My Dinner with Ahab

Dinner with Ahab

The life of a whaling ship captain is hard. You’re at sea for years on end, away from family and friends, commanding a crew of some of the most unsavory and unchristian men New England has to offer. When you finally do return home, oftentimes you have little to show for your efforts, maybe a few hundred barrels at most. You dock your ship, collect your lay, and pray it lasts until your next outing. That is, assuming you can get a ship’s owner to take you on at a fair price. Some of these Quakers drive a hard bargain!

It was early evening on Nantucket Island, and I was busy preparing for a voyage around the Horn– consulting maps and navigation charts, vetting crew members, making sure the ship was equipped and ready to go. We were scheduled to depart the next morning. I would have liked nothing more than to spend my last night on the island at home with Polk, my cat. Yet through an odd series of circumstances, I had been shanghaied into accepting an offer to have dinner with a man I had been avoiding for years.

His name was Ahab. At one time, he had been one of the most celebrated whaling captains in New England. My first voyage had been as a sailor aboard his ship. He promoted me to first mate and was instrumental in getting me my first captain’s gig.

But then something happened to Ahab on his last voyage, something terrible. A whale had bitten his leg clean off. It very nearly killed him. Once a strict but otherwise good-natured captain, Ahab, it was said by those who came across him since the accident, was given to dark moods, punctuated by disquieting fits of monomania. During such fits, it was always “the white whale this” and “the white whale that.” You would try and change the subject, maybe talk about Mendelssohn’s violin concerto or the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, yet somehow Ahab would bring the conversation right back to that damned white whale!

Friends abandoned Ahab (alas, I was one of them). His marriage suffered. He had been married fairly recently, before the accident, to a beautiful young woman who bore him an adorable baby girl. At one time, Ahab couldn’t wait to return home from a voyage. Now, he couldn’t wait to get back to sea and continue his mad hunt for the one sailors dubbed “Moby-Dick.”

Captain Peleg, who had arranged the dinner between Ahab and me, claimed that once during a midnight stroll along the docks—Peleg suffered from insomnia–he happened upon Ahab standing there speaking forlornly to a dolphin bobbing in the water below. After a few minutes, even the dolphin had had enough and briskly disappeared beneath the inky water.

I entered the Try Pots Inn, all the while chiding myself, “Wallace, what are you doing here? You’re a ship’s captain, not a doctor. What could you possibly do for Ahab?”

As I peered around the dining hall, I was relieved to find that Ahab was nowhere in sight. Perhaps he had changed his mind. I decided I would have a drink at the bar. One drink. If Ahab didn’t show up by the time I finished, so much the better. I would go back to my seaside bungalow and split a can of sardines with Polk.

A young man sitting alone on the opposite end of the bar caught my eye as I ordered a glass of whiskey. The man appeared to have two sheets to the wind, and the third one was unraveling fast. I recognized him. We had met a few days earlier in this very inn. He was a merchant seaman lodging in the Try Pots until his ship sailed. Coincidentally, he was booked to go on his first whaling voyage aboard the Pequod, Captain Ahab’s ship.

The young man grabbed his mug of grog and stumbled over to where I was standing. I began to panic. For the life of me, I couldn’t remember his name. There seems to be a universal law that a person whose name you can’t recall is always the one most eager to say hello to you.

“Calpan Wallace,” the young man said with an outstretched arm and a stumbling tongue. “Glood to see you!”

“Good to see you, Mr. —”

“Call me Ilshmael,” he said, patting my shoulder.

Ilshmael? Oh, right, Ishmael! How could I forget? What parent names his kid Ishmael? Giving the kid a bad start, the poor bastard. Still, a decent lad. Saved me the embarrassment of not remembering his name.

A few minutes into our conversation, I couldn’t wait to get away from him. This Ishmael was an unrepentant drunk! And he talked incessantly, INCESSANTLY, squeezing as many words between hiccups as he was able. Even Polk would have tired of his endless yarns. Fortunately, Ahab arrived before Ishmael could ask me to buy another round.

I heard Ahab before I saw him. Everyone in the Try Pots did. His peg leg clomped ominously along the boards leading up to the inn before Ahab paused and violently flung open the door. A veritable sea Atlas, Ahab filled the doorway. Straight off, your eyes went to that gleaming ivory leg.

All conversation at the bar stopped as patrons turned to look at this otherworldly figure. He had changed since I last saw him. Yes, of course, he was down a leg. But there was something else. Was it the lengthy scar that ran down his face? He had always had that, hadn’t he? Even as a boy. Something to do with a clumsy childhood reenactment of Captain Cook’s final aloha. It always made him look like he had been split in two and glued back together. You couldn’t help but stare at it, it was so long and white on an otherwise sunburnt face. Thank goodness the peg leg was there to distract you.

I excused myself from Ishmael, who immediately latched onto another hapless patron at the bar. “Did I tell you about this clannibal I’m shlaring a bed with?” I heard him tell the unlucky fellow.

A freckled blond woman of few words and hurried movements seated Ahab and me at a table in the middle of the dining room. Menus were unnecessary. The restaurant served only one thing, chowder, and only two kinds. I picked clam. Ahab chose cod. Right away, I regretted my choice. But the woman was already flitting back to the kitchen. Oh, well. Maybe Ahab would let me try some of his. Was he the sharing type, I wondered? The scowl on his face suggested otherwise.

