A Lullaby for the Human Race
by William Michaelian

Mustard and mayonnaise. Thatís what it comes down to. Ketchup. Cheese. Pickles. Onions. Tomatoes. A sesame seed bun. Something to drink. A place to sit in the sun, alone, or with half a dozen friends. Really, itís more important than you think. Even God likes hamburgers ó God, St. Peter, and all the Saints. Iím telling you, heavenly manna has its limitations. Imagine coming to the table after putting in a hard day at the Pearly Gates and being faced with a steaming bowl of manna. Day in, day out. Manna. Manna stew, manna pancakes, manna and eggs, manna casserole, manna on rye ó thereís a lot you can do with the stuff, but it doesnít matter, itís still manna.

Of course, there is more to it than that. Much more. And a whole lot less. But donít worry about it, itís the same with any subject. Itís the same, because there is only one subject in the first place, and that subject is this: Okay, everybody, weíre here, now what?

Iíll tell you. But first, look deep into my eyes. Deep. You are growing drowsy. Soon, you will sleep. And when you awaken, you will be working at a driveup window and having to put up with a carload of rude and impatient Saints. When you awaken, you will be a modern-day Job with a little pointed cap on your head and a shirt that says Kick Me, I Make Minimum Wage. When you awaken, you will be a number, not a name, and everything will be your fault.

Come to think of it, I wouldnít wake up if I were you.

Now, sleep. Sleeep. Sleeeeep. Sleeeeeeep. . . .

Once upon a time, there was a petty god who played the ponies and ran a used car lot. But when I knocked on the door of his business he told me to bug off because he didnít want to be in my story. Wait a minute, I said through the mail slot. I have a tip on todayís race. Then, lo and behold, the door slowly opened. This better be good, the petty god said. Unless you also want a 1963 Volkswagen. Oh, itís good, all right, I said. But guess what. Now Iíve decided I donít want you in my story.

I started to walk away. Hold on, there, buddy, the petty god called after me. Whatís your big hurry? He caught up with me and grabbed my arm. Okay, okay, he said. Maybe I was a little rude. But look at this dump. Can you blame me? All those other gods, they got the good property, and Iím left here, a collection agency on one side, a river full of raw sewage and beer cans on the other side, a sales office covered with graffiti, a sign full of bullet holes, and a ó Oh, shut up, I said. And I gave the petty god a hamburger. Here, I said. Eat this. The petty god took a big bite out of the hamburger. Hey, he said, what do you know? This is great.

Once upon a time, there was a fair maiden. There was also a maiden who cheated. Can you guess which maiden had the most fun?

And the petty god said, You know, maybe you and I can do business after all.

I doubt it, I said. If we do, weíll just take advantage of each other.

The petty god smiled. Isnít that what business is all about? he said.

Yes, I said. But, if you donít mind, I prefer not to follow mindlessly along. Some traditions arenít worth preserving. This is one of them.

Once upon a time, there was a maiden who spent all of her time milking cows on her fatherís farm. There was also a maiden who didnít. Unfortunately, they never met.

Well, well, well, the petty god said. Look whoís holier than thou.

Well, well, well, I said. Look whoís missing out on the tip of a lifetime.

I finally made it out to the sidewalk. But the petty god kept after me. He wouldnít let go of my arm. So I dragged him into traffic and we were both killed.

Once upon a time, there was a devout maiden. Bless me, father, for I have sinned, she said. Itís been five minutes since my last confession. What on earth could a nice girl like you have done in the last five minutes? the petty god said. And the maiden said, Oh, father, I just ran over someone. Really? the petty god said. Where did this happen? But the devout maiden didnít answer, because I had just slipped her my recommendations on the fourth race.

Go west, young man. In fact, go anywhere you like. Just remember to send a post card.

Several even pettier gods were sitting at a long table discussing their latest plan for blowing up the world while several billion petty people stood listening at the door. You might think Iím joking, but Iím not. If somebody doesnít do something about these petty gods, we will all be attending a lot more petty funerals.

Please, be more specific.

Why? Werenít you listening?

Will the real petty god please stand up?

Once upon a time, there was a petty maiden who lost her petty mind when her petty boyfriend was killed in a petty war organized by petty gods in the name of several petty arms dealers and a sticky, petty substance called oil. There. Is that specific enough for you?

Actually, itís a little too specific. Could you please back off a little?

Very well. Once upon a time, there was a generic maiden singing a generic lullaby to a generic, fatherless child. Now. Are there any questions? How about you, there, in the front row? Come on, donít be shy. Remember, weíre all here to learn.

Yes. I have a question. What were the words to the generic lullaby the generic maiden was singing to the generic, fatherless child?

Good question. The words were, Baby, please forgive us for what we have done. Let me kiss your tears away, tomorrow will be a better day, that is, for everyone except your dead father, who was caught up in something he couldnít understand, being something of a child himself, oh, how I miss him, oh, how I loved him, oh, how I remember the wonderful times we had together. There are several more verses, but Iím sure you get the idea.

