The Fickle Messiah

by J. Paul Ross


[From the Weekly Standard Gazette, September 15, 2019]

In all my years covering the important goings on in our fair city, never before has this reporter witnessed a tale like the one I am about to describe. It is so amazing, so unbelievable that it may cause some to toss this venerable newspaper straight into the nearest trash receptacle. If that is your inclination, dear reader, then so be it. Yet, for the brave souls who dare continue, believe this: every word printed here is the absolute truth. Every detail has been checked and rechecked by the author and every fact has been corroborated via Wikipedia. What follows may shock, it may disgust, it may even inspire, but, take heed, it might also cause you to pause the next time someone asks if you believe in miracles.

September 5 — The summer was like any other in the city: cloudless blue skies and a parched, searing heat. Oppressive even for our beloved state. HVAC repairmen were putting in twelve-hour days that season. But for those either too cheap or too poor to have anything but a swamp cooler, tempers were as hot as the asphalt outside.

It was just after lunch and, as usual, my editor was yelling. This time, he was railing against yet another price increase for his afternoon iced, half caff, ristretto, venti, 3-pump, sugar free, dolce soy skinny latte with cinnamon on top. Huddled by the swamp cooler with the rest of my sweat-drenched colleagues, I attempted to ignore this tirade when the “additional units” request came over the police scanner.

Apparently, a riot had broken out in the Hilltop neighborhood on the west side of town. Once known mainly for its crime rate, the area had recently become a haven for hipsterettes and lumbersexuals, a place for ne’er-do-wells to gorge themselves on high-end Belgian cuisine and nurse schooners of Croatian IPA. Years ago, only a 9-1-1 call would bring the police there. These days however, there are five to ten restaurants, taverns or bistros per block and patrol cars lurk on every side street, waiting for any unfortunate soul who accidentally consumed too much Zmajska Pivovara Pozoj with their Paling in’t groen.

Things had been simmering there for some time according to residents.

“It was Joey Pasternick’s dog, yo,” local entrepreneur and vape addict, Axl Soffet told this reporter. “Things didn’t get cray ‘til Joey’s pooch scarfed the Cheesys. It’s amazeballs you didn’t hear about it, brah. It’s all over Insta. Totes broke the internet.”

Unfortunately, due to the vicissitudes of print media, the Weekly Standard Gazette does not have an internet connection. Nevertheless, after about an hour trying to get online at the library, this reporter began to organize the puzzle’s pieces.

May 5, 2012 — One Mr. Joseph “Joey” Pasternick, a 26-year-old apprentice plumber living at 4536 Helfer Street purchased a Labrador/Scottie mix from the Westend Rescue Kennel. Rambunctious, the dog had shaggy, amber-colored fur and floppy ears. The Municipal Licensing Bureau has it registered under the unusual appellation “Cannoli.”

Well known in the neighborhood, it had a notorious reputation.

“The animal was certainly a disconcerting one,” Father James O’Malley, pastor of Good Shepherd Church stated. “Every time I went by Joseph’s house it was like the dog was waiting. It’d stare out the front window, look right at me and lick itself . . . you know . . . down there.”

We know little else about the pet but, thanks to social media, the same cannot be said of Mr. Pasternick. From the pictures he has posted, this reporter has uncovered several interesting facts. For one, Mr. Pasternick attended a high school where he enjoyed wearing flannel and signing his classmates’ yearbooks with “Zeppelin sucks!” In addition, he seems to have later in life developed a penchant for drinking beer and photographing semisolid foods such as mashed potatoes, refried beans, guacamole, applesauce and peanut butter.

More recently, the Weekly Standard Gazette has learned that Mr. Pasternick graduated from Turnabout Vocational School in February of 2014. When interviewed, his teachers have admitted he was not the best of students.

“Yep, he wasn’ the brightest kid,” declared eighty-five-year-old Thaddeus Barnett, Mr. Pasternick’s Introduction to Soldering instructor. “He just couldn’ get what flux did. I mean, the first time he watched me sweatin’ a copper joint, he made this funny squeal and almost ran out of the classroom. It took him three times to pass the final test. Plus, he was a slob. He was always eatin’ these chips and I swear everythin’ he touched had this orange powder on it.”

How Mr. Pasternick’s intelligence issues contributed to what happened on September 5 is purely a matter of speculation. What we are sure of, however, is that the problems in the Hilltop neighborhood began during a block party on the Fourth of July. Set on Helfer Street between Forty-Sixth and Forty-Seventh Avenues, it was a gathering of about fifty people. By all accounts, it was a happy yet respectful celebration and, despite the liberal amounts of alcohol, many revelers remember Mr. Pasternick attending with the now-infamous Cannoli.