Didn’t Ahab used to smile more often? And where was that great bellowing laugh? He knew at least a hundred limericks about a man from Nantucket, each one dirtier than the last. Should I ask him to recite one to break the ice?

Better not, I thought to myself.

The freckled woman returned with our bowls of chowder and slammed them on the table. As an afterthought, she dug into her apron pockets and pulled out a couple of handfuls of crackers, tossing them unceremoniously between the bowls before leaving.

“No nickel for her, eh?” I said smiling at Ahab. Ahab merely grunted.

An uncomfortable silence followed. I tried the chowder. Not bad! I decided to break the silence by asking Ahab a few questions about his family.

“How’s the wife?”

“Still breathing,” Ahab spit out.

“Been almost three years since your marriage, hasn’t it?”

“Mmmm.”

“And your baby? I hear you have a beautiful little girl.”

He fixed me with a stern stare and said through gritted teeth, “And what of beauty in this world, Captain Wallace? Are ye not aware that it merely rots on the vine?”

Boy, was he in a mood!

I ceased with the questions and sat slurping my soup. Apparently, Ahab wasn’t the least bit hungry. He pulled out a pipe, filled it, lit it, took a puff, and with a look of disgust, threw the pipe into his chowder.

I guess I wouldn’t get to try the cod.

Every now and then, I glanced at the gleaming leg lurking beneath the table. A couple of times I crossed my own legs and kicked it by accident. Ahab didn’t appear to notice. At one point, between silences, he caught me gawking at the leg. To my surprise and embarrassment, he yanked it out from under the table and threw it right on top, between our bowls of chowder. Crackers went flying everywhere. The restaurant again fell silent as patrons stared in our direction.

“Ye want to know about the beast that dismasted me, aye Captain Wallace?” Ahab asked.

I really didn’t. Then again, I kind of did. I nodded, slowly. Ahab leaned back in his chair and removed his fake leg from the table.

“It was a white whale, Captain Wallace. A great white sperm whale, as white as the ivory of this here bogus leg. Whiter still. Moby-Dick, he’s called. As big as this very inn, with a wrinkled brow and a crooked jaw that make him look all the more ferocious, as if he were forged in Hell’s fiery furnace, and the devilish blacksmith responsible for creating him was but an apprentice, and not a very good one at that, as he got some of the parts a little wrong.”

I was frightened already. Ahab continued.

“’Twas off the island of Japan that the beast bested me. We were in the skiff, my harpooners and me, when we saw the spout big as an oak coming straight for us. The beast turned his mountain of a body sideways as he slipped ’neath the boat. The twisted harpoons of all the whalers who had tried and failed to slay him over the years still stuck in his flank. My own harpooners were white with fear, whiter even than the whale itself, which again, I tell ye, was very, very white.”

“The whole whale?” I asked.

“What?!” Ahab snapped, apparently unaccustomed to being interrupted.

“The entire whale was solid white, from head to tail?”

“No, just the head was white,” he grumbled. “And a few spots here and there.”

“Well, that’s not really a white whale is it?” I said. “I mean, Polk has a white chin and belly, but I wouldn’t call him a white cat.”

“It’s a white whale, I tell ye!” Ahab shouted, grabbing the edges of the table, his eyes flashing with fury.

“OK,” I said, terrified. “ He’s white. I’m wrong. You’re right.”

Ahab brought a finger up to his eye and continued. “The beast fixed me with one awful eye, an eye of hatred, an eye of malice. Then he twisted his body and overturned our little boat in the dark waters. And as he turned back, that crooked jaw came skimming along the water and severed my leg, leaving me a poor pegging lubber for the rest of my days.”

Ahab fell silent. Seeing my chance, I took up another spoonful of chowder. But before I could shovel it into my mouth, Ahab’s fist came crashing down on the table.

“But I’ll have my revenge, Captain Wallace! Aye. I’ll follow him around Cape Hope and the Horn, through perdition’s flames, before I give up. If it costs me my other leg to do so!”

A legless sea captain. It seemed such a silly image. But I wasn’t about to say anything. You know how it is. Someone goes through a traumatic experience and you don’t want to appear insensitive. After all, you don’t know what another person is going through. Why, I had a toothache once…. Still, Ahab was laying it on a bit thick, I felt.

“But certainly, Ahab,” I said, letting my spoon drop. “Seeking revenge on a dumb brute that was merely reacting out of instinct. It’s unwise.”

“A dumb brute? A dumb brute ye say? Why, you’re as thick as Captain Delano. Look here, Wallace. This thing may appear to be but a dumb brute. But there’s more to him. Vastly more. Infinitely more. All visible things are but masks hiding what lies underneath. And beneath the mask of this white whale, sir, is a dark, inscrutable hatred, and it is this that I despise above all else. Why, I would strike the sun if it insulted me!”

He was starting to sound like a book. For my part, I had had just about enough. I signaled for the check.

