If you like to read, and enjoy quirky, welcome. There are about 30 random things here for you. After you read a short story you may even find some personal comments/insights! The main purpose of creating this blog is for writers. I see so much written about writer's block, and honestly, I don't have it. Occasionally, I write short stories, longer stories, books, plays, one act plays, monologues, and sometimes I even think one is good enough to submit somewhere. Of course, when you submit a story to a magazine that receives 200 stories a month and publishes five, you'd better enjoy the process of writing. I'm not suggesting that I'm a good writer, merely that I can sit down and just start writing.

It is important to write, to constantly be working on your art. If you are constantly plagued by writer's block, perhaps you are being too selective in what you write about. With that in mind, I wanted to share with you some examples of my writing, from someone who can write all the time. Occasionally the topics are a bit strange, but I don't let that slow me down, I love to write and get to a finished product. Hopefully, by looking at some examples, you will say to yourself that phrase that all artists who visit MOMA in NYC say: "Well, I can do this!" That would be good, because you can! One of my posts is about a talking tomato. (You have to be able to do better than that!)

In part I'm trying to get some of my stuff in one place, so keep in mind I never claimed it was going to be an incredible read. You can decide that. I will tell you that occasionally I have a story in me that seems to fit the goal of a publication, and I try to write specifically with that goal in mind. Lately I've been considering publications that publish nonfiction memoirs, so some of the entries you'll find here will have that flavor. Perhaps this is a way to get past writer's block - find a publication looking for something that you'd like to write. It seems like memoir-based publications may be a good place to start, because we're all experts in our own families. I'm using a blog here to share some of the things I've written; the blog format is not ideal, so you need to poke around a little at old posts, to see if you can find a story or something else that may interest you.

Two last items. None of these are finished products. I usually get to a point where I have something written, and then stop. If it is something I may decide to submit for some reason, I'll finish formatting, following the specific rules of the magazine or organization (the rules are alwaysdifferent). If you do see something in here that you may be interested in using, don't hesitate to contact me.

So welcome to my blog. Welcome to my writing. Write, people, write! It feels good.

Please also consider getting a copy of my first book, Saturday Night at Sarah Joy's. All Royalties go to the Hurricane Sandy New Jersey Relief Fund. Please check out the book's blog at:

Thank you!

© 2012 John Allison

Monday, July 23, 2012

THE MOST powerful MAN

My name is Jake.  You can call me Jake. I'm sitting on the Amtrak to D.C. next to my snoring traveling companion, keeping an eye on our two bags and his backpack, and thinking of the distain on my father's face when I told him I was leaving State in my senior year to follow some clown for a while.  I'm very aware that this older man I'm with is a complete stranger.  I don't even know his last name, but I choose not to ask.  It's just that kind of relationship.
Four years ago, I was a teenager.  I was an idiot.  We were in our tagger phase - you may have seen some of our work that still stands in the subway at 24th street.  We joked that the cops called us the Red, White and Blue gang because all of our work was three-color.  It wasn't my idea but one night we consumed a few of Sam's father's beers, felt a little rowdy, and found an unlocked window at the Temple Beth Shalom Synagogue, at the end of my street.  We lit all of the candles, did some senseless tagging on a light blue wall, and I converted a portrait of some old Rabbi into a very interesting clown - I had the colors, he had the face, it just happened.  We ran for the door when we heard the wooden clatter - the custodian dropping his mop.  Unfortunately he and I made eye contact and he remembered me as his old paperboy, so you get the picture - window, clown, mop, cops, bail, judge, punishment.  I was found guilty and the judge sentenced me to five years, five years, of community service, working up to 10 hours a week, on call, in, of course, the Temple Beth Shalom Synagogue.  I'm in year 4, older, wiser, retired as an artist, and between college responsibilities I work in the Synagogue office.  On a regular schedule, I sit in a too-small desk, with a too large phone on it, along with a schedule book.  The Rabbi decided that I should actually sit in her office, so that I could be a fly on the wall when visitors come in with their problems, to learn a little more about Jewish people, and about the good that Synagogues, and Rabbis, do.  Mostly it's like watching Jewish grass grow.  The judge understood the full implication of the verb to punish.  I suppose that, in addition to traveling with my new companion, I'm technically on the run, since I broke my parole by not finishing my 5-year assignment.  I had no choice.  You see, two weeks ago he came into the synagogue office.  I can tell you what I remember.

His name is Paul.  He is about 50 years old, and almost out-of-control nervous.  He doesn't quite stutter, but repeats words and pauses when he talks. His hand is always in his hair or his pocket or lightly hitting his leg.  Sometimes he talks fast, sometimes words have to squirm to escape.  He's clean but a bit disheveled. His hair is crazy - all over the place!  (I'm jealous!)  He's also here in the office, nervously pacing in organized, well-worn patterns on the floor.  He has a backpack on, which makes him look like an old kid, and is holding a flat package wrapped in brown paper, tied with string.  He won't put either down.

"I'm here to see the Rabbi.  I'm here to see the Rabbi,” he chants in his best Rainman.  It wasn't clear if he was talking at me or to himself.

"Yes, sir," I say with a forced smile, "bright and early - actually, earlier than usual for appointments in this office.  The Rabbi usually sleeps in on Sundays."  I do too!

