Backseat Devil

Tag: Kingdom Hall

Chapter 2 – Listen

Jehovah, my god, I have asked for this temptation to be removed.  I am trusting and leaning on you… calling on your Name to let this transgression, this… thorn in my side to be removed from me. Others may be able to suppress these feelings but I am not strong enough to do it on my own. I have tried countless times and there is no way I can be normal. I want to be normal, get married, and to live a decent life.  Please help me.

Through your son, Jesus Christ I ask these things.

Amen.

James had said his prayers at night.  All Jehovah’s Witnesses do so that Satan doesn’t attack them in their sleep, so they can have peace from the processes of the day, or maybe so they can have a better outlook in the morning.  Although for this particular twenty-year-old, his prayers didn’t seem to be working. After age thirteen when his occasional bedtime playmate left for Bethel service at the World Headquarters in Brooklyn, he had sworn off everything sexual in nature and was leading a relatively clean life.  He wasn’t even masturbating except for one time at fourteen when an obscene phone caller called the house and James curiously engaged him, curling up by the bed with a massive erection, the corded phone pressed against his ear like he’s hearing he just won a million dollar prize.

You AAAARE?

Yeah dude, I got the biggest boner… just stroking it.

When are you going to ejaculate?

Well, it takes… wait, what?  Are you serious?  How old are you?

James stayed by the phone every day around lunch in hopes the guy would call back.  And he did.  His name was Jeff and worked at The Galleria.  He would make random calls while on his lunch break at the phone bank that is inside the mall.  Nice guy really.

That was a growing trend:  everyone seems to open up to James.  It’s endearing to have people depend on him as a friend and confidant, and many people did, James himself never really opened up to people.  The main problem was as he was getting older, guys were getting hotter.  He was pretty sure something had gone awry with the puberty procedure.

And his prayers didn’t work.

(Whistle.)

Tony pokes his head out of the blue curtain on the upstairs loft dividing the volunteer sleeping area from the open drafting and design space occupying the center area of the Rosenberg, Texas Assembly Hall for Jehovah’s Witnesses Maintenance Building.  It was the first structure built on the property and housed a series of offices for administration and designers until the project is completed.  The building would then be converted to a large garage for the upkeep of the grounds, hence it’s name.

James looks up from his drafting station and smiles and gives the typical what up? nod in Tony’s direction.

Tony waves furiously for James to go upstairs.

James saves his work and heads in that direction thinking of the conundrum of the beckoning.  One reason he knew that prayers didn’t work at night is because the person he was about to go visit kept erotically invading his dreams in various, amorously aggressive scenarios usually mixed with angel/demon zoomorphic imagery or whatever raw sexual carnage that happened to have passed James’s mind throughout the day. Plus, there were many good looking men on a large church-based construction site.

It wasn’t that he found Tony particularly sexually attractive.  He was a good looking black man who worked with James’s father, Steve in the welding shop on the opposite end of the property.  Although Tony kept a sculpted body, it was his overt sexual suggestions and physical poking that were the main cause for defense.  However, they always provoked a giggle for the obviousness and blatant nudity of how they were presented.  Tony had been around, he had seen things before coming into The Truth… so he knew how to charm a young gay Mexican.

I got the new White Zombie CD.

Dude, you know better than that.

What?  I know you wanted to hear it.

And if you’re going to invite me up here to listen to devil music, have the damn thing open and ready to play.  I’ve got work to do!

Tony’s laugh is in short bursts and powerfully infectious.  The two listen to a few songs off “Astro-Creep 2000” before James takes off back to work.  The scene is somewhat disproportionate as a young black man is dancing around shirtless with a perfect set of 6-pack abs and a younger Mexican dressed in business attire are linking through the only connection they will ever share… music.  As cute as it was in this particular statement, overt sexual desire on its own was never quite a turn-on to James.

Although the attention was easily played with.

After graduation from high school and enduring many years of exposure to “the world” without participating in their music, entertainment, or general merriment, he was tired.  Absolutely nothing was blessed by means of banishing homosexual thoughts, tendencies, wet dreams, or even dreamscape arousal in the middle of the night.  So after his eighteenth birthday, he went exploring.

Other than the few ‘Witness approved’ dramatic movies of captivating cinematography and song, there really wasn’t an exposure to “films.”  His first forbidden movie was Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992).  He watched the movie three times in two days, uncut and in widescreen.  It was fantasy on a psychotic visceral thunder cloud.

