Citizens of the World

The cards were inconspicuous enough.  Several small slips of yellow cardboard piled neatly at the end of our pew, silently asking for information.  “What are the respective ages of you and those family members attending this mass?” it read.   Behind us, Ms. Pat, our next-door neighbor whispers while the collection baskets circulate among the congregation.

“Better fill this thing out guys.  I usually forget this nonsense, but if they don’t meet their quota, they’ll cancel 7:30 mass.  You know what that means . . .” Continue reading

A Question of Blasphemy

The automatic doors did not open immediately, but seemed to pause and consider the visitors waiting at the threshold first.  After several minutes, the glass panel shuddered and cracked, sliding slowly open.  Having been deemed worthy by the electric bouncer, Dasad and I rapidly passed into the Best Buy and past the greeter before the machine changed its mind.  Walking out of habit to the New Release stack, I pointed out a few titles but met with no reaction.  My reticent companion had kept to himself for much of the afternoon, which suggested some work-related problem, failed romance or indigestion.  Either way time would work out the truth.

“You know, Murph,” he said to me as I checked the price tag of a Ben Hur Blu-Ray, “so much of your religion seems situated around full heads of hair and long-flowing locks.  Did you ever think about that?” Continue reading

West Coastin’: Of Meals and Temples

‘Last scene of all

That ends this strange eventful history,

Is second childishness and mere oblivion,

Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.’

Our post-Mass breakfast

Our post-Mass breakfast

Sunday morning, crawling to the bathroom, my sense of touch had the nerve to up and leave me.  Even after stubbing my toe on one of the wine boxes, the numbing sensation in my accelerator foot had lingered long after escaping our Sebring; moreover, my sense of balance insisted that my body was floating underwater.  This of course pointed towards some livid dreamscape, and as I lay there considering the possibility of that mermaid appearing again, Dasad woke.  Damn.  Another night Ariel, my love.

“Dude, what are you doing?”

“Wondering why I lost feeling in my legs . . .”

“No, on the floor,” he yawned.

“Oh, I tripped over one of the boxes in the dark.  On the way to the bathroom.  So very dark in here,” I pondered.  “When you close the blinds like this, its amazing how inclined you are to believe it’s two in the morning.”

“It is two.  Go back to sleep.”

NOTE: I may have imagined all this.  Throughout much of the trip, the line between dream and reality continued to fade and establish itself elsewhere, like the world seen through the bottom of a wine glass.

At any rate, we woke (later?) Sunday morning quite exhausted and indescribably drained from our six-hour exodus to Anaheim, in no mood whatsoever for early morning mass.  Yet sloth could not have its way.  Mothers – especially mine – possess an innate knowledge of their children’s foibles, both mortal and venial, and before we got that phone call, I roused our troops early and ushered them out the door.

The theater at Downtown Disney

The theater at Downtown Disney

Mass in California differs little from services back home.  My presence was still something of a minority, trading in a congregation of aging seniors for young Hispanics and Asians.  Nor did I quite grasp the point of the homily, a heavily accented digression into the meaning of faith, a topic which my own pastor would have muddled with several multi-layered tangents and an unnecessary explanation of didacticism – whatever that means.  Even the church’s heavily stylized windows displays and murals complimented my own: a tangled collage of pictures and symbols buried deep within colorful stained glass, like something by Seurat broken and reassembled with Jolly Rancher shards.  Yet Anaheim’s depiction of the Annunciation of Mary gave me pause.

Along one of the walls, Mary communes with an aged angel; in their midst a dove descends, a red beam fired from the bird’s beak pierces the Blessed Mother.

“It was like a holy laser beam had been shot into her chest,” I remarked afterwards to a yawning Dasad.  “I realize the need to conceptualize the Holy Spirit as something more than swirling air currents and fireballs, but doesn’t the divine ‘pregnancy ray’ oversimplify things a little too much.  Hell, they probably stole the idea from a Superman comic.”

“You would know,” Dasad muttered.  “So what’s the plan for today?  LA?  San Diego?”

“You said something about a triple feature.  A day to kick back and watch movies.”

“Okay . . . yeah, let’s do that.  It’d be good to do nothing for one day.”

