Gnostic Flirtation

I sat at the bar waiting to meet a friend. I had just gone to Barnes & Noble to buy some books for this Vatican II thing I am working on. I have two spanking new books with me, a new adventure, I am very excited. Outside the sky is low and ominous, and everything is deadly still. Far-away rumbles of thunder. My friend is going to be a bit late. I take out my books. I sipped my beer. I read. It’s not crowded in this bar, it’s dark and homey, a common meeting place for my friend and I, because it’s mellow, and quiet. I start to read A People Adrift: The Crisis of the Roman Catholic Church in America, by Peter Steinfels, a book recommended to me by my great-aunt Joan. I interviewed her the other night about Vatican II, and was on the phone with her for two hours. She was a nun, and experienced all of it first-hand. And I mean: really first hand. Her stories were unbelievable. I couldn’t take notes fast enough. This woman is spectacular, what an intellect. So funny, too. I’ve got some really cool stories about my relationship with Joan, but I’ll save that for another day. She gave me a reading list a mile long, but this was the only book on the list which was readily available at Barnes & Noble. I’ve always liked Steinfels’ columns in the New York Times (“Beliefs”) – he’s a wonderful writer, and I immediately got into the book. Sitting at the bar. It’s the incongruity of all of this that I enjoy. I didn’t feel self-conscious, or weird being by myself … I got lost in my book. The other book I bought was a bit of a tangent – not Vatican II based – but it called to me during my browsing. It’s called Beyond Belief: The Secret Gospel of Thomas, by Elaine Pagels. She’s written a ton of books apparently about these early Christian texts, the Gnostic gospels, and this is her book on the Gospel of Thomas. I have no idea what to expect, but I read a couple pages standing in the bookstore, and I very much like her writing style, and it’s a topic that very much interests me. So what the heck, I bought it.

I sat there, with the day getting darker and darker outside the window … no rain yet, but you could feel something big coming, and flipped back and forth between my 2 new books, browsing, getting interested, I took some notes. I had no sense at all that I was in public. This is how I behave at home when I am completely engrossed.

But of course I WAS in public, and someone was watching me. I have no idea how long I was being observed. He finally broke into my private world of Catholicism and said, “What are you reading?”

A typical opening, right? No shame in that.

No, no, all the shame was on my side because I was sitting in a bar reading about the secret book of Thomas and … I suddenly became conscious of how strange I am. I hesitated, and then … filled with embarrassment, I passed over Beyond Belief. Whatever. I’m weird. I have to just deal with that.

Dude was so funny about it, though. Like, he took in the title for a second – obviously that’s not something you run into every day – I don’t know what he was expecting to see, but I would BET that it wasn’t some book on the Gnostic Gospels.

He said, “Oh wait … this has to do with those …. not the Dead Sea Scrolls, but …”

“Gnostic,” I replied flatly, accepting my general weirdness.

“Yeah, yeah! I’ve heard about those.” He immediately launched into a monologue. “Did you know that … these weren’t found in scroll form at all, they were actual books …”

“I did not know that.” I thought it was hilarious and awesome, though, that he just started talking about the topic at hand …

“Yeah, and I guess they’re still translating them … but there also was like … holes in the book, stuff ripped out …”

I am not sure what his point was there. That someone tried to censor the books way back when, ripping out controversial parts? I have no idea. I just thought it was endearing how not only did he leap into my world, but he also began babbling about the Gnostic gospels. In a bar. hahahaha I love people.

I said, “Honestly, I really don’t know anything about them. But the book looked really interesting.”

“Totally!” He started flipping through it.

I said, “Ah, yes. It’s my summer reading. You know. I was looking for something light.”

He burst into laughter. “Right. Something to relax on the beach with.”


I said, “I hesitated before handing it over to you, because … well … it makes me look crazy. But now here you are, telling me about pages being ripped out of the Gnostic gospels …”

He said, “I am the kind of person who knows at least one useless fact about pretty much anything.”

And then we embarked on an enormous conversation about early Christianity. No introductions given, no “Hi, my name is.” Oh, no. We cut to the chase: WHAT THE HELL WAS GOING ON IN THE 3RD CENTURY??? This continued on in a completely enjoyable fashion until my friend showed up.

I then put my book away. “Nice talking with you.”

“You too. Enjoy your beach reading.”

Laughter. “I will.”

You just never know what the day will bring.

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13 Responses to Gnostic Flirtation

  1. RTG says:

    I’m stuck on bedrest. Please keep writing this stuff. It’s some of my daily entertainment. : )

  2. red says:

    Bedrest? WTF??

    Here’s another one of my funny tales. Maybe my funniest tale ever. I hope it will make you laugh.

  3. red says:

    And here’s another one of my ridiculous stories. This one is entitled An Eyeball and a Dozen Roses.

    Those should keep you occupied.

    I hope you’re okay???

  4. RTG says:

    I just had a little scare. I’m okay but on bedrest. Thank God for the interweb. : )

    I’m checkin’ out your links now.

  5. RTG says:

    OMG. I love your stories. The Liza one is just appalling. Like “I can actually feel the heat of other’s embarrassment through the screen” appalling.

    Oh, I realized something today. A good actress: Mariska Hargitay from Law & Order: SVU. I don’t think she’s ever been in a film or play but she’s fab on tv. The only thing is, she does that “jodi foster” thing and tries to act with her eyes sometimes. She curls her lip a little and squints her eye when she’s puzzled. Somehow, it works on her character. I’d love to see her in a film where she has to sustain a character (a different one than Olivia Benson).

    Other random observations:

    1. How can Ben Affleck be so good and true in Chasing Amy and so stinky bad in everything else he’s ever attempted?

    2. Robert Downey Jr is a fabulous actor. I’d love to see more of him, if he could just get his personal crap together. He’s so transparent on the screen.

