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Exquisite Corpse - A Journal of Letters and Life
Stage and Screen
Radio Messiah
by Andrei Codrescu
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Jesus came back and he went to McDonald's.
     "I've analyzed the data," Jesus said, and saw that of all the corporations on earth you are the one that reaches more people, more places than anyone else, including Federal Express. Therefore, I have decided to begin spreading my message through you."
     The public-relations director eyed suspiciously the besandaled dude with the beatnik beret.
     "What's the message?"
     "The same old one, Love."
     Suspecting that a vegetarian might be hiding under Jesus' slightly unsanitary appearance, the PR man hissed:
     "And how do you propose going about this, Mister?"
     "Well, it's true, I'm reading your mind, and you are right that I personally don't scarf down scoops of cow, not even two for two bucks, but distribution's distribution and this is the best means to convey my message of love, especially to teenagers, who seem to congregate here far more than in churches. What I propose is that we give away a condom in every burger."
     The PR looked at Jesus, considered, then mumbled to himself "Hmmm... Hmmm... Not cost efficient. I don't think so..."
     "Maybe you don't understand my message, I didn't mean putting a condom in every burger, but next to it, in the box."
     "I know, now get outta here. Try Burger King."
     "Okay," (Jesus sighed.) "I see that things haven't changed much in two thousand years. People are more selfish than ever. Can I at least take a picture of this place to take back to the Heavenly Father to show him what the new places of worship look like?"
     "Now, that's a definite NO-NO! We have a firm policy about that. No pictures in McDonald's."

     Sadly, Jesus put the Polaroid back in his knapsack. He'd hoped to make the Second Coming a gentler affair. Now he'd have to go by the Book. Bring on the Apocalypse.


Nobody dies like Stalin did. He didn't just die, he took the world with him.
      My world, at any rate. I was eight years all when it happened. They told us at school. All the kids cried. Our teachers cried. It was a lament. You should've heard it: it was the parting of the waters, the tearing of the veils, the weeping by the shores of Babylon.
      I went home on back alleys so nobody'd see me whimpering. Stalin had been everything to me. In all the pictures on the wall and in the school books he was surrounded by adoring children. He smiled on us from above, kind, understanding, protective.
      For me, personally, he was father, pure and simple, because I didn't have one of my own. I had his portrait on my little nightstand table and every night before I went to sleep, I told him a prayer my grandmother had taught me:

     Our Father who Art in Heaven
     Hallowed by Thy Name
     Thy Kingdom Come
     They Will be Done

After that I slept securely under the shadow of his mustache.
      When I got home from school, my stepfather and a man I didn't know were stitting at the kitchen table with their back to the door. I slipped in unnoticed and hid under the table. I was too upset to talk.
     "I'm glad the sonofabitch is dead!" my stepfather said.
     "Amen!" said the other one.
My world was right there and then shattered and lost forever.
      Later, I watched the people cry and tear their hair publicly on the streets, but I somehow knew that it was all a show. They were just using the occasion to grieve, weep, and cry for other sorrows. Stalin was just an excuse to mourn for the world. And I suspected fraud about the whole race of fathers, leaders, and men larger than life,
      There are no fathers, I decided, only mustaches which scatter in the wind, hair by hair, which vanish, disappear, betray, and leave you alone at night.

Fiddle with radio.

People used to lower their shades at night and listen very softly. Walking at night in Sibiu you could see the lights of radio dials glowing behind shutters, a clandestine constellation of hope. But if there was a knock at the door, people switched quickly to the official stations.

Loud knock on the door. Switch from whispered clandestine radio to


Pending approval of the Party Congress of the Glorious Assembly of the Supreme Soviet the multilateral development of our Socialist region has been accelerated. The unstoppable dialectic of the tractor-combine of socialism driven by Comrades Stalin, Gheorghiu-Dej, with Marx, Engels, and Lenin standing guard above them is steaming forward to meet the production quotas of the second Five=Year-Plan of the 1950s.

