“What d’y’ think—it’s Betsy, ain’t it?”
“Right. Betsy Bander. That’s B-A-N-D-E-R, like in candor.”
“What d’y’ think, Betsy. Would a Chiefs fan be accepted in San Diego?”
“Oh yes,” she said. “I personally don’t know of any Chiefs fans, but I presume you’d be treated like a human bean in spite of your bizarre taste in baseball teams.”
“Football? I was never rilly good on the different kinds of sports. Games is games, in my book. Say, what was that name again?”
“Ed Budwieser, that’s W-I-E-S-E-R, I before E except after C, but my friends call me Buster.” He was thinking of what he had once overheard his grandmother say to his mother: “He’s all boy, why in God’s name did you have to give him a sissy name like Edward, why not something masculine, like Buster?”
“Well, Mr. Buster,” said Betsy Bander, “if you’re any indication, Kirkland, Kansas is the place to be.”
“I’d have thought San Diego was.”
“You might just be ri—... say,” and her voice suddenly turned to a whisper, “I gotta go, my supe’s lookin’ at me kinda funny, but just don’t y’all be surprised if some day rilly soon you get a call from the Kirkland airport and a li’l ol’ Betsy Bander person axes you to come pick her up.”
“Not if I don’t first—”
But she had already hung up.
He went into the hall and put the receiver back on the hook.
Then he came back into the bathroom, dried himself with the purple king-size towel, leaned over the sink, and peered through his sunglasses into the steamy cracked mirror, admiring how the new costume brought out his darkly handsome features.
The wilderness. Day. Hagar is sitting on a rock beside a fountain, holding her tummy.
Narrator’s Voice:And an angel of the Lord found her by a fountain of water in the wilderness.
An angel descends from heaven with a briefcase. She trips lightly among the rocks and stands before Hagar.
Angel: (Dramatically) Hagar, former handmaid of one Sara, and close personal friend of one Abram, and before that, Miss Egypt and the third runner-up in the Miss Universe Pageant.
Hagar: And who, pray tell, might thou be?
Angel: I am an angel of the Lord, sent to comfort and instruct thee in this, thine hour of trial.
Hagar:(Suspiciously) What’s it gonna cost me?
Angel:Fifty shekels an hour for the backrub and prenatal care, and that includes ﬁve minutes of legal advice.
Hagar:Anangel of the Lord, did you say? Not theangel of the Lord?
Angel:Right. But one of the top-ten angels, if I may blow mine own horn.
What, then, are we to make of the life, teachings, and accomplishments of Corky Ra?
In a November 2008 interview with the Salt Lake Tribune, the president of Summum, Su Menu, is reported to have asked, “Why should Ra’s encounters in the 1970s with ‘advanced beings’ . . . be any more suspect than those of, say, Joseph Smith?” Why, in a turnaround, should her mentor’s revelations be any less valid than those of other founders, especially the founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints?
When she spoke these words, Ms. Menu clearly had a Mormon audience in mind. But a skeptic might reply, in turn: Why should Summum Bonum Amen Ra’s story of his purported meetings with his Summa Individuals be any less suspect than the meetings of the Prophet Joseph Smith with the angel Moroni—or, for that matter, than other reported meetings, including the classic tales of the Apostle Paul’s encounter with the risen Christ?
I headed over to the three-storey grade school, where I spent eight years being tested by my teachers and returning the favor. But the old brick building had been torn down and replaced by a couple of newer models. More modern. Less penitentiary.This was all fine, but I couldn’t help wondering if the kids were learning the facts of life in the schoolroom instead of in the place God intended, out in the trees behind the playground.
That evening, after diagnosing myself as a victim of social deprivation, I descended the stairs from my bachelor apartment and sauntered several blocks down the street to a popular non-Mormon drinking establishment known as the Heretic Lounge. There I chose a small table and, when the barmaid came, asked her what drink she might propose for a religious skeptic. She suggested a Latter Day Stout; I lethargically agreed.
