(This Dave Barry column was originally published Nov. 4, 1985)
When I tell you about Rev. Al, you're going to think I'm making him up, but I'm not. There really is a Rev. Al. He runs the United Faith Foundation ("America's Healing, Blessing and Prosperity Center") out in Fresno, Calif., and a while back he sent me, out of the blue, a Good Fortune Faith Necklace. This is a green string with a little plastic object hanging from it that says, in medium-sized letters: "The Lord is my shepherd I shall not want." Beneath that, in big letters, it says: "REV. AL." Beneath that, in tiny letters, it says "Made in Korea."
Included with the necklace was a letter from Rev. Al, with his picture on it. He looks a little like Liberace, only with more hair spray. In the picture, he's wearing a white suit, holding a Good Fortune Faith Necklace and looking at the camera with the kind of extremely sincere look that automobile salesmen give you when they tell you they have an Excellent Service Department.
Rev. Al's letter said I should wear the necklace for three days, then send it back with the enclosed Prayer Page, which is a piece of paper on which you write down the blessings you wish to receive. Rev. Al also said I should enclose a Loving Gift of $5, or $10, or, as Rev. Al put it in his letter, "more."
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The major thing that I wanted to receive in the way of a blessing was that something horrible would happen to our carpenter bees. For several years now, our house has had a bad case of carpenter bees, which are these obese, Ernest Borgnine- like insects that drone around brazenly and drill holes right into our roof overhang. People keep telling us that if we don't get rid of our carpenter bees, our house may actually fall down. Many's the summer evening when we've sat out on the porch, drinking beer, watching the sawdust trickle down onto our heads from the bee holes, and saying: "We ought to do something about those darned bees! Is there any more beer?" So when Rev. Al's letter came, out of the blue, I thought to myself: "This cannot be mere coincidence. Some kind of Higher Power has sent Rev. Al into my life to cause a fatal prayer miracle to happen to the carpenter bees."
So, following Rev. Al's instructions, I wore my Good Faith Fortune Necklace for three days, then I wrote about the carpenter bees on my Prayer Page and sent everything back with a Loving Gift, made out to Rev. Al, of $5. According to the letter, the next thing that was supposed to happen was "something wonderful, " but what actually happened was I got the Prayer Necklace back with another letter from Rev. Al. This was one of those computer letters where every paragraph begins with your name. "Oh, Dave, " wrote Rev. Al, "many, many hugs for your sweet gift of $5. Along with this letter, I am enclosing a beautiful Health and Happiness Plan Book for your continued blessings. You'll hear more about this little book in my next letters. Place this book where you keep your general bills."
The Health and Happiness Plan Book looks pretty much like a car-payment book, except that on the back of each coupon there's a place for you to write your Prayer Need. You're supposed to send in a coupon every month with a Prove God offering of $7 "for crusades, orphans, publishing the Gospel and other outreaches of God's work." Evidently Rev. Al keeps orphans.
What troubled me was that the letter did not specifically mention bees, although it did say: "Dave, have all the assurance that the Prayer Family and I are definitely remembering your 'urgent' needs in our spiritual devotions." This was fine, as far as it went, but I wasn't looking for Rev. Al and the Prayer Family to remember the bees so much as to reduce them to lifeless blobs of protoplasm.
So at this point, I was beginning to think, okay, $7 a month comes to $84 a year, plus the initial $5 Loving Gift brings it up to a total of $89, which means maybe it would make more sense to just get somebody out here with a ladder and some kind of toxic chemicals, you know? I was pondering this option, when I got another letter from Rev. Al. "Dave, " he wrote, "I know you're sincere in wanting a financial break-through." Knowing this, Rev. Al had enclosed a Faith Dollar, which looks like a regular dollar, only it miraculously changes bad luck into Divine Abundance. By way of proof, the letter had photographs of cars, houses, a full grocery cart, a handful of cash, a television set and various other forms of Divine Abundance. To get all this, the letter said, I was supposed to put the Faith Dollar in my "billfold or purse" and never spend it, then send Rev. Al a Prove God offering of $20, which, Rev. Al wrote, "will help me feed more orphans." Rev. Al is thinking about expanding his orphan herd.
At this point I became quite concerned, because here Rev. Al was talking about sending me all this abundance, when in fact my particular Prayer Need had nothing to do with money. I was afraid that somehow my Prayer Need had accidentally become mixed up with somebody else's, which could mean that the Prayer Family was killing perfectly innocent insects at somebody else's house. So I called Rev. Al's emergency number, which it says in the letter you can call if you need "immediate prayer help." It turned out to be a recorded message of Rev. Al (who, incidentally, also sounds sort of like Liberace). The message concerned a sock. I swear I am not making this up. "By now, " said Rev. Al, "you have received that letter, the one that has that sock, that piece of sock I put in it. Do exactly everything that letter tells you to do. Return that sock! It's very important!"
Well, I had not received any letter with any piece of sock in it. I just know I would remember if I had. I'm wondering if Rev. Al has forsaken me, on account of I haven't been keeping up with my Health and Happiness Plan payments. I'm getting worried. The bees are worse than ever, and I can't remember which of my dollars is my Faith Dollar. Also my Good Fortune Faith Necklace is giving me a rash.
c 2011, Dave Barry
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