A Mission Impossible
By Steve Carr
Jennifer Aniston, Lady Gaga, and Ryan Reynolds all attend our neighborhood church. I point them out to my long-suffering daughter. She gives me that, “Oh, Dad,” look. Oddly enough, I seem to be the only person who notices the celebrities in our midst. Given my sporadic attendance, I could be off the mark with these sightings. My even longer-suffering wife gently nudges, “Steve, perhaps you’re mistaken. Your imagination tends to wander when you’re constrained to a seat and wearing a tie.”
It’s true, I’m pretty much always shaking out the ants. Growing up, I was a blue-eyed, cowlicked, blond-haired kid often referred to as Dennis the Menace, and not only for my physical resemblance to the comic strip character. My mother was a regular visitor to the school principal’s office. She attributed my antics and constant squirming to “growing bones.” The principal would simply sigh in resignation. I didn’t grow out of it. When I can’t wiggle and pace, the squirm seems to navigate to my head. Call it a short attention span—I just feel better on my feet, and better yet outdoors. Assuming my wife is right, and my mind has wandered, the next question has to be: why celebrities?
I have yet to spot President Biden or Prime Minister Boris Johnson singing in the church choir with Lady Gaga. Heaven knows I’ve looked. Like the little boy in the movie who deadpans to Bruce Willis, “I see dead people,” I admit, with the same level of resignation and dread, I see pop culture people. It would seem that despite my best intentions, I’ve succumbed to Pop America’s relentless onslaught. I fear I’m becoming one of the soulless, as seen in the walking dead flicks of Romero or Tarantino. (Because I don’t do social media—Twitter and Instagram are mysteries to me—I’m sorry if my celebrity sightings aren’t those with the most “likes” or “followers” or “zombies,” or whatever the proper term is.) I’m reasonably well read. I follow the news. Global warming, the plight of refugees, and the latest tornadoes are all issues of interest and concern. Yet Wonder Woman, Titanic, and Forrest Gump have infiltrated my brain, filling it to capacity with Hollywood celluloid until it finds an escape in daydream meanderings.
After catching myself in such mind-numbing musings when the clock tells me my time on the church bench is far from over, I do my best to focus. Motivating sermons on families, honesty, and charity are meant to inspire and help with positive emotional balance. Surrounding myself, even on a hard seat on a sunny day, with people who share such lofty goals should be a no-brainer. “I want that,” I think to myself, and then conjure the scene in Napoleon Dynamite when the sheltered farm wife says to her husband, in a husky bedroom voice, within Uncle Rico’s earshot, “I waaant that.” (Trust me, if you’re not familiar with the movie, it’s funny.)
Anyway, back to my point (and church, or I guess any meeting, in person or virtual): despite my determination to find the positive and worthwhile, too often the message and the messenger drift away from the inspirational. That’s when I catch myself scanning the audience again, searching for a distraction. I resist and renew my efforts to concentrate. Just when I think I’ve refocused, Steve Martin of Cheaper by the Dozen, always in the front row, takes child number nine out by the scruff of his neck. A diaper bag is tangled around his ankle, leaving a trail of Cheerios to the door. That’s my sign. I know to follow him out before Tom Cruise stands to report on his Mission Impossible and all the middle-aged women rush the pulpit in a frenzy.