Pizza for Five Thousand

The following excerpt comes from our latest publication, The Man Who Met God in a […]

Mockingbird / 5.31.17

The following excerpt comes from our latest publication, The Man Who Met God in a Bar: The Gospel According to Marvin, by Robert Farrar Capon. As you’ll see, Father Capon has a knack for stirring up fresh ways to think about old, familiar stories.

Below, our narrator Marvin chronicles the spiritual revival led by Jerry, a short-order cook in 1990s Cleveland…who also claims to be God. This scene takes place in Chapter Eight, after Jerry has preached all day from a park bench.

By 3:30, when Jerry’s voice finally gave out, there had to be about five thousand people in the park. And since after that he just started talking to individuals again and actually doing cures on the ones who were sick, nobody left then, either. The net result was that the afternoon turned into a kind of picnic without food. The two or three hot dog vendors that happened to be there were cleaned out early, after which they also took the day off and lolled around on the grass like everybody else. Even the cures seemed kind of relaxed: no jamming up people in front of Jerry, just everybody waiting till it seemed time and then quietly going up to him. Very orderly. Best-natured bunch of people I ever saw.

This went on till almost 8:00 when, for no apparent reason except maybe tiredness, there’s suddenly a lull in things. Jerry stretches out flat on the park bench, puts his hands behind his head and stares at the sky, which is starting to get dark. “You know,” he says, “this is a terrific crowd. Too bad we haven’t got anything to feed them. Pizza would be nice. Wine, too.”

There were only a couple of us close to him at that point, and I just thought he was relaxing and letting his mind drift, which I’m sure he was. Beth Murphy, though, for some reason takes him seriously. “That’s impossible,” she says. “You know what even one slice of pizza each would cost? At $6.00 a pie, that’s 75 cents a slice, that’s like $3,750.00, without wine.”

My brother Howie is also sitting there and since he can never resist kidding, he says to Beth, “There’s a girl on the other side of the fence over there walking a pizza home. Maybe if you could get her to slice it real thin, everybody could have at least a flake of oregano.”

She starts to complain he’s being ridiculous, but suddenly Jerry sits up on the bench and cuts her off. “Hey, that’s not a bad idea,” he says to me. “Marvin, go over and invite her in. Ask her if she’ll loan us her pizza for about twenty minutes.”

Naturally, I still assume he’s fooling around, but I go anyway. The girl is maybe fifteen and about as soft as a fistful of carpet tacks. I ask her would she like to come in, and she wants to know what it’s worth to me.

“No, no,” I tell her, “it’s not that. We’d just like to borrow your pizza for a while.”

“That’s a new one,” she says. “Listen, I don’t give it away, and I don’t lend it. Especially to bunches of guys. Who’s ‘we’ anyway?”

“Me and my friends over there,” I tell her. “And seriously, it’s not what you think. We just want to use…” (it takes me I don’t know how many tries before I come up with a word she can’t take two ways) “…your…I mean…the…food you’re carrying…for a few minutes. Don’t worry…nobody’s going to touch you.”

She ignores this, and peers over at the bench. “Hey,” she says. “Is the cute guy in the sweatshirt one of your friends?”

I say, “Sure. In fact, he’s the one who wants to borrow your…” And once again, I pull myself up short.

“In that case I’ll take it over myself,” she says. “But what’s he mean, ‘borrow’? You guys making a movie or something? He the director? Would he put me in it?”

“You’ll have to ask him,” I say. “But thanks, anyway. It’s very nice of you.”

“Hunhh,” she shrugs as we start walking toward the nearest gate. “Least it beats going home and listening to my father freak out about how his pizza’s cold ’cause I stood around talking to guys. And besides, I got anchovy, which he hates. What’s your friend’s name, Pops?”

“Jerry,” I tell her, and walk her over to the bench feeling about ninety. When we get there, though, Jerry apparently doesn’t notice. He just thanks the girl, pouring on the charm, and tells me to go round up the rest of the witnesses so we can hand the pizza out.

Once again, I do what I’m told without knowing what I’m doing. When I get them all around him, he slips the string off the box, flips back the lid and starts handing out slices two at a time. “Pass them around,” he says. “Let’s see how far we can stretch this.”

I get the first two pieces, and either the girl is a chronic liar or something funny is up, because they’re so hot I can hardly hold onto them. Also, on my way back for more, I see at least seven of us witnesses carrying slices out, and when I get back to Jerry, I notice there’s still a whole pie in the box. By now, the scene is like a bucket brigade in a silent movie and stays that way for almost half an hour: out of the box, pass them along, out of the box, pass them along, till everybody is full and saying, “No more, please.”

