“I thought Winnebago engines lasted forever?”
He was standing at the bow of his stranded bark, at the mercy of ancient Milo. Mildred, after locating Milo, had gone on home in her own cloud of smoke.
“Oh they do,” came Milo’s drawl from under the hood. “Problem is, this ain’t no Winnebago engine. Looks like they took out the original and put a replacement in. This here looks somethin’ like one a’ them Phantom engines.”
“The kind they used to put in lawn mowers.”
“Ridin’ lawn mowers,” explained Milo, coming up for air. “Ain’t as bad as it sounds.”
There was a long silence.
Ed finally asked, “So, where do we go from here?”
“My advice to ya would be, take it back to town an’ try ’n’ getcher money back.”
“It’ll make it back to Kirkland okay?”
“That’d be my guess.”
“Think it’d make it to the West Coast?” he ventured.
“Lemme put it to ya this way, Mr. B,” said Milo, wiping the grease off his face with a red handkerchief. “Ya gotta helluva lot better chance a’ gettin’ to the West Coast by pushin’ it than by countin’ on this here piece a’ crap.”
Abram: Come right in, sir, come right on in.
God comes in and sits down at the table.
Abram: Getcha a glass of Mogen David, sir? . . . Oh I forgot, you don’t drink.
God: Now that you mention it, I think I will have an earthen pot of the stuff . . . just to celebrate the deal.
Abram retrieves a bottle and mugs. The bottle reads “Christian Brothers.” He pours two drinks and hands one to God.
Abram: Here you go, sir.
He joins God at the table.
God: (Snifﬁng) Hey, this smells like Christian Brothers!
Abram: (To himself) Ohmigod, wrong bottle. (To God) You must have a cold, sir. (Snifﬁng) It smells okay to me.
God: Hmmm. I could have sworn . . .
Abram: (Laughing nervously) I mean, what would I be doing with a bottle of Christian Brothers?
God: (Chuckling) Yeah, I guess the old nose just ain’t what it used to be . . . Well, here’s to our covenant.
(Offering a toast) Cheers.
Abram: (Clinking God’s mug) Cheers.
God takes a sip.
God: Funny, but it tastes like Christian Brothers.
Abram: I wouldn’t know. Never tried the stuff.
God: Of course I’m just going by hearsay.
Abram: Of course.
I awoke to find myself spread-eagled on a floor.
I looked up and saw a set of stairs leading to an open trap door.
I could see the outline of what appeared to be an attic.After giving the
matter some heavy thought, I concluded that I must have fallen out of it. My mind went back to the old Hamm attic . . . the ghosts . . . Snake. Snake! I felt a football-sized grin expanding across my face.This sug-
gested to me that I must be okay.To check this hypothesis, I took an inventory of my body parts. Everything appeared to be in working order. I gave myself a short quiz—name, address, Social Security number, occupation, present location—which I passed with distinction, the only sticking point being my present location.
I sat up and looked around. I was in a room with a few pieces of trashy furniture . . . drug paraphernalia . . . decadent magazines.There was a dent in the wall.This all looked dimly familiar. And nearby,like an island in the sea of dross and dreck, there was a scattering of reading material and photos. Oh yes, I finally remembered: the box and its long-forgotten treasures—a couple of books, lots of pictures, several empty beer bottles, and there, at my feet, a copy of the family history.The only things left of Inverness of yore.The ghosts of my past.
But everything was a jumbled mess. I couldn’t help thinking: This is like life.
Joseph Smith, Jr. (1805-1844), a treasure hunter reputed to have had visions, or “revelations,” founded the Latter-day Saints movement in Western New York after claiming to have been led by an angel introducing himself as Moroni to some gold plates in the Hill Cumorah and translating them into what he called the Book of Mormon. This sacred book contains the story of how members of the ten lost tribes of ancient Israel had sailed across the Pacific to ancient America and had become the New World’s aboriginal Indians; after Jesus was resurrected, he had revealed himself to some of them. Using the Book of Mormon as a work that both embraced and superseded the Christian Bible, Smith had established the Church of Christ, which was later renamed several times until it eventually became the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He had moved this church from place to place during his lifetime—Ohio, Missouri, and finally Illinois—creating small cities and large temples during his wanderings. Along the way Smith had a revelation that instructed him to introduce the practice of polygamy into the church; he himself married more than eighty women. Rumors of this practice among the Gentiles increased an already strong animosity, which led to the persecution of Joseph and his followers. He and his brother, Hyrum, were finally assassinated in the Carthage, Illinois jail, near Nauvoo, the last city Joseph ever built.
As for the primary details regarding my self, the facts are these: that I am an inmate of one Heartland Retirement Center; that I have a real past, as is evidenced by the fact that I have encountered people who appear to know me; that my name is Barney; that I am enrolled in a short course on yoga, taught by Professor Chlöe Calloway, a lecturer at Heartland College and with whom I may once have had an af____; and that yoga promises to be the vehicle for healing my amnesia and discovering my Real Self.
On the Fourth of July, the Tuesday after the Rev. Tad Heedon preached his well-received sermon on Commandment XI, what could be seen chugging over the wide plains just twenty miles west of Kirkland but an ancient Winnebago, trailing large puffs of black smoke.