My father's big black Packard scared our neighbors in Sibiu, Romania. There were only six cars in town and my father had one. He also wore a black leather jacket. When he passed in his car, people looked away or bowed their heads. They didn't want him to see their eyes or recognize them. When he was gone, they crossed themselves and spat on the ground. In those days, at the height of Stalinist terror, the man in the car was the one who came and took you away. He took you away in his car and you never came back again.
      My father took me in his car but he always brought me back to my mother on Sunday night. Every Saturday, from age six to nine, I got in my father's black car to the pointed envy and fear of our neighbors, and took off to visit his girlfriends.
      I waited for him in the car, behind the wheel, not moving, while my father was in a building somewhere, and I fantasized about driving the black car. When my father came back --smelling of cheap cologne and a strange carnal odor that took me many years to identify -- I was exhausted. I had driven past Baron von Bruckenthal's palace, with the scary torture room, past the central square where they used to burn witches in the 16th century, over the Liar's Bridge, through the narrow mountain pass where the children led by the Pied Piper of Hamlin had been brought into Transylvania -- you don't know do you that the Pied Piper of Hamlin piped the children nto my Transylvanian home town, do you? -- He did. I drove over the Carpathian Mountains and I got all the way to a big wall called The Border. I knew about the Border because I had heard from other kids about people who got to this Border which reached the sky and had been crushed against it. I drove thousands of miles through the crooked streets of our Medieval burg and beyond, all the way to the Border. On the way, I received the frightened tribute of every citizen who had ever slighted me in the least. I had also magnanimously given rides to every person who had ever been nice to me.
      My father never suspected a thing because I was sure to set back the odometer. I was such a good imaginary driver, I saw no point in actually driving. I still don't.
      But one time I did drive. My father left the key in the ignition. Something that never happened. BLESSED ARE THE FATHERS WHO LEAVE THE KEY IN THE IGNITION. I put my hands around the wheel, released the brake, and rolled straight into the window of Meyer's hat store.
I have to explain this. In 1952 in my town we had no need of either hats or Mr. Meyer. Both hats and Mr. Meyer were anachronisms, "bypassed by history," as they used to say in school. Nobody wore hats any longer, certainly not the kind of elegant homburgs and Panamas that Mr. Meyer's historically doomed bourgeoisie had once worn. We had no use for Mr. Meyer either because he was neither a worker nor a farmer but a petit-bourgeois, someone who, to quote the book again, was "destined for the trash heap of history." We also had no use for Mr. Meyer because he was a Jew and a Zionist. And, as a matter-of-fact, there was no longer any Mr. Meyer. Mr. Meyer had vanished from Romania, gone to Israel in the middle of the night, floated like a black hat across the sea. All that was left of Mr. Meyer was the window full of hats which, for some strange reasons, hadn't yet been eliminated.
      I drove straight into this vestigial capitalist vitrine, into the hat-full absence of Mr. Meyer. When my father came back I was shaking helplessly in the driver's seat under a mountain of hats. My father's black car was completely covered by hats as if it had been swarmed by capitalists.
      He never left the key in the ignition after that.
      After that, I never wore a hat.

A hip black radio Evangelist is retelling the story of Adam & Eve & paradise, but it's still only fragments.

God's saving Eve for hisself, dig. He's just waiting for her to ripen. He's watching her ripen every day like the apples in his tree. Every day she getting a little redder, a little plumper, a little juiceer. He tell Adam you watch out she's mine. That's my apples, that's my Eeve...

My horrible stepfather, who was an engineer, and whose only pleasure in life was building amateur radios, used to spend every weekend at his workshop table, inventing. He invented a phone radio, a clock radio, a butterchurn radio, and a mailbox radio, long before these things became common.
      So proud was he of his radios that he punished anyone who didn't show the proper degree of amazement before them. Once he beat me for writing dirty words on the world map that hung over his workshop table. He didn't beat me because the words were dirty, but because dirty words distracted him from his radios.
      One day I removed a very small piece from inside his latest creation. It took him several cursing days to find out what was wrong. From that time on, I took a little piece out of whatever he was working on every time I chanced by his table. He became horribly moody, and had big fights with my mother. He beat me whenever he could lay his hands on me, which wasn't often: I was too quick, and he was too depressed.
      Finally, one day he packed his radios and his bags, and he left us. My mother cried, but it was a great day for me.
      There have been many great days since then, but few greater than this. One day, many years later when I started speaking on the radio here in the United States, many, many years later, I had a disconcerting but by no means unpleasant tought. I wondered if, now that I had become a little piece in the radio myself, I wondered if I was not somehow, if I had not somehow become the very first piece that I removed from my horrible stepfather's radio! And now whenever somebody says, "I heard one of your radio pieces," a piece of radio comes back to me, removed by little fingers from a mean man's sole pleasure in life.
Radio preacher continues the story of Adam and Eve:

