by K. E. Robiscoe
Blow them out. Stop wasting time. I used to think that saying here at Got Wheels Auto Center was just for deadbeat customers—gassers with less juice than OJ—but after the third straight day of zero sales, I figure it applies to this job, too. The biggest waste of time. And though there’s still a half hour to go before I can flip the shingle, in my mind, I’ve already punched the clock. Most every tire in the deserted-all-day showroom too, so when this broke-looking honey pulls up a junker Mustang and comes in crying about her time crunch and Maypop wheels, I ain’t about to go long to help.
The only real money at Got Wheels is commission money, and besides. A front’s been moving through Tulsa all day, huge thunderclouds scrubbing the sky with soggy steel wool and seeing as how my license is still suspended, I’m more interested in beating feet right now than scoring a few measly bucks on a short-arm sale. But then she reaches into a ratty hand bag and flashes me some set-yer-clock-back cleavage–and a surprising amount of long green, considering her sled—and my other head takes over. The littler one.
I’m as red-blooded as the next guy, and after hammering the well-built fish toward a set of top of the line Michelins and four sweet Spinners to boot, I yank her angled bait. Ask for a date—and she agrees! Suggests I accompany her there and then to some gathering she’s attending. Her time crunch thing. And though this Okie doesn’t hear a word past her okay part, what with the blood rushing and pounding to my tom-toms like drums, it wouldn’t have mattered to me no how. Who cares where you go to start, when you got the right end to go to, you know?
Guess I should have. Forty-five minutes and a trip across the river later, we pull into a Northside parking lot lit bright as chrome by street lamps, rolling spots and a truly sky-scraping neon sign. I’m just wondering how I missed hearing about this new hotspot; I figure I got my finger on Tulsa’s clubbing pulsa, wrong side of the water or no, when I notice the fuchsia light bouncing off the tar flashes a cross shape, and the marquee’s fine print ain’t advertising no drink specials. House bands, neither. Christ on a crutch. A cross. She’s brung me to some barn full of Born Again’s, and by the fanatical gleam shining her eyes now—or maybe it’s the neon—I’m the prodigal son.
“Jerusalem Hill Worship?” I say, reading the filaments aloud. “What’s all this, now? Some sort of church social?”
“You could call it that, I suppose. We certainly are friendly here at Jerusalem Hill.” The fish named Wanda says.
“A bake sale, maybe?” I ask, waiting for her to walk around to my side of her
car before pointing out a couple of long tables that flank the sides of the converted warehouse’s hangar-sized doors, each topped with a generous assortment of pastry-filled paper plates and dimpled elbows.
“The refreshment ladies are always here.”
No fatted calves, though.
“Once you get inside and hear—” Wanda says, looping a cheap umbrella over her wrist and smoothing her shirt lower.
“You ain’t gonna lock your door?”
“Hell, no.” She laughs, and so do I, intrigued by this contradictory irreverence. Factoring in her meet-the-twins top, this evening could turn out all right after all. As we fall in step with a passel of Bible-toting J. Crew types streaming through the church’s oversize entrance, Wanda wonders aloud what we were talking about.
“Something about the goody tables.” I offer.
“Oh, right. Once you listen to Reverend Randy’s sermon–.”
“Sermon?” I repeat, dropping a Saran-wrapped brownie like it’s hot, earning a disappointed look from the cookie pusher as a mix of adrenalin and surprise edges my voice to a squeak.
“At night? Whoever heard of a sermon at night? On, onna humpda—Wednesday, for Chrissake?”
“I think all fellowships have–”
“Is it the same thing as a revival?” I ask, casting an eye to the sky to gauge my odds of beating the storm and a gang element home now, as reruns of Ma and her Sunday TV choices zip through my mind.
“It can be.” Wanda looks upward too, for holier reasons probably, but her breast still brushes my elbow as she gives my hand a quick squeeze. “It depends on the person. The scripture’s are always so inspiring–so peaceful and hopeful–and the hymns can be very moving.”
“Hymns?” I say, parts of me moved already, and I stumble a little as we walk inside in order to press her advantages. “I’m not going have to sing, am I?”
“Not if you don’t want to.
“Or jenny—genyuh—kneel or nothing am I?”
“Genuflect you mean? Of course not. Jerusalem Hill’s Christian, not Catholic.”
