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Follow the Cheese

Herald columnist Jim DeFede's odyssey across the United States as he delivers the Virgin Mary cheese sandwich to Las Vegas.

Thursday, November 25, 2004

Waiting for the Pasteurized Madonna 

On the eve of my rendezvous with the Virgin Mary Grilled Cheese Sandwich, I called my family in Brooklyn to let them know I would be on the road for the next week.

"Are you insane?" my sister said laughing when I told he what I would be doing. "You are going to drive to Las Vegas with a grilled cheese sandwich?"

"It's not just any grilled cheese sandwich," I said. "It's the Virgin Mary Grilled Cheese Sandwich. It's special."

"Does it really look like the Virgin Mary?"

"Yeah, kind of."

"Do you believe it's the Virgin Mary?"

"Sure. Why not? Maybe. I don't know."

Religion has always been a touchy subject in our family. I was born in Brooklyn and baptised Catholic. Each Sunday I attended Mass at St. Patrick's Church and I went to St. Patrick's Elementary School.

My first grade teacher was a nun, Sister Rene. She was a slight woman but wielded a mean wooden ruler. More than 30 years later, I still have a scar on the middle knuckle of my left hand from where she would hit me with that ruler as punishment for one of my many boyhood transgressions.

There was a time, however, when I thought about becoming an altar boy. There was good money in it. An altar boy could make anywhere from $20 to $100 for a wedding or a funeral. But in the end I passed. The closest I came was sneaking into the church with a few friends and swiping handfuls of Communion wafers before they were blessed.

All through class that day my friends and I would pop them onto our tongues and laugh.

Today, I am what you would call a lapsed Catholic. The only time I go to church is for a wedding or a funeral.

My sister, on the other hand, goes to church regularly. She helps out at a local soup kitchen to feed the homeless. She plans outings for the teenage members of her church. And she organizes fundraisers for her church. This on top of being married and raising two kids.

She's no bible thumper, though. She can still curse like a drunken Marine. And last year, I saw her go postal on a cashier at a gas station who was rude. ("I'm going to kick your ass!" -- I think those were my sister's exact words as she beat on the plexi-glass booth of the service station.)

As we talked pre-Virgin Mary quest, my sister worried that perhaps I was delving into forces that were not entirely benevolent.

"This thing," she said. "This grilled cheese sandwich could be coming from a bad place."

"Well, yeah," I said. "You've been to Broward County, Florida. The place is a cultural wasteland of trailer parks and addle minded drivers."

"No, no," she said. "I mean a really bad place."

She's talking about The Devil.

"You know that 'Crossing Over' idiot, John Edwards?" she asks.


"I was talking to my priest about him," she said. "And I said, 'We don't believe in those things.' And he said, 'No, we absolutely do believe in that. We believe that he is tapping into these things. What we don't believe is that it is coming from a good place. We believe it is coming from a bad place and it's somewhere where we don't want to go.' And so that's what worries me about this freakin' grilled cheese sandwich, that it's not coming from a good place."

"But, there's no way of knowing," I said.

"If people were actually being healed by the grilled cheese sandwich," she said, "I would be a little more excited about it."

"Well this woman's life was made better by it," I said. (Diana Duyser claims to have won $70,000 at the local Indian casino thanks to the Virgin Mary Grilled Cheese Sandwich.)

"Yeah, but that's because she gambled and won a lot," my sister said. "That's bad. In other words it drove her to do things that were not pleasing to God."

"I have a feeling Diana was showing up at the casino anyway," I said "Besides, don't churches have bingo? Isn't that gambling?"

"Yes," she said, "and that's why a lot of them don't do that anymore. Who bought it?"

"A company called," I said. "They do online gambling. They are one of the biggest online casinos in the world."

A long silence ensues.

"Look, I'm not saying anything bad is going to happen," she finally says. "I just don't think it is coming from a good place. So be careful."


Am I about to pick up the Virgin Mary or some processed cheese demon spawn?

Am I riding with God of the Devil?

Am I going straight to Hell or to Las Vegas? And in the end, is there really much difference?

posted by Jim DeFede at 3:57 PM

Jim DeFede and Cheese

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