Riff called me the other morning, very early. “Where in the hell are you, you stupid sonuvabitch?”
“Los Angeles, Riff.”
“What? Why in the name of all that’s holy are you there?”
“I told you about this, Riff. I’m out here with my buddy taking meetings to pitch A DRIVING FOOL to studios and production companies.”
“OK, I remember now, and I still think that is the dumbest idea I’ve ever heard. Who cares about you delivering cars? In the meantime, I have a lot of cars that need moving, so get your ass back to the East coast pronto before I—“ That’s the moment when I hung up.
My old friend John Hazzard in Miami had proposed that we join forces and go to L.A. together to pitch my project. And also to pitch an idea he came up with, a reality series about me pitching A DRIVING FOOL. This guy is very smart and has a good head for business, so I decided to put my faith in him and off we went to the West coast. And now here we were.
It was a Sunday morning, and John wanted us to go to church. He had a friend who was an ex-Hollywood agent, and thought she might be of help to us. She invited us to meet her at her church, which was called the Church of Celestial Rings of Fire. As we drove over, I kept on singing “And it burns, burns, burns, that ring of fire!”
John looked over at me from behind the wheel. “Jeez Bill, you need to be respectful of her religion.”
“What kind of religion is it?”
“It’s about the mind’s eye. About how if you visualize something that you want or need, it will come into being.”
“Not much like my own religion.”
“Or Pastor Rex’s?”
“Absolutely not.” We both chuckled. “I think he would have a heart attack if he knew I was going to this place.”
“We need Sherry’s help, so please keep your cool and mind your tongue.”
“Can do,” I said.
We arrived at the church and went inside. The smell of incense permeated the halls of this huge place. A woman walked up to us with her arms spread wide. “Gentlemen, welcome! You have entered the hallowed halls of the universal sanctuary of love and well-being. Bless you both, and go find a seat in the auditorium please.”
“Thank you,” said John.
“No, no, no, thank you. And love yourself, for goodness sake.”
We went in and sat down. We didn’t see his friend Sherry anywhere, but we did see an odd assortment of people coming in and acting somewhat strangely. There was a woman sitting next to John changing the diaper on her baby doll. I think it was one of those Cabbage Patch dolls, though I haven’t seen one of them in years. A middle-aged man sitting directly in front of me was sucking the thumb on his right hand, and using his left hand to pump upwards towards… well, Heaven I assume. Though I noticed out in the hallway there were no pictures of God or Jesus or the Virgin Mary. Just pictures of unusual men in white robes with very wide eyes, almost like they were stoned.
Just as the service began, I felt nature call and had to excuse myself to the bathroom. Just as I got situated in the bathroom stall, there was a rapid knock on the stall door. “Let me in, let me in, oh hallelujah, I gotta go!”
“Occupied,” I said.
“Hurry, please hurry, oh man I gotta go, hallelujah.” What was it about me and bathrooms? This was the second time in recent memory when someone was rattling my stall door and asking me to hurry so they could come in. Can't a man be alone with his thoughts in peace?
“I just got in here.”
“Well then get your business done and move along, oh holy hell I gotta go, hallelujah. Oh, I can’t wait. I'm headed outside for the Azalea bushes!” I heard his feet running out the door.
I finished my task and then went back to enter the auditorium. A small woman with long gray dreadlocks stepped into my path. “You cannot go in, we’re holding the doors.”
“Holding the doors?”
“No one goes in, we don’t wish to interrupt the flow of the carmeenia.”
“The what?” I asked.
“I believe you heard me right.” She reached over to the wall and flipped on a switch, which activated a PA so we could hear what was happening in the auditorium. I heard them announcing weekly events at the church. “We don’t want to interrupt when they are making announcements. That would be sacrilege.”
Several other people came up and were also told to wait. And then a very aggressive tall man came up and said “Move out of my way, I got to get in there, hallelujah.” I immediately recognized the voice as the man from the bathroom.
“You ain’t going in there, and that’s for sure,” said the small but determined woman.
“Oh yes I am, yes I am, you just watch and see.”
“I will watch and see you not going in there, I promise you that.”
“And I want to promise you that I will be walking right past you and going into the auditorium, woman!”
She threw herself against the door. “You will only get into the holy auditorium over me!”
And then the announcements ended, and the voice on the PA said, “Open the doors and let our people in now.” And so the small woman complied, only she glared at the man who dared defy her.
I went back to my seat, and John leaned over and said, “Where have you been? I thought you abandoned me.”
“They wouldn’t let me back in. But the bigger question is where is your friend Sherry?”
“Heaven only knows.”
“I don’t think Heaven has anything to do with this place, buddy. She's not coming, is she?”
"It certainly looks that way. Although I had every reason to believe she would be here.
Just then, a family came in. A chubby man who looked to be in his 50’s was wearing a bicycle crash helmet and sat with them. We sat and listened to a man sing a Sam Cooke song, a group of kids rapping about how man created God in his own image, and a plea from a woman to give more money to the church. And then the minister who was to deliver the sermon got up and began to speak. It was all about finding your true potential, being better than your best, helping others but only after you help yourself. It all sounded like a lot of mumbo jumbo to me, and frankly the behavior of some of the people there made me feel like I had stumbled into a Cult of some kind.
The minister had spoken for an hour, and suddenly his soft cadences turned into something akin to fire and brimstone. And just as suddenly, the man with the bike helmet got up and began running and ramming his head into the wall. Again and again he did this, as if in direct response to what the minister was saying. The strangest thing was that no one sitting around us even seemed to notice. It was just business as usual.
At the end of the service, they invited the entire congregation to come to the Hall of Earthly Pleasures for some refreshing Kool Aid. John and I decided to pass on that.