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When I was fourteen, I stood before the deacons of my church and lied.

The deacons sat in a half circle of red and gold armchairs that seemed incongruous with the church’s Puritan ancestry. A small group of my peers sat behind me, waiting for their turn to speak, truth or lie.   I told them all I believed in God, that I believed Jesus was the son of God, and that human beings were made in His image.  The head deacon knew I was a liar, but he liked me.  When I finished my statement of faith – required for confirmation – he threw me a few softball questions.  One deacon tried to catch me in the lie.  She asked me why I hadn’t talked about attending church, about the congregation, in my statement.

I told her, and the rest of the room, that I believed in the ability of the individual to navigate his or her own way through the complicated, conflicting, confusing world of faith and belief. For me, independent inquiry and intellectual and spiritual curiosity were more important than participation in a congregation.  I quickly added that I did acknowledge the value of a pastor’s leadership, and the ability of the congregation to infuse my own spiritual quest with needed energy and knowledge.  Lying again.  They let me in.

On confirmation day, the pastor grabbed my arm. “Listen to my sermon,” he said. “You’re its inspiration.”

The pastor, at the pulpit, told the congregation that one of its newest members had inspired him to grow as a Christian in a way he had never considered before.  He said that the independent spirit of this young person had moved him to preach that day about individual curiosity, introspection, and honesty.  Don’t say what you think is right to believe.  Say what you believe, listen to others, and you’ll grow.  I was beaming. I had fooled them all.

Then, we, the about-to-be confirmed, approached the front of the congregation and knelt in a half circle on the red carpet. We waited for the pastor and the deacons to walk to each of us, lay hands on our heads, and pray.  I was last in the half circle.


***


The pastor taught our year-long confirmation class himself. Congregationalists don’t like ritual and pomp, and they certainly don’t pay much attention to the Catholic obsession with saints. So it came as a surprise when the pastor told our class about his latest idea to make confirmation more exciting — each of us were to be assigned a saint, based on his assessment of our spiritual needs and personalities, and we were to research that saint and find a spiritual connection to their story. We each got a pendant in a white cardboard box, and the pastor explained to each of us his decisions.

Mine was Saint Anne, Grandmother of Jesus, the patron saint of housewives, women in labor, miners and poverty. The pastor said he saw Saint Anne as part of my nature, the part that made me exceptionally strong-willed.

I thought, “Is this a joke? housewives, poverty, and labor? I’m going to be a doctor, a pathologist. I’ll be neither poor nor pregnant.”

On the pendant, Anne held a book. She wasn’t looking at the book. She was staring up to the sky, to God. This saint was meant for me somehow but the joke would be on the pastor. I decided Anne was studious, well-read, and wise. She was the grandmother of Jesus, the holder of precious knowledge beyond her time. I imagined Anne reading the Book her grandson would pass to the world two generations early. I thought of her as a happily silent prophet, who would treat those close to her with odd bits of information, and revel in their misunderstanding and confusion. Unlike tragically misunderstood Cassandra, Anne was content to be the only one who knew the full meaning behind her eccentricities. Like most artists, I thought, she’d be best understood once she was long dead and the rest of the world caught up.

St. Anne, praise her, helped me take pleasure in my secret knowledge.


***


Finally, the pastor and deacons reached me.  He had handpicked crosses for each of us to wear.  Most of the girls had large, silver crosses with embedded jewels.  Mine was plain, small, gold, with flared edges, more like what he gave to the boys.  The pastor and the deacons placed their hands on my head, and the pastor leaned in close and whispered in my ear:

“I know you have hardened your heart, and I pray to God that one day He’ll open it.”

They finished praying, and the newest members of the church stood up to lead the congregation in a hymn.


***

 

I had lost my faith about three years before this moment. I don’t remember when, exactly.  It was before I saw the pictures of the Mengele experiment victims, but after the death of my grandmother.

Nowadays, I ask other people to tell me how they found God, and they ask me to tell them a story, too. Have I lost mine? If so, where do I search for God? Testify. Fair’s fair, but there’s no story.  So, what do you say: truth or lie?



