May 06, 2008


By Paul McGuire © 2008

When I was seven or eight years old, I hated Sunday mornings because my father dragged me to church. I pretended to be asleep but that didn't deter him from turning on all the lights and shaking me out of bed. I'd reluctantly gotten up but came up with a dozen excuses why I didn't want to go to 9:30 am mass. My mother never went to church and I used to cite that as a reason why I did not have to go. My father vaguely explained that she had to stay at home and watch my brother, but that excuse grew paper thin as my brother got older.

My mother has never been a religious person and avoided church. She often said that the ones sitting in the first rows were often the biggest sinners in the parish and that they were only going to church to keep up appearances. Years later, my politically ambitious uncle would be among the hypocrites sitting in the front row. The rest of the family grew more and more disenchanted with the Catholic church and we started sitting farther and farther away, until we all stopped attending services.

In the fourth grade I became an altar boy and my stance on church changed drastically. All of a sudden I looked forward to Sunday mornings. For a while, I'd get up early and serve the 8 am mass so I could enjoy the rest of my Sunday, which involved reading the papers and watching Abbot and Costello movies on TV.

The late 1970s and early 1980s were the dark ages with regard to computers and the internet. An affordable home computer was still several years away from development, so my only link with the outside world was through the Sunday papers. The local paper, the Daily News, came with the Sunday comics. While I made my way through the funnies, my father slowly sifted through the massive pile of newsprint called The New York Times. The older I got, the more sections I read as my interests were expanded to include the arts, business, international current events, and the NY Times Sunday magazine. Little did I know that an innocuous Sunday tradition were the origins of the first steps I took to becoming a writer, as I read about complicated subjects such as the fall of the Shah in Iran or the looming energy crisis.

When I lived in Atlanta during college in the mid-1990s, NBC broadcasted doubleheader NBA games. That was back during the NY Knicks halcyon years with Pat Riley at the helm. The Knicks always played the noon game. Jerry and I were among the smattering Knicks fans in our fraternity house, which seemed to be dominated by Bulls and Sixers fans. We had a routine where we'd watch the games in Jerry's room. Sometimes he'd get a big crowd and it would be standing room only. And of course, the peanut gallery, almost always the majority, rooted against the Knicks.

My favorite part of Sundays in college was our pre-game ritual. Either Rib or Jerry would wake me up at 11 am. I'd be wicked hungover and they'd drive me to McDonalds, where you could eat like a king for $3. We’d quickly devour our fast food before tip off, which was followed by a heavy flow of cheap beer and continuous bong hits.

When I lived in Seattle, I held four crappy jobs and had to work on Sundays at an art museum. Most of the time, I got baked in the parking lot and just stood around making sure the post-church and post-brunch crowd kept their grubby mitts off the paintings. Sunday nights were the fun times because friends and/or housemates gathered in my room for bingers and a back-to-back viewing of The Simpsons and the X-Files.

When I lived in New York City at the beginning of the 21st century, I had a Sunday routine with my brother during the autumn months where we religiously watched Jets games. I arrived at his apartment at noon with bagels, just in time to watch the pre-game NFL shows. We'd then make last minute adjustments to our fantasy football rosters, or change a pick in our football pools, or get a bet in just before the 1 pm games kicked off. Although we might have heard the faint chiming of bells in echoing in the background, going to church on a Sunday was the last thing on our minds. Chris Berman’s sermon had more relevance than anything a priest could regurgitate.

I guess it was my angst-ridden twenties or the fact that every Gen-Xer rejected their parents’ religion, but I couldn't even handle cafeteria Catholicism. During my stint on the West Coast, I encountered new age hippies and several of my friends dabbled into various Eastern religions. I spent many rainy afternoons reading books on Zen Buddhism. After several years of personal reflection and self-discovery, I eventually became interested in maintaining a personal spirituality which incorporated aspects of both Christianity and Buddhism. I avoided organized religions because I felt that their leaders were often hijacked by power-grubbing snake oil salesmen instead of being a true leader of faith.

For almost a decade, the only time I stepped foot in a church was for a wedding. In my 20s, most of my friends were caught up in a wedding frenzy and for a while I was going to a weeding every other weekend. The church weddings abruptly ended and a morose trend began with a slew of empty coffin 9.11 funerals. Since that dark day, it seems that the only times I step inside a church is for a funeral.

I had a suit which I nicknamed The Grim Reaper Suit. That was during a period of my life when I did not hold an office job that required a suit and tie, so I only wore that particular suit to funerals and weddings. And at the five weddings I wore the suit (between 1998 and 2001), only one marriage lasted. That's an 80% failure rate. I'm afraid to wear that suit to anything but a funeral.

I should figure out how to make some good money off The Grim Reaper suit and threaten couples with impending nuptials. I’ll show up at the wedding wearing the jinxed suit unless they paid me off. Although technically blackmail is a crime, it can be quite profitable if I don’t get caught.

Paul McGuire is a writer from New York City.

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