So God sees Eve ripen, he sees his apples redden, he is rejoicing, his eyes are full of gladness -- and one day when he checks, dig, he's checking every morning, every noon, and a couple of times at night, one morning as he checks, he sees, Lord, what does he see, he sees Adam, Adam the appointed guardian for his treasure, Adam, and he's got Eve, Eve the Apple of the Lord's eye, tied up, TIED UP, with a snake around the tree, the Tree of Knowledge, brothers and sisters, the Tree of Life and Death. The snake's wrapped all around Eve and all around the Tree and ADAm, Adam, brothers and sisters...

My father came out of his cell when I was eleven years old. That year I went to Pioneer Camp in the Carpathian Mountains. Pioneers were Communist Boy Scouts -- we wore little kerchiefs around our necks and did stuff in the woods.
      My father came to visit on the weekend. It was the first time I'd seen him in two years, so I was quite thrilled. We did some father-son stuff like kick a ball for five minutes, and then I watched him smoke. When he finished his cigarettes he gave me 500 leis and left. Two hundred leis was a lot of money in Romania in those days. An engineer made almost 1000 leis a month, and engineers made more money than anyone.
      The camp had these scary outhouses deep in the woods. After my father left, I had to run to the bathroom.
      Once there, I realized to my horror that there wasn't any toilet paper. There I was, a young Pioneer in the scary Carpathian night with 500 leis in my pocket and no way to clean myself.
      I was faced with a terrible dilemma: use either my father's money or the red kerchief around my neck, which represented everything I, a young Communist, held sacred.
      It was a confrontation between family and state.
      It was also a confrontation between Capitalism and Communism, the cold war in a nutshell. Father-state, who was everywhere, and father-father, who was nowhere, faced each other suddenly over my distressed bottom.
In the end I chose to use my father's money. There was a practical reason: the worn-out, threadbare bills were better suited for the purpose than the red kerchief.
      But, in the end, it was a fateful choice. It explains how I feel about many things, money and fathers among them. And now that Communism's gone and history has used our red Pioneers' kerchiefs to wipe its problematic butt, I got the news from Romania that the government was QUOTE recycling the national currency as toilet paper UNQUOTE. "Every week," the report said, "five to six tons of shredded banknotes are sent to a toilet-paper factory in Bucharest."
      Everything that happens happens because a young boy on a scary toilet seat somewhere makes a critical decision.

Radio preacher:

Adam, Adam, you wretched, despeekable, unspeakable creature, Adam, what are you doing to Eve the Apple of my Eye which I been saving for Myself? What are you doing with my woman, all tied up with that frigging snake? And Adam, Adam the appointed guardian, Adam he couldn't say a thing... You know what he was doing...Flagrantee delikto... the Hootchy-Kootchy... the Cha-Cha-Cha... And God, you know what God did? Do you know what God Almighty did?