I refuse to bore you with many of the details that followed.  As is often the case, these rare relaxing moments seldom translate well as good stories, while relating our ubiquitous humiliations and regrets often prove rather interesting – if not downright amusing.  We decided on three flicks, just recently released and from various genres:

  • Ponyo – a child’s fable, but nonetheless whimsical and beautifully told
  • District 9 – awesome and intelligent; excellent science fiction
  • 500 Days of Summer – if you’ve ever downloaded specific music tracks simply to attract a girl; or abhor dating; or simply enjoy honest funny movies

So excellent was the theater fare that without realizing it, we ate little else but stories for the remainder of the day.

You see, good tales possess a unique aroma, such that one might discuss an excellent tale with the same enthusiasm some reserve for fine cuisine or century-old merlot.  This analogy may be a bit off-putting to some, like my sister Katie, who suffers through most books like a sick child with castor oil, yet for bibliophiles the metaphor is all too accurate.  In my time, many books of such excellent vintage have incited periods of prolonged fasting and isolation (the night I discovered Harry Potter springs to mind), only to emerge again physically weak but nonetheless spiritually enervated several days later.

Excellent stories, thus, provide food for the soul.  And if the soul dies, the body follows shortly, right?  Therefore, reading is more important than food . . . or breathing.  For this reason and more, my family worries for my health and sanity.

Nevertheless, having fed our souls well, we left the theater satisfied and finally able to focus on our all-too-needy stomachs.  Late night dining (a little after ten) is sketchy at best, limiting hungry patrons to stale burgers or scraped bean paste wrapped in doughy tortillas.   Luckily we found a 24-hr Subway across the street from the hotel, wedged in between a Mexican take-out and Chinese restaurant that sold grease spiced with chicken fat (noodles were extra).  Jay opted for Chinese and Dasad tempted the Fates by ordering Mexican.  All in all the movies were better, and we returned to the hotel with satisfied hearts and stomachs in need of Alka-Seltzer.

NOTE: the bathroom at the theater was enormous and clean.  This may sound like an unusual topic to mention in closing but those who have traveled far through many a gas station or rest stop restroom can appreciate the joy of stumbling across clean public bathrooms.  It was breathtaking that I actually took a picture of it (thank the weekly matinees that it was empty).

So clean!

So clean!

Diluted Sins

img_2377“What did you give up for Lent?”  An honest response to this question typically requires a fair bit of chagrin, a prolonged sigh, and an explanatory tale that often begins with “Well, it’s like this . . . ”  Regardless of their beginnings, no two stories are the same even though — more often than not — we all wind up innocent in the end.

Once again, this year Dasad and I have not managed to free ourselves from this fate.  However, unlike everyone else, it’s not our fault this time.   Truly.  Seriously.  Look, if you can spare me a moment or two, I can explain . . .

Lent for us Catholics is typically a time of sacrifice, fasting, and forgiveness, a decidedly textbook definition for what amounts to using God to enforce those pesky New Years’ resolutions we’ve long forgotten over the last two months.  As a kid, this usually meant giving up candy, video games, or the internet for forty days and forty nights, the same time period Noah suffered storm-tossed seas and a boat-load of the world’s fauna without the aid of Dramamine, sails, or steel cages.  After mounting a particularly towering wave, the world’s last pair of unicorns slide into the lion paddock, promptly removing magic (and many a childhood dream) forever from the gene pool.   By all rights, getting by with one less bag of Twizzlers doesn’t seem so bad.

iced-teaThis year in addition to striving to run two miles each day, I decided to halt my weekly purchase of novels and considered diving into some of the older tomes I have left to gather dust  over the years.  Thus, no new novels for forty days.  In hindsight a more effective sacrifice would have constituted banishment from the bookstore entirely, but my on-going addiction to Borders iced tea prevented such a bold stroke.  Instead while shifting through shelves of manga one afternoon — keeping a wide berth between the rest of the stacks (Mr. Bradbury, you know why) — my eyes tantalized by several new titles,  I considered what exactly constitutes a ‘novel’ per se.  My thoughts traveled back to EN212, Birth of the English Novel, and some vaguely remembered definition concerning plot and character, an eight-page paper citing specific examples in 12pt font, Times Roman.  At any rate no mention of ‘Japanese’ or ‘comics’ appeared in the slurry of words so I grabbed a handful of books and raced to the check-out counter before any divine arbitrator could consult the fine print.   Afterward outside the store, amid the blustery spring breeze and cloud-streaked skies, I walked bag in hand, swelling with my new purchases,  confident in my adherence to the letter-of-the-law even while gut-punching the much ignored spirit-of-the law with two rights and an uppercut to the chin.

