Rune Rofke - Glenn Emery
The sisters returned from Chicago. They seem up and excited, in stark contrast to my gloomy mood. I’m too embarrassed to mention my misadventure at the plasma center and I try to avoid the sisters as much as possible, busying myself instead with chores and lifting weights. Carl is still in New York.
By the next morning, however, my spirit is revived and the plasma episode no longer seems so traumatic. The urge to share it is overwhelming, so over breakfast I tell them about it. They all squirm. But Suzy, an older Mexican sister who is also our mother figure, has a fit.
“That was a very arrogant thing to do,” she says angrily, taking full advantage of the situation to exploit her spiritual authority over me. “Satan could have crushed you like a cucaracha. I’ve fundraised in there before. That place is full of low spirits.”
Tell me about it. I had expected this reaction from Suzy. She's always judgmental. I’m pretty sure Carl is going to have a similar reaction when he gets home, but I don’t care. The approval of my spiritual elders is no longer as important to me as it once was.
After breakfast we're supposed to go fundraising. My plan is to drop off the sisters to do house-to-house and shop-to-shop around Eagledale Shopping Center. It’s not the best area, but we should do okay.
We're almost out the door when Carl calls from New York. He tells Suzy to take the sisters out instead of me because he has a “special mission” for me. My heart sinks at those words. In the past, on MFT, a "special mission" was a nice break from the day-to-day grind. With Carl I have come to equate it with “wild goose chase.” I am not looking forward to whatever it is he is about to ask me to do.
“I want you to find a place where we can have a rustic mini-retreat, away from Indianapolis,” Carl says.
“You mean like camping? In the middle of winter?” I’m incredulous.
“A lodge. Something with a fireplace.”
“A lodge.” I can’t believe what I’m hearing. I'm not even pretending to be supportive. “Do you have any idea what it would cost to rent a lodge at a private campground, even in the winter? I don’t even think anything would be open.”
“A cabin then. Look, do the best you can. You’ll figure something out. I have a lot of things to share with everybody from the conference, and I’d like to get all of us away from the center for a couple days. I was thinking someplace woodsy with a fireplace would be a good setting.”
Whether I agree with him or not, and I usually don’t, I am morally and spiritually obligated to follow Carl’s directions. Even though he’s only a couple years older than me, he’s been following Father a lot longer than me, and in the hierarchy of the church he has been chosen as the center director and has spiritual authority over my day-to-day life. My relationship with him is as a younger brother, but he’s also the head of our household.
I have been with Carl and Suzy and the other sisters only a couple months, but already I have learned to despise Carl. He’s the worst church leader I’ve had in five years. All he does is order us around. He’s a lazy prick who never does a lick of physical labor because he’s always too busy praying and studying to be bothered by the practical concerns of keeping up the center and putting food on the table. He says that's my job. Thanks a lot, asshole.
Of course, at first I was flattered. When I officially changed my status from MFT to center member he made a big deal out of the fact I was an older brother, that I had graduated MFT and had shouldered a lot of responsibility. So he made me his assistant. Ostensibly I'm in charge when he's not around. But in the short time we've been together he has done absolutely nothing to earn my respect, and that I cannot forgive.
No guest has ever been inspired by Carl's lectures to want to return to hear more. He’s a lousy fundraiser, and worse, he’s cocky and his leadership skills stink. He’s disorganized and can’t handle money. He always squanders our fundraising results by taking us out to expensive restaurants, or buying a bunch of crap we don’t need.
In the morning he drinks way too much coffee with cream and sugar and then retreats to the bathroom in his office and makes the most godawful sounds while he empties his bowels for 20 minutes. It's embarrassing.
Carl's an idiot, plain and simple. He’s never been on MFT. He’s not hardcore like me. But I have little choice but obey him.
As I’m thumbing through the Yellow Pages I’m wishing I could be back on MFT, where I was the team captain and in control. But my shaky health has forced me to give up that mission, to retreat to a much quieter center life with Carl and the rest of this pathetic little clan of women. Most fundraisers would gladly trade places with me, but I’m miserable living with Carl’s thumb up my butt all day.
And Suzy only makes it worse. She constantly harps on me like I'm a spiritual baby. Sometimes it's all I can do not to scream at her: "I was on MFT three goddamn years, bitch! Get out of my fucking face!" But of course I don't. It would be devastating.
Now this whole “retreat” business is getting on my nerves. It has me cursing under my breath. I didn’t used to swear, but since my volatile encounter last summer with Mr. Kamiyama, I find myself secretly cussing like a sailor at almost everything Carl does or suggests. This whole scheme of finding a lodge or a cabin in the winter is just another wild ass-hair of Carl’s as far as I’m concerned. A complete waste of my time and energy. But I have no choice. I start making phone calls.
Wonders never cease. Within ten minutes I’m on the line with Shakamak State Park near Terre Haute and am told it has cabins with wood burning stoves that can be rented in the winter, ten dollars a night. I’m certain it’s a dump, but what the hell. It’s cheap and it’s available. Here ya go, Carl. Take it or leave it.
