I was reading a book recently and religious nuts played a part. Not just your garden variety whackos, but the virulently crazy people at Westboro Baptist Church and their ilk. Like roaches, no matter what people think about them and try to shun them, they just keep coming back. Their appearance in the book made me think more about them and the hate they breed. I live near a Mormon temple. Now, in my mind Mormons are a whole other bag of crazy, but I’m not so big on any religion. Whatever flavor suits you. The Mormons in our neighborhood are very nice people, have respectful kids and even notify us if there is going to be anything going on at the temple that might cause traffic congestion. They are basically great neighbors. A few years ago when they first dedicated their temple, the local churches had an opportunity to show their asses. And of course, they did. They actually held a protest rally in front of the temple on the day of the dedication. And our own local Baptist Church was leading the cause with a sign showing their own take on Christian love – “Burn In Hell!” Damn, it must be nice to know you’re sitting on the right hand of God and everyone else is damned.
Offenses to public morality is the subject of this story, and how we meet them. I in no way advocate violence, but at least in fiction, I can let my inner beast feed. Pull up a plate, there’s plenty for everyone.
The sunlight pouring through our large living room window momentarily dazzled me as I entered. I stopped, blinded. As my vision slowly resolved I noticed the zillions of little dots of dust floating around the room. Does it always look like that? Are they always floating around and we just can’t see them? Am I breathing them in all the time? Gross! Who knew sunlight could seem so dirty?
I was wearing my Sunday clothes. Dark pants, white shirt and clip on tie. Mama called it my Sunday clothes because it’s what she made me wear to church. I would be a teenager before I claimed it made me look like a freaking Mormon. At ten I just complained that the other boys didn’t wear ties and wore normal shirts. Some of the teenagers even wore tee shirts to church. Then Mama would go off about something involving jumping off cliffs but I never figured out the connection. I just didn’t want to be the nerd. But Mama said if I went to church with her I would respect the institution. And that Daddy expected me to wear it. But he was in Afghanistan. He wouldn’t know. So I latched onto that ‘if’. Did it mean I had a choice? My choice would be not to go at all. I could think of a lot of better ways to spend Sunday morning. Sleeping late would be the top of my list. I had to get up early for school during the week, and early for the better cartoons on Saturday. Sunday was my only day to sleep in but Mama always had me up by 9. She called that sleeping in. Sleeping until noon is sleeping in.
It took me many years to notice that Mama talked about respecting the institution, not respecting God or the Church. When I asked her about it when I was sixteen she confessed that she had never believed but respected the institution and ideas of religion and wanted me to make up my own mind.
But anyway, just a couple days after my tenth birthday, on that morning I was wearing my Sunday clothes but it wasn’t Sunday. We went to church anyway. Even though it wasn’t Sunday. It was a school day. Ordinarily I’d be in Mrs. Rogers 4th grade right now. Everybody was going to recess right about now. But I was going to church.
There seemed to be a carnival going on at church. As we approached I could hear all the noise. There was music, colors, people all dressed up in funny looking costumes. And lots of posters. Mama said not to look, but I couldn’t not look. I peered at the faces and so many of them seemed angry. I read the posters and banners. They didn’t make sense. “Repent or Perish”, “Too Late to Pray”, “Fag Troops”. I didn’t even know what that meant. But there were two that made me mad. One said “God Hates America”. At age ten I was certain that He did not hate America. Daddy told me that God loves the just, and America is just. The other sign, even at my age, I recognized as just plain sick – “Thank God for Dead Soldiers”. What is wrong with those people? I wanted to ask Mama but she yanked hard on my arm and wouldn’t let me linger. The noisemakers across the street reached a crescendo as we entered the church.
You could still hear the party going on outside, but just barely. The pastor began talking. I ignored him like I always do. He’s a boring old man who likes to talk a lot. I was thinking about the toy wooden camel Daddy sent me from Afghanistan. I liked to sit my Captain America action figure on it and pretend he was riding a camel. It was funny.
We usually sing songs in church, but not today. Today everyone was sad and grim. I hated the way the people were acting. And I hated that they had been in and out of our house so much the past two days. Mama said they were just being nice.
The church smelled nice today. All the flowers, especially the carnations really made it smell good. And the color was cool, almost like we were outside in a garden. And the flag at the front was so bright. I’ve never seen a brighter flag. The one Daddy flies at home is old and dull. This one was new and pretty, all red and blue and blazing white. The pastor had said that Daddy was in the box under the flag, but that didn’t make sense. I just received the camel from him yesterday. It was for my birthday. But Mama said he wasn’t coming home. She said he had gone on to Heaven to start building us a house there.
