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We arrived at IHOP about 10 minutes late. Martin Vihn had not yet arrived. I took a seat at a booth against the back wall and sat down facing the entrance. Joe slipped into the seat opposite me. A window was on my left through which I watched a man assemble a sidewalk stand. The waitress brought the menus. Joe got right down to studying it. I watched the man struggle with some pipes that held up an awning over his stand while I thought about my upcoming meeting with Vihn. My usual bouts with fear and uncertainty slithered through my mind like minks in heat. The worst part was wondering about what people, like Mavis or Fat Al would say if I was wrong and died. I imagined something like, “What on earth possessed him to take such a risk.” Last night I thought I had good and compelling reasons, but now I realized they were mere rationalizations for whatever was so deeply imbedded in my psyche that impelled me to act as I did.

Nothing new in that, I have become convinced most of the reasons we tell ourselves that we need to do something have little to do with why we do whatever it is we end up doing. They are merely a handy thing, whenever we are successful, to tell ourselves and others. You know, “I knew what I was doing all along.”

Joe brought me out of my musings. “I’m having the Belgian waffles. What about you?”

“I’ll probably have the blueberry short stack and fried eggs. For some reason I always get the same thing when I come here.”

Martin Vihn entered the restaurant followed by two of the young men I had seen before. One was dressed like Joe in tee-shirt and windbreaker. The other had on a dark hoodie. Martin had on a dark blue jacket over a white button down shirt and jeans. He came over to our table.

“Sorry I’m late. Traffic and parking”

Joe slid out from his seat. Said, “I’ll sit with Vinnie and Chang.” He walked over to the table where the other two young men who accompanied Vihn sat. Vu’s arrival prompted a lot of laughing and fist bumping. Martin nodded to him and sat in the seat Joe vacated. The waitress arrived and we ordered. She then went over to the table where Joe and the others sat.

“Any word from the police on the cause of Clarence’s death?”, he asked.

“The autopsy scheduled for later this morning. The cops are being close-mouthed.”

“How do you think he died?”

“I’m not paid to guess.”

Martin rarely raises his voice but his anger blazed out of his eyes like campfire embers poked with a stick. “I’m paying you and if it is your opinion I want than then it is your opinion I’ll get.”

“He could have been walking along the shore reciting poetry tripped and fallen into the bay and drowned. I doubt whether it makes much or a difference to anyone how he died, even to the murderer, if he was murdered.”

“Why do you say that?”

“I can’t see you shipping drugs or anything else illegal this way. By reputation, you’ve been able to bring thing like that into the States with no problems in the past. There’s too many better ways. Dropping packages into the water offshore at night, trans-shipping through Alaska. Even if you were to do something like this, certainly not through the Port of Oakland. There are other less watched small ports like Eureka and Redwood City. So, I can’t figure you for something like a dope deal in this case. So, I ask myself, although he is such a prick I am sure a lot of people would like him dead, why would anyone involved in this case kill Clarence? Then there is the hiring of me. It can’t be all that important to hire a second-rate shamus like me.” I stopped there and stared at him.

Martin’s silence lasted a long time as he stared at me. Our orders arrived before he answered and we began eating. After swallowing his first bite, Martin sat back and said:

“Look, whatever you think I may also be mixed up in, I am also a legitimate business man. I invested in a business to import into America furniture made in South-east Asia. Now the man who talked me into the investment and was supposed to manage the business is gone along with he merchandise.”

“But even so, two containers of furniture could not have been valuable enough for all your interest, not to mention knocking off Reilly if in fact he was killed.”

“You figured it out already. You’re cheap. I only spent $1000 dollars so far.”

“What about Joe?”

Vihn looked down at the table for a while. “He’s my brother’s son. I care about him. He refuses to go to college and is too interested in the wrong part of the family business. I thought following you around a while would help to get him interested in something else. That was a spur of the moment thing, I’m afraid.

“So you hired me as a babysitter?”

“A thousand dollars a month is pretty cheap for baby sitting these days,” he said with a smile.

