Jay’s Interview with Dan, 1

(A chapter of Akayama DanJay.)

Dan bit his nails pacing in the empty airport lobby. Each time he turned about-face, he checked the chart of arrivals and departures on the opposite wall. Jay’s flight filtered to the top as his plane approached. “How much longer, Dainty?” Faith stretched across four seats, threading herself under three armrests. She wore a heavy white sweater, since the clouds looked like rain. “Why’d we come so early?”

“He’ll be here soon.” Through a window over the runways, Dan scanned the misty morning sky for the shape of an airplane. The landing-strips were frosted and dewy.  “I wanted to beat traffic.”

“It’ll be rush-hour on the way back,” said Faith. “Maybe I should drive us home so you don’t have to worry?”

“I can drive us home.”

“Are you sure?” Faith now crawled over the armrests. “You bite your fingertips when you’re anxious, Dainty. If you have to drive in traffic, you’ll bleed all over the steering-wheel!”

Hearing her say that made Dan anxious, but he resisted biting his fingertips and proving her right. “I’m not anxious about traffic.”

“Oh.” Faith collected herself in one seat. She crossed her ankles and clasped her hands in her sweater’s pocket. “I miss Beatrice too, Dan. She was my girlfriend. You know BeatBax’d tell us it’s all gonna be okay.”

“I don’t want to talk about it.” Before he could stop himself, Dan found his index-fingertip between his lips.

“Well, can I get you something for breakfast?”

Dan checked restaurants up and down the airport corridor. “Nothing here appeals to me.”

“Chips? Gum?”

“No, no.” Dan sighed and looked out a window over the streets of Burbank. “A cinnamon-bun sounds good.”

“Oh? Where are they? I’ll buy three, so you, JayJay, and I can share!”

Dan pointed out the window. Across the street, a diner advertised bronze cinnamon-buns dripping with silvery icing. “Let me give you some cash.”

“Don’t worry, they’re on me!” Faith pranced to the escalators. “If JayJay gets back before I do, tell him I missed him, okay?”

As soon as she left, Dan bit a fingernail. He tore more than the white crescent, revealing magenta underneath. He rubbed it to salt the wound. If Faith saw the nail, she’d throw a fit. Well, no, but she’d coo sympathetically, and wasn’t that far worse? Dan jogged to an airport convenience-store and bought himself black gloves. He didn’t wear them right away—he sat near Jay’s terminal and ate all the skin around his nails. When Jay’s plane broke through the clouds, Dan donned the gloves to hide his hands. Jay was among the first to disembark. Dan waved. “Jay! Jay!”

“Dan! Oran dora!

“How was the flight?”

“I survived.” The two hugged. “Is Faith here? Virgil Jango Skyy shared a story I’ve got to tell her about.”

“She’s buying breakfast. She told me to say she missed you.”

“If I had a cellphone signal, I would’ve called you every hour, Dan. You’re always telling me how pop-culture appropriates religions, right? For LuLu’s, Tatsu picked Sheridan clean!” Jay showed Dan his camera’s screen. “Look, three islands: a small sandy one, a middling piney one, and a big mountainous one where centipedes come from! On the second island these masked dancers lead to this circle of monks. They walk, they chant—it’s like the Kaaba, but there’s a bird in the middle! That’s why my framing is wonky: there are giant birds everywhere, and Sheridanians are super emphatic about not photographing them. Here, this statue is actual-size, maybe even a little small.”

“Whoa.” Dan compared the bird-statue to pines in the background. “They must be eight feet tall.”

“Yep. The statue represents the Biggest Bird, a local folk hero even taller than that. It’s not coddling a toddler, that’s supposed to be a grown man! It’s just not-to-scale. Doesn’t it look like Professor Akayama after Uzumaki made her a bird-thing?” Jay skipped to a photo of Virgil Jango Skyy with Virgil Blue in the background. “I’ve never seen anywhere like Sheridan, Dan. You’ve got to go.”

Dan tried to press camera-buttons, but his black gloves were too bulky. “Maybe I can write my thesis on Sheridan. I’ll run it by my advisers.”

“Here, I got you a souvenir.” Jay gave him the orange plush fledgling. “I got one for Faith, too, and I bought some nice seashells, but they’re being shipped. Where’s she buying breakfast?”