I didn't see my father for a very long time. Then one day when I was 13 years old, my mother said:
      "Your father is here to take you away."
      Immediately, my father was at the door, dressed in a black suit. In his hand, he had two little booklets. My mother brought a brown cardboard suitcase and set it at my feet.
      My father explained that the two booklets in his hand were passports. By maneuvering the invisible powers he had obtained a passport for himself and a passport for me. We were going to leave the country together and go to a place where food was plentiful.
      I said: "We have enough food. We have bread, we have plum jam, and on the first of May we have hotdogs. We have all the apples we can eat. What could be more plentiful than that?"
     My uncle said, "Liver pâté. Truffles. Dom Perignon. Pressed duck."
     My father said: "The tyke thinks he's in paradise."
     "You used to think that, too," said my mother.
     Then they didn't say anything and a horrible idea took root in my brain, an idea so horrible I still have a hard time articulating it after all these years. Namely, that maybe I wasn't where I should be, that there was some other place where I should be instead of this one where I was. That's very scary: I felt like I was being hurled headlong from where I was, from my childhood, like Lucifer or Icarus, two people I didn't know yet much about. At the same time. I was challenged. What could that place be where I was not?
     I decided to play along.
      "How long are we going to be gone?"
      My mother started crying. My father patted my head. I knew that nobody ever left Romania. If somebody left Romania, like Mr. Meyer did, there would be nothing left of them. What my mother's crying and my father's patting meant was that we were going to leave forever. We were never going to come back. My father, whom I barely knew, was going to take me away from my mother and we were never going to come back.
      I picked up my cardboard suitcase and we went to the train station, my father and I, and my mother, and my uncle, and my mother's sister and her husband, and my grandmother, and all our neighbors. Everyone was eating big, red apples and there was one bite taken out of every apple except mine because I was too weirded out to bite.
      At the train station everyone cried when they saw the train. Even if I wasn't about to leave forever, the train alone would have made everyone cry. An Eastern European train is as full of sadness as it can hold. The sadness weighs as much as the train. Look at an Eastern European train and you'll see people going off to die, or lovers parting forever, everyone going away and never coming back. Look at an Eastern European train station and you'll see people crying for a century, rivers of tears and a sea of white handkerchiefs waving like sails.
      So everyone was standing there crying, with these red apples with one bite taken out of them in their hands, and I felt proud to be the subject of all this grieving -- they grieved almost as hard as when Stalin died. I climbed up on the train with my father, and I waved and cried and everything was blurry. And then the train started to pull out of the station, and I saw my mother crying. I handed my father the apple, and I jumped off the train.
      I turned around and saw my father crying. Crying and leaving, and fleeing our town and our country and me, flying away like one of Mr. Meyer's hats and Mr. Meyer himself -- to the land of Israel -- where he died, two years later.

Radio preacher is a commentator on the Torah, analyzing this passage:

"DEUTORONOMY 31.19 is one of the Torah's heaviest passages, in every sense: weight, gravity, and import. The weight of it is enormous: God tells Moses: hey, it's time to retire, hang up your hat, Moses; He tells him that he must prepare his successor, Joshua; that He will personally see to it that the people cross over Jordan into the Promised Land; that He will aid them in destroying the people already there; that the people will grow forgetful; that He will hide his face from them in anger; and He gives Moses a poem (or song) to be read (or sung) publicly every seven years to remind people that He is the Only God. Man. If you think Moses was scared, think of poor Joshua. Moses was done, he'd had a good run. But Joshua? He didn't even know how to swim.

My father went to the promised Land and died there. I left Romania when I was nineteen years old and came here, to the Other Promised Land, and I'm still here. I think that there are TWO Promised Lands. One where you go to die and one where you go to be born again.
      I came here and got born again. One thing about being born again is adjusting the level of your voice. In my previous life I had had to whisper, like everyone else. If anything important had to be said, we whispered it. There were ears in the wall, ears that eventually moved inside of our heads, so that we had to whisper even when we talked to ourselves. When I got born again here, all these ears fell out of the walls and out of my head and I didn't have to whisper anymore. So I started shouting. Compensating. I spoke loud enough everyone had to listen whether they liked it or not. I never could get loud enough though so I got on the radio where my voice got amplified immensely and about twelve million people or twenty-four million ears had to listen to me if they turned on their radio.
      One day I was walking quietly down the loudest street in America -- Bourbon Street in New Orleans -- at Mardi Gras -- and a street evangelist holding an LED cross shouted at me: "Look behind you!"
      I looked. The shadow of Jesus with his arms raised to receive me loomed enormous on the wall of the St. Louis Cathedral. The LED cross had this verse in light that blinked like the destination on a bus. (It said:)

      I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.

