It’s a muggy night in the deep south, with a wall of red on the Doppler radar creeping in our direction. I’m wearing a white permanent press shirt and black pants with shiny black cop shoes and a name badge. I look pretty much like an aging Mormon missionary except for the dorky orange Logo tie and the black apron with the words Miller Theater. Brother Garce. I have a little flashlight I keep in the apron pocket and right now I’m using it to show people to the seat on the ticket they’ve shelled out some respectable bread for. I don’t get paid for this but I love it anyway.
I took my kid a while back to the Bell Auditorium to see Bob Dylan in person, The Ultimate Major Dude, which for a baby boomer is a little like making the haj to Mecca. After that on the same week we saw Brian Wilson, another Major Dude of my generation, play at the Bell. That was some week. While I was admiring Dylan’s soundboard deck setup I asked a security guard - watching over me - didn’t he get to see these Major Dudes for free? He laughed, he sure did. All that and a paycheck too as they say in the adult film business.
So I volunteered at the Miller on weekends. I’ve seen some fantastic shows there by people I’ve never heard of. All that, minus the paycheck.
Tonight they’re having a Christian program, kind of a comedy program, having to do with making your Christian marriage better. Especially sex. Yes. Not a sold out house, but a pretty good crowd, mostly white and well off, about the size of a modest mega-church.
Once all the tickets are scanned, and the front doors are closed the hired help like me get to sit and watch whoever or whatever is up there tonight, “muzzle not the ox that treads out the grain” it says in the good old book, but always staying alert for patrons who need something. We’re on duty. People laugh. Nobody heckles. Nobody gets the Holy Ghost. And they’re all still sober by the second set.
I listen to the speakers for a while and smile along at their earnest jokes. It all seems somehow familiar, a bit too safe. Not the lefty righteousness of my little church, or the wild gospel fireworks of the black Holiness churches where nurses in white starched uniforms keep a watchful eye to catch those on the way to the floor when they Get The Ghost.
I’m a Christian mystic. These people aren’t. They’re totally the other thing, but I like them. They'd be nice neighbors as long as you keep your grass short. I can kind of get what they’re doing and what they’re looking for, even though it takes an effort for me to get it. Evangelical Christians who helped inflict the golden calf of Trump on the rest of us have given Evangelicalism a bad name, maybe these people are them, I don’t know, but they’re earnest and good enough about what they believe.
Whatever it is they believe. And most of all they're together, rejoicing in being together. You have to like that. In some ways it’s harder, much harder to know these people, to read them, then to know those of us who have worn and do wear our carnality out in the open. My church celebrated Gay Pride last Sunday. These people here certainly didn’t, the couple talking about marriage up on stage are pretty clear about what God thinks marriage must always be – no matter what.
In the Bible Jesus really didn’t like very religious people. In fact, he was pretty rough on them, and they had him killed for it. Especially the ones who were most proud of being very religious. What would he think of these nice people here? What would he say to them?
I’m wondering about this when a polite young couple drift in late with their tickets. Their clothes are wet from the rain and he has an umbrella. I jump up grinning. "Whatcha got?" The young man shows me their squashed tickets. He tells me it’s raining cats out there. I fish my little flashlight out of my apron and bring them down Orchestra Level Center Left to their seats. P 104 and P 105.
“Is this P?” the girl asks.
“If it is I’ll get a mop,” I say.
The dude and his girl crack up. Hey, I’ve got a million of ‘em.