“Shapeshifters,” says the missionary. He’s dressed in a grey suit and grey-checkered tie. He’s black. Looks like he’s in his mid sixties. He sits back in his chair a bit and laughs confidently. The old black dress shoes on his feet he plants firmly on the floor. There’s a Bible in front of him opened to some book of the New Testament.

A large black Rastafarian cuts him off. “What kind of god could make a serpent talk to someone?” he asks. He sits across from the missionary. His large round beret reminds me of the top of the Downtown Transit Center, minus the casino lights.

They look like they just met.

The missionary’s feet don’t budge. I mean, how could he be afraid talking to this giant of a stranger? The entire station is crawling with Jehovah’s Witness missionaries. This is their front line: just off the edge of Fremont Street. A ledge hewn in the chasm. Near rock bottom. A holler or two past the digital bells of cartoon slots and Wheel of Fortune games.

Outside the station, papers and bibles lay scattered on tables in front of transients.

Here on the inside, the missionary smiles at the Rastafarian and his idea of a talking serpent. “The same kind of god that can make a block of wood talk to someone. It’s called a ventriloquist,” he says.

I’ve seen a lot of well-dressed missionaries around the station. This guy wears a yellow shirt. It’s clean. Pressed. White paper napkins stuffed in his coat pocket poke out like a silk hanky. He wears glasses. I see his Bible opened to Luke. There’s a small stack of papers on the table in front of him. I see the word “watchtower.”

“I guarantee if you eat a pomegranate you’re not going to go, ‘Ahh!’” the Rastafarian says. His dreads poke from beneath his beret. He has a pointy beard and yellow eyes.

“It wasn’t a pomegranate from that tree. That was a special tree,” the missionary laughs.

The Rastafarian starts to get up then sits back down. “All pomegranates should have been descendents from that tree,” he says. “They should all be magical. But they’re not. What about the chariot that came down and picked up Elijah?”

“That was a dream. A vision,” the missionary says.

“Can a dead man come back to life? What bones can bring a person to life?” the Rastafarian’s voice booms. Not a single transient nearby stirs.

“It was an unusual occurrence,” the missionary says.

“An unusual occurrence? You don’t have an answer, do you? You don’t want to accept?”

“Accept what? What do you want me to accept? Son, what do you want me to do about that?”

A nearby drunk jumps into the conversation. His words slur. He looks like he’s spent at least forty days downtown on Las Vegas streets. “You have to go back to the beginning. They’ve been arguing this since the beginning of time. Nobody ever noticed that one lady, whatchamacallit. That Mary Magdalene was Jesus’ girlfriend. She the one come down from the cave…”

“No, that’s not right.” The Rastafarian looks at the bum and laughs. “You know what that proves? You just proved that nobody was there.” He laughs again and turns to the missionary. “What kind of man walks on water?”

“A God who walks on water.”

The Rastafarian stands up and sits back down. He changes the subject. “How come these other people John baptized didn’t get godly powers?”

The missionary is soft spoken. “John didn’t even want to baptize Jesus. He said ‘I’m not worthy.’”

The Rastafarian gets up, turns his back. He has an I-can’t-take-this-shit look on his face, then sits back down while the missionary reads some verses from the gospel of Luke.

When the missionary finishes reading, the Rastafarian laughs. “You would tell Jesus how his own life was. You would do that wouldn’t you if you met him?” He wants to leave but then thinks up another question. “What about the darkness? According to the Bible there was darkness. Where did all that come from?”

“It didn’t come from anyplace.”

“Ain’t that something? So it was always just there. So he was just sitting in the darkness by himself?”

“He was part of the darkness. He could change it. He created it. He said, ‘I’m sitting here alone in the darkness, by myself. I’m lonely.’ So then he created Jesus Christ, I mean, Michael.”

A little black lady walks up to the table as if out of nowhere. She tells the missionary to ask the Rastafarian about wisdom.

“Are you finding any wisdom, any laws in what we’re discussing?” the missionary says. “Or is this just a conversation?”

The Rastafarian ignores the question. “Can you tell me how much the planet weighs?”

“I used to know.”

“Can you tell me how much badlands and good lands there is?”

“You can look it up.”

“What color is topsoil?”

“Dark brown.”

“No. It’s black. There are some things you know and some things you don’t know. I’m just checking. Tell me, what type of guy would have red eyes?”

The missionary thinks for a moment. “Albinos?”

“No, animals.”

“I thought you were talking about humans?” Even the missionary is growing tired. I can hear it in his whispers.

“No, I do mean what type of person. You see them at night. They glow.”

The missionary thinks again. “Someone genetically predisposed. Which way is up?”

The Rastafarian laughs. “Whichever way my head is.”

“The way your head is pointed?”

“No, whichever way my head is. I have two heads. One up here and one down low.”

“I can’t believe you went there,” the missionary laughs. He laughs deeply then gets up. “That puts an end to this conversation.”