     The LED-vangelist handed me a pamphlet.
     "What are you gonna do if you miss the Rapture?"
     The pamphlet was called THE RAPTURE in huge black letters dripping with blood. Below those words was a red winged devil standing on a replica of the Vatican, the word "Rome" dripping blood at his feet. It was the Antichrist. Written on the devil's chest were the numbers 666 and the word VISA.
     (The Evangelist explained:)
     "I used to shout myself hoarse but these sinners wouldn't listen. But they do read, praise the Lord's tools. I've been to China and Russia with this cross and put Jesus' words up there in their own languages. Amen."

     A drunk college boy with a bird's head mask who was staring wide-eyed at the LED display, now picked up a pamphlet too, and tapped on the devil's chest: "Credit is the devil. You can't believe how much I charged on my Visa-card this month!"
     "...the Rapture is the immediate departure from this earth of over 4 million people in less than a fifth of a second. It is going to disrupt communications and transportation like no major war has done in the last 100 years. "
     "That's right!" shouted a one-shoed topless woman with breasts painted silver and a red apple around her hips. "Everyone else is going to hell, you and all the babies born before Jesus came..."
     "I guess I'm going to hell," the drunk student said doubtfully,      "Whatever you do DON'T MAKE ANY MARKS OR PRINTS ON YOUR FOREHEAD OR ON YOUR HANDS. This will not only give you leprosy eventually but it will also guarantee you an eternity in the Lake of Fire for participating in Satan worship. A number connected with the number 666 will be attached to your Social Security number and to all your credit card numbers, and eventually you will have to show by electronic devices this number imprinted on your hand or on your forehead."
     "Huh? What the hell does that mean?" wondered the silver-breasted apple. "Don't get tattooed, I guess. Well, it's too late!" Tattooed on her back between her shoulder blades and her coccyx was the young Elvis strumming his instrument.
     "Your only chance of being saved after the Rapture, is to either starve to death or to get your HEAD CUT OFF
     Shit, that'll be tomorrow. I always feel like that in the morning.
     The one-shoed silver-breasted Elvis-tattooed apple woman was ecstatic. "Yeah, off with her head. Can't get that tattooed anyway! Too expensive!"
      "What's wrong with being fucked to death?" another student wanted to know. Anyway, it was Mardi Gras. In New Orleans. You understand. The bus named Desire was stalled at the intersection -- but the LED display flickered on with the directions: DESIRE. CEMETERIES. DESIRE. CEMETERIES. DESIRE. CEMETERIES. A bunch of chunky angels were partying on top of it.
     So the Rapture was coming, the End of the World, and I couldn't tell if the world had ended or not, it was Mardi Gras, and I kind of believed it and I saw all the people who had been born again in the Christian God being airlifted into the heavens all at once -- bodily from their cars, their workdesks, and their double-wide trailers. The rest of us were left here on earth to suffer the Hells of the Tribulations until we died slowly of things that resembled leprosy. I saw our skins peel off with all the wonderful tattoos burning and our joy going up in smoke and our fake angel wings curling up and crumbling away. I saw a whole different set of angels, clean-scrubbed ones who were directing the huge traffic of bodies flying through ether -- and I was suddenly pissed off -- enormously pissed off at the huge unfairness of it all.
     If Christian had anything to do with Christ, this couldn't be happening. Christ said, "the meek shall inherit the earth, "and "suffer the children to come unto me." He was a defender of innocents, of the poor, the tattooed, the silver-breasted, the apple-hipped, the unsaved, of sin-filled flesh-and-blood humans. He certainly didn't indulge in detailed fantasies of pain, peeling flesh, open sores, pus, and boiling cauldrons.
     But I couldn't vouch for his Father, God, who did indulge in orgies of destruction and pain. And who thundered meanly through the visions of skizo-prophets like John of Patmos, who should've been on thorazine. And so I got on the radio and shouted loudly:
     "The land is being overrun by mean lunatics. If these people wanna go to Heaven on the Rapture, let them, we'd be better off without them."
     We'd be better off without them
. Those were fateful words. A wave of anger like the smaller wave before the Rapture itself, rose from radioland and engulfed me.