Thank God

By Ted McCagg

The Feed

The only real point to life is for it not to turn out the way you expect. Think about it. If, at an early age, you mapped out a life for yourself, and it played out exactly the way you wanted, you would be fantastically bored. In fact, if nothing or no one placed obstacles along the preordained path of your life, you would probably introduce those obstacles just to experience a little variety. I think you can make an argument that those of us prone to self sabotage are not necessarily fighting some deep interior hatred of ourselves but simply bored.

It has come to my attention, and perhaps yours as well, that virtually everyone in the digital age considers him- or herself an artist. A glance at Facebook is like a trek through the Casbah, with so many people hawking their photos, their music, their writings, and so on.

How can a seasoned artist make a buck in such a climate? It was never easy, and it’s getting harder all the time, as the competition expands. Soon aspiring creative types will outnumber regular folk, who can only spend but so much money on things that—let’s face it—are almost always headed for permanent obscurity. Then, too, a lot of “artists” give their stuff away for free, leading audiences to think all creative output should be free, unless, for instance, it’s written by Jonathan Franzen, whose wealth must approach Illuminati levels if he charges by the metaphor.

I can’t say I have never been a religious person, but I can say that I figured most of that stuff out by the age of eight. My parents didn’t attend church, but would take my brother and I if we wanted to go, to any church we wanted to attend. Now that I think about it, I guess they left all the big decisions to us–they didn’t discuss who they voted for, they let us choose our own middle names (we both declined), and they left the fate of our immortal souls in our adorable child-sized hands.

My atheism is rarely discussed–barely even noticed–until someone dies. Then in the middle of all the sadness, certain friends or relatives want to know how I can live with the idea that my uncle isn’t playing fetch with my dog, Patches, on a cloud somewhere for all of eternity. We are hardly theological scholars (in fact, that statement remains true if you replace the word “theological” with any other word besides “Dr. Pepper”), so it can be difficult to explain my beliefs without making them think I’m shitting on theirs.

Something interesting happened after my Dad passed away in 2005. My family started a new holiday tradition in which we each buy a gift for ourselves and we call it our Christmas present from Dad.

The first year my dad gave me some art from Michael Paulus and Sam Brown that I had been wanting forever but kept putting off buying. The next year I got an iPhone. Each year I try to find something unnecessary–something that I can live without but really want, the idea being that it should be a true gift, and not fulfilling a need I would have to take care of anyway.

This year Dad cleaned out my Amazon wishlist (he’s really spoiling me, now). The items will remain wrapped until Christmas morning, when I will find a pretty box with a card that says “Merry Xmas from Dad” containing the 30 Rock soundtrack, the new Amy Sedaris book and a selection of movies that includes Ladies and Gentlemen the Fabulous Stains, Over the Edge and Night of the Comet.

I can’t wait to see the look on my face!

Ironically, my father would never have actually picked any of those things. Like, there’s no way he would have spotted a copy of Night of the Comet and thought, “Oooh–Darci will want that.” (Whereas, I am reasonably sure that literally every other person who knows me, who stumbles upon a copy of Night of the Comet thinks, “Oooh–Darci will want that,” unless they assume I already have it).

But it doesn’t matter what he would or wouldn’t have done. Death has made my Dad a much better gift-giver. And this new tradition has made the holidays without him a little easier to bear.

I want to reassure those certain friends and relatives that I am just fine without the belief in Heaven or any kind of afterlife. I’m fine because I remain connected to my father in the ways that really matter to me.

He will find me whenever cheerleaders from the Valley take on scientist zombies in the wake of a cosmic apocalypse.


Spam, Annotated

By Jeremy Resnick

Humor

“I got some cleats,” she said. “Yes!” Fred reached into the coffer and pulled out a team up free of underhanded size 21 Adidas cleats, ending the kind’s crave and frustrating moreover to find a two of a description of Chrsitian Louboutin shoes that could robust the women oversized feet. “Oh, this is vitriolic,” Fred said as sje held the shoes in façade of him. “I like this. I can’t meanwhile to nag them.” She smiled again as she tried on the shoes and as members of the coaching combine took photos.