And it rained hamburgers for forty days and forty nights, and the ketchup on them wasnít really ketchup, but human blood. And the petty god in charge said, Donít worry, Iíll make it up to you. Do this in remembrance of me and Iíll increase your credit limit.

Then the ambulance came and scraped us off the pavement. And the bells rang, and the whistles blew, and day became night, and night became day, and morning became afternoon, and dusk became dawn, and so on and so on, until everyone was bored and went home to watch reality television. Like I always say, when youíre tired of living, thereís always reality.

Once upon a time, an exhausted maiden finished folding her familyís laundry and went out to the mailbox. Sale! several voices cried at once. Sale! The maiden closed the mailbox and looked both ways down the street. She saw no one, other than the usual teeming throng of ill-behaved snot-nosed brats and their ill-behaved snot-nosed parents trying to beat their skulls in and spitting and complaining and drinking and cursing and arguing about politics. She opened it again. Act Now! several voices cried at once. You Canít Afford To Wait Any Longer! There Has Never Been A Better Time! And she said to herself, Is it just me, or have we maybe lost a little something along the way?

They hauled us to the mortuary, but no one claimed us. The phone didnít ring. The discreet buzzer didnít buzz. The guest book remained empty. So we signed our own names, just to get things started. Weíve got a great deal on caskets, a man in a dark suit said. Thatís nice, I said. But itís whatís in them that bothers me. The man smiled. And by smiled, I mean, he didnít smile. He did something else. His lips went up and I could see his teeth, but his eyes said, Yes, and moving right along . . . did you hear the one about the . . . and then he stopped smiling. A big relief. Then the petty god said, If itís all the same to you, Iíve got a business to run. And I said, Heís right, you know. Might as well let him go. What about you? the suit ó I mean the man ó said. Donít you want to go with him? We stared at each other. Being dead, I won. The man ó I mean the suit ó looked away. I get the message, I said. I know when Iím not wanted. You tell him, the petty god said. Shut up, I said. Who are you telling to shut up? the petty god said. Have you no respect for the dead?

The exhausted maiden went back inside. Awhile later, her exhausted husband came home from work. Where are our exhausted children? he said when he noticed how quiet their exhausted house was. They were too exhausted to come home from school, the exhausted maiden replied. The exhausted teachers ordered pizza for the entire class. I expect them to get food poisoning any minute now. The exhausted husband sighed. Thatís nice, he said. Oh. By the way. I was laid off again.

The exhausted maiden and her exhausted husband looked at each other. They had already been starving for some time. So they wrote a letter to the president. Dear Mr. President, they said. We hate to bother you when youíre so busy trying to make money for your friends and hide the truth from the nation you were supposedly elected to serve, but it has come to our attention that we are starving and have no way to make a living because even though we beat our brains out we still donít earn a living wage. Do you have any suggestions? Oh ó and just so you know, we did take you up on your invitation to show the rest of world we are real Americans by going shopping. But guess what? We maxed out our credit cards! Isnít that funny? Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha! Sincerely yours, Mr. and Mrs. Victim.

And then they found they had no stamps.

That was quite an adventure, the petty god said after weíd left the mortuary none the worse for wear. Really, I have to thank you. Not at all, I said. Anyway, I think we both learned something. Did we? the petty god said. And what might that be? I donít know, I said. Nothing, I guess. I was just trying to sound positive.

Once upon a time, at that very moment, Noahís Ark ran aground behind the petty godís sales office. Donít look now, I said. But here comes trouble. The petty god looked. Ah, jeez, he said. Not him again. You know, that guy does this to me at least once a week. Every time I clean up my lot, here comes a constipated zebra. Itís a real nuisance. Have you tried calling the police? I said. Nah, the petty god said. Me and the police, see, we have an understanding. They stay away from me, and I stay away from them.

Just then, Noah walked up. Gentlemen, he said. Which way to the circus?

Youíve got to be kidding, I said.

And the exhausted maiden wept. And her exhausted husband sat in front of their TV and snored. And their exhausted children couldnít find their way home.

Really, itís more than I can bear. Itís just that I have this silly habit of waking up in the morning.

And on the seventh day, God created the hamburger. Then God tasted the hamburger, and He saw that it was good. Letís see them top this, He said. And the petty gods pouted and dumped their bowls of New and Improved Instant Manna on the floor.

Once upon a time, everyone in the world slumbered in innocence and peace. The past was behind them. The present had yet to begin. And God saw that it was good, so He turned out the light and went to bed.

William Michaelianís newest releases are two poetry collections, Winter Poems and Another Song I Know, published in paperback by Cosmopsis Books in San Francisco. His short stories, poems, and drawings have appeared in many literary magazines and newspapers. His novel,
A Listening Thing, is published here in its first complete online edition. For information on Michaelianís other books and links to this siteís other sections, please go to the Main Page or visit Flippantly Answered Questions.

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