The Rastafarian laughs too. He also stands up. “Alright Gerald. I’ll see you on Monday,” he says and walks out the door.










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NICK BELARDES is illustrator of NYT Best-Selling Novel by Jonathan Evison West of Here (2011), author of Random Obsessions (2009), Lords (2005), and the first literary Twitter novel: Small Places (2010). An author, poet, and screenwriter for Hectic Films, Belardes turned TV/online journalist overnight after blogging his way to success. His articles and essays have appeared on the homepage of CNN.com and other news sites across America. You can find Nick on Facebook and Twitter.

132 responses to “Shapeshifters in Transit”

  1. jmblaine says:

    You’re singing my
    kinda song now.

    “Clouds & thick Darkness surround Him”
    Psalm 97

    • Two people you think are strangers have a conflicting power of godly connectivity. It’s what the world is all about.

      • Lee says:

        The interaction you observed is the kind of conversation verite (spelling dubious) that I so enjoy when I make my trips to Salton Land. Real people are so real they cannot help it. Creative nonfiction truly is growing on me as a genre.

        • I’m glad you like creative nonfiction. It’s really an artform that I just stumbled on when reading Beat literature. I just wish I had gotten involved at a younger age.

          Salton Land sounds like my kind of decayed place to explore and write about.

  2. Patty Wonderly says:

    I laughed when you read it to us on Saturday, and laughed again just now. These characters resonate with such realistic humor that I feel I’m there watching with you. Loved this piece!

    • Joyce sort of inspired this piece. She wanted to see more positivity. I want to keep writing my dismal marches into the asphalt desert. I compromised. Humor in a bleak setting…!

      It was really fun performing this piece. I literally finished writing fifteen minutes before heading out to the reading. It’s a joy to know I made someone laugh. And it was so great to meet Gina Frangello and Zoe Zolbrod. That was the real honor that day.

    • Lee says:

      And that was a treat. ANY time an author reads his work you understand it more and getting Nick’s snark and humor when he read it, made it even more compelling.

      • It just kind of happened. I was just trying to remember how they said their words. It was fascinating to listen to and watch. Thanks so much for coming to the event and buying my books along with the authors who visited.

  3. Penny Ash says:

    I’m waiting for you to get to the UFO folks there. All the believers coming out to see Area 51 hoping they’ll be the one to see proof the Aliens live there. You should take a drive out the Extraterrestrial Highway to Rachel and visit the Little A’Le’Inn. And of course you can always go out to McCarran and watch for the unmarked white planes that take the workers out to their jobs at Area 51. Then there’s the UFO believers convention they have there in Vegas, and Bob Lazar with his story of Alien space ships. I’m sure there are some abductees there too and I’d bet MUFON has a branch there. Love to see your take on all that 🙂

    • I think I will have to seek them out. If you find anything online, let me know. I’ll go talk to some folks.

      Having met an alien abductee once in Bakersfield, I can say it was a strange experience. He was a pianist. And he claimed to get abducted and get scratched.

      On the way across the desert yesterday I drove past a weird beef jerky store in Baker, Calif. all decked out in aliens. Even the taco stand next door has taken on an alien theme. I meant to twitpic it. but instead I ate at the Burger King across the way…

      Never been down the alien highway or seen the phone booth in the middle of nowhere…

      • Penny Ash says:

        You have to visit Roswell New Mexico. The street lamps downtown have alien eyes on them. Just about everything downtown has an alien theme, it’s great.

        I know several abductees and some researchers. Conversations can get real interesting. Been around this stuff in one form or another all my life.

        I always meant to go out there but the lure of the slot machines was just too strong the times I’ve been to Las Vegas.

        • I did meet a guy recently come to think of it who claims to have seen UFOs. But he’s in Bakersfield.

          Roswell and Point Pleasant are both on my “must-see” list in American folklore.

          Bigfoot country is cool too. I mean, but I really should just say “Chewbacca country!”

        • Penny Ash says:

          Nice. My writing partner lives close to Point Pleasant.

          Add Aurora TX to yur list, that’s where the alien is burried. They’ve even put up a historical marker I believe. Someone storle the grave marker but I think they’ve replaced it. The alien air ship was supposed to have crashed there in the late 1800’s.

          When I was in Roswell last you could still drive onto the old base, right up to the old hospital where they took the aliens. The place was kind of creepy.

          We have Bigfoot here where I am. I’ve heard it a few times. They have a convention for researchers close by every year in April I think.

          Who says America is dull 🙂

        • When I was a kid I was terrified by the movie, “Legend of Bogey Creek.” Bigfoot comes crashing through a window and scares the bajeezus out of everyone.

          You definitely have your finger on the pulse of the bizarre and odd in cultural Americana. I love it! My editor for “Random Obsessions” was connected to Mothman and the Silver Bridge collapse (was in the next car about to go on the bridge when it fell in front of her and her mother).