To my credit, over the last fifty days or so, I ignored the graphic novel section (collected anthologies of Superman, Spiderman, and other comics) entirely.  Here my half-hearted arguments that graphic novels did not strictly constitute novels failed; in the end I could not escape the nomenclature.   Besides, nothing good (i.e. Batman’s ‘Heart of Hush’ book) arrived in the stores until at least the end of April at least . . .  and in the absence of temptation one finds strength.

Still despite my own innocence in this affair, I still felt the twinge of guilt, a smidgen of complacency in my actions; thus I sought out Dasad, prompting his confession and shared guilt with the similar question:

“Wait, so you’re only giving up videogames on Saturdays?”  I wrote to him on IM one morning, a week and a half after Ash Wednesday.

“Well, it’s like this, man,” he typed with a speed reserved for computer programmers and courtroom stenographers.  “It used to be everyday, but once Resident Evil 5 came out, I decided to alter it a little.”

“A single day sacrifice though?”

“Well, when the game came out, I thought of just abandoning the whole no-gaming sacrifice altogether, but considering a potential wrath-of-God-slash-karma blacklash, I just decided to tweak it a bit:  ‘No games that I already own, will I play.’  There.  Now we have a loophole . . . and my console is RE5 ready.”  For most individuals Lenten appeals do not need to be stated aloud, resting solely on the honor system.  In our case, we require written contracts for the sake of bragging rights.

“What about Gears?  Don’t you already own that?” I wrote with a smile.

viva_pinata“Uh yeah, I thought of that too,” he typed after a pause.  “That would put a serious dent in our Friday nights so then I considered ‘No games released before 2006,’ but that only really eliminated that pinata game and Madden 2005 . . .”

“Both of which you haven’t opened yet, if I recall correctly.”  Dasad collects games almost habitually, like a schizophrenic stockpiling voices, or old Mrs. Martin and her cats.

“Yeah, not much of a sacrifice, right?  So then I reconsidered and decided that I would only play games on Friday and Sundays.”

“Ok, so what went wrong with that?”

“There was nothing on TV last Wednesday.” I picture my friend flipping frantically through his 1 million channels, his mounting anger that nothing NOTHING was on except another abysmal season of American Idol.  Then finally after dousing the lights and shutting the blinds, he switches on his Xbox for a quick Horde match.  No one will ever know . . .

“Dude, that’s sad.”  Sincerity aside, I am laughing when I write this.

“Hey look, the whole Lenten season is rife with loopholes.  No meat on Fridays except seafood and if St. Patrick’s Day falls on Friday, then the Irish are given special dispensation to eat corned beef.  Moreover, on Sundays you are free from your Lenten sacrifices anyway.”

“Yeah . . .” I consider, trying in vain to differentiate the rule from the habit, “. . . but I think that’s only for elementary school kids.  As adults we’re expected to keep the sacrifice every day no exceptions.”

“Ha, another bias!  Damn it all, I’m having pastrami tonight.”

In the end, I think Dasad faithfully maintained his original pledge and abstained himself from gaming throughout the last forty days.  Every now and then I saw his avatar logged onto Xbox Live but he swears that was merely to watch a movie — which he reminds me does not constitute a game at all.  Frankly I believe him, though for the sake of my own heathen soul I like to pretend otherwise.  Hell, I hear, is a quite a lonely place with a very poor library — the constant humidity is murder on the pages.  In the absence of reading materials, amid the screams of the damned, a sympathetic ear means the world to us sinners.

Religious Rhetoric

church_ceilingSome job requirement must exist among higher ranked members of the Arch Diocese that requires all parish pastors to speak in long-winded soliloquies.

Some need to introduce a syllabus before the homily:

“I have five points I wish to cover today: each with half-a-dozen subpoints, followed by a real world example, which I will convolute through obscure theology. Half-way through my homily I will diverge into an intelligible tangent on drug use and the world of Harry Potter.”

