Arts & Culture

Let There Be Lies

In the very beginning God procrastinated. Give the guy a break! It was after all his first crack at action! How to formulate the unformed? How to express the unexpressed? How to distinguish between Himself and it all? So many … Read More

By / December 23, 2008

In the very beginning God procrastinated. Give the guy a break! It was after all his first crack at action! How to formulate the unformed? How to express the unexpressed? How to distinguish between Himself and it all? So many questions! So many headaches! Oh my God! He would have exclaimed, had the expression already been invented. But the Lord was expressionless, preliterate, totally self-obsessed and altogether uncreative. God was just a floating glob of aimless ions consumed by colossal sloth, killing eternity. There was no one to blame for his unspecified woes and no one’s ear to bend. The Jews, those divine kvetchers and all-purpose scapegoats, hadn’t yet come onto the scene; nor had the Catholics with their cozy wood-paneled schmooze booths. He wanted to do something, but not know what, was having a Hell of a time of it (another expression that would have come in handy).

Aaaarrrrggggghhhhhhh! He moaned in a wordless way, which the sages have since rendered thus (though the gist may have been modified some in the course of multiple translations from Thunder, via Ugaritic, Hebrew, Greek and Latin Vulgate, to contemporary interdenominational Sermonese): Would that there were someone to give voice to my innermost extrovert tendencies! Would that I had a trusted spokesperson, a porte-parole with basic stenographic skills, a winning smile and a cheerful disposition, species and gender unspecified! Thus saith the Lord. But all this wishing was of course for naught, a waste of precious eons, since help wanted ads hadn’t yet been conceived of, nor was there a rock to engrave or papyrus to so inscribe, or an out of work wordsmith to polish it up and make it sound godly. As frustrated and fed up as He was with the way things were, the Lord did not even have recourse to the ultimate emotional outlet, to take His own name in vain, since no one had heretofore referred to Him, respectfully or in vain, nor had it ever even occurred to Him that such a thing as a name could encapsulate the fluctuating firmament of contradictory and incompatible demiurges raging in His heavenly heart.

Aaaaaarrrrrrrggggggggghhhhhhhhhhh! cried the Lord, still louder than before. Which contemporary sages have enucleated thus: Thou art so self-centered, it’s pathetic!

Now the Lord was entranced by the divine echo of His own voice, which, never having heard it before, He mistook for the voice of another. And the Lord looked around, but there was nobody there. Aaaaaaaaaarrrrrrrrrrrggggggggggggghhhhhhhhhhhhhhh! He reiterated, this time signifying, according to the sages: Go ahead, say it again!

Aaaaaaaaaarrrrrrrrrrrggggggggggggghhhhhhhhhhhhhhh! Go ahead, say it again! it said again.

Aaaaaaaaaarrrrrrrrrrrggggggggggggghhhhhhhhhhhhhhh! Not that, the first thing you said, you fool! He said.

Aaaaaaaaaarrrrrrrrrrrggggggggggggghhhhhhhhhhhhhhh! Not that, the first thing you said, you fool! It said. (For simplicity’s sake, I will cease repeating the Lord’s primordial grunts and cut straight to the sages’ modern interpolation.)

The Hell with you! He said, forthwith inventing the expression.

The Hell with you! it said.

Echoes are dumb and altogether unresponsive, the Lord realized to his great chagrin. They have a limited recall and can’t say anything but the very last thing they heard. God wanted a more engaging confabulator, someone to chew the rag and shoot the breeze with, a side-kick to keep Him company in the dark night of the soul, and so the Lord invented me.

My first press conference-arranged impromptu, haphazardly and altogether unprofessionally, since I had no prior examples to emulate or improve on-good Lord, was that ever a sorry affair, with Himself waiting in the wings, no sound system and no reporters to pose indelicate questions.

How did it go? He asked me afterwards.

Not bad! I said, not wanting to jeopardize my job. Good, said God, let’s do it again sometime.

Fortunately for both of us, He immediately forgot all about it and never even brought it up again till the interview at Sinai, by which time He had mastered his communication skills and no longer needed my assistance. But back then, God had other fish to fry. First things first, God felt the fire in his loins and wanted to find himself a special someone for intimate starlight dinners.

God, I tried to put it to Him gently, in case Thou hast not noticed, there are no available unattached divinities around, Thou being a monotheistic, all-encompassing, ominsexual concept.

Nonsense, He fumed, I’ll create one!

Now I will tell you how the infinitely resourceful Lord God, Our Father, King of the Universe, etc. found and fashioned himself a date out of water vapor, there being no personals column to appeal or respond to, no singles clubs to attend or websites to peruse. God glanced around, and nearsighted as He was, never having focused His divine gaze on anything farther removed than His left toe, He spotted a billowy cloud, a flighty puffy nubile nimbus, and promptly fell for it.

