From Hymnals to Hymens
by Joe Loya
In 1982, I was Head Waiter at Marie Callender’s restaurant in Pasadena. I set the schedule for waiters and busboys. I gave myself the best shifts and the most lucrative station. I didn’t pay for my meals at the restaurant, while the wait staff had to pay half-price for their food. The front part of the restaurant was my little fiefdom. And so I bestowed more scheduling consideration to large-breasted waitresses who flattered me. I was King Misogyny.
I had been raised in a very religious home. My father had been pastor of a church for a while. For a long time as a child I wanted to grow up and be a theologian. I was a fervent student of the Bible. But when I left home at age 18, I was enticed by the freedom to choose my own lifestyle, and so I surrendered to my worldly desires—sex and crime. (I’d spend time in prison in the future for bank robbery, but that’s another story.) By the time I arrived at Marie Callender’s, I had lost my faith in the God of the Bible. I still attended the college group at church, but that’s because I was using my religious cover to woo Christian virgins away from their faith and into my bed.
Enter 21-year-old Priscilla Manley, newly-hired hostess. Prissy resembled Snow White riding a Main Street Parade float at Disneyland. She had dark, shoulder-length hair and smooth, white, porcelain-like skin. A few years earlier she had been crowned Miss Arcadia.
The minute I saw her holding a stack of menus at the front counter I knew that I had to possess her. My Mexican father had married my blond Irish stepmother—a coup in my eyes since I was a dark brown boy who dreamt of crashing that race and class barrier. In Prissy I saw my white prize, the culmination of all my efforts to be viewed as a legitimate insider, not some poseur or wannabe conniving at the gates of Whitedom. Hadn’t I read the classics as a boy? Read Miss Manners’ column to know how to behave in white company? Didn’t I work hard to eschew Spanish and polish any trace of a barrio accent off my English? I knew that I deserved Prissy. And I knew exactly how to make her my arm candy.
Prissy attended Lake Avenue Congregation Church where, coincidentally, the pastor of the college group (Mark N.) was an old student of my father’s Sunday school classes. I received a special welcome from Mark when one Sunday I walked into the group. My public validation by a religious leader did not go unnoticed by Prissy.
Even though Prissy was hands down the prettiest, above my class, most poised and popular girl I had ever attempted to deceive into desiring me, my ambition was not without precedent. During a church camping trip a year earlier, I met a camp counselor who was a wide, barrel-chested man, dark and swarthy, with a thick, black mustache. When he was a defensive tackle at Pasadena City College, he’d met and married the queen of the Rose Parade, a blonde waif who knitted a sweater near the campfire. He transferred to USC and graduated with a business degree. I admired him because although he had been a monosyllabic working-class guy, he nonetheless had been cunning enough to hook up with a venerable Rose Parade queen whose wealthy father eventually invited him into the family business.
So as I watched Prissy Manley flash her pearly whites at the hostess station (Welcome to Marie Callender’s. How many people in your party?), I thought it might just be possible for me to snag the beauty queen, too.
I asked around (some of the waiters knew Prissy from school or church) and learned that there was a stigma attached to her family. I heard several versions of the story behind the family shame, but the gist of it was always the same. Her father, more than fifty years older than Prissy, had been a prominent surgeon in their hometown. That is, until he botched a friend’s wife’s surgery. An investigation found evidence that he’d been high on pills during the procedure. He was sued for malpractice.
Prissy’s father had always been emotionally distant, working long hours as he did. But he was also unable to relate to a daughter so much younger than he was. And now she was conflicted. She loved her father. She also despised him for ruining the family’s good reputation in the community. She also pitied him for being a dope fiend, high on pills in the end when he wasn’t drunk.
I could sniff all of these daddy issues in Prissy. It was as if I were a lion in some nature documentary, prowling a herd of wildebeest, on the lookout for the small or wounded one. And Prissy had all the telltale signs of an infirm animal at the back of the pack.
At work I scheduled my shifts to coincide with hers. I approached her and asked her how she was doing “spiritually.” I freely quoted Bible verses. After weeks of pretending only to want a spiritual relationship with her—to be her brother in Christ, available to pray with her any time she felt the Holy Spirit’s influence waning—I finally succeeded and got her to confide in me that her home situation was in rapid decline.
Apparently, her father had fallen completely off the wagon. Every night he stayed late at bars, and then stumbled home, rousing Prissy and her mother from their sleep with his drunken clumsiness—knocking over lamps, turning the stereo on loud, and eventually passing out on a Barcalounger with the TV blaring.
One night after we attended a prayer meeting, Prissy invited me to her home to meet her mother. There was a photo of Prissy as Miss Arcadia on the family fireplace mantle, posed at a three-quarter stance. She wore a crown and a white cape, and held twelve long-stem red roses in her white-gloved hands.
She introduced me to her mother, who sat in front of the TV with a bowl of popcorn on her lap. Mrs. Manley told me that she’d heard wonderful things about my spiritual dedication. This confirmation bode real well for me. I was getting closer to making Prissy utterly vulnerable to me.
