What was it like for someone as far down on the food chain as Howard to chat with the Creator of the Universe? Could a lowly (but talented) abductor possess the moral strength, the laser-sharp concentration, the clarity of vision, the purity of thought, the spiritual volition to propel his prayers past Earth's confining atmosphere, outward through the firmament to That Which Is?
And now, this week's episode:
Howard and Tally loved discussing such topics. They scorned small talk, considering it a mere "social lubricant," and preferred a more enlightened, stimulating intercourse.
We have seen in earlier chapters of Howard's story his introspective nature (during his brief stints in the pen, the guards sarcastically referred to him as "Mr. Philosophical Phelon," although, granted, the "ph" alliteration was inaccessible on the auditory level), and as is often the case, childhood traumas colored his worldview, or weltanschlong, as he called it.
First, there was the untimely death of his best childhood friend Lavvy, whose passing was hastened by his habit of licking reclaimed water off the leaves of irrigated azalea shrubs. In all fairness to Lavvy, he did it not for fun, but on a dare, lots of dares -- always from the popular kids, always just to be liked. Even after he died, however, he was awarded the Least Liked Kid in the Class trophy at his high school's awards ceremony.
(The otherwise well-behaved audience snickered when the presenter mangled the pronunciation of "posthumously.")
Then, in Howard's early teens, there was a tragedy involving his 11th-grade classmate Covfefe. After he had completed an entire half semester without making a single "D," Covfefe's parents bought him a brand new school-bus yellow Ford F-350 Platinum Crew-Cab with 4-Wheel Drive and a 6.7-liter V8 4-Valve Power Stroke engine.
In all the excitement of taking the behemoth vehicle for a spin down to Sonic for some tater tots, Covfefe, even with the advantages of a 3-D 4K back-up camera, accidentally backed over Howard's pet gerbil Seymour who had escaped the house earlier when two frumpy Jehovah Witness spinsters, smelling faintly of witch hazel, left the Desserays' front door open while describing the imminent apocalypse and its causes.
(So you can see why Howard was mostly interested in things that mattered. The next time you encounter either an abductor or a deep thinker, don't just walk on by. Think about their childhood!)
"You were telling me about how your Sunday-school teacher Miss Quackenbush taught you to pray," Tally said, her eyes and nose running from the wasabi, "and how much you wanted to contact something greater than yourself. Were you able to cross that bar, as it were?"
"Well, it was harder than I thought," he replied, adding to the mound of shrimp husks next to his waffle.
"My prayers became metaprayers, meaning I overheard and watched and censored myself as I tried to picture an Infinite Being listening to me. I also tried to imagine the Infinite Being looking at me and what I looked like through His eyes.
"Then -- still attempting to pray -- I tried to picture how the Almighty managed to hear someone else down the street praying at the same time. And what if, say, 47 other people had unwittingly joined me in my hour of prayer?
"In one of my prayers, I got to thinking that there were roughly 7.3 billion 'souls' on Planet Earth, so it was possible that as many as 2.6 million of them were simultaneously petitioning the Lord in prayer. I wondered what the heck the Divine Switchboard must look like."
"That's a rather dated metaphor," Tally pointed out, delicately dabbing a trace of wasabi from the corner of her mouth.,
"Granted," Howard replied, "but not nearly as antiquated as the the bible's own pastoral tropes."
"Where was I? Oh. I wondered if there were different channels for silent prayers, those that emanated directly from a person's consciousness without the benefit of a tongue and vocal chord and the rest.
"My grandmother -- not the one we got this recipe from, but the other one, the part-time abductress who was an illegal Czech immigrant -- told me God was a spirit, and it was foolish to picture Him as the archetypal Old White Man with a Flowing White Beard. 'Sure,' she said, 'God is a male spirit, but not an actual man, like Santa Claus.'
"This information merely added to the complexity of my image-making. Smack dab in the middle of the praying process I would be forced to expurgate the archaic anthropomorphized image of the monotheisitic paradigm and transmogrify it to the ineffable, then effectively reify and hypostatize the imperceptible, the implacable, the infinitesimal --"
"Nuther words, it was difficult," Tally interrupted, after a muffled burp redolent of steamed shrimp.
"Yeah, yeah, that's what I'm saying. So in mid-prayer, I could see my Alleged Maker's human features melt like the Wicked Witch of the West after Dorothy splashed her, the bearded Godhead slowly becoming an ethereal cloud resembling a radiant, polished contrail which emitted a high-pitched hum only a dog could hear.
"To improve my odds of making the coveted Divine Connection, I would use King James English as best I could, even in my silent prayers. And I tried to impress Him by asking only that He help others, and never myself, and I only spoke of myself disparagingly, humbly acknowledging I was a sinner who deserved nothing better than eternal hellfire and who was lucky as hell that God had invented the concept of Grace in which you got stuff you didn't really earn.
"Out of the thousands of prayers I tossed up against my bedroom ceiling, all had the same theme: 'Except for the forgiving part, don't worry about me none, Lord, but look after your more virtuous children, esp. them that suffer from want of succor and such.'"
Tally reached her shrimpy hand across the table and placed it atop Howard's, her eyes moist, mostly from the wasabi, but also because her beloved abductor's earnest effort to find That Which Is warmed her heart and fluttered her spirit.
"And were you ever successful, my beloved? Did you just once sense His presence?"
Howard's gaze shifted to a pile of dirty dishes he would have an abductee wash in the morning and, nibbling on his right index finger, he meditated on Tally's question.
"Never, Tally. I'm not done searching by any means, but if somebody, probably an American, were to put a gun to my head and ask, 'What is the meaning of your life?,' I would say, 'Regrettably, only abducting fills the God-shaped hole in my soul.'"
Just days later, Howard would make that hole just a little smaller. He and his most recent abductee had been invited to speak at a Medford High assembly (during English classes) to give a motivational talk entitled "Avoiding Abductors and How to Become One."
He had written and revised his speech and repeatedly rehearsed his PowerPoint. He just had to grab his glasses on his way out the door . . . or had he left them in his 1965 Buick Riviera?
We'll find out next time.