Others love history lessons and menacing laughter:

“The Pharisees would mock and debase those that did not follow the letter of the law established by Moses’ covenant on Mt. Sinai. They were much like us today. They too were sinners. Heh heh heh.”

Of course, not all priests speak in abstract riddles or finish their homilies with condescending laughter (apparently only the ones I know). Either because they lack the talent for it, need a smoke, or possess good sense, many construct their homilies through a combination personal stories, concise points, and a smidgeon of humor just to make the sermon interesting. If schoolchildren are present, they might even ask questions. Pastors on the other hand seem to rejoice in the fact that the prisoners . . . er, parishioners are trapped, thus forced to listen to anything and everything passing through their minds at the moment.

church_ceiling2Two Wednesdays ago, Ash Wednesday, I sat dumbfounded as our pastor trailed off from his discussion of the day’s Gospel, descending into Church history, deep theological abstraction, the essence of grace, and a nebulous aphorism about homeless shelters. A minute in and most of the congregation has grown lifeless, their mind departing for foreign climes, Saturday night sins, and weekend grocery lists. For my part, I stare at the back of a bald man’s crown, entranced by the intricate stitching of his black toupee. An indeterminate period of time passes. The priest has finally moved onto part three of his second point: free will, humility, and the Knights Templar. Before me, the man spasms. With a wave of his hand, a subtle scratch, the polysynthetic tapestry droops an inch or so into his back collar. My stomach churns; reflexively my eyes gaze skyward.

In malls and outlet shops, I take great interest in watching people cruise from store to store, from Gap to Baby Gap. You make up stories about each person based upon some deductive skills elusively gained from reading Sherlock Holmes stories. It’s a great way to pass the time, while waiting for mothers, sisters, grandmothers, aunts, and such. In mass, perhaps due to the lack of movement or dull zombie-like stares, I find people-watching far less interesting. My eyes usually take me to the ceiling in order to retain focus. There relaxation takes me; I count the number of lights and plot out the next Batman movie.

After nearly thirty minutes, a dozen tangled tangents on the definition of love, and nearly one-hundred and eight lights, the pastor ends his lecture. The congregation rubs their eyes and returns to the mass. The Penguin has taken over the Gotham underworld and issued a bounty on Batman’s head. The Riddler has taken up the challenge, and I feel that all is right with the world.

It was now time to dish out the ashes. Typically an interesting ceremony, ashes from last year’s palms (i.e. Palm Sunday) are burnt, blessed, and then distributed to the congregation. The priest and his ministers etch a sign of the cross on the forehead with the reminder: “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” The memento mori has always been a special sign to me – shortly before I realized what the word meant: reminder of death. A morbid gesture to some perhaps, but it has always reminded me that life is short and in death all men share a common fellowship.

church-ceiling3The congregation shuffles from their seats and lines form around the altar like spokes in a wheel. As I approached the minister, Mom whispers in my ear.

“That’s Miss Jill, the boys’ Confirmation teacher.” I let out an inaudible groan, instantly sizing up the woman with long red hair. Do not misunderstand me. I am sure there are plenty of competent, admirable individuals who teach the sacrament of Confirmation, remembering that after eight years of Catholic schooling another lesson on Love or Peace on a Saturday morning helps to instill very little of either in anyone. Unfortunately, I have yet to meet one; thus my bias leads me to consider the woman as both silly and a little self-righteous. Unfair perhaps, but stereotypes are like superstitions, proving themselves all too true more often than not.

Miss Jill dips her thumb into the bowl and rubs a large sizable cross on my forehead, then says: “Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel.”

Now as I was reminded later, the memento mori was only one of three blessings chosen by the priest or minister, the last being “Repent and hear the Good News.” It was simply my bad chance, a poor luck of the draw. Still at the time, I felt a little disappointed and nearly cursed on the way back to my seat, which in consideration of the children, women, priests, and well . . . God was a bad idea.

