Drew Patton vs. Joe Giordano

Lagniappe

131

votes

I awoke in a hotel room I didn’t remember falling asleep in—the walls were bathed red from a torchiere with a red light bulb. The furniture and wall decor cast dark shadows that bent in strange ways dictated by the torchiere’s glow. An abstract painting of a woman intertwined with a flute stared at me from across the room. A band of red light ran along a disembodied piece of torso and floating bass clef, just below a sideways eye that was the focal point of the whole piece. I found the painted woman, and the red light that barely clothed her, almost irresistibly seductive. There was no window in the room. Odd sounds and voices came in from beyond the door as muffled inaudibles. 

I determined the thing to do, after a few moments of intense fantasizing about the abstract woman and flute, was to rise, get dressed, and greet whatever day awaited me outside the room with a sense of vigor and confidence. So I rose, and found, to my dismay, an utter lack of luggage in the room. And I was naked. I did not normally sleep entirely naked, but the fates of the day seemed to decide that naked was what I was going to be. I checked the drawers of the two dressers that lined the walls for safe measure, before abandoning hope after I was met with three partially-written-in notepads and a Good News Bible, but no clothes. There was a mini fridge between the dressers; it was stocked with shot-bottles of cheap vodka and flavored whiskey and a handwritten note declaring:

Take a sip, leave a tip! 

After a quick consideration of my present ordeal, I cracked the seals of two shot-bottles of flavored whiskey and threw them back. Suddenly, I had my needed vigor and confidence. I had no money, so I left no tip, and I grabbed a third shot-bottle, still sealed, for the road. I figured putting off the inevitable wasn’t going to do me any good, so I opened the door and stepped out into whatever awaited me. 

#

The hotel was in New Orleans, and I booked it a week in advance. I was coming from somewhere else, and was going because I had never gone before. That is, as a child I had once sat on the edge of the Mississippi in Memphis, watched the waters flow from an obscured horizon, and had been filled with a strange longing for the city that waited at its mouth. I had arrived in New Orleans by way of the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway, the longest continuous over-water bridge on the planet. I drove over it as the sun’s descent started to run streaks of orange over the sky. The lake was a vast plane around me, atop of which the glow of sunset shimmered and danced. For a few minutes, driving the causeway felt like driving an infinite stretch of road. The land behind vanished, the land ahead was yet to be unveiled. Only water, the sky with its setting sun, and the endless line of forward asphalt, could be seen. I was enthralled by it, the way the yellow and orange of sky and water-reflection clashed against one another, how it hinted at an existence totally grander than the one I was caught up in. I could not say if there were many other drivers on the road with me, such was my attention held by the way I glided over that lake. 

For several miles, I drove in that manner, hypnotized by the highway. Then, in the far distance and approaching closer every moment, the metropolis rose out of a light-bathed fog bank. Traffic became noticeable as it thickened and slowed around the entry points of the city; a massive artery clogged by human arrival. The traffic eventually cleared as drivers veered off various exits. I looked for the sign marking Canal Street, and turned off the highway when I came upon it. 

The hotel was a quarter mile off Canal Street, two miles up from the Mississippi River. It sat across the street from a Jesuit high school and was surrounded by the raised center-hall cottages common to the city. I parked along the street and climbed out of my car. The air was hot and heavy; I could almost feel the human commotion in it. 

I looked at my destination: Joshua’s Hotel and House of Wayward Souls. The structure was built in the same manner as the surrounding houses, but was considerably larger. And whereas most of the houses had chipping paint and leaned at precarious angles, the hotel was new-looking, painted in a vibrant purple, and gave a sense of stoic permanence, as though it could never be knocked down. A man sat on the front steps blowing into a trumpet before periodically bursting into verse about God and love and happiness and loss of all of it. I was touched by some quality in the way he sang and played. Every wailed lyric was cutting, though I could not exactly say why. I greeted him when I approached. 

ME: How’re you doing, sir?

BLUES PLAYER: Time’s still moving, sure enough. 

ME: Sure enough. Are you staying here?

BLUES PLAYER: Hell no, sir. Do you want a song?

ME: Yes, sir. 

