Chapter 9 of Peppercorn Cafe
The Jesus Novel
The next night Walt was off so I opened the bar alone. Marty came in right at five. “I can’t stop thinking about those stories about your friend Don,” he said. “The odds for either are astronomical. The parlay for both would be incalculable.”
“It boggles my mind to this day,” I replied. “It will forever.”
I shook his hand and brought him a coffee.
“Tell me another one,” he said. “If you’ve got more like those, I can’t begin to imagine. I’ve kind of been hoping all day that you do.”
I laughed. “Yeah, there’s more. I actually wrote one down last night.”
“Let’s have it,” he encouraged, tapping his fingers.
“It’s kind of long, and I’d hate to get started on it, then have to leave you hanging to mind the bar,” I answered. “It’s what happened to me while I was writing my Jesus novel. I did type it up; it’s upstairs on my desk.”
“Go get it,” he urged. “You’ll be back in two minutes, I can watch the bar.”
I ran up and returned with five pages. I started mixing drinks while he read the following.
When I was a senior in college studying writing I began to receive glimmers of a longer story about the Second Coming of Christ. After graduation I spent a year writing several hundred pages. Then I reached the point where I could go no further until I had read the Bible, and so put the draft in a drawer and opened the Bible to page one. Several hours a day and eight months later, I reached the gospels. Just about that time, on
August 16, 1989,
there was a lunar eclipse. As I was then
working on a piece of fiction about the moon, I very much wanted to see the
eclipse, and was looking forward to it for three days. The sky was hazy that night, so I mounted my
bicycle and rode into the country hoping the view would be clearer away from
the city lights. It was very dark, and I
had gone about three miles when I hit something oin the road and vaulted over
the handlebars and came down face first on a large rock. I was knocked unconscious and awoke surrounded
by paramedics and policemen. I had broken
bones in my shoulder, road rash on my face, and a gash on my forehead which
required several sutures to close. After
healing for a couple of months the scar on forehead shaped into a perfect
crescent moon, about which time I had reached Revelation in my reading of the
Bible. And I saw another angel ascending from the east, having the seal of the
living God: and he cried with a loud voice to the four angels to whom it was
given to hurt the earth and the sea, saying, hurt not the earth, neither the sea,
nor the trees, till we have sealed the servants of our God in their foreheads.
With my new understanding of the Scriptures I was ready to revisit my Jesus novel, which I had decided to call New Clear Days. The novel is the story of a latter day prophet Jeshua, who preaches on behalf of the Mother and performs miraculous healings of the earth. He is mistaken by masses to be the Second Coming of Christ, which he denies unto his death upon a cross. I worked on my book in public every day, and was asked by countless friends and strangers how I’d gotten the moon on my forehead.
Several weeks passed and I reached a point in New Clear Days where I wanted to include a brief parable. The story required that I have one of Jeshua’s twelve disciples be keeping a dirty secret, so I went through the twelve and when I saw the name Andrew, I recalled an old acquaintance, Andrew N, who I had known about five years before. He was a freeloading thief and leech that had attached himself to some friends of mine. He never worked, lived at home, and on the rare occasions he had any money it was five dollars he had gotten from one of his parents. The next day I went to the cafe and penned several pages which contained the following passage.
‘Without another word Jeshua began walking through the street, and most of the thousands followed. At length we came upon a beggar, who asked Jeshua for some money. He turned to us twelve, and asked us to give him all the money that we had. There were none among us with a cent except for Andrew, who gave him a five dollar bill, to his own shame. Jeshua placed it in the pouch in his robe, then removed and handed it over to the grateful beggar. At the end of the same block another man asked Jeshua for money, and he produced another five dollar bill from his pouch. Seeing this another woman approached him, who also received five dollars.
Then he turned to the crowd and said: “For God is like a man of infinite wealth which He gives away generously to they who ask.”
Riding home that afternoon I had a five dollar bill in my wallet, which was my last money, and I decided to spend it on food. I was locking my bicycle near the store when Andrew N. came strolling by--I had not seen him in three years! It was the strangest coincidence, yet only the beginning. The next afternoon I was walking downtown with one dollar in my pocket that I planned to spend on coffee so I could rent a seat in the cafe and write. I was thinking that I would like to go out for a couple of beers that night, to unwind my mind a bit; I had no cash, but distinctly recall saying to myself: ‘Perhaps I'll find some money on the ground, since I've always had good luck in that regard.’ I meandered aimlessly for an hour before turning my tracks toward the cafe, and when I reached that destination, there on the sidewalk before the front door was a five dollar bill, not ten feet from the table where I had sat the day before and wrote my parable.
Over the next few months, while living a remarkable stream of coincidence, including finding several more five dollar bills, I finished that draft of New Clear Days. One Tuesday night, while preparing to write the final chapter, I was seized with the urge to clean my room, and the last part of the task was to sort out my cassette tapes, which were in disarray everywhere. The very last tape in the pile was so old that I hardly recognized it. I played it, and heard a recording of myself strumming the guitar with a female singing silly lyrics in accompaniment. After several minutes and playing it twice I finally recognized her voice: it was Betsy Spivak, who I had dated five years before. I hadn't listened to the tape since we recorded it. Five minutes later I was in my bed praying to God with all my heart, asking Him to bring a woman into my life. I had grown very lonely while writing the book and was craving female companionship. My prayer was intense: I remember feeling like I was a million miles away….
