Thursday, February 24, 2011

Church of Lost Hats Sample Chapter

Chapter 20
                   The Queen of the Sciences

     Arnold Pethweather woke up in the train station in Albany, New York.  He didn't know what he was doing there as he stirred on the plastic seat where he had apparently spent the night.  Arnold looked around for evidence from the surroundings for his purpose there, and a nasty hangover didn't help the mental search with the late morning sun spraying through the windows. 
A few customers looked his way curiously; he must have been out for quite a spell. 
He remembered his interview with a private school in Manhattan for a position teaching religion.  How many days ago had that been?  He rubbed his chin to measure the days by the stubble.  Two, maybe three days, Arnold wagered.  What had he been up to?  Arnold surmised from his present condition that there was not a second interview in New York; there was no job offer either.  At the time of the interview, Arnold did not have travel plans that included Albany, New York, or even travel by train.  He usually didn't travel by locomotive, though he had nothing against Amtrak.  In theory, it was probably the best way to see the countryside.   
     From the high quality of his headache, Arnold guessed whiskey as his previous evening's medicine, and also the muse for his newfound plans and apparent mode of transportation.  He looked down at the white splotches on his black oxfords.  Vomit, he deduced, but his recent diet was hard to fathom by the evidence.  Or maybe it was the old problem with acid rain.  Maybe he was on his way to Canada to escape the toxic rain in America. 
A scientist of self had to look at all possibilities. 
Arnold cautiously looked about his person for a train ticket, maybe to Quebec and sanctuary from the American environmental crisis.  Montreal was a nice place to figure things out, but there was no ticket to be found to French-speaking Canada.  He had no apparent travel commitments.  Maybe he worked for the train company now.  Anything was possible.

     Arnold had learned years ago it was far more interesting to play the detective examining the clues to his behavior, rather than be filled with shame or self-loathing.  Arnold could always write in prison, so what was there to fear?  But in his gut, he knew there was hell to pay for every move in the game.  Arnold was not immune to feelings of damnation and spiritual paranoia.  The former seminarian was indeed afraid of Almighty God, especially on the tail end of one of his benders.  He wasn't in college, or even seminary anymore, and Arnold knew that a couple more blind turns in the city could leave him as a prophet among the homeless.  He had studied theology and the salvation history of Christianity, but it had been strictly an intellectual process.  Arnold believed theology was the most important field of inquiry into the nature of human existence: the investigation of the deepest sources of both hope and anxiety, but he had trouble putting what he learned into practice.

     Arnold noticed that a bumble bee was trapped in the air-conditioned train station.  It kept crashing against the glass, colliding with the paradise of what seemed to be just ahead.  But the surface reality was different than it appeared, Arnold knew.  The bee would die in an air-conditioned hell, and it might sting some poor bastard who tried to help it.  Most passengers were either reading or eating or staring into space, oblivious to the stray bee's struggle between life and death, paradise and hell.
     But Arnold suddenly had bigger things to worry about than the survival of a bee.  Two policemen stood outside the station conferring about something in his general direction with an Amtrak official.  What had he done?  Usually, he wasn't violent in his missing pages of a blackout, but he wasn't so sure this time as he watched the cops case the train station.  He looked down at his fists to see if there had been some scuffling with local ruffians, but his hands only looked the part of the gentle scholar. 
Should he make a break for it and become legendary Boxcar Arnold?  Did hobos still travel on boxcars?  He did not seem to be in possession of luggage or at least a travel bag.  Perhaps he was the victim of a crime, and the cops were going to rectify his situation, or at least explain it.  Arnold didn’t feel like a victim, except of himself.       
     It was then that Arnold saw the old woman; and all of the crap she had carried into the train station.  She was sitting in the row of chairs opposite Arnold, and she was talking up a storm to herself.  She ground her gums together in her conversation of one, and it looked like an argument from what Arnold could see.  There were approximately twenty to twenty-five grocery bags of possessions around her.  How could she manage the load?  Her hair was streaked with grey, but it was hard for Arnold to determine her age.  There was an institutional air about the woman; maybe she was making her break for freedom on Amtrak. 
One of the cops approached the woman cautiously.  He was a young guy with a military cut to his blonde hair.  The cop held a pair of plastic gloves in his left hand.
     "Excuse me.  But you can't take all this stuff on the train.  You can only carry on two bags."
     She looked up at the young man while chewing the imaginary cud of her state of mind.
     "That's what they already told me," she said.
     "So what are you planning to do with all this stuff?" he asked as he shifted his feet, looking for the right position of authority with the strange woman, the right stance for the bureaucratic tough guy.
     "I don't have any plans."
     "This is not a storage facility.  This is a train station."
