Amazing Grace

The Asshole as a Boy

“I didn’t go to religion to make me happy. I always knew a bottle of Port would do that. If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don’t recommend Christianity.” – C.S. Lewis

I was baptized by a Nazarene minister when I was seven years old. I distinctly remember sitting across from him in his pastor’s office during a counseling session pre-immersion. My father was sitting in a chair at the side of the room. The room was a straightforward office in a classic 70s build. Tan wallpaper or paint. The room was filled with red and tan hues. His desk was monstrous, made out of cherry red wood. It had stature. It was too monstrous for such a kind man diligently expressing his concerns with my earnestness to join the flock.

He was a man of faith, duty, and love. Pastor Coy: the only evangelical minister I have ever truly respected. If he called me up today and asked to grab coffee, I’d move heaven and earth to have a sit-down. He might be dead now, though, which is a sad thought. He asked me about three times if I was sure of what I wanted to do, if I was sure that I actually wanted to be baptized, if I understood what evangelical Wesleyans consider salvation. I lied and said that I did. I had no idea who John Wesley was. I didn’t care. I was staring at the wood on the front of his desk. My father was looking at the ground like he always did in church, like he was in trouble.

I felt special being in the chair in front of the Pastor. I felt good. I felt the attention of a busy man. He had a computer; I was always enamored with computers. I remember staring at the brand-new Windows 95 background. You know, the one with the cascading red-brick pattern tumbling down to that pesky start button. Ignoring everything the man of God was saying, I remember staring at it. He had a 17″ monitor—unheard of in 1995! Shit—my family had only just purchased a Windows 3.11 machine that still had an old-format 5-inch floppy disk drive. Yet there I was, staring endlessly at that cathode ray tube. A boy, sitting in the pastor’s office and only caring about his computer, considering halfheartedly the act of being baptized by water as atonement for my sins.

Desperately trying to catch my eyes, he asked me again if I understood what I was undertaking. Bearing the cross publicly to the congregation. I lied again and said that I did. At the time I didn’t think of it as a lie; I completely believed it. I was supposed to believe it. Evangelicals are all about what you are supposed to believe and what you say you are against. So, I was baptized that Sunday.

Before the ceremony, I was in a small room and made to put on an oddly black robe. We all stood in a line in a dark stairwell that led up to the stage. I remember feeling short, too short. I was between two other boys my age who were much taller and more filled out than me. I was scrawny. I’ve been basically skin and bones my entire life. Then I turned 20, and my metabolism stopped working. I was always the shortest kid, a late bloomer in every sense of the word. I felt like a runt.

The stairwell to the stage was not very long, maybe five steps, but the wait seem uselessly impeding to the process of publicly professing my faith. The passage was impossibly dark and moldy, with only a little light pouring in from the sanctuary at the top. I remember staring at wet, freshly dunked robes as they sopped back down the stairs past us. The boy in front of me went ahead; it was my turn next. I don’t really remember anything else besides the physical act of being dunked, rather roughly, under water and brought up to some prayer and a few claps from the audience. The next thing I remember is sitting, wet, in the hallway, waiting on someone to get out of the restroom so I could pee.

“Children are educated by what the grown-up is and not by his talk.” – Carl Jung

The Church of the Nazarene had a manual that stated their general theological belief system and some things that deacons and active members were not allowed to do. Going to the movies was one thing that the old manual said we, as baptized members, weren’t allowed to partake in. We weren’t supposed to go to parties, drink, smoke, divorce, etc. See, Nazarenes are not ones for speaking in tongues, or dancing in the pews, or, you know, ever being happy in church. We sat down when were asked and read out loud when we were asked. We had quiet, godly conversations in the halls after service. No one ever shouted “testify” or “amen.” I just remember that we stood and sang old hymns a lot. To this day I can’t listen to “The Old Rugged Cross” or “How Great Thou Art” without tears streaming down my face. Images of my father bent down in the front of the sanctuary at the altar crying his tired, blue-collar tears.

