The Continuing Adventures of Baby Jesus: BJ Goes Bye-Bye

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This is a continuation of The Blessed Visitation and  The Continuing Adventures of Baby Jesus

Baby Jesus’ final official act during his stay on the Gulf Coast was very official. At the instigation of a high-ranking county officer, who happens to be a subscriber to the Ladies’ Fetish & Taboo Society Compendium of Urban Anthropology, he was waived through Family Law Center security (his anonymity assured by a coffin-sized packing box), entered the tunnel system that links the courthouses, and posed for photos next to a sign for Harris County Child Support.

The next day, it was back in the mail for the babe. The Christmas season had arrived; he’d been with me nine months, and the time just seemed right to ship him off to his next cross-country stop. I sent him to a stripper in New York City, whom the folks that sent him to me had suggested. I didn’t send any advance warning, but figured she knew he was coming. After all, she is a professional.

BJ in downtown Houston

BJ in downtown Houston

Copyright Kathy Biehl 1994. All Rights Reserved. Excerpted from The Ladies’ Fetish & Taboo Society Compendium of Urban Anthropology Vol. VII No. 1, Springing into ’94.

The Continuing Adventures of Baby Jesus

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This is a continuation of The Blessed Visitation.

BJ’s been on sabbatical. He’s spent an extended chunk of 1993 taking a breather in his traveling case, a big old mailing carton that’s usually shoved against the demi-wall that separates my kitchen and dining area. But the times he’s come up for air, it’s been choice.

BJ at the Astrodome

BJ at the Astrodome

During August, Special Paolo and I spirited him about the Bayou City in search of inscrutable photo opportunities. He graced an entrance to the Astrodome, the Beer Can House, and a downtown installation of alien children statues lining the banks of the bayou. (Stepping out of the car, holding up a statue, positioning the camera and running for it triggered a strange deja vu. Oh, Doc….)

A photo of this has turned out to be great postcard and wall decoration material, especially with the caption, "Aliens march through downtown Houston providing proof of long-suspected link between ETs and the divine."

A photo of this has turned out to be great postcard and wall decoration material, especially with the caption, “Aliens march through downtown Houston providing proof of long-suspected link between ETs and the divine.”

After this expedition, the box stayed in the trunk for a while, just in case. Never can tell when a savior might come in handy.

On the figurative eve of Burning Man, I whiled a pleasant evening in the company of the Womyn of Inertia (a Kerrville Folk Festival campground), Val (who wrote the Dairy Queen memo for the Compendium) and Catherine (also known as Cathy-With-an-M). We gathered at a bar with the very real name of McGonigel’s Mucky Duck to bask in the storytelling, extremely pleasant personality and eye-popping guitar picking of LJ Booth. As the witching hour approached, LJ’s tales rambled into the territory of bathtub shrines. He’d written a song about then, and sung it at some Catholic institution, and gone for beers afterward with a bunch of carousers who stunned him at the end of their bender by confessing that they were nuns. With background like that, some might say that LJ should have been forewarned about the hazards of this line of conversation. He wondered out loud whether Houston has any bathtub shrines. I yelled back that it does and I’d helped build one of them.

A Montrose-are bathtub shrine I (on left) helped decorate, early 1990s; current condition unknown

A Montrose-are bathtub shrine I (on left) helped decorate, early 1990s; current condition unknown

He wanted to talk to me, and said that if I had to go before the set was over, he’d shut down things down right then. Promptly possessed by a vision of where this conversation was going to head, I let him finish his performance undisturbed, as much out of selfishness (I wanted to hear this entrancing man play as long as possible) as out of courtesy. I even allowed a respite of peace and fan greeting before making my approach.

“There’s something behind your car that you need to see,” I said. He and a sprawling entourage of, oh, let’s say, women, trotted out the door to the vehicle behind his Volvo, which was, of course, mine. Out from the trunk came Baby Jesus. LJ immediately put his hands around the babe and transformed him into a makeshift hood ornament for the car behind mine, which was, of course, Val’s. The existence of the Society was thereafter revealed to him. The wide-eyed, wild-eyed expression that came over LJ suggested he was having a bit more difficulty assimilating this turn of events than his enthusiastic patter indicated. After the assemblage went its merry ways under the waxing moon, it crossed my mind that the incident might well end up as an anecdote on the Kerrville Folk Festival stage, where LJ was headed for Labor Day.

A few weeks later Val was riding the Metro from National Airport to some job-related conference in Our Nation’s Capitol when a man lunged at her and announced that Jesus was coming! Chapter 7 of Revelations says so! Her first reaction was to blurt back: “No, he’s not; he’s in the trunk of a Volvo in Houston.” Something about the intensity of the man’s expression held her back.

