By David Finkle

I’m a normal guy. Or try to be. I acknowledge I commit the occasional venal sin but, since I’m a lapsed Catholic for reasons I don’t feel like getting into (but don’t involve priests with roving hands), I no longer go to confession. The truth is, I don’t see what the big fuss is about guilt.

The way I figure is we’re all guilty or none of us is. So why carry on about it with a few “Hail Mary”s?

That’s what I told myself and others, anyway. But even though I said so long to the Church, I still have the annoying habit of blurting out “Jesus Christ” when something annoying takes place. Time and again, I swear never to expel another “Jesus Christ.” Time and again, I shout it.

Only occasionally do I stop myself when I realize I’m about to say it again. But only occasionally. The one plus I see about the annoying habit is that I never say “Jesus H. Christ,” mainly because it makes no sense to me. Where does that “H” come from? “Holy”? “Heaven”? “Halo”? “Heterosexual”? “Hell?”

l also give myself credit for never declaring “Jesus, Mary and Joseph” in a heated moment. Somewhere in my not-too-closely-examined thought processes, I suspect that calling up the family unit is treading too much on former religious territory and possibly indicating personal acceptance of a theological bent I’m over and done with.

But at times of petty—or heightened—aggravation, I continue to emit a “Jesus Christ” and wonder how I’d gotten into the objectionable habit. Did my late parents, Pat and Maureen, use it? I think so but honestly don’t remember. Did I pick it up from schoolmates who had more right—by keeping the faith—to take the savior’s name in vain? I certainly didn’t pick it up from the nuns.

Maybe no one, of course, has the right to take the savior’s name in vain. l do recall a tenth-grade teacher, Sister Mary Lazarus, who was so touchy on the subject that she objected strongly to “Jeez.” “It’s an abbreviated version of Our Lord’s name,” she’d tell us blank-faced kids, “and you must never say it.”

But l was so sore at myself for my “Jesus Christ”s that I only wished I could shorten it to what I considered the less offending “Jeez”—if that was indeed a short version and not a totally unrelated and harmless one. Maybe “Jeez” or “Jeesh” is only the plural of the also popular “Gee.” Or is “Gee” even a shorter form of the Lord’s name?

Complicated, no? Off the subject? Only partly. Anyway, l keep on spouting “Jesus Christ” when I get a paper cut or have trouble finding where I put my fucking keys or can’t get the fitted bottom sheet to snap properly into place or when any of a thousand other things get me started.

Which is why I shouldn’t have been taken quite so much by surprise—but was—when one unusually hot May day, the living room air conditioner went on the blink and when I yelled “Jesus Christ,” I heard a soft but firm response: “Yes?”

I’d been fiddling with the controls and so was facing away. Turning to find out the source of the “Yes?”—that I more than half thought I imagined—I saw Jesus himself standing there in white robes that seemed to be freshly laundered but weren’t particularly shiny. They gave off no glow, though they were draped nicely.

Neither did the halo give off a glow. There was no halo.

Jesus was simply gotten up like you see him gotten up in paintings from back then, and I don’t have to tell you, l was thrown for a loop. No, really. I’d been on my haunches and when I saw him, I fell against the air conditioner. I hit it but didn’t really hurt my right shoulder.

At the same time, l wasn’t so out of it that I was struck dumb. As I was rubbing my shoulder, my first thought—to myself, not said aloud—was “I suppose I asked for this.”

Instead, what I said was, “Wow, sorry, I didn’t mean to disturb you, uh, Sir.”

Jesus chuckled and said something in English. He had, I don’t know, a Middle East accent? He said, “You’ve been disturbing me like that for a long time, and you’re not the only one. Mind if I sit down?”

l pointed to my favorite club chair, and Jesus—who, by the way, was bearded but still looked like a kid—sat and stretched out his sandaled feet.

“People constantly implore me by name,” he said. “I’d say it’s something like a million times a day. More. And they come from all over. It can get to be too much.”