And he played me a song. He lifted the trumpet to his lips, turned the bell to the sky, and blew out a series of melodies that sounded both joyous and melancholic, as though one had no choice but to celebrate in the face of indomitable sadness. Around us, different parts of the city seemed to echo the sentiment; an old man snapped his fingers to the rhythm of a limping gait as he walked down the street; a funeral procession two blocks away meandered behind a walking wall of color and jazz. The sun had sunk deep and now embraced the tops of houses. Orange thickened into scarlet into purple. The player sang no lyrics in this song; he blew his trumpet into the air with his eyes closed, lost in something hidden between him and the sound. When he was finished, he smiled at me, set the trumpet down, and asked for a dollar. 

BLUES PLAYER: How about that? Do you want to give me a buck, or what? 

ME: I’ll give you five.

BLUES PLAYER: Much appreciated. Are you going in there?

He gestured to the hotel looming over us. 

ME: Yeah, I’m staying here. 

BLUES PLAYER: It wouldn’t be my first choice. 

ME: Why’s that?

BLUES PLAYER: It’s your business, not mine. 

I shrugged and turned to walk up the steps and into the hotel. 

#

The hallway was long and winding, cream-colored and bordered with patterned molding that flourished into a fleur de lis every few feet. I meandered along, my bare feet pressing darkened tracks into the carpet, and passed by room after room. Every door was numbered, but there was no apparent order to the numbering (My room, Room 702, was next to Room 318, which in turn was next to Room 1298A (a sock was on their door)). And there were no windows. The hallways never reached the edge of the building and the only things decorating the walls were occasional paintings. Most were abstract, some were portraits of people I didn’t recognize; all were painted in bright vibrancy, neon colors jumping off the cream-wall backdrop. One was a portrait of a woman with green skin. She sat like the Mona Lisa and even smiled in the same way, but the brushstrokes were thick and loud and curved over each other like a Van Gogh. Yet still, everything beyond the woman in the foreground was shrouded in darkness, and it was a weighty darkness as though Rembrandt’s touch had seen this canvas. It seemed to press her head forward, towards the observer, and cast an almost inexplicable expression on her face and over her smile; she was not sad, nor was she happy. It could be, perhaps, a look of defiance to the heavy shadow. 

Rounding another corner, I saw the hallway ended at a door marked:

DANGER

[Open Public Access]

ENTER AT OWN RISK

Room +/- 4x

[Open Bar Inside]

I considered attempting to hide the most obscene bits of my nudity from whoever was in Room +/- 4x, but decided any such attempt would be in vain and drank the third shot bottle in preparation for my entrance. Opening the door, I was flooded by green and yellow light and the noise of a party in full swing. 

Room +/- 4x was a small concert hall packed with people ebbing and flowing to the rhythm of a brass band. A bar was tucked into the corner, from which a steady stream of waitstaff ran, carrying glasses on trays balanced on fingertips. A waiter approached me, unbothered by my nudity. He offered me a glass of something yellow and murky. 

ME: Sorry, no dough. 

I patted around my bare hips and buttcheeks to offer visual proof. 

THE WAITER: It’s complimentary. And good. 

He held the glass close to my face, with insistence in his glare. 

THE WAITER: Take it, dumbass, it’s free.

I took the glass and gulped its contents. It tasted like lemon cake. 

ME: It’s good, like lemon cake. I can’t find my clothes. I was looking for them. I don’t really know where I am. 

THE WAITER: Don’t worry about it, any of it. Do you see anyone who cares? Have a good time. Just do that. 

The room seemed to reflect his sentiment. The crowd that danced around the brass band was a wild thing, a single mass of flesh and limb and sweat and noise that was only beholden to the music and the walls that enclosed it. Disoriented faces flashed around the crowd as members of the mass looked away for moments at a time, catching their bearings before vanishing back into the mob behind a tilted glass of yellow booze. There must’ve been a hundred and fifty people in the room, though I never imagined a hotel so small could hold so many guests. The waiter interrupted my thinking to tell me there was a special show starting.

THE WAITER: Oh, here comes the special. A real special lady. She’s a hoot. You’ll love her. 