Right-wing radio commentator:

Add another name to the long string of rats gnawing on the moral fiber of our nation! To the names of photographer Mapplethorpe who ungainly, twisted homosexual penises on display, and that Serrano who drowns the cross of our Lord in urine, and that Finley who mocks all that is modest in a woman's body, you can now add this Corpeesku... Corkscrew...Corveeku...
     I rose overnight to the ranks of the defilers of the Lord.
     I was told by angry listeners that I had a special place reserved for me in the Lake of Fire -- Lot 66 -- and that I had brought heathen Communism to America. One caller said that I was the spawn of STALIN. Not Satan. Stalin. It gave me pause.
     But among the unrelenting damnation there was a Catholic priest who said that he'd been listening to me for years and that he had noticed that my criticisms were always of the powerful and I was always on the side of the powerless. He said also that he had noticed my joy in the freedom of America, of how I reveled in the Promised Land as if it were already Paradise.

Black preacher continues:

And you know what God did? Do you know what God did, what he did? Do you know what He did when he saw Adam going uh! ah! bam! bam! to his Eva and the snake cheering, yeah! yeah! give it to her, har, har...You know what God did? No, he didn't throw Adam & Eve & the ACCURSED snake outta Paradise...No, no... He did not! He took up his hat and left Himself. Yeah, tht's right. He split. Just picked up and went to where nobody seen Him since...He left Adam and Eve and the ACCURSED snake right where they was... Yeah, and then Adam made up the story of how God threw them out of paradise... Bullshit! God did not. He left them right where they was, uh, ah, bam, bam... but their SHAME, brothers and sisters, their SHAME would not let them believe BELEEVE that they are still in Paradise! SHAME make it look like they are in HELL... SHAME because daddy left home and he ain't come back again!

I went to Jerusalem to see my father's grave. I went to see my father's grave because I had grave questions. Once upon a time, most earthly fathers modelled themselves after the Heavenly One -- but mine, well, mine hadn't even come close. My father was no Stalin, no Jehovah -- he was -- an unknown quantity. Milan Kundera, another Stalin-era child, says somewhere that there are no longer any fathers. There are plenty of DADDIES now, daddies yes, but not any unforgiving, stern, vengeful, and incomprehensibly and occasionally affectionate super-paters in the Judeo-Greek mold.
     Jerusalem is a God-crazy city made out of stone. Everyone in Jerusalem keeps their eyes peeled skyward waiting for God to come back. Each stone is washed in blood, not once or twice, but hundreds of time, by the sons of Jehovah, Allah, and the Almighty killing each other to prove to the others that they are worthier of the Father. The Tombs of the Prophets and the Saints are set into the hillsides of Jerusalem like waterfalls of stone, ready to turn into raging rivers of blood -- a trick they have mastered well.
     Jerusalem is the opposite of New Orleans: it is the hard stones of the spirit. New Orleans is the slow-flowing mud of the soul.
     I flew from New Orleans to Tel Aviv. From Tel Aviv I took a bus to Jerusalem and I set up at a convent of Transylvanian nuns who had been living in the Holy City for five hundred years, and now rented rooms for money. It was one year after I'd enraged the faithful by mocking their Rapture. It was drizzly and cold in Jerusalem.
     My uncle, my father's brother, was overjoyed to hear from me. "My brother's son," he shouted into the telephone. "I knew you'd come one day. Why did you come, anyway?"
     "I came to see my father's grave," I said, wondering why he had to ask. Well, he was an uncle, which means, I suppose, that he wasn't my father, so he could question me and ask anything -- unlike fathers who must order and dispense the facts without ever asking. Do you think God had a brother? How come we don't hear a thing about him?
     Anyway, my uncle and my aunt promised to take me to my father's grave the next day. They lived many kilometres from Jerusalem.
     I spent the day in the Old City, I walked up Via Dolorosa, following the Stations of the Cross, and bought a cup of water from a Palestinian wrapped in a kefia who sold water from a barrel tied to his mule. I went to the Tomb of the Holy Sepulchre and watched pilgrims weep, watched over by Israeli soldiers with huge machine guns. I went deep into the suk, the world's oldest market, where merchants who'd been there for millennia sold cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamon, figs, and special oils.
     An old wizened Arab shopkeeper called to me, "Hey, American man! Come see the Gate of Judgement! This is the only place where you can see the Gate of Judgement from!"

