highway of love

the falling to your knees part
—it’s preceded by the slackening of the gut
the rush of memories emotions and the
rude invisible interrupting itself
like so selfish a Saturday night

I have been commanded
to rid the Earth of its lava core
things like that the silver spoken/whispered/shouted
words with each its ripple light
bending in the heat off this highway
with its seldom traffic and turquoise cafés
and Jesus on Sundays on the radio

I love you I alone I alone and no one else I alone and no one else  for fuck sake

okay?!?    He  says    for the love of God!

like someone undone by prayer

 

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ABBA, Jesus & My 1974 Ford Pinto (RW)

This morning He was here again. Jesus, sitting in the lotus position on my nightstand where my clock radio is supposed to be. I don’t know how I know it’s Jesus. I just do. He doesn’t look like any of the pictures you see.  Instead, He has a kind of Taliban or Al-Qaeda look about him. He rarely speaks, just stares ahead at empty space. Sometimes he hums little tunes. He has a fondness for ABBA tunes. When he does speak, it’s cryptic, mysterious, usually a single word like butterfly or cyclamate or microfiche. This morning, though, He said a little more. He looked at me and said, “Watch your head.” Then He vanished, leaving my clock radio unplugged on the floor. When the Lord our Saviour says things out of context that routinely defy understanding, I guess it’s easy to see why humanity is in such a desperate state.

The peephole in my apartment door provides me with a fisheye view of things. I don’t have a TV. So, I watch through the peephole as people walk down the hall, past my place, as they get bigger and bigger then smaller and smaller. Then they disappear as mysteriously as they appeared. I stand there looking out with my forehead and cheek hard against the door, drinking warm beer through a straw, wondering from whence and to where. Usually there’s a clue, the sound of the elevator or the stairwell door opening. Sometimes though, there’s just silence. They go missing, like Jesus from my nightstand.

There’s a woman who walks past my door every day. She’s younger than me, maybe by twenty years. She’s blonde and has a yoga sort of body, pleasantly soft yet defined. The weather’s been cold lately so she’s been wearing sweatpants a lot, and a kangaroo jacket. They call kangaroo jackets hoodies now since everyone wants their clothing to sound dangerous. Hoodie doesn’t sound that dangerous, I admit, but it does have a meaner, race riot ring to it than kangaroo jacket. People’s lives are blessed, but their fashion has become hopelessly inner-city. Poverty and desperation have become dernier cri for the privileged, and now even yoga girls are gangstas.

I know when the woman in the hoodie is coming even before I see her. Hers is a rapid step, and she comes down hard on her heels. When she comes from the right—bigger bigger bigger, smaller smaller smaller—she’s coming from the elevator. That’s when she’ll have groceries, a backpack with a rolled up yoga mat or she’s carrying a satchel and is dressed in business clothes. It’s when she comes from the left – bigger bigger bigger, smaller smaller smaller—that she’s more likely to be wearing more casual tough-chick clothes. That’s when she has her trash or a bag of laundry. She’s heading for the basement. That’s where the laundry room is. It’s also where the trash is stored until garbage day so poor people can’t steal it. Our building manager has very strict rules about who may and who may not lay their hands on our garbage.

The hoodie woman’s name is Jessica. I found out by accident once when I was getting my mail. Sometimes she’ll put out return mail for the mail carrier to pick up. It’s stuff that was meant for other people who lived in her apartment before her. I take it to read later if no one is around to see. It’s mostly LL Bean and Victoria’s Secret catalogues. Sometimes, though, there’s a birthday card. Once there was a fifty dollar bill in one from someone’s mother. I bought some beer and KFC.

But that’s not how I found out her name. One day she was at her mailbox, a few feet away from mine. I kind of know when to be in certain places so I can see her up close, not just through my peephole. Like once or twice a month, not too many times so she doesn’t think I planned it or anything, I go down to the laundry room a few minutes after she passes by with her laundry bag. Sometimes I glance at her putting things into the washer. Her dirty laundry is very clean. Then sometimes she sits on a bench across the street from the building and reads. She reads weird shit. Titles like One Hundred Years of Solitude and Love in the Time of Cholera. I got them both from the library; they were crap. At least the first three or four pages were. Anyway, when she does that I occasionally go out there and sit nearby and pretend to read something, like one of the tracts I get in the mail from Christians in American or the latest Awake Magazine. I figure, maybe if she sees me reading that stuff she’ll know I’m okay.

So, when I first heard her name it was from this guy I see in the building sometimes who thinks he’s something real special. He comes up to her one day at her mailbox and says, “Hey, Jessica. How you doing?” Real soft and casual like you’re not supposed to get what he’s up to. The neighbourhood’s gotten real gay lately, so I figure he’s trying to sound queer so she gets this false sense of security. But he ain’t gay. I think he’s stalking her. His name is Randy. I wonder how many women he gets that way, pretending not to be interested. Inviting them up to his place to trade recipes and then jumping their bones. Pervert. Meanwhile, good guys like me go through life ridiculed and alone, watching endless reruns of X-Files. Mulder’s such a dick.

So, the other day something different happens. I watch through the peephole and see Jessica wheel a new bike down the hall. It’s a yellow, modified 70s vintage Peugeot with the single speed high torque gears. Terribly hip, I guess. But you have to be a tri-athlete to pump one up a hill. After she passes by, and I hear the elevator doors close, I put on my jacket and follow her out. On the street, there she is talking to Randy who has a similar bike, only his is a purple Apollo. It’s five degrees centigrade, and he’s wearing cut offs. If that doesn’t prove that he’s trying to pretend to be gay, I don’t know what does. And he’s wearing a tee-shirt under this obviously real expensive lightweight micro fibre jacket and a pair of pricy riding shoes with the metal cleats. But what’s really made obvious by its absence is his helmet. Randy is clearly too cool to bother with head protection, and so, apparently, is Jessica who is also without a helmet.

For a moment I think that they may just be talking and not planning to ride, after all. But then it happens. Randy throws his head back and laughs at something Jessica has said. It’s this real phoney laugh. What a fraud. Then he bends over both bikes and kisses Jessica on the cheek. Then, after polluting Jessica’s pure pink cheek with his perverted lips, they mount their bikes and ride off toward the park—helmetless.

I have a 1975 Ford Pinto. It’s a beautiful dark mossy green colour that doesn’t show the dirt, but the hubcaps are gone. It’s a good car, a combustible classic, a legend. I got it real cheap at an estate sale along with a toaster that lowers the bread automatically into the slots. It happens kind of slow and makes this calming mechanical buzz. It makes toasting bread real fun. Sometimes if I get bored, I make a lot of toast just to listen to it hum and watch it lower the bread.