*

No doubt whole dissertations will be written about this passage, the careers of spam scholars forged on the anvil of its impenetrability. It is the new art, in that it is the old art made new, the scene expanding and contracting like a funhouse mirror, and then shattering and putting itself back together like a video of the shattering of a funhouse mirror played forward and backward:

“I got some cleats,” she said. “Yes!” Fred reached into the coffer and pulled out a team up free of underhanded size 21 Adidas cleats, ending the kind’s crave and frustrating moreover to find a two of a description of Chrsitian Louboutin shoes that could robust the women oversized feet.

From the triumphant first line to Fred’s pulling from the shoe coffer these devious Bob-Lanier-sized shoes, we are thrown right into the action. (Or has Fred pulled not shoes, but a whole soccer team, none of whom wears the sinister cleats? Is Fred a god? The Chrsitian God? For sanity’s sake, let’s assume he pulls out the shoes.) The wealthy, generous Fred gives these shoes to “the kind.” But what sort of creature is “the kind”? Are “she” and the “the kind” the same entity? The best, largest-footed soccer player ever to come out of Humboldt County? It seems so. (Unless the shoes are “the kind,” and they are animated shoes capable of “craving.” But no, I don’t think so.)

We have no time to dwell on these questions, because in the same breath “the kind” is both sated and foiled in a word maze in which one suspects a pair or two pairs of shoes (or descriptions of shoes) either do or do not work.

Or both. Or all! As with Duchamp’s descending Nude, Pynchon’s Lot 49, Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle, quantum theory, and Hermaphroditism, in this spam there is yes and there is also no. These two-of-a-description shoes both fit and don’t fit.

Then, of course, the “already women oversized feet” could get robusted. (Robust: to enhance a body part’s size, as in “Oh, she definitely robusted those bazombas…. Definitely.”)

 Oh, this is vitriolic,” Fred said as sje held the shoes in façade of him.

In addition to playing with parallel universes of yes and no, the author plays with time. Only after we get Fred’s reaction do we find out what he’s reacting to. What he finds vitriolic is the sudden presence of his rival sje, the Norwegian architect/e.e. cummings disciple. sje immediately shows “the kind” what she can do with those shoes. Façade, anyone?

 “I like this. I can’t meanwhile to nag them.”

She appears to be pleased with sje. Being a truly negative “kind” though, she can’t think to say anything nicer than that she can’t “nag” them. (What? Are the shoes in fact animated? And if she didn’t like them, would it really be their fault? I mean, would they deserve to be nagged?) But she covers up her negativity for the cameras:

She smiled again as she tried on the shoes and as members of the coaching combine took photos.

And doesn’t that just encapsulate our entire age right there? Rich Fred, who put all his self-worth into his shoe coffer, is left empty-handed, a soul pauper. Even sje, the “artist,” is abandoned, left holding the enormous shoes in front of him like the house painter’s ladder-holder he used to be. Meanwhile, a whole combine of coaches fresh from talent-threshing has expanded their exploitation of athletes to include the photographing of them, thus stealing work from the struggling paparazzi, who may be forced to go back to their fast-food service jobs.

What of “the kind”? She hardens her heart and swallows her unhappiness so she can present a grinning face to the masses and keep her sponsors.

It’s a sad old story, but one has to admire the way it’s told.

 

The first time Cole ever heard of rapture children was at the orphanage, where there were three: a boy and two girls. Rapture children had been around before, but since the pandemic there were lots more of them. Rapture children were children who’d been sent by God to be lights in the coming dark. They would be among the first of the living to be caught up to Jesus’ side (right after the holy dead). God had endowed them with special spiritual powers so that they could lead others in the countdown to the Final Battle. Though Pastor Wyatt says there is nothing in the Bible to justify this, his wife Tracy is among those who believe it.

There have been a lot of posts about love in recent months–finding it, losing it, what’s the right kind, what’s the proper duration, is it really even worth it?  Eccetera.

It reminded me that I went through a phase, some years ago, in which I was obsessed with the philosophy of Platonic Love.  It’s my favorite kind of love.  It’s the most interesting–and, I think, most delicate and complicated–kind.