The sisters won’t be home from fundraising until late tonight, and my “special mission” is already accomplished. So I take the bus to the mall and buy “Dark Side of the Moon” with my plasma money. I kill the rest of the day back at the center, reading a Carlos Castaneda novel and listening to the tape over and over, wishing I had some mescaline, wishing I didn’t have to be celibate, wishing I had a life someplace else other than here. But it's not so easy to walk away after five years. So I stay put.
The following evening the sisters and I pile into the van to pick up Carl at the Indianapolis airport. From there we’re to go directly to Shakamak. Carl is standing outside the terminal when we arrive. He looks beat. He says he’s famished, which doesn’t surprise me. He's always hungry. He insists we first go to a restaurant.
There’s something else about him, too. He actually looks relieved to see us. If Carl had a tail, it’d be tucked firmly between his legs. I’d say Father must have horsewhipped all the church leaders while they were in New York.
So partly because he is hungry, and partly because he is feeling contrite, Carl treats us to “Steak and Ale” with some money Father gave to all the leaders. I would love to have a beer, but of course alcohol is out of the question. The steaks are great, however. Over strawberry cheesecake I confide to him about my close call at the plasma center. To my surprise he is not mad. He doesn’t even chide me. Apparently, he has weightier things on his mind.
It’s 3:30 a.m. when we finally pull into Shakamak. I have to wake up the ranger to let us into our cabin. It’s hard to make out in the dark, but the shack does not appear half bad. There’s a woodburning stove and plenty of stacked wood on the porch. No plumbing or running water, but still quite accommodating for our spartan needs, for a couple days anyway.
An ice-covered lake is right outside the back door. Even at night, the place is very beautiful. Maybe this will be better than I thought. I fire up the stove for the sisters, who will stay in the cabin, while Carl and I sleep in the van. It’s about ten below.
We’re up at dawn and after morning prayer I stoke up the woodstove until it’s roaring. To my dismay, Carl hasn’t been back from New York even twelve hours and already he’s reverting back to his old self, barking orders and pushing us around. I take off by myself for a brisk hike across the frozen lake before breakfast, wondering how miserable Carl will make me before the day is out. I wish he were out here right now. I'd love to see his fat ass fall through the ice and drown.
The walk helps me calm down and breakfast -- Suzy’s speciality, huevos rancheros -- makes me feel a bit better. Despite the frigid temperature outside, the cabin is very comfortable. Finally, Carl gets down to it, reading to us from his notes on the conference:
“Father spoke for eleven and a half hours. It was perhaps the most judgmental I’ve ever heard him in my ten years in the church. He warned us about having the wrong attitude in our faith, of allowing our faith to become more like a business or a job. With that attitude, Father says we could eventually fall away, become bitter and complaining. Each one of us needs a personal relationship with Father. If Christ walks the earth in the flesh, then our attitude should be that we don’t want to just work for him. We should want to know him. We should want to talk to him and he to us. We should want to be close to him, like a parent and child. But this kind of closeness cannot come from physical proximity. Only faith -- a life of prayer -- can bring us this close to Father.”
Carl stops. He’s still looking his notes, reading the words but not saying anything. Obviously, he’d prefer not to continue. Finally, he screws up the courage to go on:
“The second day Father wanted to hear reports from all the state leaders. The reports were very poor, and Father got very upset because -- except for Oakland -- almost no one has had any new members join. Then Father exploded, screaming about the lack of results. He said” -- Carl stifles a sob -- “‘You are such bad leaders.’”
I couldn't agree more. Tears roll down Carl’s chubby pink cheeks, his head bobbing up and down. I feel sorry for him -- the sympathy of seeing someone get what he deserves.
Carl regains his composure after a couple minutes and then relates to us something truly amazing and revolutionary. “Because of the poor witnessing results, Father decreed that this summer every center member will be sent out on a forty-day pioneering condition, to travel alone to a different town and find spiritual children. Most of us will be sent to college towns because students are the most receptive to Father’s message.”
The fact that schools will be out during the summer is a wrinkle that apparently didn't figure prominently into this plan, though college campuses are never truly deserted. So I guess it's a small point. In any event, the implications to me are staggering. To get away from this loser Carl and these whining and complaining sisters for forty days and forty nights. The sister greet this news with enormous trepidation. But to me it is the most exciting, inspiring thing I have heard in years.
Driving home that night, while Carl is passed out in the passenger seat (he never can stay awake), and the sisters are all crashed out on the bench seats, I resolve to curb my foul tongue and to give up my “Dark Side of the Moon” cassette, the one I just bought. I need to purify myself, strengthen myself against temptation, in preparation for the pioneering condition.
There are many things beyond my control, but these two things I can do something about immediately. My secret obsession with rock music is a constant source of guilt because it’s unholy. Listening to it cheers me up, but it's spiritual contraband nonetheless. If Carl finds out I have it he'll make me destroy it. Better I should get rid of it now, by myself, before anyone finds out I have it and makes me feel even guiltier than I do now.
When we get home I sneak down to the basement and throw my beloved Pink Floyd into the furnace. All my suffering at the plasma center is soon reduced to a worthless blackened cinder.
A burnt offering, I tell myself, but I feel sad all the same.