Father Timothy Pelc thought he would have a little fun on Easter -- and observe social distancing, of course -- by using a plastic squirt gun to dispense holy water on parishioners.
A month later, the Catholic priest, who serves St. Ambrose Parish in Grosse Pointe Park, Michigan, has gone viral after the church posted photos on Facebook in mid-April.
There's a meme of Father Tim surrounded by firefighters dousing a blaze, one of him in front of imperial Stormtroopers and another of him standing next to those guys from "Pulp Fiction" -- all three with guns raised.
But his favorite, Pelc says, is a meme portraying him firing at demons in hell, seemingly inspired by the video game "Doom."
The memes, which have shown up on Twitter and Reddit, have struck both a humorous and spiritual tone during the coronavirus pandemic, he said.
"We're looking for something to save us from something -- either the virus, loneliness or whatever," the priest told CNN on Monday.
Making the best of a bad situation
Before Holy Week, Pelc said one of his parishioners, an emergency room physician, discussed possible safe options for the blessing of Easter baskets at the Detroit-area church.
"We were told the week before that we couldn't hand out palms due to cross-contamination," Pelc said.
They settled on the squirt gun, with the priest -- wearing a mask and gloves -- standing several feet from passing cars as he hit them with holy water.
"We figured sterile water was the way to do it. We were prepared to do it one of two ways: either we would distribute little plastic vials of holy water, but then we thought, 'What about a squirt gun?' The doctor said, 'That's fun. If you do that, I'm coming with my family.'"
Sure enough, the doctor and his family came, along with about 50 other congregants, Pelc said.
Although the number was roughly half of the typical turnout for Easter services, the target demographic -- younger families, who at that point were believed to be least susceptible to Covid-19 -- showed up.
From a memory to a meme
While initial coverage of the squirt gun received about 30,000 to 40,000 hits on Facebook, Pelc said, he expected attention to subside.
"If you can't have fun with your faith, what can you have fun with?" he said. "The second bounce, maybe they saw the irony of it a little bit more and maybe took it to a deeper level. And even though it's more fun this time around -- these memes are just hysterical, nobody's enjoying it more than I am -- there was a deeper need here."
Despite the attention, the squirt gun made its first and last appearance this year.
What he'd like for people to take away is a message of hope. After all, Pelc is in the business of faith.
"Look to create memories for your kids that will be positive in the midst of this, because the kids are watching what we're doing and how we're handling this," Pelc said. "If we can be strong and positive examples for them, they'll be able to tell their kids a generation from now, 'This is how we handle this.'"
News of the weird from the past week
Detroit-area residents lift spirits with costumed parades
FERNDALE, Mich. (AP) — Sarah Ignash spends her days looking after dogs in normal times. With her business temporarily shuttered because of the coronavirus, though, she's taken to walks on the wild side through her Detroit suburb with dancing bears, bipedal zebras and the like.
Ignash, whose business in nearby Roseville specializes in boarding, grooming and day care for dogs, is one of the roughly two dozen members of the Ferndale T-Rex Walking Club who have been donning inflatable costumes for feel-good jaunts during these stressful times.
"It's so much fun. Nobody can really see, (because) I have my mask on. And when I walk, I'm just smiling from ear to ear," the 42-year-old Ignash said before donning her pink unicorn get-up and leading Monday's impromptu parade.
It was the club's seventh walk since it formed in March. The members' full-body inflatable costumes run the gamut from dancing hippos, sharks and bears to a cheerful Pikachu, Stay Puft Marshmallow Man and Mr. Potato Head. And, of course, there's a T-Rex.
They trek single-file along sidewalks to thematically appropriate tunes such as the Bangles' "Walk Like an Egyptian," and "Walk the Dinosaur" by Was (Not Was).
"The purpose of the group is to just do something a little bit out of the ordinary," said Ignash, the group's leader and founding member.
Most members of the T-Rex Walking Club also belong to the Elks lodge in Ferndale, and they adhere to a strict set of guidelines.
"We do not tell anybody where we're going to walk, where we're meeting or the time that we're going to walk," said Ignash, adding that their costumes are fully enclosed and that every member also wears a mask while inside.
Plus, socially distancing is no problem for them.
"A lot of us are very large and we have very long tails," Ignash said. "So, maintaining social distancing is very easy in these."
While the club members get a kick out of their parades, the idea is to bring a little bit of cheer to their fellow residents who remain under quarantine as part of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's stay-at-home order.
"That's just really why we're doing it. It's just something that's very unexpected. And people need something a little bit different to break up the day, I think," Ignash said.
—By MIKE HOUSEHOLDER, Associated Press
Cops: Man who wouldn't wear mask at McDonald's breaks window, steals underwear
BROOKLYN, Conn. (AP) — A man who had been kicked out of a McDonald's restaurant for having no face mask threw a rock through the window, stole some underwear from a Walmart and surrendered when police threatened to set a dog on him, authorities said.
Jason Daddario, 37, was charged with criminal mischief and breach of peace, according to a police report. An attorney to comment on his behalf couldn't be found.