“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.










kurt suicide scene

A despairing friend called late one night to say that he was looking at a photo of himself as a toddler holding his father’s rifle.

“I have an appointment with that rifle,” he told me. “I’ve always known I was going to end my life with it.”

He’s fine now, thank God, but his remark brought to mind a journal entry I made as a teenager, in which I said that I was sure I was going to kill myself one day; it was only a matter of how and when.

In order of inception and abandamnation:

I.

This one was about this time I went to the beach. (I don’t go to the beach very often.) I was dating this girl, she lived down in Hermosa. Hermosa is like, down by… the water.

When the police arrive at my Bat Mitzvah, I know the whole special day thing is kind of a wash.

It seems the “Marks,” as in Feingold and Lubell, had taken the personalized soda glasses filled with jellybeans, that my mother and I had so diligently prepared, and decided it was a good idea to sneak out onto an unused balcony at the hotel with said jellybeans and pummel arriving guests. I stand there with the gnawing knowledge this could not be good for me socially and watch as the boys in blue saunter into the Sheraton’s banquet parlor. This is my first adult life lesson as a newly anointed woman. Just when you think things can’t get any worse…

It starts out promising enough. Young girl on the brink of womanhood embarks on a religious tradition that will educate her about her culture and past, energize and bond her family, and set a path for a monumental and well-prepared future. It had all the makings of special.

Hebrew school isn’t anything my mother ever pushed. It is just the two of us, us two girls, since my father died. We are independent, worldly, and quite sophisticated, most recently having returned from a whirlwind trip through the Greek Isles, from Knossos to Santorini. Demanding I have a knowledge of Ashkenazi versus Sephardic is a little too traditional for my mother at the time. We are the reformed of the Reform, which means we live on the Upper West Side and enjoy Annie Hall.

My mother grew up in quite an observant home, lighting candles every Shabbat, being married in a synagogue, eating brisket weekly. But when it came time for her daughter’s religious upbringing, choice was what mattered most. And what matters most to me is I think lighting Hanukah candles with pot holders on our heads is a little silly. Not my thing.

But then Laura Silverstone had to go and sign up at Stephen Wise Free Synagogue. I know we can walk to and from Hebrew school every Monday and Wednesday. I like Laura a lot, ever since we were at Seder together and I stumbled across a word I did not know while reading aloud from the Haggadah and we conferred and together decided it was pronounced syn-o-goo-gy. She is cool, so it must be cool, and besides, she said, at our Bat Mitzvahs, we’d probably get a lot of money.

So I am in. I learn a whole new alphabet and pretty soon don’t need vowels. Our rabbi goes on Live at Five and debates with Mayor Koch or Al Sharpton. Our teacher was in the Israeli army. She would wax poetic about the art of holding an Uzi. And wouldn’t you know it, Hebrew school turns out to be cool.

I find myself wandering through the halls of the temple, awed by its beauty, feeling a sense of belonging and a strange pride. As I do, I smile, knowing I carry a biblical name. Rachel. Sister of Leah. Wife of Jacob. Mother of Joseph. Died in childbirth. Tragedy. That should have been a clue.

It is decided that following my Bat Mitzvah ceremony, immediate family will be invited to traipse across the street from the temple to lunch at Tavern on the Green, followed by a big party for kids with a D.J. and all the fixings later that night. This requires two outfits. I decide on a cream-colored Esprit sweater dress for day and a bright, white lace dress with a little swish to it for the night. It is to be a very simple affair, despite Tavern on the Green on the roster.

But throughout all of it, we try not to let the celebration take center stage over the serious reasons for the ritual. At our temple we are encouraged to participate in twinning, a process where we are jointly Bat or Bar Mitzvahed for a Russian Jew, since, in those days, they weren’t allowed to practice their religion. I write my twin Maria often, chronicling the planning of the party, the classes to prepare, and the rowdy Spin-the-Bottle parties that are taking place. But my letters are always returned to me. No matter. I know and God knows.

And then the invitations are sent. This is where the trouble begins.

