Showing posts with label God. Show all posts
Showing posts with label God. Show all posts

10 January, 2020

"Give me things that don't get lost*" (Why retirement is a myth)

I never really noticed Dad's age, even when he got sick. He still went to work. He still attended Cincinnati Bengals home games. He was still both deeply loving and sometimes deeply intractable. There were lines that should not, could not, would not (not on his watch) be crossed. My brother and I both knew what those lines were without being told. But he loved my mother with a tenderness that could sometimes be embarrassing for little boys and he was never afraid to tell us he loved us to demonstrate his love, sometimes in generous and sometimes in terrifying proportions.

As far as I was concerned my old man was God's Hammer, and just as immortal. He wasn't afraid of anyone and didn't kowtow to anybody.  I watched him stand resolute against church elders who questioned his faith and against family members who disagreed with my mom going to college instead of staying home. He wasn't progressive, but he was pragmatic... almost to a fault.

When he and my mom talked about him retiring early after my brother and I were both out of high school, I didn't question it. Dad had always love Florida and them talking about moving there made sense. Mom would retire from teaching early and they'd go spend their days on the white sand beaches around St. Petersburg.

He'd already taken up cooking. He was learning photography. He was endlessly curious, endlessly forward thinking in his unsentimental and pragmatic way. He was an early adopter of most things technological and never once expressed nostalgia for "the good old days." My old man was a man of his time and his place and he always seemed just fine with that. He wasn't what you might think of when conjuring up an image of someone living in Zen…. as a matter of fact, he would have vociferously argued why he wasn't -- but he was the only person I knew who seemed to know his place and know what he wanted. He'd traveled enough to know.

He wanted the Florida sun and my mom and to see his sons make their way in the world -- which made him endlessly critical of both of us, though in very different ways. He wanted for us what he didn't have and hadn't achieved, though it took me a long time to understand that.

Experiencing my father's death taught me that certain "facts" I'd taken for granted during the whole of my very inexperienced 17 years were wrong, because my dad did everything right. He worked. He made plans. He had his somedays all lined up.  Seeing God's Hammer dead nearly killed God for me and it made me question the point of having somedays. By the time I graduated high school, I'd already stopped planning anything. There wasn't a someday. There was now. And now. And now.

I'm turning 47 next month and whatever anger I've wielded against God and the universe has become something else.  No matter what anyone tells you, that demon in the belly never really goes away. But it has taught me how to counter the fear I was raised embrace. Dad would maybe put it different. I don't think he wanted his sons to be afraid of the world, but maybe to be wiser walking through it. 

But I'm a slow learner. 

The one thing I know, and know for sure, is that somedays don't mean anything. I want to live now, in this moment. It took me more than 20 years to find the love of my life and while I could wait to live fully when we're retired, the fact is I don't want to waste time. When the hour glass runs out on this life, it runs out. And yes, I have faith that something passes on after we ditch this skin suit, but I refuse to let anyone use that against me by telling me it's a someday. My most fervent hope is that whatever of me survives after death will melt into everything else. 

And when that happens, I want to take the fullness of a life lived with me to share.... much in the same way I share it now.

*Neil Young

03 February, 2012

Tomorrow Today Forever

I think I'll wander down to New Orleans
and sit in the Saint Louis Basilica
to pray. All the mad prophets say
to know god, you must know him
by his silence.
                       But that is for another day.
Today, it is my only brother's birthday.
And I must remember to call him –
or at the very least, to write him a note.

I must remember to make the words
something meaningful, the way
brother's words are supposed to be.
I must remember, it might be a model

for future notes when there is no time
but all the good intention in the world.

When I go to the cathedral, I will sit
at the end of a pew, near the middle
on the left hand side, and I will bow
my head and close my eyes the way
they taught us in Sunday School
(Protestants don't genuflect; but maybe
I'll try.)
            I will ignore the tourists
and the picture snapping,
and the casual whispers.
With any luck, I will fade into the pew
rubbed in like the dirt the bible says
I am made of. And when I am gone
there will be no more wondering
and no more questions
about the existence of god
and no more tourists.

All that will remain is a dirt spot
and an anonymous poem.

