as a saint?  Hell, yes!

With my ordination bundle complete, I checked out and printed my PhD and saint certificate (which, as advertised, were suitable for framing).  I signed my parking permit and set it aside to be laminated.  Time spent?  Four minutes.  Who needs four years?

It’s amazing what having these documents did to me.  Like balm for my soul, the saint certificate assured me that the key to the pearly gates awaits me, already tucked under my eternal pillow.  I’m a shoe-in.  The degree stoked my ego.  I was now a doctor.  A doctor!  Oh, the respect I would command with that title.  And the parking permit?  Well, only the rare and extremely privileged individual has that kind of omnipotence.

These exciting revelations were followed by heady daydreams.  There I was, standing on a windswept mountaintop…at sunset…resplendent robes a flowin’.  I would gather people together to witness the unions of hundreds of happy couples.   And I would charge $300 a pop for 20 minutes of my time, plus gas and tolls.  What joy!

The next morning, I stopped at Kinkos, laminated the permit, and headed for the licensing bureau in downtown Manhattan.  I parked, tossed my permit on the dashboard and sashayed right past the muni meter. Dr. Anita Rosner parks for free!  Mm hmm. Take that, Mayor Bloomberg.

When I arrived at the bureau, the line at the only open window was about 30-people deep.  Other folks were off to the side, filling out forms.  Everybody was waiting in pairs – one person to hold the spot in line, the other person to keep the parking meter fed.  Suckers!

Being prepared, I had printed out the forms the night before and already completed them.  When my turn came, I presented the clerk, Ms. Waters, with my documents.

“I’m here for my license to perform marriages in New York.” There may have been an exaggerated note of gravitas in my voice.  I’m not sure.

Ms. Waters looked over the forms.  “I can give you a license for New York State, but not New York City.”

Uh-oh.  “Why not New York City?”

She pointed to the website listed on my credentials.  “We don’t recognize this church in New York City,” she casually replied.  To make matters worse, she mispronounced recognize as “REK-a-nize,” which is a major pet peeve of mine. When my daughter and her friends do it, I go insane!  But that’s a story for another time.

Sacrilege!  Her rebuff felt like a slap.  But I’ve dealt with enough pencil pushers in my day to be prepared for this.  I had preemptively tucked some bribe money in the front pocket of my conservative, yet chic, Coldwater Creek trousers.  Doctors aren’t stupid, you know.

I carefully slid the bill across the counter, so as not to be observed by anyone else but Ms. Waters.  “Perhaps you REK-uhg-nahyz this PREZ-i-duhnt,” I whispered, as I gave her a sly wink.

She openly picked up the bill, looked at it, slapped it back down on the counter and shoved it toward me.  “Ma’am,” she sighed, “I think everybody REK-a-nizes George Washington.  Now step aside.  You’re holding up the line.”

“That’s hardly any way to speak to a reverend,” I grumbled, as I stuffed the documents and dollar into my purse.

With my head held high, I marched indignantly from the bureau.  How dare they!  What chutzpah!  This threw a major wrench in the plans.  I would not be able to marry my cousin and her fiancé after all.

To add insult to injury, when I returned to my car, I discovered a $115 parking ticket stuck under my windshield wiper.  Someone had drawn on it…a picture of a smiley face wearing a halo and wings, followed by the words, “Ha! Ha!”  As if possessed, I snarled out some very un-saintly expletives, got in my car and drove home.

That night, I said “special prayers” for New York City, the jackass who drew on my ticket and the blasphemous Ms. Waters.  Amen.