Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Six Christmases ago, for a newspaper story, I sat in on the last sermon of the world’s saddest church.

Picture a little white church at the bottom of a hill, right next to the train tracks. It had a gravel parking area and a tidy graveyard, though who knows how tidy those graves are now. A century ago, the local mining camp built it. Then the mine died. Then all the big donors died.

Then the church died.

I went there a few times when I was little. I remember Halloween parties, grape juice and building the Tower of Babel out of popsicle sticks, which I guess showed us how God punished popsicles for their hubris by making them different flavors. I remember one guy who went there, who was either a gangly teen or a young adult at the time. He was autistic and his breath smelled like shit. The actual smell of turds would waft out of his mouth.

Then I turned into a gangly teen myself and stopped going. And so did everyone else. When I came back for this story, I saw a plaque on the wall that boasted a record attendance of 119 or so. I did a head count in the sanctuary. On Christmas 2005, I think 19 people showed up for the last sermon.

It really should be a bittersweet memory, because I talked to some cheery old ladies who were proud of what they’d done in and for the little church, and were proud to carry those memories to new congregations. The thing that sticks out in my mind most is this, I don’t know, sketch for the kids, in the middle of the last sermon.

One of the congregation, this woman in her 60s wearing a petunia-colored sweat suit, came up and started talking about what was important about Christmas. (spoiler: not the presents.) Only she was talking about gold and jewels for some reason. She had this forced levity you only hear from estranged family members and divorcees, where if you put on a happy face then everything is okay.

It was the most horrible fucking thing. This woman couldn’t relate to the kids in front of her, these sullen hunter’s kids with buzzcuts who may have been named Hunter for all I know. It was like watching a mother try to play board games with her disinterested, cynical step-children. It was like the Chris Benoit tribute episode of Monday Night RAW where this gimmick wrestler who pretended to be a retard with a fucking toy horse or something flopped around while everyone else was too busy being devastated and heartbroken over Benoit’s double-murder-suicide.

This lady was trying to reach out the only way she knew how. I don’t know if she was aware of the generational disconnect or the way her upbeat tone jangled against a background of stifled sobs and burning tears. It goes without saying, that Christmas sucked.

Sometimes (constantly) I feel like I’m stepping into this lady’s shoes. I used to be a print news journalist. Recently a human resources lady shot me down from a job I know I can do because I have no “social media” experience. My body of work means jack shit because it’s not in the form of 140-character hiccups buttressing a link. I’m old enough that I can’t go back to college without crippling myself with debt for the rest of my life.

I’ve looked at how to master this social media horseshit and the best advice boils down to either “be famous” or “have a famous website.” Or if you’re MinecraftChick, post 60 videos of yourself playing a video game badly with a picture-in-picture frame of yourself maundering on about narcissistic drivel. Oh yes, I jelly. She has fifteen thousand followers on Twitter.

So I feel like the clock is ticking and I’m too stupid to open the few remaining doors available to me. I’m going to go through the motions but I think I’ll spare you the chirping, forced levity. I’ll put on a happy face when and if I’m happy. Don’t hold your fucking breath on that count.

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