He pointed towards a far corner of the room, where a door was just swinging closed. From my vantage, I couldn’t see who he was talking about. The brass band finished its song with a decrescendo that settled the crowd into various seats around the room. All commotion stopped as the band exited the stage. For a long moment, nothing happened. Everyone was staring at the stage with a palpable anticipation. The waiter whispered in my ear. 

THE WAITER: Even when she’s like this… it sure is something, isn’t it?

He was staring at the stage when he said this, and I still had no idea who he was referring to. The stage was, by all appearances, totally empty. Burgundy curtains ran the length of the back of it, their gently swaying the only movement in the room now. Then, like a trick of the eye, I noticed something. It was just a thin line, no wider than a piece of paper on its side. I thought, at first, it was just a fold in the curtains. Then it grew. Widened. The crowd started to clap. The line was dark skin-colored and took on texture the more it grew. Soon, I made out hips, and then the protrusions of breasts; the line was becoming a woman, expanding out of seeming nothingness. When the features on her face were large enough to interpret, she began to speak in a voice that filled the room, yet remained intimate all the same. 

THE GROWING WOMAN: It’s an affliction I’ve carried since birth. A strange sort of thing, this growing and receding. It makes one often wonder of their place in the world. At times, I am so small I might be taken for a texture mark on wallpaper; at other times, I grow to such an enormity that I fear the ground beneath me won’t continue to support such a weight. In any case, such is the way of this life. This, for me, is as simple as your taking of a breath. 

As I witnessed, the woman grew to become my size, and then much further. Her being took up a tenth of the stage space, and then half, and then her sides were spilling into the wings and over the front edge; piles of growing flesh fell into the laps of the front row. For some reason, at the sight of her expansion, I became more self-conscious of my nudity. I crossed my arms in front of my chest and tried to look small. The woman continued her talk, her voice unaltered by the change in size.

THE GROWING WOMAN: The fear is, of course, that one should never stop growing. That the cycle will be broken, and I shall expand into such a state that the Earth can no longer support me. I would grow into the infinite, my gravity rapturing the planets of our solar system before consuming the entirety of the Milky Way. Would then I reach such a size that my own mass would collapse in on itself? Would I be doomed to be a singularity, warping light while surrounded by darkness? 

The woman became so large that her face was pressed against the ceiling. She looked to be holding her breath, her cheeks reddening as air pressed itself against her insides in demand for release. She released. Like an unknotted balloon, her expansion ceased and reversed. Flesh pulled back and receded. Her face sank towards the ground. Still, she talked. 

THE SHRINKING WOMAN: The other outcome, perhaps, is similar, though in a way, far scarier. That this loss of being will continue until there is no being left. In these moments, I feel the spaces around me become tighter, squeezing the stuffing out of me until I have no more to offer. The universe to my right closes in on the universe to my left. I wonder if, someday, in a weird moment, they might touch and I might feel it, as I become nothing but a perception of a feeling of what it was like to be human. And then I’ll be gone, a singularity obscured by darkness. 

She shrank until she was my size again, and then much further. I watched her for as long as I could, but soon she was too small to make out, a fading line that I could no longer differentiate from the folds of the curtains. The crowd erupted into cheers of applause. A few seconds later, a door in the back swung open and then closed.

#

Joshua’s lobby was modest, themed in orange, and staffed by an over-eager employee by the name of Jake. A pin of Melpo and Thalia was hooked over his heart. His body shook in rhythm when he spoke, and his movements seemed to dance to a silent song; music, that is, emanated from him. As he brought me to my room (119) he told me about his ambitions to become a composer. 

JAKE: It’s the way that people are doing it that needs changing, right? Nobody knows how to make music anymore, and jazz most of all. Even here, this city, the sacred birthplace; wall to wall of generic crap. That’s where I’ll come in. I’m a bit of a composer, but not your everyday, neo-classicist, Mozart-worshiping möchtegern-komponist. I’m the real deal. 

Upon arriving at my room, Jake invited himself inside to tell me more. 

