ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED DECEMBER 2011
One of the enormous pleasures of looking for Forrest’s treasure is the unique characters you meet along the way. I’m not sure why the hunt attracts more people who take a different path through life but it sure makes the hunt interesting. Maybe you just have to be a little peculiar to believe that a poem will lead you to a hidden cache of gold and gems.
It’s still autumn and I’m catching a hot breakfast at a cafe in Montana before I head back outside where it’s a crispy 22 degrees. Last night the temperature plummeted to 12 degrees. Can’t keep any water in the van with me. No snow yet.
I know I’m not the only Fenn treasure hunter out here. There is a guy sitting alone in a booth with a copy of “Thrill of the Chase” in front of him. He’s not looking at it. He’s ogling the young, black outfitted waitresses as they flit around pouring coffee, taking orders and carrying platters of eggs and bacon to their customers. Most everyone in here is part of a group of 3 or 4 or more. Probably locals. The waitress watcher and me are the single exceptions.
There is something not quite centered about him. His hair looks a little too thick. His skin is just a little too pink and his eyes are just a little too far apart on his round head. His eyebrows are thin, as if he drew them on with a pencil. He looks like a cartoon of himself. Like he’s a Muppet. He’s wearing turquoise polyester running pants with dual, yellow side stripes and lime green sneakers. He has a canary yellow hoody that reads “Kansas” in bright red letters and he’s wearing a knitted scarf with so many colors in it that I can’t possibly list them all. He looks like he was dressed by the ladies over at Goodwill…the color blind ones. He doesn’t look like he’s from around here. All the locals are dressed for hunting season. I am trying to figure out what this guy’s story is. Trying to put him in one of the neat categories almost everyone seems to fit in. But it’s not working. He’s definitely different. Interesting in a serial killer sort of way.
What the heck! I decide to go over to his booth and find out about him. My problem is that I’m just too curious. I can’t let a character like this move through my day without finding out what his story is. It’s a personality flaw. I can’t stop myself. I take my coat from the back of the chair, my glass of water and menu and head over toward his booth. His brain is so focused on a waitress clearing off a table across from him that he doesn’t see me coming. I land at the end of the booth and toss my jacket on the empty seat and slide in.
“Hi, the waitress asked if I could sit over here to make room for the folks waiting by the door.” I lied and pointed at the line by the door to reinforce my story. “Hope this is okay with you. If it isn’t I can still run back and grab my table.”
“No, this is fine. Glad for the company. Make yourself at home.” As he pulled Forrest’s book back toward his side of the table.
He spoke with an Eastern European accent. Fluent English…just a thick accent.
“So are you from around here.” I asked.
“No.” He said with a bigger than required grin. “I’m from Kansas. What about you?”
“I’m from Washington State. My name’s Dal.” I reached across the table and offered my hand.
He took my hand very firmly and shook it once and let go. His hand was small and very soft. “I’m Lynn. Glad to meet you.”
“Are you on vacation?” I asked, trying to see if I could start him on the topic of treasure hunting.
“Not really.” he said. I’m here at the request of my church congregation.
“No kidding.” I said. “Are you attending a conference here?”
“Actually, I’m trying to raise some funds.”
“Really?” I said. “This town doesn’t look like a particularly ripe market for big donations especially for a church in Kansas.”
“Oh, you’d be surprised.” Lynn said. “You just have to make it easy for people to donate these days and they will.”
The waitress with a name tag that read “Your server… Becky” stepped up. “Are you gentleman ready to order?”
I ordered the Hometown. Two eggs sunnyside up, three link sausages, homefries and white toast and a tall orange juice.
Lynn ordered oatmeal but he called it porridge.
“So are you a priest, minister, reverend, ThD?” I asked.
“I am a minister.” Lynn replied.
“I was an ordained priest in the Catholic church but gave it up…gave up Catholicism actually and started over fresh with some principles that I think are more equalitarian in nature.
“What’s your church?” I asked.
“Drive-Thru Church of God.” He replied.
“Pardon?” I said.
“It’s the Drive-Thru Church of God.” He said again..slower this time. “I know, I get that look a lot.” He said as he pointed at my face.
“So is this a church you can drive into, like a drive-in theatre?” I asked.