          Synchronicities connect us to weird stories everywhere. It’s very cool.

          An alien air ship??

          You could go to the Roswell hospital??

          What does Bigfoot sounds like??

        • Penny Ash says:

          LOL Boggy Creek isn’t that far from here. I remember not being able to sleep after I saw the movie when I was a kid.

          I love folklore and subculture. It’s so fascinating to listen to what people believe and what they’ve seen. One of these days I’m going to visit the Point Pleasant area and do some exploring. Lots of strange stuff around there.

          It truly is a small world. Met my writing partner online several years ago, we tend to finish each other’s thoughts think so much alike it’s scary, Then we found out we’re related, distant cousins. Pretty weird 🙂

          Yep the airship crash of 1897 http://www.ufocasebook.com/Aurora.html Aurora is on the outskirts of Fort Worth. Going to make a research trip one day soon.

          When we were there last if you drove down the main street through town, past the second UFO museum it took you right onto the old base and you could drive around the old base right up to the hospital steps. Had a second cousin who lived in Roswell, he always refused to talk about the UFO stuff. He knew Glenn Dennis and apparently didn’t get along with him

          There are some Bigfoot recordings floating around the net. What I heard was very similar to the Snohomish calls. Kind of a loud drawn out howl. Makes your hair stand up. Definitely not canine, the dogs around here howl all the time, they shut up real fast when this thing howls. http://bigfoot_res.tripod.com/sounds.html

        • How have I not heard of the Aurora incident. I’m an amateur!

          It’s weird to think of UFOs being spotted in the Old West. But then, I did see recently that Harrison Ford is going to be in a movie about…. a UFO in the Old West.

          And why is there always a cousin who won’t talk? I swear that’s in every UFO movie. OK, I made that up.

        • Penny Ash says:

          Aurora is one of the less well known stories. Give Coast 2 Coast AM with George Noory (who is based in Las Vegas I think) a listen you’ll hear all sorts of strange stuff

          Neat, hope this movie is better than the last Indiana Jones movie.

          LOL Everyone has a weird cousin I think. And by the way if you go north to Wisconsin they see werewolves there http://www.beastofbrayroad.com/

  4. Uche Ogbuji says:

    Wow. Is that maybe an example of an antisocratic dialogue? 🙂

    • Perhaps. One thing is for sure. There’s likely about twenty such conversations each Sunday morning at the Downtown Transit Station in Las Vegas. Just bring some popcorn and a laptop or notebook. Then enjoy the theatre.

      • Lee says:

        I will have to remember the term anti-socratic. I’ll add it to “seismicity” another word I recently learned. I think I like anti-socratic better.

        • I get Uche. He’s saying these guys engaged in broken philosophy. At the same time, I’m not sure I completely agree.

          Both of these men were simply arguing as Americans argue. It could have been football. It was just all over the map and got really nonsensical. And I get that way about my Lakers all the time.

          Seriously, they could have been talking about burgers. It’s just the way untrained people reason. Not that the JW was untrained. I don’t know. You have to admire a man who tries to follow his course in life that includes helping others. I get the sense that at the very least, some of these people were getting fed now and then from compassionate men and women.

          I’m not a JW. But there’s not enough love in the world. And so I admire that compassionate quality in people…

  5. Jeannie says:

    Oh man that was great. I’ve had conversations like that. Some people really just want to talk and know we won’t (usually) turn them away. Thanks for the giggle!

    • I think these two have a great dialogue each weekend. Just think. Ten more weeks of listening to them yammer and I’d probably have an entire book. But what to call it…

      • Lee says:

        Antisocraticdisestablishmentarianism

        • That long word? You’re defining an American religion. JWism is as apple pie as McDonalds and Mormon choirs. To each their own.

          If it weren’t for both parties present, I would have had no story.

          A lot of movies that I like have such oddball humor.

          I won’t judge the conversationalists in this story. Hell, I wrote it. I didn’t judge while writing it, so I won’t while commenting either.

          I look at it this way: it was just a conversation in a bus station.

          And an awfully fun one to capture.

      • Jeannie says:

        Well that’s an easy one Nick, Transient Memoirs for Jeannie. Sure you might alienate some of your readers. But it’s a small price to pay right?

        • Hahahaha! You know. I might just get a book out of this if I keep writing about crazy Vegas. I had a request to write about aliens. Any ideas, Jeannie? Love the title!

        • Jeannie says:

          I’d love your take on the fat, old, professional gamblers. The ones that sit all day at the nickel slots, drinking free drinks and adjusting their green plastic visors. I also love the idea of being surrounded by people and being completely alone, which I think Vegas is a good place for that.

        • matildakay says:

          I like Jeannie’s ideas too. Perhaps you could do a story on various casino buffets. There have got to be all kinds of people in Vegas looking to score big at the best buffet in town.

