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!”
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.
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.
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.