Nazarenes are incessant in their prayers for atonement and forgiveness. See, Arminian theology, which is what John Wesley based a lot of his teaching on, is largely founded on the basic idea that God loves us, but we’re complete f-ck-ups, who are always damned to hell. Everything we do that is not in the glory of God is a sin, and we have to ask Jesus Christ, the son of God himself, to die again and again to wash our sins away by the Blood of the Lamb. Basically, an opposite of Calvinism, which states that once you’re saved, you’re saved. The frozen chosen. Nazarenes don’t believe this, or at least in the 90s, they didn’t. Nazarene’s are constantly asking for forgiveness. This is how I approached life. I prayed all the time. I was in a constant state of “Jesus, please forgive me of my sins, Amen.”

The Inescapable Self-Punishment of Puberty

My faith informed the majority of my social interactions for the remainder of my childhood. My dad’s construction company eventually was able to make enough money so my parents could send my brother and I to a private Christian school. My friends there, along with their families, all attended similar churches and professed faith openly. We took prayer requests and prayed in class. I was paddled once. Yes, in the 90s, I was paddled by a principle while he said a prayer, but that’s another story. My life was a totality of faith, which of course made puberty and the realization that I liked girls very, very difficult.

The mindset that informed me to pray continually and strive to be wholly holy in all circumstance was the same mindset with which I approached my impending libido and all those awkward boners.

Guys, you know that slightly roughed feeling you get in between your index finger and your thumb for about twenty minutes after you rub one out? You can feel that tingly rough spot no matter how hard you scrub afterwards. That is the closest palpitation I can describe of the emotion guilt associated with self-pleasure in my mind.

I always tend to feel dirty after I jack off. Even to this day, I cannot let any bodily fluids, in any way, land on me during the process. During sex I have an intense aversion to anything resembling the normal, natural slime that a body produces when you’re getting freaky. Masturbation, something most people enjoy, is a double-edged sword of release and humiliating discomfort. Masturbation keeps my body from moaning in shame at the mere sight of a pretty lady and keeping NRBs (no reason boners) at bay. I utilize porn, exclusively, and hide in a bathroom to do the dirty as quietly and neatly as possible. Always doing the deed before a shower, so I can scrub myself down afterward.

“Sex is interesting but not totally important. I mean, it’s not even as important (physically) as excretion. A man can go 70 years without a piece of ass, but he can die in a week without a bowel movement.” – Charles Bukowski

The first time I ejaculated, I thought I had pissed myself. This was during a sleepover at my house with some boys from church. Actually, looking back, it was my parents’ letting two brothers sleep in our house because their dad physically abused them. The house we lived in was always in a state of half completion. My dad had lofted the upstairs bedroom ceiling and built little sleeping lofts the size of twin mattresses. My brother and I shared the room and slept in the lofts. It was quaint.

That night my brother was out like a rock. The two boys from church were asleep on the floor. However, I was up in my loft touching myself. I had just discovered fantasizing about women and how oddly satisfying it could be. I became so impossibly hard and felt like I had to piss very badly. I kept one hand over my mouth so no one would hear me. My forearm aching horridly as I forced myself to gain speed because it felt so good. Then my body started convulsing and awful hot, sticky, nasty shit shot everywhere, all over me.

I was horrified. I had no idea what had happened. I couldn’t breath. I literally ran downstairs and toweled off as fast as I could, praying the entire time. I toweled off my dick, pealed my boxers off my legs, and prayed to Jesus Christ, himself, to forgive me for such an awful thing. I remember hoping, horrifiedly, that no one realized. I promised God that I would never do it again. I was 13 years old.

Bukowski and the Present, or the Drunk, Times

I recently was arrested for drunk driving. I tested at 0.164 blood alcohol level. Which, in Ohio means that I would be sentenced to a minimum of six days in county jail and a maximum of six months. I haven’t had my trial yet. I had to retain a lawyer. Shit is really a big deal. At 23, ten years after I discovered ejaculation and 16 years after I told poor old Pastor Coy that I believed in Jesus, I might sit in a jail cell for being a f-cking idiot and driving drunk. Pro-Tip: DON’T FUCKING EVER DO IT. When they say you’ll get caught, they fucking mean it. Also, handcuffs hurt like hell.

“Always do sober what you said you’d do drunk. That will teach you to keep your mouth shut.” – Ernest Hemmingway

At this stage of my life my litmus of a good writer is if he or she reminds me of Charles Bukowski. Bukowski was the underdog’s evangelist. He reveled in the feelings most people abhor. He was alright with being hopelessly tied down to a shit job. He worked everywhere: the post office, meat factories, day labor crews—you name it. He didn’t care. He was a drunk. He had a taste for port and a penchant for women, which he hated. He wasn’t afraid to live in squalor and didn’t think much of politicians. He wasn’t ever really famous until after he died. He even wrote several screenplays. He was an underground author before there even was an underground.

