You don’t come across the tent. You see it from over a mile away. Your first glimpse of it is when you ride past the crest of whatever miserable excuse for a hill this part of Nevada has to offer today. There it is, a giant Easter egg, striped white and yellow on the outside and full of crap on the inside.
As you get closer, you begin to notice the signs inviting you to “be a witness” or asking if you’re “looking for hope”. In three or so days, those signs will be gone.
Curiosity parks you wherever you want on the arid track of land. Curiosity and the sign that reads “air conditioning inside”. You pass a mammoth banner proclaiming “Holy Spirit Welcome” on your way in.
When you get your first glimpse of the inside, you’re taken aback by how much larger it seems. Without the great thirsty sprawl of desert to dwarf it, the tent seems much more imposing. Light peeks in through five evenly spaced cracks in the roof. Some of the rays refract as they hit the glass cross hanging behind the podium. This gives the cross an ethereal quality and leaves a mess of shapes along the back wall of the tent.
You find a seat and, if you’re anything like me, spend your time bestowing nicknames on those filing in behind you.
Joe Bag o’ Donuts parks it up near the front. Something about the way he eases his rear over two and a half seats tells you he’s here for a heart condition.
Ms. Havisham comes in looking like a hot mess from some hundred years ago. That was probably before she came back from the dead to wreak spectral havoc on the unsuspecting contents of a traveling faith healer tent. Her somnambulant footsteps carry her to a seat uncomfortably close to yours and you start scanning for all possible exits.
Sister Sunshine dances in like some holy hippie. She spots some friends and floats over to the far left corner of the tent where an apparent tarantist support group is forming, each of them flowing manically with Jesus or whatever. She’s pretty if a bit uncoordinated. You weigh the pros and cons of asking her out after this. Provided you both make it through the meeting before Ms. Havisham eats everyone’s soul.
Before long, he enters stage right and makes his way to the podium. He’s got it all working for him, throwing his weight dramatically onto a metal cane, grunting audibly, waving away help with a sweep of his hand large enough to say, “hey, just so everyone is clear, I’m waving away help”. You can tell already. This guy is a real king bullshitter. Everything from his seersucker suit to his hair so greasy it’s water resistant tells you whatever slithers out of his mouth will be the most cockamamie truck load of horse manure you’ve encountered to date. That’s it. You came for the shitty air conditioning but that’s about all the shit you’ve got time for. That’s all folks. Goodbye.
Sister Sunshine turns her glazed eyes your way and you lock on to her for a moment. The camisole that barely clings to her shoulders shows just a promise of side-boob. You think you can wait a bit longer. This guy’s not so bad. If you can move past the showmanship, he’s kind of endearing in a skeezy sort of way.
He always tells the same story.
He talks about how he was in a car accident that left him permanently crippled in his right leg.
“I prayed to the Lord.” He proclaims. “I prayed to the Lord that he restore me to health and happiness. I said to the Lord, ‘Lord’ I said, ‘I’ve been a good man. Have I not followed your commandments? Have I not been good to my wife and my children? Have I not raised them to love life in your name?”
If you’re anything like me, you’re feeling more than slightly uncomfortable. You try to fix your gaze on any of the objects near the altar. Anything but the man’s face. You find a napiform crystal. There’s writing on it that you can’t read.
“And the Lord answered my prayers. ‘But Preacher’ you say ‘You’re still walking with a cane.’ Well then I say to you that the Lord works in mysterious ways. He gave me what I needed to be healed in the soul.”
You know what happens next.
When the room is vibrating at its highest frequency, undulating with fear and hope and excitement, the preacher grabs everyone at the most fecund point and asks for a volunteer.
Suddenly, the room is full of meerkats, everyone bouncing out of their chairs to see who would be chosen. You try to remain obdurate. You try to hold tight to your cynicism while a little boy, empurpled with excitement, follows his mom on stage. The boy has leukemia.
The preacher takes his hand and with much swaying, singing, and praying nothing happens. The silence is charged. If you’re anything like me, it reminds you of the thundersnows in Boston when you were a kid. Those nights would run through you like a live wire while the snow would glide insubstantially to the ground, billions of mute ghosts icing the city.
“God loves you.” The preacher says. “Your soul is healthy. God will take that soul to heaven when he decides the time is right. He has healed you.”
You don’t know much about healing, or leukemia, or Gods for that matter. But you hope that part about love is true.