And then I murdered a drifter. Blessed Be.

I received an email this morning from a national Pagan organization, announcing that my ministerial credentials had been renewed. I sent a quick thank-you in reply, then sat around shuddering at the thought of how I got them.

Perhaps I should explain. Also, I swear I’m not making any of this up.

It started, as these things often do, with the best of intentions. Trothwy — the lovely lady with whom I run a Wiccan coven — had gone through a minor medical scare, and while everything turned out to be fine, it occurred to her that if someone in the coven ended up in the hospital, the rest of us wouldn’t be able to visit.

“We need accreditation,” she reasoned. “That way, if I’m in the ICU or something, I can put the rest of you down as my spiritual advisors.”

We all agreed that this was an excellent plan that couldn’t possibly go horribly awry, and Trothwy got to work researching Pagan clergy affiliates. She finally settled on an established 501(c)(3) with a refreshingly scandal-free history and fired off a query letter to begin the vetting process. Shortly thereafter, she was contacted by a representative, innocuously named Joe, who offered to meet with us for an introductory chat. Trothwy suggested a quiet, out-of-the-way, Tolkein-themed restaurant, and we set a date for a few days hence.

When meeting with lecherous serial killers members of the greater Pagan community, Trothwy and I usually get to the venue a few minutes early, so that we can compare notes or debrief or whatever we need to do to present a united front. As such, I was a bit surprised when I walked into the restaurant to find Trothwy already sitting across from a burly, bearded stranger, who was gabbing animatedly at her. Determining that this was the organization’s representative and not an unhinged psychopath, I walked over to the table just in time to hear:

“… but he bled to death on the porch before he could make it into the house.”

“Hi,” I said. “I’m Thomas.” And then I looked to Trothwy for direction, because I was sure she would have a perfectly logical explanation for the conversation I’d just interrupted.

“Hi Thomas, I’m glad you could make it,” Trothwy replied. “Joe was just telling me about the time he shot and killed a burglar.” Her smile was pleasantly neutral, but her eyes were panicked and desperate, like those of a rabbit warning off the rest of the warren while actively being mauled by coyotes: It’s too late for me, but you can still save yourself!

“Wow, I… can’t wait to hear about that,” I said. “Could you excuse me for just a sec? I need to run to the restroom.”

Once safely locked in a stall, I whipped out my cell phone and sent Trothwy a text that read, We need to get out of here immediately.

Her response was instantaneous: Do NOT order anything.

I returned to the table right as Joe’s lunch, a double cheeseburger platter, arrived. (Him: “Are you sure you aren’t hungry?” Us: “Positive.”) He tucked a napkin into the collar of his grubby flannel shirt, removed the bun from the burger and began tearing the meat apart with his hands, drenching each greasy morsel in ketchup before popping it into his mouth.

“Anyway, like I was saying, we don’t just let anyone in. There’s a long application process, and of course not everyone makes it through. Do you perform your rituals skyclad?”

Caught off guard but still maintaining her balance, Trothwy said that some Wiccan traditions do practice ritual nudity, and that it was a concept with which we were not unfamiliar.

“Oh, good,” Joe said with a carnivorous grin, bits of beef and ketchup speckling his beard. “Because I would dance naked with either of you.”

“OH MY GOD, LOOK AT THE TIME,” Trothwy yelped. “Thomas, we’re supposed to get together with that friend of yours.”

“Which friend?” I asked, still trying to process the unexpected omnisexual innuendo. “What are you talking about?”

Did you know that people really will kick the shit out of you under the table if you’re not playing along with a cover story, just like in the movies? Because they totally will.

OW. RIGHT. I REMEMBER. WE LEAVE NOW.”

Joe was too caught up in the bloodied remains of his cheeseburger to give us anything more than a cursory wave goodbye, which meant we could leave without (may the Gods be ever this favorable) having to hug him. And eventually, Trothwy tracked down another chapter of the same association (“Oh, you’ve met Joe? Don’t give him our number.”), which we were able to join with only the barest of dog-and-pony shows. We got the credentials we were looking for, and of course we’ve all been in perfect health ever since.

The point here is that you have options, guys. It can be fairly easy to convince ourselves that any given opportunity is divine providence, regardless of warning signs and alarm bells, when what we want starts overshadowing the route we take to get it. And that’s when the frauds and the predators and the squelchy Joes out there start seeing opportunities of their own.

Hold out for the right fit, with the person or group that is right for you, and I promise you’ll be more fulfilled in the long run. In the meantime, just so I’ll sleep better tonight, please place your hand on the holy book of your choice and swear a solemn oath that you will never dance naked with Joe.

Like a Boy Scout with Better Patches

Contrary to popular perception, retail is more that just slouching behind a register and letting the merchandise sell itself. You have to have extensive product knowledge and an instinctive, welcoming presence, but also be fully aware that weird shit is going to happen in your store, and that you will be expected to deal with it while coolly maintaining a steadfast facade of cordial service.

