Room 345C of the Church of the Wide Open Door was the size and shape of a small concert hall and was furnished with well- padded seats. Benny arrived late and seated himself at the rear. The senior minister, a young man named Sean, was listing the ministries a prospective member might choose to join. If your interest happened to be politics, he explained, there were cells of Christian Republicans and Christian Democrats, as well as a fellowship for the Christian Independents. If your interest happened to be the abortion issue, there were cells for both pro-lifers and pro-choicers, and oh yes, he remembered, a new cell was just getting underway, calling itself . . . the Christian Confuseds. The audience, following the script, laughed. True to its eighteen-month tradition of non-judgmental openness, the minister went on, the church sponsored chapters of both the National Organization of Christian Women and the Christian Promise Keepers. There was also a wide range of Christian support groups, for recovering alcoholics, substance abusers, sex addicts, wife beaters, husband naggers (laughter), gays, straights (more laughter), Jews (nervous laughter: was the minister being anti-Semitic?), Catholics (he was building up to something!), and oh yes . . . Baptists (an explosion of mirth that landed a quarter of the audience on the floor).
I’m sponsoring a contest to match the first line of each of my eight novels with its title. The first three contestants correctly to match the first lines with the novels in which they appear will receive both hearty congratulations on Facebook and a signed copy of my initial novel, Crazy Were We in the Head.
To enter, simply match the first lines with their novels and enter at paulennswiebe.com/contact. Guessing is encouraged and in many cases necessary.
At the Vatican, the pope was sound asleep, having four hours earlier mumbled the simple benediction he had learned as a child.
At three o’clock, Calvin Burr had had enough.
He stood before the door of the principal’s office, hesitant.
I couldn’t see the priest’s face, but I could smell the alcohol.
Mother’s plan for Jean-Pierre’s life had not gone well.
One morning not long ago, I awoke with a start from the dead of a dreamless sleep to find that I had no memory.
That a dropout from a rabbinical school in upstate New York, an ordinary young man with the ordinary young ambition of moving to Hollywood and becoming a film star, should be chosen to discover and translate the now-famous Bear Lake Scrolls and then establish what quickly has become the fastest-growing religion in America, seems incredible.
The advantage of living in Inverness back in the forties and fifties was the number of churches you could choose from, nine, which averaged out to a hundred souls per religion.
Alone in a Dark Wood
The Church of the Comic Spirit
Crazy Were We in the Head
Dancing Over the Rays of Light
Hotel Adios (in progress)
Just Another Dead White Male
Pope Dun the Incredible
Sacred Books & Sky Hooks
“Sit down,” said Dennis Bright as large, unkempt Benny Good sauntered into his office.
Benny squeezed himself into the chair across the desk from his smallish, kempt boss, who was dressed in a new Sears suit, a new Sears shirt, and a new Sears tie, a uniform designed to highlight a generic male managerial face still on the pleasant side of forty.
Bright strummed his fingers on the desk. He adjusted his glasses. He cleared his throat. He inserted an index finger under the collar of his new Sears shirt and straightened his new Sears tie. He took a deep breath. He exhaled, slowly but audibly.
“Benny,” he began. “ This is not working out.”
“It’s only been a month,” said Benny.
Bright wagged his head sadly. “The numbers just aren’t there.”
“One. Incredible. Month,” said Benny.
Bright sighed. “Benny’s Begonias is not the blockbuster we’d projected.”
“One month of lively discussion of the delights of indoor gardening!” said Benny, growing eloquent.
Dennis Bright frowned as he tilted back in his chair and placed five pairs of interlocking digits behind his head. “Listen, Benny,” he said to the older man, “I hate to tell you this, but.”
Benny carefully placed a foot on Bright’s desktop. That foot was fitted with a sandal. Between the sandal and a pair of wrinkled shorts stretched an expanse of hairy, well-fed leg. Between the shorts and a soiled T-shirt stretched an expanse of equally hairy, equally well-fed abdomen. The T-shirt bore the insignia of KKKS (“First in Alternative Programming for the Kirkland Listening Area”) and a pocketful of cigars (Swisher Sweets). From this T-shirt rose a head that had broad features, rugged handsomeness, reddish wavy hair, and a light crimson face. “I had five call-ins today,” said Benny in an attempt to shift the conversation in a more promising direction.“
Two were from your regular listener,” Bright pointed out. “She’s very knowledgeable about plants,” countered Benny.