“She’s bringing buns from across the street.” Dan led Jay to the window overlooking the diner. “There she is.”

“She looks happy as she’s ever been,” said Jay. Faith bounced on her toes waiting at the crosswalk with a bag of buns. “How about you, Dan? Are you feeling okay?”

“Oh, you know.” Dan sucked a gloved finger. “Not great.”

Jay nodded in sympathy. “Well, nothing can get any worse long as you’ve got each other to help keep yourselves together.”

As Faith crossed the street, she saw Dan and Jay at the window and waved at them. “Hey! JayJay!” A speeding bus ran the red light and almost hit her head-on. Faith leapt to safety with a yelp. When her adrenaline wore off, she laughed and finished crossing the street. Then she was struck by a lone lightning-bolt, as if it was aimed at her specifically. She left only a scorch on the sidewalk.

Jay found himself instantly and totally disengaged from reality, incapable of anything other than self-analysis and attempts to describe and understand his own mental state at that moment. He felt like he was watching his life from thousands and thousands of miles away. Dan ran to airport-security as if the NSA could undo the last few moments, but Jay just raised his trembling hands to count his fingers: ten.

Because Beatrice died so recently, and the lightning cremated Faith so thoroughly, their wakes were held together on the same day. Their urns were arranged on a lawn by a lazy river: Beatrice’s urn was creamy and marbled, while Faith’s urn was matte-white. Jay left the white plush fledgling before Faith’s urn, then did his best consoling friends and family, but he didn’t recognize half the mourners. He knew Faith’s uncle by the tinfoil under his fedora, and he heard Dan’s persistent sobbing, but Faith had made lots of friends in art-classes, and Beatrice had tons of connections from nursing-school. “I’m sorry for your loss,” Jay said to Uncle Featherway.

“You’re Faith’s friend, right?” He adjusted his tinfoil fedora to protect himself from whatever Jay was thinking. “Do you know what happens when you die?”

“Um.” Jay looked at the urns. “What do you think?”

Uncle Featherway vigorously pointed skyward like he was always waiting for someone to ask him that. “Aliens made humans to mine gold. When we die, we’re reincarnated to keep mining. At the end of time the aliens will collect our gold, and everyone loyal to them will board their spaceship.”

“Wow. Does the tinfoil keep aliens from reincarnating you?”

“The tinfoil is for different aliens. The mind-readers have battled the gold-miners for eons.”

“I see.” Jay could only indulge tinfoil-hat theories for so long, even out of consolation. Still, he wondered if Uncle Featherway could corroborate his first ever interview with his niece. “Faith once told me you attended a lecture by monks at Sheridan Cliff-Side College. Before you leave for Wyoming, could I ask you about Virgil Blue?”

“Sure! Best lecture of my life,” said Uncle Featherway. “Virgil Blue didn’t say anything, though.”

“I want to hear your impression anyway. When are you free?”

“After the wake I’ll be waiting for my train in the sports-bar across the street. Hey, is that your friend over there? He’s pretty beat-up.”

“Oh. Excuse me.” Jay walked to Dan and pat his shoulder. While Jay wore a dark purple suit and tie, fitting for a funeral, Dan hadn’t found the strength to change out of his favorite old orange T-shirt. “Dan, have you eaten today?”

Dan absorbed his tears with his black gloves. “I haven’t eaten since Faith died.”

“Let’s try eating, then. I’ll pay.”

Dan turned to the urns. They were framed by the river, which Jay thought was a fitting metaphor for impermanence. Dan concentrated on the scene like he could freeze it forever in his memory. Finally they left the wake. “Where should we go?”

“There’s a sports-bar across the street,” said Jay. “It’ll have the essentials.”

There was a college football-game on, so the pub was crowded and loud. Dan and Jay could talk near the end of the bar and no one would hear or listen in. Dan declined to order anything, so Jay flagged the bartender’s attention to order a tuna-sandwich for him and water for himself. Dan picked crumbs from the bread until he built enough momentum to take a bite. Soon he discovered he was ravenous and finished the sandwich, so Jay bought him another. “Thanks,” said Dan. “Jay, you’ve put up with me for years now. Just… thanks.”

“Knowing you has been a pleasure,” said Jay. “I know Beatrice and Faith would say the same. Faith always giggled when you tried impressing Beatrice with Bible quotes.”

