Oh, Sweet World of Sin

  

Johnny Jacklin, embarking on a new challenge. (Monte Dutton sketch)
Johnny Jacklin, embarking on a new challenge. (Monte Dutton sketch)

            This is the final installment of my latest serial of short fiction. Preceding it, in chronological order, were “A Jogging Contradiction,” “The Good One,” “Contrary to Ordinary,” “Backsliding,” “A Sign of Weakness,” and “Sweet Freedom.” If you haven’t been following along, fear not, for I shall post the whole story in one take later.

Johnny Jacklin didn’t let the money go to his head. He bided his time. He hired an accountant after rejecting three because he didn’t trust them. He finally turned in the rented Tercel and bought himself a fifteen-year-old Honda after diligently shopping for a week. He gathered up his modest belongings and moved to Denver, where he found a small house in an undistinguished neighborhood. He invested half his money through a stockbroker he’d known at Stanford. Eliza Evermore, his only employee, had nothing to do, but he had the accountant pay her and told her he’d have something for her to do soon.

Roger Junior came to believe his brother was just cashing out, that he’d live a life of leisure on the fifteen million dollars he’d pilfered, to Junior’s way of thinking, from the ministry. Senior wasn’t so sure. For all Johnny’s independence and self-righteousness, the great evangelist would have preferred the loss of Junior had he a choice. He wasn’t particularly close to either of his sons. He regretted it in Johnny’s case.

At last, Johnny formulated his plan. He received no advice, though his father’s associates constantly offered it. The ministry hadn’t even announced Johnny’s departure. He had always been the forgotten brother. His absence wasn’t compelling. Without having him to go on his missions, the ministry quietly went about the business of shutting his missions down. Johnny didn’t know, but he didn’t ask, either. He’d spent his days riding around Denver on his bike and his nights mingling with the people and observing them in bars. He’d even developed a modest taste for beer once he’d determined that it was impossible to develop a rapport with bartenders without giving them some business.

Johnny fashioned his announcement to appear as if it were a wedding announcement:

JOHNNY JACKLIN REQUESTS THE COURTESY OF YOUR PRESENCE

SATURDAY, THE TWENTY-EIGHTH DAY OF NOVEMBER

YEAR OF OUR LORD TWO THOUSAND AND FIFTEEN, SIX O’CLOCK

HOWL AT THE MOON, 1735 NINETEENTH STREET, DENVER.

LIVE MUSIC

FREE FOOD! BEVERAGES!

MEDIA AVAILABILITY

He offered no further details. He chose the Howl at the Moon because he found it a friendly place, and he made sure all the regulars knew the beer would be cold and free, and they wouldn’t have to drink it on an empty stomach. He suspected, correctly, that his vainglorious father would make no appearance at a saloon during business hours, and that his brother would monitor the occasion for the family and probably embarrass himself in the process. He hoped not, but it didn’t particularly matter. Johnny thought himself capable of winning any exchange of unpleasantries with Roger Junior, who had the temper Johnny lacked. At eight years of age, Johnny had learned not to let Junior’s rants bother him, and his disinterest only made Junior madder and ultimately incapacitated him. Nowadays aggravation only led Junior to snort more powder up his nose.

Quietly, Johnny assembled his own band, calling on a guitarist whom he’d met in Brazil and now lived in Nashville. When the club’s management wished to discuss with him the paying of royalties for songs that he’d perform, he asked if it would be necessary for him to pay royalties for songs he himself had written. When they said no, Johnny informed them that, in the name of simplicity, he would only perform his own songs, and the band arrived a week in advance so that they could all practice the resulting set. They practiced on sunny afternoons in Confluence Park, where Cherry Creek joined the South Platte River. The drummer brought a bongo along for the park sessions. They plugged in their instruments for a sound check at two o’clock on the afternoon of the announcement.

Yet no one except Johnny knew what the announcement was. He only told Eliza she’d be pleased. No one except the Denver Freeman’s religion editor knew who he was, but he’d timed everything to allow for a certain shock value. He made sure to follow up the invitations with calls to local media outlets, particularly television and radio. He’d play an opening song, make his announcement, and go back to playing music after announcing that he’d hold a press conference in an hour. This would give the reporters, columnists, and bloggers who were there, drawn as much by free food and booze as by any expectation of newsworthiness, to spread the word for him via Twitter, which would in turn draw others by the time he answered questions.

All this he conjured up himself. He had no talking points, no position papers, no marketing plans or corporate sponsors, just an innate forthrightness and lack of fear for the truth.

In other words, he had no chance. Fortunately, he didn’t care.

It was a cold, brisk day, the wind whipping through the nearby streets of LoDo (Lower Downtown). At the last minute, Johnny decided to open with two songs instead of one. The first was his inspirational “Your Independence Day,” followed by a gospel song, “Come on Down.” He added the latter to give his brother, already working the crowd, agitating against him, a false sense of security. He figured Junior was anticipating the establishment of a new ministry, one with which Jacklin Evangelism International might be forced to compete. He was ashamed of himself for the relish he felt as he sang the final verse of “Come on Down.”