"Yes . . . well . . . OK. . . well, when I called, I told the woman I talked to, the secretary, that it was sorta an emergency."  I didn't quite know what to make of his peculiar, distracting phrasing except that it goes along with the package - odd.

"Oh, no secretary here, I'm the office help," I told him.  "Actually, I don't know how you got this appointment.  I don't remember talking to you."

"No, no," he said, "It was a very old woman.  I talked to the old woman."

I shook my head, but he wasn't looking at me.  "All I can tell you sir is that no old woman works here.  But you do have an appointment and you are here, so we'll go with that."

"So there's an appointment for me written down in an appointment book?  Can I see it?" he asked.

I pointed to the entry in the oversized book that was my life.  Paul looked into the book, then started hitting the appointment entry with his finger.  "I thought so.  Well, I didn't think so, but . . . It's even in pencil.  I . . . I recognize the writing."  

"I'll take your word for it," I said.  "So, what's the big emergency?  Can't wait until Saturday?"

"Saturday?" he asked.  "What's Saturday?  Oh, no, no, I'm not Jewish.  No, no.  I just need to see a Rabbi.  You see, I, well, it sounds silly to say it, but I had this dream.  It was unlike any other dream I've ever had."

For some reason, my boredom started to shift into concern.  "Can I get you some water or milk or something?" I asked.

"No, no," he said, as he started to change from nervous to agitated.  "You just have to understand.  My whole life I've had these dreams that are so great.  I hop off of buildings and somehow land on my feet, always knowing it will work out.  I jump off of cliffs and ease into warm water.  It's all very real.  I'm invincible when I dream.  Always have been.  I love these dreams!  I know what I can and can't do - until a few nights ago.  I jumped off a cliff - beautiful place - and I hit the ground hard.  It was shockingly hard."  Awkwardly, he hopped into the air to try and make a loud sound when he landed.  "I knew, in my dream, that something was very different.  I was more afraid than I had ever been in my entire life.  Then I looked up.  The sky was dark, and then it split open.  It was like a moment from The Ten Commandments - do you remember that movie, where Moses made the Red Sea split?"  He looked at me then waved me off.  "Probably not. Only it was so Spielberg.  Very good effects.  Scarily stunning."

"Know what it sounds like to me?" I asked.  "I'm just saying this because I'm a psych major at State.  Know what it sounds like to me?"

He squinted at me, like he was annoyed by my voice.  "What?"

Trying to be helpful, I said, "It sounds like you're getting old.  You know, when you're young you think you can do anything, can live forever, all that stuff?  Then when you get older, they say you understand at some point that one day you'll really die.  Is that it?"

"I don't know.  Why?  Do I look old to you?"  He spoke quickly.

"Well, kinda."  It just slipped out. Ugh.  "Anyway, I'm sure the Rabbi will be here soon.  But she isn't very good at interpreting dreams."

Suddenly this Paul thing froze.  "No, no, I don't want my dreams interp . . . she?  What do you mean she?  No . . . no . . . I don't want a she!  I want the Rabbi.  Old guy?  Long beard?  I see them in movies all the time.  They're the voice of reason.  They talk to anyone about anything.  They don't judge.  They just listen and are understanding.  Rabbis are old men, don't you know anything?"

Now how am I supposed to respond to that?  "Well, Synagogues have had female rabbis since the 70's, at least some of them - not the Orthodox, but it's just a matter of time," I explained.  "Rabbi Stalberg is all we have and . . . that's her car out there now."

Paul started to rock like a four year old with ADD.  "Crap, crap, crap!  OK, OK, it's all good.  Whatever.  She'll have to do.  A female man of God.  OK.  Crap."  The sigh that followed made me pray for diarrhea, stomach cramps, anything to avoid having to sit through this visit.

Rabbi Stalberg walked in and dropped her shoulder bag by her desk, the big desk.  (This is my clue to become small, shut up, and sit quietly.)  The Rabbi is, God help me for saying this, a beautiful woman.  These past few years have been great because I get to just sit and look at her - actress material for sure.  I often find it surprising that she works to look so good.  Perhaps it would be more appropriate if she had her hair up in a bun instead of long and wavy - and the lipstick!  It's all quite something to see.  Still, there is always one flaw.  It’s a challenge, but every day I find it.  Now, I'm far from a clothing Nazi, but it’s just curious that she often wears a dark blue suit with a white blouse and brown shoes.  While she could make an old Jew nervous with her looks, she does the Rabbi thing well - always calm, always comfortable with her thoughts and opinions.  It's something to witness.  "Well, hello.  I heard that I had an early morning appointment.  You must be Paul."  She extended her hand but Paul never saw it.  She stood in silence for the longest time, hand extended, but eventually she relented.  "I'm Rabbi Stalberg," she said.  "You can call me Rabbi Stalberg.  I don't remember you from Synagogue.  Are you a member of another . . ."

Paul stu-stu-stuttered, "I'm not a, uh, a Jewish uh . . . Ma'm, I'm sorry.  Look, I can pay!"