“I swear,” a neighbor recounted. “The dog drove me cray. It knocked over the table with Sia’s creamed kale and Romy’s stout-bacon jalapeño poppers. It ruined Ione’s sautéed beet greens with coconut oil and ginger, and I can’t tell you how many times it made me spill my matcha green smoothie. Plus, I still can’t believe Joey put a bag of store-bought chips next to my strawberry chia jam. It’s disgusting.”

After days of exhaustive research, this reporter has concluded those mysterious “store-bought chips” were in actuality a bag of Cheese’s Cheesy Curls, “America’s X-tremist Cheese Delights.” Mr. Pasternick’s ex-girlfriend, a Miss Miri-Lynn Walsh, confirmed this before going on to describe how the dog managed to steal and consume the entire contents of said bag. What followed was an evening she would never forget.

“It lasted damn-near ‘til sunrise,” Miss Walsh, a raven-haired cosmetologist, later admitted. “We had to let poor Cannoli out like, a million times. Around the third or fourth trip, I was pissed but eventually I started to get really worried. I mean, at first they were pretty solid but by about three, you could hear the spray hitting the ground from the back door.”

The next morning, the couple awoke to discover the entire yard spotted with a collection of pale orange dollops. The grass sere from the heat and seeming an almost Nazarene color of yellow, most of these “deposits” were formless and “the consistency of slush.” In total there were twelve small piles and a single mound, the mound being what drew their attention.

“It damn near made me sick,” Miss Walsh confessed. “But once we got used to the smell, me and Joey realized how much the big pile looked exactly like . . . well, you know . . . Our Lord and Savior. What else can I say?” She went on to add, “I couldn’t believe it. I mean, sure, we laughed our butts off at first but he laughed a lot more than I did and I definitely didn’t have anything to do with what happened next.”

What happened next was an action local law enforcement officials have called “the first of Mr. Pasternick’s many ill-advised and stupid” mistakes: he photographed the dog’s “deposit” and posted it on Instagram.

Found by this reporter before it was scrubbed from the internet, one must see the image to believe it. From the seraphic smile and Nordic jaw covered by a neatly trimmed beard to the halo made of the only Cheesy Curl spared from digestion, the likeness was stunning.

“I told him not to post it,” Miss Walsh insisted. “But he just had to. Of course, don’t even talk to me about the puns he came up with: the Salvation of the Scat, the Scat Savior, Fecal Cheese’s, the Passion of the Cheese’s, the Last Temptation of Cheese’s, the Second Coming of Cheese’s. Sure, a few of them were funny and all but . . . Oh, I don’t know what else to say. I mean any of them would’ve worked. Why did he have to use the one he did?”

Called “the sole creative thought Joseph Pasternick ever had,” the title he chose for his post was so insulting, so profane, our legal department insisted we not republish it. They said it would be in poor taste and offensive. They also stated they could not be held responsible for the boycotts that might follow, or the threats which certainly would. As defenders of the First Amendment, the Weekly Standard Gazette was initially unwilling to sacrifice the principles of a free and independent press. All of us in the media hold our craft and audience in far too high esteem to do otherwise. However, once the projected rate increase from our insurance company came to the attention of the editorial board, we decided to respect the other, obviously more important, section of the First Amendment and not upset our readers of faith.

Unfortunately, Mr. Pasternick did not have such legal advice.

Within a day of his posting, both the Twitterverse and the blogosphere exploded. It was indeed “all over Insta” but despite the fact Mr. Pasternick’s photo received more than twenty “likes,” most of the other comments were less-than-positive.

The mostly unfavorable appraisals went on for nearly two months but, by the last week of August, someone discovered where Mr. Pasternick lived. Many have claimed this feat came about solely through the power of prayer. Naysayers, though, point to Mr. Pasternick’s Instagram page where not only is the aforementioned image of controversy included but also one of him drinking a can of PBR on his front porch.

It took very little time for the address to circulate and, three days later, a group appeared at the back fence of 4536 Helfer. The protesters, shouting unintelligibly and carrying signs declaring “Sin Must Be Silenced,” turned out to be a cadre of Evangelicals. When questioned by police, they claimed to be “defending their rights” and after quoting scripture to the authorities, they were left to yell and wave their placards in relative peace.

At this juncture, Mr. Pasternick managed his second “asinine and ill-advised” mistake: he took a photo of the group and posted it right beneath the initial one, listing it under the dual titles, “Genuflectors [sic] Before the Via Defacrapia” and “Day Visit to the Stations of the Ca-ca.”

