For everybody who’s been asking, here’s a sample of the madness that lies within the cover of Don’t Be Cruel. Here, the genesis of the First Church of Elvis, Scientist, is explained.
Half an hour later, Smith and Spew sat outside an old church.
Years ago, it had been a Lutheran church, closed when its congregation fled the city for the suburbs. It was a bar for a few years and then a punkclub and then a vacant building that offered shelter to junkies and crack whores. Most recently, it had been a Pentecostal church, which dissolved
after the minister was found in his office speaking in tongues with a member of his flock.
Now, it was the worldwide headquarters for the First Church of
It was Papa’s church, conceived during a religious epiphany that happened to correspond with a late-night, self-pitying, broke-ass drunk. Smith was present at the conception of this new way of faith.
He was Papa’s bag man. It was a decent gig. The hours weren’t
bad and the pay was good. All he had to do was kick up a percentage of what he collected to Papa and everything was kosher. He just sort of fell into it. He had been a bartender at a club Papa frequented. One day, he was sitting behind the bar reading “The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire” when Papa said, out of the blue, “You seem like a smart guy. You
want a job?”
“I have a job.”
“No, a better one.”
And that was that. Papa figured any guy who read books that didn’t have pictures of naked women was some kind of genius. He had enough idiots working for him. A genius would be a nice change of pace.
Smith said, “Why not?”
Smith had no illusions about the job. He knew who Papa was and
what he did for a living. He figured it wouldn’t be too bad. All he had to do was collect money. No muscle required, for the most part. For that, Papa had Fat Sam, called so because he weighed about 450 pounds and was expanding at approximately the same rate as the universe. Once, on a bet,
Fat Sam ate 100 pieces of fried chicken – no wings – in one night at a neighborhood tavern. He looked like someone had tried to stuff 450 pounds of shit into a 50-pound bag. His features could best be described as melted. When someone needed the shit kicked out of him, Fat Sam was your man, provided he could catch his prey or somebody held it down.
Papa, on the other hand, looked like a gnome – a ring of graying hair on his head, playful eyes, and a crooked grin, like a character from “Lord of the Rings,” one of the benevolent ones. He wasn’t exactly benevolent, though. He was a small-time crook in a small-time town, a little
Pennsylvania shithole that had seen better days. It was said that he had connections to the Jersey mob. Which was true. He was pretty much an employee of more powerful mobsters in Jersey. As long as he sent money, they left him alone.
It was also said that anyone who crossed him wound up getting a visit from Fat Sam. The last thing you wanted to see was Fat Sam darkening your door. In a lot of cases, it was the last thing you saw before Fat Sam ran you through the car shredder at his cousin’s scrap yard, or worse. Rumor had it Fat Sam once dismembered a guy who had crossed Papa
and ate him. It wasn’t true, of course. He fed the guy’s dismembered remains to the Dobermans at the scrap yard.
That night, Papa was talking about his favorite topic, making
money. Rather, he was bitching about it. He was involved in some small-time stuff – bookmaking, loansharking, running some of the nastiest, most disease-ridden whores this side of Tijuana. He was plankton in the organized crime food chain. He knew some guys and had done business with them, mostly sending a percentage of his proceeds to them to maintain ex-
clusive rights to his territory.
He made a good living, but it wasn’t as good as it once was. The state stole a lot of the gambling business, what with casinos and lotteries. The credit card companies horned in the loansharking business. All of the disease-ridden whores went into business for themselves, advertising for free on Craigslist. He couldn’t get into the big money with drugs because Jamaicans from New York had tied up that market and the last person who tried to compete in the marketplace wound up having a business meeting with a chainsaw.
Compounding his problems, the town’s blue-collar jobs had mi-
grated overseas or to places where people worked for trinkets and bright shiny objects – China, Indonesia, South Carolina. The suburbs were full of people who commuted to more prosperous cities and who had moved here because of its depressed real estate prices. The pool of disposable in-
come residents of the small town could throw Papa’s way was a puddle.
He made a living, but he wasn’t getting rich, and more than anything, Papa wanted to be rich. He liked to say that he wanted to have “fuck you money.” He wanted to have enough cash to be able to say “fuck you” to anybody, which struck Smith as odd because Papa wasn’t exactly inhibited in that regard now.
They were sitting at the bar of the Fish and Rifle Club, the place Papa went to collect his football book and count the proceeds from the weekend, when the old gnome uttered, “Look at this shit. Why even fucking bother?”
“The Steelers fucked us,” Smith said.
Fat Sam grunted. Fat Sam probably hadn’t spoken three words
in all the years Smith had known him. He communicated through a range of grunts, hand gestures and scowls. His point usually got across.
“This is fucking pathetic,” Papa said.
He looked pensive, staring into the distance sipping vodka.
“You know, that fuck L. Ron Hubbard had the right idea,” he said.
“L. Ron Hubbard?” Smith asked.
“Yeah, science fiction writer. Pretty shitty one at that. He came up with the idea for Scientology, figuring that was the way to get rich, start your own religion. He figured people will believe any kind of crazy shit and give you money if you’re the one telling them all about that crazy shit.”
Smith said, “You’re out of your fucking mind. People won’t fall for crazy shit.”
“They do it all the time. Jesus, if it weren’t for people believing crazy shit, civilization would collapse. People need to believe in crazy shit. Keeps them from jumping off buildings.”
Smith supposed Papa was right. People did believe some crazy
shit. He wasn’t one of them.
Papa continued, “I mean, shit, look at Scientology. They believe aliens came here from another planet on spaceships that looked like DC-8s and were dropped in volcanoes or blown up with hydrogen bombs or some shit like that and that’s where human beings came from.”
“You’re shitting me. People buy that?”
“Lots of people. Rich people. Tom Cruise. He’s one of them. So’s John Travolta.”
“Vincent Vega believes that shit?”
“Start your own religion. That’s the way to do it. People believe and they’ll give you everything they got. Like every white trash asshole in the trailer park sending their last nickels to some televangelist selling eternal salvation when they know, deep in their hearts, the motherfucker is
just blowing their money on meth and hookers. They need to believe. It’s the way to go.”
From there, it was only a matter of devising a belief system. Papa settled on Elvis. People believed in Elvis. It wasn’t that far-fetched to convince people that Elvis was God’s second child, Jesus’ stepbrother, and was sent here to save humanity. Hell, he reasoned, it made more sense than
that Scientology volcano bullshit. If people believed that shit, they would certainly buy that Elvis died for their sins.
Besides, he knew an Elvis impersonator who would work cheap
Smith always remembered that story when he visited the world-
wide headquarters. He was thinking about it, mostly to avoid talking to Spew, when he saw Papa and Fat Sam pull up in Papa’s Cadillac.