I should start off by saying that Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior, so when people judge me for what happened with that boy at the mall last Easter, they know they are casting the first stone, which I never do because I’ve taken the Lord Jesus into my heart, and because “Judge not, lest ye be judged” is a gospel truth I follow.
So. Up until now, I had fellowship with the Blood of the Lamb Community Bible Church in Sarasota Springs, which is also where I live. Not in the church. In the town, on Deuce Street in the Enclave apartments. People do sometimes stay in the church, though, people in “soul crisis,” as Pastor Mike calls them. He lets them stay until their spirits are lifted out of the pit of despair and into the light of God’s saving grace. The world is full of pits of despair, “pitfalls” they’re called, and they’re everywhere, you just have to learn to recognize them for what they are and step around them. Or fight your way out of them. Like in an obstacle course, like in Ninja Warrior on NBC. I like that show. It reminds me that everybody has the power to be a champion. And Pastor Mike should know. He wasn’t always saved. He was a Hell’s Angel. He’s still got a tattoo on his neck of a skull with a forked tongue sticking out like on a snake and wearing a crown of thorns made of barbed wire with some kind of bird wings spread out on either side. He says he won’t remove it because it’s a reminder of where he came from, and he wants people to know that there’s room for everyone at God’s table.
I also know that removing tattoos is expensive and very painful. I had a tattoo of the Guns N’ Roses pistols on my right foot that I had removed a couple years ago, and they burn it off. With lasers. It hurts like hell, and it leaves a nasty scar. And my tattoo was tiny, so I can only imagine what removing Pastor Mike’s flying skull tattoo would feel like. So I understand if he’s scared.
But it’s not just about acceptance and love over at BLC. There’s also spreading the word of God, so people can find their own way out of the pitfalls. My particular calling is to help the children. I could never have kids of my own, so I like to consider all the children of the world my babies, little lost lambs in need of a shepherd. I volunteer every spring at the Sarasota Commons Marketplace Mall to be the Easter Bunny, hand out chocolate eggs and jelly beans. But I also give the kids little Scripture verses, like in fortune cookies: I am the resurrection and the life. Everyone who believes in me will live, even though they die. And: Praise be to the God and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In His great mercy He has given us new birth through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead!
They didn’t used to have an Easter Bunny at the Commons, but I made my own bunny costume out of fabric from old stuffed animals I bought at the Goodwill, and the manager at the mall, Phillip Caruso, he said it was the best Easter Bunny costume he had ever seen—the most realistic, he said. I think what he meant was that the fabric looked like real animal fur, and I made the face look like a real rabbit face. So he let me hand out the chocolate eggs near where they usually put up the Christmas tree and the menorah. I’m not sure if he knows about the Scriptures, but he always says, “Happy Resurrection Sunday” on Easter when I’m out there in the bunny suit, so I have a suspicion that he’s a Believer; he just keeps it to himself out of respect for his job. Give unto Caesar what is Caesar’s; give unto God what is God’s.
We had coffee, me and Phillip, over at Brewmasters in the mall back in March. He told me I was his type. He said he prefers curvy girls. Rubenesque. That’s what he said. His wife was a “very Rubenesque woman.” And I reminded him of her, I guess when she was younger because he’s almost twice my age, and because she lost a lot of weight after she started cancer treatments. He put his hand on mine when he said that. Then he said he wasn’t ready for a romantic relationship because it was too soon after his wife’s passing. I wanted to say something nice, maybe pray over him. But I couldn’t think of anything, and then the bill came.
And then he tried to kiss me in the breezeway between the employee entrance and the bathrooms, but it took me by surprise because of what he said about not being ready for a romantic relationship, so I kind of flinched, and he ended up kissing my ear. Which was actually kind of nice. But he seemed really embarrassed by it, and he went into the men’s room without saying goodbye.
So it was kind of strange that Phillip was the one who pointed me out to the police. I was passing out chocolate eggs as usual, and there was this boy, maybe five or six years old, with glasses and a yellow bowtie, probably on his way back from church. He kept coming back for more eggs, which I didn’t mind; he was very polite about it and said he wanted enough to give to his brothers and sisters at home. But then, on his third or fourth time around I saw that his glasses were all busted up, and his eyes were red from crying, so I gave him a big handful of eggs, and then I followed him out of the rotunda, past the Marshalls and into the back end of the mall where the Barnes & Noble used to be, where it’s all boarded up now. I didn’t know why he went walking down there, but he looked kind of scared, like he wasn’t sure which way to go, and he had tucked all his eggs into the front of his shirt.