I figured I could get up. I did and thought about New Testament manners. I realized I should do or say something hospitable. Pointing at the air conditioner, I said, “Sorry about the heat in here. The first uncomfortably hot day of the year, and the damn—I mean, darn—I mean the thing goes belly up.” Then I said, “You’re not here to fix it, are you?” I don’t know what got into me. Maybe I was thinking of the old gospel tune, “Fix Me, Jesus.”

“Good Lord, no,” Jesus said. I guess he was referring to his Father, not himself. “In my day we didn’t have air conditioners. I wouldn’t know the first thing about it. No, no, I’m used to the heat. I should be. I spent all that time in the desert.”

“Forty days and forty nights, wasn’t it?” l said.

“More or less,” Jesus said, smiling. I suppose you could say it was beatific. “Over millennia, everything gets exaggerated, but I’m here for something else.”

l was curious, of course, but still felt the hospitality urge. “Can I get you anything? A glass of water, perhaps?”

“Water would be good,” Jesus said. “Ever since my desert stay and a few other unforgettable experiences you’ve heard about, I never say no to water when it’s offered.”

Taking that last as him referring to the Crucifixion, l excused myself, went into the kitchen, got a glass, started the tap and yelled behind me, “Would you like ice in it?”

“Ice,” Jesus said. “Why not? Ice was a rarity where I come from.” Then he laughed. He had a nice laugh. He said, “No, I don’t mean the other place. The one down below. That would be funny, wouldn’t it? No, I mean Israel. You know, Bethlehem, Jerusalem.”

l brought the iced water to Jesus, who received it gratefully and sipped. l noticed that when he held out his hand to take the glass, a stigmatum was visible. l couldn’t help wincing and hoped the spontaneous reaction hadn’t been noticed.

“This is a treat,” Jesus said after sipping.

“I’m glad you like it,” l said. “It’s a simple pleasure.”

“Simple pleasures are best,” Jesus said in a tone l took to be like the one he must have used for the Sermon on the Mount.

“I hope you won’t think me, uh, disrespectful…” l said, sneaking a look at the sofa but hesitant about sitting in Jesus’s presence. With a humble nod, Jesus indicated sitting was permissible. l continued, “But I’m wondering why, if millions of people every day are, as you say, calling your name, you’re answering me?”

“To begin with,” Jesus said, putting his glass on a table near him and folding his hands in his lap, “yours isn’t the only call I’m answering. I answer many, as you might know from the frequent large-type ‘National Enquirer’ headlines. People see me all the time, everywhere and in the oddest places, in the patterns that spilled water makes, in the way toast is charred, in the folds of a blanket, in the frost on a window. Secondly, I’m answering you, because I’m aware you’ve been trying for so long to stop doing what you think of as taking my name in vain, especially as you’re a lapsed Catholic and think you forfeited the right.”

l nodded assent. I was wowed that my struggles were known to Jesus. “It’s embarrassing,” l said, “to be, you know, saying your name when I don’t believe in you.” Given the circumstances, I immediately realized I’d better qualify the remark. “I mean, I believe in you. I believe you existed, but I don’t adhere to Christian teachings, to the catechism. Not anymore. I respect all that, I guess I should say, but I just don’t swear by it. It’s nothing against you, you know.”

Jesus said, “I have to laugh.” He did. This time it was a hearty laugh l associate with men reacting to the kind of joke they hear in a bar. “I’m not strictly Catholic, either,” he said. “I just instigated Catholicism. I’m Jewish. Circumcised, the whole megillah. So one way of thinking about it is, you’re just one straying Catholic calling on a non-Catholic for temporary assistance.”

“I never thought of it that way,” l said.

“You could consider your frequent referring to me as one friend calling on another.”

“That’s nice of you to say,” l said, “but I’m not just calling on you when I say ‘Jesus Christ.’ I’m kind of swearing. I’m blaming you for whatever’s getting on my nerves.”