Afterwards Mom and I planned to go shopping for groceries, but taking a look at one another’s faces we decided against it. Instead of a small humble cross, Miss Jill had painted our entire forehead with black ash, which did not sit well with either one of us or ease my earlier bias towards Confirmation teachers. As we drove down the highway, the small black flakes descended like snow before my eyes.  Mom tried to wipe the black smears that had fallen on her nose and cheeks.  Nearing the store, we decided to hibernate for the rest of the day.  Mom took to baking double-chocolate chip cookies (perhaps in case more ash fell) while I took in some Indiana Jones.  As Nazis’ dessicate and the Penitent roll pass curved blades, I slowly nod and sleep, silently thanking the Powers that religion is not so exciting after all.  

Tights and Pinstripes

We drove up to New York on Saturday for the penultimate game at Yankee Stadium before its imminent demolition over the next year. Pat in particular wished to visit the “house that Babe built” once in his life, despite the fact that none of us are huge Yankee fans. I for one – though not a huge baseball fan – regaled in the history, excitement, and chance to discover something new and unique. Moreover, my reading of late has included the works of Sherlock Holmes and Bendis’ Ultimate Spiderman so I reveled in the big city atmosphere while occasionally gazing out the windows, hoping to uncover scenes from my comics.

"This is where Daredevil haunts . . ."

"Hells Kitchen! This is where Daredevil haunts . . ."

“Oh hey guys,” I said as we passed through the Lincoln Tunnel. “Hell’s Kitchen. This is where Daredevil haunts in the comics. Hey, can you imagine jumping between these rooftops?” Such is the nature of my neurosis. We turned onto 42nd Street, and my eyes scanned the sky for cathedral towers, a favorite backdrop for cover artists.

Ironically, instead of mass sighing and eye rolls, everyone just nodded staring at the huge towers eclipsing our SUV. Bree even whispered: “Rooftop to rooftop . . . That’s incredible!”

Clearly the big city impressed us all. New York in particular has the capacity to overwhelm even the most urbane traveler. Denver, Boston, D.C., Baltimore, Chicago. In my travels all these cities never possessed the oppressive claustrophobia of a New York City street. The maze of towers and monuments enveloped our SUV, swallowing us within the chaos on Times Square, and even eclipsing the sun. Country bumpkins that we were, we did not notice, still amazed by the size, scale, and flashing marquees.

After much consternation and scratching of heads, we found the hotel: the Helmsley. Apparently the previous owner of this hotel created quite a stir several years back by bequeathing all her fortune to her pet dog, leaving nothing for her friends and relatives. In the country, we were accustomed to treating our pets with a side of eggs or some ketchup and pickles. Somehow with all my pet allergies, it seemed fitting that we should choose a hotel once owned by a dog.

Piling out of the SUV, we greeted Tiff and Pat who driven separately – far from impatient fathers.

“How was your trip?” Pat asked, helping me carry the luggage to the bellboy.

“Awkward,” I responded. “Dad grumbled at every toll booth along the Jersey Pike.”

“Because he did not have EZ-Pass?” Pat asked with a smile.

“Yeah, in his fury, he even promised that ‘next year I will not happen again’ as if the toll booths had killed his favorite dog or something. He even screamed at the toll booth guy near the Lincoln Tunnel . . .”

“I did not,” Dad interjected, rifling through his bag for the hotel confirmation. “The light was still red. He did not change the stupid thing to green.”

“You called him an asshole, after he told you to pull forward,” I laughed. “And you really kindly lingered on that last syllable too. Asshoooole!”

“Well,” Dad smiled. “He was.”

Thus, now checked into our rooms and well-versed in New York vernacular, we set off to the baseball game, deciding to rent a van instead of hopping the subway to the Bronx. This proved to be an excellent choice, not only because we happened to avoid the crowding ebb and flow of people arriving and leaving the stadium. Manny, our driver, took us along the East River route; we passed speeding boats, Roosevelt Island, and hanging tram cars, which I recalled from a movie several years back.

"Remember that scene?"

“Hey, those are the trams that the Green Goblin cut in the first Spider-man movie. Remember that scene, guys? Osborn gave Peter the choice between saving the tram full of people and Mary Jane! This must be the Queensboro Bridge. Bendis used it for a similar scene in Ultimate Spider-man. Now that is cool.”

“Was that the one where that blonde girl died in the comics?” Ryan asked.

“No, that was the George Washington Bridge, I think. Or at least that’s what I’ve heard. The death of Gwen Stacy. Spider-man shoots his webs to catch her when the Goblin throws her off, and Spidey accidentally snaps her neck . . .”