12 September, 2011

Poem - A Statement on Spirits and Spirituality

I am more likely
to trust a drunk
who tells me
There is a God
than I am someone
who has never
suffered the indignity
of being looked
down upon by
people who are
too blind
to notice
they are just
one pink slip away
from asking me
to buy them
a beer.

13 January, 2010

Pendleton Underground: Part 6 of 7

I’ve always hated the smell of hospitals. The particular odor of death, urine, and bleach that’s unique to all hospitals and nursing homes fills me with what I can only describe as preternatural dread.

“We have to go,” Linda told me. “We really SHOULD go.”

“Is it a ‘have to’ or is it a ‘should do’ kind of thing?”

“Don’t be that way.” She rubbed my shoulder and kissed my cheek. “If you don’t go and something happens you’ll regret it.”

I couldn’t argue with her; but part of me still wanted to. It’s hell sometimes when a woman knows you well enough to make you do what you really need to do but don’t want to do.

We’d gotten a call from Red. At least half the time I just didn’t pick up the phone when the caller ID flashed his number; mostly he called when he wanted to complain. Sometimes he called to brag – but that was rare. Our conversations never lasted more than a few minutes because I always ran out of things to say. This time I answered because I was in a particularly good mood. I’d picked up a couple of classes at a community college and was bringing in a little money for a change; Linda was still working too much overtime, though, and I was looking around for other opportunities. I’d also had some luck publishing – a poem and short story were going to be published in two different small journals with an even smaller distribution. There was no money involved, of course; but it was nice to be noticed and appreciated, even if it was only by a few people.

Red’s call sucked all the air out of my lungs and all the good energy out of the room. He called to tell me Pendleton was in the hospital, that the doctors weren’t optimistic. Surgery would definitely be involved and because of all his health problems – high blood pressure, bad heart, kidney and liver problems (a side effect of the blood thinner) – one tiny problem and Pendleton wouldn’t wake up.

“You should be here,” Red told me. He was barely holding himself together. “In case… something… happens.”

It took us two hours to get there, driving at night in late October rain. Linda drove because I don’t like driving at night. When we got to the hospital, Red met us in the lobby and took us up to the ICU waiting room. It was full of exhausted, worried people living on vending machine coffee and bad cafeteria food. I didn’t see Brenda, but Red told us she’d gone home for a change of clothes and would be back.

“We should wait,” he said, “until she gets back before we try and see him.”

“Have you seen him?”

Red nodded.

“How’d he look?”

Red shrugged, trying to be unemotional and manly. He was trying not to cry.

“Can’t we just see him now?” Linda asked. “There’s no harm in seeing him now.”

Red sighed and nodded. He was being very solemn. “You need to prepare yourself,” he intoned. Like a fucking undertaker, I thought. “He looks… ah... different… from the… last… time… you… saw him.”

I wanted to tell Red to shut the fuck up and cut out the dramatics. I wanted to tell him I wasn’t some dumb ass kid who’d never seen an ICU or visited someone on the edge of death. I wanted to tell him that I wasn’t the pussy standing in the middle of the waiting room crying. Mostly, though, I think he was talking to himself; so I didn’t say either of those things. His calling me was simply a courtesy – one that Brenda probably hadn’t agreed to, but Red had convinced her that Pendleton would want to see me. Linda took my hand and gave it a squeeze; she knew exactly what I was thinking and was telling me it would be okay.

I found out later that he’d been in the hospital for three weeks. That was when I figured out that calling me wasn’t a reaction; it was an afterthought. I was an afterthought. I’d been out of the loop for so long that it was only Red’s sense of propriety and obligation that prompted his call. For some reason, that hurt more than the possibility that Pendleton might die and leave his bitch of a wife in charge of his memory.

Truth is I knew my exclusion was my fault. When Linda and I moved out of the cabin, I cut off all contact with Pendleton and Brenda. If there’s one thing I can do well, its hold a grudge. And hold one I did. I still did. This has been called different things over the years; my parents, friends, ex-girlfriends, my ex-wife and my ex-mother-in-law all called it stubbornness. I was too bullheaded. I was too drunk. I was too deluded. I was too proud to admit when I was wrong. I was too arrogant to consider the possibility that I might be wrong. About something. About anything. About everything.