I wanted to speak my mind there in that inn. I wanted to tell Ahab what I thought of all this ridiculous whale hatred. Why couldn’t he forgive and forget, turn the other cheek? Wasn’t that the Christian thing to do? Get on with your life, man. Enough with these whale woes! Here we were in this nice restaurant, with a couple of delicious bowls of chowder, at least one of them still edible. Life wasn’t as bad as all that. You go on a whaling voyage every few years to pay the bills. You come back with a tan, some scrimshaw, a few shrunken heads for the kids in the neighborhood. Maybe a plump whitefish for Polk. And you resume your nice little life onshore. You write some letters, smoke a few pipes of tobacco, take a long walk along the beach with a pretty girl now and then before preparing for your next voyage. What more do you need in life, really? Why spend the rest of it nursing a grudge against some stupid animal that absconded with your leg? It won’t help you get it back.

I wanted to tell Ahab all of this. I wanted to tell him, but I didn’t. Clearly, Ahab was mad. But what was I supposed to do about it? I had my own problems. For example, who was going to watch Polk while I was away? And maybe going back out to sea would be the best thing for Ahab. Maybe his family could use the break. Maybe a long chase of this Moby-Dick might help Ahab get it out of his system once and for all. Who knows, maybe he’ll succeed and bring back the white whale’s head–and enough spermaceti to make candles for the entire Eastern seaboard!

I guess I’m an optimist at heart. Still, the crazy captain gave me a lot to think about that night.

Ahab picked up the check, bless his tortured heart. We said our goodbyes. I wished him luck on his voyage, he on mine. Okay, he didn’t wish me luck. But I like to think he thought it.

I decided to spoil myself and take a carriage ride home. I needed the rest. Tomorrow was a big day.

As the carriage made its way through these Nantucket streets I would soon leave behind, I couldn’t wait to get home and tell Polk all about my dinner with Ahab.

 

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A CNET Product Review of the Sistine Chapel

Sistine Chapel Ceiling

Review Date: August 14, 2014

The Good / The Sistine Chapel comes fully loaded: Elegant Renaissance-era architecture, a wealth of stunning interior frescoes, the blessings of countless popes, and a UNESCO World Heritage site designation.

The Bad / Functionally, the Sistine Chapel is a minor upgrade over the Cappella Maggiore it replaced. As a result, the chapel is long on art but short on cutting-edge technology.

The Bottom Line / Although the Sistine Chapel is worth a look if you happen to be visiting Vatican City, your experience won’t be as fulfilling as a trip to your local Apple Store.


Commissioned in 1477 by Pope Sixtus IV, the Sistine Chapel was designed by Italian architect Baccio Pontelli. First time visitors may be surprised by the plainness of the chapel’s exterior. No fancy bells or whistles here. Pontelli eschewed ornamentation and, according to the visitor’s guide, based the chapel’s simple rectangular layout on the Temple of Solomon as depicted in the Old Testament. Yet one suspects Sixtus may have skimped on the architectural budget in order to plow money into the artwork. I like art as much as the next person, but I would have preferred a flashier design.

The Frescoes

The main draw of the Sistine Chapel are its beautiful frescoes–and boy do they pack a punch! Some of the Italian Renaissance’s most famous artists were called on to contribute their prodigious talents—Botticelli, Ghirlandaio, Perugino, and, of course, Michelangelo. It’s because of these frescoes that 5 million visitors a year from around the world come to see the Chapel. The entrance fees alone, which are hardly bargain basement, would buy a bevy of new pope mobiles!

The sidewall frescoes are divided into three tiers. The main tier is made up of two cycles of paintings facing one another, one depicting the Life of Moses and the opposite the Life of Christ. Above these are the gallery of popes and ancestors of Christ, topped by biblical narratives from Genesis.

You get the idea. Lots of religious paintings. Lots! They’re lovely, really, but I could have gone for a nice sunset or landscape here and there. Or perhaps Raphael’s School of Athens–which, it just so happens, can be found in the adjoining Apostolic Palace, the Pope’s residence.  If the Pope can get a break from bible study, why can’t we?

The showpiece of the Sistine Chapel is its remarkable ceiling. Beginning in 1508, Michelangelo replaced the original blue ceiling with a rocking series of frescoes depicting God’s Creation of the World, God’s Relationship with Mankind, and Mankind’s Fall from God’s Grace.

But good heavens, why put them on the ceiling? Couldn’t they have been placed somewhere a little more user-friendly? After staring up at these frescoes for a few minutes, I got a terrible crick in my neck. I’ll bet Michelangelo experienced the same problem when he painted them. I know artists are meant to suffer for their art, but why make the viewing public suffer?

Later, in 1537, Michelangelo would begin work on the Last Judgment, perhaps the most arresting of all of the interior frescoes. It’s a sturdy piece that extends from the chapel’s alter all the way up to the ceiling. I was especially drawn to this painting. The deep blues remind me of the Facebook and Instagram banners.

Michelangelo's Last Judgment

Lack of Technology

One big drawback of the Sistine Chapel is its lack of accessible technology. Would it kill them to add WiFi? How many people show up with their smartphones or tablets and are disappointed when they can’t look up information about a particular fresco, pope, biblical narrative, or architectural feature? The Episcopal church down the street from my house has WiFi. Why doesn’t the Sistine Chapel? Heck, they’ve got UNESCO money!

