Why you should care

Because a certain type of person is fooled 100 percent of the time. 

Saturday after Thanksgiving. Eight-thirty p.m. Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

I speed up the empty turnpike but still arrive 30 minutes late. I show ID to the complex guard; he makes a call, opens the gate. Good thing I was tardy. The driveway is full of cars, and I’d hate to be blocked in.

I knock. A squirrelly kid, maybe 19 years old, opens the door.

“You’re late,” he informs me. “But you can come in.”

He ushers me into the Florida room, as only people who move here from New York seem to call it. Twenty-odd people are seated haphazardly — normal people (i.e., not strangely dressed or otherwise presented), Black, Latino, Jewish, from teenagers to senior citizens. Sitting on a sofa toward the front of the room is Anthony, the guy who invited me to this mysterious soiree. Next to Anthony is my friend Micha, whose skill is sniffing out, or gravitating to, weird gatherings such as this. I take a stool behind them.

The speaker appears unfazed by my entrance.

Why would God put planets millions of miles out there? It would serve no purpose.

The event appears to be a history or geography lecture, or maybe a Bible study. The speaker is quoting various passages from the Bible, usually bringing it back to Genesis. Then he’s talking about the flood and Noah’s Ark.

“So we can see from these accounts, that the stars” — he arches one hand above his head with a look of wonder in his eyes — “are in the sky. We agree?” Everybody’s nodding. Yeah, the stars are in the sky, I’m thinking.

“They’re not a million miles away. They’re maybe a few dozen miles above us, the stars and the sun and the moon, here in our atmosphere.”

Oh. Oh, damn it.

He goes through PowerPoint slides on a flat-screen. There are a lot of graphs and maps, but — I’m beginning to suspect, to know with certainty — not much science.

“The stars are just above the clouds. They’re little flashlights, giving us something to see by at night. And the moon is a bigger light, for us, floating in our atmosphere. Why would God put planets millions of miles out there? It would serve no purpose.”

I’m staring daggers into the back of Anthony’s head. He’s an engineer and could clear this up for everyone. I lean forward, wishing he’d look at me so I can confirm he’s not buying any of this. Where am I? This can’t be a …

“There’s no space station orbiting Earth. There would be no point to that!” the speaker shouts. “There’s nothing to see underneath Earth.”

Underneath.

One hand flutters out, summoning a volunteer. “Somebody, open your Bible and read for me. Genesis 1:6. Terry.” An eager Terry begins, “Then God said, ‘Let there be an expanse —’”

“Wait!” The speaker stops him, frustrated. “What translation is that?”

The Bible says that Earth is God’s footstool. A footstool is flat!

Terry answers nervously, “New American Standard.”

“It’s wrong. But finish. Let’s see what it says.”

“Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters.”

“Stop right there. OK, here’s an intentionally bad translation. If you read the King James Version, it says, ‘Let there be a firmament.’ In both versions it refers to our planet. But a firmament is more specific than some expanse. What does a firmament indicate, Terry?”

Terry responds enthusiastically, “A foundation!”

“Yes! A foundation, like that of a house, is a smooth, even surface. And why would they remove the word ‘foundation’?” He raises one finger.

The boy who opened the door chimes in with gusto, “Because the new world order —”

The speaker barks, “Do not interrupt me!” and the boy is silenced. “It’s because the new world order doesn’t want us to know the truth.” He pauses to let that sink in. “Jesenia, get one of your balls, a big one.” His teenage daughter scurries out of the room. The speaker tells us to break while we wait.

Anthony twists around and leans toward me. “What time are you leaving?”

“I have a flight tomorrow. I was gonna go in an hour if it’s not over by then.”

“Ten minutes. You leave, you take me with you.”

“All right.” I can’t contain a smile. I literally have my tongue in cheek, trying not to laugh.

Jesenia’s back with a soccer ball. The speaker is disappointed. “Is that all you have?” She shrugs. “Fine, this will do. Look!” He sets the ball down. He swings his feet up and lowers them onto the ball like it’s an ottoman. He twists left and right, his feet slipping down the sides. Anyone with working legs, sitting in a chair, should be able to balance their feet on a soccer ball. He’s making a show of this. He gets both feet on top of it, but they start to roll every which way.

“You see?” he says. “I can’t rest my feet on it. No balance. The Bible says that Earth is God’s footstool.” He grabs the ball and raises it in the air, his arms shaking violently, and screams, “This is no footstool! A footstool is flat!”

Anthony springs up from the couch. It hasn’t been the 10 minutes he allotted; it’s been three. “Let’s go.”

Behind us I hear the speaker shout, “Where are they going?”

Micha’s covering for us, making up a story about Anthony and me having night shifts. I’m through the door and closing it when I hear the speaker say decisively, “OK then, that’s all right. They can leave.”

Damn, I’m thinking, what if you find that your otherwise trustworthy mechanic, priest or accountant believes possibly the most outlandish thing? How drastically would that shift paradigms? The severity of this nonsensical society glimmers in the back of my mind, but I’m instinctively amused.

We’re in the car. I’m speeding down the turnpike.

“I almost invited my neighbor!” Anthony says, beaming. “He’d have never given me the time of day after witnessing that!”

I joke — mostly — “Now when SWAT raids that place, they’re gonna find my name on the visitor list.”

Or worse, one day Jesenia will be asked to prom. And she’ll bring her date home to meet her father.

OZYTrue Story

Good stories from around the globe. Essays and immersion, into the harrowing, the sweet, the surprising — the human.