What the hell do they want from me? I thought. I’m here. Linda and I came here and now I have to stand here and listen to Red tell me to ‘Prepare myself.’ What did he think I was doing all the way there in the car? Singing show tunes? Linda must’ve felt my muscles tighten, because she latched onto my arm and wouldn’t let go. If ever there was a woman whose love I didn’t deserve, it was hers. Maybe I wasn’t a nice guy; maybe I drank a little too much and maybe I was a stubborn son of a bitch. But Linda loved me. She understood me. Even if Red, Brenda, and Pendleton had their little goddamn sewing circle, I had Linda. The only bad part of that deal was that Linda had me.

Red was still dragging his feet when Linda asked him again if we could go back and see Pendleton. He kept talking about stupid shit. Cars and his job and his soon-to-be ex-wife and how she was using the kids against him. He made a joke about the cafeteria food and bitched about having to go outside to smoke. He told off-color jokes about some of the nurses. Red was always good at small talk; he could talk for hours and not say anything worth remembering. I was never good at small talk. Attempting it was torture. In most social situations I came off awkward or weird. First impressions have never been my forte. It wasn’t unusual for me to enter a light conversation and end up taking it somewhere serious. For years people told me I needed to relax and develop a sense of humor.
Pendleton always understood that about me. He didn’t mind when I didn’t talk, or when I inevitably led the conversation into some serious or odd direction. “If you’re going to talk,” he told me, “it ought to be something important, anyway. There’s too much static that passes for conversation.”

When I asked to marry his daughter, he eyed me carefully. It was an uncomfortably long silence. I’d expected him to smile and be happy about it. My family was in a state of shock, which wasn’t surprising; but her mother had been thrilled. Looking back, I realize she was hastening the union, almost from the beginning. She needled and prattled on about us, talked about us like we were already married. She used to let me spend the night when she knew there was more than sleeping going on in her daughter’s tiny back bedroom. I had more or less extricated myself from one family and inserted myself into another. They attended my high school graduation. They took me to college. I used to sneak back and visit without telling my family. I skipped out on holidays to be with them as much as I could. When Pendleton’s daughter graduated from high school, I transferred to her university to stay with her. We’d been attending the same university for a semester when her mother bought up (in the guise of a joke) the idea that we could get more financial aid if we got married. My ex kept saying, “We’re getting married ANYWAY, right? What’s the difference if we get married now or four years from now?”

Finally, after staring at me for what seemed like forever, Pendleton asked, “Do you know what you’re getting yourself into?”

“I think I do.”

He shook his head. “Is this what YOU want? Are you sure?”

I told him it was and he nodded his consent. Six months later I was his son-in-law. A year and half later, she moved out. A month after that, he moved in.
Red was stalling, trying to keep us waiting until Brenda got there. But when Linda mentioned it for a third time, Red looked at his watch and nodded. I noticed the hint of resignation, but didn’t say anything. Brenda would not be pleased. He led us through the doors that led to where the patient rooms were. It wasn’t a private room. I guess it was the poor man’s ICU; but the other beds were empty. Pendleton was hooked up to monitors in both arms and an oxygen machine. I noticed the piss and shit bags on the side of the bed with tubes disappearing under the sheet. His breathing was labored. His skin was so gray that it seemed almost translucent under the dim light above his bed. His hair and beard were long, mostly gray, with twisted strands of white. His eyes were puffy and his lids were closed, like he was thinking.

“Look,” Red said to him. He talked to Pendleton in that loud voice people use with the very sick, the very old, and with retarded kids. “Look who’s here.”

Pendleton opened his eyes; it took him a couple of seconds to focus. Was that surprise I saw spread across his face? Or was it pain? Maybe he farted.

“Hey,” he huffed.

“Hey,” I answered.

Linda smiled and touched his hand. “How are you feeling?” She spoke to him like we were sitting around the kitchen table playing cards. Such a sweet woman; she was always good at knowing how to talk to people. I was trying not to look at all the tube and block out the monitor sounds and keep myself from puking because that smell – that fucking hospital smell – had permeated the inside of my mouth, nose, and throat. Linda made more small talk and flirted with him in the innocent and adorable way she used to – which wasn’t all that different from the way she talked to little old men. Red stood there, arms folded, feigning machismo and still trying not to cry. I stood there, waiting.

