Jesus Christ – Thy Neighbour

   I missed watching the first moon landing thanks to my parents who, for whatever reason, abstained from having sex for three months prior to my conception. I was born a naked white child on the 1st of October, 1969. With light blonde hair, big blue eyes, pale skin, I looked like I’d just fallen off a Gerber label. My mother was a local purveyor of fragrances and a French makeup line which, to this day, I cannot pronounce. My pop was a cop who always hoped I’d follow in his foot steps but, in retrospect, I found it amusing to tease him, one day saying I’d like to be a policeman then the following week a Jehovah’s Witness.

   I grew up in a small suburban-rural-urbanesque neighbourhood of 3 million people (according to the Federal census of 1977). For this reason, my brother and I were forced to share a bedroom while my sister lived the high life in her 200 square foot room complete with a lime green Dilly Dally modular vanity and one too many posters of David Cassidy and his half, but better looking, brother Shaun. My childhood was always something I looked back on as if it happened to another person. For the most part, it was uneventful and run-of-the-mill, if you don’t count the time I accidentally tore a hole in the spacetime continuum after putting a half-solved Rubik’s Cube in the microwave (on defrost). Being defiantly singular, I came up short in the friends department and was often the target of bullies, rowdies, ruffians, thugs and a homeless woman named Babs. In my salad years, I was married only to my job as a professional wedding guest and like most bachelors, had plenty of time to indulge in a few of life’s finer things like scotch tastings in the valley, photographing buildings no higher than 18 floors and playing a game of Florenza with my Italian friend Fraser MacDougall (“Lorenzo” to his pals). 

   I was never the type of man who sought attention, in any form. I suppose the few friends I had might have described me as approachable, kind, but somewhat anti-social and definitely the type of person who would knife your tires after losing an argument about Heliocentrism versus Geocentrism. I was a textbook introvert and if you looked up the definition you’d likely see my photo beside it. I was, by most measures, essentially solitary but unreservedly comfortable with it. As I aged, instead of broadening my intellect, I grew a preference for the banal and never saw anything wrong with wanting things a particular way. For example, when emptying the dishwasher I always emptied the right half of the top rack first then the left side of the bottom rack as long as it was before 8pm. Otherwise, I’d do the reverse and fill the vacant areas with dirty dishes before removing the rest of the clean. My shrink calls it OCD. I call it The Japanese Art of Organization or Baka Otoko.       

   Over the years I kept to myself and set the bar low enough that my expectations were often met with little or no disappointment. I was not one to make waves nor to pee in a community swimming pool. Interesting things had never happened to me. Until today. 

   I parted the charcoal box pleat curtains covering my front living room window a smidge to see a large moving truck and four equally large men carrying box after box after box into the house next door. The Leichtman’s Milwaukee bungalow had been on the market for at least eight months but it finally looked like I had a new neighbour. Seeing my new neighbour standing on his front lawn (which was suspiciously greener than any other lawn in the neighbourhood), I was struck by a suddenly feeling of familiarity. I knew this guy. Or so I thought at first but quickly dismissed the suspicion and thought he was probably just one of those people who was often mistaken for someone he wasn’t. But it wasn’t the case. There was no mistaking it. Long, flowing wavy brown locks. Neatly manscaped beard. Freshly pedicured digits poking freely through open-toed brown Judaean sandals. Piercing blue eyes. And the one-piece, knee-length tunic was a dead giveaway. Jesus Christ had purchased the Leichtman’s home (what I’d later learn, for a song). I stood there as long as I dared, peeping nervously at the Son of God tipping the movers rather generously (JC slipped each of them a Benjamin in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit). He turned toward my house and I stumbled backward as though I’d been violently reeled in by an enthusiastic fisherman. I prayed he didn’t see me. Prayed to whom? I was caught in a conundrum, wrapped in a riddle, wrapped in bacon. Canadian bacon (which if you’re Canadian, you’d know it doesn’t wrap very easily).