So when a customer decided to try on a metal cock ring and five minutes later leaned out of the dressing room and said, “Um… it’s stuck…” I was right there with a calm, collected disposition and sample packets of water-based lube for him to apply (on his own) in order to slip (almost) painlessly from the situation into which he had (literally) shoved himself, because I am a retail employee, and I am prepared.

And after my shift, as I was pulling out of the Ripcord parking lot, a drag queen jumped in front of my car and yanked up her skirt to show me her tuck while screaming, “WHITE BOY!! I LOVE YOU, WHITE BOY!!”

I was… not prepared for that. But it’s nice to feel appreciated.

The Witch Doctor Wears Prada

A shamanic crisis occurs when a member of a tribe is stricken with an illness that can’t be cured by physical means. The afflicted individual is taken to a shaman, who puts him/her through an initiatory ordeal: Should the individual pass the test, he/she is healed and becomes a shaman him/herself, vested with the ability to guide others through said crisis.

The relationship between sponsor and sponsee in 12-Step recovery mirrors the shamanic process, in that the sponsor has gone through the Steps and has (hopefully) had a spiritual awakening, thereby gaining the wisdom and experience to lead by example and show his/her sponsee(s) how to navigate the same path. With this in mind, here’s a list of things my own sponsor has said to me since we started working together:

“I want you to relapse so that I can talk about it in meetings and get sympathy.”

“I’m in New York for a little Gucci, a little Barneys; you know, the essentials.”

“What are you going to do? Whore at me?”

“That thing you do–what’s it called, compassion? I don’t do that.”

“You need to change your profile to say, ‘Seeking active alcoholic with no interest in recovery,’ because that’s all you’re ever going to get.”

“Do you have any idea how many people have touched the cheese samples at Whole Foods? And you ate one? You’re going to die.”

“Are you feeding the good dog? You’re not feeding the good dog. Feed the good dog.”

“You are a terrible person. I love it.”

“I just want to control your life.”

“I probably shouldn’t be encouraging you to act like this, huh?”

“I don’t know whether I should apologize, or if you should thank me.”

“I’m the Worst. Sponsor. Ever.”

People who don’t know me will see this and naturally assume I’m going to smoke crack at any moment. Regular readers, on the other hand, will recognize why we make a simply fabulous shamanic pairing.

Mannequin Takes Queen

Customer: [holding up a pair of rubber shorts] “Could you try these on for us?”

Customer’s Friends: [anticipatory leering]

Me: “You want me to put these on?”

Customer: “Yesss.”

Me: “Sorry, I can’t do that.”

Customer: “Really? You won’t let us see you in them?”

Me: “Nope.”

Customer: “But how will we know how they fit if you don’t wear them for us?”

Me: “By trying them on yourself.”

Customer’s Friends: [defeated wincing]

Customer: “Oh. But I… that is… we… oh.”

Good game, Mr. Smarmy-Pants. But check and mate.

Close Encounters of the Nasal Cavity

[A conversation with Douglas, who is currently suffering from an unidentified sinus plague and intermittent brain fever.]

Douglas: “I never knew the human body could produce so much snot. No wonder the aliens won’t come back.”

Me: “I am both grossed out and intrigued. Please continue.”

Douglas: “Well, ancient history does show evidence that aliens visited this planet, but they haven’t made contact in the modern times, so it must be because the human body produces a butt-load of mucus when the human gets sick. That’s why they won’t return. They want nothing to do with us.”

Me: “…”

Or, it could be that they thought we were incubating other life forms within our noses and were sure that’s what all the fluid was, and therefore they couldn’t impregnate us, so we were useless to them.”

Me: [awed silence]

Douglas: “I think the fever is back.”

You would see the biggest gift would be from me, and the card attached would say, “Thank you for selling me socks.”

Picture it: Houston, January 2017. An innocent yet devastatingly handsome customer, on his way to a statewide leather competition, ambles into the Montrose Forge for some last-minute purchases.

Salesclerk: “Buy stuff.”

Customer: “I did buy stuff.”

Salesclerk: “Buy more stuff.”

Customer: “No. I bought enough stuff.”

Salesclerk: “But it’s my job to sell you more stuff. Do you need socks?”

Customer: “You know, I used to have these really cool, gray Nasty Pig socks, but I wore holes in them.”

Salesclerk: “Oh, they discontinued that line, and we sold out of them.”

Customer: “Ah. So I guess you won’t be selling me more stuff.”

Salesclerk: [pulling gray socks out of fucking Hammerspace] “Except for this one last pair…”

Customer: “SHUT UP AND TAKE MY MONEY.”

Readers, that customer was me. And that salesclerk [dramatic pause] was Nuke Willam Belli.

And we’ve been siblings ever since. The End.

If I Had a Hammer

I’ve had so many friends post this to my social media, that I thought it only fair to share it with you guys:

Sister Marjorie

It’s heartening to know that even cloistered and married to Christ, I’m still an oversexed heathen. The nuns in the next panel are probably singing about how to solve a problem like me.