I didn’t have to wait long. We weren’t there five minutes when Brenda’s heaved her way in. I didn’t think it was possible for someone that big to get even bigger. When she entered the room, it was clear from her body language who was in charge. She squinted at Red, who moved out of her way. She approached the bed, put her bible down on the tray next to the water he couldn’t drink and the food he didn’t want, and then she leaned over Pendleton and kissed him on the forehead like she was marking her territory. This is mine. She was wearing a small silver cross pendant around her neck; I’d seen it advertised in late night commercials; it had a gem in the center that, if you looked through it, you could see the Lord’s Prayer. That was when I noticed the framed picture of Jesus on the bedside table; it was one of those paintings where he looks like he was born to an upper class family in Connecticut.

“You can pray if you want,” Brenda said. “Everything helps.”

I didn’t answer. I hadn’t prayed in years and I wasn’t about to start at the behest of a church channel watching cunt. I wasn’t about to appeal to her god or her Anglo-Saxon savior.

“How you doing?” I finally asked him. “The nurses treating you nice? I guess with all these tubes, that limits your ability to harass them.”

Brenda shot me a hateful glance, Red held his breath, and Linda shook her head. Pendleton chuckled and coughed.

“I’m … ok…” Pendleton breathed. “I’m…”

“Of course he’s ok,” Brenda finished. “We’re just waiting for them to come and take him for surgery.” She looked over at Red. “I kind of thought you’d get here after it was over.” She went over everything the doctors had told her with the accuracy of a tape recorder. His kidneys were on the verge of failure. His heart lining was thin. His intestines were in knots. They were going to change his meds. “Gawd willin’,” she said, “he’ll be around for another 50 years.”

The sickness and Brenda’s voice were getting to me. I needed to smoke a cigarette. My stomach was turning and I was sure my complexion was going green.

“Do you want to pray?” Brenda asked again. This time she was clearly talking to Linda more than me. Linda wasn’t anymore of a believer than I was. She was about to answer, and I was curious about what she’d say, when the nurse came and told us we all needed to leave so they could prepare him for surgery. Brenda kissed Pendleton on the forehead again. Red wiped his eyes. Linda took my hand and led me out of the room. When Red and Brenda walked out, Linda and I followed him through the labyrinth of pastel walls and ugly floor tile to the outside lobby, where we could smoke and not talk about the dying man upstairs. I smoked slowly, trying to prepare for the long night ahead.

28 December, 2009

The Last Meditation

Though I am neither confident enough
(nor cocky enough) to call on god,
of this I am fairly certain: no bad deed goes
unrewarded. If I seem cynical
it is only because
I have watched the world
erase itself and (then)
redraw itself
after the manner of mediocre talents
whose seminal work
lacks depth perception
and who themselves
lacked the appropriate vices
that would have kept them humble.
All the good and noble songs
have been transposed
into obscene hymns
written in sick key signatures.
And though I do not (still) call on god
I am often left wanting.
I am often left wandering.
I am often left – and the only voice
I hear is a child’s asking me
“Are we there yet?” (There’s no use in answering.)
A thousand years from now, that child
will live somewhere on a forgotten South Pacific
island where he will
stare at the ocean,
listen to himself
inhale and exhale, and,
wrapped in silence, try to recall
even the simplest prayer
(Our father who art called Fred
Hollowed out like that old rugged and forgotten tree…)
and then
he will close his eyes
focus on the sound
of crystalline blue waves
crashing on a sun baked beach
waiting to be washed away
when the tide goes out.
Though I am not confident:
(and though I am cocky)
I do not call on god:
though I still sometimes look for him
hidden in abandoned libraries
where there shelves are caked
in 50 year old dust, encrusted
with the tears of failed penitents
and the semen of a thousand lost souls
in search of the adult arcade three streets over.
The kids, they come
and then they go
and sometimes they leave
behind things no adult
would ever think to miss.