“I don’t take it that way,” Jesus said, “but I do understand you deem it a habit you’d like to break. I’m here to help you with that.”

“That’s awfully nice of you,” l said, wondering how Jesus was going to accomplish this.

“Think of my being here as an answered prayer,” Jesus said.

“But I don’t pray to you,” l said.

“Yes, you do,” Jesus said. “You may think that when you say ‘Jesus Christ,’ you’re expressing anger and/or frustration, but I hear it as a prayer. All of us—Mohammad, Buddha, Thor, Shiva, Zeus, Hera, you name him or her—understand and share these spoken, or sometimes just thought, verbal missives to us.”

As he said that, he assumed another of his nice smiles, and l began to see, right there in front of me, a show of what Jesus’s appeal had been to the people around him two thousand years, give or take, before this weird late morning. Jesus was suddenly radiating light every bit as intense and warming, or more so, as the light falling through my windows.

l thought of all the religious pictures I’d seen as a kid, the ones with all the gold on them. Whoever made them got it right. I said, “I appreciate your thoughtfulness, of course, Sir, but I have to say I have no idea how you’re going to get me to stop saying you-know-what when I’ve already tried so hard on my own to stop saying you-know-what. I mean, I know you have special powers, but still.”

“I can tell you in two words,” Jesus said, raising his hands, palms outward, tapering fingers upward. “Behavior modification. You must know the term.”

“I know it,” l said, “I mean, I’ve heard it and kind of know what it means, but I’m surprised you do.”

“Ah,” Jesus said, “I’m full of surprises. Now here’s what we’re going to do. I’m going to ask you to repeat ‘Jesus Christ’ many times over until I tell you to stop—.” l was about to object, but Jesus cut me off with a barely perceptible movement of his right index finger. “Except,” he went on, “every time you’re about to say ‘Jesus Christ,’ I want you to substitute another word. Any word or couple of words. Do you follow?”

l thought I did. “You mean, I should think I’m about to say ‘Jesus Christ,’ but instead I say ‘rainy days’ or ‘cigarette butts.’”

“You got it in one,” Jesus said and clapped his hands together. l wondered whether the gesture aggravated the stigmata but said nothing. “Or,” Jesus said, “you could use another proper name, a name you think is tamer, less heretical. John Wilkes Booth. Winston Churchill. Muhammad Ali.”

l nodded my comprehension.

“Are you ready to begin?” Jesus asked.

l nodded again.

“Then go,” Jesus said.

lmmediately I made as if I was going to say “Jesus Christ” but said, “Elementary school.”

“Good,” Jesus said. “Keep going.”

“City ordinance,” l said. “Take the ‘A’ train.”

“Good,” Jesus said, “good.”

“Chicago White Sox,” l said, as the words “Jesus Christ” were forming in my mouth. “Internal Revenue Service. Pasta fagiole. Sock it to me. Eastern Standard Time.”

Jesus was shaking his head in encouragement. l felt I was getting firmly in the groove, that I had it knocked. I hadn’t, because just then I was beginning to say “Jesus Christ” but no alternative phrase come to mind. I slipped and said what I didn’t want to say. I said, “Jesus Christ.”

Jesus was forgiving—of course, he was forgiving; he was Jesus. All he did was raise his thick right eyebrow.

l resumed with new fervor. “Wheat thins,” I said.

“Aluminum siding. Whatever floats your boat. The tieing touchdown. By the shores of Gitche Gumee.”

Jesus was nodding, encouragingly.

Now l was on a roll, practically giddy with my new power. “Bessemer steel. Pull an all-nighter. Yours sincerely. Table manners.”

“Elvis A. Presley,” I all but shouted, confident I could use a middle initial in this instance because I knew Elvis Presley’s middle name was Aaron. l was about to move on to “Warren G. Harding,” when I saw Jesus’s kindly eyes shift to the right and I heard to the left of and behind me a strummed acoustic guitar chord and the sung words “Love me tender.”