The next afternoon I was sitting in the cafe with some friends. It was a rainy May day, and the cafe was crowded, and the only free table the small one to my right. That was shortly occupied by a pretty girl who sat down alone, and we started chatting. Her name was Betsy Sulavik. Two days later I wrote the last page of New Clear Days in the afternoon and went on my first date with Betsy that night.
Our rapport was remarkable—she articulated it the best when she said, “Oh my God! We’re a perfect fit.” And the awesome coincidences continued occurring during the short time we were together—I found two five dollar bills while with her. But what was meant to be was also meant to not be, and when we broke up a few months later, I was devastated.
The night I knew it was over with Betsy was a Friday, and I went out to a couple Yale parties and got absurdly drunk, so that I was in no condition to ride my bicycle three miles home. In the dead of night I wandered onto the
green and plopped down against a tree.
It was not the safest place to be at that hour. I was too wasted to take another step. I had been leaning against the tree for
several minutes when I noticed the silhouette of a rather imposing black man
towering over me. "Hey man! Are you all right?" he asked. New Haven
I decided to be honest. "Not really, I can't get home. I'm too drunk to ride my bicycle and I have to work there at eleven." I pointed to The Greenery, a restaurant across the street.
"This may sound strange,” he said, “but the moment I looked over at you I knew you were blessed and I knew you needed help."
His name was Andre. I stood up, and we spontaneously burst into a euphoric celebration of the Lord there on the green. I felt joy like David carrying the ark into
. We whooped and hollered and sang Hosanna. Zion
Then we sat down on a bench and talked for about an hour. I told him the story of Betsy, and how I had prayed for her to come into my life. His face suddenly dropped. He shook his head and shouted: "You did what? You prayed for a woman? A woman? A WOMAN! Man, I am disappointed with you! You asked God to bring you a woman; I cannot believe you did that."
"You don't pray for women, they come and go like the wind. When you pray, YOU PRAY FOR WISDOM! I don't believe you used your gift to get a woman. A woman! Don't look at me like that and don’t try to defend yourself, you sit quiet and listen. You are here to seek understanding, and when you pray to God you ask for wisdom. You’ll have more girlfriends whether you want them or not, everything on earth comes when it comes, but wisdom comes only of the Lord!"
I was humiliated by his chide, but immediately the wiser. At length he asked me about my bicycle. I pointed out where it was locked to the fence that surrounded the two blocks of the green. “Believe it or not, that’s my car right next to it,” he said. “Come on, I’ll take you home.”
There were about two hundred downtown parking spaces in view of where we stood on the green, and Andre’s car sat in the one closest to where I had randomly locked my bicycle. I could not believe it. We put my bike in his trunk and he drove me home. I thanked him profusely and never saw him again.
When I awoke in my room I thanked God with all my heart for conveying me there. My own bed had never felt so comfortable, and I was in continuous disbelief to be lying in it. Another oddity was that I did not have the slightest hangover—despite the fact that I had guzzled enough whiskey to render me immobile on the New Haven green in the middle of the night. In fact I felt fantastic. I arrived at the restaurant on time, and when I collected the money from my first table, I glanced down and saw GOD LOVES YOU written on the one dollar bill on top.
The following evening was Sunday, and I was sitting at my desk sorting through the events of the weekend while staring blankly at my typewriter, pens, pages and books, none of which I touched. At length I suddenly grabbed a Bible, and opened it at random to Proverbs 9. WISDOM hath builded her house, she hath hewn out her seven pillars; she hath killed her beasts; she hath mingled her wine; she hath also furnished her table... The entire chapter is essentially a psalm about wisdom, and the most striking verse was number 8, which perfectly described my encounter with Andre: Reprove not a scorner, lest he hate thee: rebuke a wise man and he will love thee. I closed and randomly opened the Bible a second time to 1 Kings 10:6-7: And she (the Queen of Sheba) said to the king (Solomon), It was a true report that I heard in mine own land of thy acts and of thy wisdom. Howbeit I believed not the words, until I came, and mine eyes had seen it: and, behold, the half was not told me: thy wisdom and prosperity exceedeth the fame which I heard.
I noticed that JJ had joined Marty, and was reading the pages as Marty finished them. As JJ finished the last words of my story, we started to get a little busy, and he jumped beside me behind the bar, as we had planned, to assist me with the dinner rush.
“You wrote that?” he said.
“I lived it,” I responded.
“But you wrote New Clear Days?”
“That’s my Jesus novel,” I answered.
“Then I’m glad to have you working beside me instead of across the street,” he said.
I smiled and replied, “Yeah, man. I’m really glad to know you too.”
After closing the bar I brought a beer upstairs, sat down at my desk, leaned back and closed my eyes. I hadn’t thought about either Betsy in a long time. I paused to reminisce, and wished them well. Then I started to pray. I was feeling that loneliness again, and had seen quite a few attractive women come through the bar on the few nights I had worked, but I didn’t dare to ask for that….