Though I am not confident
I am sure
there is nothing to be sure of
while all the grand prestidigitators
sell certainty for a 20 percent tithe.
People are worried – the wealthy tithe
a little bit more, and attend quite a bit less,
and by doing so, more or less
assure their place in the
hereafter. In this scenario,
god is an unemployed switch board operator
played to perfection by Yul Brynner – though nobody thought
he’d be able to pull off the beard. Jane Blondell plays
a coquettish devil, always cutting telephone wires
and whispering sexual advances in god’s left ear. Somewhere,

buried deep in Eastern Hills,
a devout ascetic prays for my soul
and burns dandelion leaves
in search of answers. When I see her again
she will tell me stories
and we will laugh
and she will see through me
down to my lack of penitence
for all I have done. And this
will leave her disturbed, and she
will return to her bible
and her dandelion leaves
for further instructions.

Although I am confident
and while I may be cocky
I do not presume
to summarize the universe; instead
I grasp at honest straws,
feel my way through rhythms
and patterns that (in the end)
will leave me with only
one last question to ask
before I run out of breath.

04 August, 2009

Let Fancy Paint the Tyrant of My Heart (or, The Happy Travelers)

Rent was due, I was out of booze, and the only food I had left was half a jar of off brand jam. There wasn’t any work to be had. I tried several places that had placed ads for unskilled labor; but none of them would interview me on the spot and they all refused to even accept my application because I didn’t have a phone. I tried going back to Ready Labor, but they kept turning me away. I even tried the plasma bank; but the pillar legged phlebotomist who tried to toss me without paying me for my time was working the desk and she had no intention of letting me through. Vindictive bitch.

With the couple of bucks I had left in my pocket, I bought a half stale loaf of bread and a bottle of cheap wine. That didn’t solve my rent problem; so I knew it was only a matter of time. I could’ve slipped off; but I didn’t relish the idea of sleeping outdoors. Especially in August. Better to hold out and leave when I was forced to – which, I figured, gave me a day. Maybe half a day at the most.

I managed to sneak upstairs without anybody in the front office seeing me. The rush of air conditioning washed over me as I slammed the door behind me and locked the deadbolt and chain. I told myself I was getting ready for a stand off. “If they want me out,” I said to the empty room, “They’ll have to break down the door to get me out.”

After I sat down, I wanted a cigarette. Only two left. I needed to conserve, so I decided to hold off. I made myself a jam sandwich instead. At first, I was only going to eat one slice of bread, so that I could make the loaf last as long as possible. But then I told myself there wasn’t any point. I may not even get through the whole loaf anyway, before it goes bad or they kick me out. I wondered briefly if Monkey Man would be the one to boot me, or if they’d send a plain uniform to do it. I took out a pocket knife that I’d found in the parking lot outside of the bar. It was a decent, clean blade. I used it to spread the jam over one piece of bread. Then I wiped the blade on another piece of bread and put it on top. After I closed up the loaf of bread and the jam jar, I sat down to enjoy my dinner feeling oddly self-satisfied.

When you’re hungry, you want to eat really fast. You want to gobble up food in front of you and every bit of food that’s near you, without even bothering to chew it first, much less taste it. I fought the urge. I ate my sandwich in small, careful bites. There was no point in behaving like an animal until there was no other option. Sometimes the simplest food has the best flavor, and I had learned to treat every meal – regardless of the quality or quantity – like my last. When you do that, you enjoy it just a little more.

I finished my sandwich and cracked open the bottle of vino. The label said merlot. The price tag said rot gut. But it would work. I found my coffee cup – they only kitchenware I owned besides the pocket knife – filled it halfway and drank it down slowly, letting it pour down my gullet. Then I poured another half cup, lit a cigarette, and turned on the radio. It was tuned to the classical station. Dvorćek was playing. I closed my eyes, inhaled the smoke along with the music, keeping the flavors of everything in my mouth.

A knock on the door interrupted my revelry.

Fuck, I thought. They came for me sooner than I expected. I hadn’t even bothered to pack up the little bit of shit I had.

I sat for a moment, hoping it was a fluke. Maybe it was somebody looking for Loyce. Maybe it was a lost pizza boy. I told myself there was no need to panic.

There was another knock. This one was more insistent.

I turned off the radio. Maybe they’d take the hint and go away.

The knocking came again with even greater urgency.

“Well fuck,” I said aloud and standing up. “All right,” I called out. “All right, goddammit. Let me pack my shit before you make me homeless, you bastards.”

