It didn’t take long to see the gold crucifix around his neck. And once I did, it seemed ready to pounce on me like a leopard in the black, tall prairie grass that was his chest hairs, framed by his considerably buttoned-down, purple polyester shirt. I was on a bus back in New Orleans, around 12-years old, on my way home from detention (again). A recently converted Catholic, the gentleman was, reeking of Stetson cologne and sanctimonious predatory behavior. Turned out, he’d only turned to Jesus to give him an ‘in’ to talk to young boys on public transportation. “Christianity may not be the largest religion in the world,” he was saying, leaning in a little too close, “and there may be much negativity surrounding it today, but Jesus was an underdog, too. Why, have you ever heard of leading from behind? Or rolling the rocks from the tomb, and burying the golden calf within? It’s all in the Bible! A glorious book, indeed, young man.”
Catholic homeboy nearly got curb-stomped after being chased off the bus and surrounded by a bunch of angry passengers (turns out I wasn’t the first kid he’d tried to “proselytize” around town, if you get what I’m saying). I remember looking around for the bus driver as we were idling, and I’m pretty sure he was out in front, leading the mob.
As an adult, I’ve thought about that, since. That really is what clever is, if one wants to define it in the most practical of terms. Or almost. I mean, something something something, and then you’re banging them in the mouth, or whatever. It’s true it’s not really clever if you don’t get what you want out of the deal. But the approach was there: the something something. The clever part. All it takes, really, is to not do it while a mob of Southern Baptists are standing around you, pissed off already from having to take the bus home after a long day of work in 87 degree heat & no air conditioning.
With memories of botched pederasty and homogeneous racial lynching on my mind, I stepped out of my bank last Monday. There had been a teller there, you see, working the main information desk, who looked like she’d never “buried the golden calf” before in her life.
Slender, not great-looking, but pretty enough. And there was a feature on her which had emblazoned the whole experience into my pants. Like a stain of gravy. Funny how that works. You happen to view some random, mediocre TV show or movie, and it’s more or less forgettable, but there’s this one scene that you just couldn’t get out of your head. And you want to talk to a whole bunch of people about it, or buy it and stream that scene over and over again, or get into television or film production because of it.
Maybe you can guess by now. Her substantial cleavage had been not only framed but curated by her cardigan sweater, under which her white collared shirt had been unbuttoned several buttons down, close to her navel, exposing the whole thing almost to the level of being inappropriate in public. Without ogling, it was easy enough to notice she possessed fantastic breast tissue, like that stress ball kind? The kind you want to take your stress out on? Like muscles? But not muscles.
I’d stepped up to the desk, trying to be a normal person like I do, and figure out why I’d been charged something called “overdraft” fees on my new account. Turns out it’s standard fare for a derelict like me.
Not much of a personality on her, it turned out, either. But I got her name from her nametag, and I went home and punched ‘[her name]’ and ‘[bank name]’ into the internet. And a last name came up. So, I combined all three and found her on Facebook. Kind of scary how much you can get on the internet from just a nametag and a place of business. You don’t need a social security number, address, or even a last name to break into the domestic stalking business these days. The 30-day free trials are everywhere.
Turns out, though, she was a hard bottomed Christian. Her friends are writing that everything that happens on Facebook is in the glory of Jesus. “That’s so wonderful. In Jesus’ name.” “Paddling a kayak to a remote Indian island tomorrow. Gonna convert those heathens over to the winning side. Hope I don’t get slaughtered by a hailstorm of arrows lol. In Jesus’ name.”
I don’t know if it was her grade school or high school, but it said, ‘Attended Excelsior Academy’. I knew there was nothing like that around here, so I searched and found it, down in Arizona. Her parents had shipped her off to the greater Phoenix area to live with her grandparents. I’d remembered as she was typing, she had this watch on her wrist—massive, shiny thing that almost obstructed her movement. Looked like a Rolex. Probably a gift from her grandad, for (*wink wink*) not mentioning that stuff that happened while she was at Excelsior.
And I thought, So, what? What do you think? Does the once-seduced in Christ’s name become the now-seducer? Do I pay that shit forward?
The thing is, here’s the question: One, are they a human being? Two, do they have a normal gonadotropic response? And three, do I lust after something about them? And four, are there any chinks in the armor? And five, what’s my in? And six, once I’m in, how do I elicit that gonadotropic response, which all the propaganda and conversion therapy in the world can’t ever hope to prevent?
