Last Night

Last night I was sitting in a bar, alone, reading Gunter Grass’s Local Anaesthetic, when who should come in but Hitler and Jesus. They saw me in the corner and hailed me, coming over directly. I stood up to greet them as they approached.

“Adolf! The Living Christ! What a nice surprise!” I said, shaking their hands in turn. I waved to the bartender: “Innkeeper! Three beers for me and my two companions, if you would be so kind.”

“Vee had zought zat vee might vind you here,” said Hitler as we seated ourselves. “Jesus und I, vee haf been looking for you.”

“Oh?” I said, with raised eyebrows, looking from one to the other. The bartender set the three full mugs of beer down on the table, bowed slightly and returned to his post. I picked up the mug that sat before me and raised it in the air: “A toast, then, to your success in having found me, and to a pleasant evening ahead!” We three clinked our glasses together and drank. They set their glasses down and I smiled, inwardly, at the line of beer foam left behind on each of their respective mustaches.

“Vell,” said Hitler, “I am surprised to vind zat you are so jovial, considering zat you are ein man zitting alone in eine bar.”

“Yes, and I will admit to having been tracing the lonely paths of memory this evening,” I replied. “But when life offers up the surprise gift of two fine companions, only a foolish man would persist in his solitudinous endeavors. Life is too short, and I’m sure that I will find myself soon enough again with plenty of time alone for thoughts and thinking.”

“Vell,” said Hitler, “zat is certainly ein zentiment zat I vill raise mein glass to,” and he did so, and we three toasted and drank again.

“So then,” I said, “pray do tell, if you please, just what it was that gave you to seek me out, on this fine evening in this city so full of available delights.”

“Ach!” grimaced Hitler, waving a dismissive hand. “Ziss city und its available distractions, I zink zat vould be more accurate. As von of your fine American auzurs vonce said, ein great sound und fury signifying nossing.” At this I grinned and winked across the table at Jesus, who smiled back at me as he sipped at his beer.

“Why,” I said, “is it possible that we find our friend Adolf in a somewhat cynical mood tonight? Perish the thought!”

“Ja, ja,” said Hitler, “tease me if you vill, mein freund. But ven ziss city is burning to ze ground, do not come to me und say zat I did not varn you.”

“My dear Adolf,” I said, laughing, “if this city does, indeed, at some future date find itself engulfed in fire, I promise to be the very first in line to commend you for your foresight.” I turned with my glass to the bar at large and called out: “Friends! Fellow boozehounds! When the city is all aflame, let it be disputed by no one that Adolf Hitler himself gave to us all a very fair and consistent warning!”

There was a gentle round of laughter from the other patrons, a couple of assenting “Ayes!” and “Verilys!” Most of them were regular customers, as we were, and as such they were quite familiar by now with Hitler’s frequent and unvarying prophecies regarding imminent doom.

“Ja, ja,” said Hitler as he drank, shaking his head but smiling. “Danke schon vor your full und unzarcastic zupport, zank you very much.” I smiled broadly at him and enthusiastically proffered my glass for another toast, and he assented with a grunt of amusement.

“By ze vay,” he said, gesturing at the book that lay on the table, “I zee zat you are readink un novel by von of our vinest Deutschlander auzurs, un vinner of ze Nobel Prize, if I am not mistaken. Und how are you vinding it, I vonder? I have not mein zelf yet read zis particular book. Jesus, you are vamiliar viss Grass und his vork?”

Jesus nodded. “I have read Local Anaesthetic, actually. If I remember correctly it mentions me once or twice.”

“I think that’s right,” I said, “I do seem to recollect at least one reference to you, and a fairly apt one as well, which is always a pleasant surprise. Anyhow Adolf, I’m quite enjoying it. The book’s a real pleasure to read simply on the plane of language alone; continuously experimental, a basic disregard for the typical boundaries. It has that kind of feel as though someone has ventured out into the unknown country and come back with all sorts of interesting discoveries, someone with that rare gift of being able to render those discoveries in a communicable, meaningful fashion. You know, the sort of linguistic flight of fancy that’s also still very much grounded in the actual movement of the living world. He manages to turn that neat trick of being playful and yet quite serious without any contradictions. An accomplishment especially so given the material he’s working with, namely Germany in the aftermath of your little misadventure, my friend.”

