Old Jokes Never Dieby Joe Kapitan
A Catholic priest, a Protestant minister and a Jewish rabbi are sitting at a bar, waiting for whatever comes next.
I think we're supposed to order drinks, says the priest. He raises a hand toward the bartender, but it looks more like he's giving a blessing. The bartender ignores him, continues rubbing at the same section of bar top over and over.
If I remember right, a naked blonde is going to come walking in, says the rabbi. He pivots on his stool for a better view, half-facing the minister.
The minister clenches his hands, pulls them up inside the sleeves of his robe. He's noticed his fingers are suddenly covered with rings. Rolex watches line both wrists. He might be able to keep them hidden, for a while, posed like a monk in meditation, but now empty collection baskets are stacked in front of him and his pockets are bulging and hundred-dollar bills are falling and collecting beneath his stool like autumn leaves. This he can't hide. Scotch and soda, he yells toward the bartender, louder than he means to.
The jukebox in the corner is still playing Willie Nelson. They're all three thinking the same thought---there is no way Willie ever wrote this many songs.
It's hot and humid, heavy air dampening the drone of the cicadas. The priest, the minister and the rabbi are standing in the middle of a fairway, one hundred and fifty yards away from the pin set at the back edge of the sculpted green. Their robes are gone, and in their place are pastel polos and checkered slacks showcasing nature's most unnatural colors and uncomfortable fibers.
Someone's getting a hole-in-one soon, says the minister, relieved that the rings and Rolexes and cash have disappeared.
Or struck by lightning, says the rabbi, mistrusting the cloudless sky.
The priest, nervous, takes out his seven iron and rushes his swing. The ball hooks over and vanishes into pines. He swears properly, in his mind. He's down to his last ball; he remembers sending four into the drink, one was apparently eaten by a sand trap, another lost for eternity in a ravine full of boulders. He has to go find this one.
Behind the first row of pines stands a boy, pointing a finger to a white Titleist nestled in a bed of pine needles. The boy's robe is starched and ivory, his face eager. The priest, momentarily startled, nods in thanks, then remembers that he's left his bag behind. He would have preferred using a driver here, keeping the ball's trajectory low to get under the pine skirts and back out onto the fairway. And then the driver is there in front of him, offered by another robed boy. And now they're everywhere: handsome, eager boys peeking from behind the trunks of oaks, lounging in golf carts, talking with the minister and the rabbi back in the fairway. The priest lines up his shot but breaks concentration, lifts his torso in mid-swing, completely missing the ball.
Priest, minister and rabbi lay in a lifeboat too small for them, the feet of each resting atop another. They wear nothing but loincloths, their skin burned and blistered by the relentless sun. In all directions, armies of waves rise and retreat, lifting and dropping the boat in constant rhythm. They have no food, no drinkable water, no shade. The only thing in abundance---time---taunts them.
I was underpaid, mutters the minister, to no one. Things still got done. There were no victims!
I have a sickness, says the priest, one that I did not ask for. Yes, there were victims, but if I could mend them by holding their young innocence close, I would.
The rabbi says nothing. He remembers clearly the time he faltered. Rebecca's only child, Ari, and he's the one chosen for incurable cancer? My nephew, dead at seven? The rabbi had raged around the empty temple: God, you cut-rate comic, and your vaudevillian world summed up in an ill-timed joke with a blown punch line.
I've heard this one before, says the minister, stirring, his voice a croak from a parched throat. The boat will spring a leak. We'll draw straws to see which of us gets eaten first.
I see dorsal fins, says the priest, struggling to raise his head over the gunwale.
The rabbi remains calm. He is the first to realize that none of these will happen to them. God is so miserly with merciful endings.
I'd give anything to be back at the bar, whispers the priest.
The boat drifts on, rocking. Gulls wheel and scream above them. From somewhere over the water floats music, and the unmistakable voice of Mr. Willie Nelson.