     When I stopped he told me that The Gate of Judgement was being surrounded by machines. Archeological work was going on and you couldn't see The Gate of Judgement from anywhere in Jerusalem except through this hole at the back of his shop that had -- somehow -- an unobstructed view.
     I was pretty amazed. The Gate of Judgement, the gate through which the Messiah was going to come, the Gate on which Jews, Christians, and Moslems looked upon for the return of God, was surrounded by machines & the only way you could see it was through a hole at the back of this dude's shop! Holy -- shit!
     So I payed him five shekels and made my way through piles of kibriks and chess sets featuring saints and demons, and copper plates with the faces of Mary and Jesus on them, and sacks of almonds and spices, and I looked through this hole. And there was this bricked in arch surrounded by cranes and bulldozers looking puny and wobbly, set into a hillside. This was the place of the Second Coming, and the hope of centuries.
     "Hey, it's bricked in! I mean, I paid five shekels to look at a pile of bricks?
     "Well, yes, so many false Messiahs came through this Gate, the Turks, who ruled Palestine then bricked it up in the 18th century."

     "So the Messiah, if He comes now He's gonna have to bust through these bricks like Superman and land on us in a shower of dust!"
     "American, you are very bad."
     I guess I was.

Torah commentator:

So Moses has the burden of resigning, of insuring a successful succession, of reassuring the people, and of insuring that God's poem is placed in the Ark of the Covenant with the right instructions. That's the easy part. But Joshua's burden is to take the reins of power from the nearest-to-God and to persuade the people that the crossing and the coming battles will be won. That's tough, tough, but not as tough as burden of the people, the regular folk who are neither Moses nor Joshua, just Moe and Josh, all the Moes and Joshes, who have to trust blindly in the word of the Big M, to accept the head Josh, to have endless supplies of faith, to play out the destiny laid out by Go the Father, and to listen to the poem every seven years, to ENDURE that poem over and over and to keep beseeching the big G to put up with them unworthy regular Joshes and Moes who can hardly keep their pants on, leave alone act in strict accordance to the covenant, with all the tiresome clauses of punishment and reward.

Next day, my uncle and my aunt showed up at the convent in a taxi in a driving rain. They were two old people who hugged and kissed me and told me that I looked just like my father. They had two big umbrellas but the wind was so strong it turned them inside-out as soon as they stepped out of the the taxi.
     On the way to the cemetery, the rain beat so hard on the roof of the taxi we couldn't hear each other talk. I sat between my aunt and uncle with the two big dripping umbrellas at our feet and couldn't think about anything.
     The cemetery was at the top of a hill -- and it was immense. The driver went as far as he could up a narrow lane flanked by tombstones on each side as far as we could see. My uncle took my arm and my aunt took the other and we made our way in the rain up a twisted path leading to my father's grave. Gusts of wind kept trying to lift the two old people off the ground but I held them down.
     "This is it." My uncle pointed to a square grey stone. It was inscribed with black Hebrew letters I couldn't read. This was my father's grave. Some of those letters were doubtlessly my name.
     "He died when he was 35 years old," said my aunt.
     I looked at the Hebrew letters with the small rivulets of rainwater running between them and thought, "This is my father. Dead at 35, much younger than I am now. I am older than my father."
     My uncle fumbled in his shoulder bag and took out a prayer book.
     I kept thinking this: "I am older than my father," and I couldn't understand. How could I be older than my father?
     Several black-robed figures with dripping wet fur hats started approaching in a crouch. They were moving between the graves like fat seals. Their fur hats were wobbling and they held wet books in their hands. They cackled like crows.
     My uncle shooed them away with his hand, as if they were indeed a flock of evil-omened birds. They waved with their books and my uncle shooed them away even more emphatically. They drew back a bit in a circle around my father's grave, and began to hiss in anger and to make threatening fists.
     "They live in the cemetery," my aunt shouted over the rain. "They make money reading prayers for the dead. We don't need them. Your uncle knows how to read the prayers for the dead."
     My uncle held up his wet, black-bound book and started reading something I couldn't hear with all the rain and the wind. He read and bent and nodded his head and pointed at me with the book. Now and then I would hear a word I thought I knew, but it would be snatched by the rain, and be gone. I kept looking back and forth between the incomprehensible words on my father's grave, my uncle's book, and the crow-like heavy wet creatures crouching and hissing, and shaking their wet fur hats between the tombstones.

