Time for Joy

Amie McLaughlin

It started off with me holding my plane ticket at six o' clock in the morning, groggy, standing in line at Greater Rochester International Airport. I narrowed my eyes down at my ticket holder that displayed Rocky and Bullwinkle sitting in a helicopter, concerned that the church youth group I was about to depart with would think I was socially deviant if I strayed the line for a cup of coffee.

August 1-6, 1992: the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod Youth Gathering. I wasn't happy or excited in the least to be going on this trip; I was forced. New Orleans, Louisiana, big freakin' deal, I thought, believing it would be the worst week of my life, hanging out with a bunch of dorky Christians not only from my Dad's church, but from all over the country, sitting in the Superdome reading the New International Version. At 17, I would have been content to stay home with a forty-ounce of Crazy Horse and a pack of GPC cigarettes (Generic Price Cigarettes, Gutter Punk Cigarettes or Gigantic Papillary Conjunctivitis?) than to admit any purpose to my existence. But as soon as my feet hit the blistered tarmac and the cajun heat punched me in my Yankee face, that city sparked something in me that was vaguely taking shape as hope.

I especially wasn't too happy about my roommates. This trinity of younger girls regularly attended Hope Lutheran Church, making me feel appropriately guilty with my compulsory Christmas and Easter attendance when I went to visit my Dad and stepmom. Korana, Gretchen, and Betsy were their names, respectively, and after the first night sharing a bed and fighting over the covers with Korana, I secretly coined the threesome the KGB.

At the end of each day of sweaty prayer, I stayed up hours after the KGB went to sleep so I could chain smoke sitting outside of our hotel room door at the Hilton, writing down my observations of the city in my composition book journal. Corny musings about the pointed arch Gothic buildings. The French-speaking clown who made me a Fleur-de-lis shaped balloon in the crowded, cobbled French Market, the pasty white of his make-up creasing in his laugh lines. The Steamboat Natchez we rode on, its huge, red paddle wheel kicking up the spray of the Mississippi River into our faces.

New Orleans for me was by the book—the Good Book, as it were—until the night our youth group visited Bourbon Street. I walked down that infamous street with a Youth Counselor by my side and pretended I didn't like what I saw: people twisted up in lustful acts, loathsome drunks staggering from bar to bar, musicians and con artists plying for change, night club DJs spinning perversion, red lights enticing men from balconies.

After our brief walk through evil, we made it out to the other side. We went back to the Hilton and pleaded with the Youth Director to let us watch Basic Instinct. Even the KGB was for it, but we went to bed again with the bible in our heads, and I still awoke with a smile.


About the Author

Amie McLaughlin lives in Fairport, NY with her husband. She teaches writing at a vocational college and dreams of a life where she is free to sleep and write whenever she wants to. "Time for Joy" came out of an experience she had in 1993. If she has another experience soon, look for her next story in 2030.