I’m sitting at IHOP reading USAToday uncomfortably aware that the man in the booth across from mine is watching me. As I finished the News section, which I always read first, I grabbed the Sports section, which I never read, and offered both to my neighbor.
“Paper?” I said.
“No thanks,” he said, “I never read the thing. When I want to know what’s going on in the world I turn to the only source you can trust, the Bible.”
“Fair and balanced,” I said smiling.
“Just and true,” he said, not smiling.
“Really?” I said. “The Bible keeps you up on the day’s news?”
“It tells me what's really going on. You think those papers know anything? They distract you with the surface stuff, but the real news is that Jesus is coming back and soon. All these wars and the debt ceiling are just signs of the Apocalypse. The world comes to an end December 21, 2012.”
“That may be,” I said, “but that isn’t in the Bible, that’s the Mayans.”
“The Mayans were Jews who came here before Jesus, and Jesus came to them and gave them their calendar and told them and us when the world was going to end and when he was coming back.”
“That may be,” I said, “but that isn’t in the Bible, that’s sort of from the Book of Mormon.”
“I don’t know about Mormons, but I know about the Bible. December 21, 2012—the end. But you know that don’t you?”
“What do you mean?”
“You’re the rabbi. I’ve seen your picture in the paper.”
“I thought you didn’t read…”
“You know Jesus is coming back and you’re doing everything you can to stop it.”
“You and all the other Jews who deny the Lord.”
“That’s pretty much all of us,” I said. “In fact, in American today, that pretty much defines what it means to be a Jew: we are just like you except we deny the Lord.” I was trying to bond with this guy, and failing miserably.
“Damn straight. You know you can’t stop him, and he is going to kill you all. All but some who will go to Israel to welcome him and worship him.”
“144,000,” I said.
“That’s right. Why don’t you want to be among them?”
“What makes you think I don’t want to be among them?” I said.
“Well, you’re sitting here in IHOP rather than in Jerusalem. He won’t come until all you Jews move to Israel.”
“Where he will kill us.”
“Yeah, but only if you don’t accept him as your Lord and Savior.”
“And that is going to happen on December 12, 2012? What about the pastor who says it’s going to happen on October 21, 2011.”
“He doesn’t know his Bible,” he said.
“Maybe he does. Maybe he knows it better. Maybe he’s just not a Mayan Mormon like you.”
That was a conversation killer, and I regretted saying it as soon as I heard the words come out of my mouth. I should have apologized, but the man had already shut down. He took a last sip of his coffee, exited his booth, and walked to the cashier to pay his bill.
I turned back to my eggs. They were cold, and I wasn’t hungry any more. I waited until the man had paid for his breakfast and left the restaurant. I then stood up to do the same. Something called my attention to the plate of French fries lying on his table. Most were laying on one side of the plate but two—one long, one short—lay on the other side in a cross formation.
“Jesus? Is that you?” I said silently. I waited for a reply. Nothing. I walked over to the cashier and waited for her to take my money. Two pens lay on the counter in cross formation. “Jesus?” I thought.
I kept seeing crosses all day. On my drive home I even saw two Mormon missionaries on their bicycles. I was hoping they’d knock on my door, but I knew that even then I wouldn’t believe. If a Mayan dropped by however, all bets are off.