It is hard to determine what offended people more: the photos or the puns. What we do know is that by September 5, the congregation gathered around Mr. Pasternick’s domicile had grown to include every major group the photo and heinous title could possibly insult.

Needless to say, it did not take long for things to get out of control.

Most witnesses agree it was the Methodists and the Lutherans who started it, first by sneering at each other and then by talking to each other. From there, things escalated to shouting Bible verses back and forth, and each group mocking the tenets of the other’s denomination. Tempers flared, words grew more heated and soon both sides were caterwauling and ululating. The Pentecostals joined in next, quickly followed by the Fundamentalists, the Seventh Day Adventists, the Roman Catholics, the Congregationalists and a lone Nestorian who admitted he was only there because he “got turned around on the way to the bus stop.”

The disputations over which group was more heretical grew louder while the sun rose and the temperature climbed. Residents have testified the conflict was vociferous enough to drown out passing Harley Davidsons and city dump trucks. Well on its way to becoming a riot, the entire situation was at a flashpoint when an “unknown figure” appeared. No description exists, no one remembers a single physical detail about him, but he was able to silence the borderline mob.

“I don’t know who he was,” said a protestor who wished to remain anonymous due to an outstanding arson warrant. “He was a little sketchy to me and I think he came with the Presbyterians. Anyway, I was trying to calm things down — like any true follower of the Lord and Savior — when this guy jumped up and waved his hands. ‘They’re headed to the mosque!’ he yelled. ‘The blaspheming SOB is taking his dog to the mosque! They’re going for Sanctuary!’ Well, I don’t know what sanctuary means but I watch the news. I know how bad them Muslims are. So, Presbyterian or not, I followed him to the mosque on Klondike.”

Upon further investigation, the Weekly Standard Gazette has since determined that according to Google Maps, no Islamic house of worship exists on Klondike Street. There is also no address for such a structure anywhere else in the Hilltop neighborhood. What the crowd had assumed was a mosque turned out to be a store called Nehru’s Persian Rug Repair, owned by a Mr. Padmaj Balasubramanian, formerly of Chandigarth, India.

Fortunately, due to the Hindu festival of Gokulashtami, the store was closed and, because of this, no one was injured when the crowd torched Nehru’s Persian Rug Repair to the chorus of “Onward Soldier of Our Lord and Savior.”

It was at this point the police scanner rang out and, ignoring his editor’s complaints about the iced, venti hazelnut macchiato, sugar-free syrup, no whip grande with soy milk and caramel drizzle, this reporter jumped into his ‘81 El Camino and raced across the city.

The paddy wagons were already there and, almost instantly, I was caught between the protestors and the waiting lines of police. Each bundled up in body armor like a cozy tick, the city’s finest tried their utmost to calm the situation. But with the crowd devolving into another state of dissension, the riot squad chose to pacify things before they got out of control.

They came down Forty-Seventh Avenue in rows, their faces covered by balaclavas and plastic visors, their wooden batons banging on the long, rectangular shields. It was a harsh, jarring sound and immediately a multitude of protestors fell to their knees, most reciting scripture, some shouting “Romans!” while all gesticulated profanely at the armored formation.

This did little to deter law enforcement however and, with the police descending upon them, the mob stopped yelling at each other and began to misquote the First Amendment. Insults of “heretic” and the technically inappropriate “infidel” promptly followed. Initially, the city’s finest were calm and relaxed and behaved like the true professionals they are. Of course, this all changed once the “Nazi” chant rang out and, not surprisingly, the police responded with an orgy of pepper spraying. They sprayed the rioters, the people watching the rioters and, finally, they sprayed anything in sight — food carts, street signs, trashcans, buses, parked cars and even intrepid reporters.

Still, the mob fumed and roared. They continued to shout names until the tear gas flew and the water cannons began their merciless journey across the crowd.

Onlookers have sworn they could hear the cries of discomfort from half a block away and this onslaught continued until most of the true believers were coughing and gagging. It was obvious the mob had lost their will to fight and, once again, it seemed as if the forces of law and order had prevailed. But just when the situation appeared to be de-escalating, a Lutheran sergeant of the riot squad allegedly took umbrage at an insult hurled at the crowd by his Methodist lieutenant. Exactly what passed between the two remains a mystery but the words ultimately climaxed with the sergeant punching his superior directly in the nose. Observing this, a group of Baptist officers removed their helmets and used them to bludgeon their Anabaptist colleagues. They were followed by the Roman Catholics in the traffic division attacking the Fundamentalists of the patrol division upon which the single Seventh Day Adventist member of SWAT launched a rubber bullet at the only Congregationalist member of SWAT. This factionalism quickly infected the rest of the officers and soon fists were flying and billy clubs were swinging in every direction. Within moments, it was impossible to tell protestor from cop and the only member of law enforcement who escaped unharmed was a Pentecostal motorcycle officer who is, to this day, unable to convince his coworkers that Pentecostalism is actually a religion.

