I had taken only a few steps in the direction of the food pavilion, when up strolls an attractive middle-aged woman smiling like a mule eating briars, and I know I’m the reason why.
Ever the hostess, Deborah glides between us and says,
“Hello, Dorothy, you are just in time to meet our new creative head, Will Stallworth.”
Dorothy Campbell, Gregory’s wife, extends her hand.
“Will, Gregory has told me such wonderful things about you. Is everyone making you feel at home?”
I hate this kind of chitchat, but there is nothing for me to do except bite down on the inside of my cheek and endure.
“Well, Atlanta is my home, and yes, everyone has been just peachy,” I say with a shit-eating grin.
I try not to notice, I really do try not to be so obvious about it, but god in heaven, this well-meaning woman, dressed with a modicum of style, is wearing this cross, this large, garish cross that had to have been designed by a jeweler who failed every course in jewelers school, or was shooting heroine the whole time he was working on the wretched piece. The cross is an abortion. And being one who considers himself possessed of a keen eye for design, I could not bring myself to not stare at it. Well of course Dorothy zeroes right in on that. I have no choice but to make the first move.
“Nice necklace, Dorothy.”
“Thank you, Will, it keeps me ever close to God.”
Somehow, I knew that was coming. I nod and smile my choirboy smile.
“Are you a believer, Will?”
“You betcha’, Dorothy!”
“You have been saved and have a personal relationship with our Lord, Jesus Christ?”
The air goes electric around me. I can feel Deborah’s eyes bearing down on my face and know she is thinking: How is this asshole going to get himself out of this quagmire that his asshole glibness got him into?
All I can do is what I always do: Say what I’m thinking—i.e., insert my foot in my mouth.
“I like ol’ Jesus, I do. But, I don’t know that the man had any more moxie than Buddha, or Mohammed or that Abraham fellow, or countless other men and women on a spiritual path. They all taught meaningful lessons. What doesn’t work for me is that those meaningful lessons, from whatever source, have gotten bollixed up into strictures and dogma that have nothing to do with the spread of peace and love I thought was the main point of religion . . . huh?”