When Jesus decided to run for president of the United States
he began his campaign, sensibly enough, with a miracle. Two
miracles, in fact. So I should probably start this story
with a line like, In the beginning there were the
miracles, but the truth is that, at the time, most media
people—me included—did not believe in miracles, certainly
not where a run for the White House was concerned. At first
I was skeptical, and then, after I met the man who called
himself Jesus, somewhat less skeptical. And then my whole
way of looking at life was turned upside-down.
So let me start the story this way: In the beginning it was
a perfect New England afternoon, May in western
Massachusetts. The sky was clear, the air full of the smell
of blossoming trees and drying mud, and my producer and
boss, Paterson Wales, was standing at his office window
looking down on the troubled city of West Zenith, which we
reported on every night at six and ten. We made an odd team,
Wales and I. He was jaded and sad from thirty years in the
TV business, and I was more or less up-and-coming, a
smooth-talking, locally famous beat reporter with nice hair
and aspirations for an anchor spot in a top-ten market.
Wales summoned me to his office, kept his back turned, took
out of his mouth the illegal Cuban cigar he would salivate
on until it rotted but would never set a match to, and said
tenderly, "Got something for ya."
I remember looking at his back and realizing that the suit
he was wearing—luxurious blue wool—probably cost more than I
made in a month. I said, "Shooting in Hunter Town?"
"Cops with guns and bags of dope on a table at the station?"
"Leak at the sewage plant on Westover Road?"
"You're gonna like this, it's weird. Same as you."
"I'm not weird, I'm all-American."
"Right, I'm Mahatma Gandhi. Listen to me now." And then, to
my astonishment, Wales—who was not known for strong
eye-contact—turned around and drilled his baby-blues into
me, letting the hand with the cigar drop to his side. "Last
night in Fultonville a little boy fell off a fire escape,"
he said in his staccato fashion. "Three stories up. . .
"That's sad," I said. In those days--the days before Jesus
is the way I think of them--I was somewhat jaded myself,
having reported on a hundred drug busts and a dozen killings
in the seven years I'd been at WZIZ. Gang shootouts.
Domestic arguments gone sour. Schoolkids calling in bomb
threats—all the things we've become more or less used to and
that had stopped hitting me in the gut the way they had in
the early years. Little kids falling off fire escapes was
not on that list, however. Though I did not yet have
children of my own, I wanted five or six of them someday,
and I couldn't sleep after doing reports in which a child
had been hurt. Wales knew that about me, so I was surprised
he was sending me out on the story.
But then, after a few beats of silence, he added, "Died,
then came back to life," and watched me closely as he said
"Good," I said, "that happens. Especially with little ones.
They can survive a fall like that. Wind gets knocked out of
them pretty bad, they seem to be dead, but they can bounce
back. It's like people who drown in very cold—"
"It was Fultonville," Wales said, and he said it so
forcefully it seemed for a second he was about to cry. Which
was something that simply did not happen around ZIZ.
"Right, Boss. You said that.,"
Fultonville was the poor section of West Zenith, or, I
should say, one of the poor sections. The second-worst and
second-saddest of them as far as I was concerned, after a
neighborhood called Hunter Town. Ten square blocks of cheap
apartments, a bleak little park, rat-infested brick
townhouses, the place was populated by an equal opportunity
mix of whites, blacks, and Latinos, and displayed all the
usual characteristics of poverty: a lot of people
unemployed, a lot of single moms, a lot of drugs, fights,
sometimes shootings. Fultonville was the kind of place you
didn't go anywhere near unless you took a wrong turn off the
highway, or lived there, or were intent on buying a class D
"Shut up for once, will you?" Wales said. "I'm giving you
two-minutes-fifty tonight, top of the hour, so save it for
"A large chunk," I said.
He turned his back again, took a pretend puff from the
Habana. "It happened different than that. If you believe the
word on the street, the mother and her boyfriend were having
a picnic out there on the rusty old fire escape. . . .A
little booze, maybe something else. The kid's two or three
years old. Falls asleep. Rolls over when they're not
looking. One of the bars is loose or something. He drops. It
was grass and dirt he hit, but hard. The mother screams. She
races down the fire escape, jumps off the last step, almost
breaks both ankles. She finds the kid not breathing. A
minute goes by, she's hysterical. Two minutes. Eight
minutes. Neighbors come running. Sirens in the air."
"I can picture it," I said.
He paused for a few seconds. Even with his back turned, I
could tell I'd really ticked him off, so I closed my mouth
for good, more or less.
"Then, according to the reports, some weirdo comes walking
through the gathering crowd. Street person or something. Guy
no one's ever seen. Maybe Hispanic, maybe not. Longish hair.
Tattoo of a flower on his left forearm. This guy reaches
down and touches the little kid on his shoulder. Walks away.
Disappears down the street. Kid goes from being dead to
crying. A minute later when the ambulance and police get
there the kid is fine as fine can be."
I couldn't hold my silence. I said, "Want my opinion?"
"My opinion is this: The mother knows she's facing a child
endangerment rap, so once she realizes her baby is okay, she
makes the rest of it up. A little positive TV time. The
miracle baby. The good mother visited by an angel. She gets
Wales was shaking his head. "Witnesses back her up."
"Drug clients," I suggested. "Neighbors afraid her boyfriend
would beat the bejesus out of them if they didn't
corroborate her version of things. It's something along
those lines. To my nose, the story smells."
"Maybe. We'll see. Go down to Fultonville and check it out.
I'll give you two fifty at six and a follow-up at ten if
it's any good. Woman's name is Ada Montpelier, like the
capital of Vermont. Try not to make me have to repeat it."
"The French university town. I'll remember it that way."
"877 Ediston Street."
"877 were the last three digits of my ex-mother-in-law's
"The heart of darkness," I said.
So that was the beginning. The tattooed guy with the magic
touch was Jesus Christ come back to earth. At least that's
what I now believe. I don't necessarily expect everyone to
agree, of course: a USA Today survey, based on twelve
hundred Americans, and taken shortly after the events I will
recount here, said that only about half of us think he was
actually something other than an interesting human being.
But let me tell the whole story before you make your own
judgment. I reported on some strange things in my days at
ZIZ, and didn't usually get them wrong. And the Jesus I'm
going to describe here might turn out to be nothing at all
like the Jesus the newspapers and TV showed you during the
campaign, and nothing like the Jesus you always had in your
Book in stores on August
|"Smart, funny yet dead serious Second Coming
novel from Merullo (Breakfast with Buddha, 2007, etc.), who has
Jesus offering America spiritual renewal by way of a run for the
White House. ...Impressive speculative fiction, and a bracing
tonic for an election year..."
Kirkus – July 1, 2008