        • Melinda: Buffets. I still haven’t been to one since being back. Not a bad idea.

          Jeannie: That would just entail me writing about my Pops! I should tell a story. lol.

        • BTW, the photos were taken late at night at the Downtown Transit Center on one of my first nights in town… it was creepy.

        • matildakay says:

          You haven’t been to a buffet yet? Goodness! Those photos do look creepy. I can only imagine how creepy the transit center would be at night time.

        • It was lit up on the very top like a casino: glittering lights. There were a couple of transients inside. The kiosk was closed. A Latino dude pushed a mop bucket. And outside there were transients in odd places, on a streetcorner or two. And people, just curious, and perhaps helpful, talking to a few of the transients. One was a white guy around 60 talking to a homeless black woman who wore a beanie. Anyway, that was the night I took these photos. It was my first time there, and I was a bit spooked as I was off the beaten path…

          Here’s great photos of it from Flickr:

          http://www.flickr.com/photos/markestes/545316773/
          http://www.flickr.com/photos/markestes/545316731/in/photostream/

      • Tom Hansen says:

        Not sure what to call it but the idea is cool; a literary take of a road movie ala Wim Wenders

        • I love Buena Vista Social Club! I think that’s the only film I’ve seen by Wenders. But hey, if you compare my work to his work, then I’m honored beyond belief!

  6. matildakay says:

    Oh goodness that was a great, animated, funny conversation. I would have loved to have been in that bus terminal witnessing it first hand the way you did.

    I so enjoyed the humor and the randomness of their conversation as well as their passion. I don’t know how you were able to capture it all. Did you take shorthand in school?

    • I never took shorthand. I think I just had a lot of fast-talking professors back in the day.

      The bus terminal is weird. In a way it’s very nice and elegant. But the clientele. Just doesn’t seem to fit. It’s odd. And on weekday mornings it’s a completely different site as it’s filled with workers heading to their jobs…

  7. Matt says:

    I used to get looped into conversations like this on the streets of New Orleans, usually around 3 or so in the morning, everyone just a little bit drunk and all the more sincere because of it.

    In reading these dispatches I’m coming to suspect Vegas might just be the germinating seed of another book for you.

  8. Slade Ham says:

    I am never disappointed by the people in your stories. Not once. Not yet. These two may even be my favorites. No, that would be unfair to all the others. These two belong right up there though, at the very top, in very good company.

    • I can only imagine with your comedic talents how you would have read this piece so much more full of vigor than I had on Saturday. While I had people laughing, I admit I don’t have the theatrical skills of a great stand-up comedian!

      • Slade Ham says:

        You know, reading out loud is a skill set I haven’t necessarily mastered. I’m just fine with my own material in my medium, but – as possibly evidenced by the one podcast read I’ve done this far – I lack quite a bit in that department.

        I would have loved to have seen this read aloud though. I wish I’d been there Saturday.

        • The audience really liked the part where I was stumbling around drunk and slurring my words.

          I read it off my new iPhone! (which is old now since a new model came out).

        • Slade Ham says:

          The audience really liked the part where I was stumbling around drunk and slurring my words.

          Maybe you do have stand up comedy skills after all… Sounds like me some nights…

        • Maybe. IF I could memorize. I can’t even memorize a phone number. I suck. I want to see one of your shows! Book yourself in Vegas!

  9. I have a Richard Dawkins sock puppet that I carry with me to all bus stations, soup kitchens, and abandoned stoops.

    • But what would you make the puppet say??

      Looking forward to your piece I saw you posted… And Slade’s. I saw he posted too I think!

      • Slade Ham says:

        I did indeed 🙂

        • I shall read them both tonight after I meet Zara and Simon!! Woo!

        • I’ve found that you can get away with saying almost anything if you speak in a British accent and have Einstein-y hair. The fossil record? The Permian Extinction event? Evolutionary proofs are a cakewalk with the right sock on your hand.

        • Hahahaha! Oh man, I needed a laugh today! That was hilarious. I remember once walking into a toy store with one of my kids. There were puppets and a little theater. We put on an impromptu show for all the guests.

        • matildakay says:

          I remember once you rolled me around a toy store in a wheelchair knocking things off the shelves with my out-sticking leg that I had just had knee surgery on. That was the funnest toy store experience I’ve ever had.

        • Hahahaha… That’s funny! I remember that! That fun was built off of years of goofing off in toy stores with Jordan and Landen. We were always causing trouble… Throwing NERF footballs, throwing basketballs and stuffed animals all over the place!

  10. Irene Zion says:

    Good story, Nick!
    You need to find this guy again, get some more material.

    • I found the Rastafarian a few hours later. He was at the local library playing some multiplayer video game on a laptop…

      • Irene Zion says:

        So Nicky,
        did he win?

        • Not sure. I was there searching for free wifi. It was a very bizarre experience. There was nothing but men there with their laptops. Dozens of us all searching for the same thing. I remember one guy kept burping really loud. Did he think we were in his living room???