Let me shape it to my liking! said the Lord. So God got to work and gave that cloud a divine makeover, squeezing and kneading until he truly liked the result. Alright, so she was no centerfold material, hardly a Helen of Troy. His beloved puff piece would not exactly turn heads on today’s street corners, but look at the toosh on the tiny Venus of Willendorf, that Cro-Magnon fetish, for God’s sake! He was wanting. She was willing.

Listen up, spokesperson! He commanded me (my first full-fledged assignment). I want you to compose a love pronouncement  to my precious little cloud, tell her just how much she means to me, warm her up for a little thunder and lightning, so to speak. I’ll do my best, Lord! I said, and sky-writ forthwith the following epistle in cirro-maculate script:

My Dearest Powder Puff,

Thou makest me want to set a sun in the heavens for thee to block, harness a gentle wind to carry thee about on its back, and shape a globe for thee to shadow!

Affectionately thine,


P.S.            Baby, I just love the way thou waftest.

Good, said God. Go ahead and do it!

Hold it, Lord! I said. I’m only Thy humble spokesperson, remember! Thou makest me take dictation, edit a little here and there, add a little flourish. Don’t get me wrong, my cup runneth over with gratitude. But Thou hast not endowed me with divine creative ability!

Thou art more lowly than an echo! He shouted, enraged. Get thee out of my sight, pipsqueak! Behold! Watch what God can do when He sets His mind to it!

Verily I did tremble as I looked. For then and there the Lord God, King of the Universe, etc. blinked, fashioning a great ball of fire with the gleam of His naked eye and hurled it into the heavens. The effort involved made Him break wind in four different directions, loosening His celestial sphincter. And the Lord sweat dew and peed rain. And then–I don’t know quite how to put it–He expelled from his posterior a globular mass that would become the world. I duly noted down the names of everything, Sun, Wind, Rain, Earth, according to the sounds He made. All this to impress the cloud.

But the cloud, being the flighty nebulous thing that it was, let itself be carried away by one of the very winds its divine admirer fashioned to chauffeur it around.

God damn it! cried the Lord, then and there creating blasphemy. And in his jealous rage He hurled a bolt of lightning, reducing his erstwhile paramour to a cirro-cumulus cluster. And before I could stop Him, he went on a rampage, wacking and kicking, smashing and crashing, cracking and completely messing up his previously perfect love-inspired universe. Now all was off kilter, out of wack. The sun split open, subdividing into the moon and the stars. The wind whipped itself up into a cosmic storm of comets that wreaked havoc clear across creation. The rain leaked out of the shattered vessel the Lord had created to hold it and drowned the world, itself now a lopsided lumpy thing that has been spinning at a tilt ever since.

For God’s sake, I said (inventing the expression), look what Thou hast done, Lord. Thou hast made a colossal mess of Thy creation!

It’s all thy fault, spokesperson! He said, like all big shots, passing the buck. Why did thou not stop me! Go ahead, blame me, Lord, if it makes Thee feel any better, I shrugged, but it’s a lie and thou knowest it!

So now I’m out of a job. What do I do next? Tell-all celebrity biographies are big. Think maybe I’ll take a stab, cash in on my inside knowledge. What have I got to lose? Bubble… Babble…Idle…Libel… I haven’t yet decided on a title.

Peter Wortsman is the author of a book of short fiction, A Modern Way to Die (Fromm Publ. Int’l, 1991) and two stage plays, The Tattooed Man Tells All (2000) and Burning Words (2004)-the former based on his interviews with aging survivors of Auschwitz (that now comprise “The Peter Wortsman Collection of Oral History” at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D.C.), the latter based on his translation of 16th-century German Humanist Johannes Reuchlin’s historic call for tolerance, Recommendation Whether to Confiscate, Destroy and Burn All Jewish Books (Paulist Press, 2000). He is the recipient of the 1985 Beard’s Fund Short Story Award and the 2008 The Geertje Potash-Suhr Prose Prize of the Society for Contemporary American Literature in German, as well as fellowships from the Fulbright and Thomas J. Watson Foundations. His numerous translations from the German include Posthumous Papers of a Living Author, by Robert Musil, now in its third edition (Eridanos, 1988; Penguin 20th-century Classics, 1995; Archipelago Books, 2006) and Travel Pictures, by Heinrich Heine (Archipelago Books, 2008). His travel writings include “Holy Land Blues,” first published in the award-winning book Encounters with the Middle East (Travelers’ Tales, 2007) and subsequently reissued in The Best Travel Writing, 2008.

All images by Aaron Auslender