JAKE: It’s not just music, though. It’s everything, you know? It’s a society thing. Real, original thinking’s going out the window. One can only seem to create something if it’s for the sake of impressing someone else. What’s good art? What’s bad art? The internet, the faceless mob: they make all the judgements. And they are so often wrong. But me? I’m a beacon in our new dark age. I know this shit through and through, the way most claim to but none really do. I do. Think about this: just the other day, I recorded myself running a hacksaw along some guitar strings until they broke. I didn’t do it because I liked the sound, but rather the opposite. I hated it, and I bet anyone else would, too. But I had never heard the specific noise before, and I loved that about it. And, in its ragged, jaggedy way, it actually made me feel something… 

Jake continued in this way for a while. The hotel room was small, its walls were purple, and it had a window overlooking the Jesuit school. Different paintings of life in New Orleans hung around the room. Jake was looking at one specifically as he spoke. It was a group of cartoonish houses sitting on canoes; a caption under read: Hurricane Solution #27. I set my luggage on a chair in the corner, and waited for Jake to finish his spiel and leave. I considered telling him politely to get out, but was struck dumb as he fixed himself a drink from the bar and moved into theoretical ontology.

JAKE: It’s in the very essence of music, right? Music’s not a real, tangible thing; it’s waves, waves bouncing over and under and across each other to make something beautiful. And you know, if we really want to get into it, one has to wonder about why we like such a thing in such a way. I mean, really, what are we if not intangible? A human being is no easy thing to define, you know. We’re bundles of energy, pieces of the grand whole that grew eyes to see and ears to hear, but when I say I, I could not begin to guess at where my being stops and everything else begins. Is music then, a bridge? Like a-

I interrupted Jake to ask him to leave. He was making himself a second drink, having finished the first in between his many rambling words. 

ME: Sorry to do this, Jake, but I need the room. 

Jake waved his hand to dismiss me and my notion before continuing his thinking out loud.

JAKE: Ease up. Anyways, I think the truth of it all lies somewhere in there, between us and everything else. It’s in those bridges, like music, where the difference between what is human and what is not is obscured, where-

He was cut off again by someone else’s arrival to the room. A beautiful woman came into view at the door in a green dress, her hair a cascade of black and purple. Jake lifted his glass to her in acknowledgement. 

JAKE: How’s it, hostess? 

THE HOSTESS: It’s lovely, Jake. How’s it with our guest?

JAKE: He’s a little rude, but it’s fine. I was just telling him that-

THE HOSTESS: That’s alright, Jake. He can hear all about it later. Why don’t you give us the room? 

She stepped to the side and gestured him to the door. He sauntered out with a glum look at the loss of this musings session, and closed the door behind him. The woman looked straight into me, and stepped closer. Her perfume smelled like the heavy air that hangs above a river. Her eyes were dark, and her lips were full. The dress she wore, and indeed everything in the room, seemed to flow out of her head, an extension of herself that molded the reality I perceived. That is, she was like a kind of nucleus, a singularity stuffed with everything that New Orleans has to offer and from which the city itself blooms from. Every motion of her body was a dance, every word she spoke a song. Yet, I could still see some remnant of sadness in her face, like hurricane-force winds once warped an intrinsic piece of her bone structure. She took another step closer and said

THE HOSTESS: Honey, it’s a hot one today. 

I could feel it, feel her voice, in my bones then. My heart was beating in rhythm to jazz. I was terrified. 

#

I made my escape from the concert hall with the waiter at my heels, begging me to stay and have a little more fun. He promised more acts like the oscillating woman, and told me the only thing stopping me from living my life was me. But the woman had left a strange taste in my mouth, the rhythm of the party had slowed into somber, and the bareness of my body had me feeling exposed. I left the hall out of a door on the wall opposite the one I arrived through. 

On this side door, the hotel resembled more of what I remembered from my arrival. The walls were no longer cream colored, but rather dark shades of vermillion that seemed to turn the corridor into a gullet, and me into its meal. There were no doors in this hallway except for one painted a light violet at the very end. Still, no windows offered me a glimpse into the waking day, and I felt as though I were entering the heart of this building.

