Only in New York City can you still find more churches per street corner than the number of Starbucks. So it wasn’t too hard to find one still hosting a weeknight service. There are few things that Marcus takes more seriously than daily church. You might not reach that conclusion seeing him stumble out of the happy hour bar.
Most God-fearing worshippers would never think about showing up to church drunk. Of course, most God-fearing worshippers aren’t anything like Marcus Logan. Looking back now, I would have dreaded being around Marcus if he couldn’t meet his daily church quota. Walking to the church, he thought he realized he had left his white sunglasses back at the bar. Before I could say anything, he had turned around and stormed back toward the bar, cussing out all the patrons there who probably stole his sunglasses, instead of doing the Christian thing and actually turning them into the bartender. He got about two blocks and twenty curse words before I was finally able to point out to him that his sunglasses were perched atop his head the whole time.
By the time we reached the Church of St. Francis of Assisi on West 31st Street, mass was more than halfway over. This wasn’t one of those huge ornate cathedrals like St. Patrick’s on Fifth Avenue across the street from Saks and Rockefeller Center.
Marcus went straight for a pew toward the back of the half-empty church. As I followed him inside, I couldn’t help but stare at the off-white statues hanging over seemingly every column. Their stone faces turning to shock at the sight of me coming to church again.
Because of this, I hadn’t realized that Marcus had taken a moment to genuflect in the aisle. I nearly tumbled over him. Luckily, I had enough self-control not to blurt out, “Shit”. Heads turned toward the strangers now among them. Marcus gave me a condemning look. Yet it was Marcus who made more noise kicking the wooden church pew a couple times as he slid down for me and ZoElizabeth.
Fortunately, ZoElizabeth was fast asleep. Sitting there for the rest of the mass, I was envious of her.
Here, most everyone in attendance was Asian, since we were close to the Korean community in Manhattan. But the evening service was Tagalog. Fortunately, I knew a little bit of Spanish from my high school days, so I was able to understand bits and pieces of the Philippine language no thanks to conquering Spanish explorers like Magellan.
I could have sworn the priest slipped in a remark in Tagalog about Marcus and me showing up really late toward the tail-end of his sermon. Or perhaps my guilt just made me imagine that.
So, here I am, sitting in the Church of St. Francis Assisi, after a few happy drinks, with a napping baby, and a loquacious business whiz kid. This is not your average Wednesday night for me. Nor is this my first time in a Catholic Church, but it’s been awhile. Churches have great architecture, but they really have lousy interior designers. Most are rather cold, with few splashes of color. Where else but inside a church are stained glass windows actually considered tasteful. But definitely St. Francis of Assisi is the sort of church that suggests history. If you’re a guy like me–who is a stickler for detail–there are plenty of details to study as you study every stained glass window, every statue, and every Bible quotation chiseled into the marble.
I don’t know how Marcus follows along with the church service, since he understands Tagalog even less than me. Yet he manages to stand, sit, kneel and pray at precisely the right moments throughout. I follow his every cue. Except when he picks up a hymnal to sing along in the best fake tagalong he can muster. One thing that I always knew about church: if you sing badly, at least sing loudly, it eventually sounds like harmony with the actual good singers. But that only works with church hymns. It doesn’t work to Sinatra or Lady Gaga.
We reach the rest break in the church services. I call this part the rest break, because it was preceded by about 10 minutes of constant standing up, sitting down, kneeling over, and standing up again. I call them “Catholic calisthenics”!
Ushers march down the aisle to pass around the collection basket.
Marcus reaches past me to grab one of those collection envelopes for simple church donations. I’m not really paying much attention–until out of the corner of my eye–I notice the sparkle of something shiny and red. As I turn my head, Marcus shows me—it’s a ruby!!! About the size of one of ZoElizabeth’s Cheerios.
This is not the sort of ruby you’d expect to find at Tiffany’s. It’s not attached to any ring or necklace. It’s an un-cut ruby, so it’s a little rougher than that. And it’s not symmetrical yet, nor as shiny yet, as you are used to seeing in a jewelry store. Or around the neck of someone you love.
I never bought fancy jewelry for Valerie. Luckily, I married a woman who falls in love with the practical. She didn’t even mind that I had purchased the diamond for her engagement ring from a wholesale jeweler in order to save costs. Stores like Tiffany charge an astronomical mark-up for the same GIA appraised diamond, so what you’re really paying six month’s salary for is that cute blue box and the Audrey Hepburn fantasy. My wholesaler sent me my diamond via FedEx 2-day delivery. That, my friend, is practical!
Marcus lets me see the un-cut ruby long enough, before he drops it into the church collection envelope and seals it shut.
This time, however, I said that out loud.
More thoughts were going through my mind, but “Holy shit” was the only one that managed to escape through my lips. Several rows in front of us, Asian heads turned. Great church architecture also means great acoustics.
“Dude,” as Marcus actually gives me a scornful look, “what’s your problem?”
I managed to spit out a logical question for someone in my well-worn business shoes. “Is that real?”
“I’m all about real,” is what Marcus answered. I’ll never forget that answer. “I’m all about real.”
The collection basket reaches Marcus, and he nonchalantly drops the collection envelope inside before passing the basket for me to hand the awaiting usher.
My next move (a relatively natural reaction) was probably the wrong move. My first of many wrong moves around Marcus.
Imagine this–the collection basket hovers there in front of an ethical man (once head of his idyllic household) who also once faced a sudden, brief decision to recover the bulk of his fortune before those assets were forever confiscated in FinCEN’s indictment of Rockmount Capital Management.
I couldn’t help myself. I fish out the collection envelope containing the un-cut ruby. I turn to Marcus. My facial expression must cry out, “Are you sure?” But Marcus isn’t even paying attention. He goes back to hymnal singing. Badly and loudly, as only he knows how.
Over the organ music and chorus singing, I can hear my usher clearing his throat at me. Dude, you are not UPS or Santa Claus. You’re just a church usher! It’s not as though you have a strict schedule to follow!
I didn’t actually say that out loud. That’s the kind of guy I am. Or at least the kind of guy I thought that I used to be.
I place the ruby envelope back inside the collection basket. For the remainder of the Catholic service, to the constant din of the Tagalog gibberish, I kept wondering, “Shouldn’t Marcus have at least asked for one of those tax-deductible receipt?”