At this the former Fuhrer frowned and nodded in acknowledgment. He drank his beer and looked down at the tabletop for awhile. Finally he scratched the back of his head, looked up with a mild grimace and shrugged his shoulders apologetically.

“Ja, das is true, zertainly. Ja, I made a little bit of a mess of zings, von cannot zay uzzervise. Zat is mein cross to bear, if you vill pardon zis expression mein freund,” he said while gesturing at Jesus, who shook his head.

“None taken. It’s an apt phrase, and anyways how can I not empathize with you, Adolf. After all, old friend, I think you may be the one person in history who actually approaches me in terms of being a source of death, violence and destruction.”

“Vell, zis is zertainly true,” nodded Hitler. “But at ze least deine heart vas in ze right place. Vor mein zelf, zis I cannot zay, zadly.”

Jesus shook his head again.

“No my friend, as its correctly put, hindsight is very much twenty-twenty. You had no wish to do evil; despite how abundantly clear it is now how wrong you were, you believed at the time that you were doing the right thing. And as for myself, how can I say that my heart was in the right place, in the light of what people have done to each other in my name? I was young, foolish, arrogant. Calling myself the Son of God…”, he said, trailing off, and then he snorted with mild disgust.

“All right, all right,” I said, wagging an admonitory finger, “we’re not here for a pity party, there’ll be no crying into our beers tonight. The past is the past, and we all know this.” Jesus and Hitler nodded and I went on: “We all make mistakes, and we all do our best to learn from them. We forgive ourselves and we forgive each other; there’s far too much wonder in this world to spend our days dancing sad waltzes with regretful ghosts and phantoms. A trite sentiment, maybe, but also true. And anyhow, why have we taken this recriminating left turn? Is it just because I was talking about Local Anaesthetic?”

“No, mein freund,” said Hitler, “actually zis is related to ze reason zat Jesus und I vere looking vor you. Vee had been talking of ze problem of vorgiveness, und vee began to speak of you in relation to zis issue.”

I sat up straight, clapped my hands together: “My good friends Jesus Christ and Adolf Hitler were discussing forgiveness and now they want to talk to me? Well, I’m both intrigued and delighted! By all means, continue!”

Adolf gestured with deference toward Jesus, who smiled at me and drank from his beer before speaking.

“Well,” he began, wiping his lip with the sleeve of his robe, “well, it basically revolves around the fact that you’re so perfectly at ease sitting here with the two of us. I mean, it’s already the rare individual who’s able to be comfortable with either of us separately; but together, seeing Adolf and I together….well, whatever it is that they see in me and whatever it is they see in Adolf, apparently those two things are just completely irreconcilable. And what strikes us, of course, is how utterly sensible it is that we would be together: who else would you find walking down the street with Adolf Hitler, probably the ultimate symbol of evil in the modern world — and of course no offense to you, Adolf” — “Ja, none is taken” — “anyhow, who else would you expect to find walking down the street with him than Jesus Christ, supposedly the ultimate symbol of love and forgiveness, of redemption; who else but Hitler could be more deserving of my time and attention?”

I sipped my beer and nodded affirmatively, waiting for him to continue. Hitler sat with his elbow on the table and his chin propped in his hand, tracing circles with his finger in the water that condensation from the beer mugs had left on the table. Jesus took another long drink, and then gestured outwards, indicating the surrounding world.

“People, by and large, see Adolf and I together, and whatever it is they see in us renders the fact of our being together as basically insensible to them. Of course, Adolf and I aren’t stupid; we recognize the limitations imposed on an individual by a particular set of experiences, by the reception of incomplete or incorrect information. It’s not, of course, that we’re surprised that other people react as they do. But you, my friend—”, and he raised his glass to me and we three toasted again, I nodding slightly with deferential thanks — “you, my friend, greet the two of us not only with ease, but with obvious warmth and pleasure. Which of course, we very much enjoy and appreciate. But beyond that, it makes us both curious as to how you manage to turn this unusual trick.” Jesus turned to Hitler, who nodded and spoke, picking up the thread.

