From the archives
He said he once had sex in the confessional. Not when the priest was there, of course, but off hours, so to speak. I wasn’t sure how this had come up in the conversation. I was just at their table to get their order. But he was managing to tell me and the giggling older woman sitting across from him everything terrible he’d ever done.
“Mother, weren’t you so upset?” he said to the woman. “When you found out? Weren’t you so angry with me, mother? Can you believe this woman is my mother? Can you believe it? How old do you think she is? You don’t know? Oh, c’mon buddy, don’t worry, I’m leaving the tip. She doesn’t have any money. I’ve got all the money in this relationship, pal, don’t you worry about that.”
“Oh, mother, it’s so good to see you after all these years.” He reached for her hand. “She kicked me out, you know? Oh, I’ve been pretty bad, haven’t I?”
“Are you a Catholic?” he said to me. “I certainly don’t want to offend.” He said to the woman, “I want to be sensitive to our young friend’s feelings.”
“I’m a Christian,” I said. “Not Catholic.”
“Oh splendid! Are you a Pentecostal? Can you speak in tongues? I’ve always wanted to speak in tongues. I once went to a revival meeting—oh, don’t laugh, mother, Abby made me go—I was feeling awful sorry for my sins, awful sorry, mother. And I went down to the altar call. I told the man—they had people meet you when you went down—I told him I was a sinner, probably the greatest sinner who ever lived, at lease in Central Pennsylvania. He asked if I wanted to accept Jesus Christ as my Lord and Personal Savior. I said yes, and I wanted to speak in tongues. I’ve never been very good with foreign languages, so if the Holy Spirit could help with a new language, I was all for that. So we prayed.
"And I went back to Abby, and I said, I’ve been saved. Saved by the blood of the Lamb. She looked at me and said, I’ll see it when I believe it. She used to get her words mixed up like that, but I knew what she meant. For a week every morning I got up and tried speaking in tongues. But I couldn’t, I just couldn’t. I mean, was that too much to ask, just to speak in tongues? So I got down on my knees—I wanted to give God a fair chance—I said, God, if you want me to be a good person, I just have one simple thing to ask of you: let me speak in tongues. Nothing, absolutely nothing. I thought it was a simple request. So I got a drink. What else was there to do? When Abby came home from work she found me drinking. That was it. She didn’t say anything, just took her cat and moved in with her mother."
“Tell me about yourself. What’s your name again? Julian? What a lovely name! Julian! Delightful! You're going to be a saint, I just know it. I'm very intuitive. How old are you? So you’re in high school—where? You’re homeschooled? Wonderful! I was homeschooled for six months. No school would take me, right mother?
"After St. Mary’s I went to Highspire, and well, my English teacher took a very special interest in my education—very special, right mother? She used to tutor me outside class. She tutored me so well she got pregnant. That didn’t end well, did it mother? But I was actually kicked out for selling weed. I had to be homeschooled. And by homeschooled I mean I slept until noon, watched “The Price is Right,” and drank my father’s beer. He had a rule: for every beer I took he was allowed to hit me. A six pack: six hits. This scar: his wedding ring. Divorced ten years, still wore his ring. He said he got laid more that way. But that’s enough about my father, I don’t want to upset mother.”
They were my last table for the night so I let them talk. They were the only table in the smoking section. After they finished their meal, they sat and chain smoked.
“Do you think I can still be saved, Julian? I can? Haven’t I told you enough stories? I could tell you a few more. Some good ones. I know you’re not Catholic, but I do want to be a priest. That would be lovely. I like candles, incense, robes. He held up a biscuit. “Hoc est corpus meum.” He took a bite out of it. “See, I haven’t forgotten all my Latin. Oh, I would love to forgive sins. I would forgive so many sins. You wouldn’t have to beg. I wouldn’t judge. I’d understand. I’d say, You know, I did that too once, in another lifetime. I absolve you from your sins. Julian, your sins are forgiven. Let me bless you.” He made the sign of the cross. “I would make a lovely priest, wouldn’t I mother? But I’m like St. Augustine: Lord, make me chaste, but not yet.”
The hostess found them having sex in the women’s bathroom. The manager almost called the cops. “Fuck it,” he said. That was his response to a lot of things. As they were being thrown out, the man shouted, “Pray for me, Julian!” He was laughing as they shoved him out. “Pray for me! And Merry Christmas!”