While strumming my fingers on the table waiting for my drink, I noticed a young woman across the room sitting at another small table, alone and keyboarding at a furious pace. When the barmaid returned with a mug of stout, I impulsively instructed her to place a second Latter Day drink at the young woman’s disposal, “courtesy,” I said, “of a fellow scribbler.” Then I returned to my reclusive state, staring by turns at the floor and the ceiling.
The ensuing week was one of small discoveries in my quest for a deep understanding of my self and my world. Indeed, my discoveries were so modest that I need instance only one. During that week I became adept at ascending the commode, where I both attempted to perform the acts commonly associated with that device and practiced the first five steps toward the liberation of my “Real Self Within,” or, as I preferred, the Sanskrit term purusa.
That week I also began to settle into a routine that was both congruent with the general schedule of the Heartland Retirement Center and compatible with my own gifts and aspirations.
6:00. Awaken to sound of alarm clock. Plan day. Contemplate the wonders of God’s creation, w/ special attention to Miss April & Prof. Calloway.
7:00. Reach about the floor for my cane. Rise. Make way to kitchen, while reflecting on topics philosophical, religious, literary.
7:45. Fix breakfast. Menu: see earlier description.
8:00. Make way to bathroom. Insert teeth in lower part of face.
8:15. Return to kitchen. Eat breakfast.
9:00. Make way back to bathroom. Assume throne, etc. Shave. Take bath.
10:45. Avoid panic attack by sallying forth into the world.
10:52. Return to apartment. Apply Old Spice deodorant. Dress.
11:30. Sally forth again. Explore hallways in search of adventure.
12:15. Proceed to dining hall. Partake of meal with fellow inmates. Audit colloquy concerning quality of food compared to quality of food in restaurants in both Heartland and the greater world beyond—New York, Vienna, Paris, Prague, Rome, Sydney, etc. Audit descriptions of common lot of geriatric maladies: year of onset, degree of severity, physician’s prognosis, prescriptions prescribed, benefits received. Audit (embellished) accounts of feats of strength, skill, mental acuity, performed in former years.
1:00. Return to apartment. Perch atop commode. Practice yogic posture and breathing.
2:00. Return to bedroom. Take siesta.
4:00. Awaken. Sally forth. Explore hallways.
5:30. Return to apartment. Prepare evening repast.
6:45. Eat. Menu: ham sandwich; can of soup; glass of wine.
7:30. Make way to study. Read selected passages from encyclopedias, eighteenth and nineteenth c. British novels.
9:00. Return to bathroom. Perch upon throne while considering techniques of writing successful novel.
9:45. Dismount throne. Remove teeth, place in water glass.
10:00. Retire to bedroom. Remove clothes. Place cane on floor within easy reach. Recline on bed. Contemplate image of Professor Calloway in her yogic posture.
10:45 (approx.). Fall asleep.
Next morning Benny launched “Religion Talk” on the maiden voyage KKKS had been spotting for the last three weeks.
He began the show by speaking of Kirkland’s deeply-felt, long-standing need for an enlightening but lively radio show on the topic of religion. He went on to acknowledge his lifelong interest in the subject, taking care not to mention his excommunication from the Amish community and his adventures under the church pews with Lucy. He told about his recent sojourn in California, where, he said, he had spent two weeks visiting various synagogues, cathedrals, charismatic churches, mosques, Buddhist monasteries, and spiritualist mentors, taking care not to mention the imaginary episode in which he had gotten in touch with the mother he had never known. He spoke glowingly of his experiences with a New Wave church and of the many services it had to offer, taking care not to mention that he was on its payroll.
On the last Wednesday afternoon in June, while Ed was reading the copy of Mollshe had bought at a garage sale, the phone rang.
Perhaps bought isn’t the word. What had happened was this. The previous Saturday morning he had accompanied Mildred on her weekly bargain hunt, and while she was checking out the action in pant suits, he’d come across a stack of magazines—several copies of Arousal, a Playmate or two, and the Molls—items that he, with time on his hands and no Classics at his disposal, paged through, just out of idle curiosity. Mildred came over to him to share her delight over the discovery of a white pant suit, size six, which would have to be dyed pink and ironed and taken in at the waist but was otherwise just perfect. He became so enthusiastic over her purchase that he accidentally slipped the Molls between the folds of the pant suit, an oversight that went undiscovered until they got home and Mildred was on the phone to Thelma with news of her fabulous buy and he was continuing to admire that bargain when what to his astonishment should fall out of the folds of that pant suit but the copy of Molls.
