Back in the days when I was much younger, and quite a bit thinner, and I fancied myself a piano player, I met a guy called John.
He was of medium build, maybe a bit pudgy around the middle, and had the smile of a red-haired toothy innocent. He was perhaps ten years older than me when he first came to my church.
I was sixteen, toward the end of high school years, and longing desperately to be an adult. I had looked like an adult for years. Three years earlier, older kids at Humbug Park asked me to buy booze for them. Looking back, I may have been tall, but I had a very young face. Nobody would have mistaken me for twenty-one, at least if I were sitting down.
But John seemed nice. He talked to me like an adult and I craved that kind of interaction. He asked me questions about my faith in God. He asked me how come I never sat through the “adult” services in the church sanctuary. It was because I played the piano for the Childrens’ Church, I explained, and afterwards that I helped corral the gaggle of youngsters while they learned about god in the Fireside Room. It was also because I felt wholly inadequate in the adult services, only partially understanding what was going on in there.
But John rubbed my ego like a magic lamp. He mentioned how nice I sounded while playing piano, or how good a singer I was. I mentioned proudly I was in the high school swing choir (Gold Beach High School’s elite group) after all, and that I had taken piano lessons two whole years in Junior high school. I could play “Für Elise,” and that was a song by Beethoven. That’s how fancy I was.
He asked if I wrote music. I blithely replied that I’d tried my hand at it a few times, but that I was no good with lyrics.
“Oh!” He exclaimed. “I can supply lyrics if you give me a melody.”
I’m one of those people, by the way, who sees music in color. Synesthesia, I think they call it. C minor evokes a pinkish healthy color. G minor a sickly unhealthy green. D minor a brownish blue, a little depressing.So I wrote a song in the key of C minor. It was an arpeggio in the treble clef, with overtones of my Christian piano hero of that time, Keith Green. I pounded out the bass in octaves. I wrote out a few measures of the arpeggio, but John couldn’t read music. I recorded the melody onto a cassette and handed it to him, hoping he would be able to produce a sensible, thought-provoking, and deeply Christian lyric to my music.
He balked for a month or two. I became anxious. I wanted my music to live. I could imagine my music sung by folks at home, by entire congregations. Maybe my music would end up at those huge Christian festivals like Jesus Northwest, playing before audiences like my musical heroes at the time, the 77s, and Silverwind, and Leon Patillo, and Russ Taff, and Benny Hester.
I was naive and trusting. I can’t say I had been played by John, but I had vastly overestimated his talent.
You see, it turns out, John was insane.
During Wednesday evening services, Pastor Honey was going through Revelation as a Bible study series. He would read a passage. Immediately afterward, John’s hand would shoot up. “So, what I hear you saying, Pastor, is that …” and he would repeat the Bible passage verbatim. Pastor was always gracious. “Yes, John, and I think that’s what God is trying to tell us as well.” He would do this five or six times during the Bible study.
Most of the time John would sit there and roll up, and un-crinkle his plastic shopping bag. McKays and Sentry markets had just switched to plastic bags from paper, and they were waterproof and noisy things. He kept his Bible in it. Everyone in the pews within twenty feet of John was disturbed by his constant folding, and unfolding, of his plastic Bible bag.
He was constantly bothering (hitting on, really) the mother of one of the Church girls my age. She may not have been aware of his advances, but it was abundantly obvious to people around him, noticing his invasion of her personal space, and his arousal. It certainly wasn’t due to our church pot lucks. They were good, but not that good.
A few weeks later, John confided to a Youth Group leader that when he got older, he wanted to be a telescope.
Soon, people in the congregation began hearing rumors. John asked our Pastor to spank him, right away, because he had been very, very bad; and what’s more, he had dropped his pants in the men’s room while he begged Pastor to do this.
John left our church soon afterward.
For years afterward, I was hurt, and offended, and wary. I was never a great judge of character but this permanently set my BS-meter to ultra-high. He showed his naked butt to our Pastor, and I had trusted this man with my music. I had trouble giving my trust for years afterward. I wondered if I had been punished for my pride.
It doesn’t matter so much anymore; I don’t write music these days, and I certainly don’t brag about my exploits on the stage with a piano. But at one time, for a few months, one spring in 1985, I was pretty sure I was the Christian Richard Rodgers, and was looking for my Christian Oscar Hammerstein.
These days, I just want to be a telescope when I grow up.