Conclusion

Is the Sistine Chapel a game changer? Perhaps–if you’re a Catholic living in 16th century Europe. Today, not so much. Goethe famously wrote: “Without having seen the Sistine Chapel one can form no appreciable idea of what one man is capable of achieving.” Sure. One man. But look at what teams of men and women can do today. Ours is a social, interconnected world where any piece of information you could possibly want is accessible with a tap of a screen or click of a button. Today, our most creative minds come together to give us what we want in this life, not fanciful notions of what awaits us in the next.


Quick Specifications

Shape: Rectangular

Stories: 3

Interior dimensions:  44 ft. x 134 ft.

Vaulted ceiling height: 68 ft.

Number of frescoes: 90

Number of visitors per year: ~5 million


 

The Mumbling Messiah

Sermon on the Mount

A crowd of villagers occupied the slopes of a hillock, straining to hear the one they called “the Kid,” who stood on the hillock’s summit giving an impromptu sermon in a listless drone. Those near the summit could just make out what the Kid was saying. Those further downhill were only able to capture a word here and there: “hypocrite,” “kingdom,” “father.” The rest of what the Kid said was lost in the aether.

Watching from the base of the hillock were Judas Iscariot and Simon Peter. Judas, arms folded, had a dour expression on his face. Simon held a cupped hand above his eyes to block out the late afternoon sun. Both men were several decades older than the Kid.

Neither man seemed interested in what the Kid was saying. Not today anyway. They had heard him countless times. They were familiar with his message. Judas and Simon were among the Kid’s first followers. However, on this day, the two men were more interested in determining the Kid’s range, which is why they stood so far away. The crowds the Kid was drawing, they noticed, were starting to plateau. Both men appeared disappointed, especially Judas.

“This is just awful,” Judas said to Simon, his eyes squinting up at the Kid.

“I know,” Simon replied.

“Why did we not notice this before?”

Simon shrugged. “We were always in close proximity.”

“Can you hear anything he’s saying?” Judas asked.

“Only a murmur,” Simon said. He moved his cupped hand behind one ear. “You can tell someone is speaking, but you can’t make out the words.”

“It’s terrible,” Judas said.

Judas felt a headache coming on. Unfolding his arms, he pressed the bridge of his nose with a thumb and forefinger. “You have to be standing five feet away to even hear him.”

“He might as well be speaking Latin,” Simon joked.

“Why can’t he project?” Judas asked, raising his arms to the sky.

“He’s probably had no one to teach him,” Simon replied. He glanced up at the taller man. “You’re having doubts.”

“How can he be the Messiah when three-quarters of the people come away from his sermons having no idea what he said?”

“Yet all his followers talk about him. About his gentleness. About his wisdom.”

“Of course they do. A few people up front manage to figure out what he’s saying, with no little effort on their part. They walk away excited, exclaiming what a great sermon it was. ‘Can you believe what the young rabbi said? Wasn’t it amazing?’ And the rest of the people, not wanting to look like schmucks, say, ‘Yes, it was terrific, wasn’t it?’ But they have no idea what he said.”

“Those who hear him will hear him,” Simon said.

“What is that supposed to mean?”

Simon again shrugged.

“Sure, he’s got a good message,” Judas continued. “But his presentation stinks! That’s not what you want in a Messiah. You want strength. You want power. You want him to kick us in the butts. This kid is far too meek.”

“The parables don’t help either,” Simon said.

“I would be fine with the parables if you could actually hear them. Does he have to mumble like that?”

Simon looked down at the ground, thinking.

“Perhaps what he needs is a coach,” he said. “What about John?”

“The Baptist?” Judas asked. “Well, there’s an idea. He’s a pretty decent speaker.”

“He’s a terrific speaker. Do you think he would be willing?”

“I think he would be willing for the right price.”

And so Judas and Simon set off into the wilderness to ask John the Baptist for help with the Kid’s presentation. They came upon him sitting cross-legged on a rock beside the river. The Baptist was eating a handful of locusts. Simon cringed a little when he saw him.

Judas and Simon greeted John and explained why they had come. John sat there on his rock, listening attentively, munching away. He could see how important this was to the two men. So he held out for a higher price. There was haggling and gnashing of teeth. When they finally agreed to a price, Judas told John he was all heart for a prophet. John said that money doesn’t fall from the sky, not even for prophets.

“I guess you have to keep up your locust supply,” Judas said sarcastically.

Meanwhile, word about the Kid had gotten around the village. One of the high priests, Caiaphas, was unhappy because the Kid was violating the Sabbath. That’s what he said anyway. In truth, he hated the fact that the Kid was drawing crowds outdoors while the temple where the high priests preached was being used as a storeroom for fishing nets. The Romans too were unhappy because they believed the Kid to be an agitator. Caiaphas bolstered this belief by feeding the Romans false information. Eventually, he sent a soldier out to find the Kid and bring him in for questioning. The villagers knew what this meant. They took turns hiding the Kid in their homes.

One morning, as Judas and Simon were conferring outside the temple, the soldier walked up to them.

“Where’s the Kid?” the soldier asked.

“Beat it, monkey face!” Judas told him.

“I’ll beat you,” the soldier snarled as he reached for his sword.

“Hang on, gentlemen,” Simon said, stepping between the two men. “Let’s not have any trouble. Look, the Kid went up to Galilee to visit his parents. He’ll be up there at least a fortnight.”