Tiff interrupts our geek-spasm with an exaggerated sigh, while Pat quizzes Manny about the new Yankee stadium. Apparently the general debate among New Yorkers – according to Manny – is whether the new stadium merits the destruction of what, to many, is a national landmark: the house that Babe built. Moreover, ticket prices will inevitably rise to cover the cost, yet Manny confirms the rumor that the stadium will actually hold less seats. Thus, he wonders, what purpose does it serve?

Dad, Pat, and Manny talked animatedly as we neared the stadium. I vaguely listened to the sports-related conversation and instead stared out the window surveying the landscape across the river for more comic book-related memorials.

. . . my creative writing teacher made us read Boys of Summer . . .

. . . my creative writing teacher asked us to read Boys of Summer . . .

Yankee Stadium possessed no known references to my knowledge in comic book lore, so the game and stadium encompassed most of my attention. Back in high school, my creative writing teacher asked us to read Boys of Summer by Roger Kahn, who worked as a sports reporter during the Golden Age of baseball, covering the rise and fall of the Brooklyn Dodgers. Despite a meager interest in sports, the book and its excellent writing held my attention, as Kahn communicates a great love of the game and its history. Yankee Stadium is – or I suppose, was – one of the last of the old stadiums to die, demolished for a shinier tech-loving generation. Thus, it was a thrill to experience the history before it devolves into a parking garage.

The shame and feeling of loss was easily shared by many, though not easily communicated. One young protester circled around the stadium holding aloft a sign, which read HISTORY, then crossed out in red (like the Ghostbusters sign). To me, the message was clear, but not everyone seemed to get the point:

“Look at dis moron. Hey, ya knucklehead,” shouted a deeply accented voice from behind me. “Explain yourself!”

"When's da last time Baltimore won a World Series?"

"When's da last time da Orioles ever won a World Series?"

Donning his orange and black Oriole jersey, Ryan chatted happily with a Yankee fan, seated beside him. The pair exchanged bets about the outlook of the game, while Ryan defended his team from the catcalls.

“When’s da last time da Orioles ever won a World Series,” someone shouted down.

“ ’83,” Ryan shouted back.

“Baltimore sucks!” another shouted.

“We know,” Ryan replied back with a smile. The Yankee fans were quite confused by this point, and we heard fewer comments from then on. “What can I say? It’s the truth,” Ryan said with a shrug.

After the game (Yankees: 1, Orioles:0), Manny drove us back to the hotel, where had an early dinner before catching “The Little Mermaid” near Broadway and 48th. Bree had loved the show as a kid. Heck, I fell in love with Ariel myself when the show first arrived in theaters – the first of many relationships with fictional characters.

The next morning Mom promised to take her to the American Doll store to fix Emily, her doll, which Kevin had scratched with a penny a few months back, much to his delight. Bree had her revenge by screaming, smacking him with the remote control, kicking him when he fell, and then concluding her assault by sobbing to Mom. Kevin not only suffered Bree’s blows but got punished as well. Girl Power indeed.

Thus after the show, my little sister as well as the rest of us were in high spirits, if a bit exhausted. Walking in New York City is an odd experience for us bumpkins, where back home a trip to the nearby grocery store ordains a five-mile drive. In the city most either walked or took a cab. On a Saturday night the whole city seems to empty the offices and apartment complexes for the streets. One must learn to tread carefully to avoid drowning in the masses. Countless years of training amid the lines and avenues of Disney World had prepared us for these moments, however, and we traversed Broadway and Times Square without losing anyone. Some might have stayed to shop or walk the sights and sounds, but ironically the chaos and congestion were a bit overwhelming, even to the fam, who are used to traveling in packs. The lights and ads hovered over us, simultaneously beating and blinding with gaudy brilliance. Claustrophia had sunk in, and I longed to return to sanctity of our small hotel room.

. . . trying in vain to spy cloaked figures, daring vigilantes, or giant webs.

. . . trying in vain to spy cloaked figures, daring vigilantes, or giant webs.