     The woman decided she had had enough of the conversation with the law enforcement official, and she looked at her lap while the policeman waited impatiently for the woman to figure a way out of the mess around her.  He finally walked away to converse with his partner.  The blonde cop knew exactly what to do if she needed be restrained.  That would be easy.  He could arrest her and take her downtown.  But he didn't have a clue about how to help her.  You couldn't just arrest someone for having too much stuff in a train station. 
     The woman had too much baggage to travel, and Arnold's possessions had been reduced to the clothes he wore.  They were crazy opposites in the morning light, but no one was questioning him. 
The real test would be when he looked in his wallet; then he would know just what was possible for his new character in Albany.  Arnold watched the woman’s mouth and the slippery action of her rubbing gums, and he felt a little sick to his stomach.  He got up casually and walked to the bathroom to possibly make further reduction to himself.  It is important to look casual when you have to vomit in public.  Nobody has to know what you're thinking or about to do.  There were lots of people in the passenger waiting area, but only the woman with all the stuff was being interrogated.  She stood out from the crowd and daily routine of Albany on the way to somewhere else.
Arnold found a stall open in the train station bathroom and heaved up his unknown, and apparently meager, diet.  He looked at the label which said "American Standard," and that seemed kind of funny to Arnold.  He had found himself a pretty low standard out east.  Arnold couldn't figure anything out about his food intake by looking at the rejected contents floating in the bowl.  Arnold knew the body didn't lie.  That was the brain's job.  His body was not happy, and his brain was struggling with the headlines: "Theologian Hits Bottom."  "Original Sin Stalks Albany."  "Amtrak and Hell:  The Untold Story."  He heaved again with little or no result.  His stomach was empty as he purged at bottom surfaces of yellow acid emptiness.  He flushed his recent past away and left the stall for further self-examination at the sink.  Arnold drank greedily from the tap before taking a good look at himself in the mirror. 
     His bloodshot eyes stared back at him from the mirror, and Arnold smiled wearily as if to make friends with the unshaved specter.  He was wearing a white button-down shirt and khaki slacks, the bare outline of his interview uniform.  He wondered where his blazer was, but he located the paisley tie in the pocket of his slacks.  It was wet, and Arnold sniffed it, looking for answers.  It wasn't urine, so Arnold put the wrinkled tie back on to be more respectable as he looked for his next move.  A tie could be helpful, but he would have to ditch it if he really became a hobo.  A guy with a tie would get rolled in his sleep on a boxcar.  But you could always chart a new course anywhere with a good hat. 
     Arnold rolled up his sleeves and washed his arms and hands carefully with the pink liquid soap.  Liquid soap was for individualists and germ freaks.  He sniffed his armpits, and the scent was strong--too strong for train travel in the developed world, except for France.  Arnold noticed a red stain on his shirt and frowned at himself for mixing wine with the whiskey at some point in the interview process.  He had heard about the job opening from an educational headhunter service he used, but he had had to pay his own way out for the interview.  It had been a total long shot.  It hadn't paid off.   
     Arnold had once consulted a therapist in seminary who emphasized the importance of self-presentation and the habits of personal routine: that we were all engaged in the creation of our own characters.  As soon as we get up in the morning, the play is on.  Therapy was really about questioning stage direction and character study.  Every therapist had something that gave him, or her, the jollies, and Arnold liked to figure out what it was, then really pile it on.  With the self-presentation psychologist, details about showering, hair-combing, trimming nose hairs, and going to the can really got him leaning into the therapeutic situation and the self-directed rays of truth. 
     Arnold ran his fingers through his hair with some warm water.  There was not much more to be done as he readied himself to return to the first scene of the day; he was no longer the passed out guy.  He was a young man on his way to New York City to meet his future.  It was time to face the music.  He inhaled as he readied himself for the big test.  He pulled out his wallet as he looked at himself in the mirror again--before one of the most important inspections that society has in the drama of life and the possibilities of self-presentation.  He sniffed the wallet, which was a little damp, and peered into it. 
     "Yes!  We're in business," Arnold said and winked at his accomplice in the mirror. 
Arnold thumbed through the billfold and then checked the ownership.  There was $65 in cash, but, more importantly, a credit card in his name.  Arnold B. Pethweather.  A man with a tie and a credit card could go far in this country.  Even without a hat.
     When Arnold returned to the train station lobby with his new and improved self image, he saw that the cavalry had arrived.  Social workers.  They were going to help this woman, even if it killed her.  There are few things more dangerous in this world than a newly minted M.S.W.  They were even worse than the clergy.  This one looked to be in her early thirties, and she wore a green shirt and khaki shorts with white sneakers.  She had an assistant who was a stocky guy with short hair who looked good at restraining things, or people.  Arnold guessed he would be called a psychiatric nurse.  The social worker was questioning the woman.  Arnold settled down for the show in the row behind the interrogation.