“You better watch it,” the soldier said to Judas. “And you,” he said turning to Simon, “better not be lying.”

As the soldier walked away, Judas said to Simon, “If your face had been pressed any further up his ass, you could have kissed his helmet.”

“You shouldn’t toy with Caiaphas’s soldiers, Judas.”

“I can’t help it. They burn me up. Siding with the occupiers.”

Simon didn’t say anything. He watched a shrike alight on a nearby tree branch.

“What are these Roman barbarians doing down here anyway?” Judas asked. “They can’t grow olives on the boot?”

A few days later, Judas and Simon paid a visit to John the Baptist to see what kind of progress he was making with the Kid. The Baptist surprised them.

“I quit,” he said.

“What?” Judas replied. “You just started. You can’t quit.”

“I just did,” John said. “Here’s your money back.”

He placed several coins in Judas’s palm before immediately snatching two back.

“Minus the lessons given,” he explained.

“What exactly is the problem?” Simon wanted to know.

“Look. He’s a good kid,” John said. “Very smart. Has some terrific things to say. But he doesn’t know how to sell it. I tried and tried with him, but all I get is mumbling. He has no personality. No charisma. He’s hopeless.”

“He’s from a poor family,” Simon told him. “His father never taught him how to speak in public. He was a shepherd.”

“Shepherds don’t speak to their sheep?” John asked.

Simon and Judas exchanged a puzzled glance.

“Just give the Kid another try,” Judas pleaded.

“Out of the question,” the Baptist said. “Listen, I was with you guys in the beginning. I thought he was the one. But you can’t lure a bunch of fishermen with dead bait. They’re not big thinkers, these fishermen. They need a little pizzazz. They work for, what, sixteen hours a day, then come home exhausted. They shouldn’t have to work for the message too. We need someone who can grab them by the beards and shake them. A leader. This kid’s not a leader. I’m sorry, but this is my final answer.”

And that was that. Judas and Simon knew the Baptist was right. The Kid was no leader. Where would this leave them with the Romans?

On their way back to the village, Judas and Simon ran into the same soldier who had confronted them earlier. He had a peculiar smile on his face.

“Watch it,” Judas warned Simon. “That’s the look they give right before they gut you.”

“He knows I lied about Galilee,” Simon said, worried.

The soldier overheard him.

“Gentlemen. I’m not here to make trouble. I’m here to offer you an opportunity.”

“Does Caiaphas need his toilet cleaned?” Judas asked.

“No,” the soldier replied, making an effort to maintain his smile. “He’s offering a reward for information about the Kid’s whereabouts.” He pulled out a small leather purse and held it before his face.

“It’s true what they say,” Judas said to Simon. “The bigger the empire, the smaller the purse.”

A frown flickered across the soldier’s face before the smile returned.

“Think about it, gentlemen,” the soldier said as he walked off still dangling the purse aloft.

Once Simon was certain the soldier was out of earshot, he said to Judas, “I think he wanted to kill us.”

“His breath nearly did,” Judas said.

“Listen, Judas. I’ve been thinking. Perhaps what we need is some sort of event. Something that will get the people’s attention. You know, get them talking.”

“About the Kid?” Judas asked. Simon nodded. “What do you have in mind?”

Simon explained his plan to Judas. Judas thought it was a good one, but he was unsure the Kid could pull it off. When they told the Kid the plan, the Kid was against it.

“It’snotme,” he mumbled.

At least that’s what Judas and Simon thought he said. He may have said, “Hesawme.” Or perhaps “It’sonme.” Whatever the case, the two men got the Kid to finally, albeit reluctantly, agree to Simon’s plan.

The three of them went to the temple, where the money changers conducted their business during the day. Judas and Simon stood at the entrance of the temple as the Kid walked up to one of the money changers and spoke to him.

“What?” the money changer asked, annoyed. “I can’t hear you. Speak up.”

The Kid repeated what he had said. The money changer looked at him scornfully.

“Get the hell out of here!” he yelled at the Kid. “I’m busy here.”

The Kid looked around the temple, confused, like he wasn’t sure what to do next. He started to leave, but at the exit, Judas and Simon stopped him.

“Be more assertive,” Judas told him. “Knock their tables over. Make a scene.”

The Kid walked up to another money changer. He looked uncertainly back at Judas and Simon, who both mimed the knocking over of a table. The Kid tentatively reached out and pushed the money changer’s table, but it failed to tip over.

“Get your filthy hands off my table!” the money changer shouted at him.

“Youneedtoleaveyouallneedtoleavethisisanabominationofthetemple,” the Kid mumbled in a quiet, steady stream. With a finger, he flicked over a pile of coins sitting on the table.

“I told you to keep your hands off!” the money changer screamed, grabbing the Kid by his tunic.

“That’s the same kid who was bothering me,” another money changer said. “He’s a thief. Grab him.”

A group of money changers grabbed the Kid and started beating him. Judas intervened.

“Let the Kid go or I’ll tear this place apart,” Judas said brandishing his sword.

They did so, but not without tossing a few obscenities at the Kid before returning to their business.

