My mother-in-law, Ms. Larda, has reached that age where she gets compliments on having her own teeth. But being old ain’t slowed her down. She still runs her own business and minds everybody else’s.
However, she got no use whatsoever for modern technology. She paid extra for a cell phone that don’t do nothing but phone. She said she was tired of taking pictures of her ear.
Her daughter Gloriosa is the total opposite. Gloriosa loves cyber everything. Her house Uptown has all the digital bells and whistles, plus historic architecture. She and her husband, Proteus, just spent a ton of money having their fancy touch-screen thermostat connected with their WiFi system, which Gloriosa can control from her smartphone when she’s not home. She can also turn on her coffee pot and TV, and program classical music into speakers in every room in the house with this phone.
She is worried though, because lately there have been a lot of burglaries in her neighborhood. So she asks Ms. Larda to house-sit.
She knows better than to say anything to Ms. Larda about the WiFi setup. Ms. Larda always brings her own coffee pot – the kind you set on the stove – and she always watches TV in the kitchen where they got an old set with buttons on the front. Gloriosa will just check the New Orleans weather online and set the new thermostat to an appropriate temperature. Ms. Larda won’t have to fool with it. She will probably think it’s another TV.
Turns out it costs money to send electronic messages from a cruise ship, so Gloriosa just sets the thermostat at 69, puts the phone in her suitcase and hopes for the best. She is really on vacation now.
But her little daughter Momus is worried. How can Gramma get along without no TV or nothing? Gloriosa says she’ll be fine, but Momus don’t believe it. Momus is only 7, so naturally she knows everything about technology. She digs out Gloriosa’s smartphone and each time the ship docks, she sneaks it onshore. Then she taps the screen to turn on the TV or fix Gramma a pot of coffee back home. She even turns on the classical music a couple of times. Smart as she is, Momus don’t understand about time zones, so back home, music is coming on in the middle of the night, coffee is brewing any old time and the TV is clicking on and off.
Ms. Larda starts to suspect this house is diabolically possessed. The last straw comes when Momus accidentally hits the thermostat control; the heat in the house roars on and the temperature shoots up to 99.
Ms. Larda runs out on the front porch and calls her priest.
Father McFarley ain’t in at the moment, but his secretary takes the message, and once she understands that this emergency ain’t about exercising (“Father jogs a half-mile faithfully every morning”) but about exorcism, she says she’ll get hold of him right away.
Ms. Larda goes inside, takes a cold shower, dries off with Momus’s Wonder Woman beach towel and stretches out on the couch to stay cool. She takes out her rosary, wonders if it’s disrespectful to pray wearing nothing but this towel, which – since she’s the hefty type – don’t cover her too well, but she decides God has seen her in a lot less, not to mention Adam and Eve. So she closes her eyes and starts her Hail Marys. The classical music comes on again, soft at first, and then louder and louder and louder. Her eyes pop open, and a man is standing in the door, looking as shocked as she is, but wearing clothes. Black clothes. And a Roman collar.
I know there’s been a lot of bad things said about priests lately, but this priest was pure and innocent as the driven snow, because if that poor man lusted after anything in his heart, it wouldn’t be Ms. Larda in a Wonder Woman beach towel. He backs out quick and slams the door.
She throws on her muumuu and runs after him. Father McFarley is leaning against a porch column, swabbing his bald head with a Kleenex, probably trying to wipe his mind clean.
He explains that when he got her message he was only a couple of blocks away, so he hurried over, knocked and rang the bell, and was drowned out by music, so he turned the knob and the door opened.
She can’t blame evil spirits for that; she probably left the door unlocked before her shower. But just as she brings him inside, the music stops and the TV clicks on. “Swamp People.”
Now, Father recently sat through two hours with a salesman who wanted to technologize his church – automated chimes, electronic candles and stuff like that. And technology is what Father really lusts after in his heart. But in his parish, people need food more than automated anything – so he spent the money on that.
But he did pay more attention to the salesman’s talk than he paid to Exorcism 101 back in the seminary. He approaches the thermostat, which glows evilly on the wall, mumbles to himself, goes into Gloriosa’s home office, sees the WiFi router and unplugs it. “Begone, Satan,” he tells it. Then he resets the thermostat and turns off the TV.
Afterward, Ms. Larda tells me she witnessed a miracle.
Well. I got to tell her the truth. So I start to explain about the smartphone. She stops me cold.
“I already figured that out, Modine,” she says. “This is a different miracle. There I was with the door unlocked, naked as a sitting duck, burglars prowling around. But God sent Father McFarley. Why? Because I was saying my rosary. That’s why.”
She is probably right. God really didn’t want to see her in that beach towel.