"No, no.  I spend much of my week listening.  And sometimes I even talk to Gentiles for free." She smiled.  "So, please, sit."  She motioned to a chair next to her desk, and this he didn't see either, but no matter; Paul had no intention of sitting.  He continued to pattern pace and talk, usually not even looking at her. 

"I want to talk about this,” he said as he over-patted a package the size of a picture frame, wrapped up in string and brown paper.  "I had a dream.  It was one like I never had before.  In this dream, the dark clouds opened up above me and God spoke to me."

"Well, good for her."  The Rabbi smiled warmly.  "What did she say?"

Dead serious, he replied, "Please don't, don't mess with me, ma'm.  I haven't slept in awhile. And I have to go to a job very soon.  A . . . a second job."

Sensing his urgency, she decided to drop the banter.  "So, God spoke to you.  Well, that might explain my mail.  But we'll get to that in a bit.  Do you believe in God, Paul?"

He was surprised by the question.  "What?  Well, actually no.  I mean, no then yes, but not that way."

Finally, she sat down.  "Go on, I have the time.  Tell me.  It might be a good context for your story."

He continued to pace back and forth across the room, totally unaware of where he was at any point in time. "Well, I was brought up by my parents as, well, I'll just say it, a Baptist.   Sorry.  But when I got to college I started reading and learned about all the things that the Church went through over the years in concocting the Bible, and how they left out things when they wanted, and changed what they wanted.  Then I started learning about religions around the world, and it was all pretty clear.  People invent gods to explain things they don't understand.  And it was an interesting plan - keep the public doing good things and being nice to each other, threatening them with an eternity in Hell if they didn't.  I'm sure you know, 2000 years ago, no one ever talked about Hell.  I can say Hell, can't I?  It's a fairly recent invention, worked into the stories hundreds of years later.  So many other religions over the centuries had stories of virgin births, the flood, the whole thing.  This word of God thing isn't even unique!  It's just a mishmash of other versions of the same stories.  It's all a fairy tale, and I know, I know the difference between fairy tales and reality.  I'm, I'm not being rude, am I ma'm?"

"No, no!" she said smoothly.  "So finish your explanation.  You said no but yes."  I thought she was humoring him, but I don't think that would have occurred to Paul. 

"No but yes.  Right.  Well, I thought it was interesting that people went into the jungles of Africa and found tribes who had never encountered a person from outside of their tribe, ever, ever.  And they created gods and the idea of god all by themselves, and their stories were like our stories.  We keep telling ourselves the same stories over and over again.  We - I mean people - people do.  Just to make sure we get it right - so we understand between right and wrong.  I think it might be related to the fact that human beings dream, so they dream of being better than, as a society, we are, and sometimes people dream about having an impact on others.  And so it goes on and on.  So (follow me here), what if all humans have inside them an inborn need to tell the same stories?  What is that spark?  What is it about our construction that makes us do that?  Well, maybe that's what people are really talking about when they say God.  Maybe God is in us all.  So, in a way it's full circle - but without the God in the sky and eternal life and all that."

"Well, yet another religion is born."  She smiled warmly.  I wondered.  Is he right?  Is that the whole story?  She continued.  "Thank you for being honest with me.  So your internal god talked to you in a dream."

"Not even close.  Big booming voice and everything."  By now, Paul had walked across the room, as far away as he could get, but talked like they were inches apart.  "Let me just cut to the chase here.  He told me he wanted me to dig a hole in my yard.  There's this little hump in the yard - never thought much about it.  God said to dig so I dug.  I felt like an idiot, digging up good grass.  I found a container, like an iron beer can, a tube with ends, with a top that I pried off."  Anticipating a response, he stopped and stared at her.  She patiently stared back, not saying a word, staring him down until he broke.  "Oh, you're good, you're good," he said, shaking his finger at her.  "Anyway, inside was a piece of paper.  I brought it.  Here." He pulled the string off of his package and let the brown paper fall away, waving at her a piece of paper sandwiched between two pieces of Plexiglas.  "Let me read it."  And he did.
"Dear Paul,
Thank you for questioning and abandoning your faith.  I know that you came to conclusions, after working and thinking hard, that led you to believe that the whole God story is a myth and that the state of our world is inconsistent with the existence of a kind and loving God.  I could argue these points, because I know more than you do, but let me instead get to my point.
Human beings know nothing about supreme beings.  Nothing.  You make guesses about what we are, where we are, what limitations we don't have.  You developed phrases like "the mysteries of the church" to cover the broad range of understanding that you don't have, the many gaps in the God story.  Well, here's one that you may not have anticipated.  God beings live by the rules of nature that exist in the universe.  To you, we are amazing beings.  We can maintain places such as heaven and maybe Hell ("Can you believe that?  Maybe Hell!  Sheesh." he interjected.).  "We can intervene if we choose, but we are here to set the planet on a path, and see if it heads in the direction that early events would dictate.  Sometimes you get a surprise you didn't expect.  Like Giraffes.  Like George W. Bush." Paul nervously laughed.  I'm not sure which one tickled him.  "Oh, this guy . . . this guy is good!"  He continued reading.  "One thing I know but have not shared with humans is that God beings come into existence at a time point, and there is nothing in what I have told you that suggests I will always be.  Oh, maybe I'm wrong, but they so seriously screwed up the message that it's barely good as a doorstop.  So let me blurt this out.  I'm coming to the end of my natural "life" as it were.  That's all there is to it.  I can look ahead and see when I will die.  There will be no obvious consequence for the universe, except that some of my more esoteric creations like heaven and maybe Hell will not exist without me.  Try to wrap your thoughts around that one.  I was, I am, now we're moving to a point where I'm not. 
Just thought someone should know.  I'll leave it up to you to either tell everyone, or a few people, or no one.  You've seen OH GOD, so you might imagine that no one will believe you.  I loved George Burns.  But if they think a little, the possibility is not that unnatural.  Entities that are so alive burn bright for only so long and that's that. 
You're hoping I'll say something like "you'll all do fine without me", but I don't really know that at all.  I'm leaving this in your hands.  No one will notice when I die, so at least you will know.  I'm dying on this day.  Have a good life, Paul.