As Judas and Simon escorted the Kid out of the temple, they exchanged uneasy glances. Simon knew what Judas was thinking. Simon was thinking the same thing. The Kid wasn’t the one. Pretending he was only made matters worse. And the Kid wouldn’t stop preaching.

“What will we do?” Simon asked.

“I’ll take care of it,” Judas said grimly.

If you had been out in the village that night, just before midnight, and you happened to look over near the water well, you would have seen a couple of figures speaking to one another, one a villager, the other a soldier. You would have seen, if not heard, the villager say something to the soldier, and you would have seen the soldier hand the villager a purse, a tad reluctantly. You would have then seen the soldier shake his finger at the villager in warning as the villager walked away. You would have seen the villager suddenly stop about fifteen paces from the soldier, turn, and make an obscene gesture. You would then have seen the soldier make an impulsive move for his sword before thinking better of it.

Several days later, Judas and Simon stood near the crest of a hill. Simon was dressed as a woman. Judas was in his regular tunic. Both men stared solemnly at the rows of crosses in the distance.

“I feel just awful,” Judas said.

“Did you have a choice?” Simon replied. Judas looked down at Simon, whose face was partially obscured by a black veil.

“You make a hideous woman,” Judas said.

“It’s that servant girl’s fault.”

Judas turned back to the crosses.

“They’ve identified you as a follower too,” Simon said. “Why are you not disguised?”

“I’m tired of pretending,” Judas said. “Or maybe I’m just tired.”

Simon joined him in gazing at the crosses.

“He will come,” Simon tried to reassure Judas. “Someday.”

“I’m not sure I can wait much longer,” Judas replied, before turning and walking back down the hill.

Stalking Lindsey Buckingham

Lindsey Buckingham

Source: Photo by Neeta Lind on Flickr

Believe me, I never would have imagined myself doing such a thing. I’m not big on celebrities or celebrity culture. I don’t read tabloids. Like you, I always assumed stalkers were unstable. Lonely, misguided wackos. Sociopath-lights. Then a few years ago, when I was still living in Los Angeles, my doctor found a spot on my lung. He told me I had six months to live. A year tops.

Naturally, I was stunned. Such a diagnosis changes your perspective of things. I hadn’t exactly set the world on fire as a bicycle salesman. What had I done with my life? What had I yet to do? Were there things I had never done, things I never even considered doing, that I might want to experience, if only once?

Later that same week, still in a daze, I stopped for lunch at the Wienerschnitzel on West Olympic. Sure, your perspective on life changes when you’re given a death sentence, but you still eat junk food. Prisoners on death row get a final meal before their execution. They can order anything they want. You know what the number one food item request is? Pizza. Not lobster tail. Not filet mignon. Pizza. You’re going to die, why put on airs?

So I’m about to enter the Wienerschnitzel, and who should I see sitting with his family at one of those outdoor tables with the big umbrellas? That’s right, Lindsey Buckingham. You know, of Fleetwood Mac fame? I was surprised to see him eating at a hot dog stand. This guy could afford a filet mignon. He must really like hot dogs, though, because he was sitting there attacking a chili cheese dog like he had a fire at the back of his throat and the hot dog was a fire hose. Even his kids seemed a little surprised. “Whoa, Dad. Take it easy,” his son said. “Give the pig a chance.”

I don’t know what possessed me, but from the doorway, I suddenly blurted out, “Hey, Lindsey! Don’t stop thinking about tomorrow!”

It just came out, involuntarily. I’m not even a Fleetwood Mac fan. I nearly yelled, “Don’t stop believing!” Boy, would that have been embarrassing.

To make matters worse, I followed with a maniacal wave of the arm. Again, involuntary. It was like I was possessed.

Buckingham turned to look at me, half the chili cheese dog still in his mouth. All the customers sitting at the outdoor tables looked up from their meals. That’s how loud I was. Buckingham’s wife and children seemed a little frightened. But Buckingham was unfazed. He sort of smiled and semi-waved before returning to his lunch. He must get this sort of thing all the time.

I should have left it there, but I felt oddly unsatisfied. I wanted more. I’m no expert on stalking, but from what I understand, a key part of the stalking experience is getting under the skin of your object of obsession. If you’re not on the verge of having a restraining order slapped on you, you’re not really trying.

An idea struck me. I entered the restaurant and ordered a chili cheese dog. Returning outside with the hot dog, I walked up to Buckingham’s table and showed it to him.

“Look, Lindsey. I got a chili cheese dog. Just like you!”

By way of illustration, I pointed to my chili cheese dog, then to his, then back to mine. Buckingham appeared unimpressed, so I took a big bite, just like him, and stood there looming over his table, chewing with my mouth open.

His wife pulled their youngest daughter to her. Apparently, she wasn’t used to this sort of thing. The son stared at me–a little curious, I thought. The older daughter looked mortified, as only a preteen can, and said simply, “Daddy, who is this?”

“Just a fan, Sweetie,” Buckingham said reassuringly. “Eat your lunch.” He turned to me: “Listen, I appreciate your enthusiasm, but I’m trying to have lunch with my family.”

“Oh, gotcha, Lindsey” I said with a wink. “Message received.”

I started to walk away, then stopped and added, “Lightning doesn’t need to strike me twice.”

No response. I may have gotten the lyric wrong.