Preacher reading from the Apocalypse of St. John of Patmos:

And I beheld that he had opened the sixth seal and, lo, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as a sackcloth of hair, and the moon became as blood.
      And the stars of heaven fell unto the earth even as a fig tree casteth her untimely figs, when she is shaken by a mighty wind.
      And the heaven departed as a scroll when it is rolled together; and every mountain and island were moved out of their places.
      And said to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that siteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb.
      For the great day of his wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?

When the cemetery visit was over, I thought: Now we could go to a warm restaurant and talk about my father. I wanted to know about his life, what he had done after he left Romania and my childhood. What had he done in Jerusalem those two years before he died? I looked forward to hearing my aunt's and uncle's stories
     We found a warm restaurant. It had an espresso machine and fake grapevines over the door.
     "The cabdriver is unhappy," my aunt said.
     "Well, he's got to eat!" my uncle said, and in typical democratic Israeli fashion, invited the cabdriver to have lunch with us.
     We sat down in the pleasant eatery, and took off our wet jackets. We ordered wine.
     "And now..." I began.
     The cabdriver didn't let me finish:     
     "The trouble is the Likkud and the Ethiopians!"
     My uncle bristled. "I don't know about that. They did a lot of good things for this country."     
     I said: "About my father..."
     "Moshe Dayan would have never put up with this!"
     My uncle: "That was then and this is now."
     "What kind of Jew are you? Anybody can come here and say they are a Jew!"

     My uncle: "Better than you, I was here before there was Israel!"
     "So I look like I come here yesterday? Do you know what we suffered in Russia?"

     I tried again. "What kind of Jew was my father?"
     My aunt joined in: "You drive a taxi. What do you know from Jew or anything? You watch your meter, Mister."
     And then I got it. It didn't matter. There was nothing to learn about my father. There were no stories. No anecdotes. No tales. No follow-up. In this city of Jerusalem that was waiting out-of-breath for the Father, no one was particularly keen on MY father. There was only one father who mattered and it wasn't mine.
     Of course, I could have told the cabbie to shut up. I could have paid him to leave. But there was something almost NECESSARY about his presence. We needed him. I sensed that my uncle welcomed the interruption, that he did not feel like filling the son in. Where the Jews and God were involved, subjects had varying degrees of importance. The burning question was: What is a Jew? And what's God doing?
     My father remained a cypher.
     Next day, it stopped raining. I went to the Wailing Wall. I laid my head against the cold stones and the mouldering pieces of paper containing the prayers of thousands of pilgrims, and thought: My father is not Here! He is definitely not here!
     My father is not in Jerusalem.
     But, it's worse than that.
     You can fax your prayers to the Wailing Wall now, which proves not only that there are no more fathers, but that there are no more people. All there is now is God and technology, which may be one and the same thing. I mean, if you take away the journey, which has to be undertaken by a real physical being in a body, and that body's physical experience of place, all you have left is ideas. There is the idea of "prayer" and the idea that you can send it off to God. All you need is a fax and a God, two things that most people seem to have these days.
      The merging of high tech and higher purpose has been going on for a while now.
      The people, the Moes, the Joshes, and the Eves, have been sending money long distance to televangelists to pass on to God. Once they traveled to Jerusalem, Meca, Rome, or Mount Athos, and poured forth their hopes, certain that God had some kind of modem connected to these places. Back in those days you had to be there in person, in a body. The physical fact of body meeting place gave the operation a certain quality one might call human. It was experience, not the idea of experience.
     We don't have to do that anymore.


The fax can be turned on by the cat. Fax me outta here!



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