30 April 1921"

"So why do you have it in plastic?" the Rabbi asked.

Paul threw up his hands.  "I just read you the actual word of God, written to me, and you're, you're asking about plastic?   Are you a real Rabbi?  Don't you have anything to say?"

She remained her calm self.  "I'm curious.  Why Plexiglas?" 

Paul looked off into the distance, in frustration.  "Well, you may find this hard to believe, but I work in the State's Forensic Laboratory.  I'm trained as what's called a questioned document examiner.  Quite the document to examine, isn't it?"

"Well, in your scientific opinion, is it real?" she purred.

With frustration peaking, he answered, "I . . . FOUND . . . IT . . . THROUGH . . . A . . . DREAM!  Of course it's real.  And, there's something else.  Look closely, see the writing.  It's sorta blocky, and in pencil.  It's just like my appointment in your schedule book.  Same handwriting.  I know this handwriting."

Again, the Rabbi smiled as she spoke.  "Really?  Really?  How?"

"It's mine.  About 5th or 6th grade.  I'm pretty sure.  Look at the paper; it's that old stuff with the wood chunks in it that we used to have to use in grade school.  It's turning brown around the edges, so it's probably more than 30 years old."

I probably don't have to point out that, at this point, I'm realizing that I am witnessing something special - a piece of history?  And why us?  Why me?  I kept small in my desk.

The Rabbi continued.  "Well, all very interesting.  But how does it all fit together?  You weren't in 5th grade in 1921!"

"Of course not!  I don't know how it fits together!  It's a mystery of the church!  I just think it's my handwriting to add to the . . . authenticity, maybe."

"Oh, I get it.  Oh, that's so special!  What did you just tell me - your bottom line on religion is that we all have God in us, so what else would God's handwriting look like but yours!"

Paul shook his head.  "Oh, cute.  Real cute."

"So what will you do?" she asked.  She made his head spin, and mine as well.

"That's it?  You believe me?  I'm telling you I got a message from God, and God is dead.  Doornail dead.  I thought you'd be a little more . . . animated or something."

Rabbi Cucumber replied coolly.  "I don't know quite what to say, Paul.  You don't seem like the local crazy person.  It is an interesting story.  I have no reason not to believe you.  I guess I should tell you, I have a piece of mail for you."  She reached into her desk drawer, way into the back, and pulled out a letter, handing it to Paul.  "Actually, it's a letter that I found in my desk when I started working here several years ago - addressed to you, in care of the Synagogue.  I never thought much about it, never recognized the name, so it's just been in there.  I think I looked at the postmark once and it was 1967 or something."

When she pulled this letter out, my heart jumped.  I felt like I'd been stabbed.  I was close enough to see not only the handwriting but also the stamp.  I knew it right away, having collected stamps as a kid - Five Cent, US, 1966, commemorating the Circus.  Lets just say that the clown face on it was enough to make me more than uncomfortable.  Unfortunately, I hadn't yet appreciated that it was the theme du jour.

Hesitating, Paul opened the letter to read it.  "Am I being . . . Punked or something?  Do you have somebody filming this, like behind the wall?"

"No, Paul, you have my word," she smiled.  "What does it say?"

Paul held up the letter and read it aloud.  "Paul, I forgot to tell you (old age!), you may detect some remnants of my intentions along the way, like my making an appointment for you.  It's something I can do.  Do you like the phrase 'remnant of my intentions'?  Also, I thought I'd let you know, I've told people before you.  Same shtick.  You're number 23.
Best wishes,

The Rabbi reached out.  "Let me see.  Well, you're certainly a creative guy if you sent yourself a letter through me in 1965 and wrote like you did in 5th grade." 

Perhaps Paul could have cracked a smile to break the tension in the room, but this was not part of his vocabulary.  "OK, so you know my story, at least as much as I do. What . . . do . . . I . . . do?"

She was awesomely calm.  "That's the question, apparently.  What should you do?  Do you have a feeling there is some appropriate response?"

"Is this therapy?" Paul yelled, surprising himself.  "I don't want questions answered with questions!"  Again with the arm waving.  "I want you to help me and tell me what to do!  And what about the other 23?  Did they all choose silence?  They must have."