   I had always felt my life had been building to a particular moment. Up to that point, I’d been perfectly neutral and successful at avoiding any and all responsibility faced by a man who’d reached his lacklustre mid-life with little to no effort. But then, to my consternation, I was faced with the inevitable tête-à-tête with Lamb of God. How could I avoid him? He’s all knowing, all seeing. He’s the King of the Jews, the Lord Immanuel, the Last Adam and now… my fucking neighbour!! My stomach churned as I hunched over, thinking the prior night’s Tikka Masala was about to make a repeat engagement like the second coming of… 

   The idiom about pulling off a bandaid quickly making it less painful played in my head over and over until I couldn’t stand it any longer. I grabbed an unopened bag of pistachios from the pantry (as if they’d make a good welcome gift for the guy who was gifted gold, frankincense and myrrh the day he was born) kicked into my Signature Nuknuuk slippers ($24.99 at Costco) and headed next door.

   Struggling to keep my balance (and from unloading half-digested Indian cuisine in my pants), I stood at the front door of the Messiah’s 1800 square foot ranch-style bungalow as though I were standing at the Pearly Gates. With St. Peter nowhere to be found, I reached out with a quivering hand and rang the doorbell. I wasn’t sure what I found more amusing, the All Seeing using a Nest doorbell camera or the fact it chimed “Guide Me O Thou Great Jehovah”. I released a muffled titter subsequently swallowing it hard as the large oak door swung open and there stood, the Beloved Son, in all his glory… soaking wet in a bath towel. It appeared as though I poorly timed the welcome wagon. 

JESUS: Hello my son.

ME: Uh… I… I’m so so sorry. I… I… just wanted to welcome you to… you know… the… n-neighbourhood. I’m Dar-

JESUS: Darren Edwards, from next door. Yes, I know. 

ME: (Stupefied) H… how did you… oh, right… (popping up my hands and doing air quotations) All Knowing.

We both chuckle, me nervously awaiting the lightning strike which thankfully doesn’t come.

An incredibly uncomfortable moment passes in silence. A car’s horn blasts in the distance. 

JESUS: (Makes a popping sound with his lips then steps aside in the doorway and gestures his hand toward the living room) Would you like to… 

ME: Oh… no… no no no. I really should be…

JESUS: Oh, please. It’s no trouble. 

ME: (Awkward as fuck) N… no really. The… towel… you’re… still… uh… wet. 

JESUS: Darren, my son, it’s really no problem. 

And just like that, I stepped inside the home of the Everlasting Father and took a seat on his Larissa Chenille rolled arm sofa. The room smelled of lavender and gouda. 

JESUS: IS everything OK, my son?

ME: Oh sure… just… thought the plastic coverings are… you know… so Italian. Ha ha. 

JESUS: Sorry?

ME: Well… isn’t it a little… Aunt Aida and Uncle Vito? You know, (putting my hand up to my ear like a phone) 1953 called. They want their decor back. Ha…

Silence. That really really awkward type. I half expected a tumbleweed to roll past us.  

JESUS: (Looking amused) You don’t have to be nervous, my son. I may be the Beginning and the End but I don’t bite. (Looking at my nuts) Is that an offering? (referring to the pistachios I’m clutching like grim death in my hand)   

ME: Uh… yeah. I guess it’s customary to give a gift to newcomers to the neighbourhood 

With a noticeably shaky hand, I pass him the sweat-covered bag.

JESUS: Thanks. (takes the bag) Ya know it’s funny. I always used to think these were called “moustachios” (fervently trying to lighten the mood). 

ME: (silent)

JESUS: Yee-aaa… soooo… espresso? I’m making myself one. It’s no trouble. 

ME: Um… sure… if it’s no bother. 