He’s not in the trunk of a Volvo, of course, and never was, at least not in Houston. He was once, as was just disclosed, in the trunk of a car behind a Volvo, and at this particular time that this phrase crossed Val’s mind, was in a box in a kitchen in Houston. Picky, picky. We’ve decided we like the second, though, of “in the trunk of a Volvo.” It’s like being in the catbird seat and having an ace up your sleeve, with divine protection rolled up in the works, to boot. We commend the phrase to you. May it serve you well.

Copyright Kathy Biehl 1993. All Rights Reserved. Excerpted from The Ladies’ Fetish & Taboo Society Compendium of Urban Anthropology Vol. VI, No. 4. Auld Lang Syne 93/94.

The Blessed Visitation

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A lot of things show up in my mailbox that would never arrive in anyone else’s, but even I am broadsided by what surfaces a couple of days into Passover on a dark, rainy April morn. It’s heralded by a yellow slip marked “parcel,” which confuses me because the post office usually leaves a key in the box that matches up with a locker containing the posted goodie. The postal worker emerges form the back room hoisting on her shoulder a carton the size of a toddler’s coffin. My first reaction is terror. The need for checking with the bomb squad suggests itself. I stare at the return address unless the point of origin sinks in. The filter between conscious mind and wild-eyed rambling shuts down and I blurt, “Baby Jesus is in this box!” The postal worker blinks at the obvious sign of possession and I am compelled to answer, “I’m not kidding! Baby Jesus is in this box!”

The Annunciation

I had been warned eight months earlier that he might be coming. In the Nevada desert, where a Society contingent had traveled for fun and games with the San Francisco Cacophony Society, a ringleader named Michael Michel (who’d been sending correspondence under the name Genevieve) had alerted us to the presence in the campsite of Baby Jesus. The visitor’d slipped away from a creche in front of a church in Ohio and had been touring the country, all the while writing letters to the folks back home. Maybe he’d like to come to Houston someday, our informant had suggested. “Every traveling statue in the country is going to come to your mailbox,” retorted Doc, who should know; he has himself placed a beat-up bust of Richard Wagner in it.

The package will not fit into the car. I put in in the trunk and whisk it homeward. What I am going to do with this? I wish I’d got some advance notice so I could have planned an appropriate event to honor His coming. But then, the Lord works in mysterious ways.

I’m bombarded by a slew of outrageous turns of thought that beg for lightning. Nothing compares to the serenity a girl has driving around secure in the knowledge that the savior of the world is in her trunk. All the post offices in the world and He has to walk into mine. I guess this makes me blessed among women. And what does this mean as Omen? Personal rebirth? Grace arrived in my post office box. I got Baby Jesus for Easter; what did you get? What would Joseph Campbell have made of this?

The first call goes to Rex. I have him on the line while opening the package; if anything goes awry, I want someone to be able to phone 911 on my behalf. I slit the tape open with a steak knife. A large note is taped on top. “Kathy — Here’s here! Michael.” Carefully, nervously, I peel back a section of the butcher-block swaddling. A beatific face with eerie blue eyes and blond curls peeks out. I scream and jump back, immediately overcome by a nearly 25-year-old memory of a night of terror in a Bavarian guesthouse, when a wax baby Jesus in a glass coffin so unnerved my siblings and me that our highly irritated father had to sleep in our room. I can not continue this alone. The youngster stares out sightlessly from the wrapping paper while Rex and I ponder the proper course of action. Taking him to the gay bars is my first idea. “The people that go there have conflicted self-images and are already on the edge,” he cautions, “and seeing this might push them right over, with possible Mansonesque consequences.” Within 30 minutes, and less than a third as many phone calls, a probable, more onlooker-friendly schedule emerges.

Kathy, He's here!

Kathy, He’s here!

First things first: a spa. He’s had a long journey and would no doubt appreciate rejuvenation. Once out of the brown paper, He loses a bit of His holy terror. His back is flat, papoose-like; His little hands are stretched out just about the perfect distance for a cat’s cradle; a large chunk is missing from His golden halo, but who among us cannot say the same thing? Our benefactor, the proprietress of the Institute for Natural Therapeutics, places Him in a cheery inner-rube, puts a scrub mitt on His left hand, and nestles him into the hydrotherapy tub.

Baby Jesus at the spa

Baby Jesus at the spa

Then it’s back in the box, and back to the trunk. Maundy Thursday and Good Friday are coming, a time with a high probability for traumatizing the Visitor. He’ll emerge again on Easter Sunday.

In the meantime, I pass the word. When I alert Val (no title yet, but she wrote the Daily Queen memo for the Compendium), she declares me to be that from which quantum physics emanates. The concept flatters. It occurs to me that the highest and best use of my life will probably be writing my autobiography.