        • Judy Prince says:

          Nick, first time in England I went to the library to send emails. Everything very orderly, they said you’d be timed out after a half hour. Sounded ok, except that it took 20 minutes to get through all the ritual barriers of signing on. So I’d have 10 minutes of mad-dashing off emails while waiting patrons stared holes at the back of my head.

          I bet reno has some awesome library computer stories to tell!

        • The other funny thing about that library was there was an outside part where about 20 homeless guys were watching “Force 10 From Navarone.” And then there were many guys just reading books. Many were homeless, as I have seen in Bakersfield and in Fresno. AND NO WOMEN.

          Well, except for in the other part of the library where you had to get through security to get to it. There, kids were making crafts and soccer moms hovered about.

          Two worlds. Colliding. In a library.

  11. J.E. Fishman says:

    It’s great that the Jehovah’s Witness missionary — who must take his mission quite seriously — is willing to laugh at the argument. Whatever one can say about the Witnesses, they’re true believers. I lived in Brooklyn Heights years ago, where they have their headquarters, and their buildings were immaculate. All of them tithe several weeks a year of work for the church. As Tom Peters said in a different context, you can pretend to care, but you can’t pretend to be there.

    Thanks for this evocative piece, Nick.

    • I wondered if deep down inside, the missionary got pissed, or if he really was that jovial in heart. I’m guessing he really was that jovial. But I would have lost patience!

      I wonder what those buildings look like. Must Google!

      • J.E. Fishman says:

        Years ago the Witnesses purchased a run-down hotel called the Bossert in Brooklyn Heights. In its heyday (1920’s??) this hotel had been most elegant, with a famous rooftop patio, big-band dancing in summer under the moonlight, etc. But by the time the Witnesses purchased it, I believe, it was fleabag. They did a stunning renovation, which really helped the neighborhood from the perspective of the street, but it was always my understanding that only Witnesses who had business at the nearby headquarters could stay there. No “civilians.” I don’t know if that part’s true, but it’s rife with wonderful metaphors, isn’t it?

        • Wikipedia claims it was bought in 1983 and another article states it was built in 1909. And, some Brooklyn Dodgers used to live there!

          It has since gone back up for sale (2008), though the articles I found don’t say if it sold, including one from April of this year.

      • Erika Rae says:

        Man, I would have lost patience. If that was an argument, it made no sense – which is why, of course, it was so entertaining. I just love the fact that there are two guys regularly duking it out in the Vegas transit station over the Bible.

        • Me too. And the fact that they seemed to have done this regularly. And of course, bumping into the same Rastafarian a few hours later at a library after talking to a guy named Dick at an old Mormon Fort was kind of bizarro.

  12. DCR says:

    Hi Nick,
    The first word in the post defines the characters and conversation extremely well …very, very funny.
    The scenario is so outside the realm of ordinary exchange that you know immediately you have stumbled into a little, tiny, time warp. Thanks for the experience. DCR

  13. Joe Daly says:

    One of the things that made this so fun is the missionary’s patience- you’re dying to know if it’s going to run out and under what conditions. Loved the way the questions at the end became simply ludicrous.

    I have to think that if we were to showcase our species for an alien culture, they would obtain infinitely more truth about humans from the conversation above than from any news program, drama, or documentary.

    • And the fact that they knew each other when they acted like strangers!

      Imagine if an alien culture first came to TNB to learn about planet Earth. What would they think of Joe Daly, or Greg Olear, Duke Haney or Irene Zion? Or Slade HAM???

      Thanks as always for your kind words. I’m glad you felt the tension in this piece. I carefully trimmed it while attempting to stay true to the dialogue.

  14. Judy Prince says:

    HA! Loved that close, Nick:

    “The Rastafarian laughs too. He also stands up. ‘Alright Gerald. I’ll see you on Monday,’ he says and walks out the door.”

    You’re right to say it’s theatre.

    Fine job of drawing the wonderful characters. They totally live in this, and bcuz of it, you caused me to link to so many sweet Chicago recollections.

    • Oh tell me a Chicago story!! I want to hear one!

      I’m secretly a fan of commenters who I know have stories to tell!

      Yeah, a crazy ending. It threw ME for a loop! What?? You dudes KNOW each other?? Crazy.