Anyway, my Ford Pinto is parked nearby on the street. You need a special pass to park in my neighbourhood so people from other crappier neighbourhoods don’t take over. But it costs $15 a year, which is like way too much in my opinion. I never buy one which means I have to move my car every two hours. Sometimes I end up parking it a long ways away. But this time the Pinto’s right there, so I get in, start it up and follow them.

I stay back about half a block. My Pinto wants to go fast. It’s in its nature to perform. But I drive real slow because they’re riding real slow and talking and Randy keeps throwing his head back and laughing that real fake laugh of his. My hands grasp the steering wheel real tight. I’m thinking bad thoughts.

Off to the right, through the trees, is the lagoon. It’s a pond really, a small lake. But some poet chick from the cowboy days tagged it Lost Lagoon, and it stuck. I guess it does sound better than Lost Pond or Lost Lake. It ain’t an accurate description, though. But whatever, I figure that’s where I’ll dump Randy when I’m finished with him. I have chains in the trunk in case it snows, but I’ll gladly sacrifice them to weigh his body down.

“Watch your head”, Jesus said. Maybe He was trying to warn me about something. Maybe I’ll have to be real careful dealing with this creep.

I accelerate and pass them and drive ahead about half a click. Then I pull over, get out and pull up the hood. I don’t really have a plan, except that I think I’ll stab him with a screwdriver. I have a nice long skinny one that I bought at Walmart. It looks more like an ice pick. Only problem is that Jessica will see, and it might be hard to convince her I’m okay after she sees me stab Randy with a Walmart screwdriver. I’m just starting to think that I should maybe wait until I get him alone when the two of them come into view. My right hand grips the screwdriver.

When they ride up to my Pinto, they’re all like, “Oh, hello. Don’t you live in our building? Having car troubles? Is that really a Pinto?” “No,” I say. “It’s a fucking Porsche.” I can’t help it. It just comes out like that. I’m confused for a moment, and then bend over the engine and pretend to be adjusting something. Meanwhile Jessica and Randy look at each other kind of surprised. Then Randy pipes up, “Can I help?” Oh sure, I think. First he’s trying to be all gay and now he wants to fix my car. I figure this is it, time to stab the little prick. Jessica will just have to learn to love me in spite of it.

I move fast. Suddenly I’m a natural born killer. But I stand up too fast and slam my head into that hook shaped thing that hangs down from the hood and locks everything into place when you close it, and now my head’s stuck. I’ve hit the hook so hard that it’s embedded in my skull. It feels weird, but there’s almost no pain. “Holy shit,” Randy says, as I twist my head this way and that, trying to dislodge. “I’m calling an ambulance,” Jessica says. “No,” I shout. A trickle of blood finds its way down my forehead, between my eyes and drips off the tip of my nose. There’s a dark red splat on the radiator cap, then another. Meanwhile, Jessica’s calling 911. Shit! Fire and ambulance. Probably the cops, too. If I want to waste this Randy bastard and have time to get away, it has to be now.

I swing the screwdriver in a horizontal arc. Randy jumps out of the way just in time and says something brilliant like, “Hey!” with a real stunned look on his face. Finally I twist and yank the hook out of my head with a sloppy wet popping sound, step away from the Pinto and quickly reassess the situation. “It went in about eight or nine centimetres,” Jessica is saying on the phone. Suddenly I feel dizzy. “Yes, a lot of blood. And he’s starting to act kind of violent.” I spread my legs a little further apart and get my bearings. Then giving my head a shake, I spray blood everywhere. “God damn,” Randy says, wiping it off of his face. “You don’t have anything blood-born, I hope.” I know what he means, like I would have some communicable disease. The lippy little s.o.b. That makes me attack him with everything I’ve got, but miss again. Randy’s a slippery character, I’ll give him that. Then he says, “What’s your problem, pal?” How come people you’re trying to murder always call you pal?

And now’s when I stumble forward and fall onto the road just as this fat black Escalade with its stereo on full blast playing rap music rumbles out of nowhere, clearly exceeding the speed limit. I remember looking up and thinking how clean it was, even underneath, as it ran over me like I was a speed bump. Fuck I hate rap music.

Anyway, the hospital’s a dump. This is where people come to die, and I don’t want to die. But the Escalade messed me up, bad. Besides that, they tell me that I sustained a severe brain injury when the Pinto’s hood hook penetrated my grey matter. It’s the brain injury that they say accounts for my irrational and violent behaviour toward Randy. So, there’ll be no charges. I’ve been forgiven. Even Randy, whose throat I’ll cut next time I get a chance, has given me a pass. Jessica visits me every evening after work. She sneaks in KFC even though she says it’s poison. I’m building up the courage to ask her out. There’s a second run movie theatre in the east end that’s having a Dirty Harry marathon.

Jesus has taken up residence in the bed next to mine. “‘Watch your head.’ Good one,” I say. He’s on a respirator and plugged into a dozen machines. Angels surround him 24/7 singing ABBA songs. I like their renditions of Mamma Mia and Knowing You Knowing Me. They kind of sound like this album of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir I bought at an estate sale once. Sometimes He speaks, but the respirator makes it difficult to understand what He’s trying to say.

 

 

 

 

 

 

the near death session

It was a shape in a room. It was a circle. Looking down from above, there were the tops of heads. Shoulders. Hands on laps. An assortment of shoes, all facing inward. There were four of them. Two men and two women. And a fifth—one who hadn’t shared in their experience, a facilitator, Dr Theodor. He dressed casually, expensively, smiling and tapping his Mont Blanc on a notepad, as he faced the group. The group looked back, expressionless.

“Ok,” said Dr Theodor. “This is the second of two group sessions on Near Death Experiences, NDEs. Each of you has claimed to have had such an experience, and have consented to share your experience in this group for research purposes. Last session we spent most of our time introducing ourselves. Today we’ll get right into describing our experiences. So, who would like to start off?”

There was some uncomfortable shifting in seats. One of them coughed quietly into her hand.

“We’ve come this far,” said Dr Theodor. “We must trust one another.”

“Must we?” said one of the women, Edith Calderón. She was prim and sitting erect in a navy business suit. She wore a small crucifix.

“Yes, I think,” said Dr Theodor. “You each share a rare experience. Who else do you have, in that regard, if not each other?”

“I have Jesus,” said one of the two men, Matthew Quipp. Grey and a little stooped in his chair.

The man next to him snickered. It was Terrance Winkle, fortyish with tattoos, wearing ragged jeans and a tee-shirt. He seemed tense, in spite of mocking Quipp.

“You think faith in the Lord Jesus Christ is funny?” Quipp said.

“Funny?” said Winkle. “It’s a bloody musical comedy.”

“I’ll pray for you.”

“Don’t bother.”