My Aunt Debbie and Uncle David are at the top of the guest list. Debbie works at Bloomingdale’s as a buyer. Because of her I got to model in some of their fashion shows. Under flashing lights and pounding music I made my way down the runway in a blue blazer and matching kilt, a red beret, and Mary Janes. I hit my mark, all eyes on me, held my head up high and turned perfectly on cue. Rumor had it Bette Davis was in the audience that night, though I didn’t know who she was, but I heard she was famous, so that’s cool. The whole thing had been a blast and that shining moment up on stage – “All About Rachel” – was how I always felt when Debbie was around.

Her husband, David, my mother’s brother, is also all neon and highlighted for me. David plays the guitar and is really good at it, and is driving a cab until he gets to be a rock star. Each November the Wednesday night before Thanksgiving he wakes me up at two in the morning and drags me all groggy and sleepy to 77th and Columbus where they prepare the balloons for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. This is our annual ritual. He manages in those wee hours to make me feel as if we are the only two people in all of New York City to have ever seen such a thing. The night, the holiday, Central Park, the Museum of Natural History, even the Big Bird balloon – it is all ours. Our little secret.

Debbie and David, I adore them both. Problem is, they don’t adore each other anymore. They decide to divorce right before my Bat Mitzvah, and my mother and I make the unwise decision of inviting Debbie without clearing it with David.

Oy.

Somewhere in here aliens must snatch my mother and uncle’s appropriate genes and the flood gates open for a battle. All sibling issues never dealt with for many decades come pouring out and vomit all over my Bat Mitzvah. They stomp their feet. They whisper behind each other’s backs. They shout in each other’s faces. They rehash old wounds and carve out new ones. All conversations deal with how wretched the other is and my mother must only see little David heads everywhere she looks for how often even the simplest activity turns into a diatribe against ungrateful, not-as-accomplished, must-be-crazy-with-jealousy-younger-brothers!

When I dare to inquire about something else, say a photographer for my special day, my mother mumbles something about, “Why don’t we ask David?” Defeated with the weight of all unhappy thirteen-year-olds on my shoulders, I answer a simple, “Never mind.” Subsequently, I have no photographs of my Bat Mitzvah other than a few pictures of me in my sweater and lace dresses standing against a bare wall in my living room.

My grandmother sits at our dining room table too sad to control her battling children. My mother “loses” her glasses, which are actually on her head, for the third time that day. She is also about to accuse someone, anyone, of eating her bagel, which she herself has just finished. I sit there across from my grandmother as if I am watching a show – in cahoots with her as the only normal people left in the world.

How I wish I were my Russian twin! Standing in the snow barefoot, wearing a babushka, waiting hours for bread would probably be easier than this. I wonder then if I could ship my family off to Siberia as opposed to listening to them squabble over who gets to lunch at Tavern on the Green.

In my head I am a hysterical mess equaling my mother’s antics of screaming and shouting. Hello! Thirteen-year-old girl here! Brink of womanhood, not just there yet. Still a child. No breasts, nothing! Here we are planning my becoming-an-adult event and there’s not one among us! You’re my role models? You’re my blueprint for the future? I’ve searched far and wide and the answer to all of this mishigas is for you all to keep it from me. Keep me sheltered! I know it’s not very cosmopolitan, but LIE!!!!

And they do.

On the day of the Bat-Mitzvah they are all happy faces and smiles for everyone else’s benefit. This is the day everyone acts all gracious and friendly. This is the day they protect me from the ills of family battles. This is the day, but not the six months leading up to it.

David and Debbie are even late to lunch, since they’d run off giggling after the ceremony to get me a gift together. So now I am monumentally confused, momentarily thrilled, and most likely permanently scarred.

So I try to go with it and enjoy the day. Maybe this is my gift from God for being such a good girl through the whole ordeal. But then the D.J. at the party that night has to go and play some “dance games.” He instructs us all that “the Bat Mitzvah girl” (that’s me) will dance solo with the guy/guys of her choice. Every time the music stops I have to pick someone new to dance with. Has the D.J. no concept of 13? Can he not see the this-is-my-side, that-is-their-side dynamics of the room?