I walked the streets / Of that big city / I saw folks / Wracked with pain / I saw folks / In need of Jesus / They looked weary of raising Cain.

              Come on down / To the altar / The Lord will wash your sins away / Come down / Jesus loves you / He is making a new day.

Johnny rolled his guitar around, hanging it across his back, a la Johnny Cash, and addressed the crowd.

“I apologize if a gospel song slowed down the beer drinking,” he said. “I didn’t mean to make anyone feel guilty. I wrote this song after walking the streets of this very city. Just to set the record straight, I didn’t detect any noticeable disparity in the character of those with whom I’ve had a beer or two in this very bar and those who run my father’s ministry.”

Eliza Evermore, sitting at the bar, didn’t know how to take that. Roger Jacklin, Junior, surrounded by a coterie of bodyguards and yes men, knew exactly how to take it, which wasn’t well. He started a commotion. As best Johnny could tell, he was being heckled in the Unknown Tongue. He couldn’t see the audience very well, but he just stood onstage, wearing an amused smirk, as his brother rattled on.

At last he said, “Ladies and gentlemen, that’s my brother, Roger Junior. He’s the reason that, while I’m very religious, I don’t believe in it being overly organized. As Tom T. Hall once wrote, me and Jesus got our own thing going, and, Rog, with respect, we don’t need anybody to tell us what it’s all about.”

Junior had sort of a cartoonish bent. Johnny imagined him charging the bandstand. Lemme at him, lemme at him. A young man in front motioned to Johnny, offering him a beer. “Yeah, sure,” Johnny said, and then he folded his hands and invited Junior to “go ahead and get it out of your system. God loves you.” Once Junior’s private line to Yahweh had been disconnected, apparently, Johnny made his announcement quickly.

“What I’m announcing today is quite simple,” he said. “Several months ago, I informed my father and my brother that I was leaving the family business, which is Jacklin Evangelism International. I do not intend to abandon God’s work. I merely want to leave the confines of the church. Ever since I graduated from college, I’ve been a missionary.

“I want everybody here to have a good time, even if that means you have to watch me try to sing and play guitar. Eat, drink, and be merry. Now, in about an hour, I’ll be glad to discuss my plans with each and every one of you who is interested. First, though, I’ve got to take full advantage of having this band behind me, making me look good. But, first, my announcement. I have decided to run for Governor of the Great State of Colorado, and I’m going to file as a candidate in the Democratic Primary. Now, hit it, boys!”

Johnny’s rendition of “The Paved Road” did not quell the disorder. Offices were called. Camera lights went on, taking background footage of the young missionary with the guitar who was going to run for governor. Tweeters tweeted, and their tweets were retweeted.

Right rev Roger Jacklin has a son who’s a DEMOCRAT! And he’s running for GOVERNOR!

              Would-be guv Johnny Jacklin gets heckled by his brother the evangelist.

              Johnny Jacklin goes all liberal on the family!

Junior expressed shock that his brother was drinking beer! He found it no less shocking, in fact, more so, apparently, since he had been snorting cocaine himself and looked all the more wild-eyed and fanatical for it. Eliza watched him, jostling about while Johnny sang, and remembered the time Junior told her he could speak in tongues sober but was fluent when he was high. She was as shocked as he was, though, and she knew it was inevitable that Junior would find his way to her, so she told her waiter to save her place, put on her overcoat, and walked outside to smoke. Johnny had told her his decision would please her, and it did.

Meanwhile, CNN and MSNBC were making arrangements to get a feed of the press conference from one of the local TV affiliates. Fox was paralyzed, how to spin it being a matter of intense discussion on a weekend when the bigwigs were mainly seeking a peaceful Thanksgiving weekend away from the political wars. Reporters whose wives were shopping left other bars and converged on Howl at the Moon. The manager passed Johnny a note asking if he’d mind it if they placed their banner behind the podium in the side room where the press conference was scheduled. He glanced at it between songs, caught the manager’s eye, and gave him a thumb’s up.

Johnny glanced at his watch, told the audience he was doing one more song, turned the show over to his backing band, and left the stage. Gustavo Almeida was a breathtaking vocalist, and a decent crowd stayed to watch the rest of the set. Enough followed Johnny to fill the side room to overflowing. Once the door was closed, as was necessary to muffle the sound of the band, Johnny stood up behind the podium.

“If you’ll allow to make a few remarks, I’ll be glad to answer every question you have,” he said. “Why am I running for governor? My whole life has been spent trying to reach out to people. As a missionary, I have tried to bring the word of Christ to people in various parts of the world. I am uncomfortable within the orthodox confines of organized religion. I have been manning the outposts out on the world’s frontiers. Now I have decided I want to cast aside the comfort of the church and witness to people, from a secular vantage point, on the wisdom of Jesus and his teachings. By that, I do not mean that I intend to encourage the growth of Christianity by means of government policy. Not only do I believe in the separation of church and state, but so, too, did Jesus. I’m sure many of you are familiar with the words of the Savior to Pontius Pilate, beginning at John 18:36: ‘My kingdom is not of this world. If My Kingdom were of this world, then would My servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews, but now is My Kingdom not from hence.’