“Ja, vee bose zink zat it is very interesting. Vee had zought zat maybe it is zat you zimply accept ze insensible; but vee dismissed zis idea, because vee haf bose zeen in your actions und vords zat you are ein man of ein continually sensible nature. Zerefore, vee are vondering just vhat it is zat you see, vhy und how you see us differently zan do ze great majority of uzzer people.”

Hitler turned and gestured to Jesus for confirmation; Jesus pursed his lips and nodded: Yes, that’s basically the gist. They both turned and looked at me, as if encountering some exotic curiosity, and I burst out laughing.

“My dear friends,” I said after a few moments, collecting myself, “please forgive me. It’s just that I’m quite, well, delighted I guess, at the situation I now find myself in: the two of you, coming to me with questions regarding forgiveness and redemption. You both know how much enjoyment I take from the extraordinary, and this here and now certainly foots the bill. This calls for another round! Monsieur Barkeep!” I said, turning to the bar, “Three more frosty mugfuls of your finest ale, please, for myself and my two companions!” I turned back, beaming with pleasure; Hitler shook his head, chuckling, and Jesus smiled back at me. The bartender set the three full glasses down, gathered the empties onto his tray and withdrew, and we toasted and drank again.

“Ahh,” I sighed, setting my glass back down on the table. “That certainly hits the proverbial spot, doesn’t it? Now, where were we? Let’s see: the question is, more or less, how is it that I see the two of you, or more particularly, how is it that I see the two of you together, in a light that is typically unperceived by the general populace, yes? Well. Well, in the first and foremost place, what I see is my two friends: companions with whom I’ve passed many a pleasant and stimulating conversational hour. I don’t mean to pretend at simplicity or ignorance; of course I’m aware of your presence, each, as living symbols. And for me, as you both know, this is an enhancement: you’ve both lived extraordinary lives, and I feel quite blessed, honestly, to spend time in your company, to hear firsthand the perspectives you’ve gleaned from your separate and wholly unique experiences. But, you’re also simply just people, a person just as I am, as we all are: you breathe, you eat, you drink, you experience the questions of meaning within existence the same as I do, the same as everyone does.”

I paused here to drink and consider; Jesus and Hitler sat quietly, waiting for me to continue. I leaned back in my chair and looked up at the ceiling for awhile, thinking it over.

“As to the question,” I went on, “of how it is that I’m able to perceive these (as I see them) simple, straightforward facts, when others are not able to…well, of course, it’s somewhat difficult to speak to the origins of my own nature. But, to speak broadly, I have found that it is both simpler and, frankly, more enjoyable to approach life with…well, with love I guess, than to approach it with…with enmity, or suspicion, anger. Yes, as you noted earlier, it’s true that I try to discern and hew to the path of sensibility: I do my humble best to live as a rational man, to wield the gift of human intelligence responsibly. And the practice of love, as such, simply strikes me as the most rational practice available. Cruelty begets cruelty, kindness begets kindness: in my life, at least, these are experientially received, consummate truths.”

I sat up straight, gesturing at the two of them as I continued.

“Basically, I play the mathematical odds: doing a kind turn for you doesn’t guarantee that you will return the favor, but it makes it a more likely prospect than if I were to treat you with cruelty or contempt, or even simple ignorance. I’d rather be a smart man than a stupid man; I’d rather have a good time in life than a bad one. I don’t mean to profess a false modesty here, but it all honestly strikes me as being a fairly straightforward, uncomplicated matter.”

At this point I broke off, sitting back in my chair and raising my glass to drink, looking at each of them. Jesus was still, reclined; his head perched between the fingers of his left hand, looking back at me thoughtfully. But Hitler leaned forward, staring down into his beer; drummed his fingers on the tabletop for a few seconds, then sat up and looked at each of us in turn.

“Ja — “ he said, hesitating, gathering his thoughts, “ja, vell, of course in general, I vind agreement viss you, viss zis perspective zat you have espoused. Zis talk of ze reality of ze karmic vheel is, as you zay, ein generally simple und straightforward zing. But…but, vhat of ze problem of consequences, of personal responsibility? Und I am sure zat you bose know zat I am zinking of mein zelf in zis regard. Vor, ze crimes zat I have committed, zey are vast, und perhaps immeasurable; indeed, in ze general mind I am zought of as ein beast, ein zort of inhuman monster. Ja, ja”, he said, waving his hands as Jesus and I frowned and shook our heads, “ja, zank you, I am always zankful vor deinen support. But ze zing is, even if it may be zat I am able to vorgive mein zelf vor my many und great mistakes, can I, truly, ask of ze general man zat he vill vorgive me also? Vhere is it zat von must draw ze line betveen empassy und consequences, betveen vorgiveness und holding ein man responsible vor his actions?”

