Hey, boy, Catholics Aren’t Supposed to Have Fun
“What gives you such a boner for humorless people anyway?” I asked Alberto Terego. “What did they ever do to you?”
“Well, they’re lousy tippers for one thing.”
Terego looked up, startled, at the waitress brandishing a tray with their breakfasts. I hadn’t noticed her either till she spoke.
I kid you not,” she said. “Next to rich folks, humorless people are the world’s worst tippers.”
”I wouldn’t know,” Terego said, grinning broadly. “I’m poor myself. And chock-full of humor, as you can tell.”
“I noticed,” the waitress said. “I’m Gwen,” she’d introduced herself upon seating them, a turquoise-tipped forefinger cocked at the brass nameplate pinned distractingly near the plunging décolletage hovering over us. “I’ll be your serving wench this morning.” She was back now with our orders.
“Denver omelet, whole wheat toast, side of bacon,” Gwen said to Terego, returning his grin. “Scrambled eggs, short stack buckwheats,” she said to me, laying down the platters, pouring the coffee, leaded for Terego, decaf for me, leaving as abruptly as she’d appeared. “It’s not just humorless people,” Terego said, turning his attention finally to me, eyes lingering, though, on Gwen’s departing runner’s legs. “It’s humorless institutions, governments, ideologies, religions, you name it. Anyone, anything that sucks the spontaneity and joy out of life.”
He paused a beat. “What’s the point of life without joy, without fun?”
“You’re not here for joy,” I said. “Catholics aren’t supposed to have fun.”
I paused, waiting for Terego’s response. But he was quiet.
“It’s why only two of your ten commandments–the third, Remember to keep holy the Lord’s Day, and the fourth, Honor your father and your mother–are positive, things you have to do to get to heaven. The other eight are things you can’t do under pain of eternal hell fire and damnation. Eight commandments whose operative words are Not. You shall not have other gods besides me. You shall not take the name of the Lord God in vain. Not kill. Not commit adultery. Not steal. Not bear false witness. Not covet your neighbor’s wife. Not covet your neighbor’s goods. Am I right? Did I get ‘em all?”
“In the right order too,” Terego said. “I’m impressed.”
“There’s no mention of fun whatsoever,” I said. “It’s all deadly serious business, all totally humorless, using your favorite word. The short of it is, you aren’t here to have fun, boy.”
”How’s everything?” Gwen was back. “Any complaints about the food? The service? More coffee?” Then slipped away again.
“Hell, why am I telling you?” I said. “Raised during the Spanish inquisition, weren’t you? You’re old enough. How old are you anyway?”
”Not that old,” he said.
I could see I’d gotten a rise. Pushing the age button always worked with Terego.
“The Spanish inquisition, Torquemada and the burning-coals-on-the-tongue tribunals, the witch-hunts and exquisitely designed torture. All that good Catholic stuff to keep the righteous firmly on the precipitous road to redemption. It all started in the fifteenth century and ended in the eighteenth,” he said.
”When, then?” I asked.
”Fast-forward a couple of centuries,” Terego said. “Post-World War II Manila. The early 1950s. A high school run by Jesuits. That was my Catholic inquisition.”
. . .
For most of his life he had pictured God the way artists have portrayed Him through the centuries. A harsh, austere, wild-eyed old white man with wild white hair and an angry white beard, clad in flowing white robes, his wild white countenance stern and unyielding, uncompromisingly vengeful, a stark reminder to the fearful boy, and then the fearful adult, that his immortal soul hung precipitously in the balance, suspended over the eternal abyss by a delicate thread whenever he had the temerity to cross Him. Get thee to a confessional, boy. Bless me, father, for I have sinned…
The old man now believes this terrifying, humorless God who scared the living crap out of him actually sends very few people to hell He’s begun picturing Him as the kindly, loving, easygoing, chock-full-of-humor patriarch he now believes Him to be. Much, in fact, the way George Burns portrayed him in the classic 1977 film, Oh, God!, clad in a faded plaid shirt, baggy tan trousers, baseball cap, and comfortable walking shoes, resembling every old coot you ever saw, tolerantly viewing the world with bemused eyes through bottle-thick horn-rimmed glasses.
Back then, however, in the fire-breathing hell-and-brimstone years of his Roman Catholic youth, you could go to hell for just about everything: missing mass on Sunday, eating meat on Friday, receiving communion in the state of mortal sin, masturbating, whatever. You name it, you could jeopardize your immortal soul doing it. Even committing an act you thought was a mortal sin, but really wasn’t, still made it so, and you could go to hell just as surely for doing it.
And so the catechism of his childhood, rife with Catch-22 gotcha! clauses,