I start off easily enough with my stepfather, and, when the music stops, and all eyes are on my next choice, I miraculously find myself next to Laura’s dad, Mr. Silverstone. He and I cut a rug as I worry about the dwindling adult male population I have to choose from. Then, like the parting of the seas, I spot my grandmother’s boyfriend, who is literally named Moses, and I feel safe, for I know David is out there somewhere, too.

There is no way I am asking a boy from my school to dance. Not after I followed Mark Lubell around at last month’s Friday night school fling reminding him that he said he’d dance with me, only to hear another song start and end and only to see him continue to duck me. I grow worried for I am about to reenter stepfather territory and the D.J. is making waves about the rules of the game and all eyes are on me and then there seems to be a hubbub on the other side of the room. And that’s when the heat shows up.

I close my eyes in the middle of the dance floor to escape from the mess of the hall. I take a deep breath, not wanting to watch the police scold my mother for the jellybean hail making its debut in midtown, and quietly pray to myself that everyone will just go home and we can start all over again tomorrow.

Dear God,

If by chance a freak time zone accident shall occur and the early-to-mid part of 1985 needs to be rewound and therefore redone, please know this is what I would like to happen. Take notes and pay careful attention.

There will be no fighting; in fact no such word even exists. I will sing my haftorah portion with a voice that is a combination of Barbra Streisand, Marni Nixon and Madonna. Maria and her family in Russia can worship as they please. Everyone at school, camp, and the neighborhood will want to come, for I am the most popular girl for miles, and they will all want to dance with me. The New York Times will start a new Bat Mitzvah announcement section due to my popularity and I will be the first to grace its pages. McDonald’s fries and Burger King burgers, cotton candy, and Lucky Charms will be served and my mother will not complain about it. There will be pictures taken. Lots of them. The D.J. will not speak, not once. He will only spin records.

And God, if none of that is quite doable or requires too much planning, I’ll just take that my mom and uncle still like each other and also that my uncle and aunt like each other, too. And if that’s not possible and I can only ask for one thing, I’ll take that my father is there. (I know that requires rewinding all the way back to 1975, but I’m up for it.)

Anyway, thank you God for listening. Looking forward to getting to know you better. All the best, newly adulted and hoping to do you proud, Rachel. Sister of no one. Daughter of Jeff and Eileen. Wife and mother of as yet to be determined.

P.S. No jellybeans.

The newspaper and the TV weather lady both say that it is supposed to get to thirty degrees tonight here in Miami Beach. It’s raining. Yes, if the news is correct, it may snow in Miami Beach.

Our house was built in 1950. They didn’t feel a need to put in heat in houses back then. For the past few days the temperature in our house has been hovering around fifty-five degrees, INSIDE our house. If it gets to below freezing, I have no idea how cold it will be in here.

We are wearing long underwear, long pants, socks, shearling slippers, a short-sleeved shirt, a long-sleeved shirt, another long-sleeved shirt, a fleece sweatshirt, gloves and a hat, in bed.

The water has not turned to blood yet, however, my pee is day-glow orange, which I had earlier attributed to a urinary tract infection.

We did get a frog in our house a few days ago, but we were able to scoot it outside again with a 5 x 6 card. So far there have been no frogs in our bedchamber, our bed or, God forbid, in our oven. We don’t have a kneading trough.

We have not yet discovered lice, although our heads do feel decidedly itchy. We do have quite a few cockroaches coming inside trying to get warmer.

There are no regular houseflies in the house, although there are fruit flies in the kitchen, due to the cantaloupes that are sitting on the windowsill.

There has been grievous murrain visited upon our fish, as some of you may know if you were recipients of my missive.

Thankfully no boils breaking forth with blains have visited us, or our animals, although the lady who cleans our house has a husband who had a colonoscopy yesterday during which the doctors found numerous polyps.

It is raining like the dickens outside, but so far it is still water and not snow nor hail as yet.

Although we have seen no locusts, the cold itself has already killed all of our flowering ginger, our lipstick palms and our countless orchids. We won’t know until morning what tropical plants, fruits and trees have survived. Therefore, the result is indistinguishable from a visit by a swarm of locusts.

As I write this, it is very dark.

Do any of you blame me for being agitated about the health of Sara, my firstborn? (Or Lonny, if God was only speaking of boys, which he tended to do back in the day?)