Finding a nearby table free, I sat down, never taking my eyes off Buckingham as I finished my hot dog. Several minutes passed before I said in a loud voice, “Say, Lindsey, do you still see Stevie?”

“Sometimes,” he replied without even looking at me. He told his children to hurry up.

The Buckinghams quickly finished their lunch, cleared their table, and got into their car, a beautiful red Mercedes. Watching them drive off, I was disappointed. I felt I still hadn’t crossed the line between annoying fan and stalker. So I got in my Corona and followed them onto the I-10.

I couldn’t believe what I was doing, but I was feeling such an amazing rush. I felt…alive. I kept their car in sight ahead of me for several miles. They exited at South Bundy. I managed to speed up and cut off another car to squeeze in behind them. Then I started pounding my horn.

Buckingham looked in his rear-view mirror but didn’t appear to recognize me. He must have thought it was some sort of emergency because he slowed his Mercedes and pulled off to the side of the road. I pulled in behind him and got out of my car. He got out of his and started walking toward me. His initial expression of concern turned to one of recognition. Then anger. Before he could lose his temper, I pulled my iPhone out of my coat pocket and held it up before me.

“Look, Lindsey, I’m on Facebook. Could we be friends? Could you friend me? Or maybe you could follow me on Twitter? I promise I’ll follow back.”

Mission accomplished. Buckingham launched into a furious tirade there on the side of the road, his finger poking my chest. He was strong for a little guy. I didn’t catch all of what he said, but a certain word describing something I would never do with my mother was a motif. His children watched us through the rear window of the Mercedes, as if they were watching a prize fight. I felt he was setting a bad example.

Buckingham ended with one of those “If you ever come near me and my family again” tough guy threats. Who did he think he was, Bruce Willis?

He climbed back into his car, slammed the door, and sped off. I thought about following him, but I figured I shouldn’t push it. No need to get arrested. I got what I was after.

It was exhilarating. I considered trying it with another celebrity right away. Maybe Bruce Willis. I was right next door to Tinsel Town, it shouldn’t be hard to find him.

Before I could devise a serious plan, my doctor called. Turns out I didn’t have cancer after all. The afternoon of my diagnosis, a careless X-ray tech had eaten a meatloaf sandwich in the hospital cafeteria. He was late getting back late from lunch and didn’t bother washing his hands. A bit of ketchup must have gotten on my X-ray. My doctor interpreted it as a shadow. It took a week to figure out the mistake.

So I went back to selling bicycles.

Too bad. I think I would have made a good stalker.

I’ll Help You Deliver Your Baby, but First I Have to Land This Plane

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Try and relax. I know you’re in pain. I understand the contractions are getting closer together. Breathe deeply, in and out. This is your first baby, right? One of the flight attendants told me. The first is always the scariest. That’s what my wife once said.

Sorry, I drifted away for a moment. Don’t worry. I’m here. I’m here for you. Take my hand. Everything is going to be alright.

Here’s the problem, and I don’t mean to alarm you. But you deserve to know the truth: There’s a nuclear device on this airplane, and I’ve got to get us on the ground safely. Don’t be frightened. We’ll be fine. Really. Everyone on this plane, including you and your baby, will be fine. Okay, the pilots won’t be fine. The pilots are dead. I’m sorry, didn’t you know that? Didn’t one of the flight attendants mention it? No, I don’t have time to go into what happened. It’s a long story. Suffice it to say, they’re dead, there’s a nuclear device on this plane, and apparently I’m the only one of the passengers with a medical degree and a pilot’s license. So first, I have to get this plane safely on the ground so the authorities can bring in a bomb squad to defuse the device. I promise you that once I bring the plane to a stop, I’m coming right back here to help you deliver your baby.

What’s that? No, I’m not drunk. Who told you that? Who has been spreading lies about me? It’s that lady in seat 23F, isn’t it? Listen, she’s had it in for me this entire flight. She was harassing one of the flight attendants and I politely told her to shut up. The safety of this flight depends on the flight attendants being able to do their jobs in a conflict-free environment. Yes, I had a couple of drinks. What of it? It helps calm me. I’ve been under a lot of stress lately. You see, it’s the third anniversary of my wife’s death. Thank you. Thank you for saying that. That’s very kind of you. Yes, it’s tough, but I’m holding up. If you must know, she was murdered. Well, it remains unsolved, but I have my suspicions. It’s political. Let’s leave it at that. Someday, I’ll bring the person responsible for her death to justice. It’s a promise I made to her as she died in my arms in that Saint Petersburg hotel. But first things first. Right now, I have to land this plane safely. Then I can deliver your baby.

Please stop crying. It will be okay. Look, you seem like a nice woman, so I’ll be honest with you. There’s a high-level diplomat on this plane. Nevermind who. Yes, as a matter of fact, it does sort of tie into the nuclear device situation. I don’t have time to go into details, but you should know: The fate of the free world depends on me getting this plane on the ground safely. You see, this diplomat has highly sensitive documents he needs to get to Washington. I don’t know, apparently he didn’t have access to a scanner. I think he was in Cameroon. But that doesn’t matter right now, does it? All that matters is that he has highly sensitive documents in his briefcase that he needs to get to Washington, and if he doesn’t, the future of our country is in jeopardy. What? Yes, I realize that, but it will be even more in jeopardy. So this isn’t just about you or your baby or me or anyone else on this plane. This is about America. This is about the free world.