JESUS: (Getting up from the couch – towel nearly slipping off – and walking toward the kitchen). No bother at all. I bought a new machine, I’ve been dying to try it. Got it at Costco a couple weeks back. You got those slippers there, ya? I considered buying a pair but you know Costco. You go there for one thing then $800 later…

ME: So, where were you before? Galilee? Nazareth?

JESUS: New Jersey…actually. I had a nice Victorian in Westfield. 

ME: What made you leave?

JESUS: Well, if I’m being honest, I couldn’t stand the neighbour’s dog. When it wasn’t pooping all over my Kentucky Bluegrass it was keeping me awake with its incessant barking at 3am. Beagle I think.

ME: Couldn’t you have just…

JESUS: Snapped my fingers… and POOF? HA. No. Doesn’t work like that. Plus, Mom’s a dog lover. I’d never hear the end of it.

ME: Ah. 

JESUS: Sorry?

ME: I said, “ah”. 

JESUS: Ah. 

ME: I… I don’t mean to sound forward, but it’s… strange… you know? You’re bought the Leichtman’s home, you bought an espresso machine at Costco. If you don’t mind me asking, how do you afford… things?

JESUS: Ah! You mean what doesthe Shepherd and Bishop of Souls do for income? Heh heh, it’s not forward at all. I really don’t mind.

I lean over the half wall partition separating the living room from the kitchen (wonderfully open concept in design) .

JESUS: Well, my father has a very diverse portfolio. Mostly offshore deals and real estate. Plus, he so busy with all of his side projects that he needs the help of others spreading the Good Word so… that’s where I come in.

ME: You work for your dad?

JESUS: I like to think of it as working WITH dad. But, yeah. 

ME: And… he pays you?

JESUS: Uh huh. 

ME: Sorry, I’m just trying to wrap my head around the moral implications of what you’re saying.

JESUS:  I know, I know. John 4:34 – “My food,’ said Jesus, ‘is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.” But it all comes down to context. “Food” meant food back in the day  but in the 20th century…

ME: It means money.

JESUS: Yuppers. Sugar?

ME: Uh… sure. (JC hands me the steaming cup). Thank you.

JESUS: Now drink the blood of the Son of Man. (Snorting) Just kidding! Seriously, I’m like a joke that no one gets.    

ME: (Flabbergasted) I’m sorry, it’s a lot to take in. This is kind of a big day for me. Not only did I meet the Only Begotten Son but I filed my income taxes all by myself and I think I’m finally getting a refund this year.

JESUS: That IS a big deal.

ME: Uh huh. I guess… it’s just that… well… there’s so much I don’t understand. There’s just so much I want ask you.

JESUS: (Buttering a croissant) Lay it on me. Croissant?

ME: N-no thanks. Uh… I guess I find it hard to understand how spreading the word of God comes brings in a pay check now. I’m mean… you used to do that for free. You used to roam the countryside spreading the word, doing miracles, healing leopards and that sort of thing. 

JESUS: Sorry, healing what now?

ME: Leopards? (Shit, why didn’t I pay attention in Sunday school?!) 

JESUS: (Politely letting it slide) Yeah, those… leopards! So many spots, so little time. But, let me ask you this. If a man who’s dedicated his entire life, nay, his entire EXISTENCE to spreading the Word of God, his Divine Message, and I’m not talking about a few words like, “Look both ways when you cross the street” or “ spend more time brushing the ones in the back”, I’m talking about everything from Genesis to Revelation, if a man dedicates everything he is to the conveyance of his Holy Message, wouldn’t you think he’s entitled to little compensation? I mean, you know what property taxes are like in this neighbourhood?    

I stood there dumbfounded. I couldn’t form a response and I certainly didn’t want to get into the ontological debate of all time with the Prince of Peace, I avoided the question by fake sneezing for three full minutes. 

JC had left the room and returned with some Allegra. 

JESUS: It’s those darned Azaleas. Here, take two of these (he pops a couple of tablets from the foil and drops them in my hand).

ME: Thank you. 

JESUS: What were we talking about?

