Our neighbor Chuck named his Rottweiller Jesus to make a point. So that when proslytizers roamed our neighborhood and the rest of us closed our blinds and turned off our lights, Chuck stood out on his porch smoking and waving with Jesus at this side.
Jesus knows two tricks; how to sit, how to shake. When Jehovah’s Witnesses stop by with the Watchtower and Awake
magazines, Chuck says, “Look what I taught Jesus to do,” and he insists they shake his paw. One time, a little girl crawled out of her mama’s skirt to meet Jesus. I watched through my laundry room window. The little girl squat on the concrete steps in her pink gingham dress and took Jesus’ paw into her itty-bitty hand. “Whatch’ya think of Jesus?” Chuck asked her. “I thought Jesus was white,” she said, and the mother’s skirt swallowed her up again.
The two Catholic families on the block insist they’re false prophets. Among the rest of us home-but-hiding, like my wife Molly and me, are various other factors narrowed down to one: fear. They ask you all sorts of things that are none of their business. Like, Do you think God cares? What is your hope for the afterlife? Do you accept Jesus Christ as your Savior? But scariest of all, When can we come back to discuss this topic with you in more detail? Each time they arrive armed with a series of questions to keep you on your porch and shut the hell up. They flip through their Bibles before you can finish your sentence to show you why whatever it was you were about to say was devastatingly wrong. You tell them you’re not interested, they ask you, What are you not interested in, the Bible, religion or God? Doesn’t matter which one you pick. They’ve got a Bible page dog tagged to show you why should be interested in all three. After a while, you give up trying to defend yourself to these strangers, you stop answering the door, and you watch Chuck have at it with them, Chuck,being the kid in who once dropped ex-lax in his teacher’s coffee.
The only other non-hider in the neighborhood besides Chuck is the widow Mrs. Castillo. Her son visits only on holidays and the other neighbors are afraid to make eye contact with her, being that she’ll leech onto them and ask them to help her “tape her shows” or, help her find her glasses. Mrs. Castillo awaits the proselytizers of various sects with Chuck’s same eagerness. She gets a home-visit from Mormon missionaries twice a week, on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and one Bible-study a week from two Jehovah’s Witnesses every Wednesday morning. On Sundays, she alternates between churches. If you ask me, Mrs. Castillo is courting with disaster. I watch her like I watch Chuck, waiting for the other shoe to drop.
Mostly Jesus spends his time in idleness, on Chuck’s porch. Neighborhood boys whistle for him, “Wanna play fetch?” They yell out, “Save me Jesus!” when girls are present, but Jesus never gets the joke. His most concentrated moments of existence are ironically, during those sporadic visits from preachers and missionaries, where his purpose is simply to make the statement for Chuck, that nothing is sacred.
The joke gets old. Not only because Chuck has to announce how clever he is, “You see the look on that chick’s face? Shit. That’s my favorite part. I tell her, hey, I found Jesus…he was eating my garbage!” He manages two belly laughs before doubling over with a smoker’s cough. Jesus wagging his tale, waiting I guess, for someone to notice his food bowl is empty. It gets old because either way, those poor bastards who go to his door are in a lose-lose situation. If they have the balls to tell him how they find it offensive, oh boy, Chuck will lay into them about freedom of speech and religion and what is this country coming to and what about the separation of church and state and how dare they come unannounced and tell him what he can and can’t name his dog and besides he’s an atheist and have they ever considered that, that to some people the name Jesus is just a name and not some magic utterance on which all our salvation lies, don’t they think they should get a clue? If they ignore his antics, Chuck never shuts up with the one-liners; “He’s wagging his tail, see? Jesus loves you!” “Another pamphlet? Sure, Jesus is paper-trained!”
Next time they come around I tell them flat out, “I’m not looking for God ladies. He knows where to find me.”
Molly drops one of her hair rollers and covers her mouth. That’s not all I tell them. I say, “Look, I could never do what you do. Hell, you couldn’t pay me to go house to house and ask strangers what they think happens to you after you die. I wouldn’t have the guts to sell donuts.”
“In case something changes,” the older lady says—she’s got pretty green eyes and a veiny neck, “here’s a pamphlet.”
The younger woman is already at the bottom of my steps, looking up. She crosses her arms while the veiny one presses the pamphlet into my hand.
Jesus has gone missing. Neighborhood boys on bikes have gone searching for him. Two missionaries have come by to take Mrs. Castillo to church. Chuck grinds a half smoked cigarette into the porch railing, and I can hear Nine Inch Nails blasting from the surround sound in his living room through our open laundry room window. Molly says it might snow and if I’m too hot I should take my clothes off. She shudders in her terry cloth robe.
The boys are whistling and calling out “Jesus! Jesus!” The boys are stepping off their bikes, throwing branches at the grumpy, rising creek. The boys are looking up towards Heaven, praying with clasped hands, “Please God, let it snow.”