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Fire and Fry

My Memories of a Fire-Breathing, Southern Fried Snake-Oil Salesmen, and His Cheap, Back Alley Carnival Act.

By Tom BakerPublished 22 days ago Updated 21 days ago 8 min read
Image found at Pixabay. Public domain.

I'm from Marion, Indiana, a fact which has been a curse to my existence, Marion being just a shade or two removed from literal Hell. It's a run-down, rustbelt carcass of despair, wherein the average income is even lower than the double-digit I.Q.s. (Hardyharhar.)

These are my fucking people, okay? So I can say that.

At any rate, once, about twenty-two tender years ago, when I first decided that my ex-wife, Satan rest her soul, was going to be my ex-wife, in the depths of my spiritual malaise, I found my way to a run-down (should have been condemned) old church that used to belong to my grandparents' church (both grandparents are dead now), until they up and sold it to another church, who decided the building was a rat-infested, bug-infested, dangerous, dilapidated, sewage-reeking oldy moldy of the Lord, one that needed to be met with wrecking ball or turned into a methadone clinic.

So THEy sold the building, or rented it out, to another, uh, "pastor"; a religious confidence trickster with sort of whitish blonde hair, a white suit, a battered, out-of-tune folk guitar, and the sort of passionate enthusiasm that put one in mind of a young Jim Jones.

I had been in the church before as a child. I remembered well, upon entering the building, the day I stood out in my little man suit under the glaring sunlight (everything in this memory is sort of like in those old movies where they smeared Vaseline on the lens to get a blurry effect), having just been creeped-out by shaking the three-fingered hand of a cadaverous old man whose flesh felt as if he had been dragged from a mortuary, propped up, reanimated by cattle prod or electric shock, and turned loose. There were a bunch of old dead people standing outside the church after that service; although I have to stress that THEY WERE NOT DEAD AT THE TIME. (At least, not in the literal sense.)

(I had on my little suit. I was the only five-year-old who liked suits, as I was actually a reincarnated little Victorian gentleman who realized he didn't belong in this punishing, miserable day and age. I even have a school photo of me in elementary school wearing a suit and bowtie while all the other kids are wearing their rough and ready modern play clothes. Again, past-life regression, bubbelah.)

But let my mind and my undoubtedly superior (if Mephistophelian) consciousness journey forth to the THEN that was the NOW, back then. (?) So this old piece of Colonel Sanders' Extra Crispy is strumming a folk guitar and dancing about, and maybe they either can't get the lights on or maybe they are all burnt out (they had tremendous pentagon-shaped, long, tall hanging lights I was always afraid were going to come off their grisly, rusted black chains and splat me as a child), but it's dim in there and moldy and dusty and smelly, and he's dancing and strumming, and his Trinity Broadcast Network wife is playing the piano badly, and they're both doing warbly singing; and there are about forty or so marks (er, I mean, "parishioners") seated. And these are all poor whites, poor blacks being bilked. Welfare and food stamp recipients; little old ladies on social security and guys with learning disabilities and mental handicaps; you get the picture.

I don't remember what the hell he sermoned about in that sermon, but he had everyone come up in a line after he got through begging for money and like touch him or pray or something, and all the poor people who were hoping against hope for some kind of phony miracle, that something could come in and alleviate the distress of their otherwise bad, unfulfilling, and often desperate lives, did so; and I did so too, noting that I was trembling a little. I said to myself, "Self, surely an icy, hate-filled, misanthropic, cynic, heretic, and all-around cantankerous 'Never Going to Win Any Damn Popularity Contests' fellow such as yourself isn't letting himself be suckered, not even one tiny little iota, but this cheap, third-rung Jimmy Swaggart impersonator, are you?" But, such is the power of BELIEF, of the WILL to BELIEVE. Of grasping at hope, like grasping at the fraying end of a breaking rope.

So he announced there would be a "tent revival" that night, in a vacant lot (we have a lot of those in Marion) that was across the street from an apartment house where my estranged aunt once lived. So, taking into consideration the fact that I once had a close encounter UFO sighting in that lot, and so it all seemed somehow mystically fortuitous, we went to see him Frizzle Fry the Gospel and hand around his hat for pennies. It was, indeed, a freak scene out of Carny or Nightmare Alley.

Bare bulbs with bugs flying around them. A tent spread out. No music as I remember, no frills, but there might have been some singing (badly) by the assembled suckers (er, I mean, "believers"), and then Brother Reverend Father Jimbo starts in on his spiel or sermon or whatever, and the curious thing was, he seemed to stray far afield from speaking of "Ancient Isruhl" to being heavily concerned with "Modern Mammon"; that is the attaining of it.