I was the only one to notice that, as he waved his arms, a second piece of paper slipped out of the envelope and floated to the floor.  I gasped a little, which made them both look at me.  Crap!  I was no longer small!  I pointed.  Paul read.  "It says - 'Please stop with irrelevancies.  I did not say that 23 others faced the situation and all 23 decided to keep quiet.  That is certainly not true.  G.' Oh great, then what?  Did they all kill themselves?"

She verbally patted him on the head.  "You don't know, Paul.  Perhaps they all decided to speak the truth, but could never get anyone to listen."

"Speak the truth?  Are you going Old Testament on me?"  It was a funny line.  Props to Paul.

"Or maybe it was half and half!" the Rabbi suggested.

"Half killed themselves?  Oh, Jesus, Mary and Joseph!" Paul wailed.

The Rabbi was growing weary of the point, but still obviously interested in what was happening.  "Look, Paul, all we know is a number. It's useless to guess."

Paul tried to think it out.  "We know two things.  Two.  We know a number and, and we know that we don't know them.  So if any of the 23 decided to spill the beans, the beans never got very far."

"Good point."  It seemed to be all she was willing to offer, so they stared at each other again.  Each waited for the other to speak.  This time, she broke first.  "Go tell the Pope," she blurted out.

"Really?" he asked.

The Rabbi laughed.  "Yes, then he can hide this all in the bowels of the Vatican.  Well?  Do you want to be the bearer of bad news?"

Paul caught me off guard by finally taking off his backpack. He plopped down in a wooden chair and took off his shoes.  The Rabbi quietly stared at him; he had surprised even her.  As though Paul had just remembered he was in the middle of a conversation, he said, "Oh, sorry, second job - my visit to the Children's Hospital.  I'm really sorry.  I just couldn't cancel." 

Hang on - it gets weirder.  Paul pulled a big polka dotted shirt out of his backpack and put it on.  He then pulled out a pair of big pants to put on, and some red shoes, size 80.

Finally, the Rabbi was speechless.  "Oh, no.  No!  Now I should be asking where the camera is."

"I'm . . . I'm sorry," he stuttered.  "It's the weekend and on the weekend I entertain children at hospitals.  It's just something I've done all of my adult life.  I . . . I just can't be late, and I have to get into character."

"OK, so I realize that this should be fairly obvious here, but say it for me.  What do you do, exactly?"

"I'm . . . I entertain children.  You know."  Paul looked at her.  He then pulled a red clown wig on his head, and stood up straight and tall, now towering over her.

"Jesus!" Somehow it just came out of her mouth.  She had lost her cool, and I was there to see it!  (Sweet!)

'No, Happy," Paul replied.  "Happy the Clown."

She focused on him.  "Just humor me.  Say that again."

"Happy.  I'm Happy the Clown." Paul put his face close to her, smiled, tweaked her nose, and became animated.  "And how is our little girl today?  I'm Happy to be here!"

Authentically confused, she said, "Not to point out the obvious, but it's interesting that . ..
 your . .  . your stuttering . . . your nervousness, is gone?"

Apparently it was somehow natural to him.  "Well, have you ever seen a jittery clown?  I don't think so."

"So who do you become in this outfit?" she asked as she walked around him, inspecting this new person.

Paul didn't respond.  He took off the hair and slumped down in the chair, returning to Paul #1.  (I slumped down in my chair, flashing on the clown rabbi who put me here, and wondered if my day in court was the day I met God.)  "So, you asked me if I, I wanted to be the bearer, the bearer of bad news.  Is this bad news?  Isn't it just, like, news?  Not good or bad, just factual?"

The Rabbi became animated.  "Oh, I think many would consider it as bad news - no longer any price to pay for being bad boys and girls?"

"So you think I should keep quiet?" he asked.  "Hide it from the people and never let them know the truth?  Do I have a responsibility to tell everyone or a responsibility to not?  What is best for us?"

The Rabbi thought a bit.  "Sometimes when I have to think something out . . . I start anywhere and work towards it.  Start with a single sentence, a single fact.  What you start with doesn't matter at all.  It's the starting that's important.  Start anywhere and work towards the answer.  You just take little steps and you'll find you way down the hill until you get to the bottom and then you're there."

"You have to go to the top of a hill for big answers.  Like . . . like Moses!" Paul insisted.

"See!" she smiled.  "You've been looking in the wrong place!  No, once you take the first step it's downhill.  You see, you're not Moses, you're Paul.  Different rules."

"OK, you have an event to get to and I'm just at a loss," she said.  "It's all fascinating Paul and I thank you for sharing this with me.  Really.  I am very jealous.  You have a unique road ahead.  I envy you.  Let me know how it turns out, OK?"

I'm not sure if Paul's jaw dropped farther than mine or not.  Paul was almost begging at this point. "You're kidding, right?  Don't you feel obligated to do something with this?"

"I'm like a lawyer, Paul," she explained.  "Things people tell me are told in confidence.  It's not just words, it's what I believe, what I do.  I don't think my calling is to do something with this.  It wasn't my shovel, it was yours.  You know who you are, Paul?  You're the most powerful man in the world.  All of the people who try to claim there is no God - you can tell them they win.  They're right!  But to get there, they have to believe in God!  All very interesting.  Or, as you said, you can decide that letting us continue with our imperfect set of rules that say to love thy neighbor is better than nothing.  You never know, maybe if we say goodbye to God we'll create another.  Maybe we'll create a replacement.  Paul's Corollary - the God within us is what counts." 

