This is a helluva story.
Well, this is cool. Chuck Palahniuk’s follow-up to last year’s adult coloring book Bait is out now. Legacy: An Off-Color Novella for You to Color, is published by Dark Horse and features colorable illustrations by Steve Morris and Mike Norton.
The book is, as the official description says, “a dark but colorful fable with aspiring immortals, an amoral banker and his despicable family, a stalker and the kind of extreme storytelling and biting social satire that the readers of Fight Club, Choke and Survivor have come to expect.”
Legacy, which boasts a cover illustrated and colored by Duncan Fegredo and designed by Nate Piekos, is Palahniuk’s first long-form prose publication since Beautiful You in 2014 and also follows his Dark Horse graphic novel Fight Club 2.
Now, as it happens, Palahniuk is releasing a series of essays in conjunction with the book and we’ve got one for you here. A nifty little 13th Dimension exclusive.
Confessions of a Failed Saint, by Chuck Palahniuk
It was the old ladies. They always wanted you to stick it in their mouths.
Even after Vatican II, when my sisters and mom no longer had to wear prim, lacy little hats to church and Father Schultz stepped out from behind the screen and spoke the Mass in English instead of Latin, even after the Church ruled that people could receive Holy Communion by their own doing—instead of the priest placing the Host on their tongue, he could now place it in the palm of their outstretched hand and people could put it into their own mouths—even then the old ladies always knelt at the Communion rail and threw back their heads like so many baby birds and waited for the priest to put the wafer on their tongues.
This is while the altar boy followed along. His job was to hold the paten. This was a gilded plate on a stick, held just-so below the Communion receiver’s chin to prevent any falling Host from reaching the floor. Once consecrated, the Host had become the flesh of Christ and as such it must never, never touch the ground. But more on that later.
As an altar boy, staring down a few hundred open throats, you quickly became an expert in everyone’s dental health. I was the go-to guy if you wanted to know who in Pasco, Washington, had gold crowns, partial dentures, bridges, mercury amalgam fillings, or oral tumors. Thrush, halitosis, gingivitis, adenoids, and swollen tonsils, I saw it all. Not to mention the mossy tongues and uvulas. If I never see another old man kneeling in front of me, his head thrown back, stretching his tongue in my direction, I will die happy.
As my only reward, not often, but often enough, I could mess up with the paten. As the priest brings the Host near the yawning mouth he says, “Body of Christ.” The Communion receiver replies, “Amen” and receives the wafer on her outstretched tongue.
However, if the chilly, golden edge of the paten happens—by accident, of course—to bump someone’s throat at the perfect moment, the “Amen” occurs as a quacking duck sound. The eyes bulge. The gag reflex kicks in, and hilarity ensues as the victim’s face flushes and his or her mouth gapes like a coughing trout. When you’re eleven years old and wearing a white gown this stunt never gets old. Especially during a weekday Mass, strictly limited to old ladies. The funerals, we altar boys fought over those, the funerals and weddings and christenings, because they were the full show. The full “smells-and-bells” we called them—meaning incense and steeple bells. The wedding party or bereaved always paid tip money to the altar attendants. You could make twenty dollars doing an hour-long wedding. On a June Saturday that meant five weddings. A hundred bucks, cash. A fortune. Not to mention that the throats were much younger. Hot throats. Sexy virgin throats of people kneeling right there, just made for the gazing down.
Blame it on Vatican II, but all the rules were being rewritten. To be confirmed, for instance, to be recognized as an adult Catholic, a kid had only to attend weekly classes to learn the Catechism. But that changed, too. Beginning with my generation we had to log sixteen hundred hours of public service, mostly as unpaid “volunteers” at the local hospital, Our Lady of Lourdes.
We became what people called “candy stripers” due to the red-and-white-striped blazers we had to wear. These were simpler times, the mid-1970s, before all the fussbudget rules about HIPAA or blood-borne pathogens. I was thirteen years old, an eighth grader. And my status as a boy got me assigned to cleaning the delivery room in the Maternity ward. The same echoing, green-tiled room where I’d been born. A black woman, big, big and funny, kept me in stitches as she taught me how to juggle the bloody pans and instruments and bag the cold placentas. Latex gloves? Those were for sissies. Cold blood stuck to stainless steel like so much dried paint, and I scratched at the stubborn spots with bare fingernails.
Allow me to digress, but my experience was far from abnormal. A friend, the bestselling writer Chelsea Cain also wore the red-and-white stripes, but across the state in Bellingham, Washington. Among her harrowing stories, she was once summoned to assist a patient. A man had been mangled minutes earlier in a horrific chainsaw accident, and his hysterical—only-Spanish-speaking—family had brought him to the wrong entrance of the hospital. Tween-aged Chelsea’s errand was to put this bleeding man into a wheelchair and push him, fast, through the maze of corridors to the Emergency Room.
At thirteen, my screen agent, Richard Green, was a volunteer assisting in a grueling schedule of back-to-back mammograms.
These days, Chelsea writes thrillers involving serial killers who butcher their victims in motel rooms. Rich, he cops to having a major breast fetish.
Me? During slow times in the Maternity ward I’d be assigned to dust shelves in the hospital pharmacy. Boring as that sounds, it wasn’t. It was the Pharmacy, duh. And part of the boredom was to update the loose-leaf pages of the drug index. The complete road map to everything opiate.
The pharmacist, he was a twenty-something nerd who called me “captain” because he could never remember my name. He’d say, “I’m off to lunch, captain.” He’d roll down the metal shutters that closed off the service window, and he’d lock me inside—me, this dweeb kid in a striped blazer—and he’d be gone for an hour. Two hours.
Back then most of my friends still dreamed of being locked inside a bakery or the Mustang Ranch. I’d found someplace far better. By the time the pharmacist returned … by the time Sister St. Charles—picture Bea Arthur wearing a habit—showed up to say there was a placenta in Maternity that wasn’t getting any fresher, I’d stagger off to mop and scrub with my pockets bulging.
Those sixteen hundred hours flew by. Once I was a serious user, I’d earned my place as an adult in the Church.
In preparation for the ceremony of Confirmation, the nuns warned that the bishop was a real slapper. Part of the ceremony involves the bishop striking each young person across the face. This gesture was meant to awaken the child to the serious responsibilities of adulthood. In most dioceses the slap had devolved into a ritual pat on each cheek. But our bishop, the bishop of the Spokane Diocese, was driving three hours on an early Sunday morning in order to really, truly wallop us. Girls as well as boys. It was going to hurt, the nuns warned, and we should be ready.
On my Confirmation Day I chose St. Lawrence as my patron. To deal with the slap, I chose St. Valium and St. Percodan. For extra back-up I enlisted St. Quaalude-300.
I took Communion in my hand because I didn’t trust the paten-wielding altar boy not to jab me in the throat and turn my “Amen” into a quack.
About the Holy Communion touching the floor… One time an altar boy—they’re now called “altar servers” and girls also assist the priest—but once an altar boy tripped and spilled the Hosts. And we had to kneel down, the two altar boys and Father Schmidt, and eat all three hundred consecrated wafers. Imagine eating three hundred soda crackers under the gaze of a crowd. Like a massive overdose of godliness.
But I digress…
True to form the bishop hauled off and clobbered me across the face. Maybe he could see I was high. I’m not saying I wasn’t high.
That, that moment is what I was writing about when Tyler Durden in Fight Club says, “I want you to hit me as hard as you can…”
It wasn’t the bishop’s fault. He could’ve smacked me around all day and it would’ve made no difference. None whatsoever.
I still haven’t woken up.
Legacy: An Off-Color Novella for You to Color is available now.