“I ain’t eating no God crackers, or drinking no two-buck Chuck neither.”
“We serve Welch’s. Come on, Thomas—my doubting Thomas.” She says, and giggles. “It won’t be so bad. Try to think of it as a mid-week booster shot.”
“Booster shot.” I repeat. “Of Welch’s?”
“Of faith, silly, and besides. The more lost sheep I bring back to the Lord, the better chance I have of picking and choosing where I go on my God-given mission. I’m shooting for Jamaica.”
“I hear you, mon” I say, getting that prodigal son feeling again, and keeping my own faith by concentrating on her bouncing butt cheeks. No matter how we spent the next hour, it too would pass, and then my more self-serving agenda could take over. McCullen’s yard-long beers and darts, maybe. A little CCR on the juke. I hum a few bars of Green River and guide Wanda by the small of her back as we file into the reception area, past people whose faces look so alike—or maybe it’s their slap happy expressions–they seem downright inbred, or at the very least, cult-like, and I turn on my own crazy eyes to stare down the pod man greeting church-goers at the top of the aisle. A queerly long time passes before two embracing men ahead of us stop groping each other and Wanda’s able to strut us up the third row back from the pulpit, though I’d swear she said we’d sit in the third row in back. I can always slump it out, I suppose. But the second we’re seated, I mean the very second, a swarm of tambourine-banging church ladies rush the stage, tailed by a maraca-shaking, dread-headed, toothless pastor who yells:
“Let’s all stand, shall we? Stand and sing praise to the Lord Jesus.” And near front row center as we are, when everyone around us gets to their feet I jump up along with them. Standing up’s better than standing out in this cuckoo’s nest, and the move seems to sit well with Wanda. She breast bumps my elbow again, smiling as she nods to the projected lyrics on the wall behind the crooners, and I smile back, squinting at the words and pretending to read ‘em.
“I will celebrate the light.” Wanda sings.
“Hey, tonight.” I mumble-sing along. “Later on tonight.”
“Everybody. Lift your hands in to the Savior.” As Wanda closes her eyes and lifts her palms toward the exposed roof beams, I appreciate her personal high beams—she sure dresses slutty for a Christian!–and fight the urge to drop my own fisted hands from air-throttling Jesus to this more savory option.
“Let the music take you, brothers and sisters. Don’t hold back, now.” The preacher man encourages, hopping from one foot to the other in some weird Lord of the Dance move as the song builds to what I sincerely pray is a stop. Good thing they keep the lights low ’cause this ain’t pretty. The church ladies are fairly dripping with unholy-looking sweat at this point, and the whole damn crowd sways like a warehouse full of Gimpy Joe’s on beer pong night at McCullens; the gal in front of us is even babbling to herself now, talking in tongues I guess you call it, making less sense than my CCR lyrics did, and I’m officially pissed. What was this broad thinking, bringing me here? Assets aside–this ain’t no place for a get to know you–not like McCullen’s. I glare sideways at her, and fold my arms. Didn’t she say there’d be none of this Holy Roller crap? I’ll be damned if I’m doing any more stupid pet tricks. When her eyes pop open, though, and her shoulders lift and fall in this ‘take me now’ sort of invite, before you can say forgive me Father for I’m a phony, I’m bumping and grinding along with the best of them. Praise God and pass me a glow stick.
After three of the longest jams ever, two over-the-pew meet-n-greets where not one person returns my cordial ‘peace be with you’, and a pause for the cause where out-to-pasture Man Gums hits us up for beer money, we’re directed to open our Bibles to Joshua 10. Even though the words are already flashing on the wall behind him where the damn lyrics just were, plain as the rat’s nest growing on his head. With a pointed stare I ignore, the shaman wonders aloud whether there are any newcomers he should know about—I get enough of the Hi-my-name-is crap in my court-ordered AA meetings—and whether the scripture plastered everywhere was read by his flock, before hitting the God-sponsored highlights of genocide done by Josh and his posse of Gibbons. While the preacher’s reasoning is cockeyed—or maybe it’s God’s–it’s clear we’re to view Josh and his Planet of Apes army as the good guys, who didn’t do a damn thing to that Jericho scum or those Amorous Kings they didn’t have coming.