“Why shouldn’t she be? She runs a nursery.”
“Actually, she’s retired from the business. The stress got to her. Probably from watching the plants grow.”
Dennis Bright smiled in spite of himself. But then he remembered his responsibilities as the KKKS program director and recovered his dignity. “One was from Shannon,” he pointed out.
“She asks very intelligent questions.”
“That’s because you tell her what to ask.”
“It’s not just what she asks, it’s how she asks it. Her phrasing is impeccable.”
“Her phrasing may be great, or whatever, but the woman doesn’t know a tulip from a cactus. I oughtta know. Ten years I’ve lived with her.”
“Aha!” said Benny as he placed a second foot on the desk. “So that’s where she picked up her impeccable phrasing.”
Bright ignored this remark, but not the foot, which was dangerously near his coffee cup. He stared at the encroaching sandal. “One was a wrong number,” he pointed out with a warning frown.
Benny carefully relocated his sandal to a site several millimeters away from the cup. “Did you notice how curious she became about begonias? I think we can expect to hear a lot more from that young woman.”
“One was from an Alzheimer,” Bright pointed out. He could be hardnosed. That was part of his job. He liked his job. It allowed him to show the ruthless side of his personality. It also paid reasonably well. It kept the wolf from the door, his wife Shannon in the less expensive varieties of French wine, and the Sears men’s wear department in business.
Did I or did I not have fun with her?” wondered Benny.
“You had fun with her,” admitted Bright. “But,” he added, “you gotta wonder how well it went over with your regular listener. I don’t think we can expect to hear a lot more from that old lady.”
“She must like my act or she wouldn’t keep calling.”
And in the Kansas metropolis of Kirkland, not its real name, two men were preparing for a meeting that would launch a chain of events that was destined to have profound consequences both for America and for the largest and most powerful ecclesiastical organization in all Christendom. Unaware as yet of his significance in the grand scheme of things, the older of the two ambled down a nondescript hall towards an unexceptional office at the rear of an unimposing tan cinder block building standing at the foot of an ordinary radio transmitter at the outskirts of this typical Middle-American city.
Ch. 1: Enter Benny, Stage Left
At the Vatican, the pope was sound asleep, having four hours earlier mumbled the simple benediction he had learned as a child. In New York City, the anchors at the major networks were preparing to sign off after reading the news of the most ingenious and entertaining samples of human depravity that had appeared in the last twenty-four hours. In Las Vegas, thousands of American parents were busy initiating their offspring into the deepest mysteries of the nation’s folklore. At a race track in Southern California, eight sleek thoroughbreds were pounding the turf and coming down the home stretch as the spectators either clutched their tickets in anxiously sweating hands or, resigned to their temporary fate, began to destroy those tokens of hope.
Ah was poor, o’ course. Fact is, Ah was taymted to hold midweek services to keep them books balanced! But verra seldom did Ah yield to that taym-tation. Once or twice a month, yup. Ever’ week, nope. An Ah did it ays a public service.
Story goes that the so-called “converts” to muh cause made periodic attempts to nominate muhself fer sainthood. Ah mus point out that they never suck-ceeded. One excuse fer overlookin’ muh good works was that Ah was unda-qualyfied. By this Ah mean Ah was not a Cathlick. Ah considud joinin’ that de-nomination but then Ah foun out that many Cathlicks go to their masses on Sunday, which was muh work day. So Ah dee-sisted, in deference to their piety and the good works they oc-casionalluh per-formed. Ah knew Latin—thayt was not the problem, as muh opponence ha’ taken t’sayin’ in their slan-erous, snake-oil ways. Ah also knew logic.
“Err-go” is a Laytin wood. Ah cane use it in yer avage ordinaruh senence withou screwin’ up. Therefoe, I know Laytin. Also, French. Bone newee.