“Oh please, you two….” It was Tammy Janwari, mid-twenties in a leather jacket, plaid skirt and heavy boots.

The room became quiet again.

“It’s alright, Tammy,” Dr Theodor said. “Mr Quipp, you made a similar statement last session. Can you tell us more about your relationship with Jesus, and how it relates to your NDE?”

“Yeah,” said Winkle, “Tell us, was He there with a cocktail to welcome you home?”

Quipp hesitated, then said, “I saw Him. I felt His unending love, but….”

“But?” said Dr Theodor.

“It’s difficult to describe, to understand.”

“Please try.”

“Well, I was seated at a table with Jesus, and his disciples. Many of the patriarchs were there, too. There was food and wine. It was like the painting, The Last Supper, except the table was round.”

“Yes?”

“Jesus, Mary, Paul and I,” Quipp continued, “were playing cards, while all of the others looked on.”

“Cards?” said Theodor. “What game, specifically?”

Quipp was uncomfortable. He wrung his hands. “It was poker,” he said. “I’d never played poker before. I didn’t know the rules. But suddenly I did.”

“No way!” said Winkle. “That’s fucking hilarious.”

“I was winning, and Jesus was losing,” said Quipp, shaking his head. “I was up 18 denarii.”

“You were beating Jesus at poker?” Winkle laughed. “Wish I could’ve been there for that. What He do?”

“He seemed to be getting angry,” Quipp said. “It just wasn’t His night, I guess. He wasn’t getting the cards.”

“What happened?” said Theodor.

“It came down to one last hand,” said Quipp. “This time He bet big, kept raising. Like He’d finally drawn a winning hand. Mary and Paul folded. Finally, He bet everything, all he had. I matched His bet, and it was time to show our cards. But Jesus looked sheepish.”

“He’d been bluffing!” Winkled said. “That sneaky little Messiah. The Lord your Saviour was bloody well bluffing. What’d he have?”

“Pair of tens.”

“And you?”

“Full house,” said Quipp. “Queens over sevens, though I’m still not sure what that means.”

“That’s worth the price of admission, that is.”

“Let Matthew finish,” said Theodor.

“Well,” Quipp said, “He and Mary just stood up and began to leave the table. Then He turned, looked at me and snapped his fingers. In a second I was back in the operating room. The surgical team was trying desperately to get a pulse. But my heart had been stopped for five minutes. As the surgeon looked up and asked the nurse for the time, I returned to my body, and my pulse resumed. I wish they hadn’t resuscitated me. I was dead. I was with the Lord.”

“You were hallucinating,” Winkle said.

“How do you know?” said Edith Calderón.

“Because he was dead,” Winkle said. “Not breathing, but the brain still functioning. Lack of oxygen leading to hallucination. Plain and simple.”

“So how about you?” said Dr Theodor. “What did you see, Terrance?”

“I said it last session. I didn’t see a damn thing.”

“Really?” said Dr Theodor.

“Then why are you here?” said Edith Calderón.

“Because participating pays $75, and I was dead and resuscitated. That qualifies me,”

“Yes,” said Dr Theodor, “you consented to being in this study. And you made a detailed statement to the interviewer. Would you mind if I read what you said in that statement, for the group?” Theodor flipped through pages in a file.

“Go for it, Sigmund. I don’t give a shit.” Winkle crossed his legs, leaned forward and wrapped his arms tightly round his chest. He began rocking in his chair. “Tell the whole fucking world. I don’t care.”

Theodor read silently for a moment and then recited, “It was calm and warm. I’d risen out of my body, above the scene, over the filthy street with the paramedics and the cops below, trying to get me to breathe, pumping me full of naloxone. The light was bright, but not blinding. Wilma Waits was there. She’s an ex, who’d walked stoned into rush hour traffic the year before. She ended up bug splat on the grill of a dump truck. But there she was, and she said I didn’t have to suffer any longer. Suddenly I didn’t feel like using, anymore. It’s funny. I wasn’t really anywhere, but I could have stayed there forever.

“But then, everything changed. Suddenly I was driving this bad ass black 1950 Studebaker along an empty desert highway at the bottom of a canyon. Wilma riding shotgun, and Roy Orbison on the radio.

“After driving for a while, we finally arrived at this wide open area where there were hundreds of derelict airplanes, all lined up, gleaming in the sun. I parked and we got out to look it over. There were passenger liners and fighter jets. Some of them corroded and broken, others like new. But there was one that really seemed outta place.

“It was this old Qantas 747. The paint was faded and a lot of the windows were knocked out. But there was music playing somewhere inside. Zeppelin and the Stones. There was a lot of whooping and hollering, too.  And some stairs. So, Wilma and I went up to take a look inside. What I saw blew me away.”

Stairway to Heaven,” Tammy Janwari said.

Winkle shrugged.

“There they all were, sitting in the rows of seats,” Theodore picked it up again. “All my friends who’d died on the street. Freddy the Tank, who’d gotten stabbed in a bar fight at the Balmoral. Bobby Needles, who’d cashed it in shooting up on rat poison. Angel Agnes, who’d had the ultimate bad date and was found buried at a pig farm up the valley. Tommy, who had a heart attack when he got Tasered. And a lot more, drinking beer and eating pizza. And they all yelled, ‘Hey Terry, glad to see you. About fucking time. We thought you were indestructible.’ Shit like that.

“But then Agnes comes up and says, ‘It ain’t your time, Terrance.’ And I said, ‘Fuck if it ain’t, this place is cool.’ And she says, ‘Ain’t your decision to make, boyo.’ And I guess I looked kinda tragic, so she hugged me, and that hug was the sweetest thing I’d ever felt. Pure love, baby. Unquestioning light and warmth and happiness. None of that street love that’s only round as long as you’re sharing your shit. This was for fucking real.”

“Do you remember saying that, Terrance?” said Dr Theodor, looking up from the page.

“It’s bullshit. When I get my cheque, I’m gone.”

“And you’ll shoot that money right into your arm,” said Edith Calderón.

“That’s none of our business,” Tammy Janwari said.

“You died of a heroin overdose,” said Quipp. “Shame.”

“And you died of congestive heart failure,” said Winkle. “From too many bacon cheese burgers. Shame on you, you bastard.”

“Please, please,” said Theodor holding up a hand.

“It offends me,” said Quipp, “that we’re all here talking honestly, in the company of someone so profoundly dishonest.”

“What if I challenged you, Terrance?” Theodor said, ignoring Quipp. “What if I said that your statement is not bullshit, and that you’re really just afraid of what you experienced and feel as a result? What would you say to that?”

“I’d say fuck you.” Terrance Winkle hugged himself and scratched.