The colors were in dense saturation, the costumes where thick and heavy with design, and the lighting beamed as a character all it’s own.  It was impossible to absorb the elements of the art piece. It wasn’t until the third viewing he even noticed the warped and simple distortion of the storyline or the fundamental metronomic rhythm of the main character, and the genius in which it was played.

It was grit in art, grit and art.  It was strikingly elegant in the understanding of the human condition known as ‘love’… something that James had not experienced personally as he had been distant to people for many years trying to keep everyone from thinking he was gay.  The portrayal of this affection was explained with painful historical passion.  The end result of a betrayal from the church one once fought so hard for is harrowing in itself, but stretched over several lifetimes it would be diabolical in its mania, until they see…

…that one face that reminds them of the person they lost.

It was an understanding of human psychology torn to shreds and put back together.  If that wasn’t brilliance,  he didn’t know what was.

Other movies followed.  Music that always danced on the frightfully uplifting pop made it’s way out of the closet and everything else that had been avoided flooded in.  And in an odd twist contrary to what the Organization had taught him, he never took away anything more than the question, what is this person feeling?

In the plastic smiles and the responsibility toward the greater peace, it was just assumed that everyone in the Organization had the ability to call Jehovah up, ask for a favor with a pure heart, and all evil in the form of anger, hate, hard-ons, and sex would be turned into sunshine flowers and cute bible verses written on gumdrops.  That never happened.

So much of the human heart and the soul for which its engine is caked with subtleties that are ignorable, but pernicious in nature when left without recognition or understanding.  For the first time James saw it was okay to be angry.  But not just angry… all the aspects of anger.  There was a difference between wrathful and indignation, although the outcome could possibly be viewed from the outside as the exact same emotion with the exact same display.

And it was okay to have both.

Love is such a simple word, but on screen one can see the elation of companionship, the blushing of sexual arousal, the dominance of unrelenting hope, the madness of compulsive obsession, or the slow bleeding of a heart beaten in deflation as they indulge themselves with mourning in avoidance.

This, this is what James wanted to do with his life.  Computer drafting was fun, passive, mentally bridging the links between structural math and artistic presentation.  It was decided that this was a good direction to go as a career as drafters would be needed in the New System after Armageddon to help rebuild the planet… although James was a computer drafter.  By all accounts of what the end of the world would entail it didn’t seem likely that there would be stable electrical grid structure in place.  He was all thumbs when it came to hand drafting.  This worried him.

The conversation had already taken place a few years earlier.  Every aptitude test that he took in school said he needed to be a movie director or producer.  Other possibilities were actor/actress, art director, or costume designer – each time, every time.  What he really wanted to do was be a theatrical lighting designer.  It was something his heart was set on for the last two years of high school.  He was offered a partial scholarship with his “Outstanding Technician” award for being Crosby High School’s One-Act production of QUILTERS’ student director and lighting designer when he pulled off 112 verbally orchestrated lighting cues for the 38 minute 45 second play after cue #1 was incorrectly programmed into the University of Texas lighting board.

It was the only technical theater award given in years.  Only one was given at the end of the final round of competition.  Unfortunately pursuing this natural-born talent was nixed on the several occasions the subject was addressed, usually by Steve.

You’re not going to work in the theater. There are too many homosexuals.

That discouragement did not have the intended effect.  After the competition it all seemed rather pointless.  Everything in his present was in the piece of paper bearing his honor and everything in his future was in the handshake of an old man with a big smile at the University of Texas.  James could make it out.  He could be off on his own and actually learn.  As the visual arts became louder in it’s drum line, more and more art began to flow out of him in deeper and more progressive levels of, what some would later describe as ‘weirdness.’

James didn’t care.  In his most frustrated stagnicity he found movement in artistically experimenting, and it was joyous.

By the time Tony calls James up into the loft, he had already realized Jehovah was not listening.  James thought it was time to shut up and instead of talking so much, listen… listen with the vigor and excitement short of screaming from the top of the The Transco Tower I WANT TO HEAR EVERYTHING EVER RECORDED!

James wasn’t sure if Jehovah approved of what he was listening to, watching, and learning, but if God created these people and these are their expressions of art with emotions screaming into film, grinding into recordings, plastered into books, and smeared across canvas, then James thought it was worth paying attention to.

Listening to everything was the easy part.  What to do with what he was learning about humanity… a bit trickier.