“I killed them.” Dan chewed his second sandwich. Jay didn’t know what to say. “Both of them are dead because of me.”

“What do you mean?”

“You know, I’m just so…” Dan put down the sandwich. “Can I order a drink?”

“Did you drive here?”

“I walked.” Jay ordered Dan a pint of stout off tap. Maybe it would help him vent. “When you smoked centipede in my apartment, Beatrice left because of me.” Dan drank half the pint the moment it was put before him. The stout was thick brown mud, but its head was foamy white cream. “I made her shake my hand and she couldn’t stand me anymore. She pretended she was called by the hospital, and she left in such a hurry she didn’t see the bus.”

“Dan, even if that were true, it wouldn’t be your fault.”

“And that’s assuming she didn’t throw herself under the bus to get away from me for good.”

“I can’t imagine she did.”

“And Faith—oh, poor Faith—“

“Faith was struck by lightning, Dan. That’s no one’s fault.”

“I looked so pitiful she offered to get breakfast, and then I asked for cinnamon buns from across the street. I basically stabbed her in the back.”

“You can’t blame yourself for acts of God.”

“That’s where we disagree.” Dan sipped more of his pint and finished his second sandwich. “I killed my dad, too.”

“I’m sure you didn’t, but I’m listening.” The wake left Jay in a listening mood, and stout loosened Dan’s tongue.

“I don’t talk a lot about my parents, do I?” Jay shook his head. “Tell me about your dad first, then,” said Dan. “That way I can’t back down.”

Jay relinquished a personal tidbit. “When he’s wearing a business-suit, my dad usually wears a t-shirt he got from a folk-music concert. It said ‘Born in Alabama, raised in Tennessee, if you don’t like my peaches, don’t shake my tree.’ He wasn’t born or raised in either of those places, but he’s been everywhere, and the phrase sounds like a cultural concept anyone can relate to, I think.”

Dan nodded into his half-full pint. Jay had shaken the tree, and now peaches were tumbling down. “My parents divorced when I was ten. My mom always told me she left my dad because of his unhealthy obsession with his job as a professor of Religious-Studies. She was a psychiatrist, so I guess she knew what she was talking about.” Dan had started talking continuously like Virgil Jango Skyy, as if this was a lecture he’d brewed internally for a long, long time. “Every year, for visitation, Mom would drop me off at his university for just a few hours. I’d climb all the way up to his office and he’d give me a book. The last time I saw him alive, he asked how I enjoyed Dante’s Inferno, and I said it was the best book he ever gave me, so he gave me the Purgatorio and the Paradiso. I was surprised; he’d never given me two books at once. Seeing my expression, he asked if I had any questions. I asked, ‘what happens to Dante’s guide, Virgil? I hope he was only put in Hell to lead Dante to God, and he’ll be admitted into Heaven at the end.’

“But he said, ‘I’m afraid the Virtuous Pagans are in Hell forever. They’ll never join the saints in passing through that final wall of fire into Heaven. But, on Hell’s outer rim, their only punishment is distance from God’s light, which they never even knew in life. So they’re free! Wouldn’t you rather spend eternity with those rejected scholars than the stuck-up prudes in Heaven? Remember, Dante’s Hell is self-inflicted: the condemned condemn themselves.’ “

“Hmm.” Jay leaned back on his bar-stool. “Hell’s outer rim doesn’t sound so bad, but I like your way better, where scholars go to Hell on purpose to bust people out.”

“Me too. So I—” Dan paused when the bartender topped off Jay’s water. “I asked him for more book-recommendations. Suddenly his face went pale and his hands shook. ‘I’m sorry, son. I’ve really robbed you,’ he said. ‘I hardly interact with you at all except through academic literary discussions.’ I said that was okay, because it got me great grades in English, and I wanted to study religion in college anyway, like him. ‘But there’s so much more to life than reading books professors give you.’ So I asked him to… to give me books as a dad instead. ‘That’s difficult,’ he said, ‘because to me, every book is about religion.’ He gave me almost half the books on his shelves, one by one, outlining his whole worldview every step of the way. When he was done, he thoroughly traumatized every word into me by jumping out the window. I watched him die.”

“Oh. Holy shit.” Jay ordered Dan a third tuna-sandwich. “I’m so sorry. I had no idea.”