One night, Prissy’s father was arrested for drunk driving and forced by the courts to admit himself into a rehab center. That’s when I stepped in and tended to both mother and daughter, praying with them for deliverance from the drama, for a peace that passeth all understanding.
I was invited to lunches with Mrs. Manley’s clutch of cackling God-fearing divorced female friends—all burned by charismatic church-going men. I intentionally used the language of the church around these women, code for I’m a spiritual man who has tamed his carnal appetites, mortified his flesh, therefore I can be trusted with the care of Prissy’s soul. I wanted to make sure that they saw me as a fine, upstanding, legitimate Christian lad.
One night I got a late-night phone call from Prissy. She sounded scared and urgent. Apparently her father had escaped the rehab center, and she and her mother feared him coming home angry that they had encouraged the court to force him there.
I drove quickly to her home and sat for hours on the living room sofa, waiting for the old man to drive up. And he did. I heard a door slam and saw him standing by a taxi. I told Prissy to call the police before I walked outside. Mr. Manley walked through the front gate, wobbly drunk, and told me to get out off his porch. He called me a dirty wetback. He threatened to call the cops if I didn’t leave his property. I talked reasonably to him, informed him that his family didn’t want him staying at home any longer. I told him to go back to the rehab center. He continued walked toward me and as he got closer I warned him that under no circumstances was I going to let him pass me. He charged me and I punched him square on the jaw. The old bastard dropped like a sack of hammers. I reached down and propped him against the wall. When the police arrived I lifted Mr. Manley and carried him like a wounded soldier to the cop car. Mrs. Manley told the police what rehab center to take him to while I placed him in the back seat.
I walked into the house like a chivalrous knight and suggested that we pray for Mr. Manley. There were tears and a lot of hugging. That sealed it. I could have had both of them that night. I didn’t waste anytime making my move.
The next day I reached for Prissy’s crotch while we kissed and she didn’t stop me. For the next few months I cajoled her to fuck everywhere: in a car; a Macy’s dressing room; her bedroom while her mother watched TV in the other room; in a swimming pool while mother and friends sipped iced tea twenty feet away. I noticed that most of the time she was uncomfortable with the risk I was willing to take. But I also knew that she was too kind to tell me “no more” right away, so I ran with my good luck for as long as I could.
Sex wasn’t the only thing she gave me. At one point I borrowed five-hundred dollars from her. By that point I disrespected her so much that I made no effort to pay her back. This gave her an out. One afternoon she came to my apartment and wept for ten minutes before the dreaded break-up words dropped out of her mouth: You betrayed me. You betrayed my mother too. All her friends told me that I should go out with you because you’re a God-fearing young man. Ha! If they only knew what a hypocrite you are. I can’t continue having premarital sex with you because God is convicting my heart. My conscience is killing me. So we’re done. Don’t call me and don’t come around to my house anymore. I need to rededicate my life to Christ.
I was stung by the way she verbalized her repulsion of me. I apologized; my voice quivered. I was losing my trophy girlfriend. But after we cried for a few minutes, something shifted in me. I shoved my emotions deep into a dark space and stopped feeling sad. I guess I understood that I wasn’t really a fraud if all along my intention had been to have her be my girlfriend so that I could get in her panties. Suddenly, I felt weirdly gratified, impenetrable, charged with purpose.
My rage had been ignited. So I lashed out.
That’s precious. You judging me. How can you judge me when I know for a fact that the fireman we bumped into at the Rose Bowl Parade popped your cherry two years ago? Yeah, don’t think I didn’t know that when you played Miss Coy, Goody-two-shoes with me. You can break up with me, that’s fine. But don’t think I’m gonna let you dump your self-righteousness on me. Go tell God how you didn’t mean all those groans you made in that camp chapel when I was going down on you. Go ahead. I’m sure he’ll believe you.
I was pissed.
Fuck women like Prissy, I thought as she stormed out of my apartment. She actually considered herself morally superior to me. Okay. Maybe she was. But my corrupting force had won. So I was proud that I had hoodwinked her with flattery and deception. She had proven to me what Christianity had taught me all along: Women were some version of Eve in the garden, easily seduced by a snake. Distracted by mushy emotions, women could be duped by the slightest insinuation of love.
The charade had been all about Me. I’d exploited my Christian knowledge and church connections in order to impress Miss Arcadia and have her knock me off a little some-some.
Me me me. I was like that greedy little Pac-Man, relentlessly chasing and gobbling up what I felt entitled to.
Me me me. Whether the sex plagued her conscience or not didn’t matter to me. I figured that was her problem.
Me me me. I was concerned only with having my own needs satiated.
Me me me. I didn’t care if we’d just walked out of the Bible study tent and did it in the woods, with a hundred campers roaming nearby. I needed her leaning against that tree at that perilous moment so that we could do it doggie style.
Me me me.
Blasphemy, blasphemy, blasphemy.
I was on the road to perdition.