The living room of the tent. Sara is dressed as before, except that her hair is in curlers. She again knits pink booties, again stiﬂes sobs. The calendar reads “June 1938 b.c.”
Narrator’s Voice: And when Hagar saw that she had conceived, she looked with contempt on her mistress.
There is a respectful knock on the tent ﬂap.
Sara: (Calling) Come in.
Sara: (Looking up) Oh it’s you, Hagar.
Hagar: (British Accent) Yes Mum, it’s me, Mum, your loyal handmaid Hagar, Mum.
Sara: (Angrily) Where have you been? You’re ﬁve hours late.
Hagar: I have been out sacriﬁcing an animal, Mum, to the pagan goddess Isis, Mum.
Sara: Who in hell is Isis?
Hagar starts to dust the furniture.
Hagar: She’s not in hell, Mum, she’s a nature goddess. Worship of Isis originated in ancient Egypt and is destined, Mum, to extend throughout the Mediterranean world, or I miss my guess.
Sara: And what animal have you been sacriﬁcing, my good handmaid Hagar? Not one of mine husband Abram’s sheep, I hope?
Hagar: (Innocently) Oh no, Mum. It was a rabbit, Mum, an itty-bitty rabbit.
Sara: (Interested) A rabbit, huh? Tell me, how do you do it? I’ve been trying to kill a rabbit for nearly sixty years.
Hagar: It’s easy, Mum.
Hagar stops dusting to explain.
Hagar :If I may be so bold, Mum, there are three simple steps.
Sara: (With great curiosity) And what is the ﬁrst step?
Hagar: If I was you, Mum, I’d ﬁrst hold off on the bon-bons.
Sara: And what do you expect the former Miss Holy Land to eat while she’s reading her Harlequin Romances and knitting booties?
Hagar: Alfalfa sprouts, Mum, between a pair of salt-free crackers.
Sara: Sounds terrible. And what is the second step?
Hagar: The curlers, Mum. They’ve got to go.
Sara: But my raven tresses are the glory of my womanhood, the essence of my sexuality! Plus, they make me feel good about myself.
Hagar takes a vanity mirror and holds it before Sara’s eyes. She ﬂuffs Sara’s hair.
Hagar: I’m sure they do, Mum, but your beautiful hair has a natural wave to it, Mum, rendering curlers quite superﬂuous.
Sara: Well . . . I’ll think about it. And the third step?
Hagar: Begging your pardon, Mum, but they’ve got some real nice teddies down at Frederick’s of Hollywood.
Sara: And how would that look on the former Miss Holy Land?
Hagar :Right now, Mum, not so good, but after six months on alfalfa sprouts and salt-free crackers . . .
Great-grandma was a true Reisender, which, we were regularly reminded, is the German word for traveler. In her lifetime she’d covered half the world, from Prussia to Russia to the heart of Asia to Kansas and finally on to Idaho. She’d been born in old Prussia back in the middle of the nineteenth century and her family had moved to Russia when she was a young girl. Before coming to America she’d been married to Great- grandpa in a Muslim mosque out in the wilds of Central Asia, which is a story in itself.At the time I didn’t know the details; in fact, the whole thing was a big secret. Grandpa told us kids we were too young to understand, so after we looked up “Muslim” and “mosques” and “Central Asia” in the encyclopedia Karen and I came up with our own theories. I dreamed up the idea that Central Asia was the ancient version of the Wild West and that Great-grandpa had borrowed a horse or two that didn’t belong to him and when this was discovered he and Great-grandma decided Russia wasn’t the best place to raise a family after all and became outlaws. Karen had it figured that Central Asia was the ancient version of Reno; it was where you went to get married if you jumped the gun and this happened to be reported to the preacher. But our theories were just guesses. And they didn’t account for that mosque.