Dan downed the last of his pint all at once. “It’s okay,” he lied.

But Jay wanted details, and it sounded like Dan cut off his lecture prematurely. He pulled out his notepad and pen. “Which books? What worldview? I mean, if you don’t mind discussing it.”

“Um.” Dan bit his third sandwich, but suddenly lost his appetite. “I’m hesitant to tell you. If it kills you, that’d be on me.”

“Take your best shot, Dan.” Jay dated a fresh page. “I’ll die when I’m ready.”

“Well, his worldview could be called ‘Pitying Fig-Makers,’ I guess.” Jay wrote that with a question-mark next to it. “First he handed me some sci-fi based on Dante’s Inferno. ‘Dante called out corrupt politicians and religious leaders with the language of his day,’ he said, ‘confronting them with the doctrine they claimed to represent. This sci-fi book modernized that concept so today’s readers can understand and appreciate it, and it almost won a Hugo and a Nebula, so it obviously succeeded in reaching people. All literature is written by people,’ he said, ‘and anyone can write anything about anything, and then anyone can interpret it in any way. No one needs permission. No one has authority. Fundamentally there’s no difference in legitimacy between this sci-fi novel based on Dante’s Inferno, the real Inferno, the Bible, the Koran, or a pile of leaves.’ “

Jay documented the sci-fi in his notepad. “So your father was an atheist?”

“Not quite. He didn’t think atheists went nearly far enough, because deep in the abyss you loop back around to seeing the face of God inside you. It’s not atheism, it’s not theism. It’s transtheism.”


“I asked him, if there was no legitimate authoritative text, then how could anyone know what to believe? ‘There’s no such thing as believing,’ he said. ‘Consciousness is neurological background radiation from which reality bubbles like particles and antiparticles—and even that’s giving us too much credit!’ He passed me two biology textbooks—Lamarck and Darwin—and two physics textbooks—Newton and Einstein. ‘Hundreds of years ago, science didn’t look like it does now. Hundreds of years hence, science will advance beyond our recognition—in fact, the purpose of science is its own replacement, and claiming otherwise demotes it to supernatural superstition. Consider Dalton’s hubris in naming atoms ‘that which cannot be split,’ as if he’d found reality’s rock-bottom! Even the formal logic of mathematics has been reinterpreted again and again.’ He gave me Euclid’s Elements and a textbook of non-Euclidean geometry spitting on it. ‘All truth,’ he said, ‘will eventually be considered naive and flawed in the face of another, better truth, which will itself be swept away. Clinging to any truth is being trapped in a religion, hiding the complexity of reality behind the simplicity of a bible, perhaps without even noticing, but probably noticing and denying it. Alternatively, accepting the impermanence of all truths reveals religion to be a great and complicated tool, a tool with many names: gods, governments, sciences, philosophies, histories, ancestries, morals, economies, laws, and so on. They intersect and they overlap, many limbs of one constantly shape-shifting Swiss army-knife. Humans evolved over billions of years, and metaphors evolved alongside. An atheist rejecting metaphors is ripping out their own organs because they don’t understand them, just like a theist discards their God’s creation when they deny science.’ “

Jay tapped his pen on the bar. “So governments, sciences, sexes, and so on, your father describes them the same way an atheist describes God? Not actually real in an absolute objective sense, but impacting the world through mutual delusion?”

“Deeper, Jay. It’s only a delusion if you haven’t caught on to what’s really happening. You and I are religions for our cells. Cells are religions for their subatomic particles. Every God is as real as you and me—that’s just not saying very much! When Descartes says ‘I think therefore I am,’ he’s using the same circular reasoning as a fool who knows God exists because they hear Him in their head. I asked my dad, what’s the tool for? He gave me a pile of history books and a pile of anthropology books, and told me ‘cultures are enclosed by semipermeable membranes. Within a culture there are simple rules, like, wear this funny mask, or, don’t eat these foods.’ “

“Or, don’t take pictures of birds?” asked Jay. “Or, use these preferred pronouns? Low-ball asshole-detectors?”