  15. Judy Prince says:

    Excerpts from “Shit Happens”:

    •COMMUNISM: Equal shit happens to all people.
    •CATHOLICISM: Shit happens because you are bad.
    •PSYCHOANALYSIS: Shit happens because of your toilet training.
    •SCIENTOLOGY: Shit happens if you’re on our shit list.
    •ZOROASTRIANISM: Bad shit happens, and good shit happens.
    •UNITARIANISM: Maybe shit happens. Let’s have coffee and donuts.
    •RIGHT-WING PROTESTANTISM: Let this shit happen to someone else.
    •JUDAISM: Why does shit always happen to US?
    •REFORM JUDAISM: Got any Kaopectate?
    •MYSTICISM: What weird shit!
    •AGNOSTICISM: What is this shit?
    •ATHEISM: I don’t believe this shit!
    •NIHILISM: Who needs this shit?
    •AZTEC: Cut out this shit!
    •QUAKER: Let’s not fight over this shit.
    •FORTEANISM: No shit??
    •12-STEP: I am powerless to cut the shit.
    •VOODOO: Hey, that shit looks just like you!
    •NEWAGE: Visualize shit not happening.
    •DEISM: Shit just happens.
    •EXISTENTIALISM: Shit doesn’t happen; shit is.
    •SECULAR HUMANISM: Shit evolves.
    •CHRISTIAN SCIENCE: Shit is in your mind.
    •BUDDHISM: Shit happens, but pay no mind.
    •SHINTOISM: Shit is everywhere.
    •HINDUISM: This shit has happened before.
    •WICCA: Mix this shit together and make it happen!
    •HASIDISM: Shit never happens the same way twice.
    •THEOSOPHY: You don’t know half of the shit that happens.
    •DIANETICS: Your mother gave you shit before your were born.
    •SEVENTH DAY ADVENTIST: No shit on Saturdays.
    •JEHOVAH’s WITNESSES: No shit happens until Armageddon.
    •MOONIES: Only happy shit really happens.
    •HOPI: Corn fertilizer happens.
    •BAHA’I: It’s all the same shit.
    •STOICISM: This shit is good for me.
    •OBJECTIVISM: Our shit is good for you.
    •EST: If my shit bothers you, that’s your fault.
    •REAGANISM: Don’t move; the shit will trickle down.
    •FASCISM: Shit makes the trains run on time.
    •CARGO CULT: A barge will come and take all the shit away.
    •EMACS: Hold down Control-Meta-Shit.
    •DISCORDIANISM: Some funny shit happened to me today.
    •RASTAFARIANISM: Let’s smoke this shit.
    •CHARISMATIC: This is not shit and it doesn’t smell bad.
    •MASONIC: Shit happens, but we can’t discuss it during Lodge.
    •RED CROSS: Shit happens – send money.

  16. Oh man, this brings back memories of American bus stations and train stations… They characters are so, er, colourful? Yeah, I’ll go with that. Always full of interesting banter.

    I was once accosted in Arizona by a Christian rock “star.” He asked me about Scotland, and I could feel – that undeniable way – that he was trying to bring about the subject of god.

    Then he went for it: “So what’re the churches like in Scatland?”

    I said: “They’re full of Muslims.”

    • Oh man, that was almost a great comment time – 22:22:22.

      • Judy Prince says:

        If you coulda just waited, David, for that mystical 22:22:22.

        Love this: ‘Then he went for it: “So what’re the churches like in Scatland?”

        I said: “They’re full of Muslims.” ‘

        Now you’ve got me wondering what my comment time will be.

        • If I could stick it out for another two hundred something years I could go for the full sweep of twos.

          And yes, I was proud of that reply. I’m an atheist but I am nonetheless actually impressed by Scotland’s churches. They’re incredibly beautiful, for the most part.

          The best thing about it was his face after I told him there were Muslims… He looked so heartbroken, as though the motherland had fallen to the enemy or something.

        • Judy Prince says:

          David, I only know a couple things about Scottish churches, or, more precisely, about Scottish churchmen: 1) John Knox’s diatribe “The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women” about ruling queens Bloody Mary and Mary Queen of Scots (he definitely nailed the worst queens), was a shame QE1 took exception to what he wrote; and 2) dear Rodent’s father was a very unusual, laidback Scottish cleric in Glasgow. Now *he’s* a great one to tell stories about.

        • Well it sounds like you know more about Scots churches than I do. I used to go to the student soup-kitchen at one church near my flat. I wouldn’t have gone if I wasn’t starving, but every week I went and got my one good meal. They handed out something called “Jesus Juice” and after drinking it – and it tasted like orange juice – you couldn’t help but listen to these over-enthusiastic church kids. They’re talk about Jesus and it was such silly banter… but the juice just knocked all resistance out of you. I swear there was a little LSD in it, or at least some MDMA.

        • It was the Scottish Church of the Dyslexic LATTER DAY SAINTS: LSD.

        • Judy Prince says:

          Say good night, Nick. hoo ha!

        • Judy Prince says:

          Hell, David, you were *starving*—-it was that, not the J Juice that mellowed you into receptivity! Did I just say “hell”? Ah well, it’s a contextual fit, at least.

        • You don’t know the power of the Jesus Juice…

        • Judy Prince says:

          David, us USAmericans are a little sensitive about such a topic; that whole horrid Jim Jones cult thing with the Koolaid. [shudder]

        • I know. I got myself in trouble for that last bad joke.