“They estimate that you were gone for eight minutes, Terrance,” Dr Theodor said. “Long enough to have witnessed something, if there was anything to witness.”

“Fuck off.”

“I was gone for seventeen minutes,” said Tammy Janwari.

“Yes?” Dr Theodor said.

“It was a lot like what Terrance experienced, the warmth and love I mean. But there was something like a tunnel. Beautiful sounds, like singing almost. It was like I was a note in the music, delightfully repeated again and again. I saw Krishna dancing. And then there were elephants. Lovely, lovely elephants. I love elephants.”

“Death fairies,” Winkle said.

“Elephants?” said Quipp. “Krishna?”

“Lovely elephants,” said Tammy Janwari. “Someone had drawn exquisite chalk patterns on them, in all of the colours in the universe. And I was a note in a universal song being sung by saints and angels.”

“That simply can’t be,” Quipp said.

“Why not?” said Edith Calderón.

“God wouldn’t allow it.”

“How do you know?” said Tammy Janwari.

“There’s no place for Krishna and elephants in Heaven,” said Quipp. “You must have been in Hell, Miss Janwari.”

“How dare you?”

“Well, just look at you,” Quipp said. “With your blue hair, dressed like a….”

All eyes fell on Tammy Janwari.

“Like a slut?” she said.

Quipp said nothing.

“I’m a punk, not a slut, Mr Quipp. Though there’s nothing wrong with being a slut, if that’s what you want.”

“Punk’s dead,” said Winkle.

“Punk’s not quite in style at the moment,” Janwari said. “I know it’s gone underground. But I like it, all the same. And my hair isn’t blue, it’s turquoise.”

“Alright, alright,” said Dr Theodor. “Let’s focus. Edith, can you share with us?”

“Yes, of course.” Edith Calderón sat up and pulled at her skirt. “Moments after impact, I found myself on a ship at sea. It was dark, a ship of demons; it must have been. There was an endless storm, and what little light there was glinted red off of the high waves. The ship rolled violently and I was seasick all of the time.”

“Hell,” Quipp said, shaking his head.

“None of the passengers had faces,” said Edith Calderón. “Where there should have been a face, there was just a blank space. When I tried to talk to any of them, a hole would open in the void and they’d scream. A man named Stick was the Captain, Captain Stick. He had a face. White with black eyes and red lips. He’d sit at his own table during dinner, staring at me as he ate the bloody meat on his plate. My plate was always empty.”

“Satan,” Quipp spoke again.

“Yes…,” said Calderón, “…maybe. But my cousin Iván was there; he was the Ship’s Purser. He was faceless, like the rest, but I recognised him by his voice and his manner. He came to my table one evening and said that I had to go back, that being there was wrong for me, that there had been a mistake. It may have been hell, but I felt such love coming from Iván.

“At first I couldn’t believe him. In life he’d been a killer. He murdered a woman in Durango in 1986. Later, he was shot by police. He’d been forsaken by our family. They talked about him like he was evil. But there he was, helping me to understand. He reached across the table and put his hand onto mine, and it was warm.”

“Then what happened?” Winkle said.

“I came back,” said Edith Calderón. “By then, my body was surrounded by firemen and paramedics, and one of them said the steering wheel had impacted my chest too violently, that the trauma to my heart was too severe. I stood watching, outside of my body, as all of them stood up at once, like they’d given up and were going to walk away.”

“And then?” said Tammy Janwari

“I saw myself cough,” said Edith Calderón. “And then I was back in my body, and the firemen and the paramedics came back and started working again. Later at the hospital, a nurse whispered miracle to another.”

“How did it feel to return?” said Dr Theodor.

“Just a temporary reprieve,” Quipp said.

“Let her answer,” said Winkle.

“I’m a Catholic,” Edith Calderón said. “It’s confusing. There must be some reason I was there. Perhaps I haven’t prayed hard enough, or I haven’t confessed everything…. I don’t know. But God is God, and if He puts me in Hell, then that’s where I belong.

“That’s just wrong,” Tammy Janwari said.

“My point, though,” said Edith Calderón, “is that Iván proved to me that there is love, even for the damned. It prevails, even in that place.”

Edith began to weep. She held her head in her hands, and wept from deep inside.

“God is God,” said Quipp. “Amen.”

“Oh, fuck off,” Winkle said. “You Christ-psycho.”

“That’s enough,” said Dr Theodor. “There’s twenty minutes left in the session, and I’m willing to go overtime. We should all take a five minute break.”

“I’m outta here,” said Winkle. “This whole thing’s just some voyeuristic shit for scientists and philosophers to chuckle over.”

“You’re leaving without your cheque?” Quipp said. “How will you pay for your next fix?”

“I’ll get one, one way or another. I always do.”

“This shouldn’t end this way,” Tammy Janwari said. “Let’s acknowledge what we all have in common, what makes us unique.”

“What the hell do I have in common with you lot?” Winkle said.

“Death and discovery,” said Edith Calderón, sitting up now, with almost perfect posture. “We have death in common, all of us. And now I know that I’m stronger than Hell. I’ve seen it, and it’s small and inconsequential compared to the love Iván showed me.”

“You’re wrong,” said Quipp.

“There is hope,” said Edith Calderón. “Even there. Iván proved it.”

“That’s an interesting insight,” Dr Theodor said.

“Fucking lack of oxygen,” said Winkle.

“The elephants were lovely,” Tammy Janwari said.

 

dollarama Jesus (’cause it’s Easter)

Willy Cox, who was small of stature and red of hair, was given just three minutes by the bouncers to find his dentures after Luther Sheeny knocked them out of his mouth with a wicked right hook.

When Willy discovered them in the farthest corner of the bar, he realised, after picking them up, that his upper plate had been broken clean in two. So, after telling Luther Sheeny, the bouncers and all of the patrons of the Dover Arms Pub to fuck off, he headed down to the Denman Street Dollarama to steal a tube of super glue. And it was there, in the insipid and colourless buzzing fluorescent light of a dollar store hardware aisle, that Willy Cox witnessed Jesus Christ Himself perusing the store’s selection of multi-headed screwdrivers.

Now, Willy Cox was not religious about taking his medication, and it may also be said that the medications prescribed for his disordered mind were not always adequate or free of injurious side effects. But whether medicated or not, Willy Cox always believed that he could see Jesus and that it was only Jesus’ refusal to materialise that explained why he never really had.

Further, the Jesus Willy Cox saw in the Denman Street Dollarama, it must be put forth, was the conventional white bread European-looking Jesus that one sees in American Christian tracts and framed on the walls of downtown soup-line missions. And to some, this may have been a suspicious sign; perhaps the Holy vision was a mere memory of a cookie-cutter Jesus seen somewhere else. He was blue eyed and had brownish blonde hair. He looked freshly bathed, and His robes and sandals were spotless.

