“It was a miserably stormy evening.” Nah, that’s not it. “The storm raged darkly and stormily…” Ugh. “It was a dark and stormy… evening?” Close but… Jeez, I’ve had writers block for weeks. Sometimes all I need is a great opening line to get me going, even if I borrow it.
My cell phone rings. I check the screen: Portland, Oregon. Oh, that must be Mike King; Steven King’s father and husband to Barbara (the eldest of Big El’s four sisters). He is also the only brotherin-law going on this fall’s trip to Israel with three of those sisters. I know what this call is about, but I answer anyway because besides being a novelist, Barbara’s BIG job is editing my column. I am told that spelling and punctuation are important, so it might not be smart to blow off her main squeeze.
I greet Mike enthusiastically with, “Ah, this must be the sacrificial lamb. Look, Mike, before you start, the answer is ‘no.’ But I still want to hear your pitch.” Even though he is a mathematician, Mike has some remnants of a sense of humor, and so he responds with, “As you pro-BAAAA-bly know, I have signed up to go on the Israel trip with Barbara, Susan and your wife in October.
I interrupt him with a clever rejoinder. “So, on this return to the Holy Land, if they are the Three Wise (Wo)men, who are you?” And the mathematician trumps me with, “I guess I’m Round John Virgin.”
Refusing to be Mike’s straight man, I shut up and let him continue. “And I was hoping I could convince you of the religious and cultural merits of a visit to the holiest place in the world.”
I wait a beat to consider. “When you say ‘holiest,’ are you talking bullet holes?”
“Come on Bill, I’m being serious. Israel is much more than the embattled Gaza border. This tour covers some of the holyhe stops himself—I mean, greatest places in the world: Jerusalem, Masada, the Sea of Galilee…I’d name more if I could only pronounce them.”
“Mike, admittedly I am not as familiar with Israel, Jerusalem and the Holy Lands as you are—Hollywood being more my style—however, my Google research has alerted me to some disturbing facts about Israel and the sites you are going to see (or not see) on this tour:
1. Israel is located in a flea-infested desert whose citizens enjoy visiting something most unattractively called “The “Wailing Wall.” And it’s surrounded by the Middle East. Hava Nagilia! That’s three strikes against Israel in just one sentence.
2. You will visit Jaffa, the town from which Jonah sailed and was swallowed by a whale. You won’t actually see this take place. You’ll just have to imagine it. I can do that from Georgia.
3. Next you’ll see Masada, the site where King Herod built his palace, then plotted against and betrayed Cleopatra VII, the greatest female ruler of all-time. In this case, I’m a 100 percent feminist. He and his palace got what they deserved.
4. You will visit Mount of Olives a hillside in east Jerusalem where Jews, Christians and Muslims buried their dead for thousands of years… how creepy is that? And you will see The Tomb of Mary and the Tombs of the Prophets. Other than Napoleon’s and the Unknown Soldier, I don’t do tombs. Oh, and you won’t see any olives.
5. How about a day trip to the Sea of Galilee where Jesus walked on water to avoid being swallowed by a whale. You probably won’t see Jesus walk on water. History indicates that it only happened once, so odds are against your seeing it again. But you can imagine it…just like I will, in Georgia.
Oh, and if the Sea of Galilee doesn’t ring your chimes you can always try sunbathing in the world’s biggest sink hole, the Dead Sea. Are you kidding me? What kind of marketing department names a vacation spot the Dead Sea? But then, perhaps all the good names like “Wailing Wall” were taken.
6. Finally, you are touring a place which Christians, Jews and Muslims all claim as their own. What are the chances of you, Barbara, Susan and Big El returning as Christians? Probably only one in three. How are we going to explain that to our children and grandchildren?
Oh, and did I mention “flea infested?”
Mike considers my compelling arguments for a moment and says, “You should not be allowed to play with Google.”
“Obviously, I don’t want any of you to go. I think it’s dangerous. I mean what’s next on the Bucket List: Somalia, North Korea, Dante’s Nine Circles of Hell? How about we compromise and you all quit the Crusades and meet me in Lake Como. It’s much safer, has real spaghetti and a beautiful lake that is not “dead.” Hey, I bet I can walk across it in 20 minutes…no whales.
I can hear Mike’s disappointment from across the continent as he changes the subject. “So, a square root walks into the bar…”