“Exactly. ‘Someone who can’t even follow the simple rules can’t be expected to follow more important rules, like, don’t murder or rape anyone,’ he said. ‘The wise know all these rules are artificially constructed, but usually follow the simple ones anyway for the sake of the important ones. But different cultures have different rules, so life is terrible! War! Slavery! Torture! Genocide! The important rules are broken by the fig-makers, those who mistake the window-dressing of simple rules for more than it is—or, worse, those who pretend to make that mistake for personal benefit, reinterpreting rules or even inventing new rules just to claim they’ve been wronged. Religions are written to create and protect cultures, then stolen and perverted to loot cultures to death, even the culture of origin. Fig-makers assign themselves and everyone around them to suffer everlastingly just to justify their own actions. This is ongoing, never-ending, and nightmarish.’ “

Jay puzzled with his pen on his lip. “Fig-makers? Making figs?”

“An ancient Italian way to flip the bird.” Dan made fists with the tips of his thumbs stuck between his index and middle fingers. When his thumbs wiggled, they looked like worms poking out of the dirt. Jay wondered if the figs were meant to be diminutively phallic. “Dante said the damned made figs at God for the torment they ultimately chose for themselves with the free will God gave them. My dad said these fig-makers walked among the living, perpetually surrendering free will to blame anything available for their own decisions and the resulting consequences. They probably won’t say they’re making figs at God—they might even say God’s on their side, or there is no God—but when they condemn themselves, they give God-like status to whatever they claim condemned them.”

“Hmm. Like…” Jay bobbed his head left and right as he wrangled ideas together. “Plenty of religions have important God-given rules about not setting people on fire. But if a preacher declares their neighbor a witch working for Satan, then the preacher could justify doing anything to that neighbor, even if they secretly knew they made it all up.”

“Yeah, and in doing so, the preacher surrenders their God’s power to the idea of Satan and the witch, so when they burn them at the stake, that’s making figs. It won’t solve the preacher’s problems—it might make them worse!—so they’ll keep finding more witches to blame.”

” ‘Those witches made me do it!’ ” said Jay. He thought he sounded a little like Lio. “Just give someone the demonic ability to shrink your wiener with black magic and you can make all the figs you want. Lots of folks have been lynched like that.”

“Um. Sure.” Dan covered his face with his black gloves. “I considered mentioning that, actually. Sorceresses in the Congo have enough power to shrink penises, but not enough power to avoid lynchings.” He smiled uneasily. “I guess I didn’t think I was the one of us to mention black magic.” Jay breathed through his teeth. “Sorry,” said Dan.

“Don’t—” Jay put his palm on his forehead. “Dan, Sheridan is covered in colorful flowers. Native Sheridanians have all different skin-colors. The monks wear different-colored robes, too. In LuLu’s, Zephyrs come in every color possible, and their crews wear matching bodysuits. Why?”

“I don’t know. Why?”

“So you can tell them apart.” Jay flipped his notepad to another fresh page. “Keep talking about fig-makers, Dan.”

“Anyway, I asked my dad, if life is this never-ending nightmare, what do we do about it? ‘Wake up and play the game!’ he said. ‘Steal Gods back from fig-makers by making a new God which wears their Gods like hand-puppets, and use it for the benefit of all because that’s what Gods are for. This God will be stolen, too, for fig-makers to use in malice, but that’s okay, because you can always make another, even reusing old names. If there’s a real God, it’s the loving emptiness behind the window-dressing, to whom all human conventions appear futile and transient. We can put God in any costume, because the real God wears us as costumes.’ “

Jay scribbled notes, trying to understand. “Trying to convince the preacher they’re wrong about witches is a waste of time. They probably don’t believe their own excuse for burning their neighbor at the stake. Your father says we can protect that neighbor by introducing new belief-systems, like telling the preacher ‘witches would be a lot nicer if they weren’t being set on fire all the time,’ or ‘maybe you’re a witch, too, and if you’re not, well, maybe you should be.’ “

“Or, if need be, by taking direct action ourselves,” said Dan. “He gave me a copy of the Bhagavad Gita to show how the wise might even appear to break their own important rules, like by fighting in a truly righteous war. I told you about the Bhagavad Gita once, right? When you went to Nepal?” Jay nodded. “Arjuna couldn’t engage in combat until he saw Krishna’s true shape for himself. He needed deep understanding of the ultimate reality before he could resort to violence. That just didn’t make sense to me. Could a loving God really be used to justify any war as righteous? Wasn’t that twisting morality like the fig-makers? My dad said I was right to be concerned: anyone opposing fig-makers had to avoid becoming a fig-maker themselves. But then he flipped through a picture-book of deities with bulging eyes, shaking fists, and gaping maws of pointed teeth. ‘All these are avatars from Gods of compassion, protection, and pure love,’ he said. ‘Do they look that way to you?’