He ignored the fact that the word corollary had just been used in a sentence.  It's a word he has always enjoyed immensely.  "The most powerful man in the world," he repeated, as if he wanted to make sure he wouldn't forget it.  "I didn't think that would feel so . . . lonely."

That seemed to have made her happy.  "That must be the God in you," she said as she smiled.  "I always thought God must be very lonely.  So tell me again, Paul, if you have a regular job, why are you a clown on weekends?"

It was as if he'd never considered the question before. "I don't know, for a little extra money I guess. Sometimes I do it for free.  I guess I just like kids."

She was satisfied.  "Well there you go.  Maybe that's a sentence to start with.  Start with that.  I just like kids.  It's a good thing.  Find the answer, Paul.  Get started."

Paul appeared to just give up.  He continued to talk, but only to himself.  "Great.  Just great.  The most powerful man in the world. What can I do?  Even if I decided to tell them all, how could I?  Who would believe me?  Downhill."  Paul sat in the chair and rocked.  The Rabbi sat in her chair, within a few feet of him, and watched.  It didn't take long.  Paul quietly packed his letters into his backpack.  Then, he reached for the red clown hair and pulled it on.  He rose slowly and deliberately, and I swear he looked bigger than he was before.

"The most powerful man in the world!" He boomed.  He wasn't looking at her as he spoke; it was one of those looking-out-there looks.  "I've decided.  I've decided what to do."

Paul reached into his pocket, pulled out a red foam ball clown nose and put it on.  He continued to stand tall and flashed a big, genuine smile at me.  Then he laughed a warm and friendly laugh, grabbed his backpack, and walked out our door . . . but not out of our lives, certainly not mine.

You can fill in the story between the office and the train.  I made a decision to be the assistant to this man, to take a year out of my life, because I had to see what was going to happen next.  While he apparently had been content to visit local hospitals for years, after his visit with the Rabbi he chose to go on the road, visiting hospitals along the northeast corridor.  He had some money and I had some savings, but we ate frugally, lost weight, and moved from city to city.  He would take center stage in a room of sick children and "entertain".  He became quite good at making balloon animals as he talked, and my job, standing behind him, was largely to blow up those insanely long balloons that only a trumpet player could take on.  Since I was there with him, I kept close, and tried to mirror his emotions with the kids.  Most of his shtick was the same as it had always been, except now there was one new part of the conversation. 
You can listen in if you'd like:
"Ha ha!" he laughed.  "So, kids, are you having fun?  Everything is always great with Happy the Clown, isn't it?  So we have a birthday boy here today!  What does he want me to make for him?  A balloon giraffe?  How about some balloon hats for everyone?  Yes, this is great fun.  And let Happy tell you kids all a secret.  Do you want to know a secret?"  He'd wave them all close, especially if adults were in the room.  He would almost whisper, "You have to promise not to tell your parents or anyone.  Who promises?  Raise your hands!  Yay!  Everyone!  Well, Happy has a lot of important friends, including God! Yes!  I even get letters from him.  It’s really sad, but God isn't with us any more.  It turns out he's like people and pets and everyone.  Nobody lasts forever.  Do any of you know someone who died?"  He points to a child.  "Yes, you!  Who do you know?  Oh, your grandmother!  That's so sad!  I'll bet a lot of people in your family were very sad and cried didn't they?"  He points to another child.  "What about you?  Your doggie?  Oh, honey, that's so sad.  You see kids, it's just a part of life.  Imagine how sad everyone, I mean everyone, is going to feel when they find out that God died!  Well it's Happy's job to tell everyone, and I will, but for now I'm just telling you, so keep it a secret."  He spots a girl in the front who has tears running down her face.  "Ooooh!  What's your name, honey?  Tammy?  Tammy, don't cry!  We'll be OK.  We can talk about something else.  Happy loves you all, kids.  Now who wants a balloon toy?  I'll make something for all of you, because Happy loves you!"

And so our visits would go.  Some silly jokes, some tweaked noses, and, for the kids who cried most, he'd produce a spare red, foam rubber clown nose for them. Now personally, I think clown noses are more fun on someone else, than on you.  But the kids seemed to like getting them, perhaps because they matched his.  This was our life - daily visits to hospitals in a town, then move on.  We stayed in YMCA's, hostels, occasionally in a train station.  We were on some kind of mission with no purpose.  Still, it was something I wanted to see - Paul in action - day after day.

We were at the University Children's Hospital in Baltimore.  It was a great place.  They fed us lunch and brought some of the more mobile kids out in the sun, so we got to put on a show with actual grass under our feet.  Suddenly Paul stopped his usual routine, much to the shock of his assistant.

"Kids," he smiled,  "Happy's going to take a 5 minute break, then I want to see you all back here and you will each get whatever you want, made out of balloons!  OK?  So run!  Run and play!  When you hear me blow my clown horn, come back to see me!  Yay!"  Paul dropped to the ground, started taking his costume off, stuffing into his backpack.

"Paul?" I said, sticking my face into his.  "What are you doing?"