Upon each of His hands, however, was a clean and distinct nail hole, and there was a radiant halo above His head. It was for these reasons, Willy Cox thought, that this was the one and only immaculate resurrected Christ.

Willy tried not stare. After all, the other Dollarama customers didn’t seem to notice their Saviour scoping out screwdrivers, so why should he? What was the big deal? But it was hard not to take a sneaky look. Was it appropriate to ask for an autograph, he wondered. Could he approach Jesus to simply discuss the weather? Was Jesus truly divinely informed? Would He know Willy Cox for the unworthy brain disordered, shoplifting, bar fighting boozer that he was?

Jesus now had two different brands of multi-headed screwdriver in his hands. As His eyes moved from one to the other, back and forth, He slowly shook his head. “Every damn thing’s made in China, nowadays,” Willy heard Him say.

Then Willy Cox made his decision. He stuffed a tube of super glue down the front of his pants, and walked over to offer Jesus Christ what assistance he could in choosing a screwdriver.

“Hello, Your Lordship,” Willy said. Then— “That’s correct, isn’t it? Calling you Your Lordship?”

“Oh hello, Willy,” Jesus said. “Say, do you know much about screwdrivers?”

“You do know my name.”

“Of course, I’m the resurrected Son of God. I’m omniscient. And you’re Willy Cox, son of Tom and Agnes. You’re an unworthy brain disordered, shoplifting, bar fighting boozer. You frequently take my name in vain. You’ve paid for sex three different times this month, and you left the fish and chip place down the street last night without paying for your meal. But back to the screwdrivers, which one do you think?”

“Well,” said Willy Cox, a little ashamed, “pardon me for asking. But if you’re omniscient, why are you unaware of which is the better screwdriver? Wouldn’t being omniscient suggest that you have always known the ultimate truth of these two screwdrivers, and of all screwdrivers that have ever existed and ever will exist in the future?”

“Okay,” Jesus said, mildly annoyed. “So, maybe omniscience isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.”

“All righty then,” said Willy Cox, sounding a little surprised. “What do you need to know?”

“Well, what brand do you recommend? They’re both made in China for goodness sake. Can anything good come out of China? In the way of screwdrivers, I mean.”

“I can’t recommend either of them, Sir.” Willy Cox was still unclear on the correct way to address the Blessed One.

“So,” Jesus said, “where does a deity get a decent screwdriver in this town? And call me Jeez, everybody else does.”

“I don’t know if you can get a decent screwdriver in this town, but you could try a hardware store. There’s one on Bidwell Street.”

“That may get a bit too pricy. Prices here at the Dollarama are more in line with my current economic circumstance, resulting from my general adoration of poverty. A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold.”

“I guess,” said Willy Cox. Then he said, “May I ask you another question, ah, Jeez.”

“Fire away,” Jesus said.

“What does the omniscient, and presumably omnipotent, Son of God need with a screwdriver?”

“It pays to be prepared, Willy.”

“Yes, but can’t you just will a screw to penetrate a surface? Won’t a screw be immediately present wherever you deem it necessary?”

“I tell you this,” said Jesus. “Do not use your stolen super glue to bring together what has been torn asunder. For I say unto you, your upper plate will mend cock-eyed and leave you with visibly uneven dentition.”

“You’re avoiding the question. What do you need a screwdriver for?”

“When a flood came,” said Jesus, “the torrent struck that house but could not shake it, because it was well built.”

“Huh?”

“There are atoms dancing in the Dollarama,” Jesus said, holding his arms out wide, a screwdriver in each hand. “Here beneath the fluorescence, from on high. Do you hear their angel song?”

“I just hear Debbie Harry singing Rapture over the Muzak.”

“Ah, the Rapture,” said Jesus. “The tribulation and persecution that will come before the ultimate triumph of the Kingdom of God.”

“Nah, it’s just a Blondie song about Mercuries and Subarus, and getting eaten by Martians.”

“Is not.”

“Yes, it bloody well is,” said Willy Cox. “Listen.”

“Stand and witness in yourself, Willy Cox, the direct and transformative presence of God here in this place, among the budget-priced hammers, wrenches and duct tape. Prepare yourself to be brought forth from the multitude of man and be seated at the right hand of God.”

“You sure you’re Jesus,” said Willy Cox. “You sound a bit unhinged.”

“I am the light of the world,” Jesus said.

“Really? In the Denman Street Dollarama? Looking for a cheap screwdriver?”

“Look unto Me, and be saved.”

Suddenly interested in seeing how Jesus Christ would pay for His purchase, Willy Cox pointed to the screwdriver in the right hand of the Lord Saviour.

“That one,” he said. “It’s a pleasing shade of yellow.”

“I agree that it is,” said Jesus, after a moment’s consideration.

He replaced the other screwdriver, and walked to the checkout where He stood patiently in line while the customers ahead of Him paid for their budget priced cupboard liners, greeting cards and office supplies.

When Jesus made it to the cash register, and was asked how he’d like to pay, He leaned over the counter and whispered something into the cashier’s ear. Hearing His whisper, the cashier smiled in elation, and held her hand to her breast. Jesus smiled back and said, “Bless you, Doris,” and left the store.

Willy Cox ran to the head of the line, butted in and asked the cashier,

“What did that man in the robes just whisper in your ear?”

“He told me not to worry,” the cashier said.

“That’s it?” said Willy Cox.

“I guess it was more how He said it,” said the cashier. “Oh, and He also said that you have a tube of super glue stuffed down your pants, that you didn’t intend to pay for, but that He’d take care of it.”

“But He didn’t give you any money.”

“No, He never does.”

 

 

 

a miracle on Granville Street

It was said that the Grove Café was so cheap that the Health Department had to bring its own cockroaches. It occupied an abandoned Bank of BC storefront on Denman Street in the west end of Vancouver, a mixed neighbourhood of the snotty middle class and the grubby poor. The café is gone now. The lease ran out, the landlord raised the rent and the Grove ceased to exist. The storefront sits empty now, and though he’d never admit it, the greedy landlord laments the loss.

But once upon a time, the Grove’s price point drew them in. The burgers and breakfasts were cheap, cheap, cheap. And that appealed to Ruben Karsh, though never to his friend Dwayne Radkov. Radkov would sit in the Grove and listen to Karsh’s stories because that’s what friends do. They endure.

“So,” said Karsh, “whatever happened to toothpicks?”

“What?” Radkov said.

“Toothpicks. Used to be that no matter how bad a grease toilet like this was, there were always toothpicks. Right there next to the napkin dispenser and the ketchup, which I notice doesn’t come in actual ketchup bottles anymore, just these crappy plastic squeezey containers.”