Going through the door, I entered a small hotel room with a window overlooking the Jesuit school across the street. It very much resembled the one I remembered booking. On the bed, entirely nude himself, an old man sat staring out the window and into New Orleans. I considered turning back, the bareness of the man causing me to feel like an intruder, but I stayed still. The familiarity of the room, the shared nudity of me and the old man; I was sure I must’ve been headed in the right direction. I tried to introduce myself. 

ME: Excuse me, sir, not meaning to bug you, but-

The old man held up his hand to stop me, and then he spoke.

THE OLD MAN: We first saw the water down the street. It was hard to tell that there was anything different about this water. It looked just like all the other rain, the running flow down different drains. But there were sirens, and there were evacuation orders, and the water coming down the street suddenly had a leading edge. It came on quickly then; an inch became two became a foot. The winds were blowing hard and the smell of the bayou became stronger than the smell of food and cigarette ash. I remember looking down the rows of houses, at our own fond dwelling, and I could see that our raised porches had not been raised high enough. The ocean was coming to swallow us. 

While he talked, my attention was transfixed on him. The memory was so strong, so defining, it seemed he was reciting thoughts he held onto every single day of his life. There was something odd, as well. The wrinkles around his body seemed to deepen as he talked, and his spine bent more and more to a withered curvature. He continued. 

THE OLD MAN: I was scared, sure enough. I grew up my whole life looking out on those waters, seeing the way New Orleans rides the murky coast and defines itself in the gaps of dry land between waterways. The tides come and go, the Mississippi is always flowing, and the bayou is always there, reminding and providing. Sometimes though, like that time, the waters rise and rise and rise. They swept us and our homes away, and they broke the levees to fill the big bowl and drown us in Lake Pontchartrain before pulling us into the Gulf of Mexico. But that’s nothing but life here. Land surrounded by and utterly dependent upon the water.  So we built everything higher. We raised the porches another foot, and we rebuilt the levees, and we’ll do it again soon. The city’s a strange thing, sandwiched between a swamp and a lake and an ocean; for life to persist here, life must act in utter defiance of all that would take it away. And so, we dance and we make good music and we eat good food. We maintain the eternal fais do-do. We do it so, when the waters inevitably rise again, we can be proud of what gets swept away. We can go out into the high bayou and swim with the alligators and say to them, “Laissez les bon temps rouler”. 

The old man was, indeed, aging before my very eyes. Wrinkles appeared and creased into his flesh, and the skin that wrapped around him in folds was graying and stiffening, like he was falling under premature rigor mortis. Finally, he was completely still, and he went silent. It was as though his body turned to stone. I was sure he was dead. I touched a finger to his old back, and was surprised by just how cold he was. A different door from the one I entered through was on the other side of the room, and I was about to run through to seek help when the old man started to shift and shake. Thin cracks started to spread all over his body, pieces of flesh broke off to reveal a hollow blackness within his body. This continued for a long, strange moment, before the integrity of the stone corpse gave way entirely and crumpled into a pile of hardened human shards on the bed. I was far too stunned to move or speak, when an infant crawled out of the pile and spoke to me.

THE INFANT: Life around here is just that way. I suppose life around anywhere is just that way, to an extent. I’ve been alive for far longer than I ever thought possible, yet I have died more times than there are souls walking the streets. Still, I love it all. The life, the destruction, the regrowth. This place is a melancholic song meant to be listened to while eating a muffaletta. Go out there, then, and look for something to do and something to eat. If you meet anyone who asks, tell them you met an interesting man at Joshua’s Hotel and House of Wayward Souls. 

The infant, brushing off a former piece of shoulder, pointed at the door and mouthed the word, “Go”. 

#

The hostess, it seemed, was there to have her way with me. She asked me if I thought that she was beautiful.

THE HOSTESS: Do you think I’m beautiful?

ME: Yes. 

THE HOSTESS: What do I remind you of?

ME: You’re like an interpretive jazz arrangement. Or like a bite of beignet. 

THE HOSTESS: It’s a fine city, honey. It’s good to let loose, let the feeling in the air take the reins for a little bit. Do you want me?

ME: I want you.

THE HOSTESS: What are you willing to give?

ME: Anything. 