At the wheel of that ancient Winnebago was the new Ed Budwieser.
Sunday night he hadn’t been able to sleep. He was taking stock. Examining his life. Taking an inventory of his most striking qualities. Here he was, he reflected, the former Sage of Sunset High: intelligent, enlightened, erudite, cultured, urbane, sophisticated, imaginative, even visionary; an astute observer of the human scene, an extraordinary thespian, full of creative potential; and unemployed.
He rolled out of bed, padded into the bathroom to drain off that last glass of an affordable Chardonnay, then creaked his way down the steps to his basement study. There, from the bricks-and-boards bookcase, he removed his tattered copy of Cruden’s Complete Concordance of the Old and New Testaments. He sat down on the musty rug, opened the musty book, found the word joy, counted the number of references to it (Rev. Tad had been correct: exactly one hundred and fifty-one), and began looking them up in his musty King James Bible.
In the chutes but not ready to cast before the reading public is a novel I’ve not mentioned. It is to be called Hôtel Adiósthough the other has yet to find a nice title. Hôtel is a satire—what else is new?It consists of five interlocking stories told from the points of view of six characters.
Armed with a pair of JUCO courses, one on starting a small business and the other on creative writing, the principal character, Talia la Musa, runs a national ad inviting four other writers to join a literary group to be called the Kachina Round Table. This group is to meet in a decrepit hotel in Small Southwestern City, Large Southwestern State.
Soon afterwards she wakes up one morning to find herself in bed with a dead man, the owner of this hotel and her date of the evening before. With the aid of an old friend, Leticia Ladrona, Esq., she “inherits” the hotel and renames it the Hôtel Adiós. Then, one by one, four men answer her ad and immediately enter a literary contest, which is won by her new heartthrob, Myles na Gopaleen, Jr., a bastard son of a famous Irish writer who gave James Joyce a run for his Irish pounds. The other men are Arthur Unknown, a grandson of Author Unknown, the most voluminously anthologized writer in the history of the American grammar school textbook; Ab Ennis, a cremated Russian immigrant who is then furnished with a robotic apparatus by Mr. na Gopaleen; and Orville Slack IV, a hillbilly from the intertwining panhandles of Texas and Oklahoma who soon dies but is cremated and given a robotic body of his own.
This first story tells how Ms. la Musa sets up the Kachina Round Table. The second is an account of the literary contest, and the third consists of the inventions of Mr. na Gopaleen. The fourth is an account of a run for the presidency by the robotized Mr. Ennis on the Dead Rights Ticket. Finally, Mss. la Musa and Ladrona receive their just desserts—or rather, Ms. Ladrona does so, because . . . but I’ve said enough already.
God and Abram stand on a hill outside the village, surveying the distant property.
God: There are a few boulders, true, but you also gotta take into account the strategically-located oases.
Abram: (Scornfully) Oases! (Pointing) Is that what you call those watering holes?
God: (Con game) Listen, Abe, you can’t look at them as watering holes. You gotta look at them in terms of (Gesturing grandiosely) swimming pools . . . palm trees . . . hotels . . . American tourists!
Abram: (Scratching his chin) Interesting proposition. Verrry interesting . . . Tell you what. I’ll talk it over with the wife, then I’ll get back to you.
God: Fine, ﬁne. And incidentally, you might point out the central location. It’s close to all the very nice shopping centers— Cairo, Beirut, Baghdad. She’ll know a good thing. So meetcha later.
Abram: Your dream or mine?
God: Let’s make it yours. I don’t dream . . . Don’t even sleep, actually.
Abram: Insomnia, huh?
God: Right. My omniscience keeps me awake.
She was waiting for me on the back porch. She had good news. With luck, she said, she might be able to sell the place. There were still a few Californians moving in. She herself had recently moved there from California—in fact, she was practically a California native, having lived there five years, which was apparently long enough to go through a couple of husbands and three religions. One of the husbands was a drug dealer who abused her and the other was a screenwriter who blamed her for standing in the way of getting his big break. I’d never heard of the religions, though one of them sounded as if it could have been started byUncle Edgar. I was about to ask, but it was cold standing outside, so I moved the conversation on to the topic of an asking price.
I began by suggesting a figure in the low hundreds.
She frowned and pointed out that the house was over seventy years old and needed a new basement and a new roof, and it could also stand a paint job. She said unless we’d be willing to make a lot of repairs, we’d be lucky to get eighty. She’d have to advertise it as a fixer-upper and people these days aren’t interested in fixing things up.
I remarked that they seem to be more interested in tearing things down. She gave me an odd look.
I pointed out that the house was close to everything: schools, churches, Boswell’s.
She pointed out that every house in Inverness was close to everything else.
The morning after placing my imprimatur on the Summum project, I began a descent into a male version of postpartum depression. This started with a food-free breakfast, which turned into an absence of energy, moved on to irritability, and ended with a sleepless late afternoon nap, during which I pondered the prospect of shifting my attention from Corky Ra to Joseph Smith, the man I had come to suspect was his principal model.