Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Who Makes Jesus Toast for a Living?

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Sunday, October 2nd: Second Post
Good Sunday Morning, Toronto!

While I won’t always address yesterday's Top Ten List in order, today I'm going to cross off #10 and introduce you to Sherman Silverstein, the man who makes Jesus Toast for a living.

Sherm has been laid off from his job as a Large Animal Vet’s Assistant at the Toronto Zoo, but can’t bring himself to break the news to his already unhappy pregnant wife. His improv troupe is about to lose one of its members. The G20 has turned the city he loves into an armed camp. He's hours away from turning thirty. His response gives new meaning to the term “comfort food.” I hope you enjoy the first segment of the first draft of my novel in progress, Kerfuffle.

Meanwhile, back at Sherm’s toaster…

Sherman yawns. He didn’t finish all of his divine creations last night, so he has to butter up twenty-seven of them tonight. And they take a good two minutes each. When he tries creating them in batches, it never works. Haste always makes waste. They always burn. Apparently this messiah, even when he returns as Jesus Toast, still insists on being begatted in a brand new virgin birth each time, insists on being popped out as one of a kind, steamingly alone, toasty enough to blister the over-eager hands of his loving creator.

It started as a joke, but didn’t stay one.

Everyone was talking about the Madonna on the wall at that Tim Horton’s in Nova Scotia and the cookie from Penetang that went viral on U-Tube and sold for $5000.00 because it bore the face of Jesus. Everybody knows what he looked like. And so on one of the many nights he couldn’t sleep and got up to make himself a little tea and toast, as he stood staring at his toaster, its glowing elements ignited a burning bush in his head and a fiery metallic voice spoke to him even though he doesn’t look a thing like Charlton Heston. The voice in question sounded suspiciously like B.A. Baracus, a.k.a. Mr. T. It said, “Yo, Sherman Estes Silverman, it’s the divine gravy train calling. Don’t be a fool, fool! Get your sorry butt on board!”

So just for the fun of it, telling himself he’d try it just once but not inhale, he went on line looking for a silhouette of Jesus. He found the next best thing: a photo shot from behind of a long-haired naked woman raising her arms. She was, in fact, raising them to embrace an equally naked man, but once Sherm realized that all of the gentleman’s extended appendages could be easily cropped from view with his wife’s nail scissors, he Photoshopped Ms. Welcoming down to the size of a slice of Wonder bread and hit print. He ironed wax paper to both sides of her and carefully cut out her silhouette. He positioned his stencil over a suddenly aptly-named slice of Wonder Bread, smeared on the butter and popped his artwork in the toaster. The trick of it was to catch the toast as it browned almost to black, but left the silhouette in the center miraculously un-scorched, thanks to the buffer of butter.

When he posted his first creation on Craig’s List and kijiji as His Master’s Voice he wondered if anybody would notice, let alone buy it. He wondered if RCA would sue him. Within minutes, one Mabelynn Putterson of Stillwater, Oklahoma, became his new Pay Pal, befriending him at the low, low, asking price of five dollars, plus shipping.

And thus Inferno Enterprises was born.

Out of boredom and disbelief, out of a perverse desire to see just how far his ridiculously Wondrous Bread could rise, he expanded in both genre and technique. He experimented with different kinds of paint brushes, with butter and margarine and olive oil. He tried Pam, hoping to save time by spraying his Jesus stencils the way little Christian kids sprayed Jesus birthday stencils of stars and mangers on winter windows. Unfortunately, customers who got Pammed wanted their money back. Apparently, Pam in his image isn’t pleasing to the Paypal congregation. But Pam started the complaint letters and some of them were just so damn good he posted them alongside the testimonials. In another odd irony, the more crackpot the posts, the more hits his site got, resulting in more new pals more than prepared to pay for a single slice of toast.

A kindergarten teacher from Moose Jaw paid him twice, politely asking for a second slice because her first was cold and by definition, heavenly toast would always stay hot.

A trucker from Oshawa demanded a refund, “yr dam toast didn’t taste no beter than the reglar toast at any Denny’s in the hole damn country cept for Pickering there toast was crap!”

One more satisfied customer from Mississippi raved, “I took your miracle straight to my minister. As we locked hands and prayed, the face of sweet Jesus opened his eyes and smiled right into our souls.” Sherman often wonders just how long it took for said minister to have his hand or his tongue down any number of that lily-belle’s enraptured holes, but who was he to judge? What toast hath joined, let no man put asunder. The policy of Inferno Enterprises was simple: pals who pay are always right.

He figures his true-believing customers are trusting souls, the kind who never question the simple logistics of how their beneficent Sky God coated an entire planet in flora and fauna in a measly seven days. Since they accept that bit of biblical bombast, they certainly don’t need to know he’s been helping the big guy along by coating a couple of slices of Wonder bread. Having plenty of loaves and quite prepared to be fishy in the creation of his crummy miracles, he eventually settles on Cara’s turkey basting brush and the largest, cheapest tub of cooking margarine he can find. That somewhere on the planet human beings eat that dog-piss-coloured crap and don’t die? Now that was a miracle.

Tonight he has the making of miracles down to a multi-tasking production line with the efficiency to rival Henry Ford. He deals slices of bread down the full length of the kitchen counter, checks his list and sets out his stencils: His Master’s Voice, still his best-selling model, Praying Hands, Elvis loves Jesus, Stars and Stripes Jesus and in the rip-off of a rip-off, Jesus Footprints in the Sand. He reaches for his footprints stencil wondering yet again how anybody stupid enough to believe that Jesus walks on toast remembers to breathe. He’d love to ask them just how they figure that these tiny footprints, each a centimeter long, could possibly belong to anybody but a leprechaun, a pixie, the shoemaker’s elves, or most fittingly, the Cottingly fairies. How could anyone possibly believe they belonged to a human carpenter from Galilee, who by all accounts sported man-size feet, feet sufficient in size and mass to hold his weight when nailed?

Sherm grins. It’s a delicate art, both political and philosophical, to be an informed cynic without becoming misanthropically cynical, to keep both the speed and perspective necessary to grease the next stencil while simultaneously keeping a careful hovering watch for flames in the toaster. One might think that he could set a timer, sit back, read a little Christopher Hitchens and pop each slice when the timer rang. Not so. Like any fine art, the artful creation of Jesus Toast defies simple quantification. Elvis Loves Jesus might take 45 seconds to become a hunk of burning love one night and the next time Elvis embraces his buttery saviour it might take a full minute to be seared into heavenly Graceland memorabilia. Would Elvis approve?

Sherm shrugs. “All’s fair in love and toast, thank you very much.”

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

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Dorothy Ellen Palmer

Dorothy Ellen Palmer is the author of the novel, When Fenelon Falls (Coach House Books). She lives in Toronto.

Go to Dorothy Ellen Palmer’s Author Page