” ‘No,’ I said! ‘They look angry as all Hell.’ ” Dan quivered a little just thinking about them. 

” ‘Precisely!’ said my dad. ‘When a mother sees her toddler sticking a fork in an electrical socket, she might look angry! Wrathful! Hateful! The toddler might fool themselves into believing mother’s judgement is what’s electrocuting them, but truly her appearance comes from love’s desire to protect the ignorant from themselves. A fig-maker feigning ignorance to take advantage of God’s love will watch it morph to protect them in these furious manners, because feigned ignorance is ignorance. Satan is just another great and complicated tool to show such love in so many ways.’ “

“In movies you might smack someone to wake them up or calm them down.” Jay slapped the air. “It’s for the best, even if it looks pretty bad.”

Dan nodded. “Next he handed me a copy of the Lotus Sutra. Have you ever heard of it?” Jay shook his head. “I hadn’t either. ‘The Buddha says most people won’t accept his ultimate teachings of emptiness and compassion, preferring teachings which promise an easy reward,’ he said, ‘so Bodhisattvas use skillful means, presenting inferior lessons within a contemporary cultural context, eventually leading to the real lessons which are beyond context. Avalokiteshvara can take any shape to share their lesson that form is emptiness and emptiness is form.’ “

Avalokiteshvara?” Jay remembered such a name from the art-museum. “Is that Shiva on one side and Parvati on the other?”

“You’re thinking of Ardhanarishvara. Avalokiteshvara tried and failed to save all sentient beings, so they grew eleven heads and a thousand arms with eyes on their palms to perceive and end all suffering.”

Now that’s a giant anime space-robot, thought Jay. “Jesus has a couple heads, too. I’ve shown you photos of Asian Christ, Hispanic Christ, African Christ.”

“Don’t get me started on Gnosticism. Maybe Christ is one of Avalokiteshvara’s heads, or vice versa. My dad would say neither and both at once. Christ said ‘split the stick and you will find me there.’ If you can’t see Christ in Avalokiteshvara, my dad’s Christ is bigger than your Christ, and my dad wasn’t even Christian, so that’s just sad.”

“Was your father a Buddhist?”

“No, no. He was explaining the potential of all belief-structures—although he was probably a fan of Zen’s Bodhidharma, who meditated in a cave until his arms and legs fell off thinking about the emptiness of Buddhism itself. ‘Fig-makers put themselves in a made-up Hell so they can demand a made-up Heaven, possibly without even realizing how they’ve created an actual Hell for themselves and everyone around them. The wise make up Heavens and Hells to help people who need them, manifesting an actual Heaven by cultivating a proper understanding of nihilism which leads to universal benevolence. That means anything can be a lesson from God’s emptiness, even thoughts, daily interactions, and ordinary pop-culture.’ He gave me the last books he ever gave me, a pile of manga—LuLu’s Space-Time Acceleration. It was the first time I’d ever seen it.”

“No way,” said Jay. “Your father introduced you to LuLu’s?” Jay reconsidered his surprised. His own father introduced him to LuLu’s when he brought the DVD-set as a souvenir from Japan. “What was his impression of it?”

“My dad said it demonstrated his perspective. ‘In LuLu’s, Earth’s most powerful fig-makers are so egocentric they’re insulted by the existence of anything else, a self-imposed torment justifying taking the form of a cosmic horror called the Hurricane. The Hurricane eats everything and everyone it considers unworthy, becoming Hell itself. The survivors fight the Hurricane in the Galaxy Zephyr for the sake of the natural cycle of life and death with one new lesson learned, Heaven-on-Earth in comparison. The Galaxy Zephyr rips parts off the Hurricane and eats them, recycling the universe. This is wisdom versus ignorance, radical acceptance versus vanity, proper nihilism versus an imposter.’ “

“Sounds like your father detected Tatsu took LuLu’s straight from a monastery,” said Jay.