The cemetery was beside the church but farther removed from the road so all the people with signs had to shout louder to be heard. A whole bunch of people in white gowns stood along the edge of the cemetery. They held up poles with white sheets on them. Standing together they made a wall so we couldn’t see the people making all the noise. Mama called them the Angels of Mercy. The way they stood did look a bit like angels with their wings spread. I thought, ha ha, I bet it makes those mean people mad that we can’t see them.
Then a man with a horn played a song. I’d never seen that at church before. It was a short song and nobody sang. It sounded real sad. Then three soldiers stood up and fired their guns in the air. I jumped at the blast. I don’t know what they were shooting at. I didn’t see any ducks or geese.
It was really neat when two soldiers wearing white gloves folded up the flag. They brought it over to Mama but she just shook her head and pointed to me. The soldier kneeled in front of me and laid the folded flag in my lap. “On behalf of the United States of America, the president thanks your father for his service to his country. Please accept the flag as a token of our gratitude,” he said.
I think that’s when it first hit me. That’s when I realized Daddy was in that box. My Daddy wasn’t coming home. My Daddy who pushed my bike holding me steady when we took off the training wheels was gone. I was riding down the street yelling “Don’t let go, Daddy. Don’t let go” and he was right there beside me. He never let me fall.
Every time I missed catching a softball he called me ‘Champ’ and every time I struck out he called me ‘Slugger’. And I remembered how proud he was the first time I got to first base. No matter how the game turned out he wrapped me in his arms and said he was proud of me. My Daddy wasn’t coming home.
Even when he was fighting bad guys for America, we would Skype every Saturday afternoon. He’d kiss his two fingers and touch the screen and say it was for me. I didn’t want that to stop. I loved my Daddy. Aside from Paul, he was my best friend. I didn’t want him to go.
That’s when I really started crying. That’s when I realized how badly Mama and I had been hurt. And that’s when I realized how evil and mean spirited the people protesting our funeral were. If there is a just God, he must have a special Hell just for them.
I’ve had a hard time letting go of that scene. I’ve had counseling, I’ve been on Ativan. But I feel like it’s seeping in and rotting my soul. That’s really the genesis of why I’m in jail now. I’m only seventeen and an honor student so they’ll probably give me some kind of probation; charge me with simple battery or something like that. School may do more since their name came up. I don’t care what the consequences are it was worth it. It was so worth it.
Paul Judd is my best friend. Has been since fourth grade. His older brother Pat was a cop. And he was openly gay. Everybody in our crowd knew and liked Pat. He got killed in a traffic stop last week. We were all devastated. I know a cop chooses a dangerous path, but no one gets up in the morning thinking it is their last day. Especially a twenty-three year old rookie. So many cops never even draw their weapon, yet Pat was the unlucky one who did a routine stop of a drug dealer who panicked.
Jeanine on our school newspaper was the one who found out the rest, the terrible news that the religious nuts were coming back. I don’t know how she found out, but I guess that’s why she’s on the newspaper. Pat Judd was a double threat. He was having a military funeral and he was gay. They would have a field day. I remembered my Daddy’s funeral. The memory of those idiotic bigots was seared into my memory, still raw and tender. It was a wound that might never heal. I couldn’t let that happen to Paul and his family. They deserved better. They had been a second family to me when my Daddy died. Phil Judd was my second dad. They were wonderful in the way they rallied around Pat when he came out. They were the best of America; the true America. As Daddy would say, they were just. They were what he was fighting for when he was killed. But he was also fighting for free speech, which right those religious bastards were exercising. However, when exercising that right harms others, causes misery and pain, then it must be confronted. Confronted will all force necessary. That’s when I called together my teammates, the Hollyvale High Buccaneers baseball team, 8-0 in the conference. I’m the captain.
Pat had been on the team, all conference, five years ago. Paul was our team manager. The team was outraged when I told them that the religious wingnuts were planning to protest at Pat’s funeral. We were determined to put a stop to it. I warned them that there might be trouble and repercussions. There was general growling, sneering and even some “argh”s to that.
Pat’s funeral was at 2 pm on Saturday. The religious whackos were out in force by noon. They had a significant crowd, probably fifty to a hundred people, all with signs with sick, offensive messages. We agreed to meet in the church parking lot at one. As each of our cars arrived the protesters screamed and waved and shook their signs at us. We huddled on the far side of the parking lot. A quick head count revealed 25. Twenty-five mad as hell athletes. There were only seventeen from the team but several brothers wanted in. I told the guys no bats. We didn’t want to put anyone in the hospital. However, I noted five bats in our group.
Since we had the bats, I split us up in a line with every fifth player carrying his bat. We marched out of the parking lot and made a line between the protesters and the church. Since they were on the sidewalk, we only came up to the gutter. There was much hissing and name calling and threats from the protesters. Two police had been dispatched to watch and make sure the crowd didn’t get out of hand. There would be a large police presence soon for the funeral.
Police sergeant Jaeger came up to speak to me. I’ve known him for years.
