Co-Worker: “Can you come to the kitchen? The Sparkletts guy just brought us a new water cooler, and he wants to show someone how to refill it.”
Co-Worker: “It’s a bottom loader.”
Me: [dies laughing]
Heavily Tattooed, Muscly Sparkletts Guy: “Hey there.”
And then he explained how to refill the water cooler and left. Thanks a lot for the unrealistic expectations, Adult Entertainment Industry.
Alan and I ended up at a punk rock concert the other night, because our sober friend Alix’s boyfriend was playing, but she was feeling a bit triggered and didn’t want to go by herself. So a group of us met at the venue, and we were sitting around chatting before the show, and my friend Sebastian brought up my blog.
“I like your writing,” he said. “But not the stuff about witchcraft: just the stuff about recovery.”
Which prompted Alix to ask, in all sincerity, “Is that your fan base? Witches and alcoholics?”
It’s kind of adorable that she thinks I have a fan base.
Ye Gods but these people are lucky to have me.
[An online conversation between me and my oversexed friend Angelo, the only other known gay dudebro in captivity.]
Me: “Shit. I picked the wrong day to go commando.”
Angelo: “Dude! I went commando today, too!” [sends wildly inappropriate picture]
Me: “That is… okay, that’s actually pretty impressive. But what happened to me is that I just somehow accidentally ripped a giant hole in the crotch of my jeans.”
Angelo: “That’s HOT, dude!”
Me: “Not at the office it’s not. I’m going home to change.”
Angelo: “Dude. WHY?”
Me: “Because I can’t sit across from my 60-year-old female boss and be all, ‘What testicle?'”
Angelo: “Dude, if I were a 60-year-old lady sitting across from you and staring at your testicle, my mouth would be watering, dude.”
Angelo: “Um… there was a compliment in there. Somewhere.”
Me: “I am putting on so much underwear right now.”
It started, as these things often do, with the best of intentions. Co-Witch A.’s husband had had a minor health scare, and although he bounced back quickly, it occurred to her that if someone in the coven ended up in the hospital, the rest of us wouldn’t be able to visit.
“We need ministerial credentials,” she reasoned. “That way, if I’m in the ICU or something, I can put the rest of you down as my spiritual advisors.”
We all agreed that this was an excellent plan that couldn’t possibly go horribly awry, and Co-Witch A. got to work researching national Pagan clergy groups. She finally settled on an established organization with a refreshingly scandal-free history and fired off a query letter to begin the vetting process. Shortly thereafter, she was contacted by a representative, innocuously named Joe, who offered to meet with us for an introductory chat. Co-Witch A. suggested a quiet, out-of-the-way, Tolkein-themed restaurant, and we set a date for a few days hence.
When meeting with
lecherous serial killers members of the greater Pagan community, Co-Witch A. and I usually get to the venue a few minutes early, so that we can compare notes or debrief or whatever we need to do to prepare and present a united front. As such, I was a bit surprised when I walked into the restaurant and saw Co-Witch A. already sitting across from a burly, bearded stranger, who was gabbing animatedly at her. Determining that this was the organization’s representative and not an unhinged psychopath, I walked over to the table just in time to hear:
“…but he bled to death on the porch before he could make it into the house.”
“Hi,” I said. “I’m Sweeney.” And then I looked to Co-Witch A. for direction, because I was sure she would have a perfectly logical explanation for the conversation I’d just interrupted.
“Hi Sweeney, I’m glad you could make it,” Co-Witch A. replied. “Joe was just telling me about the time he shot and killed a burglar.” Her smile was pleasantly neutral, but her eyes were panicked and desperate, like those of a rabbit warning off the rest of the warren while actively being mauled by coyotes: It’s too late for me, but you can still save yourself!
“Wow, I… can’t wait to hear about that,” I said. “Could you excuse me for just a sec? I need to run to the restroom.”
Once safely locked in a stall, I whipped out my cell phone and sent Co-Witch A. a text that read, “We need to get out of here immediately.”
Her response was instantaneous: “Do NOT order anything.”
I returned to the table right as Joe’s lunch, a double cheeseburger platter, arrived. (Him: “Are you sure you aren’t hungry?” Us: “Positive.”) He tucked a napkin into the collar of his stained flannel shirt, removed the bun from the burger and began tearing the meat apart with his hands, drenching each greasy morsel in ketchup before popping it in his mouth.
“Anyway, like I was saying earlier, we don’t just let anyone in. There’s a long application process, and of course, not everyone makes it through. Do you perform your rituals skyclad?”
Caught off guard but still maintaining her balance, Co-Witch A. said that some Traditions do practice ritual nudity, and that it was a concept with which we were not unfamiliar.
“Oh, good,” Joe said with a leer, bits of beef and ketchup speckling his beard. “Because I would dance naked with either of you.”
“OH MY GOD, LOOK AT THE TIME,” yelped Co-Witch A. “Sweeney, we’re supposed to get together with that friend of yours.”
“Which friend?” I asked, still trying to process the unexpected omnisexual innuendo. “What are you talking about?”
Did you know that people really will kick the shit out of you under the table if you’re not playing along with a cover story, just like in the movies? Because it turns out they totally will.
“OW. RIGHT. I REMEMBER. WE LEAVE NOW.”