I followed Jesus’s gaze and saw, by the window that the defunct air conditioner wasn’t under, the actual Elvis Aaron Presley—full sideburns, pompadour and favorite Gibson J-200. He was also in white-and-gold performing drag so that where Jesus had an inner glow, Elvis’s was all outward.

Elvis took the attention in, pointed to his studded white ensemble and said in a musical Elvis Presley inflection, “Nudie.” l knew—but wasn’t certain Jesus would—that by “Nudie” Elvis meant the famous Nashville costume designer.

I know a lot about country music, because I like it. But l didn’t pass on that information. The only thing that occurred to me to say was, “Jesus, meet Elvis. Elvis, say hello to Jesus.”

Then I practically fell over at hearing myself make those unlikely introductions. Rather than falling over, however, I was brought back to my senses when Jesus and Elvis said in dulcet unison, “We’re already acquainted.” Then they both began overlapping explanations for how and when they’d previously met.

Almost instantly after agreeing they’d met but hadn’t had much time to get to know each other—there being so many people to say “hi” to where they were—Elvis deferred to Jesus by an I’m-just-a-humble-country-boy dip of his large head.

I motioned Elvis to sit down, but Elvis said, “I can’t sit in this outfit.” (The “can’t” came out as “cain’t.”) At the same time, he dipped his head in Jesus’s direction again. I remembered that Elvis was religious, more than I was, I have to confess after not going to confession for I forget how many years.

Jesus said to me, “Elvis and I first met the way you and I did. I answered a ‘Jesus Christ’ he thought he’d spoken in vain.”

Elvis interrupted and said, “I always tried not to swear. It’s a form of cruelty, and I did have a big hit with ‘Don’t Be Cruel.’ That’s a sentiment I truly believed in and always tried to stand behind. But sometimes swear words just came out. And Jesus here helped me with that. He didn’t help me with the drugs and alcohol. No one could.”

“But I absolved you,” Jesus said.

Elvis turned to me and said, “That happened the second time we met. In the beyond. I never thought I’d get there.” (The “get” came out as “git.”) “But it turns out swiveling my hips and selling so many millions of records that gave people pleasure is a mighty fine dispensation.” (“Mighty fine” came out as “mahty fahn.”)

Jesus pointed at Elvis. “His music is much appreciated where we are,” he said. “It isn’t all harps there. That’s an earthly misconception.”

Elvis said, “But there are some harps. I like them. They were used in some of my movie scores.”

l was listening to this exchange and, at about this point, realized I was listening to it as if it were an everyday occurrence. “Wait a minute,” I thought to himself. “This is Jesus and Elvis sitting around in my living room as if we’re just three good old boys.” (In my head, “old” came out as “ole.”)

“In a way, we’re old friends,” Jesus said, reading my mind.

“Holy moly,” l thought, “He’s reading my mind.” As I thought it, l mentally capitalized the “h” in “He.”

Jesus continued to read my mind. “Thank you for the capitalization on “He,” but, you know, I’ve never known what a ‘moly’ is. It doesn’t exist in any language. ‘Molé,’ yes, but ‘moly,’ no. Maybe the phrase was originally Mexican and began as ‘holy molé.’”

Elvis said, “I always preferred to say ‘Bless-a my soul.’ I liked it so much, I had them put it at the beginning of ‘All Shook Up.’” He hummed a few bars and played a few chords, and Jesus tapped his sandaled foot along with the beat. l noticed what I hadn’t earlier: the stigmata on Jesus’s clean-as-a-whistle sandaled feet.

After only about eight measures, however, Elvis stopped himself to say to both Jesus and me, “But I’m here by accident.” To Jesus, he said, “You were doing the behavior modification thingie, and I got caught up in it.”

“I’m sorry about that,” l said to Jesus, while pointing at Elvis. “I didn’t realize what I was doing when I said his name.”

Elvis bowed his head just a smidge, as if he’d just been thanked by Ed Sullivan on nationwide television.