Daddario was asked to leave the McDonald's in Brooklyn, Connecticut, last week for failing to comply with a statewide order to wear masks in businesses to curb the spread of the coronavirus, the Hartford Courant reported Thursday.
Daddario threw the rock and then stole several pairs of "ladies underwear" from a nearby Walmart, according to the police report.
He tried to flee but thought better of it when a police dog met him as he left the store, authorities said.
Peacock on the prowl falls for officer's decoy, not love
BOSTON (AP) — A Boston police officer used an electronic mating call Monday to help capture a peacock that had escaped from a nearby zoo.
An officer lured the curious peacock that had escaped from Franklin Park Zoo into a fenced-in yard while playing a mating call on his cell phone, The Boston Globe reported.
The officers on patrol in the Roxbury area were approached by a concerned citizen, who reported that the bird, named Snowbank, had escaped from the zoo, Boston police said in a statement.
"Additional officers arrived at the scene and were met by an extremely large, slightly intimidating, and quite beautiful, male peacock," police said.
One of the officers began to look up a peacock mating call on his cellphone. When he played it, the 6-year-old bird was lured into the secure area and remained there until Boston Animal Control and zoo officials arrived.
Snowbank was then returned to the zoo and is reported to be doing well, according to zoo officials.
Normally, peacocks at the zoo are free-roaming but officials believe it's possible that Snowbank was on a mission when he made his escape.
"It is currently mating season, and it's possible he ventured out looking for love, in search of a peahen," a female peacock, zoo officials said.
9-year-old boy in Tennessee catches 80-pound lake sturgeon
HENDERSONVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A nine-year-old boy in Tennessee became the third child in his family to catch a monster fish, reeling in an 80-pound sturgeon that outweighed him by far.
Coye Price was eager to catch something big after his 11-year-old sister Caitlin hooked a 40-pound striper and his 8-year-old sister Farrah reeled in a 58-pound blue catfish a while back, the Tennessee Wildlife and Resource Agency said Tuesday in a Facebook post.
"Coye had been saying, 'Man, I don't have nothing on these girls, I've got to catch a big fish,'" Coye's father, Chris, told the Tennessean. "So not only did he catch a bigger fish than they had, but sturgeon are rare, which is the other cool part about it."
Coye, who weighs just 55-pounds, was targeting catfish in Old Hickory Lake before he hooked the sturgeon. It took him 15 minutes to get the fish in the boat, where they weighed it and took some pictures before returning it to the water, the Tennessean reported.
The endangered lake sturgeon are some of the largest and longest-living fish in Tennessee, the state's wildlife agency said. There have been efforts to restore the species, which can grow up to eight feet and live up to 150 years, after their population declined due to reasons including overfishing and habitat loss.
The agency said more than 220,000 lake sturgeon have been stocked into the Cumberland River and portions of the Tennessee River since 2000.
This dad's daughter got her own college graduation ceremony
MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — Xavier University's cancellation of its graduation ceremony due to the coronavirus pandemic didn't stop one Tennessee senior from walking across the stage.
That's because Torrence Burson decided to throw his daughter her own personal graduation ceremony in the front yard of their Memphis home, complete with a stage to walk across, a podium for speeches and a supporting audience in the street.
Gabrielle Pierce told Fox 13 in Memphis that she was devastated when her university had to cancel its ceremony. Burson said he felt her pain and decided to take action, even if his wife thought he was crazy.
"After all those years, you're going to walk across somebody's stage if I have to build you one myself," he told his daughter.
When the day came, Pierce walked to the stage as a loudspeaker blared "The Graduation March" and neighbors lined the street to cheer her on.
"I was amazed. I couldn't believe a lot of people showed up. People were driving by yelling congratulations," said Pierce, who plans to join the Air National Guard and then study epidemiology. "It was just amazing. Better than the actual graduation, because it was more personal."
Dining with dummies? Renowned restaurant adds mannequins
WASHINGTON, Va. (AP) — One of the country's most renowned restaurants says mannequins will add a touch of whimsy and help with social distancing when customers return to its grand dining room later this month.
Mannequins dressed in fine 1940's-style attire were already theatrically staged Thursday at The Inn at Little Washington, tucked in the foothills of Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains about 90 minutes west of Washington, D.C.
Although business restrictions are set to begin easing in some parts of Virginia on Friday, restaurants can only serve dine-in customers in an outdoor space. The three-Michelin-star restaurant has opted to wait until May 29 to resume dining service indoors.
"When we needed to solve the problem of social distancing and reducing our restaurant's occupancy by half, the solution seemed obvious — fill it with interestingly dressed dummies," chef and proprietor Patrick O'Connell said in a statement. "This would allow plenty of space between real guests and elicit a few smiles and provide some fun photo ops."
O'Connell, a self-taught cook, has won multiple James Beard Awards and was the 2019 recipient of the James Beard Foundation's lifetime achievement award. He was also awarded the National Humanities Medal in 2019.
"We're all craving to gather and see other people right now," O'Connell said. "They don't all necessarily need to be real people."