If I'd had my date book on me during those dire moments in the men's room, I would have written it in right then and there: lunch with God. That's how desperate I was.
Just pick a date, God. Any date at all, sometime after this is over. I'll make room--you just name the time.
An hour earlier they'd taken Anna behind the curtain in the cubicle of the emergency room. Three days before, she'd had two wisdom teeth pulled. And each day she got sicker, less able to hold food down, until when I came home that afternoon she was going through periods of gasping for breath.
When they took her behind the curtain they asked me what happened, and I told them about the wisdom teeth. That seemed to be a new one, even on emergency-room people you would think had seen it all.
I sat a few yards away at the reception desk watching more and more doctors and nurses drop what they were doing to run behind her curtain. They brought in more and more machines. I recognized the respirator and the EKG. I heard a doctor shout "Anna! Stay with us, Anna!"
Then a woman in green surgical scrubs came out from behind the curtain. She looked grim. She walked me to the waiting room, and on the way she said Anna's blood pressure had dropped to the lowest life-sustaining level and her heart was racing so fast it couldn't continue much longer without wearing itself out. Recovery would be close to miraculous. Did I want to talk to a chaplain?
The worst place to be at a time like that is in an ER waiting room. It feels like Union Station at rush hour. So I shot into the men's room, and there I sat in the stall, thinking about how it started with wisdom teeth. I was so frantic I put in a call to God, which for me is insanely frantic. My praying style was clumsy. About all I did was promise I would reevaluate. Didn't want to commit to too much. I could safely say I would reevaluate. Essentially I promised God we'd do lunch.
It was probably just God's appointment secretary I talked to, but that was close enough, I guess, because it all worked out. Anna stared it down and won. And ever since I've been dodging God as if he/she were a loan shark.
Was what happened to me in the men's room what the Holy Rollers call being reborn? God, I hope not. And I doubt it, because I never heard any of them talk about finding God in a men's room. It's always someplace chic, either for its glamour or its squalor. Why was it that I didn't feel sweet surrender, like they say they do, but more like I sold my soul to the devil and it was time to collect?
It's those people on The 700 Club is what it is. They seem to be on all the time when I flip past the religious channel, WGOD. They scare me so much. Please God, don't make me be one of them. I used to work at a place where right down the hall was an office with a phone bank for The 700 Club. You could always tell who the 700 Club people were because they were zombies--dart targets for eyes, dazed grins of bliss. If you didn't know what was in that office and just saw the people coming out of there, you'd swear it was a lobotomy lab.
I was afraid that was going to be the price of the lunch date. There had to be a catch. So since Anna came home, whenever I've had lunch alone I've done what I always did, analyze the box scores. But I can't enjoy them because of the guilt. I have this vision of two burly angels in leather jackets pulling me into a dark alley and breaking my legs. Time to get this over with.
I take God to a Greek place. Nonsmoking, I presume. What to order? Definitely need a glass of wine. Definitely not saganaki. Attracts too much attention. I'll have a Greek salad. God's just having water. I say in my mind to the empty chair that a big obstacle I have is everyone refers to him as him. He's always a white male, which is understandable, since the Bible was written by white males. Why not a woman?
I begin to picture a funny play or short story in which a desperate and confused guy decides to have lunch with God. He's sitting alone in a Greek restaurant, and to his shock an elegant young black woman sits at his table and says, "Sorry I'm late. Traffic was hell." And God is stunning in her long black dress slit up the side, and she orders a double scotch and ends up having three or four. And she wants to blow this place and do something crazy and fun and frivolous. So they go play miniature golf.
But where was I? Oh, yeah. It makes sense to me that God would be a woman since the creative force is essentially feminine. I once heard a comedienne say there's no way God's a woman--a female never would have made women bear the pain of childbirth after giving men the ability to pee off a bridge. But she failed to realize that God gave women a unique gift, the ability to fake orgasm, which means they eternally reserve the right to the last laugh.
The Greek salad is gone, and so far this lunch has only made matters worse with God. This place is too distracting. Maybe I'll take a walk and regroup, then see if I can talk to God on the 151 Sheridan bus. I've seen lots of other people talking to God on the Sheridan bus--God sits on the empty seat next to them, and they cuss God out with fire and brimstone.
On the bus I sit in the corner, shutting my eyes so I can concentrate. Then I open them quickly because I remember a guy telling me how he fell asleep on the el and when he woke up someone had cut away the hip pocket of his pants with a razor and stolen his wallet. So I stare out the window, ignoring everyone, and I bring forth my other complaint, about how God is always made out to be a raving egomaniac. There's something sick about the concept of worship. It gets back to that zombie thing. Happiness is numbness. Is the highest state of grace just toadyism? They must've gotten God wrong on that one. I believe if she were to come down among us today, she'd tell all those 700 Club people to get a life.
Two women get on the bus at Water Tower. One has her hair piled up in a beehive. Her aging face blares with rouge. She and her friend are discussing black people. "You know who they have to thank for their freedom, don't you?" she says to her friend. "General Patton! He went into Africa and . . . "
She must be one of those 700 Club people. And that's another thing about them. How is it that they've studied God for all these years and come to the conclusion that he's an ultra-right-winger, a fascist dictator like Mussolini?
A man gets on with a Sun-Times under his arm. The sports page headline says something about Sandberg, but I can't tell what because it's folded. I hope he didn't get hurt. Of all the guys they can't afford to lose. What a sucker trade that was. Who did they give up for him anyway?
Back to God. Back to God, dammit! My stop's coming up. I'll close my eyes and concentrate. I won't fall asleep.
When I wake up we're coming to my stop. My hip pocket is still there. As I head home I give it one last try. Speak now or forever shut up. No great revelations or resolutions. No lightning bolts. No probing insight on the way home, except the comforting realization that I wouldn't last ten minutes as a contemplative monk. But I already knew that.
Maybe I'm incapable of reevaluation. Or maybe not. Maybe I reevaluated right there in the men's room. Just because you don't want to sell your possessions and move to Tibet doesn't mean you haven't reevaluated. That's the stereotype. It's also possible to reevaluate and decide you don't much want to change.
Anna's there when I get home. "Where were you?" she says, smiling. I never told her about the crisis in the men's room. I knew it would be too much for her heart. She would have been horrified, living in constant dread that I'd come home one day like one of those 700 Club people and it would be her fault.
"I was supposed to meet someone for lunch," I say. "But it didn't work out." I feel a sense of peace when I say that. Now I can enjoy the box scores again.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustration/Patti Green.