Chapter 1 – Total Immersion

On the basis of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, have you repented of your sins and dedicated yourself to Jehovah to do his will?

The small crowd sitting in front of the stage responds with Yes!

Do you understand that your dedication and baptism identify you as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses in association with God’s spirit-directed organization?

Yes!

James barely remembers the questions. He remembers the scene set in the summer of 1985. Coincidentally it was the first year those particular questions were asked as the questions asked to baptism candidates have changed several times over the course of Jehovah’s Witness history. Every time James drafts a pool on AutoCAD he thinks back to that year.

He thinks back to the big day while drafting a concrete detail for the baptism pool permanently imbedding itself stage left. This flashback distraction also means he is probably going to make a few mistakes he’s not going to catch until later… if he catches them at all.

James’s mother, Blanche was talking to Brother Benco in the back of the Kingdom Hall near the literature dispensary in early 1985 in a small town in Texas named Victoria.

Yes, Blanche. Feel free to ask anything.

Brother Benco, James wants to get baptized but I’m afraid he’s just too young.

James, what do you think?

Ten-year old James is sitting between the towering brother and his mother, glancing at the tall beige metal water fountain next to the black-letter-on-gold-background “Men’s” sign set in the signature style of the Kingdom Hall’s aesthetic at the time, carried out in the carpet and the dark stained wall paneling.

It wasn’t that James wasn’t paying attention. He was taking the idea of baptism seriously, but his mind wandered back to a year earlier in a large double-wide mobile home farm-house-type set on several acres of heavily wooded property ten minutes outside the Victoria city limits. The things with the 19-year-old Ministerial Servant who would baby sit James some weekends became intimate after the young man penned James to his mattress face to face, refusing to let him free unless he received a kiss… a French kiss.  Twice.

It was confusing, but James didn’t mind the amorous aspects to the request.  However, from that point forward James would suffer from an intense form of physical and emotional claustrophobia – being trapped in a corner or in a room with no way to move except at the will of someone else’s desires.  After it was apparent that nether of the participating parties were going to go to the elders, the abuser lighted up on his “force” and eventually the intimate nature of the relationship between them grew with a slow progression.  In a confused state after his tenth birthday James woke up in the middle of the night sitting on the edge of the twin sized bed. He could smell the signature mix of potpourri and teenage sweat floating against the fragrance of old wood walls, and its slight hint of moisture of the humidity-drenched structure. Turning to the man in the bed one night, James decided that if he got baptized this… this… everything would have to end.

Jehovah must see to it.

James lifts his hand and slaps the man across the face. He wakes up.

What was that?

Nothing.  Go back to bed.

Are you upset with me?

No. Why would I be upset?

Because we can’t be doing… this.  What we do.

Well, you’re the adult.  You stop it.

He grunts an eye roll and turns over to face away from the boy, the window, and the large longhorn horns that were mounted above it. Arguing with a child can be so difficult sometimes. James wanted to get baptized. Then he would be an adult, an adult who can make adult decisions.

At the Kingdom Hall a year later James stands in front of his mother and Brother Benco and decides how he wants to answer the question.

I want to dedicate my life to Jehovah. Is there any reason why I should wait to tell Jehovah that my life belongs to him? I mean, Samuel was five years old when his mother sent him to live at the house of God. I’m already twice that age!

James was golden.

There are a series of over 120 questions set out in the back of the Organized to Accomplish Our Ministry book, and the answers are given via scriptures. It is up to the student to present the answers well in the three or four settings it takes to answer all the questions. One elder is assigned to each setting.

About two weeks went by and James was approved to start his questioning process with Brother Tylich, a tall statuesque man of impeccable grace and design in his red brick ranch style house with white trim and white sectional sofa. A week later he was sitting in front of Brother Benco in his newly built, modern stucco and brick house with his over stuffed couch and matching Lazy-Boy chair. And a week from that point James found himself at the Hasdorff residence nestled in a 1960’s style home with the best of the era’s interior design of classic green and brown taste, angled legs on all the furniture, and the most beautiful stainless steel starburst clock sitting over the sofa. It was precise and orderly as the TVLand rerun it was lifted from, and comforting as if it were an old friend.

It wasn’t long and James and his mother were waiting in the kitchen of their Crouch Road home built by hand by James’s father, Steve. The large, three foot deep terracotta colored linoleum counter top in the back of the simple 2-story A-frame was the only working phone at the time. James paced back and forth until the phone finally gave its frightening bell scream.