The reply was cryptic.  "Jake, I wasn't going to say anything because I thought I was just paranoid.  But, but she's here.  She's probably not alone.  Listen Jake, you gotta take over for me."

I'd call that a bit too much to process.  "Who are you talking about?" I asked.  "Who is she?"

Paul grabbed me by the shirt, and pulled me close.  "When she gave me that letter, Jake, it. . . it was open.  She knew, Jake.  She knew it all before I'd even arrived."

I was totally unprepared when he pulled me close, kissed my cheek, then stuffed the last of his outfit into his backpack.  He looked up and scanned the grounds, suggesting that he might have been in Viet Nam or something.  It was a completely different mode he was in.  He started to speak.  He didn't.  I heard the shot just before I watched the hole explode in his forehead, blowing the back of his head off, covering my face with blood.  As the children shrieked and orderlies ran, there was chaos on the lawn.  I was hit from behind - run over by a large body that picked up his backpack and slid the brown-paper wrapped letter out.  This bruiser of a man looked at me, paused for a second, then swung the backpack hard and fast against the side of my head, knocking me over and almost out.  Paul was dead.  Very.  Alarms were going off and, for some reason, I decided that someone may want to join him, so I grabbed his backpack and ran into the woods.
" So, kids, are you having fun?"  I asked.  "Everything is always great with Happy the Clown, isn't it?  So what does my special girl (who was in a wheelchair) want me to make for her?  A balloon horse?  How about some balloon hats for everyone? Yes, this is great fun.  And let Happy tell you kids all a secret."  I draw the kids close.  "Do you want to know a secret?  You have to promise not to tell your parents or anyone.  Who promises?  Raise your hands!  Yay!  Everyone.  Well, Happy has a lot of important friends, including God! Yes!  Happy even gets letters from him.  It’s really sad, but God isn't with us any more.  It turns out he's like people and pets and everyone.  Nobody lasts forever.  Do any of you know someone who died?"  I pointed to a boy with a raised hand. "Yes, you!  Who did you know?  Oh, your uncle!  That's so sad!  I'll bet a lot of people in your family were very sad and cried didn't they?"  I selected another child.  "What about you?  Your aunt?  Oh, honey, that's so sad.  You see kids, it's just a part of life.  Imagine how sad everyone, I mean everyone, is going to feel when they find out that God died!  Well it's Happy's job to tell everyone, and I will, but for now I'm just telling you.  Now who wants a balloon toy?  I'll make something for all of you, because Happy loves you!"

I was OK at it.  In a haze, I travelled alone, calling ahead to hospitals in the phone book, mindlessly announcing that I'd be there to entertain children in whatever special ward they might have, usually a cancer or burn ward.  I figured I had money for a few more towns, not quite completing the year I'd planned.  Without Paul, there was nothing to watch any more except myself.  I was likely in a state of shock for some time, writing down in a little book my questions, my theories.  Was the Rabbi a Rabbi at all?  Why did they take the letter?  This is so Raiders of the Lost Ark!  But he died inches from me.  This is not a movie.  Are they following me now?  Did they get what they wanted?  If they wanted the letter, why kill him?  If they killed him, will they kill me?  What did he know that he never told me?  Why am I not going home to my parents, or back to school?  Shit, should I?  Could that endanger them?  I need help!

But no one came to help me.  My money had run out.  I decided, at a Greyhound station, south of Annapolis, that I had enough to get to Cambridge, Maryland, to the Choptank River.  They had a county hospital there with a children's wing.  I could do three shows to meet all the kids.  I got there at the end of breakfast as carts were being rolled out of rooms with breakfast trays on them.  An orderly believed me when I told him my cousin was a cook, and took me to the kitchen, where I talked them out of two hot breakfasts.  I needed that food, and I was hoping lunch would be coming from there as well.  When I got back out into the hallway I was immediately "found" by the administrator I'd spoken to on the phone, who whisked me into an awaiting room of cancer kids.  I kiss so many heads at places like this.  He put me in a back room (i.e., closet) so I could transform into my clown persona.  As I was wrestling with the suspenders (always a challenge) the door slowly opened.   I saw a woman's legs walk in.  They had brown shoes on.  I looked up to see the blue skirt.  She is here. 

I crawled into the corner, shaking.  For some reason, I spoke to her in a whisper, perhaps not wanting to scare the kids.  "Why?  What are you doing here?  What have I done to you?" I stammered.

Smooth as always, the Rabbi replied, "I just wanted to see how you were doing, Jake.  We've known each other for a while, you know.  And, yes, I am here for a reason.  I'm here to ask you to stop this silliness.  You're not a clown, Jake.  You were ready to finish college.  Go back and live your life.  This is craziness."

I stuttered as a million questions tried to elbow their way out of my mouth.  "Are you a real Rabbi?  How could you kill?  What is going on?"

"Lets just say that they have a new Rabbi at the Synagogue, love," she said to me, warmly as always.  "Now don't make me repeat myself.  Drop the clown job!  It's stupid and you're wasting your life.  Forget about Happy, Jake.  This is over."

I could have screamed for help.  I could have attempted to defend myself.  But none of those occurred to me.  Instead, I thought of whether I could end my newfound career.  "I don't think so," I said, defiantly, surprising myself.  "I'm just getting good at balloon giraffes."