“We could go to Denny’s.”

“No way,” said Karsh. “Denny’s food makes you obese.”

“And the Grove’s food doesn’t?”

“Denny’s food is different,” said Karsh. “It stimulates dopamine secretion. Their food makes you feel good even though it contains no nutrients or fibre. It’s like taking crack, only more expensive when you figure in the tip. Artificial dopamine stimulation leads to disproportionate food cravings and food addiction, baby. That’s why all Denny’s customers are obese.”

“They are not,” said Radkov.

“The ones that aren’t physically obese yet, will be soon. If they’re slim now, then they’re just going through a stage called pre-obesity, a psychological phase in which a person is not physically obese, but mentally obese.”

“You’re insane.”

“I heard it on all night talk radio,” said Karsh. “It’s righteous. It’s this show that comes out of LA between midnight and 4:00 a.m. You should listen. It’ll wake you up, man.”

“You listen until 4:00 a.m.?”

”Most nights.”

“Then what?” Radkov said. “What do you do at 4:01 a.m.?”

“Surf the net. There’s some good stuff there. It’s righteous. It’ll wake you up.”

Fei Yen, or Fay as the clientele called her, was one of the Grove’s owners. She’d been in Vancouver for thirty years, but had never lost her Honk Kong street twang. Fay waited tables to keep labour costs down, and she arrived at the Karsh and Radkov table with the resigned composure of a soon to be martyred saint.

“What you have?” she said.

“Peanut butter and bacon on sour dough,” Karsh said, “with fries and a vanilla shake.”

“Cook don’t like that,” Fay said. “Peanut butter and bacon not on menu. You order from the menu.”

“Oh c’mon, Fay” Karsh said. “We do this every time. I say, peanut butter and bacon. You say, cook don’t like that. Then I say, peanut butter and bacon. And then we do it a couple of more times, and then you say, okay just this once, and you take my order. Why don’t you just put a peanut butter and bacon sandwich on the menu?”

“Can’t. Cook don’t like that.”

“Well’” said Karsh, “can I have a peanut butter and bacon sandwich on sour dough, with fries and a vanilla shake?”

“Okay, just this once.” Fay wrote it down. Then, looking at Radkov, she said, “And you? Just coffee, right?”

“Yeah,” said Radkov. “Just coffee.”

Fay shook her head, wrote it down and walked away.

“Hey, hey, look,” said Karsh. He pointed at a group of dark suited young men who’d just entered the café. Each had a name tag on his lapel. Karsh leaned forward, toward Radkov and said, “Mormons, man.”

Radkov looked and said, “So?”

The young Mormons sat at a booth and perused their menus.

“They’re missionaries,” Karsh said, whispering loud enough for the entire café to hear. “They’re here to convert us.”

“Good luck,” Radkov said, as Fay put his coffee down. It slopped over the side of the cup.

“You remember Raza Jamali?” Karsh said. “That Pakistani kid from grade ten, had that weird way of walking. Anyway, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints converted him. From Islam, man. That must have really pissed off Allah.”

“Allah can take it. He’s got big shoulders.”

“Whatever,” said Karsh. “Anyway, Raza gets all converted, goes and buys this black bargain basement suit and a pair of bad shoes, and starts walking the streets of Vancouver proselytising. He’s even got one of those clip-on name tags that sort of completes the costume.”

“Was he happy?” said Radkov.

“Sure, I guess.”

“Then who cares?”

“No, no, wait,” Karsh said. “There’s more. Because one day on one of his Mormon missionary strolls, Raza meets Christopher Walken.”

“Christopher Walken?”

“That’s right” said Karsh, “and for sure. The Walken, himself. He’s in town on some movie business, and he’s walking down Granville Street with his entourage. But Raza, God love him, doesn’t know who Christopher Walken is. He’s never seen Deer Hunter or Seven Psychopaths. His Moslem parents and Mormon proclivities would never have allowed it. He just sees this group of people walking together down one of the dirtiest streets in the city, and decides he’s going to perform a wholesale conversion.

“So, Raza walks up to Christopher Walken and he says, ‘Hello, I’m Elder Jamali of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Would you like to talk about Jesus?’

“And Christopher Walken just looks at Raza like Raza’s outta his mind. And Walken, I mean he doesn’t miss a beat, and he says, ‘I met Jesus once, while I was picking up my luggage at the Fort Gary, Indiana airport.’

“And you know how Christopher Walken talks. He delivers each sentence like it’s walking up the stairs, and when it gets to the top, it has no place to go. So, his words have a certain inflection that either confuses people or intimidates them.

“But Raza isn’t either of those things. He just says, ‘Jesus? While you were picking up your luggage? In the Fort Gary airport?’

“And Christopher Walken says, ‘Damn straight,’ like his words are walking up the stairs with no place to go. ‘And Jesus is just standing there,’ Walken says, ‘in a white suit and a Panama hat. Which, if you read your Kurt Vonnegut, you’ll know Panama hats aren’t made in Panama. They’re made in Ecuador. And Jesus is all calm and there’s this radiance about him.’

“So, Raza says, ‘Was Jesus flying to Salt Lake City?’

“And Christopher Walken says, ‘No. What the hell’s in Salt lake, other than Mormons? He was flying to Tampa.’

“And Raza says, ‘Why Tampa?’

“And Christopher Walken says, ‘The Lord works in mysterious ways, my poorly dressed friend.’ And then he says to Raza, ‘Would you like to come back to the Westin with us, and do some blow? I can set you up with a date.’

“And Raza says, ‘No, I need to be home by 9:00 pm.’

“And Christopher Walken says, ‘Well, that’s too bad because I think Jesus will be there. I think the two of you should meet.’

“And Raza says, ‘No thanks.’

“I mean, Raza blows his chance to meet Jesus and hang out with Christopher Walken at the Westin because he has to be in by nine. Can you believe it? He just walks away with that funny little walk of his.”

“That sounds like bullshit to me,” Radkov said.

“Swear to God,” said Karsh. “But the thing is, after that, Raza Jamali converts back to Islam.”

When Fay arrived, she dropped Karsh’s peanut butter and bacon sandwich on the table and said, “Cook don’t like it.”

“Well,” Karsh said, “cook don’t have to eat it.”

“Where’s Raza Jamali now?” said Radkov.

“He sells vacuum cleaners at Sears in Burnaby,” said Karsh.

“Same bad suit?”

“Damn straight.”

Monsanto Jesus

Things happen overnight. Objects materialise that weren’t there before, popping up like mushrooms, taking their permanent place in the world. When I wake up sometimes, I see trees on the street and boxy civic buildings in the distance, that weren’t there the day before. At night I hear the workers on hushed coffee breaks, pretending not to be there.