We stood there staring at each other, and I knew I was outmatched. A minute passed, and my clothes were on the ground next to my feet. She gave me a glass full of yellow liquid and told me to drink it. I drank it. She kissed me. I could hear the horn of the blues player from outside my window, and it blended well with her face over mine as I fell back onto the bed. He was playing a song about her. I could feel it. My vision blurred and the music, the woman, the room, and everything else faded into the blackness of sleep. 

***

Exiting the ageless man’s room, I found myself looking down towards a familiar area. Concerned about my nudity and potential reactions to it, I shuffled into the hotel lobby with my hands over my crotch and buttocks. Jake, caught up in a book about the history of jazz, looked up at me and inspected my nudity, his gaze drifting from my toes up to my eyes with little interest on his face. He told me to wait. 

JAKE: Good night? Just wait there, the hostess will be out in a second. 

He returned to his book. A black and white photograph of Louis Armstrong peeked out from one of the pages. Behind me, a door opened and closed. A beautiful woman in a green dress approached me with a suitcase and a pile of clothes. She was familiar, but I could not place where I had seen her before. She extended the clothes to me.

THE HOSTESS: We were very sad to hear some of your possessions were misplaced, but here at Joshua’s, we are nothing if not accommodating. 

I took the pile of clothes and dressed right there, in the lobby. The hostess stared at me the whole time. When I was done, she held out her hand. 

THE HOSTESS: It really has been a pleasure having you. 

ME: It’s a strange place. 

THE HOSTESS: Indeed it is.

ME: Do you ever get tired of it?

THE HOSTESS: One never really tires of this place. 

Several minutes later, I was heading back to where I had come from. As I was driving the northbound track of the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway, I looked through my rearview mirror. The further I drove, the lower the city descended towards the water. Soon, it was swallowed by it.

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Forgotten Gods

132

votes

I’d caroused at an Olympia bouzouki joint into the wee hours, mixing booze with song and Greek dance. Staggering outside, clutching a nearly drained bottle of Scotch, I swayed unsteadily under a full moon and had the brilliant idea to sneak onto the architectural site of the Temple of Zeus. An hour before sunrise, I arrived at the temple’s ruins, a few mangled columns and a scattering of broken marble that once had been Zeus’s altar.

I burped, then said in a mocking tone. “So, this is the fate of outdated gods. Zeus, if anybody paid you any attention today, you’d become the poster child of narcissistic womanizers.”

I raised my bottle of Scotch, about to drain the contents, when I felt overwhelmed by an eerie feeling and unease in my stomach that I wasn’t alone. I glanced around, but the site was deserted. 

Suddenly, I was blinded by a lightning flash and the golden figure of a bearded man appeared at the entrance of the shrine. Zeus, his aura unmistakable, white robes flowing in the breeze, appeared just meters from where I stood, his brow furrowed, clearly vexed.

Holy shit. I froze, the bottle not making it to my lips. 

Out of the shadows, a chorus of Olympian gods materialized behind Zeus, and I was confronted by a pantheon of deities.

I thought to run but my legs wouldn’t move. I gulped, my mouth suddenly dry.

Zeus pointed at me, saying in a thundering voice, “How dare you deride me?”

My legs became spaghetti and I had trouble breathing. I wished I had something to grab onto to steady myself. The thought that I could find myself on the business end of a Zeus thunderbolt, incinerated like a charred souvlaki, sent a chill up my neck. 

Zeus thrust his chin at me. “I am the all-powerful sky-god. I govern the universe. How does a mortal dare scoff at the actions of a god?” 

I wished I could disappear into a hole. 

As he shouted, he became red-faced, and his words lashed me like a whip. “Outrageous. Blasphemous. I’ll have Apollo flay you like Marsyas.”

Even if I could run, how to outpace a god? I had the strong urge to urinate.

His fiery gaze turned toward the chorus of gods and they cringed at the heat coming off him like a bonfire.

To my surprise, he spoke to them in a complaining tone. “Did you imagine you’d see such disrespect? This mortal didn’t perform a proper ritual. He made no effort to rebuild my altar or offer a hecatomb as sacrifice.” He threw up his hands. “He didn’t even pour a libation.” 