And then two older boys popped out from behind the old Sunglasses Hut. One of them had chocolate smeared in the corners of his mouth, and the other one was holding a yellow Wiffle ball bat. They were laughing, making pig noises. But not the snorting kind kids usually make—more like the squealing of actual pigs when they’re being corralled into their cages. My parents kept pigs for a while. Before my dad died and my mom and I had to move into an efficiency. Lots of people kept all kinds of animals back in Sligo. In Pennsylvania, where I grew up. My best friend Max, his family had chickens. Max committed suicide in high school. He was a nerd like me, really into UFOs and ghosts and stuff like that. Everybody said it was because he was gay. Our next-door neighbors even had llamas for a while. I don’t know how you can make money from keeping llamas, maybe from their hair, like alpacas? Who knows. But that’s what these kids sounded like—like pigs—when they cornered that little boy and pushed him onto the floor. His Easter eggs all rolled out from under his shirt. And the older kid, the one holding the Wiffle ball bat, he said something like, “I’m going to beat the lard out of you, piggy,” and he started whipping him real hard, while the other one with chocolate smeared on his face, he picked up the Easter eggs, popped them open and ate the chocolates, and tossed the Scriptures on the floor.
It’s hard to move inside the bunny suit; the fur legs are shorter than my actual legs. And I don’t usually talk when I’m playing the Easter Bunny because I don’t want to spoil the illusion for the younger kids. But I started shouting anyway, shouting at them to stop, and I shimmied best I could over to where that older kid was beating on that little boy. And honestly, I thought they would just turn and run off once they saw me coming. But that’s not what happened. They turned, and they looked at me for what seemed like a really long time. And the younger one, the one with chocolate on his face, he started laughing. And the older boy started laughing, too. And then the younger one said, “You’re way too fat to be the Easter Bunny.” And he stepped up real close to me, and he started poking at me through the suit, and you’d think it wouldn’t hurt too much because of the fur, but he was poking me really hard. And then they started squealing again, except louder than before, and the poking got even harder, and I couldn’t fend him off because it’s really difficult to see from inside the suit.
And then I felt something stiff begin hitting the side of my head, the side of the bunny head—crack, crack, crack! And I could hear the Plaster of Paris busting up, and I didn’t want that little boy, the one the other two had been beating on, to see my face underneath the bunny face; I didn’t want to ruin the illusion for him because he probably still believed. So I just planted a kick as hard as I could, given the constraints of the suit, and it must have landed pretty good because that boy, the one hitting me with the Wiffle-ball bat, he went flying and landed on his back on the floor, right on top of the Bible Scriptures. And without thinking, I yanked that bat out of his hand, and I whacked him hard with it a few times because clearly that boy had never been properly disciplined, not once his whole life. And I turned, looking through the crack in the side of the bunny head that the bat had caused, and I went to give that other boy a few good whacks, too. But he was already running off toward where Phillip was standing, staring and shaking his head, next to two police officers. And I heard someone crying, and it was that little boy in the yellow bowtie, and I wanted to pick him up off the floor, tell him that everything would be okay, that the Easter Bunny would leave something extra special in his basket for being so brave, but they were already putting me in handcuffs, if you can believe that. And then one of them pulled my bunny head off, and I could tell there wasn’t anything in the world that was going to make that little boy feel any better.
Anyway, I can’t be around kids at all as part of my probation; so obviously I’m not handing out chocolate eggs at the mall anymore. And Pastor Mike says I can’t come back to the church until I confess my sin to the whole congregation and ask for their forgiveness. Only then can we all move on from the pain and damage caused by my transgression, he said. “That seems a lot to me like removing your Hell’s Angel tattoo.” That’s what I told him. And I don’t seem to remember Jesus apologizing after He turned over the tables of the money-changers. And that was just for selling stuff on church property. Imagine what He would’ve done to them if He had seen them beating on a little lost lamb? A lot more than tip over a few tables, that’s for sure. So I’m not apologizing, not to anybody.