One day I had a real nice lunch. And went shopping. Actually the shopping was first, then the lunch. Both were real nice.
My name is Dave and I had a real nice lunch after shopping. Then I went shopping more — more after lunch. Not a lot of shopping, all in all, and not much lunch.
But a nice lunch, at least, sandwiched between slices of nice shopping. With friends. The friends I tend to shop and eat lunch with regularly, just as you might go shopping or eat lunch (or both) with your friends.
It’s awfully hot. Nice, but hot. The food is hot, the air is hot, we’re hot. Burning. Just like burning your finger, only you can’t pull your finger away because there’s no place it isn’t hot. It used to hurt (burning), but not anymore. I can’t actually remember when it hurt, but I’m pretty sure it did. Probably a lot.
My name is still Dave and I’m shopping again after having shopped earlier and then had lunch. With friends. My friends also have names, but we don’t call each other by name because our lips and tongues have burned clean off. Even if we had the power of speech, we probably wouldn’t notice because our eyes and our ears have long since fried and disappeared. It’s hard to imagine and even harder to explain how we talk and chew without teeth or lips or tongues, with our heads burnt into shriveled match tips. Or how we can think or breathe or do anything, really, what with the unimaginably constant heat and pain. But we manage. You get used to it after a while.
When I arrived, I was much more anxious. About the whole situation. The heat (alone) was unbearable, the pain (alone) was unbearable and the lunches and shopping (though nice) weren’t much solace. Mixed in with the pain was amazement that this was actually happening; that all those Dixie people with the miraculously bad haircuts on late-night television were and had been right, and not just in it for the money. Rex Humbard, even, had been right: The planet had been created during the week preceding the creation of Kurt and Natalie (a.k.a. Adam and Eve, Carlos and Joanne, Tom and Christie et al.). Within a few days, God had created snakes, apples and dinosaur fossils (to test our faith). People like myself — too reasonable to figure out that God was just messing with us (burying things like fossils and logic and DNA) — are rewarded with heat, lunch and shopping.
A muddy football game in the park on my 10th birthday was interrupted by three missionaries from the Bible Baptist Church who’d taken it upon themselves to walk onto the field in the middle of a crucial play: Kevin Wenzel had just hit Curtis McFarland short at the sideline; Curtis shuffle-faked Darrell Hines, spun around and found himself trapped by the intruders. Curtis was not happy. The rest of us gathered around the crime scene, where we were greeted not with apologies but with tri-fold pamphlets and a mysterious question:
“Ever burned your finger?”
(Burned a finger. Good question. No wonder it couldn’t wait. Yes; some of us had, or some of us decided that answering “yes” would be the most efficient way to get on with the game — one of our better games, by chance, in that no bones had broken and all participants were coated with wet black soil or Kentucky Bluegrass or both. “Yes.”)
“Then you know,” the leader went on, “how much that hurts. Well, that’s what hell is like, only it’s your whole body burning and it goes on for forever. Can you imagine how much that would hurt? Forever!“
We all agreed that it sounded pretty threatening, and the missionaries injected us with the tri-fold pamphlets advising us more explicitly how eternal suffering awaits those who question His infinite love, and how joining the Bible Baptist Church would protect us from God.
Just at that moment, freckly young Kevin Wenzel’s testicles enlarged substantially. Genitals, as you may know, are the one part of the human body made not by God but by Satan. Calmly and clearly, Kevin’s testicles said “Fuck you” to the party poopers and, withdrawing a muddy and recently invented Bic lighter from Kevin’s hip pocket,
lit his tri-fold pamphlet of threat afire.
Appalled, the missionaries retreated. Walked quickly a short distance. Turned around from the short distance to shout, in unison, “YOU’RE ALL GOING TO BURN IN HELL!!” in uppercase italics
with at least two exclamation marks. We thanked Kevin coherently, with handshakes and backslaps, duly impressed by his testicles’ premature foray into adolescence.
Then Curtis, who considered himself a Baptist, said, “Damn. That was gonna be a TD.”
“Damn,” said Curtis’ team.
“Fuck ’em,” added young Kevin, grinding ash into mud with a heel.
But: “Damn,” said Darrell’s team, too.
My best friend, Phil Brown, was a year older and Catholic. Catholicism, to me, meant that on Sundays, Phil’s immense family stuffed themselves into a yellow Volvo and went
to something called church. Except for Phil’s father — a well-known and respected chemist who was rumored to spend Sunday mornings in his basement office, smoking cigars, reading and writing
and thinking. I wasn’t Catholic (or anything), so I played basketball or football or baseball or tennis at Hessel Park, or played with
my dog, Boots; or read or listened to music or annoyed my big brother and his friends or watched fishing shows or did impersonations of Rex Humbard, Flip Wilson and Howard Cosell into
a portable cassette recorder.
A few Sundays after the Bible Baptist football game, Phil came over after church. It was cold out. We hopped on our bikes — a red 5-speed Chopper with a black banana seat, a gold Sears Stingray-clone with a green one — and headed north for Skelton’s Pharmacy to get candy and soda pop; reinforcements for our holy war on teeth
and pancreas. I asked Phil if he believed in heaven. He said yes. Hell? No. So I asked him what he thought happened in heaven; what it
was like. He said it wasn’t “like” anything — it was just a state of mind. He said that wasn’t what he’d been taught, but that’s what he’d come up with. I asked him why he didn’t believe in hell. He said it didn’t make any sense to burn something you make in your own image, or why make it in the first place? He said he thought God sending people to hell would be like God committing suicide.
And he said, “Haven’t you ever heard of metaphor?”
At Skelton’s Pharmacy we got our fixes and handed our allowances over to the man.
Coming here had been, as I mentioned, kind of scary at first. I’d been relaxing at home, listening to Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus, by Charles Mingus. It got to a really weird part of “Theme for Lester Young,” a part I’d never heard before. The sound phased through a series of hitherto otherworldly timbres that somehow left the speakers and entered my spine; fused simultaneously with brain and balls; clenched both around heart; squeezed louder and louder until I dropped my wine and everything got dead quiet and one of my friends said “You okay?” and I said “Maybe not” and then everything got real hot and all this lunch and shopping started.
The first people I met here were the ones who’d made the music I’d been listening to when I left. We had a nice lunch then, and went shopping at the mall. The pain was incredibly inconvenient during those first few decades; don’t know how I tolerated it; guess I’m just a survivor. But during those same years of pain I was introduced to virtually every artist, writer, musician and composer I’d ever admired. Most in nonstop excruciating pain; burnt to a crisp, just like me. I had no idea Thomas Jefferson could do such a dead-on Lenny Bruce impersonation. (And vice versa.)
We have a lot to talk about.
Today’s nice lunch is dedicated to Philip Matthew Brown (May 26, 1961–
May 10, 1995) in the hope that his lunch is somehow even better.