“Did you know Joshua means ‘by the will of God’? Anybody? Anybody?” The snake-haired man stops charming long enough to ask, and by the foot stomping and pew banging that follows this, I’m figuring this is his go-to revelation for stirring the pot.
“In Jehovah’s name!” Wanda air high-fives, shouting along with Amens and declarations that ‘God is great’ and I’m inspired, too. Downright inspired. Drawing on a recent memory of mine involving a courthouse visit and a little subpoenaed testimony—some minor B&E thing I had nothing to do with—I yell:
“So help me God” And even assume the Boy Scout stance for her benefit–which could well turn into mine–sticking it out all through the wave of public stupidity that continues until the rabbi gets to it again.
“And it came to pass, as those who opposed Joshua fled from Israel, the Lord cast down great hailstones upon them until they died—” The crowd’s roared approval forces another immediate time out, and I look around for shot clocks, wondering how long church overtime can go. Longer than sudden death, obviously.
“There were more which died from hailstones–” The floor is vibrating from all the foot-stomping going on now. “Than those that Joshua and his crew blew.”
“Did he say blew?” I ask, flashing to the overly friendly guys we passed on our way in here. “Cause that explains–”
“Slew.” Wanda whispers.
“Slew by sword.” Wanda says a little louder.
“Who’s bored?” Besides me, I mean.
“Joshua and his army.” Wanda yells, just as the murmuring assembly hits a lull. “They decapitated the lot of them!”
“Oh!” Gasps a woman to my right.
“My.” Sighs a poindexter to our left, fanning his face with a program.
“For the glory of God.” Wanda says, noting their distress.
“Which makes it practically a wash.” I add helpfully, wringing an imaginary shirt as the distressed woman massages her throat.
“God is great!” The mob concedes.
“And He’s not done yet. When Joshua noticed the approaching night would put a damper on his continued slaughter, he asked the Lord to add a couple of hours of daylight to the day—”
“In the beginning there was daylight savings.” I whisper to Wanda.
“God’s very own home boy—” I remind Wanda.
“And his army of Gibbons might finish the job. So the sun stood still in the midst of heaven, and did not go down about a whole day, and the moon did not rise in the evening.”
“Coulda been a new moon.” I say.
“It wasn’t.” Wanda whispers.
“Coulda been a cloud cover.” I say, ignoring Wanda’s thinning lips and the in stereo ‘shh’ that follows. No wonder Christians were kitty chow back in the day.
“Surely, this marks one of the only times in history that God listened to the direct request of man. How great is God? Giving Joshua all that extra time to kill!” The Man on the Mountain Dew can slavers, ordering accord with an ‘in Jesus’ name’ before ticking through a laundry list of questions about what such benevolent murder might mean. Instant Sunday School. As hands shoot up, and yelled answers compete for volume, I turn to Wanda—whose hands are as idle as mine, I notice—and demand:
“What the hell is this?”
“I don’t know.” Wanda says. “That’s not Reverend Randy.”
“Some kind of pop quiz?”
“Randy never asks questions.”
“Cause if it is, I’m cheating.”
“I haven’t been in on a Wednesday in a while.” Wanda confesses. “And Randy’s so much better.”
“Idol worship!” The babbling gal in front of us stops her gibbering long enough to observe.
“And you told me this would be inspiring.” I say, spinning my finger near my ear to turn the woman around.
“It usually is.”
“Peace-inducing.” I sneer.
“It ultimately was.” Wanda counters.
“For the Gibeonites.”
After a good ten minutes of the witch doctor’s Q and A, he finally loses steam, but we’re not off the hook just yet. Scrap paper and pencils are passed around and we’re directed to break into mini fight clubs of five or six to discuss what we heard.
“We’re supposed to do fricking homework now?” I demand, brushing off the neighboring thumper’s attempt to hand me writing tools.
“I think it must be Bible study.” Wanda says and half-stands, reaching over me to grab the items. “I know there’s a Bible Study here sometime during the week.”
“It is Bible study.” A departing attendee offers.
“I thought it seemed different.” Wanda turns an apologetic rack toward me. “I’m sorry, Thomas. I thought sure it was a service–Tom? Where are you going? Tom?”