The utter chaos of such an event is practically impossible to convey. I have experienced many things in my years with the Weekly Standard Gazette but none of them ended like that afternoon in September.

None of them ended in a miracle.

For the sake of full disclosure, this correspondent must admit his eyes were watering and everything in sight was, for the most part, a smear. Though let me assure you, dear reader, I have since had my vision examined and everything is in order. This newspaper has also consulted the best mental health expert it could afford and though Yahoo Answers assures me that despite having a Vitamin B deficiency and a possible case of scabies, I am neither psychotic nor delusional.

The tear gas was wafting. The smoke from Mr. Balasubramanian’s store was thick and black. Pepper spray hung in a fog and the water cannons created rainbows in the mist above the now-panicked crowd.

And then it happened.

Floating above the jagged line between the police and the mob, a visage appeared. Some have said it was THE Lord and Savior Himself while others claim it was the Holy Father of the Lord and Savior. Some dispute this however, declaring it was the Virgin Mother of the Lord and Savior or perhaps the formless Holy Spiritual Presence no one is ever supposed to see. A few in the crowd have even maintained it was the Archangel Garfield, his sword raised to smite the wicked. (Religious scholars have been unable to explain to this reporter exactly how the martyred twentieth President of these United States had become a chief angel of the Almighty. When asked, they merely proclaimed the Lord and Savior works in mysterious ways.)

Now, I do not know what exactly it was that I saw, but, like everyone else present, I fell into reverent silence. From there, I watched the faithful lower their fists and bow their heads. I saw angry glares of retribution become frowns of guilt. I noticed pastors in expensive suits attempt to hide and slick-haired snake-handlers cringe in shame. I am also fairly certain I beheld a man resembling Chester A. Arthur flee in terror.

And then the ghostly image disappeared, winking out into the high sun to leave both the cops and the mob confused and unsettled.

The eerie silence continued, its somber peacefulness broken only by the still-dripping water cannons and the pervasive coughs of the stunned crowd. This “divinely inspired” serenity went on just long enough for the police to recover and soon they were back to doing their jobs: manhandling the crowd into more pliable groups and finding random “leaders” to arrest. The protestors complied listlessly and after the paddy wagons were filled, I was left alone on Klondike to ruminate on what I had experienced.

Ruminate was, and is, all I can do because for something beheld by so many, not one picture exists. Every camera, every smartphone, every TV video seems to have malfunctioned and the few captured images are nothing but blurred swirls of smoke and water vapor. I have suffered many sleepless nights over this phenomenon but I suppose it is yet another question whose answer I will never find.

So, what is the point of this story? The waiting, epiphanic denouement? Well, though by definition it is impossible to quantify such an otherworldly occurrence, Sergeant Peter Strahovski, ten-year veteran of the Metro Gang Squad and fellow witness to the incident, perhaps put it best.

“I don’t know about that other stuff, but it wasn’t like they say. It wasn’t that the Evangelicals stopped yelling or the Baptists stopped dancing. It had nothing to do with the Mormons crapping in their funky underwear or that the rest of them holier-than-thou know-it-alls finally shut the f— up and stopped causing trouble. Nope. The most amazing thing about that September 5th is how Chanelleke’s Rib Shack didn’t burn down. I mean, it was right next to the Arab’s carpet store and there wasn’t a single scorch-mark on it. Now there’s a miracle for you.”

As for Mr. Joseph “Joey” Pasternick and his dog Cannoli, their current whereabouts are unknown. A few days after the events on Klondike Street, Mr. Pasternick’s girlfriend broke up with him and the house they shared on Helfer Street was abandoned.

This reporter has done everything he knows, read every account, talked to every source in order to locate Mr. Pasternick. I have scoured Pinterest, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Tumblr, Instagram, Flickr and anywhere else AOL says is relevant but to no avail. It is as if he and his pet have vanished off the face of the earth. I have spent hours washed in the piercing glare of a computer screen while the library’s dial-up connection buzzes and beeps, and my favorite librarian frowns at me in disdain. She has often suggested I give up this quest. In her mind, I suppose the endeavor is a hopeless one. For she is a woman of faith and is thus absolutely certain both man and dog have been taken down to the merciless hell they deserve.

According to Bing, that is most likely somewhere in Florida.

Or possibly New Jersey.