Hand puppets, dude. For, like, numbers four through six. So long as Mr. Jesus says it’s not bad, it ain’t bad. Step up to the plate with a conversation, line drive up the middle with some well-placed religious banter, right through the centerfielder’s legs with some uncommon interpretation of the scriptures and have Hand Puppet Jesus wave you around at third base for the go-ahead score.
I got out of the dollar store the next day all excited, with my caveman hand puppet. Totally could make this thing look like Jesus, I remember thinking; you know the son of God had, like, a ton of Neanderthal DNA in him. Got it home, gave him a haircut (but not too much), gave him a beard trim (but not too much), cover him in rags from my garage, and voila. Sucker looked straight out of the hills of Galilee.
All day I’d been thinking, You know this girl’s tits are just freckled milky white. Jesus don’t make no bad tits. Jesus don’t make noooo bad tits. I’ll bet she changes a tampon apologizing to God.
Afterwards, regardless of what happened, I told myself I was going to make a T-shirt with those exact words written on it. “Jesus Don’t Make No Bad Tits.”
I walked into my bank a week later, after having brushed up on my New Testament and having checked the newspaper for any recreational Christian fun that might be going on over the weekend.
At the main desk, I dropped a comment about it being easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for me to get a hold of customer service, man being unable to live on bread alone (“…though it seems that’s what the government wants with this economy, am I right?”) and truths and ways and lights and shit, ending it with a discreet, “Everything to the glory of the man upstairs. You know?”
To which she emphatically replied, “I do, yes!” And then more reserved: “All things in Jesus’ name.” She’d gone from blushing, close-lipped smiling to intently staring to almost leaning forward in her seat as I spoke, but when she blurted out that last bit, a bit embarrassed, I knew I had her. I’d planned on coming back to build a rapport over time, but right then decided to roll the dice and see if she wanted to go out and hear some Christian jerk give some motivational speech at some church someplace. Don’t remember his name, didn’t care who he was.
It didn’t really matter. I was in.
And we were in the dog days of summer. Everywhere we would up going together, she had that button-down shirt buttoned down, again. Like, far—far enough to glimpse the bottom support of her bra at the base of the opening. Which is far. Like, I knew strippers who never would have gone out in public like that. Of course, discretion is the M.O. of every off-duty stripper in a smaller town such as this, but I mean looking at her, the word ‘stripper’ more than once popped into my head, which is saying something. About me, sure, but also about the image she was conveying to the general public. Those mammalian buoys seemed louder to me than God appearing to Mel Brooks on Mt. Sinai, and everyone made sure to keep their eyes averted when we went and did the Christian stuff—though occasionally one or two dirty old guys would let the glance slip and hold it there, which was great—but out on the streets, man, it was like walking around with a celebrity. Which, again, was great.
I was smart enough to know she didn’t do it because she was a depraved sex fiend and liked to fornicate like a mare in a lightning storm, or anything like that. She did it because she was a girl, wanted to feel pretty, wanted to get some attention, to show them off to other women, and because she had absolutely no idea just how depraved, cunning and remorseless this great, big, evil world could actually be in its most unguarded of moments.
Which is where I came in.
After five or six dates, we were walking near her place and she finally asked me over for something refreshing to drink. (I think that’s actually how she phrased it.) By then I’d had enough time to practice, and been able to origami fold Mr. Jesus small enough to be secreted inconspicuously into my backpack. Except for that giant caveman head of his. I had to throw a shroud over that.
Lemonade glasses in hand, she took me through a tour of her apartment. Surprisingly, it concluded in the bedroom, and we both sat down on the bed, a table fan oscillating quietly on the desk. I made sure the conversation didn’t lull in the least. An awkward silence at this point would have meant sheer death for all my efforts.
The subject of me carrying my life around in my bag came up, and she said, “I don’t mean to pry, but I saw something in your bag—what is that? That…is it a stuffed animal? I didn’t mean to look, but I saw it when you opened it at the food cart.” Shit, I thought. The jig was up. The shroud must have slipped off his massive melon at some point. No matter—it was time to bust that shit out, anyway.
“Here, I’ll show you.” I went out, and came back half a minute later with my hand up the ass of the son of God.
She laughed. “What is that?”
‘Well, hey there, I’m Mr. Jesus!’ I said in my best sideways, squeaky falsetto. Her face went stone cold, the whiteness lowering swiftly like a shade over her entire complexion. She looked at it like I was her mother holding out a condom-wrapped dildo.
