My colloquy was interrupted by the sudden appearance at the door of a cheery smile, followed closely by a young woman.
Name (discovered later), estimated age, and visual description of smiling young woman:
Chlöe Calloway, about thirty. Tall; slender; shoulder-length dark hair; eyes green though with a hint of azure; high forehead; slender nose; lips comparable to cherry wine; hearty cheeks; long, graceful neck; well-developed though not pendulous breasts; waist comparable to that of a butterfly; well-designed hips; well-turned calves; well-arched feet; painted toenails (probably); vestal (possibly); availability (no visible ring). Clothed initially in a red parka, which was slowly removed to reveal an attire bringing to mind a poem by Robert Herrick (1591-1674), written, I estimated, at a time of his life somewhat older than my own.
Poem brought to mind:
Upon Julia’s Clothes
Whenas in silks my Julia goes,
Then, then, methinks, how sweetly flows
That liquefaction of her clothes.
Next, when I cast mine eyes and see
That brave vibration each way free,
O how that glittering taketh me!
AND GOD CONTINUED TO LEAD BENNY GOOD. Upon awakening the next morning, Benny felt God’s presence in his life; a voice advised him to stay in southern California another week to improve his grasp of the teachings and practices of Christian Tantrism with the aid of Arielle and several members of her fledgling cell group. God also went the extra mile, ap- pearing to Pastor Sean in an exclusive Wednesday night vision. As a result, Benny’s name found a place in the budget of the Church of the Wide Open Door under the line item, “Outreach: Salaries.”
Then God led Benny back to Kansas to begin his radio min- istry at KKKS.
On the way home to Kirkland, Benny felt certain that God was urging him to get a head start on this ministry. Why else would He be providing him with three potential converts, two waitresses and a state patrolwoman? One of the waitresses chose sprinkling. The other waitress and the patrolwoman chose immersion after they showed up simultaneously at Benny’s door, and quick-thinking Benny invited them both to attend a baptismal party in the motel swimming pool.
A biology classroom. An elderly nun stands before a class of semi-attentive pre-adolescent school children, who are dressed in the traditional desert garb. She points with her ruler at charts of the male and female reproductive systems.
Nun: . . . And in the female, the ovum, which is the Latin word for egg, passes from the ovary, which is this round thing here, into the fallopian tube . . . this thing here, which is almost as ugly as this naughty thing on the male chart . . .
A boy raises his hand.
Nun: Yes, Adam?
Boy: What’s the naughty thing called, in Latin?
Nun:(Quickly) God only knows, next question?
One of the main attractions at those reunions, right behind the orchard and Snake and the ghosts, was Onkel Abe himself.
The first thing you noticed about Abe Hamm, besides the fact that he’d show up in church sporting a bright orange tie under his striped bib overalls and hadn’t gotten around to shaving that morning, was that he was a lover of life. It’s not that he wasn’t religious; it’s just that he could hardly wait to get up in the morning and spread some joy around the place.This would sometimes get him in Dutch with Tante Anna, who could easily be embarrassed, being a Reisender born and bred. He’d say something a little bit out of the orthodox, like,“If Jesus was around, I bet you anything he’d be the life of the party.”
She’d tut-tut and sigh and shake her head and say,“Abe,Abe.”
He’d grin like a little kid out from under that ring of electric reddish- grey hair and repeat,“Yessir, the life of the party.”
Then she’d whisper something to him in German and he’d turn on the twinkles in his little green eyes and say,“That’s what I love about you, Sweetheart, you always keep me on the straight and narrow.” Which was an exaggeration, because as Aunt Lena had the habit of remarking, the only road Abe Hamm could ever keep on was the one that was paved with good intentions.
It would not be easy to pin down either the matter or the style of all my novels.
The matter is in each one different. One might say that some of it is autobiographical, but that holds only for Crazy Were We in the Head, and even there, few of my characters are based on real persons: the descriptions of Onkel Abe Hamm, for example, are clearly of my father’s eccentric uncle. One might say that much of my writing concerns matters religious, and here I would plead guilty as charged. Everything from Crazy to Just Another Dead White Male to The Church of the Comic Spirit to Benedict XVI (soon to become The First American Pope) to Sacred Books & Sky Hooks shows the influence of my days as a professor of comparative religion. Dancing Over the Rays of Light is something of an exception, though the main character’s search for his true self could be said to be a pilgrimage.
As for the style, there is not much holding my works together, with the exception of the fact that they are all written in the comic mode. But I could never write a series of novels with a main character, or a set of characters, appearing throughout. I write for the challenge, and the challenge is to find another and different style for each single piece. In Crazy, for example, the challenge was to emulate the voice and style of a boy in different stages of his growth, from the first grade to his high school graduation. In The Church of the Comic Spirit, the challenge was to retell the old biblical stories in a variety of genres, from short story to greeting card to diary to screenplay. In Just Another Dead White Male, the challenge was to tell a common story from two perspectives, then to shift the tale into a virgin area. And so on.
