For the first time in half a century, Vatican administrative staff will be required to clock in for work as part of a clampdown on slackers.
“Have you considered our get-out-of-Purgatory free extended warranty coverage?”
It was three o’clock on a Friday afternoon, and I had to admit I was getting drowsy, even though we get like no sunlight whatsoever in Call Center Room 3B, where 270 Vatican Indulgence Sales Associates work the phones, twenty-four hours a day, 365 days a year except for Christmas, Good Friday and the feast of St. Blaise, the patron saint of people who get fish bones stuck in their throat.
St. Blaise: “Next time, stick to the 6-piece box of Chicken McNuggets.”
I was flipping through the sports pages of L’Osservatoro Romano, the official newspaper of the Vatican, trying to decide on my weekend Lega Nazionale Professionisti football bets. Hmm–the over/under on Genoa vs. Torino was 1/0. Take the nil, I told myself, and ran with it, reaching for my phone to call my bookie.
Pope Benedict XVI, reading “Ziggy” in L’Osservatoro Romano.
“Psst,” pssted Emilio in the next cubicle over. “Francis is coming–look busy.”
I stuffed the paper into my blue recycling bin, turned my espresso cup so that the words “Jesus is coming–look busy!” were hidden from view, and started an imaginary conversation over my headset.
Jesus throwing the money changers out of the Temple: “I told you to push the Platinum Plan–but no!”
“Your Basic Indulgence Packet is a good buy at 15 euros a month, but we’re having a limited-time offer–the MoneyChangers Special. For 24 easy payments of 13 euros a month, you get . . .”
I felt the heavy hand of the Bishop of Rome, the head of the Roman Catholic Church and the Sovereign of the Vatican City-State go upside my head. “Ow,” I cried, and I meant it.
“You taka me for soma kinda mook?” the Pope said in the phony Italian accent that all popes are required to use while “on the clock” at the Vatican. “I canna see-a you no gotta light onna you phone–you talkin’ to yourself.”
I was caught red-handed. “Sorry boss,” I began, “but I’ve already made my call quota today and I thought I’d get a bet down for Sunday . . .”
“Shut uppa you mouth,” the Pope screamed in rage. I realized he was going to make an example out of me, to scare the holy crap out of everybody else.
“If you make your sales quota this month, you’ll get this cool replica Star Wars light sword.”
“You guys sit around all day on your fat asses–that’s my job!” he yelled, the veins bulging out on his forehead. “Heads are gonna roll unless you move some mountains before the end of the month.”
I don’t like my job–I’m a telemarketer selling time-shares to get out of hell and purgatory early–but I like to eat. There used to be a word for what I do–simony–but it has passed out of the lexicon of most theologians. They don’t know what goes on in the bowels of the Vatican in the boiler-room call centers where we prey on elderly women, still worried about that time they stayed late in the girl’s room at afternoon bathroom break in 4th grade, learning how to gargle and making fart noises with their hands inside their dress shields.
I’m always happy to help them to better understand the tenets of their faith, however–especially if it will bring me a sweet sales incentive like a detail job for my 2012 Fiat Spider, or a DVD of Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ.” “You did what?” I ask the ex-nuns who call in to tell me they think they may have committed a venial sin when they thought impure thoughts after seeing Bing Crosby in “The Bells of St. Mary’s.”
“Sister, sister, sister,” I say with mock disbelief. “You’re going to be on the Weber Grill of God until the end of time!”
With that kind of sales savvy, I close from 15 to 20 deals a month, more than anybody in my district. I was Salesman of the Month last October, which as every schoolboy knows is Rosary Month.
“You guys thinka you bigga deal becausa you sella maybe 5, 10 packages a month. So what? You thinka my collection of funny hats comes cheap? Get back to work–all of you!”
The storm had blown over, so I decided to approach the Big Guy privately, just so we understood each other.
“Hey, Frank, I’m sorry, okay? But I’ve already hit my number for the month, okay, so cut me a little slack.”
He looked at me like a father of a teenage son who’s just discovered a scratch on the side of the new Lamborghini. “I know–you-a gooda boy.”
“What do you say–three Our Fathers, three Hail Marys? How’s that for a penance?” I asked, dripping with phony remorse.
He considered this proposal for a second, then turned to me with a smile that blended equal parts forgiveness and nostalgia for the wild and crazy life I’m sure he led as a top-performing sales rep for Papal Publications, hocking My Little Messenger and penny-dreadful bios of the saints.
“Alla right,” he relented. “But you forgotta one thing.”
“You got to firmly resolve with the help of my grace to sin no more and avoid the near occasions of sin.”
“I’ve always wondered what that meant,” I said, grateful to be let off easily but still curious. “What the hell . . .”
“Sorry. What exactly is an ‘occasion of sin.’”
“I don’t know–maybe a Feast of St. Rocco Party at the home of Gina from Accounting.”
“The one with the big bazoombas?”
“Right. She has a balcony like the one I got at St. Peter’s.”
Available in Kindle format on amazon.com as part of the collection “Here’s to His Holiness: Fake Stories About Real Popes.”