     "Where were you before you came to the train station?" the social worker asked.
     "I was in a cab."
     Arnold smiled at the cab driver transporting the mess from one place to another with a trunk full of grocery bags.  What did the cabbie care?  He was such a temporary person in one's life.  It was just a joke to him. 
     "Before you were in a cab...," the social worker paused, "Were you at Westview?"
     Her stocky assistant handed her plastic gloves for the kind of social work clearly demanded by the unfolding scene. 
     "What do you need gloves for?" the woman asked, getting alarmed. 
     "You need to calm down." 
Her assistant moved in, calculating the right hold for the situation.  Perhaps a half-nelson, Arnold guessed.  At that point, an ambulance arrived for the old woman with too many things in the train station.  The flashing lights of the red and white chariot didn't seem to calm her down any. 
The rescue was now in full swing.  Help was on the way.
     "She's my mother," Arnold heard himself say. 
     The growing crowd of happy helpers turned towards Arnold, and the new character with the tie, got up from his seat as a bystander.  The old woman looked at Arnold for the first time as she continued her cud chewing discipline.  She was in her own world, and a lost son was not going to change a thing for her.  The social worker looked at Arnold skeptically, one hand on her hip.
     "She's not my biological mother.  It was a common law thing.  She lived with my father for too many years to be just his girlfriend."  Arnold smiled as he continued.  "She was crazy about my father."   
     "Where's he?" the social worker asked as she studied the condition of Arnold's tie.
     "Dead.  She's never been the same since daddy died.  She carries around mementos of his life wherever she goes," Arnold waved vaguely at her things.  "He was a hero.  In the war."
     The social worker nodded.  The destructive ripples of war could go a long way.  Maybe this was a case for the Veteran's Administration.
     "You'll need to sign some forms.  She needs to be in a place where people can help her.  What's her name?"
     Arnold hesitated, reeling through the possibilities that would fly.
     "We always just called her Granny.  But it was more of a nickname."
     The social worker didn't buy the story, but the shift in responsibility for the case appealed to her for some reason. 
     "I'll call around and find out where she was.  There's a facility for women at Westview Hospital."
     "Could she have been released?" Arnold asked.
     "Not in this condition."
     Arnold thought of his own condition and the circumstances of the passengers gawking at the fate of the old woman with no teeth.  They were all out on their own recognizance.  They had just enough luggage for normal purposes, but her extra baggage had drawn the city's attention.  Something needed to be done.  That was clear to everyone in the station.
     Two paramedics approached with a stretcher and conferred with the cops and stocky assistant.  The paramedics had already donned their plastic gloves.  Arnold tried to gauge the expense of the equipment and attendants and wondered how it might impact his common law filial responsibilities.  Did the state of New York take Visa?  He wondered what the credit limit was on his card.  Another police car pulled up in front of the station.  It was a slow day in Albany, and Granny was getting the royal treatment. 
One of the paramedics knelt next to the woman, while the other positioned the stretcher.
     "Ma'am, we're here to help you," the paramedic said.
     She looked up in confusion, trying to place the new one in the uniform.
     "I'm not hurt," the woman said.
     "We just want you to be comfortable."
     "I'd be more comfortable on the train."
     The paramedic offered his white gloved hand to the woman who looked warily at the offering and where she knew it would lead.  The social worker's assistant looked ready for a takedown on the ward, and the cops were likewise prepared for the worst in the human condition.  Arnold stepped into the fray with his naked hand outstretched to the woman. 
     "Come on, Granny.  You can't take the train today."  Arnold paused.  "The government is closing Amtrak down.  It's a Republican thing.  You know what heartless bastards they are."
     "What's going to happen to my things?" she asked.
     Arnold looked at the huddle of helpers around the woman.
     "They'll be safe," he assured her.
     She looked at Arnold’s bare skin and smiled at the big government that couldn't do anything right with the train system.  It was probably that Newt Gingrich.  The paramedic helped Arnold move her onto the stretcher.  She was as thin as a rail.  The psychiatric nurse didn't look very pleased with Arnold's intervention; maybe Arnold needed to be restrained.  The paramedics strapped the woman into a sitting position after putting a blanket over her.  They wheeled her out into the searing heat of the New York summer like an Egyptian queen.  The train to Montreal was leaving, and the passengers heading north were leaving their places in the audience. 
     "See ya, Granny.  I'll write if I get work."  Arnold said as he waved goodbye.
     The social worker approached Arnold with paperwork from the state of New York and its capital of Albany.
     "Sign here," she pointed to an x at the bottom of the page.  She had removed her plastic gloves.  Arnold signed Nick Geary's name to the agreement effectively institutionalizing the woman with too much stuff.     