I opened the door expecting to see a not-so-smiling Smiling Dave or an grumpier than usual Fat Marta. Instead I found a couple kids dressed in white button down shirts, dark ties, dark pants, and gym shoes. Each of them had a rectangular plastic name tag pinned to their shirt pocket, identifying themselves as Latter Day Saints.

Fuckin’ hell.

“Good day,” the taller Sandy haired one said. “Have you heard the good news of our Lord Jesus Christ?”

“Uh. No.” I moved to close the door.

“Well,” the dark haired one said. He was shorter and little pudgy. “Have we come at an inconvenient time?”

Yes. I didn’t want to stand there with the door open. For one, it was letting in the summer heat; more importantly (maybe) I didn’t want to chance being seen by Smiling Dave or Fat Marta. “Yeah. I mean, no. Listen,” I said looking around to make sure there was no one out and about. Naturally there wasn’t that time of day. “You guys want to come in? I don’t want to let the air conditioning out.”

I had no idea why I let them in, but it seemed to please them and they agreed immediately. The minute the words left my mouth, I regretted them. Why didn’t I slam the door in their round, beardless little faces and tell them to fuck off? I had this image of Dad standing on the front porch of the old house screaming at a couple of Jehovah’s Witnesses to get off of his property. Why didn’t I follow suit?

They thanked me as they stepped in. “It’s pretty hot out there,” the tall one said.

I sat down in the chair and motioned for them to use the bed. No point in not being a good host, I guess. Then I drank down the last of my wine and poured more, filling the cup. I lit my last cigarette. “No worries, I said. I knew I had to get rid of them quickly and hope that Dave or Marta didn’t notice the opening and closing of the door. The pudgy one coughed a little when the cigarette smoke reached him. The other eyed it like he wanted one. This might be more interesting than I thought. I pointed to the wine bottle. “You guys want some? It’s quality stuff. Guaranteed to sprout hair on your balls.”

They laughed uncomfortably in unison. I was going to ask if they shared a brain when the sandy haired one – his name tag identified him as Bartholomew Romney – pulled a bible out of his knapsack. “We just wanted to talk to you about God,” he said, “and about letting Him into your life.”

“I doubt God would want to live here,” I said. “The walls are being held up by legions of mutant cockroaches bent on world domination.”

The dark haired one – Amos Sanford – looked around nervously. I thought I heard him make a nervous squeaking sound.

“Don’t worry,” I smiled. “They only come out at night.”

“Well,” Bartholomew continued. “God made the cockroaches, too. But you’re special. We’re all special – all people that is – because…”

I hadn’t intended to give him an intro. Have to keep them off script. “Let me ask you something,” I asked, draining my cup and pouring another. “So you’re traveling around, knocking on doors, trying to convert people. Right?”

“Right,” Amos squeaked.

“Riiight,” I echoed. I stamped out my last cigarette in the ash tray. “So you endure the weather, lousy food, rude people, and risk bodily harm. Right?”

“Right.” That time it was Bartholomew.

“Riiight,” I echoed. “So why do it?”

“We’d really like to focus on this,” Bartholomew said, trying to focus on the bible in his lap. He opened it in preparation the hard sell.

I catch him mid-sentence while he’s quoting John 3:16. “Sure sure sure,” I said. “We can get to all that. But really. This is important to me. I want to know. Why go through all the shit? What’s the point?”

“Faith,” Amos finally found something to say. “We do it for our faith. Because of our faith.”

“And the Great Commission,” Bartholomew added.

“Faith,” I echoed. “Commission. Riiight.” I down the cup of wine I had just poured. It was going down easier and easier. “You guys SURE you don’t want some of this? You look thirsty.”

“We’re sure,” Bartholomew answered. His tone was unconvincing.

I kind of felt bad for them. Kind of. I mean, they looked more like bad door to door vacuum cleaner salesmen than missionaries from God. I didn’t think they’d be much help if Smiling Dave or Fat Marta kicked in the door. I thought maybe they’d at least be reliable witnesses to what I saw as my eventual unlawful beating and subsequent arrest. After all, it was a sin to lie. Right?

“Suit yourself,” I said, and sat back.

