The sun cracked the crest of Kellogg Hill on the eastern end of the San Gabriel Valley as I popped my first top in the early Sunday morning gloaming. I watched in humble gratification as the beer foam sizzled and swelled briefly out of its hole before retreating to safety back inside the ice-cold metallic cylinder of abundant life.
Budweiser. Tall boys.
Rosario had invited me to visit his church for the Sunday morning services. It was only after meeting up that morning in the parking lot at MacDonalds that he informed me that the Church of the Abundant Life in the Parque was actually now his "former" church.
--Okay.....how about a coupla egg Mcmuffins, holmes? I'm fucking starving, man.
The second Bud obliterated the dry egg yolk gathering in my craw. The third washed away most everything else standing between me and a personal relationship with my Lord and Saviour. I cracked a sharp burp and sauntered over to relieve myself in the Spring honeysuckle blooming over the chainlink fence at the rear of the parking lot.
Rosario snorted when I returned to the hood of the 1963 Chevy and fished another cold one from the ice cooler of the abundant life.
--Whosoever shall come to the father through the Son shall drink in the spirit of eternal life.
--Shit man, we're out of beer. Do they take a piss in Heaven?
--You will shed your earthly countenance for all time upon entering the kingdom of the father. I believe that includes the shedding of your bladder, among other consternations...
--What about my dick? Do I have to give that up too?
--You will be neither man nor woman on that glorious day.
--What? You mean I'll be like one of those aphrodites? Why can't I just stay here and be me, man?
I lavisly scratched my abundant scrotum for emphasis. Rosario waited until I finished before tilting his head back in guzzlement. He wiped his mouth on his flannel shirt.
--If we could 'just stay here' we would have no need of salvation. There would be no Father, no Son, no Holy Spirit.
--That sounds pretty good to me, actually. Sorta how I would like to picture heaven, in fact.
--The problem is we can't stay here. Well, we can stay here, but 'here' won't be 'here' for very long. 'Here' will become 'there' and we cannot experience ourselves as ourselves outside the very moment of that singular understanding of the experience, which passes by in a flash, and instantly changes our relationship, which changes us. The tree grows, adds branches which become limbs. The tree's shape changes in time until it become unrecognizable to the image of the tree we hold in our minds. The tree's leaves turn yellow and fall to the ground. The tree itslef finally dies and disappears. The image of the tree we hold in our minds also does not exist. It is purely a work of the imagination.
--What the fuck are you talking about?
--Temporality. The very purpose of living is to continually remind 'us' that 'we' are not who 'we' think 'we' are and just when 'we' think 'we' are here 'we' look into the mirror to find someone else staring back at 'us' from a different place and time.
--Your fulla shit, dude. And stop putting everything into quotation marks with your fingers when you talk to me. Thats irritating as shit, man. When I look into the mirror I know exactly who I am and where I stand. I may not like what I see but at least I have the knowledge.
--Forgive him Father for he knows not what the fuck he is talking about.
--Shit, we're out of beer. Can we stop at the liquor store on the way to church?
People milled about in small groups, talking earnestly and listening to each other with an exagerrated sense of "connection." So this was the Jesus Movement I'd been hearing about, from chicks mostly. It seemed that most every one whose pants I wished to enter had converted recently. This circumstance was an immediate detriment in the pursuit of my shortterm goals. I took it as a personal affront.
I was a modern-day Job, down to the boils on my face and the afflictions of my soul. I felt tortured not salved, humiliated not glorified in His presence. Yet, I felt a small spark of hope somewhere inside that day that maybe I could find the connection I sought, the validation I needed in order to enter through the front door to the Kingdom, instead of constantly feeling like I needed to slink around outside without the key to open the locked door.
It didn't help matters that Rosario's own goal for that day appeared to be much different than mine. His spirit became redfaced with vengeance from the moment we arrived. I recognized a girl and went over to say hi. I hadn't seen her since graduation night, the night I found myself being booked into the West Covina jail, strip searched, full body cavity searched, bent, folded, spindled and mutilated. And had not considered the portent for even a single moment.
--Pete! You've come. So nice to see you. What have you been doing with yourslef since graduation?
--Court appearances, mostly. Some community service. Getting high every day, not working at all, just hanging out. And you?
Grace laughed. She had the prettiest, sweetest smile that would stand the test of time.
--Oh, Pete. You've been drinking already this morning?
She smiled warmly and reached out to touch my shoulder. I looked into her eyes for a moment, until someone else came up to break the brief spell. As she turned her attention to him I went off looking for Rosario, who had found a spot off to the side of the concrete stage under a tree.
I would not see her again until today on Facebook. She is a middle-aged beauty elegant, smiling and cheerully appearing.
Rosario had been absolutely correct in his wisdom on that long ago misbegotten Sunday morning. The image of the tree which I had nurtured in my mind all of these years is not the tree.
That tree is gone and this moment is now.