     "Try and visit your Granny when you have the time...Mr. Geary."
     "I'll try."
     "You've never seen that woman before, have you?" 
     "Never in my life."
     She smiled at him, and Arnold thought about trying to get her number.  But he had had bad luck with women who had psychological helping skills.  They always turned him into one of their cases, and Arnold hated that kind of help.  He knew he needed something more serious, an ancient remedy of salvation.
     "Well, thanks for what you did.  That scene could have gotten ugly," she told the former divinity student.  They shook hands, and her hands were soft without the plastic protection.
     "I was just trying to help."
     She left Arnold and rejoined her assistant.  The day was starting to look up, and Arnold went over to the snack bar and ordered a Heineken.  The other patrons were talking about the old woman and all the stuff she carried.  Two Amtrak employees carried a palette into the station.  They set it down and began stacking the grocery bags on it.  They looked through the junk as they worked. 
Arnold watched as he sipped his cold beer.  Hair of the dog. 
When they had finished their pyramid of grocery bags, they began wrapping their edifice with a plastic wrap full of the little bubbles used in shipping things.  Arnold liked popping the little bubbles, but who didn't?  The two guys seemed happy with the diversion from their usual routine at the train station.  The old woman had been a godsend for them.  They used packing tape to finish the job.  They heaved it up together, and their supervisor directed them outside.  There was an announcement for the train to New York, and Arnold chugged the remainder of his beer. 
He walked to the ticket counter and used his Visa card to conserve his cash.  He held his breath for the electronic verdict.  Arnold sighed with relief as the card was approved.  He took his ticket and walked out to the track with the rest of the passengers.  He found a seat next to the window.  The two train station lackeys were fooling around with a forklift behind the station.  This was a real treat for them, Arnold could tell.  One of them played the role of signalman with comic drama as he directed his buddy tooling around on the forklift towards the palette with the plastic pyramid of junk.  The forks slipped into the opening, and the old woman's baggage was raised skyward.  The forklift reversed direction and then found a new course towards an open garage.  Arnold watched their clear enjoyment of the irregular occurrence.  It wasn't exactly materialism that had been the woman's downfall.  If that were the case, everyone would be in trouble.  It was the kind of baggage she carried.

     Arnold woke on the New York line with a start.  The train emerged from the cover of trees, and Arnold looked out at the Hudson River, this time with less surprise at his traveling situation near Garrison, New York.  The gothic campus of the United States Military Academy came into view from across the water.  The austere grey buildings rose proudly out of the green hills of the Hudson Valley.  Arnold blinked his eyes at the sight.  West Point was a place that harkened to a lost virtue that the nation still needed.  Whatever its problems, it was a place of courage.  Arnold thought of his friend Nick, a lost member of the long grey line past, as he looked at the Military Academy of the present.  
     Something stirred in Arnold as he looked out the window.  He was wide awake.  A knotted well of emotion from nowhere heaved in his chest, and Arnold's vision opened to the beauty of the old vein of the Hudson River as it wound around the grey campus, heading for the Atlantic Ocean.  This was the exact center of the American colonies of the past; at one time the heart of America where the British could split the rebels in half.  Arnold tried to take in everything that filled his senses; it felt like his body was trying to give him more information than usual, like he was remembering the future through his senses.  The body doesn't lie, and Arnold tried to silence his mind. 
What was happening to him?  Arnold considered the possibilities before him in the moment: alcohol poisoning, nervous breakdown, religious calling, all of the above.  Arnold felt somehow older and wiser, all of a sudden on the train.  As the campus passed before his eyes, he noticed they were filling with surprising tears.  He thought of his friend Nick and how his priesthood had come from that very spot across the Hudson.  Arnold touched his hand to the glass and brushed his fingers absently against the window of the moving train. 
     Arnold had always held back from talking about his calling in seminary.  That wasn't his style.  Why did he always hold back from what he held in his heart?  Because he felt unworthy for what he was supposed to do.  Because he was crazy.  He knew he couldn't do it all on his own.  Despite the blackout behind him, Arnold knew he was supposed to be on this particular train through the Hudson Valley at this very moment.  He knew he was supposed to be contemplating the purpose of his life across the river from West Point, brushing up against his fate, and his true character before God. 
The branches of trees seemed to be reaching back to him as the campus went out of view for a moment, then it came back.  He looked at the reflection of himself in the window with West Point in the background.  The campus disappeared again as the train turned with the river's ultimate purpose.  He wondered if his eyes looked crazy with what he was thinking.  Arnold looked at his reflection in the window.  He was surprised at the kindness in the eyes staring back: doe eyes, liquid and soft in their measure of new soul.
     "Jesus," Arnold heard himself say. 
     Arnold got off the train at the next stop.  He got into a cab outside the train station and told the cabbie where he was headed.  The cabbie gave him a funny look.
