God is an American. Everything else, too-Chinese and a lady and the sun–but the whole point of God is the omniness. Omnipotent and omniscient and all the rest: If God is everything, then one of those things must be American, and that was the God Precarious Lee preferred. Made it easier if He spoke English. What’s the use in praying if God only understands Italian? Precarious created God in his own image, but a little taller. Precarious figured God would be pretty tall.
He went to church as a kid, a bunch of them. His mother was her own version of forward-thinking, and she wanted Precarious to be exposed to every religion in town, as long as the religion involved Jesus Christ, but not the Catholics. Pentecostal, Baptist, Seventh-Day Adventist, you name it. Some of them were the kind of churches where people holler, and others were more subdued. It was just poor people singing about Jesus in the morning, Precarious thought many years later. He wasn’t quite as observant as a kid, but he never much cared for the experience and would generally spend his time trying to catch a peek at the prettier congregants. He knew that was a sin, but he also knew not paying attention in church at all was a sin, so might as well look at girls. Sin for a penny, sin for a pound.
There were services in the Army, too, and people looked at you funny if you didn’t go to any of them, so Precarious did what his mom taught him and went to just about every one, even the non-Jesus religions. It was the early ’60’s, so there weren’t many non-Jesus religions, but Precarious still dropped by all of them. He decided that the poorer the sect, the better the music, but not much else. Made some friends, and he was also smuggling alcohol onto the base and it turns out that religious services are a superb place to sell booze.
When he joined the circus, that was when his theological education began. Pagans and yogis and dharma bums and Satanists and tons of folks just making shit up as they went. Buddhism was always thrown at him, and occasionally by someone who knew what he was talking about. Precarious couldn’t figure that one out, though. Point of Buddhism is to learn a bunch of foreign words, then sit there quietly until you clear your mind. Wouldn’t it be easier to clear your mind without all those foreign words cluttering it up?
Only denomination he steered clear of was non-denominational: Atheists always wanted to tell you about some book they just read. So mad at people for reading a book that they read their own. If you don’t like a book, Precarious thought, then don’t read it. Don’t read other books at it. Couldn’t find God in any book, anyway, even the ones about Him. You might be able to find God in a random cookbook in the bookstore with no title in Little Aleppo, but you couldn’t count on it.
Precarious Lee looked for God on the highway. The window was down and his elbow baked in the American sun of the low desert which he had been doing idle laps around ever since getting on Route 77 several hours or days or minutes ago. He had no agenda, and he had a 1970 Ford Mustang, which was the last good year. He usually preferred more obscure bullshit, but he was on a mission for God this time, and plus the one for sale had the Boss 302 engine with a four-speed Hurst shifter, and it was Candy Apple red with white leather seats. Precarious had never met the Lord personally, and he hadn’t done too well in Sunday school, but he knew that when you met God, you should do it in a Candy Apple red Mustang with white leather seats.
Although if he were honest about it, he had not strictly been looking for God for a while now. If he were completely honest, Precarious would tell you that it had slipped his mind entirely as he tried to get to the gas station. It had been in his rear-view mirror for around a half-hour: he had tried backing up, but that just put it in his windshield. He had nearly caught up several times, but then the station disappeared again, and Precarious was pretty sure he was being fucked with. When he saw one of the pumps give him the finger, it cemented this belief. He didn’t know what he had done to the gas station to deserve this, but he figured it best to let things blow over.
It was always Sunday morning on Route 77. There are also joints where it’s always Saturday night, and long stretches of Tuesday afternoon, but mostly it’s Sunday morning. The Interstitial is weird, but not that different: religious institutions pay no taxes, so every single structure on Route 77 has declared itself a place of worship. Each rest stop is its own denomination, and they regularly accuse one another of heresy. Gift shops have waged religious wars with food courts, and there are no winners in that conflict.
Route 77 took freedom of religion as a dare. Sects and splinters and schisms, followed by reaffiliations, and then reschisming: you couldn’t tell the prayers without a scorecard. On a back road outside Cahokia was the Mt. Zion Holy Father Fire Baptized Jubilation Congregation of Christ the Lord in His American Rising. The church held raffles and washed cars and played Bingo until they had the money for a giant sign, but the preacher told them to print the whole name on one line, so it snapped in half and now the preacher pretends it’s a metaphor and he did it on purpose.
There were monasteries steeped in silence, and also one place where the monks screamed at the top of their lungs constantly. Many paths to the Lord. A growing sect in Cascadia worshiped a many-nippled owl. Take one step towards God, and He takes two towards you. Route 77 has so many cults that it’s become a buyer’s market, and the cults have had to start offering signing bonuses and dental insurance. To seek Heaven is to reside there by the effort.
Precarious liked to stop in at the First Church of the Iterated Christ. It was a Trinitarian Essentialist church, and they preached that all Jesuses were the true Jesus: Baby Jesus, and Bible Jesus, and the one they talk about on teevee. The one that overturned the money changers’ tables, and the Christ that suffered in the desert. Tall or skinny, white or black: they had every kind of Jesus at the First Church of the Iterated Christ, and Precarious found that it suited him.
It was cool–it is always cool in churches when they’re empty–and all the Christs were there with him, etched into the stained-glass, which by Precarious’ best reckoning was load-bearing. The Interstitial was full of architectural quirks, and that one impressed him, but he still sat as close to the exit as possible. Cherubic or bearded, or Risen and gone: take your pick, the free market at work, and Precarious locked eyes with the Jesus he drove all this way for, which was made out of glass and showed straight through to the highway behind.
There were miles and miles of the Interstitial with speed bumps made from penitents, and hassocks growing wild along the soft shoulder. It was late in the afternoon, even though it was Sunday morning, and beyond the mountain range on the horizon the sun got dragged back to earth by Apollo. It was hazy, but Precarious thought he was in a Pontiac.
He put a five in the plate as he left, and had a cigarette in his mouth before he got to the door. He had locked the car because church parking lots are still parking lots, so he locked the door, and then he unlocked it with care so as not to scratch the Candy Apple red finish of the Mustang he had planned on meeting the Lord in. Precarious ashed his smoke and put it back in his mouth as he sat in the car and crossed another location off the mental checklist he’d been keeping all his life. Another place he hadn’t met God, but he would keep looking after he had a cheeseburger, and figured the best place to do both of those things was Route 77, which is the road to Little Aleppo. It is a hard truck, but God will forgive you the miles, if you can ever find Him.