We ate our breakfasts in silence. Over coffee I assured him, I will try to find out how Reilly died and what happened to the furniture.

I then asked, “What’s Lilly’s role in this?”

“She’s my lawyer.”

“Nothing else.”

“It’s none of your business.”

I smiled, got up, collected Joe and left Vihn to pay the check.

On the way back to the car, I called Mavis. Told her that I would come by that afternoon and that we were going to attend Reilly’s wake.

For some reason the thought of Mavis, death and my current role got me ruminating about God and humor, God’s humor to be precise.

Humans are a fascinating species. I am convinced God created us because he or she (I refuse to take sides on the issue of God’s gender — although the Good Humor Man of my youth was always male) found presiding over the rest of the universe dreadfully dull and craved some amusement. While growing up I always thought that God was the Good Humor man. Every afternoon the Good Humor man rang his bells in front of my house. The sound of those bells filled me with hope. Would your God do as much for you?

I was pulled from my reveries by Joe shouting “Boss, boss!’

I stared at him as the world around me came into focus.

“Is there something wrong? You were talking on the phone and then you just stopped staring off at nothing. Are you OK? You thinking about the case? “

“Yeah. I’m OK. Rule whatever number… in private investigations there are no cases only assignments. And your current assignment is to find us some ice cream and drive me to Crissy Field.”

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I, and I assume others when they reach my age, sometimes think back over our lives and speculate about what may have been or what it is that we really regret. With me there are many things such as the death of loved ones or pain I have caused others that bring me sadness or fill me with remorse. But, in almost all of them, although I wish they never happened, I do not see how avoiding or reversing them would have altered my life all that much. There was, however, one recurring event in my memory that I am convinced may have made a difference.

It was during the early Nineties. I was visiting Rome and it was as hot as it gets in that town at the end of Summer. I was standing in line with my then wife Denise to buy tickets to enter the ruins of the ancient Roman Forum. There was only one group ahead of us, a family made up of man and a women with three or four strikingly blond pre-adolescent children in tow. The woman was about six feet tall, blond and movie star attractive. The man was even taller, sandy-haired and athletic looking. Suddenly I recognized him. It was Joe Montana, the legendary American football quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers. I guess you can say I was gobsmacked to see him there in Rome and standing so close to me.


In addition to the victories and the statistical records that most sports use to judge excellence and without which all else is almost irrelevant, what I admired most about Montana was his preternatural grace and his gamblers instincts. I recall once watching him play in one of the Superbowls, he had just thrown a pass that the receiver eventually caught for a touchdown. Nevertheless, it was the fluidity with which Joe leapt into the air and threw the ball that enthralled me. He was every bit as graceful as a ballet dancer; not tutus and en pointe ballet graceful but something more masculine and forceful.

I used to attend performance of the New York City Ballet when I lived in the Big Apple. The principle male dancer at that time was, Jacques d’Amboise. When he stood on the stage he looked a lot like a champion body builder who had just put down his barbels. When, however, he moved it was as smooth, graceful and beautiful as drops or water slowly dancing in the sunlight. Balanchine, the choreographer for the Company then, believed that the role of the male ballet dancer was little more than a mobile post upon which the ballerina was displayed. Nevertheless, when d’Ambiose lifted his partner up and carried her across the stage everything else on that stage disappeared except the image of his power and grace. So it was for me with Montana on that pass. It was as though I had achieved satori. Everything else on the field disappeared but Joe when, as though in slow motion, he pushed off with one leg, rose into the air and in perfect synchronicity arced his arm across his body as he released the ball.

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His gamblers instincts were not those of a risk-taker but of someone who knew the probabilities and above all the psychology of whatever game he was playing. At one time during an interview, I recall him describing a drive, probably in one or another of the Superbowls. He said something like, “I was driving them crazy, dinking and dunking (throwing short passes for 3 or 4 yards) them here and there, until they couldn’t see straight and began to lean forward and inch in, and then I threw it over their heads for a touchdown.”

