DISCLAIMER: After I mentioned in a number of Tales from da Club that I had been raised in a cult, a bunch of you (actually two people) reached out to ask me to write more stories about it. I declined in large part because I didn’t feel like I really had any stories to tell, but my Halloween costume choice this year caused me to remember that I do.
I’m dressing up as a Mortal Kombat character for Halloween this year. Seeing as how I’m planning to pair it with my signature red ponytails and my brand new Demonia platform boots, it made me realize that for Halloween this year, I’m really going as Girl Who Obviously Hasn’t Played Mortal Kombat Since She Was a Teenager in the ’90 And It Shows.
It’s true; I remember almost nothing about the game. I don’t even know the name of the character whose costume I bought off Amazon thinking it might make a great pandemic stripper outfit since it came with a face mask. (It doesn’t, by the way, make a great pandemic stripper outfit. It’s a one-piece, meaning you are either wearing a costume that is very hot and a pain in the neck to remove, or you are naked.)
The only thing I remember about Mortal Kombat is that there was that one fighter whose arm got absurdly long when he punched the other fighters. I always chose that guy as my character since the only thing I had to do to win was keep hitting that punch button, and none of the other fighters could get close enough to me to land any blows. I sucked so hard at that game – well, any video game in general, really – that I could not win if I played with any other fighter.
Remembering Mortal Kombat made me remember Mazzio’s Pizza, which is the restaurant/child casino where I played it. I can still remember the smell of their pizza. The deep dish featured literal puddles of grease atop an inch of cheese, and gawd, it was so good. I’m pretty sure that pizza was responsible for half the acne I had as a teenager, which was a lot.
Every Sunday night after Sunday night service (which followed, of course, Sunday morning service and a huge nap), all the Apostolic Pentecostals in a 15-mile radius would descend on Mazzio’s Pizza for two of our favorite things: food and fellowship.
The Apostolic Pentecostals differentiated ourselves from ye olde regular Pentecostals with a number of things: The denial of the Trinity in favor of a belief in the “Oneness” of God; baptism in the “name of Jesus,” as opposed to the words used by the hellbound Trinitarians, “in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit”; speaking in tongues as evidence of salvation; and a very strict holiness standard which basically meant men had to shave and women had to follow a shit ton of rules that mostly regulated the way we looked.
And then, within this tiny splinter of Christianity, the Apostolic Pentecostals splintered even further. Most of the churches (there were 22 in that 15-mile radius) belonged to the United Pentecostal Church. My particular church, on the other hand, broke off from the UPC in the 70s because they began allowing liberal things like divorce, women wearing their hair down, women wearing splits in their skirts, and men AND women wearing sleeves above their elbows.
Such things were shockingly evil to our pastor at the time, The Reverend Murray E. Burr, so we became independent, right alongside the churches who did not allow the celebration of Christmas, even though WE never went THAT far. Those people – good people, but a little TOO conservative, you know? There was such a thing as BALANCE, we said to justify our celebration, as gleefully hedonistic and commercialized as the rest of America, just with more Jesus and less Santa.
We Pentecostal teenagers growing up in the 90s did not remember those days of scandal and turmoil and church splits back in the 70s, so those of us in the proudly independent Faith Tabernacle happily rubbed shoulders with our more liberal counterparts, inwardly envious of all the girls who were allowed to wear their hair down while outwardly looking down our noses at them for it.
My brother, however, was the first to cross the aisle and actually date one of those girls. Many folk of our more conservative ilk were deeply disturbed by this scandalous move, but my parents, strict as they were, were surprisingly welcoming of this development because grandbabies, and their utter delight that SOMEBODY THEY DIDN’T CARE WHO might actually procreate with their homely offspring.
Stephanie Gomez was her name, and I don’t remember much about our first meeting, but Stephanie does. She told me later that she was super nervous about meeting me because in her observations of me from afar at Mazzio’s, I seemed like Little Ms. Perfect and kinda stuck up.
However, I had just woken up from a huge nap shortly before being summoned to the dinner table where Stephanie nervously met the fam for the first time. I arrived in a huge, baggy t-shirt with a stain. I sat down and burped and then laughed about it. Stephanie told me that it was at that moment that she knew we were going to be Best Friends Forever, and she could finally relax.
It’s true, Steph and I are STILL friends to this day, although I use the term “friend” loosely because she recently visited her mom in Houston from where she currently lives in Bumfuck, Louisiana AND DID NOT EVEN TELL ME AND I’M STILL KINDA MAD ABOUT IT. Like, I’m literally RIGHT HERE, Stephanie, and you did not wanna hang out. RUDE.
Well, once I saw that my brother was getting away with dating a liberal, I decided to try my luck as well, shortly falling head over heels with a boy from the church in Orange who had dimples so deep you could hide things in them. He was the Assistant Choir Director who sang like an angel and loved my daughter like she was his own. He is still friends with my Mama to this day.
This did not sit well AT ALL with our pastor at that time, no longer Brother Murray E. Burr, but another faithful member of the religious cabal that I won’t name. Apparently, my brother dating a sinner was one thing. My doing it was quite another, for, if we married, I’d be forced to go over there to his church. As my pastor explained to me, as I sobbed, they were allowed to watch TV, and how was that okay for any man or woman of God?
I eventually broke up with poor Dimples, breaking both our tiny little Pentecostal hearts, but not before my pastor launched a three-month sermon entitled “The Other Pentecostals” in which he claimed that God would laugh as he threw them all into hell.
Now, at this point, Steph and I were thick as thieves, and I was hanging out with her youth group more than my own, and I was just not having that. The “Other Pentecostals,” as my pastor labeled them, were no different than my own church people, hardworking people just trying to get by like everyone else. I could not picture God laughing as he threw them in hell.
After that sermon series, Mazzio’s Pizza became extremely segregated and WAY less fun.
And that was pretty much the beginning of when I began to lose faith in that faith and that church and that pastor. Twelve years later he resigned in disgrace after cheating on his dying wife with my cousin’s wife, and I’m mostly disappointed by what a fucking cliché that is.
Funny how a Halloween costume 20 years later can bring up all these memories, and WHY THE FUCK IS MORTAL KOMBAT STILL A THING? IT IS OLD AS DIRT, YA’LL.