Here he stopped to drink, looking at each of us, his brow furrowed with concern; and despite his clearly genuine anxiety, it was still hard not to laugh at that white line of foam left across his upper lip: holding up the proverbial bunny ears, as it were, behind the strict solemnity of that famous little mustache.

“Well, Adolf,” began Jesus, “of course, that’s a valid and important question. For instance, when forgiveness becomes a way of excusing behavior, a tool for recusing oneself from responsibility; that’s a misappropriation of the purpose of forgiveness, an abuse of its power. It creates the notion that there’s an allowance for purposefully done misdeeds, that saying a couple prayers buys you a Get Out of Jail Free card. All of that arising, of course, from a complete lack of understanding of the reality of the, as you put it, karmic wheel; in its place this bizarre notion that there are these external heavens and hells which stand in some extra-physical dimension beyond living existence — Jesus Christ, if you’ll excuse me for taking my own name in vain,” he said, shaking his head with disbelief — “I assumed I didn’t have to spell it out, I thought it was pretty obvious that these were metaphors… but I guess that’s why they say it makes an ass out of you and me, eh?”

He sat and mused for a moment, scratching the chin beneath his beard before continuing.

“Anyways, Adolf, the point is that yes, forgiveness can be wielded in an abusive and corrupt fashion. But, that doesn’t obviate its genuinely healing and renewing facility, which lies in the question of, as you said: do you forgive yourself? Because in the end you are alone with yourself, alone before your own God, and it is you and only you who can render any meaningful judgment, who can decide how your past actions will shape the way in which you bend towards the future.”

“And,” I broke in, with a permissive nod from Jesus as he sat back with his beer, “as our good friend here, the Living Prince of Peace,” (Jesus snorted, stuck out his tongue), “as he once so well put it: ‘Let the man here who’s completely sin-free be the one to stand up and throw the first condemnifying rock!…anyone? Anyone? Going once, going twice?…Hmm, I guess Joe Perfect couldn’t make it tonight; what a pity, I do so enjoy a good old-fashioned stoning. Well, anyone up for Monopoly? Trivial Pursuit? African Rock-Game?’ That’s more or less how it went, Jesus?” I said, enjoying myself.

“Oh yes, word-for-word, exactly,” he said. “Monopoly was all the rage in the first century A.D.” Despite his anxiety, Hitler giggled a bit at this and said: “Vhat, did you get zwei hundert clams each time zat you passed Go? Vhy, perhaps it is Monopoly zat has caused ze people to beliefe in zis free ‘Get Out Of Ze Jail’ card zat you have mentioned earlier!”

Hitler giggled again at his own joke; Jesus rolled his eyes in mock exasperation, I laughed.

“Anyways,” I said after a bit, “the question of whether the Parker Brothers are responsible for humanity’s misunderstanding of forgiveness is, while certainly interesting, one that I think we can safely put aside for the moment.” Jesus grunted, Hitler continued giggling into his beer. “The point I was getting at, Adolf, is that who among us is really fit to cast certain judgment upon any one other? The contextual light of history causes the shape of nearly everything to change over time: one century’s enlightened practice is the next century’s exercise in barbaric primitivity. Now, this isn’t a condoning license for simply behaving in whatever manner one so randomly chooses; each community does, and should, set its own standards of right actions, ethical behaviors, so forth and so on. But to condemn with absolute certainty is also to commend oneself to ignorance; ignorance may be bliss, but it also serves to aid and abet, without fail, criminal, immoral, just plain wrong deeds and actions. In general, as I see it, pleading ignorance is another way out of accepting responsibility. Humanity is afraid of itself, it wants to place the full blame upon your shoulders, to imagine itself with continually clean hands. But by-and-large, my friend, you sat in a room and simply spoke words into the air; the men who heard these words were always free to choose how they themselves would respond. What do we say to one of our children, when he says that he did this wrong thing because his friend Tommy told him to: ‘Well, if Tommy told you to jump off a bridge, would you do that too?’ And yet, when faced with the prospect of our own culpability, we follow step-by-step in our children’s blame-shifting footsteps. Humanity is still young; individuals among us rise with true nobility to certain occasions, but as a collective race we are still in the process of maturing.”