The chorus of gods shook their heads in sadness and spoke as one. “Father Zeus has told the truth. We're not respected and all but forgotten. We've become amusements – our deeds turned into allegorical stories and psychological studies. Demeaning. The ancient Greeks brought us gifts and asked for our help. Didn’t we grant their wishes? We gave hope, advice, sometimes even a cure. We were there when mortals needed us. Now, look how they act when we need them?”

The verbal support of his fellow gods seemed to calm Zeus a bit. He spoke to me in a more even tone. “You think I acted badly? In your infinite ability to criticize, did you reflect on what I represented?”

Zeus was explaining himself to me. Not what I feared just moments ago. My heart rate slowed, and I tried to show him a face of interested concern. 

He continued. “We taught Greeks what it meant to be Greek. There were no universities, no formal education. Greeks learned their value system from Homer, and who do you think inspired him?”

I took the question as rhetorical, but I wasn’t about to open my mouth anyway. The ploy worked and Zeus kept talking.

“Through Homer’s words, I provided a model for a paterfamilias or a king on earth, deeply involved in the lives of family and subjects. Homer was the Greek bible, and the Olympian gods taught the lessons.” He waved at me dismissively. “Now, you think that you know more than us.” 

The chorus of deities formed a semi-circle around Zeus and spoke in a lamenting tone. “Didn’t we teach the mortals? How could they become so disrespectful?”

I was starting to feel a little self-conscious. 

Zeus challenged “You criticized my behavior in modern terms, ignoring context, or taking all of my accomplishments into account. Would you have preferred that I’d given the Greeks a code of rules, or a list of punishments? Perhaps,” he snickered, “you’d better remember me if I provided some tablets brought down from a mountain?”  He raised his palm for effect. “Have Jesus or Muhammad been more successful at changing human behavior? I took a practical approach. Mortals required a significant emotional experience before they changed, so I gave them drama.”  

The child of morning, rosy-fingered dawn appeared, and I could see everything more clearly. Zeus’s robe was torn and soiled near his feet. The Olympian gods looked threadbare.

The chorus began to sway slowly behind Zeus speaking in a chanting tone. “Oh, the good old days: respect, love, fear, do ut des, omens, entrails, temples, and rituals.”

Zeus muttered in a reluctant tone. “You brought up the women. Yes, I took who I wanted.” He looked wistful. “Semele was unfortunate, but what should she have expected asking me to appear in all my glory? Do I at least get credit for Dionysus and wine, women, and song?”  

I dared not speak lest his anger return. 

“Actually,” Zeus said in a disgusted tone, “I had little fun.” His voice was plaintive. “How could I with spiteful Hera as a wife? Remember the time when Tiresias agreed with me that women enjoy sex more than men?” Zeus threw up his hands. “Hera blinded him. Can you blame me for seeking comfort in Io, the Arcadian girl, and Europa? Every time I found solace in the arms of another woman, Hera’s jealousy spoiled everything. Too many women you say? Demonstrates a misogynist tendency you say? Did you consider my upbringing? My father wanted to eat me, my uncles tried to murder me, my grandmother hatched a monster to kill me. Fate told me that a son would slay me but didn’t tell me which woman would be dangerous.” Zeus’s tone dripped with self-pity. “Subjected to all this treachery, my personality was affected. Okay, perhaps my respect for women suffered.” He paused a few moments for reflection, and his eyes welled. “The only woman who really loved me was my mother. Rhea protected me from my cannibal father. She nurtured me. She was a goddess.” 

Zeus wiped his eyes. Artemis broke from the chorus of gods and ran to him, sobbing in his arms.

 She said, “Father, ignore this human. What do mortals know? We love you. We respect you. Let’s go back inside.”

As I stood with mouth agape, Zeus, entwined with Artemis, slowly turned from me. The other Olympian gods gathered with them, some placing their hands on his shoulder in a supporting gesture, and they walked back into the ruins. The sun broke through the clouds, and I blinked. In that moment, the gods disappeared, and I found myself alone. 

The bottle of Scotch was still in my hand. Rather than drink, I slowly poured a libation onto the ground, speaking in a tone I hoped they could hear, “In honor of Zeus and the Olympian gods.”

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