“He possessed an almost mystical calmness in the midst of chaos, especially with the game on the line in the fourth quarter. While others saw turmoil and danger after the snap, Montana saw order and opportunity. He was Joe Cool, the unflappable king of the comeback.”
Larry Schwartz, ESPN

So there he was, in Rome, that day, standing about a foot away from me. One part of me in my excitement screamed at me to say something, something like “Joe! Joe Montana, what are you doing here in Rome?” while another part terrorized me into silence at the realization of how stupid that sounded and how embarrassed I would feel after saying it – especially if he ignored me.

I thought about mentioning to Denise that Joe Montana was in the line in front of us. Denise was a woman of legendary assertiveness and a tongue as sharp as the edge of a Samurai’s sword. She would not have known Joe Montana from Bozo the Clown, but she was much more likely than me to strike up a conversation, lacking the shyness that comes with awe and idol worship. Alas, I could see that she was already annoyed at how long it was taking them to buy their tickets and well on her way to flinging some insult at them as only she could. So, I hesitated fearing that she would offend them and I would lose the opportunity to become friends with Joe.

They eventually got their tickets and passed through the gate into the Forum. We got ours and followed. Right behind the gate we came upon them again. The children were sprawled on various broken bits of Roman History complaining bitterly, as children often do, about the heat and whining about why they had to be here and not back in the hotel at the pool. I could see that Joe Cool was at the edge of losing the legendary calmness that allowed him to bring Notre Dame from 22 points back in the fourth quarter to win in the Cotton Bowl. He snapped back at them, probably a lot like like any other parent in a similar situation would when being harassed by whining children “You can’t. You have to learn about culture. There is a lot of culture here.”

I knew that I could step in and help out. Over the years I virtually haunted the Forum. I knew more about it than any guide. I knew the history, the gossip, even what was traded in the market that was set up in the swamp between the hill on which the future rulers of the world lived in somewhat upgraded caves and the larger hill on which the more respectable Sabines lived and from which their wives and daughters were to be carried away by the Romans in the dead of night. Upon the fecundity of those wives and daughters an empire was built. I had crawled into places few are allowed to go or for that matter ever went or even would want to go. I knew which toilets were the cleanest. I knew where to find shade and the location of the coolest water. I knew I could keep the children entertained and enthralled and that Joe and his wife would like that and we would become friends.

I imagined that since I had lived in Rome for a few years and knew interesting places to go and appealing places to eat that Joe and his wife would never otherwise know about or go to, we could go out some evening and have dinner together. I knew that Denise with her bottomless reservoir of humor and behavioral oddities would amuse them and we would become friends.

But I did not do any of these things. I just stood there. Then Denise irritably called out, “Hurry up, it’s hot.” and I went on. For a while, as we made our way through the rubble of an empire, I would see them prowling through other parts of the ruins. Then they were gone.

Since that day, every now and then, I think about what could have been. Even as I write this now, I am convinced that if Joe Montana had become my friend, my life might somehow have been better, happier even. Some of my other friends might even have become jealous. I would have liked that.

 

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19th century map of Southern Italy, featuring ...

19th-century map of Southern Italy, featuring the Kingdom of Two Sicilies and the islands of Sardinia and Malta. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Giuseppe, (often shortened to Pepe or Pepino), translates from the Italian to the English as Joseph. Joe or Joey are the English nicknames usually associated with Joseph. There were a lot of Joes in my family. There was Joe, Big Joe and Little Joe, Uncle Joe, Joe the Minister and Joey. I was Joey.

In the Southern Italian tradition one named the first son after the paternal grandfather hence my name, Joe. The second son was named after the father. My father’s name was Giacomo, James in English although for most of his life he was called Jack or Blackie. My brother’s name, of course, is James. My grandfathers younger brother’s name was also James. My uncle’s name, the second born of my grandfather was Joe. The maternal grandfather only got the second name of the first-born son. My middle name is Eugene. That is the name of my mother’s father. Maybe his name was also bestowed on the third son. I do not know, I only have one brother.