“And you can’t,” broke in Jesus, “and shouldn’t try, to escape the fact of your membership in that collective. That membership is the beautiful thing, what allows us to participate in the fact of being imperfect and thereby partake of the act of forgiveness: we try, we fail, we recognize that we were born to fail, and in so doing we forgive ourselves, forgive each other, and get back up and try again. For me at least, it was the most important discovery: when I saw it, it gave me the willingness and strength to try anything.”

Hitler looked at Jesus; turned and looked at me, and I nodded in confirmation. Then he leaned back with his beer and looked out across the bar; his brow still creased, but now the anxiety largely absent, the furrows instead communicating a more general contemplation.

I watched him for a moment, then got up, excusing myself to the bathroom. I walked across the bar, hailing a couple friends and acquaintances as I went, pushed open the men’s room door and went inside. I stepped up to the urinal, unbuttoning my fly, and sighed into the act of urination: Ahh. Releasing a full bladder, one of life’s most remarkably consistent pleasures. And then, standing there peeing, I laughed out loud.

There it was on the wall in front of me, perfectly condensed by the hands of three separate men’s room scribes. The first message read: “Jesus Saves”. The second included a symbolic illustration: the words “White Power”, accompanied by a swastika. And the third was just a simple drawing on the wall of the cave:

It was impossible of course to tell which had been rendered first, but the fact of my frequent visits to this particular bar left me in no doubt as to their quite recent vintage (the wall had been unwritten upon when I’d stood here peeing less than a week earlier). So, I allowed myself to imagine that, in fact, the three separate graffitos had been inscribed by the same person: some astute individual had been overhearing our conversation, and while standing here had provided this succinct response. Most likely this wasn’t the case, of course; but when life provides room for my imagination I like to let it wander. Wander? Wonder? Anyway, why not? Who knows; maybe it was the hand of God, a little bored up there in heaven, wanting to provoke some amusement. If there’s actually any kind of Heavenly Father somewhere, I like to think he likes to ask us to pull his finger every now and then.

Still laughing to myself I left the restroom, stopping by the bar on my way back to the table to purchase three more beers. As I approached I could see that they were talking again: Hitler was speaking, gesturing animatedly, and Jesus was leaning forward with a lit cigarette in his left hand. As I set the glasses down they glanced up at me, Hitler in mid-sentence continued speaking:

“….zee vhat you are saying, ja, ja. But can von expect zis of ze general human being, of understanding zis kind of ein loving practice?”

Jesus pursed his lips; looked over at me, reached for his beer and lifted it to drink; stopped for a moment with the glass held in mid-air and shrugged his shoulders with a ‘that’s a good question’ sort of expression, and drank.

I smiled at him as he set his glass down: “My friend, what’s that I see you holding there in your hand?”

Jesus raised his hand up, his eyes widened with shock: “What? Goodness me, how did that get there? Hmm, and it’s already lit, how strange!…well, being a good steward of the earth, I don’t want any of her bounty to go wasted…gosh, I guess I’ll just have to finish it.” He brought the cigarette to his mouth with two hands in a clumsy fashion, an expression on his face of confused apprehension.

“Ok, very good,” I laughed. “I’ve dispensed now with the requisite duty to my ‘I’m quitting’ cigarette-smoking friend; go ahead, as you were.”

Jesus smiled back at me cheerfully as he took another, now normal, drag. “And of course I’m quite appreciative,” he said. “But you know, the old habits, they don’t exactly go quietly into the good night. I drink, and then I’m smoking; Pavlov and his famous dogs. I’ve made my peace with it,” he said, trails of smoke wafting from his nose and mouth. “Even the ‘Son of Man’ (he curled his fingers in the air, enclosing the phrase within quotation marks) needs a little indulgence now and then.”