          Kool Aid. It’s great stuff for mustaches!

        • Judy Prince says:

          I’ve become Judy Bobblehead at midnight here. But that doesn’t explain why I don’t get your Koolaid’s good for moustaches thing, Nick.

        • Little kids drink Koolaid and always get a red or green or orange or blue mustache…

        • Judy Prince says:

          Oh yes, Nick—-those darling little monsters with their many-coloured mouths!

          Say good night, Judy.

          Good night, Judy. Good night, Nick and David.

    • As a fellow lover of the Beat Generation, I was hoping you would like this piece. Did you have thoughts on Peter Orlovsky’s passing? I know, I’m changing the subject in my own post.

      While I’m a believer. I try not to push my beliefs on anyone. I love your answer to the Christian rock star. Oddly, I know one. He’s not pushy either. He’s a guitarist in Sanctus Real. And he plays some mean alt country too!

      My editor wrote “Women of the Beat Generation” and met Ginsberg. I may have told you that already.

      • My comment time sucks. David is the mystical commenter. Check out that number!

      • Your editor is Brenda Knight? Actually, we might already have discussed this… I’m sure I expressed my interest and admiration for that fact before. I have a copy of her book back in Scotland that I used religiously throughout university.

        Christian Rock is something I know little about, and even though I still have his CD – yes, he gave me a free copy – I never once listened to it. There’s something about album covers with guys on railway tracks staring mournfully into the distance that just says, “This can’t possibily be good.”

        Peter Orlovsky… I’m sad that I took a few days to realise he died, and then was too busy to write anything much. I wrote a few lines along the lines of: “What a shame,” but that’s about it. Maybe I’ll stick a tribute in Beatdom #7.

        Orlovsky actually died a few days before Ginsberg’s birthday. I guess that’s not particularly weird, but there you go. It must have been on his mind in his last hours.

        • Brenda is my editor. She’s great and I even interviewed her for parts of my Random Obsessions book on Mothman (she has weird connections and is from West Virginia).

          I studied history under John Arthur Maynard. He wrote “Venice West: The Beat Generation In Southern California.” He had boxes of poems of unpublished LA Beats. Finally there is a book of Stuart Perkoff poems. But a lot still isn’t published I bet.

          I didn’t discover Orlovsky died until I got an email from The Beat Museum.

          A lot of Christian rock sucks. My kids perform a lot of Indie Christian rock. It’s good stuff! I love their indie and alt rock stuff too. My kids can rock it, bro.

        • That’s cool stuff. It’s good to rock early. I never got a guitar til I was 15 or so. I actually just broke out my amp yesterday after a year and a half abandoned. It felt good to rock. I haven’t played in so long, but I can still do a mean Dylan cover.

        • You coming to America any time soon? You’ll have to jam with my kids. That would be rad! Landen was about 14 or 15 when he started too… He’s 18 now.

        • I’m trying to figure out my schedule for the end of this year. I’m leaving Korea at the end of September – and it’s a terrifying prospect to return to the real world – and I don’t yet have another job lined up.

          I’m bringing my girlfriend to Scotland for a week or so, and then my parents are heading to Colorado and various other States for a little tour. I used to work in California and I really want a week or two back there to meet up with some friends, so I might try and make it across in late October or early November.

        • Well if you make it, would be great to see you and trade stories…

        • Yes, absolutely. I’ll let you know if I make any progress with this planning nonsense.

        • I’m a terrible travel planner. Don’t know why I feel it’s so important to admit that early on a Wednesday morning…

  17. Cynthia Hawkins says:

    Ah, the only thing I love more than details is dialogue. Great essay. I feel like such an ease-dropper reading this. Since making a switch from fiction to nonfiction, I have this debate with friends, and myself, all the time about taking copious notes or going from memory on such things and trusting that I’ll capture the essence of the moment …

    • Thanks Cynthia. I’m glad you felt voyeuristic. That was part of my aim… to tell a raw story that would make people feel like they were there sort of watching from a nearby table.

      I like what you said about “trusting that I’ll capture the essence of the moment” in regards to your writing. Taking fast notes and choosing which lines needed to be edited for the sake of the flow of the story were necessary challenges. And then polishing the piece is always challenging too.

      And then, I never know how people will react. In this case, I was afraid of a letdown. It had such a good reaction when I read it on Saturday that I had a feeling it would flop online. But people seemed to still get the humor and the conflict. And that makes me happy.

      Switching from or between fiction and nonfiction can be tough too. I’ve found that nonfiction writing has actually helped my fiction storytelling… Except, I get too caught up in nonfiction and ignore my fiction writing!

  18. Connie says:

    An argument for arguments sake? A conversation to stimulate a bored mind? Reaching out to another human being without expecting anything in return other than conversation?

