The Bankers arrived at the Quite
Reverend's tent meeting separately and left the same way, not out of any traditional
family superstitionthough there could have been a strong case for that considering
Erta's nearly obsessive insistence on leaving a room through the same door she
enteredbut rather because that's just the way it happened. Jackson Robert had been
so embarrassed by his being caught sleeping in publicnot to mention babbling aloud
to the crowdthat he slid out of the meeting as inconspicuously as possible and drove
home, completely missing the evangelical coin toss. Once in the anonymous safety of the
house, he lowered all the window shades, took off his shoes, got in bed with his clothes
on, pulled the covers up over his head, and closed his eyes tightly.
Erta became so enraptured
of speaking in imitation tongues during the meeting that she remained in her seat
practicing for some twenty-five minutes after it was over. When she finally felt that she
had the brand new dialect down pat, no mean feat considering she'd only heard it one time
through, she took a deep breath, held it in, and scared up the courage to look at her
orange prayer card. She saw a drawing of the mustachioed man running at full gallop
dragging a young boy behind him by the arm. It read:
ST. CHARLES PLACE
IF YOU PASS GO, COLLECT $200
She squinted her eyes and
furrowed her browit made absolutely no sense to her as a prayer card, or for that
matter, as anything else. "Ours is not to reason why," she said to herself as
she dropped the card in her well-worn black purse and stood up, looking around for her
husband. She would have been searching for Jet and Job also, but it never crossed her mind
that either of them would be there. It didn't take long for her to scan the nearly empty
tent, nor much longer to survey the now sparse parking lot.
"He's a big boy, he can take
care of himself," she said aloud as she started her car, pausing to wonder whether
she was referring to Jackson Robert, Jet, or Job, and deciding that she really couldn't be
talking about any of them.
She stopped at Papandapoulas' New
York Style Deli and bought five chicken pot pies for dinner, one for each with an extra
for whoever needed it which, even though there was no way he would actually need
it, would inevitably be Job. Erta thought these pot pies were special because they were
homemade and had "real chunks of vegetables and whole pieces of chicken", but it
was hard to fool the rest of the familythey knew that beneath the supposedly
homemade veneer lurked a substance which was still just pot pie guts.
As she sat in the car at the exit
of the parking lot behind the deli waiting for a hole to appear in traffic, Erta glanced
across the street at what had been the vacant building left by the recently closed Suds 'N
Studs, a combination Laundromat and tuxedo rental store that never outgrew its conceptual
identity crisis. A brand-new sign had been crudely painted across the front window by a
neophyte sign painter who had better intentions than technique. In large, uneven black
letters it announced:
The 1st Church of St. Charles of the Ritz
The attracting force wouldn't have been any stronger
had the building been the world's largest and strongest electromagnet. Erta opened the car
door and walked across the street, leaving the car in the exit lane with the engine
running. Gasoline has no meaning in the religious scheme of life.
Thus was Erta introduced to the
fourteenth of what would be her seventeen religions, this one presided over by Dr. Hans
Leifsen, a first generation Italian-American from South Philly whose real name was Guido
Carmine Vito Antonio D'Allesandro and who claimed to have a Ph.D. from the Stockholm
College of Divinity, a school which it turns out actually existed, though its only
curriculum was in the art of candy making. Dr. Hans, as he referred to himself, preached
that since the body is the Lord's temple it's only fitting that we pay tribute to Him by
making the structure as beautiful as possible. After all, the Catholic Church has never
been known to deliberately build ugly cathedrals, have they? Hence, each member of this
church was required to join the Dr. Hans-owned David and Goliath Exercise Club next door
and have their hair cut at least weekly in Delilah's Beauty Salon, which was conveniently
located in the rear of the building. Make-up tips and nutritional regimens were a regular
part of the Sunday morning service, while referrals to
his-brother-the-reconstructive-surgeon were made for those churchgoers who showed the
greatest need by flaunting their wealth when the collection plate was passed around.
During the seven months she would
spend with this religion, Erta might not have moved any closer to salvation, but she would
most certainly look better than she had during her tenure with any of the sixteen other
* * * * * *
No sooner had the first person
stood up to leave the tent than Job bolted out of his seat and made a beeline for
daylight. He quickly trotted to the nearest parked car and ducked behind it. There,
shielded from the emerging crowd's view, he paranoically looked around and, satisfied he
wasn't being watched, pulled three prayer cards from his pocket. Job figured that if one
prayer card was good for him, three would no doubt triple his fortunes. Even in matters of
religion and fate Job was just plain greedy.
The first card he looked at was a
yellow one which showed the mustachioed man looking at his pocket watch in surprise. The
and crinkled his nose in disgust. "I hate the fuckin' opera," he said. He looked
at the second card, which was orange with a drawing of the mustachioed man hugging a
woman, presumably his wife.
Grand Opera Opening
FROM EVERY PLAYER
FOR OPENING NIGHT SEATS
AND LOAN MATURES
up his face, furrowing his brow as he stared at the enigmatic card. A building he knew, a
loan he knew, but he had no earthly idea what a building and loan could be, except of
course that he had to admit it seemed to pay quite well when it matured. He looked at the
third card, also yellow, which showed the mustachioed man hoisting a huge stocking
overflowing with money over his head.
Community ChestXMAS FUND
Job shook his
head hard as if to clear it. What kind of a religious prayer card spells Christmas as
"Xmas"? Just as he was about to tear the cards into little pieces and scatter
them to the winds, Ironhead Fiore, the quarterback of the high school football team,
popped around the side of the car.
"Wanna trade prayer
cards?" Job asked him.
"Do I want to what?"
"Do you wanna trade prayer
cards?" Job repeated.