Bartholomew let the silence settle for half a beat before he went into his bit. I didn’t feel like talking to them anymore, and clearly I wasn’t offending their moral sensibilities enough to make them leave. I either had to listen to them talk or I had to it up.

The thing that amazed me was how little it had all changed. Verse after verse. Salvation. Damnation. Obligation. I watched more than I listened to them they were babbling on and telling bible stories – using the old parable approach, I guess, because it worked so well for Jesus. In the past, when other well intended people went out of their way to save my soul and used the parable method to make it all sound so circular and reasonable, I pointed out (if you took the book seriously, which I didn’t) that it hadn’t worked out so well for Jesus in the end. I didn’t bother pointing that out this time, though. Bartholomew did most of the talking. Amos mostly interrupted with qualifiers and addendums – sometimes to his partner’s annoyance. The sandy haired kid was moving on to the compelling lives of prophets, like Stephen (who was stoned) and Moses (who made the mistake of taking too much credit) and John the Baptist (beheaded). Then the disciples, like Peter (who was crucified upside down.) But mostly Paul (died in prison.) The only ones who focus on Peter are the Catholics. Bartholomew spoke about these characters the way some people talk about celebrities. “Oh, wasn’t Angelina Jolie just WONDERFUL in that film?” or “I wish Paris Hilton would get a real job,” or “I really liked Pierce Brosnan as Remington Steele; but James Bond? Give me Sean Connery!”

After a while I got more tired of listening than I had been of talking. “So,” I interrupted another great story of faith and a bloody awful death, “what about Joseph Smith?”

Amos seemed to get more animated. Apparently that was his part of the show. He dove straight into the story of Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, and the great Mormon Revival. Eden was in Missouri. Native Americans were lost Israelites. Special secret languages, mystical rocks, angelic visions. I wanted to ask about the wonders of polygamy and the castration of boys in the Mormon Tabernacle Choir; but he didn’t give me a chance. He talked and talked. It was Bartholomew’s turn to fidget and look uncomfortable. I drank.

“Listen,” I finally interrupted. “I don’t suppose one of you has a cigarette, do you?”

Amos looked over at his partner, who had been staring off into outer space – whether he was seeing angelic visions or fantasizing about Mary Magdalene I couldn’t tell. “How about you, Bart?” His attention snapped back to the present. “You don’t happen to have a smoke, do you? ONE cigarette for a poor sinner, please? Pretty please?”

He hesitated, but (much to his partner’s annoyance) he pulled a pack with two cigarettes left out of his knapsack. He stopped short of giving me the pack – mostly because he felt Amos glaring at him – but he handed it over nonetheless.

I tapped out one and handed it back. He promptly put his last cigarette in his mouth. After I lit mine, I let him use the lighter. “Thanks, man,” I said. “You know how it is.” I pointed at the quickly dissipating bottle of vino. “You sure you don’t want a taste?”

Bartholomew inhaled and shook his head. But Amos, apparently sick of his partner being the only one to indulge, said “I will.”

“Greeat,” I smiled, handing him the bottle. “Take a swig. I only have the one cup, I’m afraid.” Amos looked at me; I wasn’t sure if he worried he might catch something from the bottle or if he found it impossible to believe I didn’t have a whole cabinet of dinnerware. “Go on,” I encouraged. “No worries. Really.” I smiled. For a second I thought the smile changed his mind. He took a healthy swig and handed it back to me, trying not to look like he was gagging on the stuff.

“Be careful, man,” I said. “It’s not for the faint of heart.” I held it up to Bart. “You’re welcome, too,” I said. He took the cigarette out of his mouth, grabbed the bottle, and tipped it back. At first I thought he was going to choke, too. But he didn’t.

“Listen,” I said to both of them, “you don’t happen to have any money do you? If the three of us are going to drink, we might as well get more. Don’t you think?”

“I…” Amos was fumbling through his book.

I stood up. “Listen. I don’t suppose either of you is actually 21. Are you?”

“I am,” Bart answered.

“Bart!” I crowed. “My boy Bart! And you have money? right?”

Bart nodded. “Uh huh.”