ME: How music isn’t the same today. So electronic. It’s all auto-tune now. You don’t have to be able to sing anymore. You just have to be able to… you know… sell the product? 

JC doesn’t look convinced as he appears to search his memory about what we’d REALLY been talking about. I interject…

ME: And purpose!! Why are we here? Are we merely alive for the sake of being alive or are we here for the purpose of fulfilling a destiny that involves leaving something for future generations? Leaving your mark? You know… everyone wants to leave their mark. Achievable immortality.

JESUS: I see what you’re saying and I agree. The philosophical undertones are quite transparent when you consider the vastness of a universe which is bound only by the limitations of the human mind. There’s so much going on out there and yet people are inward focused and yet they can’t…. DIVINE MESSAGE!!!! (I nearly jump out of my skin) That’s what we were talking about before!! Oh man, I just remembered! Whew!!

My posture slumps like a deflated bouncy castle. I am defeated.

JESUS: Sorry, what were your thoughts on that?

ME: (Candidly) Lemme drink about it and get back to you.

We both break into laughter and when I think I’m off the hook…

ME: I often find myself so deeply engaged in metaphysical conversation that I’m simultaneously advocating the philosophical theory of existentialism while asking questions like how old would you be if you didn’t know how old you were?

JESUS: (Nodding in agreement. His hand strokes his beard as he studies what I’m saying) Mm hmm. Mm hmm. 

ME: Well, far be it from me to enter into an oncological debate with the Bread of Life.

JESUS: I think you mean ontological.

ME: Wud I say?

JESUS: You said “oncological”. I’m pretty sure that’s related to the study of cancer. “Ontological” refers to that area of metaphysics that deals with the nature of being, or something to that effect. 

ME: You don’t have to humour me.

JESUS: Sorry. (smiles).You’re not a religious man, are you Darren? 

JC says this looking at me over the top rim of his glasses even though he wasn’t wearing any.  

ME: (Looking for a hole to climb into) Ahhhh… I’m sorry. I guess I’m just not… credulous? I’m definitely no theologian either. I don’t know who or what God is really. I mean, I thought All Saints was a group of holy men during the Renaissance. Turns out they were a nineties girl band. (Choke) I mean… look at me. Do I look like the religious type? I thought stigmata was an eye condition. (nervous laughter – trying to make light of a bad situation)

Thinking to myself, bail, bail, bail! EJECT, EJECT, EJECT!!!

JESUS: You needn’t explain for me, Darren. It’s Dad’s will that man live free. You’re free to choose your path. Free to have a voice. Heck, you’re free to shave swear words in your head if that’s what you wanna do. 

ME: I didn’t mean any disrespe- –  

JESUS: None taken. Really!

ME: Well, look, it’s been great but I should be moseying back to my place. Maybe I’ll drop by again. What kind of wine do you drink?

JESUS: Seriously? My garden hose is attached to what’s essentially an endless supply of vino. Come over anytime. 

ME: (I smile and nod in the affirmative) Enjoy the moustachios!!

JC chuckles charmingly as he walks me to the front door. We step out onto the porch.

JESUS: Watch that second step. Gotta guy coming Wednesday to fix that before someone breaks their neck. 

Hopping over the second step. 

ME: Nice meeting you, Jesus. See ya soon.

JESUS: You bet (smiles authentically)… and call me “Jess”. 

ME: Seriously? 

I pause, wondering if JC was joking, then hop the property line of daffodils and practically skip across my front lawn and into the house. I’m whistling “My Favourite Things” from “The Sound Of Music”. 

JC turns to find the door has accidentally closed… and locked. The corner of his bath towel is caught in the door jam. People are stopping on the sidewalk upon recognizing the King of Kings. JC throws them a friendly, but awkward, wave and spins to face the door. The crowd is growing like it’s on film that’s been sped up.  

JESUS: (Under his breath, as he fidgets with the door knob and shakes his head) “…thought stigmata was an eye condition.”