     "Do you have any bags?" the cabbie asked.
     "Not a thing."
     "What's a normal guy like you want to go to a monastery for?" the cabbie asked him as they headed to Arnold's stop on the river.  Arnold was headed to the Order of the Resurrection, an Episcopal monastery on the Hudson River.
     "I'm not a normal guy."
     As Arnold stood at the entrance of the Resurrection Monastery, his confidence and energy slackened.  He stood in the gap between the scene of his imagination on the train and the reality of the strange step he was about to take.  His sweet moment on the river was already up for grabs, and he was the only person around to defend it. 
Arnold read the sign at the gate and looked over the service schedule.  He would at least thoroughly explore the scene before running like hell.  Arnold still had his Visa card and some cash to turn the corner on his next caper.  But he had tipped his cabbie grandly to punctuate his departure from the material world, and his pecuniary resources were running out. 
As Arnold entered the grounds, he noticed signs pointing in different directions: one way for guests and the opposite way for members of the Holy Cross community.  A branch with thorns snagged Arnold's pants.  Arnold felt so many contradictions as he untangled himself.  He stood somewhere in-between on the map, the small legend of the scene.  He was looking for peace and contemplation, but insects buzzed at him in the muggy heat of the Hudson Valley.  A bee kept buzzing at his face, and Arnold swatted at the nuisance.  He shook his head at the small tear in his pants from the thorns.  This was no Eden here.  There was no ideal garden anymore. 
Even at a monastery, the food chain ruled the creatures of nature, and Arnold doubted that the monks were vegetarians.  White-robed holy men were the kings of the jungle, the top of the food chain.  Anglican monks probably got pretty good chow.  If they slaughtered animals on the grounds, Arnold could help with that.  The earth was indeed fallen, but the instincts in his blood were asking to him to redeem the whole mess with a vision of heaven. 
     It had always been hard for Arnold as a theologian to get a good handle on the character of evil in the garden of creation.  He had once written an apologetic examination of Satan in a seminary class using the text of Job and John Milton's Paradise Lost.  The professor had called Arnold to see if he was ok.  I'm out of my mind, Arnold had wanted to say.  There had been genuine concern in the professor's voice.  Arnold had always sensed that evil was part of the grand design, but he would be lying if he said it was a comfortable understanding, or a peaceful vision.  He and John Milton shared a compelling and complicated Satan over the centuries between them.  But Arnold was now on the run from Lucifer.  Like a lost and vulnerable Adam, Arnold had returned to a garden haven, looking for answers to the toughest questions of human existence.  He couldn't separate the questions about himself from his opinions about the cosmos.  Arnold turned and followed the sign that pointed to the guest house.  A dark flutter of wings ascended from the trees, and Arnold watched the flight trying to determine the winged form of the omen: vulture or hawk.  Both were impressive, but the vulture's press was all bad.  Arnold saw that the bird was a red-tailed hawk, and he stopped to watch the now gliding flight as a sign for him alone in the garden.  Arnold smiled and entered the guest house.   
     There was a woman at a desk in a room that served, effectively, both as registration desk and bookstore.  He hadn't expected the first person that he met on the grounds to be a woman.
     "I'd like to see the guest master," Arnold said.
     The woman looked up.  She appeared to be in her fifties, but her hair was either colored, or holding out most heroically.  It was dark brown, and Arnold guessed it was the latter.  She could go for the young guy or the old man without too much of a scandal.  She gazed at Arnold from behind her glasses. 
     "Are you scheduled for a retreat?"
     "Not exactly."
     "Are you on the schedule?  What's your name?" 
She scanned her paperwork.
     "I wouldn't be on your schedule," Arnold paused.  "I'm on my own timetable, but providence has guided me here." 
     She didn't crack a smile at the young man and his mystical sense of direction.  "The retreat rooms are booked for the whole summer," she explained.  "Summer is a very busy time for the house."
     "Look, I want to talk with the guest master.  Is that so difficult here?"
     "Just a moment." 
She gave Arnold a frown and got up from her desk and walked down a hallway.  Maybe this lady was going to call the police, and Arnold would follow in the family tradition of Granny to the nut house.  They might not let him write there because pens are sharp and dangerous. 
     She returned with a man in a white robe.  He wasn't wearing plastic gloves, so Arnold assumed he wasn't on the state's payroll.
     "This is Brother John," the woman said.
     "Arnold Pethweather."
     They shook hands, and his hands were soft.
     "What can I help you with, Arnold?"
     "Can we talk privately?"
     Brother John glanced at his assistant.
     "Come with me."
     "I'll be in my office, Susan."