I kept expecting them to break out the snake boxes with the rattlers and the bottles of arsenic [1], but instead, a few people in on the scam (or maybe just so braindead they actually believed this nonsense), came up, touched the so-electrifying "Father of His Flock" and fell to the ground, "Slain in the Spirit." One was a woman with her legs splayed out so that Pastor could most likely see up her dress. Not a very interesting sight. She looked like a beached porpoise.

At the end of it, he and his accomplice (er, I mean, his "fellow minister"), a paunchy, oily, tall, probably ex-con with slicked-back Claude Akins hair and a bad suit, came forward, and they took turns berating the audience for not coughing up their meager, paltry earnings on behalf of the "Great Work" of "Fire and Fry Ministries." (Yes, I did change the name for this piece. But, considering that the Duke and the King here were as Southern as the arse end of a young, yet undeniably tawny and lean Huckleberry Finn, I think it rings rather true, don't you? Amusingly, they had a sort of trailer hitched to the back of their piece-of-shit van or whatever, and it had a very amateurish "Fire and Fry" with flames painted badly on the side. A complete, shabby, seedy, shit-show if ever I saw one.)

There was a table in the back with literature, badly printed and Xeroxed, and a few video cassettes (this WAS over twenty years ago), including one that looked as if the cover had been stolen from some kid's thrash metal demo tape from 1986. It was like a bad drawing of some sword-wielding devil skull demon thing, and I was curious if it might not be a videotape of some ultra-low-rent Biblical apocalypse movie that might be a real gas to watch. But, turning it over, I found it was no dice: it was simply one of their interminable sermons videotaped on a cheap home camera, with, I'm certain horrible quality and a tape that would break in the machine after the second time it was played.

The most sensible dude of the entire night came riding up on a bike, as I remember. Undoubtedly, he was full of the world-weary cynicism that living in Marion's "Buck Town" (i.e., a largely poor white neighborhood) had instilled in him. (By contrast, the poor black neighborhood was then called "Little Harlem.") After listening for a few moments, he spat angrily and said, "Jesus wouldn't make me pay nothin'!" Yeah. I feel the sentiment, Hoss.

He then rode away into the night,

They lied about everything. Pastor Frizzle Fry and his wife claimed to be living in the basement area of the old church (which looked a step or two away from being condemned), but going past the steps on the way out, smelling the overwhelming FUNK of mildew coming up from what smelled like the bowels of Hell, I knew right away THAT claim could not be true.

(The basement area was a place I well remember from childhood of always having a sort of spooky atmosphere. You went down the steps and there was this huge mural of The Nazarene exiting a door, and it was most excellently done. And then you went into the downstairs Sunday School classroom which was lit by bright fluorescents and had row after row of hard white benches, and a chalkboard up front, and it always calls to mind eating sugar cookies and drinking Hawaiian Punch, and the class was taught by this old woman with an enormous rear end squeezed into a dress that probably retailed for twelve dollars at J.C. Penny's in 1968.)

I take it they're long gone now, folded up tent and gone to that Great Big Tent Show Revival in the Sky, perhaps. Or maybe jail for fraud, tax evasion, who the hell knows? Furthermore, who cares?

Or maybe they're still out there, suckering the marks, fleecing the rubes, running their Holy Con Job, trying to ascend that old "Highway to Heaven," before they plummet headlong into the frizzle fry of Hell.

Love and napalm.


[1] The original Faces of Death (1978) has a curious segment on "Pentecostal snake handlers," one in which those that were once "sinning men, eh-men" drink poison and "take up serpents." A little girl is seen jerking spasmodically in "The Spirit," as if she were either an epileptic or demonically possessed. It's a great segment.

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About the Creator

Tom Baker

Author of Haunted Indianapolis, Indiana Ghost Folklore, Midwest Maniacs, Midwest UFOs and Beyond, Scary Urban Legends, 50 Famous Fables and Folk Tales, and Notorious Crimes of the Upper Midwest.:

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  • Randy Wayne Jellison-Knock21 days ago

    Or he grew up to become Robert Tilton, the wealthiest con-man of Prosperity Gospel preaching on the planet. Loved the biker. But was that a very nice thing to say about beached porpoises? lol. Been there, done that, met them, done with that.

  • JBaz22 days ago

    Ex wife, Satan rest her soul…….lol Had me from then on.

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