I could understand why city life could be quite lonely. All the grandeur and splendor – both real and imagined – induces a fair bit of indifference. I found greater comfort away from the chaos, among the silence and darkness of the side streets, trickling down from the skyscrapers and bubbling up from the sewers. In these areas, we found the true charm of citylife. We skirted Bryant Park, now alit with candles, music, and old men chatting quietly among the trees. A wedding reception echoed deep within a hotel lobby, fashionably dressed bridesmaids sipped champagne on the sidewalk. Meanwhile, I stared at the high towers and tiered rooftops, trying in vain to spy cloaked figures, daring vigilantes, or giant webs.

That night I slept restlessly. The terrors of the big city would be welcome bedfellows compared to my brother Kevin, who so shifted and wiggled dominion over our shared double that once or twice I considered stealing the bedspread and camping out on the floor. Thankfully morning arrived quickly, waking us with the shrill siren of a phone call from next door. It was six o’clock, Dad chimed. Time to dress and ready ourselves for mass.

Once on our road trip a few years ago, Dasad and I almost had a falling out over Sunday mass. Mom had called the night before reminding me about mass as we passed through Missouri, and that if I failed to receive my sacrament on this trip, I would surely burn in Hell for all Eternity, perpetually ripped to shreds by gore-crows, mummified in molten chains, and forced to watch Real World reruns while all the demons, devils, and politicians take turns poking me with large pointy sticks. My own perspective of the afterlife is a tad more . . . liberal, of course; however, even God’s wrath is slightly less intimidating than my mother’s, so I agreed to find mass somewhere.

Unfortunately, the earliest mass the next morning began at eight and lasted nearly an hour, which put us off schedule to meet a few of Dasad’s cousins in Tulsa. This of course irritated my friend a bit, and things looked grim until we talked over coffee, burritos, and enchiladas later – male-bonding food. Dasad explained that his family will sometimes skip Sunday mass during vacations. After all not every city or town possesses a Catholic church, and vacations – thick with activities and itineraries – often do not allot much leisure time. I understood, citing my doubts that God took roll like a homeroom teacher, passing out gold stars for perfect attendance. No, my fears stemmed principally from a strict Irish Catholic mother, whose fury at such heathen dereliction could give all the devils, demons and politicians with their pointy sticks a run for their money.

We could not offer even that excuse.

The whole cathedral evokes feelings of respect and mystery too – particularly early in the morning.

Now in New York City with St. Patrick’s Cathedral just a few blocks down from the Helmsley Hotel, we could not offer even the faintest excuse. Thus, we woke grumbling at six and shuffled out into the now empty city for seven o’clock mass. If you have never seen it, St. Patrick’s is an awesome cathedral. Entering the pews you feel as if you are journeying back in time. The dull lighting flickers like candles, creating deep shadows and enclaves along the walls. The statues and ornaments of the gothic architecture simply drips off the walls and dance in the faux candlelight. The whole cathedral evokes feelings of respect and mystery too – particularly early in the morning. The mass last only about a half hour, and the priest’s homily was short and succinct. After touring the grounds a bit – I did not dare take pictures – we left and completed our Sunday ritual with a visit to Starbucks.

Sipping my pumpkin-flavored coffee, I spied out the peaks of the old cathedral, another favorite spot for comic artists. The city was calm now, and although it did not feel any less claustrophobic, early Sunday morning some of the chaos of the previous night had ebbed away, sunken back into the sewers or drifting off into the high towers and belfries. After packing, I walked Mom and Bree to the American Girl Store to buy some clothes and fix her damaged doll. We left soon afterwards, offering our goodbyes en route to the city that has spawn so many stories.

Around lunchtime we stopped at gas oasis for food and drinks. Gazing at the vast array of peanuts and almonds in the gift shop, Kevin sleepily asked Dad where we were.

“New Joisy,” he replied with a comical accent.

“Excuse me,” spoke up a girl, standing nearby, her hand reaching for gum drops. “But that’s how they speak in North Jersey. This is South Jersey. We do not talk like that. Just so you know . . .”

Her voice carried a slight edge of annoyance with it, as if we had insulted her. Dad said nothing, choosing instead to walk away. Apparently amid the toll booths, shouting Yankee fans, and crowds we had failed to insult anyone until arriving in South Jersey. Criminals and snide comments beware! Learn to fear the linguistic vigilantes of South Jersey!