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.
Exactly one week after Professor Calloway had aroused my (presumably) longstanding interest in the mysteries of yoga, the class met in the same room. The same students were present, save for the late intruders the deteriorations of whose bone masses had prevented their full participation in the yogic regimen. Again Professor Calloway appeared, smiling. Again she requested that Mr. Stubbs turn off the television set, this time with success. Again she distributed sheets of paper.
She began with the reminder that this session was to be our last. She had enjoyed it, she said in obvious sincerity, and hoped that we had shared her enjoyment. Members of the class responded in the affirmative, all in a way peculiar to their personalities. Mr. Stubbs shouted, “Hear, hear.” Ms. Smith arose and clapped enthusiastically. The Wrights nodded superciliously. Ms. Cannon smiled. I chose to rap the tip of my cane on the floor and doff my top hat.
Professor Calloway then directed our attention to the sheet of paper she had only just then distributed, consisting of an enumeration of the last three of the eight steps to the discovery of the Real Person Within, namely: concentration, meditation, and trance.
Professor Calloway gave a cursory explication of each of these steps. She apologized for the perfunctory nature of her exegesis and explained that to the layperson, the three final steps were difficult to distinguish. With two exceptions, the class accepted this explanation without qualm.
“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.