“Ja, ja,” nodded Hitler, raising his own glass, “ein toast to — vhat is ze expression? Ze blowing avay of ze steam? — ja, to zis, ein gut lesson zat I have learnt vell, meine freunde.” All smiling, we tipped our glasses together and drank deeply once again.

“Ahh,” I exhaled as I set my glass back down. “A cold beer on a warm summer night, one of the true pleasures of Creation. Do please give my regards to your father on a job well done when you happen to see him again.” Jesus rolled his eyes at me. “So,” I went on, “the two of you were discursively engaged when I interrupted you, bearing gifts of ale and ale and ale (Jesus shook his head but he was smiling, amused: knowing long since that teasing his symbolic nature was too enjoyable for me to contain myself); anyhow, do please continue.”

“Well. If you’re quite finished,” Jesus said dryly, looking at me; I looked back at him with wide, innocent eyes from across the top of my glass as I drank. He glanced over at Hitler, who was by now a little tipsy, giggling again and trying to suppress it.

“Well,” he went on, “it seems like we, or at least you two, may have started heading down the goofy road at this point. But anyhow, since you asked, I’ll make a go of it: so, Adolf was asking me about love. More specifically, about the practice of love in relation to the discussion we’ve been having so far. And I was saying, basically, that there’s this strange quality of softness in the modern, popular conception of love; no bones in it, no muscles. Except, bizarrely enough, when it becomes painful, in terms of envy, jealousy, etc. Then people wield it like a weapon, and name their actions thus as having arisen from love, which of course makes no sense at all. Generally, more often than not, there is a near-total misapprehension of love, in terms of its nature, in terms of what it truly is…a fact I obviously find disappointing, and don’t, honestly, fully understand; don’t understand why the idea of love has become so confused, so corrupted.”

He took a long drag; exhaled the smoke out in a thin stream, shook his head.

“I mean, okay, I’m exaggerating a bit. Every human being feels real love, acts within it, whether they know it or not. And I’m not one to go around judging books by covers. But so often when people open their mouths and speak of love, they say the most inane, senseless things. And what really drives me straight up the damn wall is when they say and do these things while invoking me, my teachings, my work: Inquisitions, Crusades, converting ‘sinful’ homosexuals; none of these things has anything to do with me or anything I said or did, and they most certainly have nothing, absolutely nothing to do with the work of love, with a sincere and dedicated loving practice.”

He sighed, stubbed his cigarette out in the ashtray; took a long drink, set the glass back down on the table without letting go. Looked up at us for a moment, then shrugged his shoulders with a ‘well, what can you do?’ sort of expression, and drank again.

Hitler was playing with his mustache, alternately pinching and then smoothing it out between his thumb and forefinger. It was his habitual gesture whenever he’d had a few beers and the thoughts started percolating in that strange German brain, and it was often indicative of the fact that he was about to say something interesting. Jesus sat back in his chair, more or less lost in his own thoughts. I drank my beer, slowly, and waited. After a little bit Hitler sat up, made a kind of throat-clearing noise. Jesus glanced over at him, then looked at me. Hitler began to speak, hesitantly at first.

“So; so, I am zinking…of, of zis talk of love. Bose of ze two of you…know zat I am, often, zinking of mein zelf, und mein history; of ze zings zat I have done; of vhy I have done zem, vhat it vas zat has driven me to do zuch strange und horrible zings. Und I zink…I zink zat I did not understand ze love zat I had vor ze vorld; I zink…I zink zat ze veeling of zis love, it gave to me ein great fear. Zat it terrified me; zat I vould love zuch ein vorld, ein vorld vis zuch poverty und terrible pain und zuffering. Zat I said to mein zelf, ‘Adolf! To love zuch a vorld as zis! Du bist ein madman!’ Und, und zat zen…zat zen I shut meine eyes vor ze fear, vrom zis fear zat I vas insane. Und, zat I did ze zings zat I did vis meine eyes alvays shut like zis aftervards…und, of course, because of zis, I became exactly zat very madman zat I vas afraid of becoming…”

He stopped talking at this point, his voice tailing off on a note of quiet, genuine wonderment that hung and faded into the air. His eyes had been cast downward as he spoke; now he looked up, and his face was full with a strange, complicated expression; he looked at me for a moment, and then he turned to Jesus, who was sitting still and quiet, looking back at him.

