Jesus on Toast: the Pareidolia
A few years ago a friend got me one of those plastic cookie-cutter things that make Jesus imprints on toast. This was after a long conversation of pareidolia, something I’ve been captivated by since I was a small child.
As a child my brother and I did not much go to church. Sometime in middle childhood (I think I was seven or eight and my brother was ten) my mother gave us the option of going to church or not going to church anymore. I don’t remember whether my mother ever went with us to church the few times we did go, but I don't think so. We were either Episcopalian or Methodist. Methodist, I think.
No, definitely Methodist.
I have a memory of my mother dropping my brother and I off in front of the church, then an older woman scuttling us into some basement for lessons on God. But maybe it just felt like abandonment and she really was up there somewhere above, listening with the other believers to the organ buzz vibrating the walls.
My brother and I were thoughtful children. When given the option we didn’t answer right away. I remember a few moments huddled in his room, the dog and us in a trinity of thought, before emerging and letting mother know that, no, we didn’t think we wanted to go anymore.
As a result of this The Bible has always been my weak category on Jeopardy.
As a result of this I started seeing Jesus everywhere. I was convinced the face of Jesus watched me while I slept from the back of my bedroom door. With dark knots for eyes and a beard shaped by dendrochronology, he watched while I slept.
I saw Jesus in the popcorn ceiling over the stairs. In oil stains in our garage. In patterns of leaves at the side of the road. And in clouds, especially in clouds.
In my bedroom in high school, I was persuaded to make a move on my best (girl) friend by the fact that the bare branches of the tree outside my window spelled love. This I noticed for the first time while we sat on my floor talking about U2 and REM and Losing My Religion,
The slip that brought me
To my knees failed
What if all these fantasies
Come flailing around
Now I've said too much
and never stopped seeing until the leaves returned to the trees.
I never once thought being gay was like being straight. Not once did I underestimate the anxiety of letting on I liked a girl. I knew what it was to like a boy. The tremors that came with this were nothing like the earth-shattering and possible brain-bashing of liking a girl.
Sarah was religious. She was born-again, evangelical. If at 17 I’d had any idea what these things meant, I probably would have kept my distance.
She played golf, she played drums, her family read from the Bible every night, sometimes her mother spoke in tongues. When I had dinner there, I too read from the Bible, but the words meant nothing to me.
This isn’t where I meant to go with this. In short, it all worked out. I mean, for a little while. There was violence (though not between us), there was excitement of subterfuge, the shock of revealing our relationship to a handful of people. Of course she wasn’t gay then; it was just about me.
I don't know which will go first - rock 'n' roll or Christianity. –John Lennon
Under directions from her mother, Sarah’s brother buried her CDs next to the creek behind their house. Her mother went in and out of thinking all music that didn't exalt Christ was created by the hands of the devil.
It took a few weeks before she found the CDs again, covers wilted and stuck together with the ground’s perspiration.
The year before I met Sarah, I was hanging out a lot with Ali. It wasn’t the same kind of adoration (deeply into hairspray and lipstick, oh, and boys, I never would have tried anything on her), but we were close. Her parents were my parents briefly, I too hated her brother, that kind of thing. I don’t remember why she had friends in Youngstown, but there was a party and I went along. I remember somebody’s kitchen, the linoleum especially. I spent some time drunk on that yellow tile.
There was plenty of alcohol. There was the standard pairings of one girl and one boy making out here and there. And the girls who weren’t latched to a boy seemed to be aching for it. At this point I’d done nothing about my affection for girls. I had had a boyfriend the year before whose best friend (a girl) had kissed me, but that was all.
Let’s call the girl at this party Maggie. When we got there, Maggie was strumming a guitar in the kitchen. She did not look up, she did not say hello. Her dark hair fell over her face. I had no idea what she looked like except for her hands, which gnarled out to pluck at the notes, but were lovely when ever they paused.
The end of the night would find Maggie and I curled up in some strange bedroom, the door locked and all of the furniture against it.
In the kitchen she played a Beatles song. I said I shared my birthday with George Harrison, a bit of trivia I liked to share. George Harrison and Pele (I used to play soccer, a lot). I knew George was the ‘lesser’ Beatle. John was the best for his glasses and early death. Paul came in second for song-writing. Ringo, by pure virtue of a cool name kept him firmly not-in-last. But George was better than nothing. “Oh, really,” she looked up. Blue eyes, beautiful. In that instant I knew I would always favor girls with blue eyes. “I share my birthday with John.”