“Used to be.” Lynn replied. “But my parishioners wanted something a little less intrusive in their lives. I mean driving up to the church and not having to get out of your car is a good idea. The disabled like it and people who want to come to church in their jeans and t-shirts like it. Some people even come in their pajamas. Just pack up the whole family in their night clothes and head to church. It’s very American.”
“Hard to see how anything could be more equalitarian than that. But now you have something different?” I asked.
“Oh yes”. Said Lynn. “Now I have a dozen APM machines in small booths across Kansas. Sort of like a drive-thru coffee stand but no barista.”
“Yeah, Automatic Prayer Machine. A parishioner simply pulls up to the window. Puts her credit card in the machine. It’s like an automated teller machine. The device recognizes her by name. Asks how much she would like to contribute. She enters an amount. The machine charges that amount to her card and gives her a nice printed receipt and prayer that will fit into her Bible and she’s off to work or the soccer field or where ever…and oh..one of the special things we do in our church is that we believe Holy Water and contrition can absolve one’s small sins so we have a spritzer built in and If you say you are sorry for your sins you can press a button, get spritzed and forgiven. For an extra small fee the machine will hand you a DVD of my latest sermon.”
I was lost for words. I suspect my mouth was open as I listened. I was drawing mental pictures of soccer moms being forgiven for whatever sins soccer moms commit.
Finally…”So this actually has a following?” I asked.
“Oh heavens yes. We have about 15,000 parishioners all across Kansas..these are folks who attend drive-thru services once a week or more. We also get the occasional interested passer by..and a few who are regular but only come by a couple of times a year.
“Like any church.” I said.
“Pretty much.” said Lynn.
“This must heat up the more conventional church goers.” I said
“Ohhh…yes…but you know every new technology is viewed with skepticism by religious groups. They usually come around…except the Pope. He still won’t permit women priests.”
“It’s only been 2000 years I said. Give him some time.”
“Actually, I don’t read much about women who want to be Catholic Priests. Is there really a lot of pressure on the church to make that change?”
“Oh heck yes.” Decried Lynn. “The parishioners want it. Nuns would benefit from it. It’s probably the second or third most iterated complaint about the church from Catholics.”
“Well. I don’t get around much in Catholic circles so I really wouldn’t know but still, I have never run into any women who have expressed that opinion.”
Lynn laughed again. He put his elbows on the table, leaned forward and said “Well your listening to one right now.”
It took me a second to figure out what he meant.
“You’re a woman?” I asked.
“Not any more but I used to be.” He let that sink into my skull for a beat or two.
“I grew up as a girl in the Ukraine. I wanted to be a Catholic priest in the worst way. So, when I was 20 I had a sex change. I mean what difference would it make since I was going to be taking a vow of celibacy anyway? I moved to Canada where I was accepted for theological studies with the Franciscans in Ontario. Six years later I was assigned to my first parish in Alberta where things went very well until I admitted to having a sex change to the Bishop. In short I was excommunicated and given a hard time by Canadian Immigration for lying about my gender. I moved to Kansas and have been saving souls and making friends ever since. Got my US citizenship about five years ago.”
“Wow…that’s a story.” I said. “Are you looking to expand your church into Montana?”
“Not right now.” Lynn said. We’re in the middle of a capital fund raising event. We want to build six more APMs in Kansas in the next year. But they cost about two hundred thousand each. The annual costs take care of themselves once you have one up in a good location. So my parishioners bought this book and sent me out here to find a million in gold this guy hid out here someplace.”
Lynn slid Forrest’s book toward me.
“We’re competitors.” I said.
I slid the book back toward him.
“You have a church in Kansas too?” he asked.
I laughed. “No.” I said. “I mean I’m out here looking for Forrest’s treasure too.”
The conversation moved toward the treasure. Breakfast arrived. We ate and talked. Lynn had some interesting ideas about where Forrest might have hidden his chest including looking inside a few churches. He showed me a couple of places in the book where his congregation felt Forrest was paraphrasing the Psalms.
After the dishes were cleared away and the bills were settled Lynn took out his business/church card and handed it to me.
“Just so you know, you don’t have to be in Kansas to give money to our church.” He said. “You can call that 800 number any time of the day or night with your credit card and donate.”
“Thanks.” I said as I took his card. “I feel much closer to god.”
I like Lynn. He is certainly on a different path but a fascinating guy and a clever entrepreneur. I’ve met more than a few interesting people since I started looking for the treasure but I’m not sure any have a story as good as Lynn’s.