“No,” Jesus said, “my fault. I said you could use proper names. Usually it’s not a problem.”

“Begging your pardon, Lord,” Elvis said, “but it’s my fault.” (The “begging” came out as “beggin’.”) “I mistook it as a command performance and obliged, which I was often wont to do. Maybe I best return. You know, to the back of the big beyond.”

This piqued my curiosity. “How can you do that?”

“Just a simple snap of the fingers,” Jesus and Elvis said, again almost in unison.

l wondered if finger-popping affected Jesus’s stigmata adversely. “No, in answer to the stigmata question,” Jesus said and added, “I let your first silent queries about my stigmata slide.”

l was abashed but said nothing. I didn’t have to. Jesus said, “People worry about my palms all the time. They needn’t. The pain abated long ago and can’t be revived.” He went on. “But since we’re all here, I was thinking we could do something together.”

I reacted before I could stop himself. “What about my behavior modification?”

Again reading my mind, Jesus said, “My guess is, the behavior modification has already taken hold. Maybe we can put it to the test.”

“Sounds jake with me,” Elvis said, “as long as it don’t require sitting [“requahre sittin’”] down.”

Jesus said, “A walk around the neighborhood might do it.” He turned to me and said, “There’s always something irritating happening in the streets that could provoke you to say what I think you’ve now trained yourself not to say. We’ll find out soon enough. What do you think, Elvis?”

Elvis cleared his throat and said, “Whatever you decide is best. I may be the King, but you’re the King of Kings.”

“Mohammad wouldn’t agree with you,” Jesus said.

“I know,” Elvis said. “Neither would Nietzsche.”

They both had a good laugh over that.

The suggestion of a turn about the West Village seemed a curious one to me. So I said, “How can you two just stroll around the Village? You’ll be noticed.”

“In the Village?” Jesus said. “People may think they see me in cloud formations and tea leaves, but in the Village since the sixties, they take me for just another Jesus freak, just another off-site manifestation of Jerusalem’s Jesus Syndrome.”

Elvis chuckled his side-of-the-mouth chuckle and said, “And they take me for one more Elvis impersonator. They always do, especially in Las Vegas. Funny thing is, I’ve lost a few Elvis lookalike contests there. Didn’t even come in first or second runner-up. How do you like them apples?”

l knew my nabe and knew what they were saying was true.

“You’re right,” I said. “Let’s go.”

We went down to the street. As it was a Sunday afternoon and a seasonable one at that, the streets were crowded. I’d wondered if my companions would be noticed, and, of course, they were. Many, if not all, the passers-by glanced at them—but only for a few seconds before looking elsewhere. New Yorkers can be very blasé.

After a while l got the definite feeling I was receiving as much attention as the other two. Jesus noticed it, too. Reading my mind some more, he said, “It’s because you’re dressed casually, and they’re trying to figure out why, if you’re with people dressed as we are, you’re not dressed up, too.”

Several people—men, women and children alike—took in the three of us and said, “Hey, Elvis!” When they did, Elvis would mime playing a few bars on the guitar and say, “Hey, yourself!” When he did that, they snickered. Elvis said, “See what I mean? They think I’m an Elvis impersonator— probably a third-rate one at that.”

No one we passed said, “Hey, Jesus!” And after a while, Elvis remarked to Jesus, “It’s like John Lennon said. Rock stars are more popular than you.”

“I know,” Jesus said and smiled another of his beaming smiles. “I wasn’t all that popular with that many people then, either.”

Several amusing incidents occurred during a street fair that Jesus, Elvis and l headed into. One of the funniest was at the corner of Bleecker and West Tenth Street. Representatives of Jews for Jesus were soliciting members. One of them saw Jesus and said, “Are you Jewish?” “All my life,” Jesus replied. “Mazel tov,” the guy said. The curls by his ears shook. “You sure look like a good candidate to join us.” Jesus said, “Thank you, my son” and kept walking. The Jew for Jesus didn’t know what to make of that.