How they name female children in Southern Italy I do not know either. Probably they name the eldest Maria. My sister is named Mary. My mothers eldest sister’s name was Maria. Her brother was named Joe (the minister). My grandfathers eldest sister was named Mary. On the other hand, my fathers only sister was named Marcella. Go figure.

This could have made family gatherings even more confusing than they were. However, another Southern Italian tradition came to the rescue. Boys were given nicknames. Thankfully we used the names described above, otherwise, I could have been named “Joe the Meatball” or some such like the mobsters in the movies. Girls did not have nicknames as far as I know.

This tradition, like all traditions of immigrants to the United States of America that were considered odd, was discarded by the first generation in our efforts to assimilate. Those traditions that remained were either, culinary (pizza and pasta), docile, like religious festivals, adaptable, like the supposed emotionalism of the Italian or heroic, like glorification of Italian gangsters. So be it. I named my children Jason and Jessica like everyone else at the time. I doubt that they are even translatable into Italian. My relatives in Italy refer to them as Yason and Yessica.

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The following is the introduction to a retelling of the first few books of Genesis taken from a manuscript whose author is unknown but refers to himself only as “Joe”. The manuscript was discovered by Trenz Pruca laying at the bottom of an extra-large sized jar of Skippy’s Creamy Style peanut butter that he was frantically scraping to dig out the last bits of peanut butter for his usual lunchtime peanut butter and jelly sandwich on white bread.

INTRODUCTION

My Dream:

One night I had a dream and it went something like this:

I dreamt I saw old Abraham in his tent drunk on fermented camel’s milk surrounded by his sons and a few hangers-on. Outside the tent his wives, concubines and female slaves tended the cook fire and drew lots to see who would sleep with the smelly old bastard that night.

Old Abe was raving about the rejection of his application to join the Babylon Men’s Camel Dung Rolling Club when suddenly he realized the truth. “O my Unmentionable Deity, I must be Jewish.”

“Why would I want to join their damned club anyway” he shouted. “They could not be very exclusive if they would allow someone, living in an Unmentionable Deity damned tent like me to join.” And with that, both antisemitism and Jewish humor entered the world at the same time.

“I will form my own club and will not let anyone join. I will show them real exclusivity.”

Isaac, a pimply faced overweight adolescent, fearing this could lead to the end of his sneaking out of the tent at night after the old man passed out  for some action with the sweet-smelling Babylonian girls leaving him only with the dung smelling camel herding sluts his dad preferred, protested, “We can’t do that. We don’t have a membership card or anything.”

Abe stared at Isaac whom he disliked and surmised was probably gay. He thought, “Maybe I should kill him now before he gets a chance to breed.”

“We will make our own membership cards, clay tablets,” Abe announced.

Everyone groaned.

“No, you’re right, too heavy. It will break the line of our robes. Tattoos,” he suggested.
“No, everyone’s got tattoos nowadays.” “I’ve got it,” he exclaimed. “We’ll cut off the ends of our dicks. Nobody will have membership card like that”.

“You got to be kidding,” cried Isaac.
With that, Abe grabbed his knife jumped over the fire grabbed Isaac by the shirt and said, “I’ve had enough of you, you  little shit, prepare to die.”

In good biblical tradition, Isaac thought quickly and lied. “Wait,” he said,”I see the hand of God What’s His Name staying your hand from killing your son because he and all your sons submit to the will of What’s His Name”.

With that, Abe relented killing Isaac. Instead, he cut off the end of the dick of every male present. At the moment of initiation, each one screamed, “Yowee that hurts!”

When it was all over Abe rested. He looked at all his sons writhing in agony on the floor of the tent and said, “You know, I like that. Up to now whenever the guys hung out talking about their gods it was always Ishtar this and Baal that. They would all laugh when I mentioned the God Whose Name Could Not Be Uttered. From now on in recognition of this event whenever we utter we shall utter the name of our all-powerful creator, ‘Yowee’. What do you think?”