Daphne, the Social Worker at the drop-in, says that’s impossible, that I should increase my meds. She resembles a Disney character. When she talks to me, she’s all calm and full of hope, with her Pixar complexion and disproportionately large eyes. She tries to hide it with this Tank Girl thing she’s got going, multiple piercing, purple buzz-cut, wearing army surplus cargo shorts and combat boots. She even smokes cigarillos on her breaks, but none of it helps. When she sits with us in Group, she leans forward, nodding a lot and making hmmm sounds. When she talks, all of her sentences begin with, I wonder what it would look like if…. She calls it reframing. I think she needs a girlfriend.

I bring this up because of what happened last week. There’s been a billboard across the street from my room for as long as I can remember. It’s typically used to advertise the dreck of modern consumer society, thirty-six by twenty-four foot depictions of people blissful in their unfailing affection for useless products manufactured by companies and corporations that despise humanity, but love its money. The advertising is frequently misleading, illiterate and chalked full of elementary school errors. A recent ad, for example, for a Chartered Accountants’ office, stated that Truth is never objective. I had to look at that for months. I tried to help. I called the Accountants’ office to point out the faux pas. But maybe I was too emphatic. They used *69, and reported me to the police.

Anyway, it was round 2 a.m. last Wednesday morning. I was a little stoned on bud, and listening to Conspiracy Cavalcade, a radio program, hosted by Blake Willy, that skips into town off of the ionosphere every night from Portland, Oregon. They were talking about Bible prophecy and how Monsanto’s use of GMOs in food crops is hastening the Second Coming. I was taking notes, cross referencing on the internet and sending Monsanto vicious emails. I didn’t need anyone hastening the return of Jesus. My karma’s a little crispy.

After the top of the hour news, the special guest came on, the Very Reverend Clive Firefield of the Pentecostal Church of the Puissant Zealot. Puissant, what the hell was that? On the surface, at least, it was a word that absolutely oozed pornographic potential. I looked it up. Google corrected my spelling. I was disappointed.

“So, Reverend Firefield,” Blake Willy said, opening up the show. “Your new book is called Genetic Apocalypse.”

“That’s right, Blake,” the Reverend said. “It’s in stores now, and available on Amazon in hardcover and for ebook readers. Jesus has told me that He wants all of your listeners to buy my book, without delay. And just so you know, I’ll be donating 10% of the proceeds to the Church of the Puissant Zealot’s Outreach Program.”

“We’ll be opening up the phone lines in just a few minutes,” said Blake Willy. “But first, Reverend, tell me about this outreach you’re doing.”

“I’m so glad you asked, Blake. This is an angelically inspired program that reaches out to the shut-ins in all of the exclusive gated communities of America, especially in the Palm Springs area, where many of our wealthy seniors are shunned and isolated for reasons of their extreme prosperity, which has come to them through no fault of their own.”

“That does seem unfair,” Blake Willy said.

“It is,” said Firefield. “It’s desperately and unspeakably unfair when the rich are blamed for their good fortune under Jesus. Donations are welcomed. Halleluiah! Will you say a prayer with me, Blake?”

“No.”

“Oh.”

“So,” said Blake Willy, “explain, for the listeners, your ideas round the inevitable genetically induced Armageddon.”

“With pleasure, Blake,” Reverend Firefield said. “Man is absolutely facing a genetic apocalypse. Animal genes spliced into turnips and apples. Rodent DNA changing men into rat-blooded chimeras. Bacteria breeding with viruses to create vacteria.”

“Vacteria?”

“Jesus weeps, Blake. I saw it on the internet. What has man done to the natural order of things? How could man have been so negligent, so irresponsible?”

“It’s like a bad acid trip.”

“Indeed,” the Reverend said, “but I believe, based on revelation, that it’s actually none of man’s doing. I’m convinced by prophecy, that man’s attack on the genetic structure of Earth’s living things is really occurring due to divine necessitarianism. Monsanto maybe facilitating the genetic apocalypse, but it is the influential hand of God at work, hastening the fall of an evil world. It is the wage of sin. And when it happens, it will happen very quickly.”

“Just so the listeners know,” Blake Willy said. ”Another word for necessitarianism is determinism, which means the cataclysmic genetic alterations you describe in your book, Reverend Firefield, were bound to occur and are the inevitable outcome of antecedent states of affairs, is that not true?”

“Ah, that wasn’t on the preprogram list of questions your producer provided me with, Blake.”

“Okay,” said Willy, “let me ask you this, then. You keep using the word man in reference to the cause of the genetic apocalypse, where do women enter into it?”

“Women?”

“Yeah, women. You must know some.”

“Ha! Of course,” Firefield said. “You mean women.”

“Yes.”

“Well, this is an equal opportunity Armageddon, Blake. Women, household pets. Everyone is welcome to either ascend to Heaven or fry for all eternity in a lake of fire. Praise the Lord!”

“Does this have anything to do with the apocalyptic Blood Moon theory?” Blake Willy said. “The one that says we’re all toast come September?”

“Indirectly.”

“Because if it does, I have a question about that.”

“Shouldn’t we be breaking for station ID, or something?” said Firefield.

“Let me worry about that,” said Willy. “And answer me this. You evangelical nutty bunnies always predict the same thing: The End Times are coming, and with them the collapse of institutions. Banks closures. The Stock Market doing a face-plant. Planes falling from the sky. The disintegration of governments. Families being ripped apart. You predict the gnashing of teeth, confusion, despair, gerbils doing it with chinchillas, mass chaos, fear, grief, zombie squeegee kids and judgment by a higher power. And yet you inevitably do two very interesting things, considering the physical world is coming an end. First, you try to instill fear by claiming that the apocalypse will make our nation vulnerable and that our enemies will attack us, even though we won’t be here to be attacked because God will have assigned us to other areas of the multiverse. And second, you plan on making huge profits off of books and movies, even though your publicists will be in hell, and you, supposedly, will be sitting at the right hand of God. In light of this, how do you claim moral legitimacy? How do you square it with God?”

“Let’s leave God out of this, Blake. We’re talking about Christianity, at the moment.”

“Okay,” said Blake Willy, “you heard it here first, folks. Now we’ll take a break to hear from our beloved sponsors. Coming up, your calls, and later – when things go terribly wrong and evolution happens out of sequence – archeologists find evidence of a failed ancient civilisation that discovered the aerosol can before the wheel, and sprayed itself out of existence. Back in a few.”

That’s when I turned it off. I had another toke, and began to write haikus. I’m good at haikus, and I do my best work before daybreak.

welfare cut me off
food bank just gives me tuna
I feed alley cats

That sort of thing. I know, it’s pretty impressive, but I’m humble. I intend to be published posthumously.