Finally, I turn to Jerry to tell him I think that about does it, but he’s in some kind of trance, and I have to say it three times. When he finally catches on, he stares at the box for a minute before he closes it up. When he hands it back to the girl, he says, “See? I told you we only wanted to borrow it: one sausage pizza for your father, good as new. Thanks again.”

Needless to say, little Miss Mouth is not quite so quick with the words this time. In fact, she gets one feel of the heat coming out of the bottom of the box and practically runs out of the park. Jerry looks at her for a minute and then turns to me. “Tell them to pick up all the crusts, Marvin,” he says, sounding tired. “Then you guys go on back to the house. After I say goodbye to the crowd, I think I’m going to need a little time by myself.”

Well, they picked up the place and filled every park department basket in sight with pizza crusts. By that time, it was pretty obvious to everybody what had happened. At the start, of course, people just assumed the slices were being passed out from someplace in the middle of the crowd where a whole lot of pizzas had been delivered. But as the word got around that Jerry had fed the whole bunch of them with just one pie, they started calling it the biggest miracle ever and saying that Jerry ought to be mayor of Cleveland, if not President of the United States…

Up to then [Jerry] just thought that people might take his miracles as a substitute for his message; after that though, the “might” disappeared in favor of “would.” He was finally convinced that any miracle he did would be practically guaranteed to give people the wrong impression. Not that he hadn’t said as much all along. And not that his miracles were all that flashy and attention-getting: most of them, in fact, were sort of laid back. I mean, take the pizza for five thousand. There wasn’t one bit of hocus-pocus about it: he just kept passing out slices that just kept on being there to be passed out. Not only that, but like a good three-fourths of his miracles, it hardly even seemed intentional on his part. As I said, it was as if the feeding and the cures and the raisings just came out of him because of what other people wanted.

In any case though, every time he did one, their attention to the New Order—and especially to any mention of his dying—was short-circuited: all they could imagine by way of a program for him was more and more patchwork miracles. And after the one with the pizza—especially since he did it on a day when he’d talked for three hours about the mess the old order was in—they got really serious about trying to put him in some position where he could do his miracles on a grand scale. The talk about mayor and president wasn’t just hot air: if he hadn’t gotten away from that crowd, sure as hell somebody would have organized something.

Still, he did get away—farther away, as a matter of fact, than anybody, including us witnesses, was prepared for. It’s practically a story in itself. As I told you, he’d sent us back to the house and gone off somewhere by himself after he said goodbye to the crowd. So naturally, since that was around 9:00 p.m., we don’t particularly think about him for a while. Finally, though, somebody notices it’s after midnight and we begin wondering a little. At 1:00, in fact. Howie goes over to the park to check, but he comes back saying the place is deserted and he can’t find Jerry anywhere. I for one begin to get concerned.

By 3:30, everybody is on the worry wagon with me, too tense to go to sleep but also too full of scares about car accidents and muggings for them to want to talk much. We’re like twelve parents waiting for a teenage kid: everybody knows what everybody else is thinking, but maybe if they don’t mention it, it won’t be true.

Then, at quarter to 4:00, it happens: Jerry walks in the window. Everybody’s back is to it, but it’s a cinch the window never opened: it had been painted shut years ago and it was still painted shut that morning. Not only that, but after he’s in the room, he just keeps on walking through as if he’s going to bed. He doesn’t say a word to anybody. In fact, he looks like he’s in some kind of trance.

Now we’re really scared, but for a whole new reason: not only do we all know the window didn’t open but also we happen to be in an apartment on the fourth floor where the only fire escape is off the kitchen in the back. One of the girls lets out a scream.

This snaps Jerry out of whatever he was in. “Hey, don’t worry, he says. “It’s only me. Time to hit the sack.” Not a word about where he’d been, let alone any explanation of how he walked in out of thin air. Just, “See you in the morning,” and into the bedroom. I don’t think he even knew what he’d done.

From then on though, there was definitely something different about him: when he talked again in the park the next day, he hit the dying business harder than he ever had in public. Needless to say, he had pretty much the same crowd as the day before, but between the death emphasis and the way he talked in riddles, he lost them completely by mid-afternoon.

It was almost as if he was trying to get rid of them. At the beginning, they were obviously feeding him straight lines. You know. Like, yesterday he’d shown he could solve the hunger problem single-handed; why didn’t he run for office or something and do it in a big way? All he kept saying, though, was how that wouldn’t solve anything. Even if people got food miraculously, he told them, they would still die eventually. The food they really needed to be filled with was something that would make a real break with the old order—something that would actually bring in the New Order if they ate it. In fact, he said, unless they were filled with him, they would just stay dead forever. If they fed on him, though, he would raise them from death for good.

The Man Who Met God in a Bar is available now! 

subscribe to the Mockingbird newsletter


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *