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**PRINT: SMALL COUNTRY, by Lauren Pretnar, is No. 28 in our broadsheet series. Pretnar, a frequent contributor in recent months, has crafted a grand wedding tale, a deft rendition of the raw emotion of life forever tugged by the past, present and future. This issue comes with an excerpt from Spencer Dew's wonderful new book, Songs of Insurgency.

WING & FLY: COMMITMENTLESS AGE: a review of Victor Serge's "Unforgiving Years" | Todd Dills

Ben Tanzer

Tanzer is the pilot behind the online This Zine Will Change Your Life. He's also the author of a novel, Lucky Man.

Jesus came to me at work one day. Maybe that’s not entirely accurate. I saw Jesus at work one day. No, that’s not it either. To see someone implies that they were there in flesh and blood, and that isn’t what happened at all. Jesus did not walk into my office to get a check request signed, or talk to me about seeing Ashley Parker Angel the night before at the House of Blues.

On the other hand, it wasn’t a hallucination. Jesus was not some disembodied presence like you might see in the Ghost and Mrs. Muir. Nor was seeing Jesus a feeling, per se, like when someone tells you they’ve “found religion,” or “I awoke to find Jesus inside of me,” as my old girlfriend Sara did when I found her at home with our paperboy Jesus kind of inside her.

Maybe I should just tell you what happened. I was at my desk working on some very important correspondence. In fact, I was responding to an e-mail I had received from a Mister Isaiah, an attaché to the wife of the recently deposed President of Nigeria. She now lives in Switzerland and has limited cash on hand, but with my support, and a mere 10,000 unmarked American dollars, she can readily access the vast funds her husband secreted away in the waning days of his administration. We were discussing how said exchanges take place, when I happened to look out the window at the hotel across the street.

The front of the hotel is a clear, curved bank of windows, and as I looked at the windows most directly facing mine, I saw an image emerge out of the reflection of my very own building. There was a man in a long beige robe, his arms outstretched in prayer or welcome. There was a cross on his chest and behind him was a larger cross, also beige, and distinct enough to reflect that he was lying across it in what might have been repose, but could also very well have been crucifixion.

There was no face -- instead a long, almost horse-like visage, possibly a mask, protruded from the body. The image was clearly stone, the stone utilized to construct my building, and there was no sign of breath or movement, outside of the rare undulation caused by the shifting clouds, large trucks passing beneath, or what I surmised might be the occasional expulsion of collective hotel gas.

I assumed Jesus would go away, but he didn’t, though that might be because neither my building nor the hotel itself had gone away. While I knew in my heart that the vision was merely a reflection, I also believed it would move on if I ignored it, focusing instead on the totals of that week’s American Idol vote or US Weekly’s current analysis of Bea Arthur’s alleged baby bump.

But Jesus did not budge, instead choosing to float there, watching and waiting, not judgmental in any way, but not communicating either, happy seemingly to just get his God on and float majestically above the masses. I knew Jesus couldn’t just be there for my benefit, but his appearance hadn’t drawn any true believers seeking guidance, either. Nor had there been any miracles from what I could see, though it should be noted that after spotting Jesus, Janice the administrative assistant from Accounting had smiled at me, something I had prayed for any number of times late at night in the safety of my bed.

Wanting to know if others saw what I did I went to visit Matt, who occupies the office two doors down from my own. I should say here that Matt is a sinner. He lies. He steals. And he has lain down with men. Or so I’ve heard. He also covets his neighbor’s wife, though I forgive him for that. I also forgive my former wife Debbie. While “until death do you part” may mean little to her, it means something to me, and because of that I do not regret choosing to be supportive when she told me that (a) she was moving in with Matt, (b) before sleeping with him she had never known a woman could experience sexual pleasure with a man, and (c) I should never try to speak to her again. Ever. Fine. Whatever.

As far as stone Jesus goes, though, Matt wasn’t feeling it, as the kids say.

“I don’t see anything, dude,” Matt said.

“You don’t see that reflection there,” I said, “Jesus in a robe, and those crosses, both the one on his chest and the one behind him? C’mon. Really?”

“I guess I kind of see a cross,” Matt said. “Are you OK, buddy?”

“OK? Of course,” I said. “I’m great, never better. Why do you ask?”

“Just checking, man,” Matt said.

“It’s not like this is a John Denver thing,” I said, “though I do hope he’s at peace now.”

“Sure,” Matt said. “Whatever you say.”

“Thanks,” I said. “Now, for the sake of argument, you are a sinner, right?”

“If you say so.”

“It not me that says so,” I said, “but we both know that you are going to burn in hell, and so maybe that has something to do with your obstinacy about seeing stone Jesus. I mean, that’s a possibility, right?”

“Maybe, sure,” Matt said. “Now could you please take your hands off of my neck, that kind of hurts?”

“Yeah, OK, fine,” I said.

I went back to my office. Jesus was still looking at me and he still wasn’t speaking, so I tried to read his body language. Nothing. It was very frustrating. I paused for a moment. Jesus was clearly there for a reason. He had some larger purpose for me, a message, I knew it. I just couldn’t divine the message. I decided to ask.

“Jesus, why have you come to me,” I said, “what’s my purpose?”

He didn’t say. He just kept staring.

“Is it addressing world peace, or maybe global warming?”


“Dude,” I said, “is it land mines or maybe what’s behind that capsule on Lost, what?”

Maybe I was supposed to decide on my own. That would be tough. I prayed on it, which was also tough. Should I kneel? Was I supposed to say something? And if so, was I supposed to say it out loud? I decided I would just focus on staring out the window. I stared really hard. I stared until my eyes hurt, but nothing much was happening, not until I realized that Jesus doesn’t tell people what to do -- that’s so not his style. There are signs to look for and interpret, like having to kill your firstborn son or being swallowed whole by a whale, and if you read these signs correctly it all begins to make sense.

I stopped praying then and began to look for signs, subtle things like swarms of locusts or burning bushes. Though I was just getting to know Jesus, I knew he was not looking draw attention to himself or make a scene, he was a simple guy and so the sign would be simple as well.

I tried to connect the dots, slowing things down as I sought out patterns and connections in the whir of activity on the sidewalk outside my building. But there was nothing, nothing at all. Wait. No. Yes. Yes. No. Yes. Bingo. The sign had become so obvious. Too obvious maybe, and yet it was so perfectly Jesus’ way, and so vital to people everywhere, regardless of creed, religious orientation, or drink choice.

What I noticed was the endless array of white cups. They came in all shapes and sizes. They had green lettering on them and cute little aphorisms like “a coffee bean went in search of a mug.” There was also information about indigenous coffee farmers in Guatemala and warnings that the beverages inside were enjoyable, but very, very hot.

The cups were so obviously bringing joy, peace, and a clean, crisp caffeine buzz to those who partook in them, that I felt overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of the love being expressed. I yelled at my window, “Is it Starbucks, Jesus, is that my calling?” but he didn’t answer, not exactly -- he just kept floating there, staring straight ahead, the hint of a smile now creeping across his stony countenance.

Whether it be the coffee, the breakfast sandwiches, or Rascal Flats, I had never more clearly been able to visualize just how much Starbucks filled a void in people’s daily lives. Starbucks was out there building a sense of community in places where community had long since passed us by. With Starbucks there was no bowling alone anymore because Starbucks generated camaraderie everywhere it went, ten different locations within three blocks of my office alone.

I decided then to buy a franchise. Well, OK, maybe I wouldn’t buy one. It couldn’t be that easy. You probably had to start at the bottom before you could open a temple of your own. Surely Starbucks expected you to learn the ancient ways of the barista, earn a living wage, and embrace Norah Jones before they assigned you a flock of your own. But that was okay, I was on a mission now, and I would do what was required of me. I walked in for my first interview and before Joel the skinny guy in the clunky black glasses and shaved head could even ask a question I said, “Stop, Joel, just stop. You should know that Jesus has directed me to come in here today.” Joel paused, smiled a beatific smiled, and said, “Of course he has.” I said, “Wow, Joel, how can you know that with such confidence?” And Joel said, “Because Howard Schultz is God my brother, it says so in the employee handbook.”

At that moment, a wave of light slowly began washing over me, simultaneously embracing me, loving me, and forgiving me for all past and future transgressions. I began to feel warm inside and more alive then I ever had before. I knew then that I was home.