Baby Jesus and the Briar Patch

Easter Sunday, 7:30-ish, a cadre assembles with me at a piano/wrinkle bar called the Briar Patch: Rex Celestis, Fellow Buddy David, Lizzie-Ba, Paolo and John-the-Not-So-Terminally-Weird. Rex and I have feet at sub-zero temperatures. Gin-and-tonic builds some Dutch courage, and the bar’s owner provides the rest. When he stops by the table, no doubt to check out the straight riff-raff, his regulars among us get him to agree to play the piano later. John informs him that we’re expecting a special guest and requests a specific blasphemous song parody. “You’re not Christians, are you?” owner Wayne asks. “As a matter of fact,” Rex starts, while I’m contemplating announcing that we have the ur-Christian among us, “the guest we’re waiting for is Jewish.” I run to the car and free B. jesus. John props him up in a chair. “You people are sicker than I thought,” Wayne says, disappearing.

When the live music begins, we commandeer the stools that ring the clear-plastic-lidded piano. Wayne is sitting at the left hand of the Visitor. A black hat with big pink bunny ears makes the rounds and eventually comes to rest atop BJ. It lends a certain resemblance to a version of Him popular in Mexico. Unaffected by the scene, Wayne pounds out show tune after show tune, frequently mutated by sexually perverse lyrics. He segues into sacrilege. “Has Anybody Seen My Gal?” is revamped to apply to Jesus. John sings along; apparently it’s a Brian Patch standard:

Five-foot-nine from Palestine, changes water into wine, has anybody seen JC? He’s so neat, he’s so cool, he walks across my swimming pool; has anybody seen JC? If you see a 5’9 from Palestine covered in blood, nail scarred hands and crown of thorns, you can bet that he’s the one. He can preach, he can teach, he can wash those Baptists’ feet; has anybody seen JC?

Inspired, Lizzie-Ba screams out, “2, 4, 6, 8, time to transubstantiate!” After he recovers from obvious distaste at the pitch of a distaff voice, Wayne follows with, “Buddha loves me / This I know / For the Buddha Book tells me so.”

When I trail Rex to the bar to pass on some thoughts, urgent at the time but now, as usual, lost to all memory, I realize the throng behind us is singing “Away in a Manger.”

Gradually, complete strangers join the party. No one balks at the Presence, although some are curious about the empty glass I’ve placed in front of Him. “What’s He drinking?” someone asks and is pleased by the misinformation that it’s gin. (By this point, I’ve long since switched to bitters as tonic additive.)

Periodically Lizzie-Ba floats by my station to exude delight over the situation. There is something immensely cheering about seeing the Little One in this context, beneath the aegis of a huge glitter ball. It remains motionless, but Wayne does switch on a string of red Christmas lights that line the piano’s interior. They flash off and on as we tap dance with quarters on the lid in time to “Tea for Two.” The sparse population of the central cruise bar stares at our spectacle silently, uncomprehendingly.

Nothing we do triggers a lightning bolt. The only time we manage to draw ire is when Wayne shuts down the proceedings briefly and none-too-happily because Lizzie-Ba is attempting to stand on the piano. John helps her redirect her exuberance to the floor and they swoop, lunge and dip with lots of flourishes of arm and leg. Gradually the flow of martinis into Nick-and-Nora-Charles-style glasses stops, and the Fun Couple goes home with the hour is still reasonable. The rest of us display considerably less sense. We retire to the better-lit back room for Tarot readings, despite the protestations of a trio of well-voiced singers, who object to our taking Jesus away from the piano. He waves goodbye, not so much with His hands and with His entire body, when we finally get the B.Jesus out of there in search of long-needed nourishment. Rex and BJ spend the rest of the evening supine, separate only by one letter of the alphabet (BJ in my trunk and Rex on the floor of David’s truck); as David observes later, they’re both reduced to cargo. It’s 1:30 in the morning when I finally arrive home.

Copyright 1993 Kathy Biehl. All Rights Reserved. Excerpted from The Ladies’ Fetish & Taboo Society Compendium of Urban Anthrology, Vol. VI., No. 2, Lazy, Hazy, Crazy ’93.

The Dangers of Checking Facebook on Your Phone in Public

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It’s 8:15 PM on a Monday in Madison, NJ, where the business district’s bright lights belie the fact that even the block-swamping Walgreen’s is already closed. I’m sitting in my car checking Facebook on my phone while parked on Main St. I hear a knock on the passenger window and see a blonde in her 20s holding a postcard. “Totally random,” she says as I lower the window. “I want to talk to you about Jesus Christ.”

Oh boy. I smile and wait for her to stop and breathe so I can politely extricate myself. “We’re having an event for Jesus Christ. It’s going to be on December 5, 6 and 7 in Morristown.”

The opening comes quickly, but with a word that makes me curious enough to stay: “Do you know what a creche is?”

I say yes and decide to hear her out. “You can look at this postcard while I talk,” she says and hands the card through the window to me. I toss it in my purse and keep my attention on her. “People are bringing their creches and displaying them in a big family event with music and creches and getting in the spirit of Jesus’ birth,” she says.

I nod and turn the key in my ignition. “My creche is made of S’mores,” I say, shifting into reverse.

“S’mores?”

“Yes.”

“That is AWESOME!”

“What did she say?” one of her companions asks. “She says her creche is made of S’mores.” Murmurs of approval run through her posse as I pull away. “S’mores! That’s awesome!”

UPDATE: Additional details placing this firmly on the Lattice of Coincidence: The women were members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (aka Mormons). This conversation took place with a huge bag in the passenger seat between us that quite obviously contained a body. The body was an oversized stuffed lion, about 6′ from the tip of its outstretched paw to the tip of its tail. As I later pulled the lion out of my car I realized that he looks like illustrations of Aslan from the Chronicles of Narnia. When I related this incident to one of my life commentators, she pointed out that Aslan was a symbol for … Jesus Christ.

Exhibit A: My creche

Exhibit A: My creche

Life in the Transit Lane: Call and Response

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The Port Authority bus terminal in NYC, just after 9 PM. An Asian woman is wearing a flour-sack sleeveless vest with large block letters extolling Jesus Christ. She is smiling and shaking hands with someone outside my periphery.

“You need to be fucked!” a male voice booms.

“Jesus Christ!” she shoots back.

“You don’t need Jesus. You need some dick,” he counters.

“Jesus!” she argues.

“You need some dick!” he yells back.

As the exchange goes silent, a tall black man rushes past me shaking his head.

Real-Life Magic Featuring St. Nick

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Three stories in honor of St. Nicholas Day:
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Late one evening I was zigzagging a path across a well-populated sidewalk in the Indian section of Jackson Heights, Queens. My destination was the subway station, but movement in a shop window made me stop. In the window of a CD store was a mechanical figure swinging its hips back and forth. It had big black boots with enormous buckles, rosy cheeks and a thick white beard and hair. A torn piece of muslin was wrapped around its frame in a sort of sarong, and another piece formed a cap like a knotted spiral. It was Santa Sikh! A smile stayed with me to the end of the block.

———-

A friend and her daughter used to celebrate this holiday in the heart of Texas, but with a twist: They’d assemble packages for the girl’s playmates and go out the night of Dec. 5 to leave them on doorsteps. A few years back, while they were making their preparations, the girl started gloating about how funny it was that her girlfriends think that St. Nicholas visits them only he doesn’t; it’s really her and her mom. “But the real one visits me!” she announced, radiantly.

———-

Even more years back, my family took a stab at celebrating St. Nicholas Day ourselves. We were living in Munich, where my dad was on sabbatical, and had the middle floor in a three-family house. Early in the evening, my mother pulled off some approximation of a visit from the saint himself, which involved depositing a bag at the door and tricking us into finding it. I’m sure it had candy, and I’m sure we’d ripped into it and long since put it aside by the time the knock came.

Or maybe it was the interior doorbell: I can’t be sure. What I do know for certain was that it was not the outside doorbell, which you had to ring to be let into the gate and then the front door of the house. This came from the hallway just outside our door.

I went to the door and opened it. On the landing was a man in a red bishop’s outfit, wearing an enormous oval hat and carrying a crook. He said he was St. Nicholas, and said it in English. I asked him to wait, ran to the bathroom and started yelling at my mother, who was behind the door in the bath: “MOM! ST NICHOLAS IS HERE!”

The next thing I remember is the sight of him in the dining room, which was crammed with dark, ornately carved cabinetry covered with demonic, pointy-tongued heads. He was slowly, solemnly proclaiming in pretty decent English that our names were in his book of good children. He opened a huge book and showed us, and damned if there wasn’t an entry for the Biehl children. He gave us a bag of fruit and nuts and took his leave. Our jaws were still hanging. The landlady’s little girl ran out of their downstairs apartment and looked down the street after him.

Our landlady told us that he was a university student who’d been hired by families in the neighborhood to pay a visit on their children. Somebody had gone to the trouble — I’m guessing she was the culprit — to include the pack of American kids on the second floor.

May your holiday season be filled with unexpected delights!

Copyright Kathy Biehl 1999. Originally published in Demitasse: A Sip of the Compendium, Santa Season 1999.