I do not think I will be able to sleep tonight. No. I do not think I will.

Dear Real Bigfoot,

I super love you. I want to hug you. You might not like that. I wonder what you smell like. Like a wild animal, I guess, but you’re not a wild animal. You’re different. You’re a freak of nature, and I mean that in the most outstanding way. You are electric and organic and everything the rest of us wish we were. You are what e.e. cummings wanted us to be. You are everything we’ve lost touch with: Nature, body hair, animal instincts, and the sheer size of life. You’re a hunter-gatherer, baby, and that is hot.

When I saw the photo of you last week, I was skeptical, of course. All photos of Bigfoot or other legendary creatures are subject to skepticism because, as reasonable, mature, working adults, we can’t be always buying into fantastical stories then finding out we were duped. The whole Santa Claus thing was embarrassing enough. Do you know about Santa Claus? Do you even concern yourself with this stuff?

Anyway, I was skeptical, but the thought of you stirred such strong feelings in me that I felt compelled to write to you. I hope you can read, or I hope someone reads this to you, maybe some very lucky liaison of the hairless world who brings you snacks and cookies in the woods and shows you how to read and stuff. But you are such a savvy woodsman you probably don’t need that kind of help, and in fact, the cookies would be an interference with your natural, healthy diet. Look how strong you are, how tall, how stealthy and smart, how luxurious your hair! You don’t need anything from us soft, bald, squishy, oil-addicted, technology-dependent folks, and that is what I love about you. I dare say that’s what all of us love about you — you are so not us in all the right ways, even if you are exactly like us in some other ways.

My first instinct was to say that photo was a hoax because people are always claiming to have seen, found, caught or even killed you. I know, it’s awful. Last year, some guys even produced a frozen corpse, which I was so grateful to discover was only an ape suit, and not even a very good one. I was completely offended by that hoax and didn’t want to be fooled again, but I can’t help it. I want to believe in you more than I want to believe in God.

Honestly, I shouldn’t be calling you “Bigfoot.” It’s like if you called me “Squishythighs.” I wouldn’t appreciate that very much. I’d like to give you a name. I’d like to call you Francis. It’s a good name, gender neutral, and has a bit of a rock-n-roll twist while being quite classic. If you don’t like it, I can call you something else, OK? But for now, I’m going to call you Francis.

So, Francis, sometimes I day dream about the life you must live. So many of us supposedly civilized people have drifted so far away from what matters most — and I’m not just talking about family and love — we’ve lost touch with our real survival needs, our health, our basic nature. I’m talking about eating, breeding and staying warm. You’ve got that down.

Is your life hard? Do you like it? Is it worth living? The rest of us tend to think we couldn’t cope with life if we didn’t have our houses, our jobs, and our cars, and yet those are the very things that make our lives so complicated. I don’t want to lose my job, and yet, in any given day, the hardest thing I have to deal with is most likely related to my job. Most of us are in codependent relationships with our jobs, wanting to be free of the responsibilities of work, yet feeling that without the money we earn from work, we couldn’t be happy. What kind of sense does that make?

I wish you could tell me about your days, Francis. Do you spend a lot of time looking for food? Do you cook your food over a fire, admiring the warm glow on the faces of your family? Or do you eat it alone, satisfied by your natural ability to provide for yourself? Are you tired at the end of the day? Do you wonder if there is more to life than eating, breeding and staying warm? I wonder, too.

I love you, Francis Bigfoot.

Sincerely,
Mary Squishythighs

There are many weird success stories in America, but Trans-Siberian Orchestra has to be one of the weirdest.

 

Trans-Siberian Orchestra has released five albums in the last thirteen years—three of which comprise the band’s Christmas trilogy: Christmas Eve and Other Stories (1996), The Christmas Attic (1998), and The Lost Christmas Eve (2004). Each has earned platinum status. The band’s latest release, 2009’s Night Castle (albeit, not a Christmas concept album) peaked at number 5 on the Billboard 200 chart. The Trans-Siberian Orchestra has become so popular there are two touring factions in America, covering each of the coasts: TSO East and TSO West.