Always quick, she replied, "Oh, yes, giraffes!  One of God's little surprises.  How appropriate."

It was her turn to be surprised when the hospital administrator stuck his head in and said, "They're waiting for you!"  He then did a double take, seeing a beautiful blond woman in the small closet with me.  I took the opportunity to jump up and accompany him out the door, finishing putting on my outfit as I walked, leaving the door close on her.

"I'm Happy! Happy the Clown.  I'm happy to see you!" I said to the room full of children.  They cheered.  I sucked back a tear and a shudder, afraid of what was going to happen next.  I watched the closet door open and saw her slide out of the room, not even stopping to watch me blow up my first balloon.

" So, kids, are you having fun?"  I asked, sticking to the script.  "Everything is always great with Happy the Clown, isn't it?"  I picked out a boy in a rolling bed who had been watching me intently.  "What would you like me to make for you?  I have so many balloons!  How about a balloon hat?  How about some balloon animals for everyone?"  I laughed a hearty laugh on cue.  "Yes, this is great fun.  And let Happy tell you kids all a secret.  Do you want to know a secret?  You have to promise not to tell your parents or anyone.  Who promises?  Raise your hands!  Yay!  Everyone.  Well, Happy has a lot of important friends, including God! Yes!  Happy even gets letters from him.  It’s really sad, but God isn't with us any more.  It turns out he's like people and pets and everyone.  Nobody lasts forever.  Do any of you know someone who died?"

A girl, with a smile on her face, in the back of the room raised her hand.  She didn't have the look of a child who lost someone.  Perhaps she was requesting a potty break.  I pointed to her.  "Hello, sweetie, what's your name?"

"Elizabeth," she said shyly.  Then she continued, talking as she approached me.  "I had a dream, and I dug a hole in my back yard, and . . . I promise I'm not lying.  I found a letter.  It says it’s from God.  Wanna see it?"

She handed me a frayed letter that had been folded in her pocket.  I recognized the handwriting.  I looked up from the letter, into her face, and realized it was different.  She was wearing a clown nose.  Other hands started to go up.  A boy yelled out.  "Mr. Happy?  I had a dream too.  I found a letter from God.  It's in a shoe box under my bed at home."

Hands continued to be raised, each waiting to be called on, to tell a story.  As they waved, one by one they reached into pockets, pulled out red foam noses, and began putting them on.  A small girl approached an older boy who had both arms wrapped.  I watched her talk to him, watched her reach under his blanket, pull out a red foam nose, and put it on him.  I started to count, and once I reached 20, I knew that something had just changed in the world, and I got to see it.  The luckiest man in the world, I was.

As is typical for my hospital shows, the back of the room was lined with orderlies, who were mostly texting or speaking quietly amongst themselves, happy for the break from their patients.  I asked them all to please contact the parents of the children in the room and get them here now.  The orderlies, bewildered at the sea of red-nosed faces that stared back, did as they were asked without question.  (When the Clown speaks, you obey!)  The hospital administrator whose name I'd forgotten reappeared.  I told him that if he were smart, he would get a local TV station here in the next few minutes, because we were going to put the Cambridge Community Health Center on the international map.  It must have been a slow news day because the Channel 6 van pulled into the long winding drive on the hospital's campus moments later, just as a black car was leaving.  The driver of that car, a beautiful blond woman, appeared to be having angry words with the three males in the car, as she plowed through the open gates and onto the highway headed north.

I silently talked, almost prayed, to my mentor.  Paul, I so wish you were here.  You were supposed to be seeing this, doing this, not me.  I like kids, Paul.  They'll make it all work.  You knew that, didn't you?  It wasn't until this point, these thoughts, that I realized just how much Paul was here.  I'd become Happy, for him, and did his show every time, just as he had done it.  I finally thought about what I had been saying.  God had never contacted me!  I had no letters from him!  This really was a job the kids were going to have to do.  I had nothing.  I could only tell Paul's story, with no evidence to back it up.

I looked at the children, now my children, and put my red clown nose back on.  I told them, "If we all just tell the truth, everything will work out.  We have a job to do, lets do a good one.  OK?"  I looked down at a small girl who was beaming at my feet.  I picked her up and kissed her cheek, just as he had kissed mine.  "And where did you get that clown nose, hon?" I asked her. 

She laughed and said, "It came with the letter, you silly!  Didn't yours?"  She then turned serious.  "I hope my mommy will be here soon, Jake.  It really is time, isn't it?"

"Yes it is, love, " I assured her. 

I had never told them my name.  Something wonderful was happening.

As the room became alive, I noticed the back, wall.  That light blue back wall - so big, so empty, so inviting to a tagger like me.  On the chair rail sat a can of spray paint.

"Come on, kids!"  I yelled, pulling as many with me as I could, running to the can. I smiled as I imagined the message that I would write; that we would write.  I could even picture the style of each letter - the writing of a fifth grader.  As I ran I wondered what color was in that paint can.  Would it be red, white or blue?  I grabbed the can and turned the label to me - slate gray - of course.  The color of pencil.  Under the can, there was a note.  (The paper was brown around the edges.)  It was folded, and on the outside was the number 25.  It was a note to me.

© 2012 John Allison

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