     Brother John turned and retraced his steps down the hallway.  The monk was shorter than Arnold.  He stopped and let Arnold enter his office first.  Arnold chose the closest chair, and Brother John sat down opposite him.  The chairs were arranged at a conversational distance.  There was a window, and Arnold could see the river in the distance.  There was a desk against a wall and a table with some books and pamphlets.  Other than that, the room was bare.
     "How can I help you?"
     Arnold looked into the eyes of Brother John.  He wore glasses with thick, black frames.  He crossed his legs as he looked at Arnold, and Arnold did likewise.
     "I'm not sure how this works," Arnold said.
     "How what works?"
     "You guys.  Resurrection Monastery.  Are you guys like the marines?  The few and the proud."
     John looked confused, and then he understood.
     "You're interested in joining the order?" he asked as he adjusted his glasses as if it were difficult to get Arnold into focus.  Arnold knew the feeling. 
     "Yes.  Do I need to talk to a recruiter or get an appointment from my congressman?"
     "We work a little differently.  We have an Admissions Committee."
     "Do you have a crop here?  Do you make cheese or beer or something?"
     "No, we're strictly a retreat house and a community of prayer, but the monks do physical labor."
     "Do you slaughter animals?  I could do that if some of the old boys are getting tuckered out." 
Arnold imagined vultures circling his work by the river.  The bloody duty of a mad monk. 
     "That won't be necessary," Brother John said.  "We have our meat delivered."
     "Boy, that's a relief.  I was afraid you boys might be vegetarians.  I once lived with vegetarians, but it didn't work out.  A sordid business."
     The two men stared at each other for a moment, and Brother John tried to find some familiar ground in the distance between the chairs. 
     "How long have you been interested in becoming a monk?"
     "Seriously interested?  About two hours.  But I did go to seminary."
     "You were in seminary?" 
Brother John looked confused again. 
It was as if Arnold had played a winning hand on the first draw.
"Are you ordained?"
     "No," said Arnold.  "But I do believe I have a calling."  Arnold paused.  "As much as I believe in that kind of thing."
     "Let me go get Brother Thomas.  He's the novice master.  He will determine if you have a vocation and what kind of testing period is necessary.  We usually have a two week period for you to see what it's like to be a monk." 
Brother John got up from his chair.
     "Oh, Brother..."  Arnold hesitated.
     "John."  Brother John hovered in the doorway.
     "Yeah, Brother John, would it be possible to have some aspirin?  I've had quite a pilgrimage."
     "I'll have Susan bring you some."
     Brother John left to find the novice master.  They must be desperate for bodies, Arnold wagered, if they were interested in him.  He assumed he would get a quick heave-ho for his interest.  We'll call you, don't call us.  We're booked through the second coming, pal.  It was funny how mentioning seminary changed everything.  Because of his high-priced theological study, he was now eligible for a job that required poverty and celibacy.  His theological education was really paying off big time.
     Arnold got up to inspect the books on Brother John's table, and he picked up one called Jesus Through the Centuries.  It was a history of the images of Jesus in the visual arts.  Arnold sat down with the faces of the great one through the years; so many different perspectives and interpretations of the word becoming flesh.  Arnold paused over some clean-shaven images of Jesus Christ.  He looked younger than Arnold was now. 
Susan the assistant appeared in the doorway with a glass of water and aspirin.  Arnold got up from his chair and tucked the book under his arm to receive his medicine.
     "Thanks a bunch."
     She gave him a curious look and watched him.  Arnold put the aspirin in his mouth and took a few gulps of water.  She stood in the doorway as Arnold sat down again to continue his artistic survey of the messiah.
     "I'll just keep the water," he said.  "I need the refreshment."
     "I'll bet."
     "It's a rough world out there.  You should check it out.  I've suffered.  ‘Come unto me, all ye that travail and are heavy laden, and I will refresh you.’  That's from the Bible.  You can look it up."
     Susan shook her head at Arnold as if he were some kind of intruder on the Resurrection Monastery of her imagination.  He straightened his wrinkled tie and stared her down.  She returned to her station, and Arnold stuck his tongue out at her former place of judgment in the doorway. 
     Arnold turned the pages of the book and stopped when he came to Marc Chagall's White Crucifixion.  It was a Jewish Jesus on the cross with his naked body wrapped around the waist with a prayer shawl.  There were crazy scenes around the figure in a cubist style: scenes from the awful experiences of the European Jews.  Fires, pogroms, perilous boat rides.  They had been through the ringer.  This crucifixion had an historical chaos with which Arnold could identify.  Redemption was messy and complicated.  It has always been that way.  Arnold breathed easier, and some of the sweet release of the river swelled in him again. 
Out of the corner of his eye, Arnold saw a white robe in the doorway like a ghost.  He looked up to see a new monk.
     "Hello, I'm Brother Thomas."