“He must’ve. He kept going on and on about it. ‘The mortals in the Galaxy Zephyr’s holy weapon, a discus called the Wheel, must have no clue about their role in what amounts to hand-to-hand combat between Heaven and Hell,’ he said. ‘If it were explained to them, I suspect they’d reject the concept outright. If they knew their purpose, they couldn’t serve it! But, because the Galaxy Zephyr wisely fights for all aspects of reality, including the grotesque portions like the Hurricane, the slice-of-life in the Wheel must be reenacting the giant space-robot combat in miniature. As above, so below! The manga demands readers join the fight against the Hurricane in their everyday lives by making them reconsider the relationship between the cosmic and the mundane.’ “

“Maybe you can explain this to me better than Virgil Jango Skyy,” said Jay. “Why does the Galaxy Zephyr need to save the Hurricane’s pilots? They’re not just fig-makers—they ate the universe and blew up Earth!”

“My dad compared it to metta-meditation,” said Dan. ” ‘First the Galaxy Zephyr’s crew-members fight for themselves and each other,’ he said. ‘Then Akayama collected the golden-winged Zephyr because it’s worth fighting for and it was ready to join the fight. To defeat the Hurricane once and for all, the Galaxy Zephyr must eventually account for fig-makers who are difficult to feel compassion for, and who rebuke compassion when they get it.’ “

“Hm.” Jay spun his pen. “So somewhere in the slice-of-life, there’s the most despicable side-character imaginable, and the Galaxy Zephyr has to find a way to love it.”

“Love to hate, maybe. ‘And,’ said my dad, ‘saving the pilots of the Hurricane will give the Zephyrs moral license to defeat the Hurricane itself by proving its fig-making was unwarranted. The world we live in is a terrifying place, and to redeem it, we must allow ourselves to be terrifying too. We defeat the Hurricane by recognizing the Hurricane within us, a Jungian brand of enlightenment. We are multilayered sieves, stealing bad Gods, processing them, elevating them into good Gods.’ “

Jay wrote all that down. “That’s one heck of a worldview.”

“Yeah, I couldn’t fit all his books in my backpack. I had to carry half of them in my arms. ‘Wow, Dad, thanks for all these!’

“He just looked out over the campus quad. ‘Dan, before you read the Purgatorio, you should know Dante’s Virgil has another layer of frustration. His Aeneid saved a soul from Hell, but he’s still barred from Heaven. In justifying Alighieri’s Almighty, I can only suggest transporting souls to salvation would be more important to Virgil than Heaven. To grease divine mechanisms would be his utilitarian delight. Every aspect of Hell is necessary to maintain Dante’s scheme, even the woods of suicides. So thank you for visiting me, because teaching you is the only resolution I could hope for in this life. I know I’ve given you the tools to recover from what I’m about to do.’ Then he jumped out the window. His body broke branches and he splattered across the quad. He died in an ambulance on the way to the hospital.”

Jay capped his pen. “Dan, thank you for telling me all this. I knew your father died just before we met, but I never knew he committed suicide like that.” He bought Dan a second pint, and a pint for himself. They both needed it. “You didn’t kill him, though.”

“Recommending books was the only thing keeping him alive.” Dan drank a little stout. “I sucked that from him like a vampire.”

Jay thought a Sheridanian might see it differently. Dan’s father offloaded his worms onto his kid. “When I went to Wales, you told me about the sin-eaters. You’re a sin-eater, Dan, and apparently a good one.” He wondered if Dan’s father had ever smoked centipede or if his mental-health issues were home-grown. He sipped his stout’s white cream. “You were the best aspect of life for someone obviously struggling.”

Dan started eating his third sandwich again. “He was showing me how to die.” Jay shook his head in remorse. “How not to die, I mean.” Jay sighed with relief. “Christ knew he would be crucified, and went to Jerusalem anyway. In a previous life, the Buddha let hungry tigers eat his corpse. Christ and the Buddha would tell you not to kill yourself, but they get away with it because of the depth of their understanding. To join them, it’s gotta be either martyrdom or seppuku.” Dan had eaten most of his third sandwich like a hungry tiger, but now lost his appetite. “Anyway, you can see why high-school was difficult that year. This one time…” Dan put the sandwich down. “I gotta pee. I’ll be back.”


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