“It sure is a sad day, Bill. Now you boys wouldn’t be thinking about causing any problems, would you? You know Pat’s family have been through enough already,” he said to me.
“We are only here to make sure these pieces of shit stay on their side of the road.”
“They got a permit. I don’t know why the judge gave it to ‘em, but they got it. I don’t need you boys grandstanding here. We have enough police to keep things under control.”
Just then the hearse rolled into view. The crowd went into hysterics even thought it was just a driver and a body.
“You think you got enough to control that? Is that what you want Mr. and Mrs Judd to see? I’ve been there, Carl, when my Daddy died. It destroys your soul. Or at least your faith in humanity.”
“Well, you boys got a lot of hormones going on and I smell trouble. Why don’t you go on in the church and honor Pat that way?”
“I’ll think about it. For now, I want to be on guard. I need to be on guard.” Officer Jaeger shook his head and walked away. I could tell he expected trouble. He went to stand with the other officer in the churchyard. Well, it’s now or never.
I looked down the line to where my co-captain Kevin waited. I gave a slight nod, and at my waist where he could see I counted down from five. At the end I yelled “Break!” We waded into the protesters. Using fists on faces and bats on signs (mostly) we converted our grief to fury and expended it upon the hapless protesters. For all their bravado they were totally unprepared for our attack. The two police officers were in among us, blowing their whistles, trying to separate us. That wasn’t going to happen. I knew backup was nearby and would be here in brief minutes so we did what damage we could. The protesters were in general flight. My boys cut some of them off from their cars and they ran blindly down city streets. We made sure all the signs were totally destroyed. Police cars came screeching up. I yelled to the boys and most of them quickly melted away into side streets we knew well. Within seconds six more officers swarmed us. Jaeger yelled to them to detain everybody. That would be me, Kevin and about ten protesters who were either on the ground or cowering in the bushes. In quick order the police chief arrived, in his dress uniform for the funeral.
“Carl, what in the Sam Hill is going on out here? And on a sacred day like this.”
Officer Jaeger told the chief that me and Kevin and some other boys came out to make sure the protesters kept a respectful distance from the funeral. He said we were unaware the police would do it.
“Did you recognize any of the other boys?” the chief asked.
“No sir.” I hid my surprise well. Officer Jaeger knew most of us on the team. “They formed up a line and then a fight broke out. Then everybody joined in.”
“Which side provoked the fight?” the chief wanted to know.
“I can’t be sure, Chief, but I think it started when a protester hit Banner here on the head,” he pointed at me.
“That true, kid?”
“Yes sir, Chief.”
“Alright, Sergeant. Arrest them all. We can process them after the funeral. I’m revoking the parade permit because of violation of the peace. If anymore of those assholes show up, arrest them, too. And get some men to clean up this trash. You want Pat’s family to see it?” They quickly had handcuffs on me and Kevin. The other officers spread out to cuff whatever protesters they could find. Officer Jaeger took the chief a short distance away and had a quiet discussion with him. The chief nodded and walked away. Jaeger came to us and said he didn’t know why he stuck his neck out for us. He unlocked our handcuffs.
“You boys are still under arrest, but the chief didn’t feel if was right to keep you from your former teammate’s funeral. And I explained how close you are to the Judds, Bill. You boys hang around after the funeral and I’ll take you in for booking. I ain’t worried. I know where you live.” He managed a smile at that.
We went in and found seats. Just as the funeral was starting the back door opened and most of the baseball team quietly slipped in. There were no more seats so they stood along the back wall. I caught Hunter’s eye and he nodded slightly. They had been to the cemetery a few miles away. Hunter slowly indicated his cellphone. I pulled mine out and read his text. They had found a group of protesters at the cemetery but they apparently had heard from their counterparts as they fled as soon as they saw the boys coming with their bats. Some of the boys had stayed behind to guard in case the protesters tried to return. I texted Dalton who had stayed at the cemetery that the permit for the protesters was revoked so they were free to come to the funeral. About fifteen minutes later the rest of the boys slipped in.
The ceremony at the cemetery was hard for me. It brought back memories of my Daddy’s funeral. The one thing that gave me peace is that Paul, and Phil and May and little Maggie and Jean and her husband Steve never were even aware of the religious nuts that wanted to make Pat’s funeral a mockery, a vehicle for them to spout their vile lies and perversions. Kev and I willingly turned ourselves in to Officer Jaeger after the service.
So here we sit in our little cell. I could say I’ve been worse places but it would be a lie. Jail is kind of creepy. As an honor student it’s not a place I am familiar with.
I look over at Kevin and say “There’s a joke that goes you know the difference between a good friend and a great friend?”
“A good friend will come bail you out of jail at 3 am. A great friend is right there beside you saying, ‘Man, that was epic!’”
“That was pretty epic, man,” Kevin grins.