It’s difficult to describe exactly what comes into Jesus’ face at moments like this, what comes out of his eyes. For as long as I’ve known him I still haven’t gotten used to it, and I never will. When you are the receiver of this gaze you want to look away and want never to look away at the same time. I mean, for all my teasing, and despite all his frequent bouts of cynicism, he is still the actual, honest-to-God Living Christ, the genuine article. Who’s to say where this nature comes from; whether he was born with it, whether it’s something that’s accrued to him within the social context over time. But regardless, he is the most loving — in the huge, world-commanding sense of that word — the most loving person that I have ever known. When he looks at you that way it’s like some metaphysical searchlight, and it burns: burns all the way into you, and it hurts. Destroys, instantly, the most carefully constructed fortifications, walks straight through all the doors. Your darkest secrets are yanked abruptly, painfully into the light; the fact that they receive no judgment, whatsoever, is what makes the pain nearly unbearable. He doesn’t do it intentionally, doesn’t call it forth; it just comes up out of him, it’s just suddenly there. It’s why they’re all still talking about him, so many, many years later. He’s different now than he was then. Quiet, says he doesn’t want to give any speeches, needs to just think and be for awhile. But he’s still who he is, can still look at you that way, and for me at least the whole world stands still when he does.

He looked at Hitler this way for a long time, and Hitler didn’t look away. I could see him trembling, or almost trembling, but Adolf is a stronger person these days; he’s forced himself, over the long years, to look into all his own dark soul-corners and closets, and he held himself steady now beneath that gaze.

Finally, Jesus reached out, put his hand on Hitler’s shoulder. And smiled at him. And Hitler exhaled, and smiled back, gratefully: an unspoken, perfectly understood correspondence.

“It’s work, isn’t it Adolf?” said Jesus. “It’s something that just comes out of you, that is you, but yet something you have to practice, to learn to work nonetheless. And you forget, and you fail. But there it is, still in there, still coming out, so you just get back up and try again. You just keep trying.”

They looked at each other for awhile that way, then both turned back to me, and laughed, suddenly; because I was sitting there grinning like the Cheshire Cat, my face split from ear to ear, beaming with pleasure. I picked up my beer to drink, and as I drank I gave them a happy little sort of wave, which made them laugh harder. And as he was laughing Hiter waved back at me, which made me laugh, and then we were all waving and laughing at each other, shaking hands and giving salutes and laughing, and then Hitler raised his leg and let loose a tremendous fart, and all three of us collapsed into a laughing fit until the tears rolled out of our eyes.

Finally I raised my glass into the air, waiting until the two of them gathered themselves enough to raise their own glasses, and I exclaimed: “To the good, the great, the marvelous time I have with my friends, Jesus and Der Fahrter!” Hitler lapsed into helpless giggles again at this, Jesus smiled merrily at me with bright, twinkling eyes. “To life and love and the good times, let them keep rolling on, always!” I cried out. “Bottoms up, amigos!”

And we crashed our glasses together and drank like men on fire: the whole wide world, the joy and the sadness and the pain and the love; and we drank all of it, drank all of it down, straight down to the very last delicious drop. Ahh! Ahh, and Amen. Amen.

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Notes: Written in Tokyo, summer of ‘09, during my first period of story-writing. To me, the most obviously “experimental” story that I’ve ever written. Not as in avant-garde, but as a verb, like: Okay, what if I stick Jesus and Hitler in a bar with an unnamed third character, let’s try that and see what happens. No notion, at the outset, of what was going to coming out. I think my first idea was Jesus and Buddha, but then I thought of Hitler instead and realized that was a clearly better idea. I wrote it over two or three weeks, all at the same cafe, the same table on the patio. It obviously functions as a personal manifesto of sorts, in regards to the author’s belief system. But I think it escapes being pedagogical, in spite of that, because it’s also a fun story about three friends hanging out together. Most especially because of the bathroom scene; one of those happy discoveries you make along the trail of writing a story. When I came across it, when it came to me, I was punch-pleased. It became kind of a personal meme, later, between me and a friend of mine who’d read the story; this idea of these moments in life when it feels like God is asking you to pull his/her finger.

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