Saturday, July 9, 2011

"A Priest and a Rabbi Walk Into a Car Crash": A story based on "Love" by John Coltrane, as suggested by musician Steve Marion of Delicate Steve 36/100

A Priest and a Rabbi Walk Into a Car Crash

When Father Garrison and Rabbi Kohn both stepped onto the accident scene at the same time, they were surprised to see each other, as though they'd walked not into chaos, but into the set-up for a joke. The cars had collided at their front corners and then slid around each other in such a way that their tail ends touched, like two people in the beginning stage of duel. Garrison and Kohn each had their instincts: the Father to the knocked-out mother and crying child in the station wagon and the Rabbi to the nervous and harrowed teen in the Saab. They thought nothing more or less of each other for this, and in the odd spaces that appear in times of disorder, were thankful for the efficiency of their reactions.

They'd met a few times before in passing, at interfaith events or conferences. After the accident, realizing their previous appointments were as good as cancelled, they decided to go to a nearby café and discuss the accident. Neither mentioned the ways in which they followed another instinct, to bond over grief and reflect on what is gained when nothing is lost.

* * *

Earlier in the day, before the accident and the café, a woman had come into the church and done a tarot reading for Father Garrison. He was in the confessional finishing up with one member of the congregation when the door opened and then immediately closed again.

“Touch the cards,” the voice said.

Father Garrison reached up and placed the tips of his fingers on the cards and then leaned over top of them to peer through the screen. A dark figure, like everyone else on the other side.

“These things usually start off with something along the lines of ‘forgive me father, for I have sinned’ and not a request to touch a deck of cards.” He had become more serious in these later years, for the first time feeling as if he were forced into the priesthood by his family and then, after time, by convenience.

The figure on the other side of the screen was still, but Father Garrison could hear shuffling and, on the small shelf reserved for the folded hands of kneeling confessors, the laying down of five cards. He sat back in his chair, curious.

* * *

Father Garrison came over to the table and lightly placed two cups of tea in front of him. “Rabbi Kohn, do you know much about tarot cards?”

“Is that what the disco singer says she’ll do on those late night infomercials?”

“Not exactly. A woman came in today for confessional and mentioned something about them.”

Rabbi Kohn nodded, but was obviously thinking about something else, already having passed off the situation as a non-sequitur, a way to not talk about the accident.

Father Garrison’s card in the first position was the Knight of Wands. “The horse is riding through the desert,” the figure said. “Constant movement is necessary so you are not burned on the hot sands. If you stop, you burn.” Her voice wasn’t that of an old crone or a young gypsy. She was as worn out and non-descript as a news anchor or a waitress in a big town. “The horse is moving to the left, the path of non-traditional thought.”

“Miss, this is an obvious fabrication, and I don’t feel it’s necessary to make a mockery of my life as I’ve lived it for our lord and savior Jesus Christ.” Father Garrison’s tone was level and stern, but he didn’t even bother to lean forward, a defeated edge in him that made the woman continue, unabated.

“Your card in the second position is what you cannot see: the Hierophant. You may be feeling a lack of respect for ceremony and the law, perhaps doubting your knowledge of tradition.” She drew for him the Ten of Cups in the third position, showing that he is able to do away with what he’s comfortable with. Then the Two of Swords in the fourth position, his inability to change intuition or rely on other senses, blind in his situation but unafraid and, in fact, centered.

Father Garrison moved his head from against the wall and took a slight glance through the screen. He quietly asked if they were finished, but he was ignored again. “Your last card in the last position is your overall outcome. The Fool.”

“Wait just a damn minute,” Father Garrison burst out under his breath. He did not realize until a long lull in conversation with Rabbi Kohn later on that he had swore in the house of the Lord.

“Now now, Father,” the figure said, for the first time sounding as if she were deviating from a script. “The Fool in the final position it not bad. Look forward to a new beginning of simplicity. A fresh start with a straightforward heart.”

Father Garrison stood up and then sat back down when the woman said, “Doesn’t that sound nice?”

* * *

“Do you remember why you became a rabbi?” Father Garrison asked Rabbi Kohn.

“Ah, boychick, what a heavy question!”

“I used to think so myself, but . . .”


“But now I don’t.”

“Well, I mean, I had a good education as a young Jew in the Midwest, that was a good start. I learned early on that the Jewish peoples have a rich history, one of sorrow and longing and, above all, hope. I just wanted to learn and teach, be burrowed in so deep to that one thing that it surpasses faith and become knowledge.”

And like that it became quiet, God as uncomplicated and sensible an intangibility as love itself. Father Garrison sat back slowly and thought of the baby crying in the backseat of the car, pieces of the windshield shining like heaven in her hair.


John Coltrane was a jazz musician who pretty much ruled. He made a tenor sax sound heavier than any metal band. He died of liver cancer at the age of 40. He also did a shitload of drugs and was sainted by the African Orthodox Church in 1982.

Steve Marion
is the main creative force behind the band Delicate Steve. He likes doing yoga, which I tried to do once, but stopped after finding out it's more breathing exercises than Tae-bo. The new Delicate Steve album Wondervisions is cohesive not despite of its wandering, psych-melodies and soundscapes, but because of them. You can buy it here.

"Butterfly" from Wondervisions

"The Ballad of Speck and Pebble" from Wondervisions

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Next week: A story based on "Bicycle Bicycle, You Are My Bicycle" by Be Your Own Pet, as suggested by writer Kevin Wilson.

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1 comment:

  1. David MaizenbergJuly 17, 2011 at 8:13 AM

    Hey Ryan, I felt compelled to comment on this one: about a dozen years ago I went to the John Coltrane church in SF (specifically the "St. John Coltrane African Orthodox Church"). I lived not too far from there and walked over one Sunday morning for an experience, which it certainly was. I don't know if they still do music anymore but. . . I think those of us who write while Coltrane's music plays in the background are in good company. Just a hunch.