“Secondly, why have I decided to run for office as a Democrat? I have never taken undue interest in politics, but what I have mainly been subjected to is the Republican Party. Abraham Lincoln was the greatest Republican. It was he who said, in his First Inaugural Address, what I concluded many years ago was my central political philosophy. ‘We are not enemies, but friends,’ Lincoln said. “We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory will swell when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.’

“I see little semblance of Our Lord’s charity, and Lincoln’s defining spirit, in the Republican Party of today. I suspect that, if Jesus were alive now, the same would happen, and He would be sacrificed by those who, by nature, should have been His greatest allies. I have my difference with both political parties, but I have concluded that what the Republicans believe, and what I believe, are in irrevocable conflict with each other.”

“Okay, questions. The gentleman in the maroon blazer …”

“Reverend Jacklin …”

“Mister is appropriate, or, even better, Johnny. What is your name, sir?”

“Charley Pappas, thedenverbuzz.com. Uh, Johnny, what is your position on whether marijuana should continue to be legal for recreational use in Colorado?”

Even Roger Junior shut up to see what Johnny would say.

“Ever since I got home from Ecuador, that’s been a topic I’ve given a great deal of thought to,” he said. “I haven’t seen any problem with it that can’t be worked out by just a continuing evaluation of the law. I think you could talk to some of the people here, as I have, and at other places here in Denver, in Colorado City, in Boulder, and Vail, and Fort Collins, and Pueblo, and across the state, and what I’ve concluded is that it is probably less harmful than alcohol, that it has a positive effect in terms of reducing crime and corruption, and that its legalization has had no negative effect on the consumption by minors. Every single kid I’ve talked to has told me that the number-one reason kids smoke marijuana is that it is so readily available. They can’t get, say, beer as easily as they can marijuana. No one gets carded for weed. Naturally, since it is now regulated in a fashion similar to alcoholic beverages and cigarettes, it’s harder to get for kids. Will it no longer be a problem? Of course not. But the access teens have to pot is only lessened by legalization. It seems to me this is sort of obvious, and it seems odd to me that that criticism seems so counterintuitive.”

“Could I have a follow up?”

“Sure … Charley.”

“Have you smoked marijuana?”

Johnny laughed. “No, Charley. I’d never had a beer until three weeks ago.”

A TV reporter named Cicely Bray asked if he expected to win.

“Actually, no,” Johnny said. “This is sort of my experiment. I’m going to say what I believe, and I’m not going to go by polls, and, in fact, I’ll commission no polls and hire no image specialists. I’m just going to say what I think, and the opposition will make me look bad by boiling my paragraphs down to sentences, and my sentences down to fragments, in a way that will distort what I say to people who have no more sense than to be affected by that kind of politics.

“I think it’s going to be fun, and it’s going to be moral, and ethical, and godly, but imperfect, and I have no expectation that it’s going to work. I might seem naïve, but I’m not because I know going in they’re going to tear me to shreds. I just think, at this time in America, and in the world, and, most relevantly, in Colorado, it’s time for people to just lay it on the line. Maybe someone like I can win an election ten years from now. I’m going to try. I’d like to believe I have a chance, but getting the message out is what is important. If I win, well, I’ll think, maybe miracles do still happen.”

The next question came from Ann Launceston of the Freeman. She asked him to respond to his brother’s accusation that he had turned to the Devil.

“That’s a pretty strong charge,” Johnny said, and he stared directly at Junior, who stopped rudely working the room to see what he was going to say.

“I, uh, had a dream the other night that probably answers your question, Ann. I dreamed that Rog was here, pretty much just like he is, and while I was making my announcement, he declared me a disgrace and grew so agitated that he pulled out a gun and shot me. Then, before he could be apprehended, he turned the gun on himself and committed suicide.

“The next thing, we were both in the same line, him and me, and he was surprised that, you know, we were headed to the same place, and both of us gradually realized that the line was for hell, not heaven, and Roger Junior turned to me, and said, ‘Well, what do you know, Johnny boy, looks like you’re no better than me,’ and I looked back at him and said, ‘Actually, Rog, you forgot something very important,’ and he said, ‘Yeah? What’s that?’

“And I said, ‘I’m the missionary in the family.’”

Junior tried to rise in outrage, but the laughter drowned him out.

              This short story has some common ground with my third novel, Crazy of Natural Causes, which is about a sinner’s redemption amid the absurdity of life. I hope eventually you’ll have an opportunity to read it, but, until then, I’d like to recommend my two novels already on the market, The Audacity of Dope and The Intangibles, along with my previous books: http://www.amazon.com/Monte-Dutton/e/B005H3B144/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1416767492&sr=8-1

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