In a few months time the Perez family are entering into the parking lot of the Astrodome in Houston, the same venue that had Judy Garland and the Supremes performing on opening night. At the Saturday morning session the baptismal candidates are asked to sit in front of the stage. Walking into the Astrodome on the field level is the emotional equivalent of seeing the Grand Canyon or Niagara Falls for the first time. The expanse is overwhelming in its breath. The curve skylights were so far away it seemed impossible that anything, including sound, could ever reach them. The massive curved trusses seemed to be made of toothpicks painted grey. For the first time in his life, James felt the soft cushion of the world famous AstroTurf installed after the grass kept dying from lack of sunlight in 1966, the same year Jehovah’s Witnesses released the book Life Everlasting – In Freedom of the Sons of God that pointed to 1975 as the implied ‘end of the world’.

The stage was set at second base and the words “1985 Integrity Keepers District Convention” in twelve inch high white letters held up with a double wire prop provided a semi-circle announcement around the pitcher’s mound. The other three bases were decorated with various plants and flowers while next to home plate two above ground swimming pools were being filled with water. A young man who had been studying for a year found James earlier and the two entered into the arena together.

So many years later he cannot remember the guy’s name but he was in his 20’s, reddish blonde hair, ecstatic and joyous. If the young ten year old were overwhelmed, this man provided the excitement James was suppose to be feeling. Both had their bags of swimsuits and their bibles, note pads, pens, and programs. Both had palatable anticipation of the beginning of their new life. Careful to avoid the perfectly placed white lettering, the two found their seats on the left side closest to third base, in the middle just six or seven seats from the one center aisle.

The Saturday morning session starts and the first major wave of bizarre is standing in the center of 48,000 people as he hears the mighty surge of voices in the opening song.  James thought if he was ever going to be a rock star, this feeling would be impossibly addictive.

The talk comes to dedicating oneself to Jehovah and the organizational structure of receiving spiritual knowledge, but the language of the technicalities is always vague enough to mean “general Christian”. The candidates are asked to stand and are asked the two questions.

Having answered “yes” to these questions, candidates are in a right heart condition to undergo Christian baptism.

During the song, they are escorted off the field and into the dressing rooms.

The water was cold. He could tell because the ‘soon-to-be-brother’ who was taking care of him went first in pool #1, and his nipples had an immediate reaction through his tight white tee-shirt. Due to the lack of logos or exposed skin, the normal observer would see very little of the scene other than people dedicating their lives to Jehovah. But up close, it seemed a little less subtle than what was intended.

The setting is exciting and tense. Baptism is a symbol, like a wedding ring (it is explained). It proves to others that you are in dedication to this idea, this concept, this religious blanket of hope and redemption. It has no bearing on whether it’s reality or even at the age of ten what you know or what you are running from. It is a public celebration like a wedding or a funeral whether or not the reality of the inward soul knows what they are doing, it is being done and people in the masses are celebrating its existence.

It’s confusing if you are not confident, and no ten year old is that confident.

The young (now) brother exits the pool, drenched from the total immersion necessity of the process. There were three brothers assigned in each pool and three brothers outside the pool watching to verify that the person being baptized clears the surface of the water like referees at an Olympic event. He has the biggest smile on his face and is beaming from his bright brown eyes. He looks up at James as they pass on the stair into the pool. The brother stops to watch his young friend who is beyond neck deep in the water as he is pointed to a brother who will perform the baptism. James looks at his friend who is waiting for him. The brother has all his wet clothes clinging tightly to him.

James holds his breath and is submerged… then lifted out of the water by a foot so everyone can see the rise from his dramatic plunge for his life before God.  James emerges as someone who can now be called “brother” in the Jehovah’s Witness Organization.

The cheers are lost to water in the ear mixed with the vastness of the building. It was a 16mm film projector stuck in looping brokenness. He couldn’t breathe. There was a lot of energy directed on him and he couldn’t tell which end was up and which way to safety.  With a head rush and so much going on, he couldn’t find his bearings.

A hand came into view and grabbed him. A large arm with reddish blonde hair pulls him up the stair.

I gotcha.

Thank you.

No problem, James. Congratulations!

You too.

James was spitting out water.  Tens of thousands of people and only one person noticed that he was drowning.  He was thankful for his new brother.  When they were safely on the concrete shy of the AstroTurf, they hugged. This was the new James, and he was ready for adult decisions.

 James P. Perez © 2013