George Orwell famously wrote that prose writers write for four reasons: from sheer egoism, out of aesthetic enthusiasm, from historical enthusiasm, and for a political purpose. He said that these motives exist in various degrees in every writer, which seems to be an accurate observation.
In my own case I would say that the first two impulses are strongest, the third was in play only in the days I wrote nonfiction pieces about comparative religion, and the fourth has always been nonexistent.
Writing, for me, is a selfish act. It has kept me from spending my hours being charitable, as is my wife, who is so charitable to me that she allows me my vanity without repercussions. For me also, there is a strong aesthetic impulse; I seem to have been placed on this earth to write. The writing habit has been with me from an early age. In the box containing some of the chief moments of my life is a letter I wrote when I was about five years old; it was to a missionary aunt, and emulated the style of her letters to our family, including a Bible verse. The next memory I have was from the seventh grade. My teacher had meted out a punishment to me and to several of my partners in some petty crime we had committed; we were to stay in after school to perform some minor chore. My aesthetic impulse came to the fore and led me to write a petition asking the teacher to rescind this punishment. It worked, and I was, for a short time, a hero to my pals.
Another of my memories is from the eighth grade, when everyone in my class was assigned to give a brief speech on the general topic How To, which led me to imagine how one goes about writing and publishing a book. I don’t recall what I said on the subject, but I can only imagine that I must have utterly misdiagnosed the efforts it takes to perform such a task.
Orwell also wrote that he liked the look of his own words on paper, and on this point he was again right on the money.
Several months into Corky Ra's meditative regimen, he says, “I began to notice a ‘ringing’ in my ears.” Then, on October 28, 1975, it happened. The noise in his ears “became very intense.” His body began to vibrate; he opened his eyes and found himself alongside “an enormous pyramid,” made of something like graphite, half a mile long at the base but without doors. Everything was quiet and perfect. Then he noticed another structure, with “a round, convex shape, like a flattened ball” and a hundred yards in diameter. He walked through its wall and found himself in a large room full of beautiful, elegant, divine humanoids of both genders. “They established a high-level telepathic link with my mind,” he said, “and instantaneously I understood them.” These Beings were what he came to call the “Summa Individuals,” meaning, he informs his Latin-deficient readers, the “Highest Individuals.”
Eventually I located the men’s room. Though it was empty and equipped with an inside lock and showed no evidence of defilement, I found it too public for my taste and chose not to use it to its intended purpose.
Emerging from that room, I strolled farther down the hallway in a spirit of high adventure.
Peering through the narrow window of a door, I espied a large room filled with wheel-free bicycles. Many were being pedaled by senior citizens of European extraction. I chose not to enter that room, for several reasons: (1) I was apprehensive lest my hip suffer further injury; and (2) my earlier self-examination had shown me to be in excellent health, save for my hip.
I continued my cane-aided stroll.
I passed the door of a study. Inside, several elderly Caucasian gentlemen were engaged in a spirited conversation touching on the probable outcome of an impending basketball game between two institutions of higher learning. I did not enter, reminding myself both (1) that I had a study in my own apartment, and (2) that I would presumably detest having my reading disturbed by banter on trivial subjects. In addition, my recent memory of the bookshelves in my library led me to suspect that my tastes did not run in the channel of popular magazines and what appeared to be condensed novels published by Reader’s Digest.
“You have leadership qualities,” Arielle informed Benny. “That’s what the computer says.”
They were at her place, where they were in bed. They were discussing Benny’s future role in the Church of the Wide Open Door while a Jaguar and an Infiniti stood guard in the parking lot.
“Computers can lie,” replied Benny.
“Plus you have the gift.”
“ That’s what my boss says. Bosses can lie too.”
“I think you should stick around for a week. We can enroll you in the Outreach Program.”
“Learning to spread the gospel of Christian Tantrism to the good people of Kansas?” guessed Benny.
“Exactly!” Her voice was gaining in enthusiasm. “Benny Good, missionary!”
Benny thought this over for a split second. “This would require money.”
“So it’s Mexico this time!”
It was Friday evening, and the Deuces, four pairs of Kansas cosmopolitans, were gathered around two made-in-Taiwan card tables in the Budwieser living room, their feet resting on the Navaho rug Mildred had bought at Mrs. Krzynzky’s garage sale, drinking 99.7% caffeine-free coffee brewed from pure mountain-grown Colombian crystals. They had completed their monthly exchange of American coins, and the six guests were lining up to provide expert commentary on the late-breaking news that Mildred had just reported. Last night Ed finally realized his literary potential by composing a thirteen-page letter to Ms. Mode in which he announced his intention of taking early retirement and moving to Mexico to write his memoirs.