Joe was too caught up in the bloodied remains of his cheeseburger to give us anything more than a cursory wave goodbye, which meant we could leave without (may the Gods be ever this favorable) having to hug him. And eventually, Co-Witch A. tracked down another chapter of the same organization (“Oh, you met Joe? Don’t give him our number.”), which we were able to join with only the barest of dog-and-pony shows. We got the credentials we were looking for, and of course we’ve all been in perfect health ever since.
The point here is that you have options, guys. It can be fairly easy to convince ourselves that any given opportunity is divine providence, regardless of warning signs and alarm bells, when what we want starts overshadowing the path we take to get it. And that’s when the frauds and the predators and the generally smarmy start seeing opportunities of their own.
Hold out for the right fit, with the person or group who is right for you, and I promise you’ll be more fulfilled in the long run. In the meantime, just so I’ll sleep better tonight, please place your hand on the holy book of your choice and swear a solemn oath that you will never dance naked with Joe.
Douglas wanted to run by Houston’s occult supercenter this afternoon, and being nothing if not a good sport, I tagged along. I am not a big fan of this store — actually, I take that back. The store itself is fine, with a good selection of merchandise at reasonable prices. It’s the employees I can’t stand.
And actually, let me take that back as well — some of the employees are really cool. There’s the one girl who’s hilariously sarcastic and always in a good mood, and there’s the friendly if odd-looking guy on whom Douglas has a harmless if inexplicable crush. The rest of them, though, are my least favorite type of Pagan: Haughty and pretentious and doing their best to project auras of voluminous magical (magickal/majikal/mahzheegahl) power, even when it is excruciatingly clear that they have no idea what they’re talking about.
Of these employees, Lady Crushed Velvet reigns supreme. (I don’t know her real name, but Veles and I have been calling her Lady Crushed Velvet for years, so why stop now?) Draped in the finest yep, you guessed it, Lady Crushed Velvet has mastered a combination of service and condescension, assisting her customers while making sure they understand how grateful they should be that a Mistress of the Ethereal Arts is taking time out of her busy schedule of psychic ascension to ring up their smudge sticks. I once witnessed her berating an underling for heresies unspecified, then turn to a coworker and remark, “And that’s how you talk to a student.” Hopefully, said student was able to drop the class with his transcripts intact.
Lady CV was not in residence today, although her first runner-up was: an older woman serving Been There, Croned That realness. If asked to list her current occupation, she would probably put down “Wisewoman.” Douglas and I were poking around the display cases near the front of the store and checking out the jewelry we really
couldn’t afford didn’t need, when a twenty-something young lady hesitantly approached the counter.
“Hi, I’m looking for information on Wicca,” she said.
“Wicca or Witchcraft?” Been There asked, in a tone suggesting they were sitting under a bare light bulb in a cinderblock interrogation room.
I didn’t catch the next part of the conversation, but I guess the girl said Wicca, because I heard Been There say, “Wicca is a religion. You’re looking for Witchcraft.”
“I didn’t realize there was a difference,” said the young woman.
“Oh, there most certainly is,” Been There replied. “Come with me.”
Been There escorted her new protégé over to the book section, while I shot Douglas a look that was all, I am morally obligated to prevent whatever is about to happen, and Douglas shot me a look back that was like, I need you to not be you until after that customer pulls out of the parking lot. So I glared at him all, You’re not my real mom, and he glared back like, I drove us here and will happily abandon you, so I shot him one more look that was all, Touché, and then I waited until he was distracted by a fantasy-film replica sword and scampered across the store.
I caught up with Been There and pretended to browse as she thoughtfully scanned the titles and tapped her lips and went, “Hmmm, let’s see, what should we start you with?” Her stance and demeanor implied that she’d read every book in the store and was mentally comparing them chapter by chapter, but I have worked in retail and could see through her act, it being the same one I used when I worked at a health food store and had not been trained on any of the products we carried.
“Hmmm, let’s see, a gluten-free option,” I would say, facing a rack of whole-wheat pastas. “What’s the right gluten-free option for you?”
Been There eventually made some decisions and pulled a few books from the stacks. “Here’s what I recommend,” she said. “Sit on that bench, right over there, and begin reading these, and find the one you most identify with.”
And she handed the girl three books on Wicca.
Douglas managed to wrestle me out of the store before I started kicking, but if there’s one major downfall to modern Paganism, it’s the emphasis on assumed expertise over the actual learning process. Everyone’s got to be a damn expert on everything right out of the gate, and anyone who dares admit ignorance is immediately dismissed. It hurts me in what’s left of my soul when students feel like they have to apologize for being students, and that happens because people like Been There and Crushed Velvet define “student” as “lesser than.” And that happens because people like Been There and Crushed Velvet are afraid to step out from behind the curtain and admit that they do not know everything, that at best they are students themselves.
And it is okay to be a student. It is even more okay to be willing to learn. And it is the mostest okay to say, “I don’t know, but let’s go find out.”
I say all of this as a horrible hypocrite, since within the Traditions I practice [Ed. Note: It’s also okay to not practice any Traditions], I will often catch myself smiling and nodding instead of asking for clarification. But I am currently
besieged blessed with students of my own, and I want them to be excited about what they’re learning, as opposed to beating themselves up for not already knowing it.
I’ll leave you with one last thought, using the Judeo-Christian religious model as an analogy: From an educational standpoint, getting ordained into the Catholic or Anglican priesthood is the equivalent of earning a PhD. Feel free to point this out the next time you encounter a Pagan positioning himself as an authority with no sanction other than willpower.
Feel free to hand him a book on the subject.