Sit back. Take this woman’s hand. Breathe deeply, in and out. That’s it. I’ll get this plane down, don’t you worry. Then we’ll get your baby delivered. Have you thought of a name? Oh, that’s a pretty name. She’ll like that. Your grandmother you say?

Listen, I’m not going to lie to you, there’s a chance I may need to defuse the bomb before we land. Otherwise, it could go off midair. It’s on some sort of timer. Sorry? Well, I took an online class once. Yes, it’s amazing what you can learn in them. Anyway, I’m just telling you this because it may take a little time. So you just hang tight. You and your  baby will be safe. We’ll all be safe. America will be safe. And we’ll all have a good laugh about it later.

The Assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand Considered as a World Cup Soccer Match

 

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Author note: June 28th is the 100th anniversary of the incident that sparked World War I: the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria. With the 2014 FIFA World Cup in full swing in Brazil, and with a hat tip to Alfred Jarry and J.G. Ballard, I thought I would reimagine that world-shaking event as an international soccer match.

Serbia had never gotten over its devastating loss to Austria in 1909.

Its 1913 defeat of Bulgaria did little to ease the pain. Serbia wanted revenge. It would get its chance at the 1914 World Cup in Sarajevo.

The Balkan team knew it had its work cut out for it.

Standing in Serbia’s way was the Austrian team’s colorful captain, Franz Ferdinand. Endearingly referred to as “the Archduke” back home, Ferdinand was something of a dandy off the field. Yet no one questioned his command on it. Even after the Austrian tabloids took Ferdinand to task for his high profile marriage to a Czech countess, fans continued to adore him.

The Austrian coaches, not so much.

A near scandal broke at the start of the 1914 match when “the Duchess” Sophie appeared on the field with “the Archduke.” Inexplicably, FIFA officials allowed it.

The Serbians planned a relentless team attack. No grandstanding or showboating by individual players: This was the message hammered home by the Serbian coach, Dimitrijević. Serbia had an arsenal, it had the will, and the cyanide pill each player kept sewn in his shorts pocket made it clear the team was playing for keeps this time.

It was a young, impressionable Serbian team, with names like Čubrilović, Čabrinović, Grabež, Popović. In the end, however, it was a lone Bosnian Serb player by the name of Gavrilo Princip who would lead the team to victory.

Serbia got off to a bad start.

Austria had set up its formidable “motorcade” defense. Serbia found it practically impenetrable. Near the end of a scoreless first half, Serbian hopes rose when its midfielder Mehmedbašić found himself with a clear path to the Austrian goal. However, Mehmedbašić hesitated at the last second and passed to Čubrilović, who, not expecting the pass, allowed the ball to roll out of play.

Serbia managed to take back possession after a careless Austrian throw-in, with Čabrinović making a fine inside cross near the goal. Unfortunately, Čabrinović was overeager and launched the ball over the bar and into the stands. A handful of fans were injured by the wayward orb.

The Serbian team was showing its youth.

Humiliated by his miss, Čabrinović fell to the ground and immediately swallowed his cyanide pill. The pill was a dud, bringing not death but nausea. Referees called time as Čabrinović knelt vomiting near the goal line. Medics were brought in to carry him off the field. Serbia had no available substitutes.

As play resumed, part of the Austrian motorcade defense was blown up, a clear violation of the Laws of the Game. Two Serbian players drew red cards. The team was down to eight.

Ferdinand was visibly upset, leading him to botch the penalty kick. At halftime, he was still complaining to Sarajevo’s mayor about the atrocity. Sophie had to calm him down.

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No one saw the winning goal coming.

The game remained scoreless at the end of the second half. It was only by chance that Princip, a quick and relentless Serbian striker, had decided to hold back near the Austrian goal box. Ferdinand, the sound of the bomb still ringing in his ears, made a furious attack on what he believed to be the Serbian goal—but he was dribbling in the wrong direction!

The crowd was dumfounded. Were they about to witness a rare own goal in a World Cup match?

Sophie was fast on Ferdinand’s heels, trying to apprise him of his error, but to no avail. Ferdinand, it seems, was in the zone. The Austrian coach screamed furiously from the sideline, waving his arms and tugging at his hair. Princip could not believe his eyes as he saw Ferdinand coming toward him full-bore. Near the Austrian goal, Ferdinand suddenly recognized his own goalkeeper—and his dreadful mistake. He tried to stop and reverse direction. But as he did so, he lost his footing and the ball deflected off his mustachioed face.

Princip, seeing an opportunity, dove toward the airborne ball and made a spectacular header into a corner of the net.

The Serbians in the crowd erupted, “GOOOOOAAAAAAAALLLLLLLLL!!!!”

Ferdinand and Sophie, in a final, touching embrace, lay defeated on the playing field.
As the full time whistle blew, the Serbian team went wild.

At last, Serbia had avenged the humiliation of 1909.

The victory was short lived. Anti-Serbian riots erupted throughout Sarajevo. News of the controversial win reverberated around the world.

Many accused the Serbian players of unsporting behavior.

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