If it weren’t for Adam West, I might have grown up to be a devout Catholic.
As it was, the church lost me to the Batman of the 1960s sometime between the ages of six and eight, when I noticed the chair on which our priest sat was oddly similar to the throne used by King Tut, the portly, Egypt-themed villain who’d show up to menace the Caped Crusader on television every few weeks.
I started to imagine Batman and Robin bursting into the church, and wondered what they might use as weaponry — the way they’d use, say, bowling pins to thwart the Joker’s henchmen at the end of any given episode.
(At that age, my concept of “camp” was non-existent, and I watched Batman’s exploits like they were the Iran-Contra hearings. The fight scenes always riveted me, especially in the third season when they were set to this surf-punk score that thrilled me like no other music I’d ever heard.)
Soon, I never paid attention in church, at an age — pre-First Communion — when that sort of thing was, well, required. My dad took me to task one Sunday as we left the building. “You’re not listening,” he said. “You’re probably thinking about … ‘Star Wars’ … or … fighting.”
“Star Wars” hadn’t even crossed my mind, but I knew better than to correct him.
I never really reformed, but still managed the rites of passage for young Catholics: Confession, Communion, Confirmation. Eventually I became an altar boy. By high school, I’d also seen movies like “The Manchurian Candidate” and “The Man Who Knew Too Much,” and they began to inform the journeys my mind took when I sat beside the altar.
I’d imagine spotting the glare of a rifle scope in the choir loft, then slipping out through the sacristy, around the side of the building, up the stairs to the choir loft just in time to tackle the assassin. (The reality that no one worth assassinating went to our church never crossed my mind.)
At this point, you might be thinking: “So what? A lot of kids who were raised Catholic were bored during church.”
And that’s true. But the problem is that I’ve never outgrown this compulsion to invent elaborate, violent scenarios whenever I’m in a public setting and watching something that’s not a play, concert, or movie. Consequently, my fantasy life got quite a workout during the years I covered school boards and municipal governments in eastern Pennsylvania for an area newspaper. My visits to the Bangor Area School Board, for example, usually involved a game of What Would Happen If a Zombie Uprising Hit Upper Mount Bethel Township?
(For the record, I’d quickly go for the closest weapon: The ceremonial gold-plated shovel used at a groundbreaking ceremony in the 1990s and kept on display in the administration building.)
Once, while covering a borough council meeting in the community of Wind Gap, I began wondering what would happen if someone released a vicious wild animal — maybe a badger — into the building. Other times, the scenario would be a little more pedestrian: “That guy seems pretty mad at the township supervisors. But what would happen if he threw a chair at them?”
I always had to try to stay focused, because I still had reporting to do and newspaper stories to write. But, to be fair, most of my articles based on these meetings would have been improved by the appearance of zombies, or at least a flying chair.
Early last month, I stumbled upon an episode of the new TV show “Human Target.” It didn’t make much of an impression, except for one scene: The hero had gone undercover inside a monastery to stop a gang of thieves intent on stealing some sort of lost artifact, and in fending them off, he uses a censer — a heavy metal container on a gold chain, used for burning incense — as a weapon.
I’d like to think my younger, 1960s Batman-loving self would have approved.