     Arnold rose to receive the novice master.  They shook hands, and the new brother's hands were calloused from hard labor.  He took the seat Brother John had occupied, but there was a different feeling in the room.  More challenging.  Like Brother John, he was clean-shaven, but Brother Thomas didn't wear glasses.  His eyes were a pale blue with a hint of mockery in them.  There was gray at his temples, but not much.  He looked to be in good shape, used to measuring himself against younger men.
     "So you're interested in joining the order?"
     "It's a kind of a cliché, don't you think?"
     "The lost young man at the gates of salvation."
     "Resurrection is the gates of salvation?  That's news to me.  Plus, you don't seem very lost.  You know where you are."
     "I always knew I was a throwback, but this is positively medieval.  That's a long throw.  Back."
     "I prefer to think of it as timeless.  Brother John told me you went to seminary." 
Brother Thomas looked at Arnold expectantly.
     "That's right.  In Berkeley.  But for me it was mostly academic.  I thought I could do it all intellectually, and I didn't want some touchy feely secular religion either.  When I got to seminary, it was like a retirement home.  God was elsewhere."
     "There are many paths to God.  You realize you would be one of the younger monks here."
     Arnold nodded. 
     "Why didn't you apply for the priesthood?  You were already in seminary."
     Arnold considered the question.  He wasn't looking for the right answers.  Maybe that was half the battle.  He wasn't going to measure each word to test its political weight.  What was this guy going to tell him?  That he couldn't take a vow of poverty?  That he wouldn't have to be celibate? 
     "I'm unfit for the calling." 
Arnold looked Brother Thomas in the eye.
     "Why, Arnold?" 
     Arnold glanced down at the natural question.  There was plenty of time to answer questions in a monastery with no beer to make or cheese to watch curdle; or lambs to slaughter.
     "I'm ashamed of myself.  I do everything I can to avoid the courtroom of the mind, but the sins are mounting."
     "Is that why you're here?"
     "Something's not working.  The intellectual religion isn't working for me.  I used to be so funny around the broken places inside me, but now I need..." Arnold couldn't believe what he was about to say.  "Discipline.  A rule of life." 
     He had never been a big fan of the concept of discipline with his spiritual trust in the winds of chaos. 
     "I knew I could always write in prison.  I know there's sunshine in hell.  There must be some kind of screwup at central casting to send the zany miscreant to the monastery.  I'm not looking for just self-improvement, to make my best better.  I'm looking for some serious changes.  Look, I don't even remember what I was doing yesterday."
     "And we will talk about that."  Brother Thomas looked at Arnold as if he held the private files on Pethweather.  "But some of the current brothers came here under stressful circumstances."
     "I thought it was because you were all were fruits."
Arnold returned the knowing eye.  Everyone has files, Arnold's eyes twinkled.
     "Humor is a defense, Arnold."
     "You got that right."
     "I'm sure some of the brothers are gay.  But you seem pretty worldly.  Live up to it.  We're talking about you.  You came here freely.  Nobody put a gun to your head, and you're free to leave, even if you become a novice.  But whether you stay or go, I'm worried about you.  And I care."
     There was a kindness in the monk's eyes when he said it.  There was no hint of mockery in the moment between them.  Arnold recognized in Brother Thomas a complicated soul like his own.  Arnold thought of his own reflection in the train window as he looked at the new measure of compassion before him.  All the images of Christ from the book came back to him, but this was a more formidable icon.  Christianity was all about reflecting the past, and nothing could do it better than a real human face.
     "I thought I just wanted to teach," Arnold said. 
He suddenly felt very tired.  Heavy laden.
     "Many of the monks have a teaching vocation."
     "In a city."
     "The city comes here one person at a time."
     "So you guys will be here for a while."
     "Yes.  Like you, people come here with spiritual questions."
     "I think I'd like to do that.  To teach here.  I have a lot of experience being lost."
     "Are you ready to become a novice?  To test your vocation?"
     "I'm ready for new life." 
Arnold hated the language of being born again.  That was a crock.  He liked the idea of a palimpsest, a place in an old document or scripture that had been erased by time where one could write with fresh ink.  A scribe had power when he or she came to the worn place in time. 
"I’m ready to begin again.  In an old place."
     "Are you ready for a discipline?  This is not a country club, this is a community of prayer.  But you need to remember that two elements of the calling are poverty and chastity.”
     "I've got the first one covered."
     "But what about chastity?  Do you think you have the gift of celibacy?" 
Brother Thomas's face betrayed no emotions, no hint of its difficulty for him.
     "I would not call it a gift." 
     Thomas laughed.
     "What about the vow of obedience?"
     "That will be the hardest one of all."
     "I suspect so.  Do you have any debts?"
     "Just spiritual ones."
