Monday, November 9, 2009


I testify in the name of Our Risen Lord that at 6:15PM Dr. Lincoln Hurst appeared in the middle of the G street intersection on November 9, 2009. He ran through the crosswalk towards the liquor store, and in the second I slowed not to hit him, I thought, "how apt." Dr. Hurst was the favorite religious studies professor of the Christian group that I ran with in college. I dressed up as him when I emceed our college retreat. It was rumored that he was a believer, if of a somewhat unorthodox stripe, and like a mythical creature, you could get him to confess to it if you approached him alone, with the appeasement of a cup of on-campus coffee. His conversion had taken place when after thirty years of critical, acrid-hearted skepticism, he had been reading the Gospel of John one day on a train and had realized in a calm and steam-powered instant that it was all true. I trusted this at the time because of its unpredictability. Now I wonder about it because many of my greatest realizations have occurred on trains.
There was the story about the flying communion loaf. During his years as a pastor he had under some circumstances tripped while delivering communion, sent the Body Of Christ flying into the air in a totally unprophesied fashion, and made an irreverent joke or oath or facial expression regarding the event that caused him to be summarily dismissed.
He was consulted for Academy Award nominations. He loved the Chicago Cubs in total sincerity. He was a bachelor. The Christians attributed to him the siring of an illegitimate child and passed on the news. He had studied at Oxford. He played "Crystal Blue Persuasion" for every Gospel of John class and made esoteric ancient Greek scholar jokes about its lyrics.
That he should choose Bernie's Liquor as the place of his posthumous appearance was simultaneously as mystical and profane as he had always managed to be. I always wondered about the rumors I'd heard - that he was a steady and faithful drunk, that his retirement had been early because he knew he was dying of an unnecessarily early disease. In an instant the memory of everything that has happened returned. The man's shaggy hair and beard, paunch and slab-like hands, corduroy blazer with a t-shirt, running shoes and forward-angled walk brought everything back. Everything I had become, everything I had said and done since then, all the dignity and squalor and mystery and faith and skepticism he had heretically commingled in his lectures, and all the questions he had failed to answer and I had failed to ask flooded over me. The fucking Beach Boys were singing some shit about California Girls to add that extra frisson of insecurity and self-doubt. And I thought of how much easier my life would be if I did not feel the need to KNOW.
That last lecture before that springy, neon-green Easter had scratched at true mystery. As he closed his lecture on the gospel harmony text, delineating the differences between each apostle's account of the crucifixion, he said simply, "And the rest you'll have to decide on for yourself. Past that point, it depends on your interpretation." And the room was silent. No pastor has ever preserved so graciously the mystery of what has been proclaimed the salvation of the world, and no professor has ever paved the road to agnosticism with more care and deference to the doubter's mind. It would greatly stroke my ego if I could find out that the friends I slung so much bull with at the time and now no longer correspond with were scared shitless by this.
I need some answers. I need some words with which to phrase my questions. Don't be such a pussy. Stop being so selfish. Don't become the victim of infinite phobias. Do not dip into the well of reasons you Cannot Get Past It.
At the retreat I had scratched my face with my fake Hurst beard. I stood rubbing my chin and asking our college pastor, how shall we love those who sin? And I cannot remember what his answer was. I only remember that he said I was truly confronting Jesus' example of consorting with whores and thieves as his own people and experiencing how difficult that could be. I would like to be a biker bitch drinking with Dr. Hurst. I have some things to ask him that I only want him to answer after two beers and several Mamas and the Papas hits. I like to think that among the people in my past who have been in a position to judge my own analysis of my beliefs, he is one I could still trust to shoot straight. I am not going to let the Professor's shadow kick me off the face of the earth into a life of eccentricity and excuse-making because I have not dealt with my shit and he has left me behind where I belong to deal with it. I would rather live my eccentricities out on the sidewalk with a wildly contradictory holy man or two.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

on the milk carton

Since I moved into my new apartment I feel more closely connected with the city and simultaneously more distant from everyone I care about. My perch overlooks a moderately busy intersection in the heart of the town, on a street that separates the south side neighborhood convenience stores and scrawled tagging from the north side Lexi and Prii. Theo loves the new place. He sits at the window, a small hairy gargoyle - or is that redundant? - fixated on what occurs below, judging nothing, observing everything. I can't escape the fear that someone will see me lick the ice cream bowl or dig my finger in my ear. I can't escape the immaterial presence of The Townspeople driving by to the kitty-corner doughnut store and The Regular Dude in the lifted truck, or as the Professor used to call them, The Jetski People. Maybe I should give up all that flouncy NPR shit. I was this close to figuring out the Puzzler. I can't help the self-consciousness. I just like letting light in through the blinds.

I used to be a bootstrap libertarian. What do you mean, your mom went to jail last night? What do you mean, your dad has seven other kids from different mothers and you swear you will kill him if you ever see him again? What do you mean, you represent red and you'll die killing skreezies if you have to? Let's read some Holocaust memoirs, children. The older I get, the more sensitive I become. I doubt I can keep my countenance and discuss aloud Wiesel's account of the hanging of the small child in the concentration camps. I lost the ability to distance myself from it. I wake myself sobbing when I dream of it. The only thing that still makes me wonder how much control I have is that the moment I asked for compassion and humility, I began the four worst fucking years of my life, and I came out of it with a completely different mind. What, then, can I say I know with confidence?

It was a morning alone, my first Saturday in my new place. The Kenyan coffee was on the stove. The stock market news was on the radio. The cat was on the windowsill. Serenely I walked from the shower, nude, damp, drying my hair with a towel, into the brilliant sunshine. The trucks drove by trailing the jetskis up to the lake. The radio bleated miserably. The cat's yellow gaze never wavered. And an eleven year old boy sitting in the corner doughnut shop with his brothers met my eyes as I realized my nakedness was fully revealed through the open blinds. He squinted. Then grinned. Then pointed. And I jumped into the closet. But there was no covering what had been uncovered. There was no way it could be denied. I had become the naked woman.

There is no grade worth the destruction of your character by dishonesty. Your bootless honor student tears mean nothing to me. Did you know that I conceal everything I have become from my family? Did you know that I once was a two-timing whore? Did you know that even recognizing these things, and making efforts to change, and changing, I am still much less than I strive to be? Where the hell do I get off? Jetskis are fucking fun.

Despite everything, I'm still a naked woman visible from the doughnut shop window as you tear up some apple fritters and papery milk from a fist-sized carton with your brothers when you are eleven years old. There will always be a first pair of breasts. There will always be a doughnut. There will always be Saturdays in summer. Or maybe they will none of them ever happen again. Maybe they never happened at all. I will watch and find out.