Sometimes with Butter
I like toast. A lot. Breakfast, if I have it, is usually a piece of toast and a few swallows of orange juice. Always the same kind of bread. Always the same brand of orange juice. It’s been this way for years.
Friday the man was coming to look at our furnace, to make sure we weren’t poisoning ourselves. I’ve been smelling a smell whenever the heat’s on. C doesn’t notice it at all.
We have the ritual now of coming home to me saying, “There. How about now? Can you smell that?” It makes my throat burn. “No, but we can call someone.”
We have finally called someone and I’m waiting for him to show up. Between 8 and noon; it’s a busy time of year. I want toast, but I don’t make it. Toast smells good and I’ve cranked up the heat in the hopes that the burly, dirty man who shows will smell the same terribleness that I do.
I’m starving. I could have some Grape Nuts, but it’s not what I want. I’m making tiramisu for a holiday party on Saturday. I forget and brew a new pot of double-strong coffee to dip the ladyfingers in.
Gary shows up and I ask him, “what do you smell?” “Coffee,” he says. “And rum.”
Telling Them Stories
At the local coffee shop a new artist has put their work up. The photographs aren’t bad, but there’s some tacky plaque up that I misread at first.
I don’t have children, yet. But in my dreams I’m telling them stories.
I read this as in my dreams I’m selling them.
Perhaps it’s best I don’t have kids.
I want to talk about Stridentism, but maybe not today.
Absinthe, the Poet’s Third Eye
I want to talk more about Rimbaud. And the concept of potential, realized and unrealized, and what that means. If somewhere in the universe floats all the books he never wrote. The books Bolano didn’t write. All the artists who died young.
I want to talk about playing board games and about Christmas trees. How my grandmother never let me win Scrabble, and what that means to my competitiveness.
C and I don't go out a lot. Like most cozy couples with nothing to prove, we often prefer Lost on DVD and hanging out with cats to real socializing. Between Garth and Pierre's holiday extravaganza and game night at Debra and Cata's, it was a busy Saturday. I learned Rummikub, which I'm probably spelling wrong, and of which I've discovered one can play at many different levels of comprehension. I'm sure I played at one of the lower levels. But it's also got more to do with luck than I'm generally looking for in a good rousing game. All in all, a good time was had.
At Garth and Pierre's party, we really couldn't help staring at the tree. Get two talented artists and combine two and a half decades of gathered ornaments and a love of detail and you've got something that really shines. Blindingly so. For a few minutes I actually considered convincing C that we too needed to put up a tree.
Having another commitment, we didn't stay nearly as long as I would have liked. Hopefully we'll see them again soon.
On the Bookshelf
I’m currently reading Kathleen Rooney’s For You, For You I am Trilling These Songs, Lorrie Moore's Who Will Run the Frog Hospital? (from a writer I adore, not one of her best, but still worth a read), Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead. I’m taking a break from reading poetry. I won't go into why, but it has to do with this:
There’s Something to be Said for Chronology
So I wrote this novel. I haven’t sent it very many places, and have gotten excellent “not quite”s every time time, several close calls from very nice presses. And have had in the back of my mind that I need to get back to it. To mold it around some central emotion. I mean, it has that. But more. Make it more while making less. You know. What you Do.
I took a year to write it, two more to revise it and revise and revise and revise. Looked at it more the way a poet would a poetry manuscript. The rearranging of parts. Like a mix-tape. It’s composed of short sections.
Revised for two years. Every day. Then couldn’t think about it for more than two years. I wanted my character crazy. Unable to trust and untrustable. Unlodged in time, omniscient. Reaching into minds the way you once feared your mother could.
So I’ve gone back to it now, though a few places are still looking at it.
The characters have begun obsessing me again. In that unhealthy way that I can’t take a shower without them. That I find them tying my shoes, steering the car, throwing the ball for my dog. Like bodysnatchers, they take over sometimes.
But I’m finding it hard to re-read when I’ve already read the 500 pages so many times. So instead I’m recreating the book from the sum of its parts. Developing Re-versions, if you will. One will hold to strict chronology. This isn’t something I’m used to. I don’t believe we live this way, all at once moving forward.
I know what Time really looks like, and it’s got more than two hands.
Anyway, I’m in love with it again. This I have needed.
Sometimes I Think Maybe Everything That Needs to be Said Might Be Communicated with Cumulous Cloud Formations
I don’t really think I see Jesus anywhere. I’ve never believed in the sightings, except that first one on my bedroom door.
It’s all about patterns. I know this. And focus. About staring at a wall long enough for Jesus to come looking for you. For words to emerge. Military formations. Constellations. A little bit of butter on a thin slice of bread.