So, it wasn’t long after I started writing that I heard noise coming from across the street. It was 3:00 a.m., and a crew was taking down the billboard ad for Starbuck’s new Marshmallow Pineapple Macchiato, and replacing it with something else, which was fine by me. I was sick of looking at dementedly enthusiastic youngsters quaffing back candy flavoured fidget-provoking genetically modified café plonk. I just wished Daphne was there to witness it. This proved that things did happened at night, while the world slept and I tried to shoehorn life’s meaning into seventeen syllables.

Changing a billboard sign at 3:00 a.m. was strange enough. But the crew doing the job was even stranger, dressed in choir gowns with wings and drenched in an eerie light without a source. And were some of them actually flying? Holy fuck, yeah! I looked at what was left of the blunt in the ashtray — still half a joint. It was some good shit, but seeing floating choirboys was unexpected, even a little scary. Then it occurred to me that they were angels. Maybe it was the olanzapine. Irrationally, I thought for a minute of quitting weed, but I still had a quarter kilo in a watertight container in the toilet tank. I couldn’t exactly donate it to the Boys and Girls Club. I lit up again, and watched the angels do their good work, whatever that was.

At some point I fell asleep listening to the Butthole Surfers on YouTube, and didn’t open my eyes again until after 10:00 a.m. After I had some tuna for breakfast and read some of the more interesting overnight spam, I took a look out the window. And there it was, the new billboard sign.

Monsanto. Proud to partner with God to bring you the end of the world.

Son of a bitch! Firefield was right.

And I had to admit, it was brilliant. There He stood, a twenty foot high Caucasian Jesus, whiter than Beaver Cleaver, holding a GMO turnip, surrounded by genetically modified people and foods from all of the nations of the world. He had a wide toothy grin and an I♥Monsanto badge pinned to His robes. Everyone was smiling and ready for the Rapture, even the Hindus, Taoists and Pagans. No more niche marketing, no more bullying farmers. Now Monsanto would be righteous, and everything to everybody. And the Lord would be their spokesman.

At the drop-in, most of the guys were in the back alley drinking pilfered hand sanitizer, so I had the place to myself. I sat on a couch and was leafing through a back issue of Guns & Ammo when Daphne came by.

“How are you, Arthur?” she said. “What’s new?”

“People never really want to know that,” I said. “Why do they ask?”

“No,” she said, sitting next to me, “I’m truly interested.”

She smelled of musky chocolate and sounded sincere, so I told her about the billboard, and she said –

“Hmmm, I wonder what it would look like if we lived in a world where humans didn’t rely on invisible gods and evil corporations.”

“I guess if those things disappeared tomorrow,” I said, trying to sound sane, “it would just create a vacuum that would likely be filled by other human systems, perhaps far worse than what we have now. Who knows what they might be? Maybe God and Monsanto are protecting us from a far more odious and unknowable fate.”  

“That’s a very interesting observation, Arthur,” she said.

“Thanks. I read it in an issue of National Review in my psychiatrist’s waiting room.”

“So,” Daphne said, “you’ll be looking at Monsanto Jesus on the billboard across the street for the next couple of months.”

“It won’t be so bad, if I can forget about all the splicing.”

“Maybe the angels will come back,” she said.

“Yeah, I’d like that.”

how I came to be in prison

There was this guy I was letting sleep on my couch. He was eating me out of house and home. Which was a real drag because I’d lost my job at the 7-Eleven for stealing Slurpees and lottery tickets.

Now I was looking at the ATM keypad for the button I needed. The one that said: anything that’s left. It wasn’t there. I needed the same button on my life. There wasn’t one there, either.

My chequing account was nearly empty, anyway. What was there would be eclipsed by banking service charges soon enough. I had dimes in my pocket, and an old man with a walker wheezing behind me. I pulled my card from the slot and split.

Hunger is a planet orbiting itself. It’s its own moon and sun. And it’s pale in the sky. No one can see it, who isn’t looking for it. And its inhabitants can only see the grim surface, and feel its core burn in their bellies.

I was a new life, recently born to the hunger planet. I’d never seen it in the sky. I’d never looked. And I‘d never be a good citizen. I know I’d steal a rocket ship and escape its gravity, like a scene out of a Spielberg flick.

But first I had to dump the metaphor, and get concrete.

I sat down on the sidewalk and put an empty Starbucks cup in front of me. It was a Grande. I figured a Venti was pushing it. I didn’t want to seem greedy.

They didn’t call this begging anymore, which made me happy. Now it was called panhandling. That made it sound like a vocation, that you got a student loan to learn. It sounded like Florida or part of Alaska. Two places that looked mighty handsome on a map, all green and bumpy. I could live with that.

The first person to drop coins into the cup was a four year old. Her mother had given her the change and sent her over. I guess it was a lesson in charity. Either that or mom was too scared of me to do it herself. Better the kid got jumped by the bum, than her. She probably had a yoga class she couldn’t miss later on.

The second person was an old broad, hooked up to an oxygen tank she carried on a dolly behind her. She gave me a buck and started telling me about a day in 1962 when she wore a bikini to the beach and met Wayne Newton, who felt her up later that night in his hotel room. Then she lit a cigarette and blew smoke out of her nose past the oxygen tube nose piece. She forgot who she was after that, and just walked away.

The third person was a guy in a suit who gave me a quarter, and acted like he was the IMF bailing out Somalia. He asked me if I’d heard of Jesus, and I said I was letting Him sleep on my couch and that I couldn’t leave beer in the fridge because He drank it all.

The suit guy seemed a little upset hearing this. So, he called me a dirty blasphemer, and said that I deserved my poverty and would burn in hell because that’s the Christian way.

And I said, “Okay, I’ll tell Jesus to go over and sleep on your couch.”

And he said, “Fine, I’d be blessed to have Jesus sleep on my couch.”

And I said, “You better hide your beer.”

And he said, “I’ve had just about enough of you.”

And I said, “Then why don’t you go tell some Buddhist he’s going to hell, and leave me alone.”

And that’s when he kicked me.

So, I got up and slapped him one in the face. And he started yelling that I’d assaulted him. So, I pushed him out into traffic, just as the downtown bus was rolling by. And bammo! He was a stain on the grill of the ol’ number five. But I guess he went to heaven. I hope he hides his beer from you know Who.

Then there was the ambulance and the fire department and two cops named Ray and Natalie, who looked real nice together, and I told them so. Anyway, they cuffed me and took me in. And the psychiatrist said I wasn’t nuts, just a little stupid. So, they sent me to prison.

That’s how I got here.

Jesus comes to visit now and then, but he’s about the only one. He says he’s staying at a Motel 6 now, out on the highway, with the ice machine just outside of his room. I could tell you more about that, but it’s time for ceramics class.