I was reading Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris while on a flight from LA to San Antonio Tuesday. To my right in the window seat sat Karen, hereafter known as “The Bible Lady”. I normally introduce myself to people when flying; its common courtesy, plus, I’ve found it’s harder for people to treat you like shit when they know your name. I introduced myself even through I can see she is holding a Bible. She smiled and then told me her name. She was quiet while the plane was loading. I had her pegged as a non-talker, which is my favorite type of flying companion. I was wrong of course – but then again, I usually am.
Karen prayed as the plane took off, not like my preflight prayer, which is more like a chant; “don’t crash, don’t crash, don’t crash” plays through my mind each time I start down the runway. Karen’s prayer was one of those “Father, protect me” public prayers that are meant to disclose her faith to those around her, which in this case was just me. I ignored her. Things were fine… until they started serving drinks.
I thought about ordering a drink, and then changed my mind when the flight attendant told me they were out of the whisky. Karen asked if I was struggling with an addiction after the flight attendants left. It when something like “I heard you were trying to order a drink. Have you been drinking long?” I answer, “Why yes, most of my adult life and a good part of my teen years too.” It was supposed to be funny, but she acted like I had poked her with a sharp stick. She backed away, her eyes wide in astonishment. I think she actually believed me.
Karen eventually gathered her thought, and then started probing me for more information. “Do you need to drink?” Her emphasis was on the “need.” She said the word as if it were supremely significant. Like a doctor asking a patent “does it hurt if I press here?” I answered “Yes… but I’ve been cutting way back. I only drink when I’m sober.” More humor on my part, less understanding on hers.
She must have thought I was serious, because it was then that she started her canned spiel. “Well! If you just let my lay my hands on you (or over you), I’m sure we can beat this alcohol monster with a little help from Jesus”. I recoiled, but kept my poker face on. I blurted, “No thanks – my alcohol situation is under control.” Karen backed off for a few minutes, and then started praying to herself. I could tell she was praying. Her bible was clutched in her hand and as she was talking to the roof.
I returned to reading my book. At one point laughing out loud at one of Sedaris’s all too vivid characterizations from his dysfunctional past. Sedaris cracks me up. I particularly like how close to home some of his stories hit. I sometimes get the feeling that I know the situation he is describing because it had happened to me. Sedaris is refreshingly honest and funny. I love his work. The Bible Lady did not share my assessment. She had secretly read part of the back cover of the book while I was reading. It must have pissed her off. She eventually asked me if I was gay. I thought, wow, odd question, what would possess her to ask a question like that? She went on to tell me that God can forgive me for the sin of being gay and that with work; I could be “fixed”. Her church fixes gays all the time, they even have a gay outreach program. I jumped up from my seat and starting looking around the plane for an open seat; there were none (except for right next to me, and it had a big bible sitting were my big ass would needed to be.)
The Bible Lady was driving me nuts. I ignored her in the vain hope that she would leave me alone, but it was not to be. She started in again a few minutes later. “But Joe (my mistake from the introduction) – being gay sends you right to hell. You need my help. You need Jesus. This book (she pats the bible) has the answers you need.” She lifted the bible and shook it in my directions. “I can show you a few versus if you have a moment.” By this point, I was secretly wishing that Brad, my pastor friend, could have joined me to witness this intrusive travesty.
I lose it. “Lady – leave me alone. I don’t what you are selling”. She persisted – focusing on my alleged gayness. I finally asked, “What makes you so sure I’m gay anyway”. She pointed to the book I was readying, Me Talk Pretty One Day. “You are reading a book by a gay author!” Her eyes were shinning now, she was sure I was gay. I took a deep breath before I began “Have you considered that I am reading this book because Sedaris is a great writer? Gay themes, while present in some essays, are not the main focus of his writing. He is an autobiographical essayist and damn funny too. I read him because I like good writing”. She laughed, then picked up her bible and said, “This” pointing to her bible “is the only book I read. “Really” I ask in my best whiny nasal you-have-got-to-be-kidding-me voice. “Well, that makes perfect sense to me.” I pause for a moment, and then continue “Would you mind keeping your bigoted opinions to yourself? (There were a few four letter words mixed into the last few sentences, they have been omitted to keep it family friendly).
The Bible Lady looked frightened. I had just barked very loudly and profanely in her direction. It had scared her. She stopped for a few minutes to pray. Her next question was ‘have you every gone to church?” I lose it (again). I gave her an earful of “mind you own business, there is no God, I am not gay, and I’m not interested in what you are selling”. Silence followed for a few minutes – she prayed some more. We had two hours to go; she talked to God the whole time.