At another corner, two young women spotted each other and raced into one another’s arms. One said to the other, “It’s a miracle. I was just thinking how long it’s been since I’ve seen you.”

l turned to Jesus. He put up his hands and said, “Don’t look at me. I take no credit for coincidences.” Again, I saw his stigmata.

Passing a stand where a tattooed man of about thirty was selling CDs, Elvis flipped through the assortment and pulled a shrink-wrapped item out. “Pirated from one of my Caesar’s Palace gigs,” he said to Jesus and me. “No matter how hard Colonel Parker tried, he couldn’t stop it.”

l knew Elvis was referring to his longtime manager, Colonel Tom Parker. What I couldn’t recall was whether Parker was a genuine colonel. Elvis shook the CD and said to Jesus, “Got any miracles for this?”

“I’m afraid not,” Jesus said. “That’s the devil’s work, so to speak.”

To the tattooed purveyor, Elvis said, “Pack up your sins and go to the devil in Hades.” I recognized the remark as an Irving Berlin lyric.

“It’s an Irving Berlin lyric,” Elvis said to the two of us. “He taught it to me. What a songwriter!” To Jesus, he said, “He’s Jewish, you know.”

Jesus said, “I know. He never stops reminding me.”

The tattooed guy only said, “If you don’t like what you see, you don’t have to buy it.” I noticed one of the guy’s tattoos was the head of Jesus. Jesus noticed it, too. Elvis put the CD back and said to the tattooed fellow. “I was right good in my old Caesar’s Palace days.”

“Sure you were,” the inked salesperson said.

Though l was enjoying my walk on the wild side, it was hardly accomplishing its goal: to happen upon some kind of situation where I’d be incited to say “Jesus Christ” but would reflexively say something else.

For the longest time, nothing really irritating occurred. Though the Village thoroughfares were thronged, no one was pushing me aside rudely enough for me to say—I don’t know—“jackpot winnings.” l stumbled over no developing potholes. I bought nothing hot to eat that burned my tongue or spilled down my shirt. I saw nothing being sold that tried my patience. I might have objected to the pirated CD that Elvis pointed out, but it was Elvis’s. I was going to say, “It was Elvis’s cross to bear,” but I’ll abstain.

Then, suddenly, an incident.

Jesus, Elvis and l had left the street fair and were passing The Corner Bistro at Hudson and Jane when its heavy front door burst open and a man looking terrified came racing out. He was followed by a larger man wielding what looked like a long carving knife. There was a fair amount of shouting that caused the man being chased to turn around. As he did, the man following with the apparently sharp instrument reached him and appeared to plunge what he held into the frightened man’s chest.

The man let out a cry that sounded like “I’m hit,” though it was obscured by all the onlookers who were accumulating and behaving as people behave when something like this happens. Some scattered. I guess they were trying to get out of harm’s way. Some of the brave ones tackled the man with the knife and held him on the ground. Some of them went to where the fallen man was.

Jesus and Elvis were the first ones to get there. l was directly behind them, but when I got close to the spot, I couldn’t quite see what was happening. I thought I saw blood on the ground, but when I looked a second time, I saw only what appeared to be a streak of red paint. I also saw

Jesus helping the dazed man to his feet.

The man was saying, “I could have sworn I’d been hit right here.” He pointed to his side. He kind of looked like Jesus looked in all those pictures with Doubting Thomas. “It felt like a dull punch.”

Jesus was saying to the man, “Perhaps you were, and perhaps you weren’t.” I wonder if he was thinking about Doubting Thomas or thinking he was doing something like he did with Doubting Thomas.

To help get the man over his shock and to distract the crowd, Elvis started playing the cherished Gibson J-200 and was singing “Bless-a my soul, what’s wrong with me? My hands are shaky and my knees are weak. I can’t seem to stand on my own two feet.”

