Dear Dirty America


Itching Toward Easter: Good Friday Misgivings

March 30
04:42 2013
Los Angeles
Holiday Special

photo by Frank Vincentz

While the short woman looked up at the unending rows of cereal boxes, I watched her scratching her right wrist. She reached high but couldn’t quite grab the box she wanted.

Let me help me you with that, I said. She smiled and I easily retrieved the box she wanted. I read the ingredients. Low fiber content, but loaded with sugar, I told her. I handed it to her. Be careful with this stuff. Most of these cereals belong in the cookie and candy aisle.

“Really?” she asked. “I thought cereal was good for you.”

You’ve got to read the labels! I said. It’s just marketing that makes people think this junk food is suitable for breakfast. But what happens is that you spike your glycemic level every morning and gain unnecessary weight and run the risk for diabetes down the road. Does that sound worth it to you? I asked.

She glanced down, at herself, I presumed. “I could lose a little,” she said.

I’m not here to judge who is and isn’t overweight, but I do like to impart wisdom from time to time. I notice you keep scratching your wrist. Are you OK?

“It keeps itching,” she said. “Since this morning.”

Well, Easter is right around the corner, and it is Good Friday this evening.

“My family is going to the late night service,” she said, “but why do you think it has something to do with the itching?”

Padre Pio Young —
an ardent denouncer
of disco dances (seriously)

I’m not a theologian, nor am I a doctor, but I do recognize the symptoms of a person undergoing the beginning stages of stigmata. Are you religious?

“Not really. I go to church on holidays, though.”

That’ll do it, I said. Along with your inner childhood trauma that you’re harboring, which is what drives you to eat very sugary cereals because somewhere deep in your skewed mentality that gives you a source of comfort, the zealousness you feel toward religious holidays has you reflecting the marks made on Christ’s body so many years ago.

“Say that again?” she said.

In fact, it happened to Francis of Assisi in 1224. But he had a wound in his side, too. I explained the discomforting history of stigmata — a rare but highly publicized phenomenon that has folks, oftentimes followers of Christ, suffering the same wounds made on Jesus’ body when he was crucified.

“Oh my God,” she said and stopped scratching.

Oh your God, indeed, I said. Have you checked your side?

She lifted her t-shirt. Her soft brown midsection looked clean. We didn’t see any visible marks. “But shouldn’t my palms be itching instead of my wrists?”

Do you not know that a human body cannot be nailed to a cross through his or her palms? Do you not know that the tendons and light tissues of the hand could never support the weight of the body on the nail? The hands would come loose, and then he who was crucified would fall face first, which would cause his feet to tear off the nails. So gruesome, I said, shaking my head. I can’t believe you made me go through all of that.

In short, a person has to be crucified by putting nails through his wrists! Everybody knows that by now, I said, which is what your body is reflecting. You didn’t consciously know that fact, but deep down in your genetic memory, folded into your DNA, was that simple truth.

The woman was staring at her wrists. “The other one doesn’t itch, though,” she said. “I don’t think I’m going through what you’re talking about.”

It’ll start itching soon, I’m sure. By Saturday night there’ll be weeping wounds there, I said, and the more you scratch them, the quicker they’ll appear.

“How can I stop it?” she asked.

The only way, probably, is to contact the pope. Since he’s the direct intermediary between us and God. But that’s a slim shot, because he doesn’t even own a telephone.

We don’t have no chocolate Easter Jesuses…

I took my leave of her and went through the checkout line with a vegetarian pizza and a one-pound chocolate bunny. The cashier, with her wide grin and ‘down home’ accent, asked me who the bunny was for. A son or a daughter? Or perhaps a girlfriend?

My plan in buying that bunny, I said to her, and handed her a twenty, was to eat it all by myself while listening to Bach’s St Matthew Passion. It’s a glorious piece of music and everybody should listen to it as Easter is approaching. It was written in 1727, I told her, and was broken in two parts to be performed before and after the Good Friday service.

The cashier said, “Six dollars and thirty-seven cents is your change.” Her lips were heavily smeared in lipstick. “Enjoy that bunny.”

I will, I said. I would have preferred to get the chocolate Jesus, but you guys were all out. There was one in back, the one-pounder, but it was broken in many pieces. I don’t like cracked Easter chocolate. I wanted a whole one.

“We don’t have no chocolate Jesuses,” she said and cackled, but when I gave her a very serious look, she said, “I got to check.” The people in line behind me perked up. She stepped around her cashier’s station and hurried away.

It’s a big holiday, this year, I said to the man who was bagging groceries, because there’s a new pope in town. The grocery-bagger was a pleasant man. I’d seen him before. In his fifties with smooth skin and kind eyes.

“The pope’s in town?” he asked me.

Before I could clear up the misunderstanding, and tell him I meant it only as an expression, but not literally that the pope was touring Sunset Boulevard, another cashier from the next aisle turned her head. “The pope’s in LA?”

White House photo by Chris Greenberg

A ruddy fellow with a bulbous cherry nose and chest hairs sprouting over the top button of his shirt piped up in disgust, “The pope is not in town, you fools. Especially not during Easter. Who gives a shit about the pope, anyway?”

“I thought I heard he was coming to the US sometime,” a woman behind him said.

Multiple voices began arguing about the merits of the pope, and if it could be possible that he was actually in Los Angeles for Easter. Maybe he’s visiting the Cathedral of Our Lady of Lost Angels. Would they fly the Popemobile over? How would this affect traffic?

The baggage man defended himself when the ruddy-cheeked man said the pope wasn’t worth any old pair of stinky socks. “I beg to differ!” the bag man said. His elevated voice rose above the rest.

“Where the hell did the cashier go?” the ruddy man asked.

The sound of sniffling made everybody turn around, except for the rough cherry-nosed man. He was shaking his head at the baggage man’s claims that the newest pope might be the best pope in recent living history.

While they argued, with me standing in the verbal crossfire, I watched the scene. Being escorted by our cashier was the young woman who I’d spoken to in the aisle. She clamped a box of cereal beneath her arm and had her hands to her face. “This girl needs help,” the cashier said. “Make way, everybody. Security!” she called. “Maybe we need to get her a cab home. She won’t say what’s wrong.”

The ruddy man, at the word ‘security’ whipped around and put his shoulder right into the sniffling girl’s face. The red and blue box of heavily-sugared cereal went flying. The girl, pushed back, tripped over the cashier’s leg and fell to the floor. She saved her face from hitting the tiles by planting her hands.

The ruddy man helped her up, but it was too late. The girl, who’d stopped crying for a second, glanced at her hands, and saw, as did the rest of us, the pink burns on her wrists. Burns from the tiles.

She saw me, looked at her wrists again, and wailed.

I felt it best to get out of there at that moment. I grabbed my pizza and bunny and waved my hand when the baggage man said, “But sir, don’t you want me to bag that?”

Happy Easter! I called back. I’ve got to get home to celebrate Good Friday.


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