I sat back down. “Hey, Mr. Jesus,” I replied in my best camp counselor voice. “What’s going on? How are you?”
‘Good, good. Suuuure is hot out here today.’
“This is what it’s like in the summer here in Oregon. It gets pretty hot for these few months.”
‘Well, I don’t like it!’
“But Mr. Jesus, it’s just a part of life here on God’s green earth. And didn’t you grow up in a desert?”
‘I did, sho’ nuff. But that don’t mean I have to like it!’
“Well, is there someplace you’d rather be, Mr. Jesus?”
“I’m sorry, could you say that again?”
‘OAHU! It’s an island in Hawaii, see.’
“I know where it is, Mr. Jesus. Why would you rather be there?”
‘Got a timeshare over in those parts.’ I realized I was starting to slip into a hillbilly accent, but was too far in to switch gears now. ‘And now’s the time when I don’t have to be sharing it!’
“But Mr. Jesus, don’t you have work to be doing? Aren’t there people out there who still haven’t felt the glory of the Word, heard about the Truth that is life in the kingdom of Heaven? Who still toil blindly, day in and day out? Aren’t there people who still need to hear about the Gospel?”
He lowered His head. ‘Yeahhhh, I guess.’
“So, Mr. Jesus, what do you think we should do?”
‘I think that…we should…take out shirts off!’
“Whaaaat? Someone should be nailing you up to a cross again for that.”
‘Awwww,’ he said, bowing his head.
I shook my own. “Do you hear what he’s saying?” I turned and asked.
She was looking at it, then me, then back again, mystified. “I don’t know…what to think of this,” she finally said, chuckling a little.
“Well, what do you think of this, Mr. Jesus?” I said.
‘I think…we should take our shirts off!’
“Nooo. Hey, come on, man. You’re teaching us right from wrong.” And right on cue, without turning my head, I untied the extra, long sleeve top I’d brought with from off of my waist and tossed it onto a chair.
“I’ll tell you what’s wrong, being stuffed inside that hot leather bag of yours on a day like today! I’d say that’s attempted deicide!”
“Well, you’ve never complained about it before, Mr. Jesus. I just think you’re trying to make a big fuss because there’s a pretty girl sitting here.”
“Deicide, I tell you! You know what’s the one thing that could get you out of eternal damnation right now for trying to kill the Son of Man?”
“What’s that, Mr. Jesus?”
“For you to take this Dad-forsaken robe off of me! Why, it’s hotter than Matthew 13, verse 42 in here!”
“Hey, now, that’s not polite. Amy keeps a really nice apartment, and she was gracious enough to allow us in and give us a tour. I mean, it is kind of hot in here, but that’s not her fault. Okay, here,” and I slipped Mr. Jesus’s robe right off him and tossed it onto the chair, so that now he was being held there in his purple skivvies. “Satisfied?”
“Now, you do it, too!”
I looked to Amy, shaking my head in disbelief, then back to Mr. Jesus. “I’m not gonna take my shirt off.”
“What?! If I could be tempted on the cross by the power of Satan and have withstood it in the end, you could at least do this one little thing for me here, and not make me look the fool!”
“But, Mr. Jesus, you were the one who wanted to take your robe off in the first place. Nobody told you to do that. Okay, fine,” I said, taking off my shirt and dropping it onto the floor. “Are you happy now?”
“Okay, now that’s crossing a line. We’re guys. We have no problem taking off our shirts in the summer, but she’s a girl, and you—” and with that, she swiftly began to unbutton the rest of her already really buttoned-down shirt, tossing it onto the floor, too.
“Ohhhh my,” Mr. Jesus said. “I’d say that we were all created in the image of our Lord, but ohhh, Lordy….” After a few moments of staring at me, wide-eyed and smiling, she leaned forward, lowering Mr. Jesus out of the way, then pulled me to her as she laid herself down onto the bed. I went to take Mr. Jesus off my hand finally, to spare her any guilt she might be feeling and to forestall any reservations that might arise, but she stopped me. “No,” she said. “Leave Mr. Jesus on.”
And so, something something something, and then you’re sweaty and naked in the bed. That’s what clever is. Because you start with something something something, and then you’re sweaty and naked in the bed. It could be, like 18 months pass (or an afternoon of blasphemous hand-puppeteering) between the start and the something something something.
But, in the end, that is what clever is.