“Greeat! Why don’t you go up to that liquor store on the corner and get is a big jug of wine. Amos’ll stay here and keep trying to convert me. He’s close, I can tell ya. I want to hear all about Jesus and Joseph Smith and magical underwear.”

Bart stood up. Amos looked up like he was nervous, but it was clear that Bart was the one in charge. “Sure. I guess that’s ok…”

“Good good good!” I slapped him on the shoulder. It was bony. “While you’re there, get a couple packs of smokes too, okay?” He nodded. “Alllrightee then!”

Bart left on the booze run and I offered Amos another drink. He took a bigger drink than before. I filled my cup and offered him the bottom of the bottle.

“Listen kid,” I said. “How old are you?”

Amos hiccupped. “Eight… eight… eighteen.”

“And you LIKE this gig?”

For a second he looked defensive. But for only a second. “Sure,” he said. “It’s import… hic…import…hic… impor’nant to …”

“Right right right,” I interrupted him. “Faith and works and all that.”


“Have you ever gotten laid?”

He looked shock, but I could tell by the crimson color his face was developing that he hadn’t. “Laid? You know? Sex? Gettin’ some? Shooting your load? Getting your rocks off? Pussy?” With every derivation his complexion got redder and redder. “What?” I asked finally. “You don’t like girls?”

That got him to talk. “I like girls,” he said. “I just… we’re not s’pose to…”

“Ah. I see. Tell me kid,” I slapped him on the knee. It made him jump a little. “Is there a particular girl you have in mind?”

“Amy.” He sighed. God, what romantic crap.

“Is she back home?”

He shook his head. After a few deep breathes and some more hiccups he told me she was the daughter of the family they were staying with locally. He didn’t describe her; but I could tell by the mushy dreamy look in his big round eyes that she was the most beautiful thing in the world for him. At the moment.

“You know,” I went on, “girls usually like a little experience. Know what I mean?” I leaned in. “You know… there’s a woman two doors down… a nice woman. Her name’s Loyce. And I bet if you went over there and asked real nice, she might, eh… loosen you up a little.” Amos almost looked horrified. Almost. I didn’t push it. “Whatever, man,” I said. “It’s all you.”

Bart got back not long after that. He brought a huge jug of burgundy wine, a twelve pack of beer, and a carton of cigarettes. Blessed be the young and the egomaniacal. For they shall over do themselves every time.

“Great timing, Bart!” I chirped. We’d run out of wine and were talking about Amos’s girl troubles.”

Bart smiled and Amos looked ashamed. I cracked open a beer, tore open one of the new packs of smokes, and went on. “I was telling Amos here that there’s a really nice lady two doors down who might like a couple of guys like you. And, if you was to treat her nice and pay her for her trouble, she might unburden you of your virginity. I can almost bet that she’s probably never seen a virgin before… let alone met one.”

Amos and Bart each drank a beer. Then Bart had another. Amos tried to smoke a cigarette, but he ended up coughing and putting it out half spent. “Those things are expensive,” I cautioned. “Don’t waste ‘em like that.” I kept on with the sex talk. It became clear pretty quickly that while young Amos fancied the daughter, Bart thought himself man enough for the mother. Naturally I encouraged them. Amos and Bart were both blushing and coughing and looking around. And the more uncomfortable it got for them, the more they drank. Blessed are the virginal. For they shall be better entertainment than television.

Finally, after some prodding, I had them prepared to go see Loyce. I got them on their feet, gave them their knapsacks and the rest of the beer – minus one for me – and ushered them out the door. “Be sure and tell her I sent you,” I told them. Both of them nodded. “You treat her nice, okay? She’s a nice person.” I looked around again and made sure that Smiling Dave or Fat Marta wasn’t around. The coast was clear. I turned them in the right direction and reminded them of which door it was. “Be nice,” I told her. “Offer her a beer. Be friendly. Save the Jesus and Joseph Smith stuff for another time.” They both nodded like they were being sent off on a dangerous mission.

I closed the door I heard them talking to Loyce. Then I heard the door close. She let them in. I knew she would. Good ol’ Loyce. I looked around. The big jug of wine hadn’t even been cracked open yet, and there was most of a carton of smokes left. I sat down, opened the beer, turned on the radio, took a drink, and closed my eyes. Debussy was playing.