The man started laughing, and so did everyone else who recognized Elvis’s chart-topping “All Shook Up.” Some of the younger bystanders didn’t laugh. They looked like the kind of jerks who don’t want to encourage any Elvis impersonator, no matter how good he is.

In the distance, l heard a siren and turned to see from which direction it was arriving. A police car came up Hudson Street and stopped. A second pulled up behind it. Two policemen jumped out of each car. The first two hustled to the assailant still held down by a couple of bruisers in leather jackets on the backs of which was the word “Stonewall” in metal studs. The second two officers hurried over to where Jesus and Elvis were standing.

Or, to be more exact, to where Jesus and Elvis had been standing. They were no longer there. Just a slightly wobbly man surrounded by a group of people that included me.

“What happened here?” one of the cops asked anyone who might answer. He’d taken a notebook and a pen from a jacket pocket.

Everyone but the disoriented man started to speak. The policeman who wasn’t writing had to call the informal gathering to order. Then, one by one, the episode was recounted—as clearly as any of us could remember it.

Included in the testimony were mentions that “a guy who was gotten up to look like Jesus” and a second guy—“one of those Elvis people”—had been the first ones to come to the fallen man’s aid.

Several witnesses mentioned they thought they’d seen a knife and blood but then realized they hadn’t. There was general agreement that what they’d seen was only red paint that at first had looked like blood. Curiously, one of the spectators produced something he’d found in the gutter—a shiny ladle with an unusually long handle.

The fallen and now revived latter-day Lazarus declared that whatever he said had to be unreliable. He wasn’t even sure he hadn’t blacked out from the forceful jab he insisted he’d experienced.

He said that when he thought he’d come to, he was looking deeply into a pair of very intense eyes and was hearing what he took to be an almost religious supplication. He also said he thought he’d heard Elvis Presley singing.

“But don’t go by me,” he said as he concluded his bleary account, “I probably dreamed the whole thing.”

“Where are these two guys?” the cop taking this down asked.

“They left immediately,” a few people offered, but when the cops asked where they’d gone, no one seemed to know— least of all me.

Taking that into account, the other cop said, “We don’t really need them. We’ve got enough witnesses we can get in touch with if we want more information or corroboration.”

Then they escorted the victim of “the attempted knifing” to an ambulance that had arrived from Beth Israel Hospital. (The man wielding the implement had already been taken away, presumably to be jailed.)

Once the alleged crime scene was cleared, the crowd dispersed, leaving me alone to think more about what had just happened. That was when I reran the afternoon’s activity in my head.

I hadn’t thought of it at the time, but I suddenly remembered that when the man ran out of The Corner Bistro with the knife (?) and brought it down, I had been discombobulated enough to shout “Jesus Christ.” But I hadn’t shouted “Jesus Christ.” I distinctly recalled I’d yelled something wholly different. I’d shouted “Leapin’ lizards.” It was an outburst I hadn’t burst out with since I was a kid and still under the influence of my granddad’s “Little Orphan Annie” generation.

For the record, I haven’t taken the name “Jesus Christ” in vain again—and at the very least, I consider that development some kind of minor miracle. And oh, yeah, I’ve come to believe in miracles again and certainly in the body of Christ.

DAVID FINKLE is a New York-based writer and the author of People Tell Me Things and The Man With The Overcoat. His articles and reviews have appeared in many publications, including The New York Times, The Village Voice, The New York Post, The Nation, The New Yorker, New York, Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar and American Theatre.  He is currently chief drama critic on The Clyde Fitch Report, the only magazine of arts and politics.

This is a series that David Finkle has written for Manhattan Book Review. Read his other short stories:
Great Dates With Some Late Greats: Anton Reynolds’s Story, or Mona Lisa, Smile!
Great Dates with Some Late Greats: Paul Engler’s Story, or Marilyn Monroe is Hamlet
Great Dates With Some Late Greats: Doug Reithauyser’s Story, or Babe Ruth Rounds Home