I spent the better part of last winter skipping work and laying on my couch in a depression reading his work (that is another really long story, though). If you haven’t ever read any Bukowski, smack yourself in the face and pick up The Most Beautiful Woman in Town and Other Stories. Lock yourself in your apartment, bedroom, dorm, whatever, and read it cover to cover. Then, take a hot shower and try to scrub the shit off of yourself. Then, go grab a drink.

“I tried to drown my sorrows, but the bastards learned how to swim, and now I am overwhelmed by this decent and good feeling.” – Frida Kahlo

When it comes to drinks, I know exactly how many Bulleit Bourbons (neat) it takes for me to go from feeling in control, to lucid, to ethereal, to dizzy, to stumbling home and vomiting in a church’s parking lot. All states are as a challenge against myself.

“Real loneliness is not necessarily limited to when you are alone.” – Charles Bukowski

I’ve pretty much ruled beer out of the equation because it makes me feel bloated and has no effect anymore. Depending on the company, I’ll take a double gin and tonic or a vodka martini (dirty). I’m an asshat. Naturally, I’m a Mad Men fan, so of course there’s the perfect Old Fashioned (Makers 46 or Bulleit Rye, preferably) or the Manhattan (order it up in a martini glass with Bulleit Bourbon). I punish myself with shots of Jameson that immediately come back up along with the rest of the night’s take. After which, I’ll cajole myself with a whiskey sour.

To have a love affair with whiskey is to know exactly what you want to feel and when you want to feel it, to completely control its delivery, acceleration, scope, and final impact. It takes a special set of mores informed by a life of far too early responsibility and expectation placed on you to culture this type of cynicism.

“Sometimes you just have to pee in the sink.” – Charles Bukowski

Even now, I’m scrawling this thought on a notepad produced by my friend’s satchel in an overpriced and upscale bar in Cincinnati, Ohio. I’m sipping an Old Fashioned. The name of the bar doesn’t matter. It’s on one of the main drags in the Over the Rhine district. Which I guess is Cincinnati’s arts district. This is the first time I’ve been to Cincinnati for more than a few hours. I’m supposed to be at a concert or something with my friend. Instead I slipped away to imbibe.

I’m staring at an empty rocks glass. My bartender, an expert on the subject, is making me another. He is a friend, possibly my only friend right now. He is the master of his craft. He’s my age, somewhere between 23 and 25. He has well kept thick brown hair and a square set jaw. He’s thin, covered with subtle arm tattoos, a dress shirt and bow tie, stubble, and a handsome face. He has the look of someone who works hard but not in the same way I do.

It’s time to go, to leave this place.

“You don’t have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body.” – C.S. Lewis

I am from rural Ohio. I grew up in a small town. I have broad shoulders, strong arms, a potbelly, and thick legs. I’ve got a big ass, and I’m going bald. I really just look like a dumb country boy. I’m the son of a drywall contractor. I work for him as a second job when he has the work. I’ve built buildings in the place where most people’s lives have been filled with retail or restaurant jobs. I have a vague and distant memory of someone using the term “country strong” to describe my features, which is humorous to me.

There’s a clear bifurcation in my life, a line drawn between my actions before I went to art school (another, really long story) and my life post graduation. I’ve been lost. I’ve been reeling from a horribly failed relationship and an utter dry spell afterward. I’ve been reading, furiously. I’m in a lot of trouble right now because of the bottle. I can’t drive anywhere. I have hours and hours to sit alone in my old bedroom in my parents’ country home. I am probably going to jail. I don’t know when yet, though. There are ultimately a ton of unknowns in my life right now.

I look back on my life and wonder, what would Pastor Coy think of me today? Would he regret baptizing a boy who obviously didn’t know what he was doing? Would he tell me I’ve messed up? Would he even remember who I was?

Would we sing? Would we stand, pull the blue hymnal books out the pew back and turn to an old familiar page? Would we sing “Amazing Grace” the way we once did? When I was innocent and didn’t know anything about John Wesley.

Pray with me. TC mark

image – Bhumi Batia

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