     Brother Thomas nodded and took the admission at face value in the code of Arnold's humor. 
     "It's time for Vespers.  You and I will pray about your calling in chapel."

     Scenes didn't shift fast just in the movies; nothing gave more whiplash than the newly discovered religious vocation.  Arnold's world had changed completely as the sun headed towards the west.  At best a monk was separate from the world while being united with Christians everywhere.  There was an area for the general public in the chapel, and Arnold sat there with the people on retreat.  Susan the assistant joined the secular congregation for the service of Vespers, and she sat directly behind Arnold.  He could feel her breath on his neck in the closed quarters, which felt kind of sexy, as she said her prayers kneeling behind him as he sat back relaxed.  He tried to focus on the chapel itself and not to listen to the whispered prayers of the Resurrection receptionist. 
     Arnold could always tell if a building had been prayed in, though sometimes he wondered if it was just a problem with his eyesight.  But there was that special air in the chapel, a holiness that was separate from the currents of the world.  It was hard to explain to people on the outside.  The monks came in one by one, and Arnold watched them carefully in their slow parade.  One old guy wheeled himself in a wheelchair.  Sandals were popular as a Jesus fetish, as were beards, but some of the monks wore white sneakers under their robes.  There were a couple of young guys who averted their eyes from the public gallery.  If they had an athletic program at the monastery, Arnold would be the next sporting king of Resurrection, the big monk on campus. 
The service began as one of the brothers seated himself at the organ.  The officiant sang the words that began the service familiar to lay people as Evening Prayer.
     "O God, make speed to save us," the officiant sang.
     "O Lord, make haste to help us," Arnold sang back, one voice among many, as he joined the community in its evening chant of timeless need.  He had never prayed the words so fervently.  Arnold needed help fast.
     After the service, Brother John led Arnold to his new room.  He had certainly lived in smaller places.  There was a white robe on his bed, a Bible, and a Book of Common Prayer.  They were the only essential luggage items for a theologian on the run.
     "What about sandals?"  Arnold asked.  "I'm gonna need sandals."
     "That's up to you, but I'm sure you can find a pair around here to borrow.  You can keep your clothes at the guest house," Brother John paused to look at Arnold.  "You might need them.  But I hope you find what you're looking for here.  It takes courage to do what you're doing."
     "Thanks, man."
     Brother John nodded and left Arnold to change.  Arnold picked up the robe and held it before him.  There wasn't a mirror in the room for Arnold to inspect his new uniform.  Maybe some babes would come to Resurrection on retreat, looking for the narrow gate of salvation.  Narrow gate.  Narrow bed.  Arnold's old instinct for humor leaned into his new reality like old company. 
     There was a knock at the open door, and Arnold turned to find the Prior of Holy Cross, Brother David, standing in his doorway.  Brother David was in his sixties and somewhat stooped.  He wore eyeglasses, and his head was shaved and looked baby smooth, ready for the return to the womb of death.  He was fingering his large silver crucifix in his hands as he watched Arnold.  Freudians would have a field day at a monastery.
     "I hear it's Brother Arnold now."
     "Yes, sir.  Something like that."
     He entered the small room and shook Arnold's hand.  He gripped Arnold's wrist with his free hand as they shook.
     "Welcome to Resurrection."
     There was both a kindness and a formality in his manner, a kind of men's milk of understated warmth and comfort.  Arnold suspected his antics would not go very far with this guy.
     "Brother Thomas told me that you and he had an interesting talk today.  He wasn't sure what to make of you.  I'm not either."
     Arnold nodded.
     The old man continued.  "You may have high expectations of us, but we're not a perfect community."
     "I know about imperfection," Arnold said as he watched the superior finger his cross.  He let the hanging Jesus go when he saw Arnold watching his unconscious fiddling.
     "I think you will be a special challenge," the superior said as he turned to go.
     "That's been my experience."
     "Mine too.  I'll see you at dinner."
     "Yes, Father."
     Arnold walked over to his bed and sat down with the robe still in his hands.  Arnold lay back in his narrow bed and lay the robe down his body like a blanket.  Or a shroud.  He made sure it covered his body perfectly, completely.  Arnold tried to imagine himself as the monk at rest after a day of labor and prayer behind him.  Was he ready for peace? 
There was crucifix on the wall above him.  Jesus was everywhere here.  He looked at the tiny limbs bound by two thousand years of evening prayers, and he felt himself in the moment unbound, and strangely free.  His stomach rumbled impatiently to stir him from his musings, and the novice realized he hadn't eaten anything all day.  Arnold rose to meet his new brothers for dinner.  He wondered what kind of meat was being served and how it was prepared during the evening sacrifice of their prayers.  Brother Arnold walked, slowly, to supper.  After breaking bread, the Great Silence would be observed until the new morning.