In my dream, I wondered how they were going to be able to identify one another as a member of the men’s club. Groping under each other’s tunic was a little more obvious than a Masonic handshake. Maybe they originally held their meetings in the health club shower.

Anyway my dream fast forwarded to 33 AD (although they did not know at the time it was 33 AD, everyone thought it was 3000 years or something since God rested) and the throng (we no longer throng today, we crowd, what a loss) was pressing forward to enter the temple on the sabbath, the day people thronged to the temple, a building that replaced the old health club showers .
The guard at the gate of the temple in Jerusalem stopped one of the throngers who happened to be Jesus of Nazareth.

“Hey you, only Jews allowed to enter the temple. You Jewish? You don’t look Jewish with that fruity double-pointed red beard.”

“My good man,” said Jesus (he was a Rhodes Scholar and had studied in England) “of course I’m Jewish, I speak Hebrew as though I never learned Aramaic.”

“Anyone can learn Hebrew,” responded the guard. “Whip it out and put in on the table.”

Now Jesus had no problem with whipping it out given all the time he spent with the ladies and all that laying of the head on the breast and that sort of thing and he was quite proud of his membership card. So, he whipped it out and everyone getting a look at it exclaimed, “Oh my God!”

“That’s right,” said Jesus, “now all of you get out of my fucking temple.”

Now where Jesus was quite proud in his membership in Judaism, Paul of Tarsus was less so. Where they all marveled at Jesus Membership, they all laughed when Paul whipped his out. So Paul went to the Apostles (the “Come to Jesus’ Marching and Motorcycle Club”) gathered at their clubhouse in Jerusalem (Apostles “gather” they do not “throng or “crowd”) and said to them “This membership card thing isn’t working. It’s too hard to get anyone to join and tithe. Since we’re the new guys (and guys we are) we need a new card. Besides aren’t you all a little tired of having to show your card every time before you give a sermon?”

“Good thought Paul,” said Peter who although not afflicted by the results of being kicked by a horse on the way to Damascus as was Paul, was a shy man. “What should the new membership card be?

“Faith shining through their eyes,” said Paul.

“How would anyone know,questioned Peter?

“We will know. Besides if the light shines through everyone’s eyes what difference would it make.”

Then I woke up and felt inspired to begin writing a new Bible integrating all the people of the Book, the Jews with their Old Testament, the Christians with their New Testament and Muslims with their Koran.

Theology:

Now in writing a bible one of the things one has to wrestle with is theology because no one knows what it is but they all think it is very important so they end up fighting about it all the time.

For example, in each of the Books relied upon by the People of the Book God appears somewhat different.

God’s Personality:

In the Hebrew Bible, Abraham had a lot of different gods to choose from because there were a lot around at that time. He could have chosen a Sun God, all shiny and gold, riding across the sky every day looking like his shit don’t stink. Or he could have chosen one of the Goddess babes that were always sneaking around from tent to tent shagging one God or another or if no God would have them then some mortal that they then out of embarrassment would turn into stone or something gross .

But no, Abe was the worlds first stand-up comic. He thought it would improve his act to choose the one God no one else wanted. He chose the as God for his people the God of insanity.

He was mortified, instead of laughing his audience cheered.

All the other Gods and Goddesses spent their time shagging one another and just about anything else that walked, flew, swam or slithered in, on or under the earth, or they would sometimes play an ancient form of video game, choosing up sides among the Gods and having mortals slaughter each other cheering on their team until one side wins. Oh it must have been great fun.
But not Abe’s choice, He did not join in the fun, instead, He really liked killing. Compared to Him Loki the German god who brought on Ragnarök, the end of the Gods was a choir boy.

In fact, He was a Homicidal Maniac. He wanted His people to kill everyone else and take their land on top of it. If His people lost, He did not just shrug His shoulders and walk away like the other gods, promising to get even later. No, instead He would blame His people. Told them they deserved to lose because they ate pork or something He did not like to eat ( I also hear that he was lactose intolerant).