    3. Nicole Kidman has a Marilyn-ish quality. A softness and a transparency. I think she’s probably one of the best actresses working today.

    4. Why is Gwyneth Paltrow famous? She’s gorgeous, and she was cute in Shakespere in Love but I don’t recall anything else worthwhile.

    5. Brad Pitt seems to be getting worse as he gets older, instead of better. In Kalifornia, he was amazing. In Mr & Mrs Smith he was a little too … Brad Pitt-ish.

  6. red says:

    My theory is that Ben Affleck, despite his kind of generic handsomeness, is not a leading man. At all. He is too quirky, and goofy. I think he is a character actor who happens to be handsome. But he’s chosen roles badly since he became famous – and he thinks he’s a leading man. I thought he was wonderful in Good Will Hunting, when he played the sidekick of the leading man. He was very effective. But when he’s supposed to be romantic – he just doesn’t work. Remember the horrific animal-crackers-on-the-belly scene from … Armageddon? God, it was awful. He doesn’t have the same manly command of his own sexuality which all leading men have – he’s too goofy and self-conscious. This is not a problem as long as he chooses roles correctly. Which obviously he has not been doing.

    I’m not a huge Affleck fan but I do defend him. I think he’s talented, and I would bet that the majority of that Good Will Hunting script was written by him. He’s smart.

  7. red says:

    Robert Downey Jr. is, in my opinion, a genius. He makes every other actor look shallow. Every time he acts he raises the bar. It’s tragic to me that his addiction to drugs is so deep. Even in a silly little movie like Two girls and a guy – he’s just fantastic. He’s funny, and spontaneous, and … when he breaks down at the end, I am never not amazed by his openness. It’s all done in one take, too – that final scene. So he has no “prep time” when the camera is off, for him to do his actor preparation stuff … No. He has to enter the room, wander around, look at things, stare at photographs, play the piano a bit, wander around more (all in one take), then sit down at the desk, pick up the phone, dial a number, and starts to speak – he’s trying to make funeral arrangements for his mother – and suddenly – waterworks. It’s a genius bit of acting. Dumb movie, but I love love love that last scene. I can’t think of another actor out there who could pull it off with so little self-consciousness or strain. It looks like his tears are happening TO HIM as opposed to him generating them, like a well-trained actor. He’s wonderful. It makes me sad.

  8. red says:

    Gwyneth Paltrow is famous because Harvey Weinstein put the entire weight of Miramax behind Shakespeare in Love, and behind Gwyneth. It was the Year of Gwyneth. Weinstein was at the height of his powers then … and he knew he had a slam-dunk with that film … and Gwyneth became the darling of Miramax. She won an Oscar. She was getting press like you would not believe. I thought she was adorable in that movie, too, but I think it’s indicative of who she is that celebrity and stardom didn’t really suit her. I remember her speech vividly, and at one point – she acknowledged all the other nominees, and said something like, “I don’t feel worthy AT ALL to be up here …” This was not false modesty. I think she truly believed it.

    Her mother is Blythe Danner and sometimes I think that Gwyneth would have been better suited to THAT kind of career than the one she had. Like – doing Chekhov in regional theatres, and creating a theatre company, and having small parts in Woody Allen movies, etc. etc. That’s the world she grew up in, and I do believe that she loves the craft and art of acting above fame. Her sensibility is not that of a famous person.

    I mean, please, I haven’t met her, but this is what I get from her.

    I think her taking a couple of years off has been really really smart. She did not leap on the bandwagon of her own fame. She didn’t start making bad movies, she didn’t star in any action adventure movies … she retreated. She made Possession, she made Sylvia … smaller films that didn’t get wide distribution. I thought that was really smart.

    But I really believe that the white-hot celebrity she got after Shakespeare in Love was completely engineered by Miramax.

  9. red says:

    Nicole needs to stop with the botox. If you look at what she looked like in Moulin Rouge (luscious, gorgeous) and what she looked like in Bewitched – it’s a huge change. Her face now has a permanently wide-eyed look that can only mean botox.

    But besides that: I think the chick is awesome. She is smart, very hard working, and made some very very important decisions after her divorce from Chimpy McXenuDude. She has real courage, I think.

    And Moulin Rouge is one of my favorite movies. She is just all yearning in that film, soft sad yearning … beautiful. I loved her descent from the ceiling on the swing. She’s hot shit.

  10. red says:

    Oh, and lastly, RTG – to me, Brad Pitt’s best performance in his career was as the stoner loser roommate in True Romance. Sheer unadulterated genius.

  11. Emily says:

    Chimpy McXenuDude. Hahahahaha.

    RTG – if you haven’t read Sheila’s entry on theatrical bombs she’s been in, it’s another great, funny story. I think she’s still got it in her “best of” links.

    “EXCUSE ME, EXCUSE ME.” The image of that guy still makes me laugh. I wasn’t there, but you know how Sheila tells stories so good that you almost feel like you were? Don’t miss it.

    And get better.

  12. red says:

    Emily – oh, the white-hot shame of that moment!!! The play was so bad that it made people ANGRY. hahahaha

  13. Mr. Bingley says:

    Heh, I know what you mean about sitting in bars getting engrossed in books, red. The first time I met Nightfly and some of his friends I was sitting at the bar at Appleby’s reading a biography of William Tyndale, a very interesting fellow who is basically responsible for the bible in English that we have today. Unfortunately this was not a popular endeavor at the time, and he was burnt at the stake in 1536 (well, actually, in a fit of christian kindness they tied him to the stake then strangled him before lighting the fire). That book got a few good quizical glances.

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