"What are you, nuts or
"Why the hell would I want
to trade prayer cards," Ironhead asked, "better yet trade 'em with you? It's
probably a sacrilege. Maybe even a mortal sin."
"No way," Job told him,
"didn't you hear when the preacher said you can trade 'em with your friends and
collect the whole set just like baseball cards?"
Ironhead looked at him
doubtfully. "Nah, I don't think so."
"He did," Job said
emphatically, holding up his right hand with three fingers extended in the International
Symbol of a sworn promise. "So how 'bout it?"
"I'll give you two cards for
"Hmmm," Ironhead buzzed
as he thought about it for a moment, "Nope, don't think so."
"Aw c'mon, man."
"Uh-uh," Ironhead said
as he turned to walk away.
"Okay, okay," Job said.
"You drive a hard bargain. I'll trade you three prayer cards, two yellow ones and one
orange one, for your one. But that's my last offer."
Ironhead stopped and turned
around. He looked at Job, trying to figure out why in the world he was so desperate to
trade cards. Finally, not being able to think of any good reason not to do it, he
went ahead and swapped with Job, who nonchalantly stuffed his new card in his pocket and
strolled away. He walked about ten steps before turning around and, seeing that Ironhead
was examining his three new cards, took off at a full run, trying to put as much distance
between them as possible before Ironhead realized he had three of the most unsuitable and
inscrutable prayer cards ever printed.
It wasn't until he was about half
a block from home that Job stopped to catch his breath and started laughing at the great
swindle he'd just pulled off. He reached into his pants pocket and pulled out the yellow
card he'd gotten from Ironhead. There was a drawing of the mustachioed man holding a
bouquet of flowers while wearing a ribbon sash that read "2nd Pri". The card
He stared at
the card in disbelief. Only Second Prize? And what's with the lousy ten bucks anyway? Had
he kept the other cards he would have been in line for hundreds of dollars, maybe more if
there were lots of players. Hell, each person who was in the tent probably counted as a
player, meaning he could have gotten thousands even.
YOU HAVE WON
What kind of shit is this?
He angrily tore the card into
little jaggedy pieces, threw them on the ground, and stomped on them over and over and
over. He left the pieces where they were and continued stomping his feet all the way home
where he stomped into the back hallway, stomped through the kitchen, stomped up the
stairs, and stomped into his bedroom.
"Is that you, Job?"
Jackson Robert called out.
Job slammed his bedroom door so
hard the mirror fell off the back of the door and shattered into a million pointy little
bad luck pieces.
"Guess so," Jackson
* * * * * *
Jet left the tent meeting early,
though not as early as Jackson Robert had. He didn't leave out of embarrassment like his
father, nor because he was afraid to be around when everyone got a look at their prayer
cards. Jet left simply because he was bored.
Jet's tolerance for boredom was
about on par with his brother's tolerance for frustration. He'd been itching to leave the
tent for quite some time, in fact he had once but came back because of his well-known
curiosity. When the white-haired woman wearing the blue hat and white gloves who was
sitting next to him handed over the stack of prayer cards, Jet smiled sweetly, took the
top card, and passed the deck to the person on his right. He flipped the orange card over
just as the Quite Reverend loudly dropped the odd array of collection baskets; the about
to ensue commotion would be just the diversion he was looking for. He dropped his prayer
card on the ground.
"Excuse me," he said to
the woman sitting next to him as he fell to all fours in a mock search for the card, which
he quickly palmed and slid into his shirt pocket.
"Excuse me. Pardon me.
Sorry," he said to each person as he crawled past their legs on his way to the end of
the row, where he slithered on his stomach under the bottom of the canvas tent, making a
successful escape to the freedom of the parking lot.
He stood up and brushed himself
off, then sauntered down Broad Street reading posters for yard sales, stopping to salivate
over the cheese Danish in the bakery that cost seven cents more than he had in his pocket,
and kicking any empty soda cans that came within ten feet of him.
As he stood at the curb waiting
for a break in traffic so he could cross the street near Cordin's Jewelry Store, he spied
a mud splattered white van sitting at the red light. The driver of the van was on the way
to the car wash to have the heavily caked-on mudwhich he'd gotten all over the van
when he took it for a high-speed rally run through the quarry outside of townwashed
off before his employer realized he not only had very little regard for company property,
but had even less for the concept of working for his salary.
When the van would emerge from
the two dollar brushless car wash the neat navy blue letters of the sign painted on the
side of the van would read:
But when Jet saw the truck as he
waited to cross the street, big blobs of splattered mud obliterated much of the side of
the truck, including five of the navy blue letters. It read:
God wins a
Had the Quite Reverend seen this,
he would have thought it to be an obvious truthsince he was convinced that God wins every
warand he would immediately incorporate the concept into his next sermon, repeating
it nightly for the next three weeks as he so often did. Had Jackson Robert seen the sign,
he would have pointed out that the apostrophe was extraneous, for he, like so many
compulsives, often had great difficulty seeing the words for the punctuation errors. Had
Erta seen the splattered sign, she would have wondered what the war was about and who
lost, since she always had a penchant for the underdog, whether she knew who it was and
what they were fighting for or not. And had Job seen the sign, he would have gotten angry
because as far as he was concerned if God had won, it meant he had lost, since to
Job's simplistic-negative-egocentric way of thinking everything in life inevitably came
down to "them and me."
When Jet saw the sign on the
truck, it immediately reminded him of the orange card in his pocket. He pulled it out. It
was blank. When he turned it over, he didn't see a drawing of the mustachioed man, his
tuxedo, cane, or top hatjust black thin-lined wedding invitation script which read:
Be not rash with thy mouth.
He handed it to the first
person who walked by.
[ Chapter 34 ]