On my last shopping visit to his place I was informally invited to a barbeque the following Saturday from 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Not one to pass up a free buffalo burger I was in. As I was leaving with my six pounds of buffalo burger patties he admonished me to get there early “The benediction will be given by a State Police Trooper at 11:00, you won’t want to miss that.”
I know the old fellow is a believer and active in his church. He knows I’m an atheist. He knows that I know that the place will likely be overrun by his fellow church goers. I know that he knows that I know that this is not a problem for me as am not about to let a flock of superstitionalists spoil my appetite for free buffalo burger.
Mrs. Hump and I arrived right on time last Saturday ... 12 noon ... expecting to have safely dodged the Trooper’s prayer and the associated baaing of the sheep. No such luck. Evidently things got off to a slow start (or did he hold up the religious mumbo jumbo in anticipation of my heathen arrival?). As we came up the private road we could see the Trooper, in full uniform, with a microphone before the assembled bible bangers all with heads down, and hands folded in prayer.
Since their attention was occupied and eyes diverted I was able to quietly slip the Pathfinder in behind the Trooper’s cruiser on the side of the road unnoticed. And there we waited - inconspicuously, windows up, AC on - for the ritual to subside. I had hoped to see some hand-waving, or flopping around in the dirt or talking in tongues. But no, this is NH. Our religiously afflicted are classier than that. About all that stood out and seemed to separate them from “normal” non-church going folk was the glazed look on their faces and a submissive demeanor about them that testified to ... I don’t know what ... perhaps the fatalism that comes from turning responsiblity for your life over to an imaginary friend. Or maybe an attrophied mind.
I noticed there was a donation box for the church at the head of the line, along with a guest sign in book to wish our host a happy 80th. A skinny guy with the even skinner wife in front of me dropped in a $20. Dilemma ... do I really need to support a church, or is this expected as part of the feeding? Figuring my contribution wouldn’t affect the state of religious affairs of the universe too dramatically, I reached for my wallet. A $20, two $10s, and three singles were my complete bankroll. I did a quick calculation buffalo burger = $7.50 lb at retail. One burger = ¼ lb. Two burgers = ½ lb = $3.75.
“I know Elmer from church, I play the organ there.” Skinny Guy volunteered. “I know Elmer from his buffalo burgers; I buy a lot of them.” I countered. As I reached for the paper plate, plastic fork, and napkins I saw him eyeing me suspiciously (or so I thought, maybe it was just my imagination). “I’ve never seen you at church. Which church do you attend?”
I could feel the synapses in my brain firing at warp speed. Immediately all manner of potential responses filled my head. “None, you religious sheep.” was one. “Do I look like one of your Children of the Corn?” was another. “They don’t let the Anti-Christ sing in the choir.” was on the tip of my tongue. But I suppressed them all. “I don’t attend any church.” was the simplest and least offensive reply figuring that would end that. I was wrong.
“We’d be happy to have you in our congregation.” he smiled. I smiled back: “Well, actually I’m an atheist and anti-theist, so I don’t think your fellow congregants would share your happiness.” Skinny Guy looked a little skinnier and paler than he did before he plopped that burger onto his bun. “Oh, uh, you’re him ... I mean ... you're the author and pet rescuer.” he fumbled for words. “That would be my claim to fame, yes... I’m him.” I said unabashedly, amazed that my reputation preceded me. Elmer must have let the beans out.
There was no further conversation between us as we moved through the feeding line. His wife looked a little shaky in the knees. I guess that’s what comes of imagining you’re attending a barbeque with Satan’s minion and being so skinny. My wife looked a little perturbed with me; clearly she was not as happy with my selected response as was I, feeling it could have been more subtle. I don’t do subtle.
We didn’t stay too long. After eating we walked around, looked at the baby buffalos grazing in the pasture, petted a couple of dwarf donkeys, and said hi to the host’s pet emu. We left as inconspicuously as we had arrived.