    • Was it really arguing for the sake of arguing? That’s really a good question you raise. On one level in my uneducated opinion there are quite possibly two things going on:

      1) The question of whether or not the Rastafarian was searching or not. Searching for what? I don’t know. I’ll let the reader guess that. I mean, he later was at a library playing video games so he clearly found something!

      2) The missionary likely believes he was saving a soul. Whether it’s his own, the Rastafarian’s, or both, remains a mystery to me because I don’t know enough about Jehovah’s Witnesses.

      The missionary raised an important point. He asked if they were just having a conversation. It was never really answered. So the mystery remains…

      • Erika Rae says:

        The Rastafarian was trying to stump the JW, only his questions sort of showed that he really had no concept of what he was arguing. I believe the JW was only playing a tired game of ping pong there.

        • Erika Rae says:

          It might also be worth mentioning that the JWs believe that only 144,000 are going to heaven. Period. The rest of the people (good people, that is – but not good enough to make it to heaven) will be part of the earthly government that Jesus returns to set up. At any rate, to get to heaven, you’ve got to stand out, which is why it is so important to “witness” and to log time witnessing. The time spent is actually recorded, which is the way people are held accountable (and even recorded at all) within the church. I can’t be certain, but I’m guessing that the missionary is not really interested in saving that Rastafarian. He’s too jovially hostile. It’s more about logging the hours for his own soul to make the cut. (And if he happens to bring people with him, well cool.)

          Where is Tony DuShane when we need him? He could enlighten us more, for sure!

        • Well, this isn’t really a piece for or against, or a determination of the JW philosophy. It’s just what is. I don’t know the motivation any more behind the missionary than I do the Rastafarian.

          It’s just plain interesting to hear such a conversation take place in my humble opinion.

          Someone on here who commented is of that faith. I don’t know if they will comment though.

          Your thoughts remind me of some early Christian thought which spoke of the saved in terms of the Elect, and if that person fell out of favor with God, could no longer be one of the Elect.

          During the times of the Puritans, for instance, signs were often interpreted as a means of determining if someone was still a part of the elite club of saved. For instance, if you were walking and a tree branch fell and someone saw it: sign. You’re out. Or if a black cat crossed your path: sign. You’re out. Or if you suddenly levitated and your head spun in a 360 and you vomited green ladybugs: sign. You’re definitely out.

  19. Joanne aka soulsprite says:

    Sounds like a great place to people watch. I love how I can feel like I’m there listening to this conversation. And anything to do with religion always catches my ears. My brain is just wired that way.

    You turn your people watching into fascinating creative non-fiction and I want to turn it into poetry. BTW I’ve got the East Coast Smoke Stack poem. Where do you want it?

    • Oh wow! Post it on my donut story! or post it right here. Or both!

      I will comment on it fo sho! Can’t wait to read it.

      I’m the same way. I love hearing about religion. All kinds. I have my own faith. But I like to be open minded and learn about what societies and individuals believe regarding life, faith, spirituality, etc.

      Why does religion catch your ears?

      • Joanne aka soulsprite says:

        I’ll post it over at your donut story.

        Religion catches my ears just because…ever since I was a kid I was thinking and reading about the ‘other side’ and anything having to do with it and that did include any and all spiritual paths. I was doing seances at 9. I wanted to be a parapsychologist.

        I’m interested in all paths…it all fascinates me. Though I lean towards the esoteric, I’m obsessed with all of it. Every library, bookstore, etc. I walk into I go straight to the religion/spirituality section…then I wander over to psychology and then poetry and literature.

        • That’s incredible. You would love my editor and her book collection. We’re always talking about synchronicities. There are many related to my last book.

          Tell a seance story. You meet any famous ghosts, or any really strange ones? I guess all ghosts are strange…

  20. From Twitter: The Fortunato Group @frtnato:

    I felt like I was sitting right there. Very deep. Keep up the good work!

  21. Maura says:

    ‘Cogito ergo summ’ says Socrates . Eventually you’ll come to Socrates’ conclusion, “I know only that I know nothing”
    I’ve learnt another version of this saying – ‘amo, ergo sum’
    ….”I love, therefore I exist.” Both exsisted on the same plane , Thanks Nick

  22. Penny Goring says:

    Truly inspired to get ‘whatchamacallit’ Rastas & Jehova’s Witnesses all in one piece. Respect. BTW, I was writing about a JW funeral earlier today. Spooky. & spooky.
    Penny Goring

    • Penny. You and I have this weird connection with weird words. I always “get” you. Which I hope you appreciate. You really are brilliant. Please let me know each time you post a piece. I will gladly read.

  23. Oksana says:

    This is the kind of a conversation I get into with people who try to prove things even they don’t know for a fact. VERY FUNNY!

    • Thanks Oksana. It was fun just watching the two work their odd spiritual debate. Not that spirituality is odd. But the setting. The sincerity in which one tried to prove the other wrong. That was odd. There really is no point to it, especially when the message was really in a strange way, “love.”

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