Blake Waterson, Harold's closest friend and narrator of the novel, is as skeptical as anyone of this disheveled and disconcertingly bawdy Savior and yet this would-be Judas is compelled to follow Harold on his two-hundred mile walking journey to Austin with a mismatched group of equally puzzled disciples. On the road, this motley crew of witnesses to the holy get to experience misguided converts, violent possums, and the ungrateful recipients of off-kilter healings. They also discover the inherent paradoxes, absurdities, and dangers of spirituality, as they learn that saviors may not have all the answers, and humanity is just as bizarre and beautiful as the beliefs we hold.
|Publisher:||Soft Skull Press, Inc.|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.25(h) x (d)|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
I never should have been a follower of Harold. That’s pretty clear
from the history books. I am not a godly man. In truth, God and I have
never been on good terms. I’ve always suspected that perhaps God was
hunting me. Not in a good way, not the shepherd searching for a lost
sheep. More like a pissed off loan shark looking for payment.
I know it’s silly, conceited even, to believe I have the ability to
offend the all-powerful monarch of existence. The idea is childish. But
I think an event from my childhood explains it.
When I was a young, I believed in God with the same certainty and
apathy with which I believed in China. Both were far away and had
little to do with my life. I believed in both because I had been told of
both. I didn’t know not believing in God was an option. God just was.
My family went to church every now and then, and I’d be dropped
off in the bright, green and blue Sunday school room. We were irregular
attendees, but by chance, in my ninth year, we showed up the day of
casting for the live Christmas nativity scene.
This was a Christmas tradition for our church, complete with an
outdoor set, a slew of blue and yellow lights, and children dressed up
like Romans, Israelites, and angels. A scratched album passed down
through the years played the entire story complete with a game-showannouncer-
style narration and full-choired carols. All the kids did was
Ms. Pock had been directing the nativity for ten years. She was
a single woman in her late forties who smelled of hairspray and
potpourri. For her the live nativity was as holy as any hymn, any prayer,
any stained glass window or Renaissance masterpiece.
Ms. Pock cast most of the second graders as the angelic choir, a
handful of fourth graders were assigned the roles of cowering shepherds,
one lanky third grader was made King Herod, and the part of Mary was
given to a girl named Mary, a coincidence which made the assignment
inevitable to all of us. For that year Ms. Pock had also added the role
of the Little Drummer Boy.
“But there is no Little Drummer Boy in the Bible,” Mary pointed
“Oh, yes. He’s in there,” Ms. Pock answered.
“He’s not on the album,” Mary said.
“We’ll figure something out.” She gave the role to her six-year-old
nephew, Trevor. I, much to my surprise, was given the role of Joseph.
Ms. Pock had forgotten to cast Joseph earlier, and since I hadn’t
volunteered for any role, I was the only option left.
The star role of Baby Jesus had been portrayed by the same plastic
doll for the past decade. Its hair was spotty, one hand had snapped
off, and the voice box that mewed “Mamma” each time the doll was
lifted had been broken for years. But the Baby Jesus didn’t need to cry
for Mamma. He was just a swaddled lump to gaze at and occasionally
We practiced for the next two weeks. My part was simple enough. I
lead a donkey, carrying Mary, to the makeshift stable built in the church
parking lot while the album describes our journey from Nazareth to
Bethlehem and being turned away at the inn. At this point the focus
of the story goes stage left, where shepherds are confronted by angels
and told the news. By the time the story returns to the stable, the Baby
Jesus has been born, swaddled, and laid to rest in a trough. All I had
to do was stand by the trough/crib with Mary and look gooey and
fatherly while shepherds and Wise Men visit.
After the record announces the Wise Men’s gifts and plays “We
Three Kings,” Trevor has his big scene. He picks up the microphone
which is lying on a bale of hay by the trough and recites the scene’s one
live line. We had a microphone hooked up just for it.