Ah’m also proud as can be that Ah not only re-sisted the tem-tations to join them snake-oilers, Ah also fought ’em! But not tooth-and-nail. Muh maythod was more subtler. Ah followed the tradition of muhgreat-granfathah, Orville Slack I, of muh grandfather, Orville Slack II, an of muh father, Orville Slack III, all deceased, buh learnin’ the tricks o’ the bayg-off trade. Matter o’ fact, Ah’m proud to remind folks that I lifted that tra-dition to the highes' pitch.
It was this skill that emptied the churches o’ a Sunday mornin’ and brawt the pear-ishioners o’ various de-nominational per-suasions to muh frunporch, where Ah held fowth on the evils o’ the snake-oil trade and did case-by-case analysees o’ the tricks of battlin’ that evil vo-cation. This is how Ah made muh good-got gains. Not that Ah made a pile: a hayut awn the floor can hold only so many nickels, dimes, and the oc-casional quartuh, an’ I stood well within the law by ownin’ jus a single hayut. Ah still own that hayut, which, lock its mena friens and colleagues, was o’ the ten-gallon variety.
Orville Slack IV
Mose vas presidential cannydates don’t have no record o’ ac-complishmen, leas tu speak o’. Ah’m proud ayus punch ta ’nounce that in this re-gard, Ah blong in that groupin’.
Back in Pan Handle Counta, Ah was approach on newm-rus oc-casions to run fer office awn the Bayg-Off ticket. Usin’ muh celebrated skills, Ah was able to avoid public service. Ah’m also proud as punch t’ announce that I follad the firs rule for all doctuhs: Ah did no hom. Nothin’ that went rowng was muh fault. There-fore, Ah have no need of excuses.
Muh critics will say, o’ course, that back in Pan Handle Counta nothin’ went awn. They will argya that if nothin’ went awn, nothin’ could go rowng.
Ah refuse to quibble with muh esteemed competi-tors awn this point. Ah will say, though, that somethin’ did go on back in Pan Handle Counta. We had ar share o’ snake-oil salesmen, as they was called in them days. An’ they was active.
From The Small Southwestern City Picayune/Advocate/Intelligencer
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
From Mr. Arthur Unknown, Small Southwestern City
The next step in any campaign before the nominating convention is the creation of a platform. The DRiP is no exception. The Platform Committee, under the able leadership of Mr. Myles na Gopaleen, Jr., is pleased to announce the publication of its findings by Eleven Speed Press.
Herewith is his succinct summary of the five (5) major planks in the DRiP’s platform.
1. It is natural that the issue of voting and other rights for deceased Americans enjoys pride of place. It is the raison d’être of the DRiP’s existence.
2. It is logical that the DRiP concludes that, because parrots have cognitive abilities equal to the average American over the age of 18, they should also be granted equal rights.
3. The DRiP vows to convert all heathen operatives, here and abroad, to Evangelical Christianity.
4. As for the economy, the DRiP promises to add fifty million high-paying government jobs in the first year of its tenure. Preference will be given to newly-enfranchised, newly-robotized dead Americans and parrots with an IQ of 65 and above.
5. As for the Vietnam War, the DRiP proposes a new law requiring all textbooks to obliterate any mention of said war from their pages. And no mention or hint of this controversial event in American history should be allowed in any newspaper or talk show or magazine or campaign speech. The rationale for the DRiP position is that this non-war was started by the French.
It was his father’s success that allowed him to finance his son’s seventh grade education.
Shortly thereafter, the present Slack met a charming woman called Akleema—the name, it is said, comes from one of the daughters of Adam. (See Bible, second chapter.) Akleema was a former stowaway on a ship headed from the Arabian Peninsula to Galveston. On the occasion of a series of trysts with Slack IV subsequent to a torrid romp in the dried alfalfa, she urged him to make her an honest woman. But Sarah Cohen-Slack would have none of it. As candidate Slack explained, before his unfortunate disability confounded his mental acuity, “I was forced to apply my family talent to the situation and beg off the proposed matrimony,” proudly adding, “This fact, together with my mother’s longevity, is why I have remained a bachelor to this day.”
This, then, is the brief, official account of the achievements, despite a humble background, of Mr. Orville Slack the Fourth.
Paul Enns Wiebe perpetually asks himself, "What do I want to write when I grow up?"