God liked to eat steak, fish, and okra. In fact, one of the original books of the bible was a list of God’s favorite recipes, but it has been lost.

After God’s chosen people began to lose, God even stopped talking to them, instead communicating to them only through his mouth-pieces he called “Prophets”.
He also did not want anyone mentioning His name, but wherever someone did mention Him they had to capitalize the first letter of whatever word they used to refer to Him.

The God of the Christian Bible, on the other hand, seemed to be a bit of a wuss. Sort of all diffident and misty. He did not seem to say much, leaving all the heavy lifting to His Son. He did, however, hang on to the capitalization thing.

The God of Islam seems to be an OK guy. He spends most of his time creating virgins for His elect when they die and generally left operations to His CEO, Mohammed.

Membership:

On the issue of joining the club, each book had a slightly different approach.

The Hebrews were not particularly interested in new members, preferring to kill them and take their land. The Christians and their God liked to beg them to join first and then if they didn’t, kill them and take their land. And Mohammed seeing the difficulties experienced by his predecessors decided on the up front approach, “Either join us or we will kill you and take your land.”

The problem of women:

Some may ask what about the women?

Well, first of all, Abraham, Jesus, and Mohammed all were men and the first thing on any man’s mind besides killing other men is getting it off with a woman. (There is some question about which side of the plate Jesus batted from, but I think the weight of opinion was that he may have been a switch hitter [He grew up in a Greek neighborhood after all]).

Second, the thing that men hate worst of all is women telling them what to do or having to ask if he could go off with the boys and kill a few enemies and rape their women.

No, the whole People of the Book is a guy thing.
Think about it, would a women dream of having 72 virgins after she dies in battle. Women are smarter than that. First pf all, who needs virgins? They won’t be virgins for long and then what? Also, no women would be taken in by some guy promising her nights of pleasure after she’s dead. Besides, who cleans up the place? She would figure it would probably be her as always.

Sources:

In addition to the old and new Testament and the Koran, I have sometimes used for my material, writings of old Jewish comedians, mostly insane Christian hermits and a few Muslim jihadists.

For example, in the Old Testament, at the end of Genesis I, God creates women out of the same muck from which he created man. In Genesis II, however, we see God creating Eve out of Adam’s rib.

Noticing that discrepancy, some of the old jews suggested that there were two women created. The first one Lilith was clearly a shiksa so the marriage, of course, did not work out and after the divorce, she slept around a lot. Eve, on the other hand, coming from Adam’s own rib was a match made in heaven so to speak.

I also moved the triune God invented by the clearly insane St. John the Evangelist up into Genesis because not even Abraham could conceive of anything a ridiculous as a God with a split personality.

I do not include cites and footnotes of what I steal from others. The authors of the Bible did not, claiming that it all came from the hand of God, so why should I.

Language:

In Genesis I, one may notice a focus on excrement and genitalia like that of a 5-year-old boy. One must remember, Genesis recounts events early in God’s career and does reflect his juvenile phase.

One also may become aware of the use of words and phrases that it is said are not used in polite society. This merely reflects Zipf’s Law that in any language a few words get used a lot.

In current English, the words that appear to be used the most are the words, “shit” and “fuck”. These two words we know can be and are employed for effect in all sorts of situations and can operate comfortably in every grammatical format known to the language. I have merely translated the holy books into today’s evolved English usage.

Levee`:

In Genesis I, I introduce the word, Levee`. Levee` is a french word and refers to the ceremony perfected during the reign of Louis IVX where the entire court would gather and watch the King arise from bed and take a dump. The royal chamberlain would then check out the King’s scat and announce to the court whether or not the king was feeling well that day. Given that in Genesis I God did some of his most important work during the mornings of this first six days, I felt a similar ceremony would be appropriate.

Typography:

I use Marker Felt Wide Typeface. It is generally used to denote humor but it is also can be difficult to read. So is the Bible.

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