“The hell out of here.” Fish named Wanda or no, and incoming storm be damned, there’s no way I’m going to ponder the why’s and wherefore’s of stacked warfare with a bunch of brainwashed, potentially blood-hungry zombies looking for history to repeat itself.
I step out into the night, half-looking for the auto industry’s fabled Be-Back bus and fully turning my collar up against a drizzle of rain, a soft wetness that strengthens to a downpour before I’m even halfway to the exit of the church’s super-charged parking lot. Despite my predicament, it’s funny to see a pair of neatly-dressed hooligans slamming the doors of Wanda’s car near that same exit, relieving my misbegotten date of such nuisance items as her stereo and laptop. When their sticky fingers latch onto her new tire rims, though, I run them off, affronted by this particular intended thievery. Those Spinners are practically mine, the way I see it.
It’s gratifying that Wanda gets an opportunity to see me in action. She comes out sometime in the midst of it, hanging back under the church’s eaves, yelling at me to be careful, but egging me on, too. By the time we meet up at her car, I’m feeling as righteous as the increasing rain; plenty ready to school her in the ways of the Bible the same as she had me.
“At least someone knows the ten commandments around here.” I huff, arms full of polished steel and wheezing from my unexpected foot race.
“I can’t believe–” Wanda starts, cranking her dime store umbrella over the pair of us. “No one at Jerusalem Hill would ever–those boys couldn’t possibly be churchgoers. Are you all right, Tom?”
“I’m fine. No thanks to your buddies there.” I say, disregarding her assessment of the situation. “Guess someone missed the ‘thou shalt not steal’ part of the program.”
“You were so brave, Tom! To take on those delinquents!”
“I couldn’t let them nick our Spinners now, could I?” I say, paraphrasing more courtroom testimony, and flexing my forearms extra hard as I set the hub caps in her trunk. “Anyone else would have done the same.” I add, believing just the opposite, and thinking ‘this is more like it’. Time for little idol worship of my own.
“You barely even know me, and to think, you’d risk your neck.” Wanda says, collapsing her umbrella and ducking inside her car as the raindrops harden to damnation-sized sleet, motioning me to follow.
“I was just trying to level–” I pause and slam my door, her gratitude changing my word choice mid-swing. “Be Christian. Don’t put your wipers on. Those hailstones are too big. I was just being a good Christian.”
“I have a confession to make.” Wanda says softly, the sound of sleet pelting metal underscoring her admission. “Half the people here are recovering alcoholics.”
“You’re kidding me!” I say, licking my lips.
“The other half are reformed convicts.”
“And the rest of them are out and out thieves. Which half do you belong to?” I tease.
“I get carried away when I drink.” Wanda admits, and though my plans for McCullen’s are already shelved, I feel a flash of disappointment. So much for plying her with liquor.
“I come here mostly to stay out of trouble.” She adds, and I can relate. Hadn’t I been in enough trouble of my own recently?
“That didn’t work out too well tonight.” I observe.
“No.” She agrees. “But the parking’s good, and the rhetoric’s a little better than over at Rosary church. I just listen to what I agree with, and let the rest roll off my back. Take Joshua, for example. I don’t agree with that at all. If killing is morally wrong, how can it be any less wrong in the name of Jesus?”
“Sounds right to me.” I say.
“Of course, Joshua is Old Testament. The New Testament’s a lot more forgiving.”
“A kinder, gentler God.” I suggest.
“‘Cause the old one wasn’t selling.” Wanda says, and when my low-roaming eyes shift upward she winks. She’s got some pretty peepers on her, I’m just noticing, and a brain to spare. It’s almost as interesting to talk to her as gawk at her. As we wait inside her parked Mustang for the storm to lessen, the pretense we both wear lessens, too, coloring our exchange more intimate than my designs on her, and a good sight more uplifting than her convert-a-con program. By the time the hail finally stops, I’m thinking a nice dinner at Chuck’s Steakhouse could be on our menu.
“What a day.” I say expansively, testing the elements with a hand poked out the window, earning a laugh when I warn the full moon peeking from behind a depleted cloud to stay put. I don’t know if it’s the moon shine or what, but I suddenly see my fish in a whole new light.
“From hellfire and brimstone–” The catch named Wanda observes, putting the car in gear.
“To tire rims and hailstones.” I say.
“That could be our tag phrase.”