This is a continuation of my own theological wilderness journey, which I wrote about here.
After I broke up with the Okie, I dropped out of college in December 1974 and lived for a semester in Binghamton, which I’ve mentioned, especially how my mom saved me from afar. I was a handful of blocks from the church I grew up in, yet I know I didn’t go there in the winter, which could have at least been a break from my frozen state.
But I must have gone at least once after I was in Boys in the Band in June 1975, a play about gay life. I recall being in the parsonage next door when the male minister had expressed some possible romantic interest in me. It was not upsetting, but it was surprising; I heard much later that he traveled 90 miles, to Syracuse, to meet up with potential connections.
Returning to college in New Paltz, I lived in a coffee house run by the college chaplain, Paul Walley, who had helped me to drop out without academic penalty. I lived there with two guys, both named Mike. Our rotating job was every Saturday night, to make the mulled cider and host folks who would sing there, and clean up before and after.
I remember only three things about that time. One was an unrequited love. Well, that was probably overstated, since she probably didn’t even know. I do recall a bunch of us singing Take Me To The Limit, and I must have had a drink or two because I could hit the upper harmony.
One of the Mikes, the dark-haired one, performed the 18-minute Alice’s Restaurant Massacree at the coffeehouse. Oh, and Mike and Mike HATED each other, for reasons I didn’t understand, with a great passion. I mean chair-throwing disdain, and I had to referee at least a couple of times, and finally had to get Rev. Walley to intercede.
After finishing college in May of 1976, I was depressed and directionless. I recall opening the passenger-side door of a friend’s car, while it was traveling 20 mph, threatening to exit the vehicle, though I did not.
1977 – the year of my discontent
Eventually, I found my way to my parents’ sofa in Charlotte, NC in early 1977. If they went to church, I did too, to one of the AME Zion churches, the same denomination I used to attend back in Binghamton. It was “nice,” But it was all rather perfunctory. I knew all the words by heart, but they had ceased to MEAN very much.
Though, in fact, there was a time that the parents were doing flea markets a lot and did not go to church much, which was fine by me. I didn’t much enjoy the flea market, because some of the competing vendors seemed to take an instant dislike for me because I used words with more than two syllables.
By the summer, I had made my way north, hitchhiking from Charlotte to Binghamton, where I stayed briefly. Then I crashed on the sofa of my sister Leslie and her then-husband Eric in Jackson Heights, Queens, New York City. Eric had a new agey quasi-theology that was too fuzzy for me.
My part-time job in Manhattan, somewhere in the 50s, was as a telemarketer, selling TV Guides to former subscribers, and the annual version of the Encyclopedia Americana, or was it Brittanica, to those who already owned sets. I worked 6 pm until midnight, four or five nights a week, calling the west coast in the later hours.
I had a LOT of time on my hands during the day, especially since my sister was modeling in Boston quite often. I’d take the subway, well, everywhere it’d go, and I became rather expert at it in the three or four months I lived there.
One day, somewhere near Macy’s, on 34th Street in Manhattan, some waifish blonde young woman started talking to me about something – I didn’t catch on right away, as she was rather cute – and did I want to come up to their house in the Bronx and learn more?
Very soon thereafter, I traipsed up to the Bronx building, which looked more like a residence. It was the local headquarters for the Unification Church, known derisively as the Moonies, after its founder, the Reverend Sun Myung Moon, who had founded the denomination in Korea in 1954. A handful of non-followers were there with the believers, and we’d always have something to eat, as we engaged in rather interesting philosophical discussions about life’s meaning.
Pretty much from the second visit on, the Moonies including the aforementioned blonde woman, wanted me to come up to their place upstate, though they never specified where it was. I’m now assuming they meant the Unification Theological Seminary, in Barrytown, Dutchess County, NY. I was always “too busy,” but the truth was that I was nervous about the religion’s cult image, and charges of brainwashing. When I moved out of my sister’s place in September, the flirtation with the Moonies ended.
Next time: what SHOULD have been the most significant religious event in my life.