“Jesus, I am so poor. All I have is a song,” was all Trevor had
to say. Then he was to place the microphone back on the hay bale
beside the sleeping Jesus doll. This gave Ms. Pock just enough time
to change records to the Christmas Classics album which played “The
Little Drummer Boy” while Trevor pretended to play and the rest
of us swayed back and forth. At the end of the song, Ms. Pock put
the nativity album back on and the show ended with an abbreviated
version of Handel’s Messiah being mouthed by angels dressed in white
sheets like hoodless Klan members. Hell of a show.
Trevor did a fine job, except for his one line. He didn’t say “Jesus,
I am so poor.” He said, “Jesus! I am so poor!” Like a low-wage earner
taking the savior’s name in vain.
The first two nights went fine. A few of the angels cried on night one,
and the donkey nibbled on Mary’s robe on night two. But the show was
a success. People even enjoyed the addition of the Little Drummer Boy.
Our last performance was Christmas Eve. The crowd was the
biggest yet, flashing pictures as Mary and I entered from behind the
gym. The donkey had been getting grumpier every night and was now
protesting his involvement by dropping balls of dung every other step.
That wasn’t so bad until a Wise Man approaching the cradle slipped
on a dropping and doused the microphone with myrrh. Even that
didn’t seem so important until the record player went silent and Trevor
reached for the wet microphone. “Jesus!” was all he got out. He threw
the microphone down and rubbed his hand. The microphone landed
right on top of the head of Baby Jesus with a nasty, amplified bonk.
For a moment we were all quiet, wondering what to do next, when a
miracle happened. The voice box inside Baby Jesus came back to life.
“Mamma,” said the Baby Jesus.
The crowd gasped. Jesus had a line. It looked like everything was
going to be fine, but then the baby said “Mamma” again. And again.
Mary, played by Mary, was too surprised by the change in script to
react, so the new mother motionlessly stared down as her child called
out for her. On Jesus’s fourth “Mamma,” the voice box got stuck and
the baby wailed one long “Maaaaaaaa.” The cry slowed and warped as
if Mary had accidentally birthed the Baby Satan. I reached in and tried
to move the microphone, but it shocked me. I yanked my hand away,
shouting an expletive. I was told later that it looked as if the newborn
had snapped at my fingers.
Ms. Pock was desperately trying to get “The Little Drummer Boy”
to play, but the album was skipping. “Rum tump. Rum tump. Rum
tump. Rum tump.” Like a hideous beating heart. Trevor was in tears,
holding his hand. Mary still stared into the crib, aghast at the horror
she had brought into the world. The Baby Jesus wailed on. The only
way to save the show was to shut Jesus up. I tried to shift the doll,
knocking it with quick jabs to avoid the microphone. It looked as if
I were portraying Joseph as an abusive father. None of it worked. If
anything, it seemed the doll was moaning louder. Finally, I picked Jesus
up. The sound was coming from somewhere inside the doll’s neck. My
motives were good, I swear. I wanted things to go smoothly, but my
next act was not well-thought-out. With a quick snap, I removed Baby
Jesus’s head. The crying stopped.
“Holy shit,” said one of the shepherds. I heard a child scream from
among the onlookers. In one hand I had Jesus’s head and in the other
his body, quickly unswaddling itself. Even the donkey seemed freaked
out. The record player skipped to the next song on the Christmas Classics
album, which happened to be “Frosty the Snowman.” The lights went
out and the crowd, unsure what to do, applauded.
In the dark, Mary leaned close to me and whispered, “You’re gonna
I never voiced the fear, never even gave it much conscious thought,
but ever since that night I’ve had a sneaking suspicion that I owed God
and sooner or later He was going to collect. Years later I met Harold
Peeks, well into his thirties, a little thick around the waist, with a halfinch
crop of hairnever more, never lessand a goofy, show-it-all
grin. I didn’t know at the time, but God had finally found me.